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7 Business Books Every Writer Should Read

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Book-and-pencil.jpg?resize=527%2C351&sslThe more writers I guide in my career as a book coach, the more I see the need for writers to embrace key lessons from the world of business. Writing is art, to be sure. It springs from a writer’s imagination and from our very souls, it is brought forth by skill with craft, and is made whole when it encounters an audience of readers. But that art is made within a world of commerce, where books are bought, produced, distributed, and sold through various vendors and mechanism. It’s a business world, and writers need to understand that world in order to succeed within it.

As I have built my own business, and guided writers to build theirs, I have made it a practice to read a lot of business publications and a lot of business books. I have come to love them, and to be inspired by them, and I think they can inspire every writer, whether you are working on historical fiction, YA fantasy, memoir, mystery, of a nonfiction book about yoga or knitting or dog training or writing.

This is a short list of my top business book picks:

  1. Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek

In 2009, this business book became a massive bestseller and a go-to for organizations looking to build mission-driven businesses, attract talent that was aligned with that mission, and ensure that they would be around for the long haul. The big idea is that while people buy what you make, and they care about how you make it, the true driver of a long-lasting business is why you do what you do.

I believe that knowing your why can literally be the difference between writing a book that resonates with readers and writing one that falls flat – or that you never finish. My Blueprint for a Book process (the system I use to guide fiction and nonfiction writers, and that I teach in my book coach certification program) literally starts with why. I ask writers: “Why do you want to write this book?”

The answer they first blurt out may have to do with goals and outcome (i.e. “I want to make enough money to leave my day job” or “I want to prove I can really do this”), but there is always an answer underneath which has to do with the specific topic or idea. People write books because they have been moved by books. They write books because they want to make an impact on a specific group of readers – to entertain or educate, illuminate or inspire. They write books because they have something to say that matters deeply to them. That’s the why.

Read Sinek’s book and define your why for the book you are writing. Your motivation will become clear and my bet is that your confidence will soar.

  1. The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future by Chris Guillebeau

Writing a book with the hope of attracting readers means you are creating a product that will be bought and sold in a marketplace, which means you are becoming an entrepreneur. The sooner you can embrace this reality, the better. I am not an advocate for writing to a market – for following a trend or thinking you can somehow outsmart the marketplace – but I do believe that writers have to be prepared for how they will sell their products, for what will be required of them.

The $100 Startup is a very gentle, welcoming, actionable introduction to being an entrepreneur. It makes it all seem do-able and not at all daunting. With case studies and worksheets, Guillebeau walks you down the path and gets you ready to think like an entrepreneur.

   3. How I Built This: The Unexpected Paths to Success from the World's Most Inspiring Entrepreneurs by Guy Raz

Guy Raz is the host of the popular NPR podcast where he invites entrepreneurs to tell the story of how they built their businesses. This book is a spinoff from the podcast, and it uses stories to show the essential elements of building and sustaining a business. You may not need million-dollar investments of cash to keep your yogurt production facility going (the story of Stonyfield yogurt) or have to figure out how to handle a staff of 500 when your bookstore gets shut down during the pandemic (the story of Powell’s bookstore in Portland, Oregon), but listening to what it takes to build a big business will help you in your writing life.

You will be reminded that there is no such thing as an overnight success; that every brand you know and use and love came about because of a person’s specific dream; that persistence is part of every success story.

There are a lot of similar books out there about famous entrepreneurs, but Raz is an excellent storyteller, so he is my favorite. These stories will inspire you to stick with your work, to follow your heart, and to remember that you can only control what you can control.

  1. The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Kellerand Jay Papasan

Writing happens over time – usually a long period of time – and in order to get it done, you need to choose writing over other activities, over and over and over again. I might have picked Atonic Habits for this slot or Tiny Habits, or Essentialism – all great business books – but I suggest The One Thing because this book makes the choice so clear: it’s this instead of that. Writing instead of ________. What are you going to give up? What are you going to let go? If you are going to prioritize your work, you have to choose.

  1. This is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn To See by Seth Godin

All of Seth Godin’s books are helpful and inspiring, but this one most of all. It’s a primer on what marketing is really all about in the age of the internet, and why we should not fear it or shy away from it.

Godin is all about knowing your audience – really knowing them. So in our case, it’s knowing the reader. I spoke, above, about wanting to educate or entertain your audience. Marketing is knowing what those people want to learn and why they need to learn it. It’s knowing what entertains them and why they find it diverting or funny. It’s thinking about that end-user, the reader, and what they need when they come to your book.

Here’s what I mean:

I just finished reading Maggie O’Farrel’s novel, Hamnet. This book came to my attention the way so many books do – because I heard so many people talking about it and raving about it that I began to feel left out of an important conversation. Which illustrates that one thing readers need is to feel like they belong.

I bought the book because the topic intrigued me – it’s a story about Shakespeare and his wife in the years before he wrote Hamlet, and about how their young son Hamnet died during this time. Why had no one ever spoken about those two realities in the same story? This was the question O’Farrell asked herself (her why), and I agreed that it’s a powerful one. So another thing readers need is to have their curiosity piqued – to want to know what happens, to want to live in the world of your story.

I was riveted by the book because it was about some of ideas I think most about – creativity and pain – and the characters were vivid and alive, and the world was so beautifully wrought, and the story held so much tension that I could hardly breathe at times. Revealing that another thing readers need is for the story to speak to something that matters to them, and to be enveloped in a well-crafted tale.

You can keep drilling down about what your readers want and need, and then figure out how you can give it to them. Good writing is good marketing. That’s where it all starts, and your marketing efforts spread out from there.

  1. We Should All Be Millionaires: A Woman’s Guide to Earning More, Building Wealth, and Gaining Economic Power by Rachel Rodgers

Rachel Rodgers is an intellectual property lawyer who runs a company called HelloSeven, which helps women business owners, especially women of color, build million-dollar businesses.  Her new book helps explain why so many women are uncomfortable with money, and think they are not good with money, and feel nervous about saying they want to make money, and then it helps them dismantle that limiting thinking.

Rodgers offers lessons in making better decisions around money, setting boundaries around money, getting comfortable desiring money.

We have been led to believe that writers don’t make money, that writers should be starving, that society doesn’t support our work – and to a certain extent this is true. But that doesn’t mean we should accept it. We need to get comfortable with asking for and receiving money for the things we make. We need to think bigger about our ambitions for our writing lives, and if the system is broken, we need to work to change it.

  1. Dare to Lead by Brene Brown

If you are going to have a big career as a writer (see #6, above ) you will need to learn how to be a leader of your own career. That means you need to learn how to work well with others with whom you collaborate (book coaches and virtual assistants and editors and PR people and booksellers and book reviewers and influencer partners). You need to communicate clearly and kindly with them. You need to bring your whole self to all your work relationships. Brene Brown teaches us how to do these things and inspires us towards greatness.

Next time you peruse the bestseller list to see what’s selling well in your genre, check out the business book titles. You may just find the book that will help your career more than any other.

What are your favorite business books? How do they apply to the writing life? To your writing career?  


About Jennie Nash

Jennie Nash is the founder and CEO of Author Accelerator, a company that trains book coaches to help writers bring their best work into the world. For twelve years, writers serious about reaching readers have trusted Jennie to coach their projects from inspiration to publication. Her clients have landed top New York agents, national book awards, and deals with houses such as Scribner, Simon & Schuster, and Hachette. Jennie is the author of 9 books in 3 genres. She taught for 13 years in the UCLA Extension Writer’s Program, is an instructor at CreativeLive.com and speaks on podcasts and at writing conferences all over the country. Learn more about being coached or becoming a coach on her personal website and at Author Accelerator.


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