Why it’s still worthwhile to write a (good) business book

Why it’s still worthwhile to write a (good) business book

Yes, yes, I know it’s one of mine, but it’s still an example of how nonfiction/business books can work well for you

The entire international book publishing scene has changed a lot in the 21st century.  Whereas becoming a published nonfiction author was difficult even until the end of the 20th century, now it’s easy due, largely, to the vastly increased number of different publishing options, not to mention an increase in delivery options – print, eBook, audio book, blog serialization, etc.

Undoubtedly the fact that producing and publishing a book has become a) easier and b) cheaper makes the whole book market more accessible to wannabe authors. Consequently there are literally millions of books out for sale out there, and not all of them are good.

A business book as an “expensive corporate brochure”

However the goalposts have been moved in recent times. Although in the past the only criterion for the publication of a nonfiction/business book was its literary and/or informational merit, today not all books are published with a view to becoming best sellers so they don’t have to be “good” by mainstream publishers’ standards.

Many of these books are published (usually self-published) as marketing tools as the means to a PR or promotional end, rather than as little profit centers in their own right, and are sold and/or distributed to audiences other than the general public. Hence the rather derogatory term for a how-to book about your topic – an “expensive sales brochure.” (But for more about the actual business benefits of writing a book, see below.)

The realpolitik  of business books

What all this means, however, is that depending on your reasons for wanting to write a book, its concept and content don’t necessarily have to conform to traditional mainstream publishing values.

Don’t forget, though, that whatever you want your book to achieve, it has to be good – “fit for purpose,” as the saying goes. If your book is bad, it will make you look bad.

The actual writing of a book does not have to be difficult or expensive. Provided that you can talk coherently, you can write a book – with help, perhaps, but you can do it. And the best news is that these days the help you need, should you need, is much more available – and affordable – than ever before.

Business books and the market for them

It seems that every time you ask a publisher how the nonfiction/business book market is doing, they will say that it’s awful. However when you check out actual book sales the picture looks different.

Perhaps we should conclude that it’s publishers (especially conventional trade publishers) who are having a hard time, not books. Many publishers still hang some of their sales opinions on what happens in bookstores too, which these days is not where most people go to buy business and other practical nonfiction books.

Why it’s still worthwhile to write a (good) business book

Business books get a particularly hard time in bookstores.

Business books get a particularly hard time in bookstores. In most of the bookstores I go into these titles are crammed into a few shelves on the top floor way over at the back by the entrance to the employees’ toilets. Bookstore managers don’t like the people who seek business books because they tend to browse a lot and buy little – hence the self-defeating policy of putting these books by the toilets.

Even in other bricks-and-mortar retail environments like office supplies superstores – where you would think there’s a good market for print business books – you’ll find them stashed away between the waste paper baskets and the giant cans of instant coffee.

It’s an “up yours” to the traditional publishing routes to market

This isn’t the place to go into lots of statistics, but in the UK, vast quantities of nonfiction books still are sold in places like supermarkets, garden centres, gift shops, newsagents/ stationers, DIY stores, office supply stores, etc., as well as the various online sources.

But because publishers have huge amounts invested in the heavy overhead of distributing books to bricks-and-mortar bookshops, they hang on to that with their fingernails.

Some publishers are changing the way they do business, but I believe they still have a long way to go. As we see consistently, mainstream publishers are also being squeezed by the rise in the number of self-published nonfiction books on the market and increasingly these self-publishers are getting their books into the main distribution channels – not just on Amazon and other big online retailers, but into the bookstores, too.

Who needs paper?

Technology, too, has made the whole book publishing industry take a rather nervous look at itself.

Everywhere we look now, people are downloading and reading whole books as Kindles or various other, similar incarnations. This is a little worrying for us authors due to the facility with which our hard-grafted tomes can be pirated, plagiarized and pillaged.

Already we have seen how the whole pattern of the music industry has changed, largely due to piracy, free downloads, etc., and now if you’re a musician and want to make a living, the only way is by “gigging” – bums on seats in concerts.

“Record sales,” as they used to be known, have been hugely devalued. Unlike musicians – who at least have their live performances as a product to sell – many of us nonfiction authors need to hang on to book sales, because without those there is nothing else.

Unless, of course, you fall into the category of writing a book as a promotional tool for your business: that “expensive brochure” (see above.)

The printed book is not dead yet. No, really.

Historically technology has not really revolutionized society quite as much as had been predicted.

Why it’s still worthwhile to write a (good) business book

The internet has not killed off newspaper and magazine sales.

Despite all the predictions, radio did not get killed off by television. Despite many further predictions, the internet has not killed off newspaper and magazine sales.  And despite (perhaps commercially biased) predictions now, I doubt that electronic book readers will replace paper-printed books. Not for quite a few years yet, anyway.

That means that to cover as much ground as possible, the present-day business or other nonfiction book really does need to be available in both electronic and print versions.

Although I thought that this nostalgic love for printed books was purely an old folks’ fetish for, er, older folks like me, it seems my son feels the same way. He far prefers reading print books than the electronic versions, and he’s just 22 years old. (And he’s not a nerd!)

Forget the “expensive brochure” – some serious business benefits

However let’s not get carried away here, taking pot shots at the messenger when a more cheerful message is staring us in the face: whatever the media used to deliver them, there will always be a market for good business and other nonfiction books.

And much as it’s relatively easy now to be a “best-selling author” (possibly using merchandising tricks to fool Amazon’s statistics) … there is still kudos to be had if you can say that you’re a “best-selling author.” There’s even good kudos mileage in being able to say you are the “author of XXX.”

When you have a book about to be published, the surrounding promotional campaign will get you some useful attention from your clients/customers, colleagues and prospects. If you plan your campaign carefully the activity will stir up renewed interest from existing and past customers as well as attracting new people.

You can use the launch of your book to give talks to interested groups of new business prospects, and get publicity in local and online media that, again, can be targeted at your main business markets. And so it goes on.

How do you feel about the future of business and other nonfiction books? If you have written one, or would like to, how do you see its progress in the marketplace? Please share your views.

photo credit: brewbooks via photopin cc
photo credit: katerha via photopin cc




  1. I see publishing houses a lot more like business-oriented machines than anything else. They don’t see talent as a prerogative for a good book. They focus on the marketability of the product. This is exactly why badly written books like “Fifty Shades of Grey” are so successful.

    It’s not about literary feats, it’s about the emotional responses these books will get.

    Books will never disappear from the face of the earth. Nothing beats a physical books, actually.

    Great article Suzan!

  2. Thank you, Cendrine! I hope you’re right about books (the printed variety) never disappearing…


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