How to write a business book that goes viral
A great business book has multiple lives.
The first is when it’s read by its original readers. The subsequent ones are when they tell their friends about it.
Each time an element of the book is re-told, that book’s impact is magnified, just like ripples spread outwards when a stone is thrown into a pool.
But here’s the thing. A book being talked about doesn’t happen by accident. There are certain criteria it must meet in order for it to ‘go viral’.
One of these, of course, is that its content matters deeply and its entertaining to read. But another is that it contains the tools its readers need to turn it into a discussion point.
Do you want your business book to contain these tools? If so, read on. There are many, but in this post I’ll focus on the most impactful ones. If you follow my advice, your message – and your reputation – will spread far wider than just the people who’ve read your book.
Spin a story
As I mention in my forthcoming guide to writing a business book, Your Business, Your Book, when Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg gave her famous 2010 TED talk ‘Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders’, she’d originally planned to cram it with facts and figures.
Luckily for her audience, she confided in a friend shortly before taking to the stage. Sheryl told her that her daughter had been so upset to see Mummy fly off to yet another conference, she’d clung to her leg as she was leaving for the airport. This was the guilt every mother lives with, Sheryl said. Her friend persuaded her to begin her talk with this story and it made a huge difference to the level of emotional connection she gained with her audience.
We can see why including a story helped Sheryl’s performance, but how do stories encourage people to talk about your business book?
It’s because stories create both memorability and recountability (if that’s a word).
Ever since our early ancestors sat around the camp fire telling their cave-mates about the dangers and triumphs of their day, we’ve been programmed to pay attention to stories. And – crucially – they’re easier to re-tell than trying to explain the lessons learned in a book, because in a story each point leads to another in an irresistible way.
Think of the nonfiction books you’ve read that included plenty of stories – I bet you can remember them better than the facts you read about. In the same way, if you include interesting and illuminating stories in your own book, your readers will enjoy telling them to their friends.
How to write a business story that sizzles? If you’d like a step by step process, see this.
Create a list
Are you intrigued to learn about ‘five fundamentals’ of leadership? The ‘scary six’ pitfalls of accounting? Or even the ‘awesome foursome’ elements of self-esteem? If so, you’re not alone.
When you formulate these kinds of lists in your business book, you’re dividing up a complex and indigestible topic into neat little parcels, and this makes it easy to explain it to someone else.
Crucially, you’re also creating packages of information that you can bring into your book marketing. Imagine being interviewed on a podcast and being asked the killer question, ‘So, what’s your book about?’ or ‘What are your top tips?’ You can turn to your trusty summaries and cover all the essentials.
They’re easy to remember for both you and your audience, and easy to repeat, too.
Paint a picture
There’s often no better way of putting across a complex point clearly and memorably than to use an analogy to describe it. And the more vividly you do this, the more fun it will be for your readers to re-tell it.
You can use metaphors, analogies, and imagery to explain specific points, or – more powerfully – you can expand them to contain an entire concept.
In Chip and Dan Heath’s book Switch, the authors use the analogy of the rider, the elephant, and the path to explain the different functions of our brain and how they interact with our environment. The rider is our rational brain, the elephant is our emotional brain, and the path is the direction we want to go in.
I imagine many of the Heath brothers’ readers have explained this analogy to their friends and families, enjoying the process of enlightening and entertaining them at the same time. It’s a lot easier than theorising about how brains work.
Craft some sound-bites
Can you come up with an unbelievable fact, a shocking statistic, or an outrageous angle on your topic?
It has to be true, of course, and also relevant to your content. But when you incorporate a small number of them into your book, you automatically make the content tempting to share. People love to gain the attention of others by saying something surprising or cool, and the best outcome for you as an author is that the question will inevitably follow: ‘Where do you discover that?’
The answer is . . . your book.
Just be sure of your facts!
Create an acronym (but treat it with care)
If you’re not sure what acronyms are, they’re abbreviations formed from the initial letters of words, such as NASA. They make remembering a collection of diverse points easy to remember, because they spell out a word that can be recalled with ease. And anything that’s easy to remember is also easy to re-tell.
Sometimes they can work incredibly well, but they do come with a health warning. I’ve coached authors who’ve tied themselves in knots trying to create acronyms for their book structures, and it’s caused them all sorts of difficulties when the letters they want to use don’t fit exactly with what they want to say, or aren’t in the right order.
So use an acronym if it works, but don’t worry if it doesn’t. The best ones are so obvious they just work.
These techniques for giving your book that essential second life might seem a little tricky to put into practice, but you don’t have to use them all. Even if you just select one to work into your business book, you’ll be making it more of a talking-point than it would otherwise have been. This will add to your sales and personal visibility.
So give it a go, and challenge yourself to find ways of making your business book the talk of the town.