How To Write A Business Book That Matters

How To Write A Business Book That Matters written by John Jantsch read more at Duct Tape Marketing

Marketing Podcast with Josh Bernoff

Josh Bernoff, a guest on the Duct Tape Marketing PodcastIn this episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast, I interview Josh Bernoff. He is the bestselling author or ghostwriter of eight business books and contributed to 50 book projects that have generated over $20 million for their authors. Josh was formerly Senior Vice President, Idea Development at Forrester, where he spent 20 years analyzing technology and business. 

​​His most recent book Build a Better Business Book: How to Plan, Write, and Promote a Book That Matters, is a guide for authors who want to create impact in their business books. Josh teaches them how to refine their idea, choose a publishing model, and research, write, publish, and promote their books.

Key Takeaway:

A good business book should have a unique idea that solves a specific problem for a targeted audience, incorporating real-life stories and a narrative structure that engages readers. It should follow a natural progression from presenting a problem to providing a solution and explaining the details of that solution, using case studies to support their ideas. It is vital for authors to understand the continuum between big-idea books and how-to books, as both can be problem-solving.

The promotion plan of the book is crucial, and authors must not assume people will find their books without proper promotion and by building a platform. Josh shares a five-step process called “PQRST” which involves: Positioning, answering the Question, Reaching the target audience, Spreading the book encouraging word-of-mouth, and Timing the book launch.

Questions I ask Josh Bernoff:

  • [01:59] What are the essential elements that a business book needs to be good?
  • [02:49] Can a business book have a similar narrative to a fiction book?
  • [04:03] Some business books are terrible. What are they doing wrong?
  • [04:59] There are two types of business books: the ones that stay in the big idea category and others that are perspective. Are there different approaches that need to be taken for those two different kinds of books?
  • [06:43] Can you explain the different kinds of authors?
  • [08:59] Do publishers care about ideas or do they care about the platform or do you have to have both?
  • [11:16] There are two book approaches, the ones that include research and case studies, and the ones that talk from the author’s daily knowledge and experiences. What do you think of that?
  • [15:09] You have been a ghostwriter on some projects. What are some reasons somebody who has a good idea might use a ghostwriter?
  • [16:01] Let’s talk about editors. In a business book, are they qualified to give much input and help you get your ideas down?
  • [17:16] What role does the design of the interior pages as well as the cover play in the success of a book?
  • [19:36] If you’re going to write a book today, how important is having audio done?
  • [20:54] Can you explain the promotion plan of the book?

More About Josh Bernoff:

  • Get your copy of Build a Better Business Book: How to Plan, Write, and Promote a Book That Matters.
  • Reach out to Josh.

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John Jantsch (00:00): This episode of Duct Tape Marketing Podcast is brought to you by HubSpot. Look, AI is literally eating the web chat. GPT is more searched than I don’t know, Taylor Swift. Check out HubSpot’s AI powered tools, content assistant and chat spott. They both run on open AI’s GPT model, and both are designed to help you get more done and to grow your business faster. HubSpot’s AI powered content assistant helps you brainstorm, create, and share content in a flash, and it’s all inside a super easy to use CRM now. Chat Spott automates all the manual tasks inside HubSpot to help you arrange more customers close more deals, and scale your business faster. Find out more about how to use AI to grow your business at That’s

(01:14): Hello and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch, and my guest today is Josh Bernoff. He’s the bestselling author or ghostwriter of eight business books. He’s contributed to 50 book projects that have generated over 20 million for their authors. He’s formerly Senior Vice President of Idea Development at Forrester, where he spent 20 years analyzing technology and business. We’re gonna talk about his most recent book, Build a Better Business Book: How to Plan, Write, and Promote a Book That Matters. So Josh, welcome to the show.

Josh Bernoff (01:49): It’s great to be on. Good to talk to you.

John Jantsch (01:52): So I’ll just throw out like one really big question to start us off. Okay. And then we’ll hone in on, uh, things, you know, what are the essential elements that a business book needs to be good. How is that for, how is that for a big question, ?

Josh Bernoff (02:06): No, that’s exactly the right big question . And I’d say there are two things, one that everybody understands and one that people don’t understand. The thing that everybody knows you need is an idea. Yeah. That is, you need something that will solve a problem for a specific group of people, and it has to be a differentiated idea that is an idea that hasn’t been heard before. So that’s what people know. What people don’t recognize is that business books are made out of stories about people, stories about business people, about ordinary consumers, about people who have a problem. And you get insight from the way they solve that problem. And unless you’ve collected those stories and shared them in an interesting way, your book’s gonna be boring and it’s not gonna sell.

John Jantsch (02:49): Can a business book, like, I mean, a fiction book, you know, has a narrative and a plot and characters and we get to the end hopefully and go, oh, that was amazing. Can a business book have narrative similar to that? Or is it there just to do some nuts and bolts work?

Josh Bernoff (03:04): It has to have a narrative similar to that. Now we understand this, if you’re reading a business book that’s say a description of Elon Musk’s life or Right. You know, how Netflix was created as a company. But when you’re talking about a business book that solves a problem, there’s a natural order to it in the first chapter. We have to scare the crap out of you by getting you to see that there’s either a problem that you’re gonna have if you don’t follow the book or some opportunity you’re gonna miss out on. That’s the fear and greed options. Yeah. And then after that we described the parts of the solution. We show you how to implement that. We might show you some more detail about how it applies in different situations. This is a natural progression from you have a problem to the solution, to the problem, to the details of the solution. And that’s just as much a narrative as if narrative as if you were reading a novel.

John Jantsch (04:00): All right, let’s some people learn better from the negative. Let’s talk about some business books that are terrible. What are the, without naming names, what, what do they get wrong typically?

Josh Bernoff (04:10): So I don’t know if your listeners have had this experience. I have many times of the business book where you read chapter two and you’re like, gee, that sounds just like chapter one. And then you read chapter four and you’re like, oh my gosh, it’s just the same thing over and over again. Yeah. So there’s a word for what that book ought to be, which is a blog post . So if what you have is a blog post, write a blog post and you’ll save us all. A lot of trouble ideas that are worth writing a book about have to be big. That is, they need to affect a lot of people and they need to have consequences. They need to have elements to them. They need to have some subtlety to it that you need to figure out. And unless you have the ability to do that, you really should just write a blog post.

John Jantsch (04:58): Uh, there are two types of book business books. I read lots and lots of business books as I know you have as well. There are two types of business books that I really like. Some kind of stay in the big idea category. Mm-hmm. , Seth Godin’s books, I think are a great example of always a great idea that you, that he clearly believes in and that you can believe in, but not a whole lot of how to in them. And then there are other prescriptive books which are probably closer to what I write, you know, which is literally a retelling of what I do , you know, in, in the book. Are there different approaches that need to be taken for those two different kinds of books? And feel free to throw in, oh no, there’s four or five other categories too. ,

Josh Bernoff (05:36): Well, in the problem-solving kind of book, which is both of those are the big idea books and the how-to books are basically problem-solving kind of books. I think it’s a mistake to think of them as two different kinds. Okay. They’re really two ends of a continuum. Yeah. Right. So for example, the book I just wrote, right? Build a better business book here. This is a how-to book. There’s 24 chapters. There’s a chapter on covers. There’s a chapter on how to do research. Right. These are all very specific things that you have to learn how to do. If you look at the first book I wrote with Charlene Lee groundswell of posters behind me on the Wall. Yeah. That was a big idea book. And the big idea was that social media wasn’t a toy anymore, and people really need to learn how to take advantage of it. But even there we had to say, okay, if you’re gonna use social media for research purposes, here are the steps involved in that. Or if you’re gonna use social media for marketing, here are the steps involved in that. And unless you have some kind of prescription, then all you’re doing is basically throwing grenades and blowing things up. And while that can be entertaining, it’s not that helpful to people.

John Jantsch (06:43): All right. So I’m, I’m gonna go down the same path. There are two kinds of authors, I think and, and I think a lot of times they fall into maybe business models or how they think about business models. There’s obviously the Malcolm Gladwell giant big idea that’s gonna lead to giant big stages, maybe. Yeah. I wrote my first book, don’t tell my publisher this, but I wrote my first book to really be a platform for selling product and for, you know, bringing, uh, a licensing program, uh, to the world using that methodology. And that was really, the book was a piece, you know, as opposed to, I, in fact, for many years I didn’t even call myself an author necessarily.

Josh Bernoff (07:17): Mm-hmm. . Well, if you wrote a book and you published it, you’re an author, so please call yourself an author. But what people need, first of all, you’re not Malcolm Gladwell. I’m not Malcolm Gladwell. Very few people are Malcolm Gladwell. In fact, I have a section in the first chapter of my book about why you’re not Malcolm Gladwell . That’s funny. So for the rest of us, the success does not come from book sales. Right. That might be a nice little source of income. You might even not suppose you reach a thousand people, is that a failure? Yeah. If those are the right thousand people, that could be an enormous success. So the question is, how will that benefit you? And of course it should start by benefiting the people who read it, but then they’re gonna say, Hey, I should hire this guy. Or, oh, this company is worth looking at. Or this is a different way to look at the world. What vendors can help with it? Oh, look, he’s got one of those vendors he’s associated with. So there are lots of ways that, that you can benefit. I, I guess the simplest way to put it is a book is the largest possible lump of content marketing. Yeah. And just like any other content marketing, it attracts attention by being useful and then it translates into some sort of business for the author.

John Jantsch (08:32): Yeah. Yeah. Well, I, you know, fortunately out of some sort of dumb luck, I actually sold a lot of copies of Duct Tape Marketing as well as it being my kinda launching for a platform. So I kinda lucked into the best of both worlds. I guess l let’s talk about book proposals for a minute. You know, which is a typical organ that a lot of people would use to, uh, get a publisher interested in a book. Boy, that has changed in the last , uh, 20 years. Yeah. Uh, or, or so, um, do publishers care about ideas or do they care about platform? Um, or do you have to have both?

Josh Bernoff (09:05): Well, you have to have both. But platform’s more important, and that’s a shocking thing to say, right. But in the last 20 or 30 years, what I have seen is that some publishers like Wiley explicitly say, you have to prove to us that you can sell 10 or 12 20,000 books on your own. And the other publishers don’t say it quite so starkly, but they believe the same thing. Yeah. And that means, and they’re not gonna help you very much with the selling. You have to provide that yourself. So you need to have a podcast or a blog or regular appearance on CNN or a Forbes, you know, column or whatever. You need to have some sort of a platform to roll the book out. Now a person with a large platform and no ideas isn’t really very interesting, the publishers, because someone has to get something out of the book, but the, they look at the platform first and the idea second. Sadly, it’s true. Yeah.

John Jantsch (09:59): Yeah, yeah. And I think it’s become more true, quite frankly. You know, you mentioned definitely Wiley, for example, I’ve even seen some authors talk about, you know, they had to guarantee that they were gonna sell that . Yes, that’s true. It’s X number. So Yeah, they,

Josh Bernoff (10:14): I can’t resist pointing out here that there are alternatives now.

John Jantsch (10:17): Sure. Well,

Josh Bernoff (10:18): There are hybrid publishers

John Jantsch (10:19): Usually change, right? Yeah,

Josh Bernoff (10:21): Yeah, yeah. You can pay a hybrid publisher to publisher book. I’m this most recent book I did with a hybrid publisher, and I’m not saying that’s the only model. My previous book was done with a traditional publisher. Yeah. And you can even self-publish books on your own through the Amazon platform. And of course that makes a much less of an impact, but if you really gotta get your book out, you don’t need to go through a traditional publisher anymore.

John Jantsch (10:44): Well, I have a few, you know, folks in that, that I know well that have made a whole lot more money on their book by doing self-publishing because it sold really well and they kept 80%

Josh Bernoff (10:54): Phil Jones

John Jantsch (10:55): , Phil Jones is one first one came. Ok. Now,

Josh Bernoff (10:57): Now it’s, but it is hard to make your book catch fire. Yeah, yeah. If you’re doing it, you’re publishing it independently like that. Yeah. The, the traditional publishers have a certain amount of clout and distribution, and the hybrid publishers are helpful within that vein as well.

John Jantsch (11:13): Yeah. So my books are not heavily researched in the, you know, the idea that we had 3000 participants in some sort of study. I mean, my books are really kind of more, here’s my daily knowledge. I mean, here’s what I’ve learned working with ex clients. Is there, again, I don’t think there’s a better approach, but they’re quite different, aren’t they?

Josh Bernoff (11:34): Uh, you know what, you need something that proves that your book is right. Yeah. And I was sitting down and I thought of these ideas and I wrote them down as not sufficient

John Jantsch (11:45): , it might work.

Josh Bernoff (11:47): Yeah. And, you know, everyone does secondary research. This is basically going on the internet and finding quotes and studies and stuff. But you need some sort of primary research. But what you said, the, the, you know, the survey kind of research or data Look, I worked at Forrester. I actually created the program that they used to collect consumer data. That was wonderful to have all of that data. Yeah. But you can write a book that’s based on anecdotes. And if you’re telling the stories of, you know, Sarah, that that changed her marketing program, or Alvin who figured out a better way to, to track attribution, those stories are quite sufficient as primary research. You don’t necessarily need a huge amount of data.

John Jantsch (12:32): Yeah. I guess case studies would fall into that too. I mean, I know people love to see, oh, I’m a business kind of like that. And they did that. Oh, okay. That will work for me.

Josh Bernoff (12:41): Case studies are essential. In fact, I would say when I work with authors and we’re like at the beginning of the book process, the lack of case studies is the biggest problem that they have. So you want to be thinking right at the beginning, where am I gonna get the stories I’m gonna tell, where am I gonna find these interviews? If a book is, let’s say 14 chapters long, it should have 14 case studies in it.

John Jantsch (13:06): So you might even organize the book around what you

Josh Bernoff (13:09): Got. Is I you saying that? Well, I, one way to organize the book is to start every chapter with a story. Yeah. Yeah. It’s actually pretty common to do that. It fact, they’re No, they’re known as Malcolm’s after Malcolm Gladwell . Right. Who’s like the master of this. And people love that because they read it and they’re like, oh yeah, I’m having the same kind of problem that she had. Or Right. Oh man, he’s, he found an interesting way to solve that. I’m gonna learn from that. And I’ll tell you something. Once you tell one of those stories at the beginning of a chapter, whatever you say in the next three sentences, after that, people will believe no matter what it is.

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(15:06): You have, as I noted in your intro, been a ghostwriter on some projects. Mm-hmm. . What are some reasons somebody who has a good idea might use a, a ghostwriter?

Josh Bernoff (15:15): Well, it’s always a question of time. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. It’s also a question of talent. Some people just don’t feel like they’re good writers. Yeah. But mostly it’s people who could write, but just don’t have the time to do it. And in the cases where I have ghostwritten books and I’ve done three, now they’re all situations where they were senior executives. Right. Very busy people. They had really interesting ideas and sometimes a lot of detail behind it, but they just wanted to hire somebody who would assemble that into a useful book. And what you read there was written on spec based on what the author, the person whose name on the cover asked for. They’ve just outsourced the writing. Just like you might outsource the graphics. Yeah. Or, uh, you know, a, a survey that you did,

John Jantsch (16:01): Let’s talk about editors. The, I think the common belief was that an editor was gonna make your book better. You know, certainly help you devise or get your ideas down. Mm-hmm. , and I’m not talking about copy editing, but you know, kind of big picture editing, it feels like, and this is coming from my experience, that, you know, the editor’s role has been to acquire a book, and that’s about it. And that that input, you know, in a business book, they’re not qualified to really give much input. Mm-hmm. ,

Josh Bernoff (16:26): It’s a question of how busy the people at these publishing houses are. So I, there’s a quote in my book from Holla Heinbach, who’s a, a very well known editor to Hartford Business who says, look, we expect the manuscript to come in ready to publish. Yeah. Um, so they don’t really have the resources to edit your book. Yeah. But that doesn’t mean you don’t need an editor. Most people who work on a good book will hire a developmental editor, and that’s someone whose job is to, to do the work of helping with the ideas, the sequence, the structure, the language, how the chapters are assembled, everything just so that you have a high quality piece of work that’s publishable.

John Jantsch (17:08): Yeah. This is gonna be a hard question to have a definitive answer, but I’m certain you have an opinion on . Yeah. What, what role does the design of the interior pages as well as the cover, play in the success of a book?

Josh Bernoff (17:23): Yeah. Well, let me divide those two. Yeah. Okay. Unless your book has got some sort of unusual elements to it, like, you know, a lot of sidebars or something like that, the interior design usually just as utilitarian and it doesn’t make that much difference. People need to tell when things are heading or subheading, but, but most books are pretty much interchangeable from that perspective.

John Jantsch (17:51): I’ve seen some poor font, I’ve seen some poor font.

Josh Bernoff (17:53): Oh, you can definitely make a mistake there, . If your book, if the, the body text in your book is in San Sarah, you’re making a big mistake. That’s a serious readability problem. Uh, I can’t resist mentioning here too that, that, you know, how do you tell when a book is poorly self-published? It’s the margins. It’s always the margins that are screwed up. You look at the book and you’re like, this doesn’t look. Yes. So the margins are like the dead giveaway, but you mentioned the covers. The cover is important. It’s just as you know, you wouldn’t go out and get married and just like grab a t-shirt off of the, you know, the hanger. You, you’re putting your best face forward there and a striking cover design together with a title that connects with it can really make a book much more recognizable. Yeah. But things are sort of backwards. People don’t buy a book because it has a great cover. They remember a book because it has a great cover, and then that becomes an iconic representation of how great that book was. They read it and then they associate that with a cover that they’re looking at.

John Jantsch (19:03): I, I know for myself, I’m, you know, walking through a bookstore back when we used to do that, used to do that. Yeah. A facing out, you know, book that had a compelling cover. It, it was a stopper, you know, it would be like, oh, I want to at least take a deeper look at that.

Josh Bernoff (19:17): Well, nowadays people are looking at the book on the screen Yeah. And it’s an inch tall.

John Jantsch (19:23): Yeah,

Josh Bernoff (19:23): Yeah, yeah. So the subtle little details of the design don’t become obvious until the person has had it shipped to their house.

John Jantsch (19:30): . Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Very true. Let’s talk about another thing that’s become, I think a must audio. Mm-hmm. , if you’re gonna write a book count on doing audio or having audio done, uh, today, I would guess, huh?

Josh Bernoff (19:41): Yes. Audio, you cannot have a book that’s has a full measure of success unless there’s an audiobook to go along with it. Yeah. And people love to consume business books on audio while they’re exercising or commuting, you know, or on an airplane or whatever. So you really have to have that available to them. And in my book, I actually recommend that if the author has got any inclination at all, it’s great if you, the author can record the audiobook. Yeah. Because then your voice and your willingness to communicate the things that are important to you will come across effectively. And even if you know you have a scratchy voice or a nasal voice or something, most people can do a good job with that. Yeah. It’s just, that’s likely to take you 10 or 15 hours and not everybody’s willing to put the time in to do that.

John Jantsch (20:32): Yeah. Well, and, and, and if your goal is to build a community, to build a business around a platform, a larger platform around, I know I find it all the time. People are like, oh, now that I met you, you know, I can hear you in my head already, you know, because I listen to your books. Yeah. So it, it really is, you know, I think it’s a must for if you wanna do other things with the book as well.

Josh Bernoff (20:51): Yeah.

John Jantsch (20:52): Okay. We have exactly 30 seconds left. Let’s talk about promotion of the book . You know, I think a lot of writers, you know, write the book and go, okay, now how do I sell it? Promotion probably starts before that, doesn’t it?

Josh Bernoff (21:03): Yes. You need to plan the promotion. And the biggest mistake that authors make is to write the book and assume that people will find it, even if they don’t promote it. And I got a five step process positioning, what’s the question you answer? How are you gonna get reach? How are you gonna get people like the book to spread it? And how are you gonna get the timing focused? And right around the book launch, that’s P Q R S T, those are the five steps that I recommend people do to prepare for promotion in 30 seconds.

John Jantsch (21:32): , you know, and I was somewhat being facetious because I mean, I think a lot of people do realize that they think the hard part’s writing the book , you know, but you know, what you just outlined in 30 seconds really is an effective way to think about a book plan. Like you would’ve a marketing plan for anything, obviously. But really the best time to start is maybe before you even start writing the book, you know, start building that platform.

Josh Bernoff (21:53): Yeah. Well, people don’t realize, but in most book processes, there’s a period of three to six months when the book is in some sort of production and printing process, and you as the author, don’t have too much to do. That’s exactly when you work on the promotion planning, because the temptation is to sort of relax and say, oh, I’m done. And then the time comes to write and you’re like, oh, crap, I didn’t put anything in place.

John Jantsch (22:19): I’d tell you during Covid, it was 12 to 18 months for forcing some people to get to Yes, it’s true. Get the books out. And it’s like, well, I don’t even remember what I wrote . You know, how am I gonna promote it? Yeah. Well, Josh, it was, uh, great having you stop by the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. You wanna invite people to connect with you and obviously where they can pick up the book.

Josh Bernoff (22:37): Okay. So if people wanna reach me, you want to go to That’s my website, B E R N O F I post a blog post there every single weekday, mostly about authors and their issues. And if people are interested in getting the new book, build a Better Business book, you can go to, or you can pick that up on Amazon or or wherever you’re used to shopping for books. And by the time this goes live, the audiobook will be available. It’s already available in print and as an ebook.

John Jantsch (23:11): Awesome. And you can tell how long somebody’s been online by the fact that they have their last name come as a website .

Josh Bernoff (23:17): I, I bought it from like a third cousin of mine in Chile , but that was in, that was a long time ago. Yeah.

John Jantsch (23:25): So I, I actually, when all my kids were born, I actually reserved the names, their names. You know, I, I don’t know if they’ve kept them or not, but yeah, you can tell how long somebody’s been online. All right, Josh, again, great having you stop by and hopefully we’ll run into you one of these days out there on the road.

Josh Bernoff (23:41): All right. It’s been great to be here, and thanks for giving me the chance to speak with your

John Jantsch (23:44): Audience. Hey, and one final thing before you go. You know how I talk about marketing strategy, strategy before tactics? Well, sometimes it can be hard to understand where you stand in that, what needs to be done with regard to creating a marketing strategy. So we created a free tool for you. It’s called the Marketing Strategy Assessment. You can find it,, dot co. Check out our free marketing assessment and learn where you are with your strategy today. That’s just marketing I’d love to chat with you about the results that you get. Got.

This episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast is brought to you by the HubSpot Podcast Network.

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