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How Being Profound Kills Business Books

June 1, 2020

I was stumped.

My friend Alex is a really smart guy, but as I edited his book I was struck by an overwhelming sensation:

“He’s writing like a smart guy trying to sound smart. Rather than a smart guy trying to be helpful.”

His book is aimed at men in their early twenties who feel lost. Yet he continued to go on paragraphs-long digressions about evolution and the Roman empire. I couldn’t figure it out. Why? When I talk to Alex in person, he’s always completely focused on the other person. He gives the most straightforward, helpful advice about friendships, networking, and sales of anyone I know.

What was even more surprising: like an archeologist digging for ancient treasures, I’d see glimmers of hope sprinkled throughout––sections where he included word-for-word templates for making friends at parties, and actionable advice for following up with new friends.

Where was that helpful Alex in the rest of his book?

Uncovering the Truth

Then I found the answer. You see, Alex wrote multiple stream-of-conscious asides when he wrote his first draft. Luckily for me (his loving friend and ruthless editor), one of them snuck under his radar. He wrote:

“I want my family and friends to read this book and be shocked that somebody like me could write something so profound and eloquent.”

Boom. There it was––our answer.

Alex was more focused on seeming profound than he was on helping his reader. And it was completely killing his business book.

Don’t Be Profound––Be Clear

Alex’s problem is not the least bit rare. I’ve just never been fortunate enough to read an author’s exact thought process to get that insight before.

The reason business book authors deviate from their best content is because they’re more focused on impressing their readers (friends, parents, or old professors) instead of helping their readers.

Here’s how it will manifest: you’ll start writing the content you should be writing your book about, but you’ll stop yourself, thinking:

–     “Oh, that’s too obvious.”

–     “This sounds too simplistic.”

–     “They don’t need me to tell them that.”

The thing is, it’s obvious to you because you’re the expert.

–     If you’re an expert in sales funnels, your book should be full of advice about building sales funnels, even though it’s obvious to you.

–     If you’re an email marketing guru, giving email templates might seem too simple, when in fact that’s the most valuable information you can give your reader.

–     If you’re a cybersecurity expert, teaching your reader how to enact a cybersecurity plan is valuable, even though it’s second nature to you.

This dismissal of your most obvious content kills more business books than anything I’ve ever seen.

Why Is It so Hard to Be Obvious?

We’ve all been poisoned by the books we’ve read. Especially the great books. We read our favorite nonfiction authors and have their glittering words and ornate sentences swirling in our heads as we sit down at the keyboard.

“Their book was so inspiring. That’s what I want with my book.”

A noble aim. But here’s a nasty little secret:

The great books that you admire were almost certainly written for one explicit purpose: to sell books. They had to be profound in some way.

If you’re writing a book to grow your business, you have different goals.

You’re not writing a book to sell books.

You’re writing a book to help your reader (and get clients).

So being profound helps nobody but yourself. Being simple and clear helps your reader––which in turn helps you.

Bonus Benefits of Being Clear

Most first-time authors can’t predict the amazing ancillary benefits of writing a clear, simple business book.

A perfect example is a CEO I worked with named Steve, who runs a marketing firm called ROI Online. He set out to write a straightforward marketing guide for small business owners.

He wrote it to get clients (which he did), but he didn’t realize that by putting his marketing process into explicit terms in his book actually helped him improve his process.

This is one of the biggest unknown benefits of writing a business book: depending on the focus, your book will force you to write out your process, which in turn allows you to pass that along to future team members.

Business leaders also underestimate the company culture benefits of writing a book. For Steve, his book’s success gave his team a renewed swagger. They all felt like they’d leveled up: they now take on bigger clients and attract more talented team members.

The thing is, you don’t get any of these benefits if you’re more focused on being profound than being simple. Unless you’re a professional writer as well as a business owner, leave profundity at the door.

Keep things obvious and simple and you’ll help the most people––including yourself.

If you’d like to grow your business with a book, download your free guide: Top 5 First-Time Marketing Author Mistakes. Then leave a comment below with your questions, thoughts, and advice on the different types of book editing.

Do you have a story idea? Pitch it to us below, and we’ll work to match you with a writer like Greg who can help you bring your vision to life.


  • Greg Larson

    Greg Larson is an author, editor, and book coach. As the owner of Marketing Author Academy, his work and his clients' work has been seen in: the Wall Street Journal Bestseller List, HarperCollins, Entrepreneur Magazine, the University of Nebraska Press, and more.

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