Build A Better Business Book with Josh Bernoff

Josh Bernoff, author of “Build a Better Business Book,” shares insights about writing and publishing successful business books. Josh offers tips for planning, outlining chapters, and eliminating writer’s block. He discusses co-authoring, ghostwriting, and publishing models. Josh also provides expert advice on promotion and timing marketing efforts effectively. For readers and aspiring authors alike, this is a rare opportunity to hear from an accomplished industry insider. 

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS: 

Josh Bernoff: If you look at any really effective business books, they’re full of descriptions of the people who are doing these things, the experiences they had, when they succeeded, how they failed, how they recovered from failure. It’s what makes the book readable and interesting. 

Adrian Tennant: You are listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising produced weekly by Bigeye: a strategy-led, full-service creative agency growing brands for clients globally. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, Chief Strategy Officer. Thank you for joining us. In partnership with business publisher Kogan Page, once every month, the Bigeye Book Club selects a title focused on a particular aspect of marketing and discusses key ideas with the book’s author. Our selections have included books about brand strategy, consumer research, retail technology, shopper marketing, AI, and analytics. For readers, business books can provide unique insights into industry practices and offer advice drawn from an author’s personal experience. Books can also empower their readers to make better-informed decisions and implement effective strategies in their own lives. For their authors, business books can be a powerful channel for disseminating unique perspectives and thought leadership while acting as springboards for authors’ careers. Many become public speakers and are sought after by media outlets for their knowledge and opinions. Today’s guest is an expert on how writing business books can propel authors to prominence. Josh Bernoff has collaborated on more than 45 nonfiction books, which have generated more than $20 million for their authors. He’s the author of eight business books, including the bestseller, Groundswell: Winning In A World Transformed By Social Technologies, co-authored with Charlene Li and published by Harvard Business Review Press. Today, Josh works closely with non-fiction authors as an advisor, coach, editor, or ghostwriter, and shares his knowledge about the non-fiction book market with readers of his daily blog. Josh’s latest book is entitled Build A Better Business Book: How To Plan, Write, And Promote A Book That Matters. To discuss this new, comprehensive guide for nonfiction authors, I’m delighted that Josh is joining us today from his home in Portland, Maine. Josh, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS. 

Josh Bernoff: It’s great to be here. I’m looking forward to speaking with you. 

Adrian Tennant: First of all, it truly is a pleasure to talk to you since I’ve been following your work since Groundswell was published back in 2008, and your book, Writing Without Bullshit is a well-thumbed desk reference. 

Josh Bernoff: That really was a turning point in my life when I co-authored Groundswell with Charlene Li. Prior to that, I was an analyst at Forrester Research, but, Charlene and I were both analysts really made an impact with that book, Groundswell sold 150,000 copies, and I decided to focus on the authoring side of things. And so, since that time, I have been almost exclusively focused on writing, working with authors, and in general, business books and how to make them successful. 

Adrian Tennant: Now, whenever I’m interviewing authors on this podcast, I typically ask what prompted them to write the book they’re discussing. You surveyed authors to inform some of the information you provide in Build A Better Business Book. So Josh, what are the primary reasons people write business books?

Josh Bernoff: The really primary reason that people write business books is to share the ideas that they have. We did a survey and asked that question, and that was the number one thing. And in general, if you look at what they’re trying to accomplish, everything follows from that. It’s all a question of how you generate influence and visibility for your ideas, and that can translate into all sorts of ways to generate revenue from speeches and consulting or an academic career. But, really, it’s about having an idea and getting that idea out there where people can get a look at it.

Adrian Tennant: And why did you write yours?

Josh Bernoff: Well, I have been working with authors exclusively since 2015, when I left Forrester Research. I’ve worked on, at this point, 50 book projects, and people keep making the same mistakes and steering into the same ditches. They don’t understand how publishing works. They don’t understand how to plan content. They don’t understand how to market their books. And there’s this series of practices for this that are, you know, the right way to do things. So I just thought, I need to take everything that I know here and put it together in one place as a comprehensive guide for authors. And, you know, that starts with the insight that most people don’t understand, which is that business books are stories. And, once they understand that they’re telling a story, everything follows from that. 

Adrian Tennant: In Build A Better Business Book, you observe that more experienced, published authors tend to think of their books as more than just books. Can you expand on this? 

Josh Bernoff: If you spend six months or a year working on a book, then it becomes like a family member. It sucks up a lot of your time, and it’s something that requires constant nurturing. That means that you need to, in the beginning, work on ways that you can feed content into it. You know, collect research, collect case studies. You need to dedicate the time to assembling it and getting it to be excellent. And, I think one thing that people tend not to do as much as they should, you have to continue to get it out there and promote it. But the other thing about a book is that, like a family member, it continues to give back. It creates visibility for you. it creates a reputation for you. It makes it possible for you to give speeches or to open doors with clients. And, as a result of that, it sort of defines who you are in the marketplace. One simple way to put this is that we’re all familiar with the idea of content marketing, that if you create useful content it draws people to your content, and then, boosts your reputation. I would say that a book is basically the largest possible lump of content marketing. It’s a concentrated way to draw people to you, boost your reputation, and enable you to succeed based on that. 

Adrian Tennant: In the third chapter of Build A Better Business Book, you assert that for an idea to be solid enough to base a book on, it has to have consequences. Can you give us some examples that define book-worthy ideas and how to come up with them? 

Josh Bernoff: Mm-hmm. Certainly. The example I use in that chapter is from Charlene Li, who was my co-author on Groundswell, and then has gone on to a successful career, and she wrote a book on disruption called The Disruption Mindset. Now, there are a lot of books on disruption, but she had a unique perspective on what disruption is, which is that you must focus your company not on the needs of your current customers, but on the needs of your future customers, sometimes at the expense of serving your current customers. Well, there’s an idea that has consequences because it means changing what your focus is. When I talk about ideas, the litmus test here for an idea is that it has to have three qualities. It has to be big, right, and new. So big means that it has consequences. You don’t want to write a book about something that doesn’t have a whole lot of dimensions to it, or consequences for a lot of people. Right means that you can justify it because anyone can come up with some conspiracy theory, but either by statistics or case studies, you need to provide evidence that your view of the world is actually accurate. And more important than those two is new because there’s no point in writing another book about the same topic that everybody has already written about. I don’t want to see another book on search engine optimization, right? But, what is your new spin on that? Maybe if it’s search engine optimization in the age of ChatGPT. Okay, now there’s something new. Or what is content marketing, and the intersection of that with podcasts. You need to be able to say, “This is the first book that…” “The first comprehensive book about all topics in marketing,” or “The first book that talks about how AI is going to change branding.” And so if you can complete that sentence, “This is the first book that…” then, you know, that it’s new enough to actually, potentially base a whole book on. 

Adrian Tennant: Continuing the theme of ideation, how do you recommend authors come up with a great title?

Josh Bernoff: There’s a method to that, and the first thing you need to understand is what a title is, because people don’t understand that. A title is a handle. So if I give you a great title, if I say something like, The Tipping Point, in the absence of Malcolm Gladwell’s actual book, that doesn’t actually mean anything. It’s when you connect it to the idea that it begins to have some resonance. So a title is a unique combination of words that connects to the idea. And to get at that, you need to get the part of your brain that has unique words and stimulate it. The method that I use, and I’ve done this with a lot of authors, is, I have a meeting with the author and a third person. The third person is a stand-in for the audience, right? So if you’re writing a book for marketers, it would be somebody in marketing. And then, I just ask the author to explain their concept, and I listen carefully for unique combinations of words, things that I haven’t heard before. and so there’s where I reflect back and they say, “This book is about this,” I’m like, “Oh yeah, that’s boring. I’ve heard that a hundred times.” They’re like, “No, the unique thing is this.” I’m like, “Oh, okay. Wait a minute. There’s something I haven’t heard before.” And I use two other very sophisticated tools. One is an online thesaurus, right? Because sometimes the words that you hear are not exactly the right words, but you look at similar words. And the second is the universal search engine for book titles, which is called So you go onto, and it’s really great if you come up with a title, but if that happens to already be the title of a popular book, especially in your space, then you can never own that in searches, and that means that it’s not the right title for you.

Adrian Tennant: Authors Rohit Bhargava and Emmanuel Probst have been among the guests on this podcast recently. Emmanuel’s book Assemblage was published by IdeaPress, which, as you know, was co-founded by Rohit and focuses on business topics. In Build a Better Business Book, you discuss the three main publishing models. Josh, what are they, and how should an author select between them?

Josh Bernoff: Okay. So yes, there are three models which are traditional publishing, hybrid publishing, and self-publishing. So traditional publishing is what everyone thinks of. You pitch your book to a publisher, they accept it, they give you a book advance, right? They pay you money upfront, and then the book gets published and put into bookstores. And certainly, they are business books that are done this way that continues to be viable, and it is the way to have the most impact is to work with a traditional publisher. But people need to understand that requires creating a book proposal, which is a major effort, and that a lot of books that get pitched that way never get picked up. So there’s certainly no certainty that you’ll get picked up. Also, very important it’s nearly always 15 to 18 months after you pitch the book that it finally gets published. And a lot of people don’t want to wait that long. The hybrid publishing method is working with a publisher that you hire. And while this used to have a negative connotation, increasingly now, it is a viable way to publish books. So Rohit at IdeaPress is an example of a hybrid publisher. He does an excellent job. He published Charlene’s book that I mentioned earlier. And, my own publishers, another hybrid publisher, this is Amplify. I’ve ghostwritten two books that they published, and now, Build A Better Business Book is from them. And there are a number of these companies that do a fine job of this kind of thing. The advantage of that is you can go faster, typically is more like six to eight months between when you sign the deal and when you publish, as opposed to the 15 to 18 months. Other than that, exactly the same level of quality. You get a much higher royalty per book, but of course, you’re paying upfront for producing it. So if you sell a lot of books, it’s actually more profitable. But if you don’t, you won’t have the advance to pocket. The third thing you can do is self-publish, which is really easy to do now: take a book, get help from people to basically lay out the pages, upload it to Amazon through what they call Kindle Direct Publishing. Or you, there are other people like Ingram Spark that can do this and then you’re a published author. And that is the fastest way to publish a book, but it has significantly less impact. Because of the fact that anybody can self-publish that way, often books of this kind vary in quality. You have to have, you know, really good partners for things like page layout and covers, or else the book doesn’t look that great. And, of course, it is rarely possible in that situation to be available in any sort of distribution channel, like a bookstore or an airport bookstore. It’ll be available on Amazon and probably nowhere else. And, that’s still one way to make an impact. It is the least expensive and the fastest way to get out, but it also, you know, has less influence than hybrid-published or traditionally published books. 

Adrian Tennant: The second part of your book is all about research and writing. Now you were Senior Vice President of Idea Development at Forrester, a global market research company focused on technology and digital customer experience. So it’s perhaps not too surprising that you see value in research. Now even if authors have a strong understanding of the topic they’re going to write about, in what kinds of ways can research support the planning and writing processes? 

Josh Bernoff: I think you can’t write a good book without research unless it’s say a memoir about your own experience because you need to basically prove with as many facts as you can that what you’re saying is true. And research divides pretty neatly into two parts: primary research and secondary research. So primary research is things that are in your book that have never existed before, and that includes, for example, if you do a survey, or have some other source of data that you’ve collected that can be really interesting to do. There was a great book that came out a little while ago called Everybody Lies, that was based on data from Google searches that had all sorts of startling information in it. And, of course the other kind of primary research is interviews, where you find people who are doing interesting things. You interview them, and then you quote them. The secondary research is web research. It’s, you know, going on the internet and finding stuff, and you have to be very selective because some of it is credible and some of it is not. But you can assemble studies that you find there, quotes, information from other books, and you can basically, put together evidence that supports your case. And the combination of this primary and secondary research is what makes you credible. It’s what makes people read what you’ve written and say, “Okay, they know what they’re talking about.” Otherwise, it’s a series of unsupported statements, basically a manifesto, and you’re like, why should I believe any of that? 

Adrian Tennant: You believe that case studies and specifically human stories are absolutely essential in business books. Can you explain why these are important ingredients?

Josh Bernoff: Yeah. It’s interesting that the first time I figured that out, the Groundswell book I wrote at Forrester was not the first book I proposed to write. I was going to write a book on the future of television, which I was the expert on at the time. It was full of all sorts of interesting insights. I wrote the book proposal. I sent it to the agent. The agent said, ” I can’t sell this.” And I said, “Why not?” And he said, “There’s no people in there and there’s no stories. Business books are made out of people and stories. This reads like a research report.” And of course it did because I was used to writing research reports. But I was like, “Oh, people, people in stories, I can do that.” So I started to realize that was central. And if you look at any really effective business books, they’re full of descriptions of the people who are doing these things, the experiences they had, when they succeeded, how they failed, how they recovered from failure. It’s what makes the book readable and interesting. And I would say when I work with authors, the biggest issue they have is that they haven’t put in the work ahead of time to collect these case study stories. And, if you’re like, “Okay, I need to turn in the manuscript in three weeks, I don’t have enough case studies.” Oh man, you are in terrible shape because it, it’s a long lead time to find these things. In Build a Better Business Book, there’s actually one case study per chapter, open every chapter with a case study. And so you hear about what it was like to get a cover done, or how Phil M.  Jones used all three of those publishing models at different times, or how Charlene came up with the idea for her book, how Jay Baer was so successful with a book that he wrote called Talk Triggers, and you learn from these things and they’re much more believable and it makes the book much more interesting.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s talk a bit about how you recommend authors approach the writing process. In Build a Better Business Book, you describe something called a fat outline. Can you explain what this is? 

Josh Bernoff: Yeah. Let me start by saying that one of the biggest mistakes authors make is to start by writing. because they’re like, “I’m an author, I’m going to write!” And then they’re like, “I feel blocked. I have authors block, I have writer’s block.” Well, of course, you do because you haven’t thought enough about what you’re doing! There are basically two kinds of writers, and I have stolen this nomenclature from fiction writing. They’re called planners and pantsers. Planners figure out exactly what’s going to go in, into something before they write, and pantsers write by the seat of their pants. And I’m telling you that it’s much more efficient to be a planner than a pantser! So what does that mean? It means, if you’re going to write a chapter, first of all, the chapter has to answer a question. So that’s where you start. This chapter is going to answer the question, “How will artificial intelligence affect my marketing plan?” Then you assemble various pieces. You know, there’s going to be a case study, there’s going to be, you know, research that you’ve collected. There’s going to be argumentation, there’s going to be a framework for thinking about it. There’s going to be advice, and this is where you take all of the pieces that you’ve got and assemble them into a fat outline. Now, a regular outline where you just have you know, headings, the subheadings and subheadings. Really easy to write and totally useless because you can’t really tell if that’s any good. A fat outline has actual content in it. It’s got quotes and pictures and basically anything that you’ve assembled and you rearrange those things until they are in an order that is appropriate for the chapter. And that doesn’t tap into the fear that people have about writer’s block because rearranging things in an outline doesn’t feel like writing. That doesn’t get into your imposter syndrome. Now, if you’ve done the fat outline, now when the time comes to write, you’re like, “Okay, it says the first thing to write is this.” So you write that. Okay, good job. Now go have lunch. Now you come back, and you’re like, “Okay, what it says the second thing I should write is this framework. Okay, I’m going to write that.” And, you don’t have to follow the fat outline slavishly. You can change things around, but with that framework in place, it is much easier to create a chapter, and it’s much more likely to flow, and you’re much less likely to cry tears of pain while you’re doing it. 

Adrian Tennant: What should always be included in the first chapter of a business book?

Josh Bernoff: The purpose of the first chapter of the business book is to get you to read the rest of the book. And, that means that you have to scare the crap out of people. There are two ways to scare the crap out of people, and they are called fear and greed. So fear is, If you don’t do the stuff it says in this book, bad things will happen. So for example, if you were writing a book about data breaches and cybersecurity, the first chapter would be about fear. “Oh my gosh, I better get ready for this because my company could be destroyed.” And greed is, “You’re going to be more successful if you follow this.” So like a productivity book, “Oh, I can get twice as much done in a day if I follow this. Oh, that sounds really good.” Or,  “I can, you know, get twice as many leads. That’s worth doing.” And so, you describe the problem you’re solving and then use this fear and greed to describe the consequences of the problem. And then, at the end of the first chapter, you have to give people a solution. So it’s like, “What do I do?” Okay, well this is the solution. And at that point, you don’t have every element of the solution in place because it’s just an introduction. But people will read that, and they’re like, “Okay, I see what you’re getting at. Now show me how to do that.” That’s what the rest of the book does. 

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after this message. 

Each month in partnership with our friends at Kogan Page, the Bigeye Book Club features interviews with authors who are experts in consumer research, retail, and branding. Our featured book for July is Brand Strategy in Three Steps: A Purpose-Driven Approach to Branding by Jay Mandel. The book walks readers through a new way to build a meaningful and authentic brand strategy focused on identity, intention, and implementation. IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners can save 25% on a print or electronic version of this month’s featured book by using the exclusive promo code BIGEYE25. This code is valid for all Kogan Page products and pre-orders and applies to their free paperback and e-book bundle offer. Shipping is always free to the US and UK when you order direct from Kogan Page, and it helps the authors too. So to order your copy of Brand Strategy In Three Steps, go to

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Josh Bernoff, the author of Build A Better Business Book: How To Plan, Write, And Promote A Book That Matters. So far, we’ve been making the assumption that the person with the idea for a business book comes up with its title, determines the best publishing model, and does the research and writing alone, but that’s not always the case. So Josh, can you talk a bit about the roles that co-authors and ghostwriters can play?

Josh Bernoff: Certainly, and my first three books were co-authored, my most recent two books were, solo authors, just me, and I’ve ghostwritten three books. So I’ve now personally gone through all of these processes. People think that having a co-author means that they’ll be able to divide up the work and they’ll have to do half as much work. If you don’t plan it right, it’s twice as much work if you have another author because of all the necessity to coordinate. So this is where it really pays off to be a planner and not a pantser because you and your co-author need to agree on what’s the main idea of the book. Agree on what are the chapters. Agree on who’s going to do the research. Agree on who’s going to do the interviews. Agree on who’s going to do the writing. Maybe you write the first three chapters and they write the next six chapters, and what process you’ll use to review what the other person is doing so that you can make sure that it hangs together as a single book. And, if you are efficient at that, if you have a systematic process in place, then you can have a book that’s faster and better than it would’ve been with just one author. But if you don’t plan that properly, you’ll just end up, you know, duplicating a lot of effort and being upset that the other person doesn’t somehow magically understand what you want. And one more tip here: don’t have three authors. It’s terrible. You get politics, two against one. It is just, I just think it’s a bad idea. Now when it comes to ghostwriting, sometimes the person with the idea doesn’t have the time to create the book or maybe doesn’t have the skill to be a good writer, and they hire somebody else to do that. And that also is something where if you plan the content carefully and the writer knows where the source material is coming from, right? I mean, I. Ghostwriting doesn’t come from the stratosphere. It comes from a very specific set of content that you’re sharing with a ghostwriter. If you do that, then the ghostwriter writes to your specifications, and you end up with a book. But you also need to plan on how you will review what the ghostwriter creates and make sure that it aligns with what you wanted to say. If the ghostwriter is inexperienced, or the collaboration isn’t planned out properly, then that process can go horribly awry. And I have to say in the three ghostwriting projects that I’ve done, in one, the two authors had a very clear idea of exactly what they wanted. I wrote to their specifications, and then they edited it often saying, you know, “This is wrong. No, change this.” And that was great. In another one, the guy basically had short conversations with me and then said, go write it. And I did all of the research and all of the writing myself. And then he would read the result and say, “Oh, yeah, that’s good.” That was the total feedback. The one I did most recently, it was a management consulting company and they had a whole bunch of slideware, you know, presentations and I had to basically try and tease out the main ideas out of that and turn that into a book. Three very different processes. And in general, I find that when it comes to ghostwriting, there’s not one standard way to do it. It has to be custom designed based on who the authors are and what the ghostwriter is capable of doing. 

Adrian Tennant: A book isn’t usually published directly from the author’s first draft. What part do editors play in getting a manuscript ready for publication? 

Josh Bernoff: The job of the editor is to tell you what’s wrong with you, right? So this is something I do often. I am an editor, and I’ve of course, worked with other editors. And, the editor is answering everything about the book from top to bottom that needs to be better. So that might start with, is the idea solid? It might go on to, are the chapters structured in a reasonable way? And then, you know, within each chapter, is each chapter organized in a reasonable way? Is it interesting to read? And then you get into the writing. You know, I would say, this is going to sound shocking, but half of what I do as an editor is to rewrite sentences that are written in the passive voice. Because people are just used to writing that way. And it’s very hard in a business book to understand what you’re supposed to do if it’s in the passive voice. The people don’t realize that they’re repeating things. In one book that I edited, they use the word ‘leverage’ like, 300 times. I’m like, “You know what? You’re stuck on this word, and people don’t know what it means. We need to get that out of there.” So all of those are possible things that an editor does, and then it is the job of the author to try and respond to those suggestions, while still maintaining the soul of the book. I want to point out something that people may not realize, which is that it’s traditionally been the role of the editor at the publishing house to do this. But increasingly now, publishers want a publishable manuscript. They don’t want to edit it. They don’t have the staff to do that. So even if you have a traditional publishing contract, you’re likely to have to hire your own developmental editor to get the book to where it needs to be. 

Adrian Tennant: When we discussed his most recent book, The Future Normal, Rohit Bhargava mentioned some of the ways that he and his co-author had used AI tools to support their writing process. Now, they didn’t use AI to write the text of the book but rather to generate ideas for visual elements and identify potential weaknesses in their arguments. What is your advice for writers? Should they use tools like chatGPT, and if so, how? 

Josh Bernoff: I definitely agree with what you just said, you can’t let a tool like chatGPT write your book. Because whatever you can say about the pros that chatGPT creates, it’s generally boring. There’s a quality that human writers have that AI writers do not have, and that quality is called ‘wit’. So, its turns of phrase. It’s the way you structure paragraphs. It’s little jokes that you include. It’s personal asides. These are the things that make a book come alive, and none of that is going to come out of AI. Now that doesn’t mean that AI is useless. It can be very useful to help you solve a problem. So you’re like, “Okay, here’s a bunch of texts that I wrote. What do you think are the five main ideas in here?” Hmm. Well, those weren’t the five main ideas that I thought they were. Maybe I need to go back and restructure this, you know? Where do you see duplication? That’s the kind of thing it can help with. I recently did the title exercise that we talked about earlier. I took descriptions of some successful books, plugged them into ChatGPT and said, give me five book titles that would match a book with this description. And there were some terrible, boring titles in there, but there were a few that were like, “Wait a minute. That’s really interesting”. So, yes, it didn’t find the answer, but it did help with the process of creating the answer. And,  I did find that to be a useful tool to have. You know, nobody faults you for using a spell checker to check your spelling. Well, this is just another tool that you have that you can use to benefit your writing process.

Adrian Tennant: Build a Better Business Book, received advanced praise from many previous IN CLEAR FOCUS guests, including Rohit Bhargava, Mitch Joel, and Melanie Deziel. In addition to talking about their books on podcasts like this one, what are some of the ways that authors can promote their business books? 

Josh Bernoff: You need a systematic plan for promotion. The biggest mistake that people make is to not promote or to not put much energy into promotion. Cause they’re like, “This is a great book. People will find it.” You know what? They won’t. So, this means that you need to have a plan, and every book promotion plan is going to be different. It depends on what the author’s resources are, whether they have the ability to hire publicity staff to help, whether they have connections. It’s “Oh yeah, you know, my sister-in-law works on the Oprah program.” ” Oh, good for you. You have a resource that other people don’t have. At that point, you basically want to do everything you can to get the word out. And I have five initials that will define what that plan is: it’s PQRST. P is positioning: what is, the audience and what kind of a book is it. For example, this is a how to book for Python programmers. The Q is the question, what’s the question that this book answers? You know, how can I balance my career and my family would be an example of a question. And then R, S and T are sort of the operational elements of it. R is reach. How are you going to get the word out to as many people as possible? Appearing on podcasts is one way to do that. S is spread. How are you going to get that to resonate? What will you give to people that they can share? Bits of video, infographics, blog posts, you know, comments on news articles. And the T is timing because, in contrast to other forms of marketing, book promotion is a time limited activity. You want to hit people as many times as possible in a period of about a month before and a month after the book publishes. And that way there’s this sort of, “Oh, that sounds interesting.” And then they forget, and then they hear about the book somewhere else, and they’re like, “Oh yeah, I remember hearing about that. Oh, I should get a copy of that.” And then they forget, and then they tune into somebody’s podcast and they’re like, “Oh, there it is again. You know what? This thing is everywhere. I have to get a copy.” And that only happens if all of those mentions are happening within a limited time period. 

Adrian Tennant: Are there any promotional tactics that you feel first-time authors should definitely avoid? 

Josh Bernoff: There’s one very expensive thing that doesn’t usually work. It’s called a bestseller program, also called a distributed buying program. So you might ask yourself a question like, “How can I get on the New York Times bestseller list?” The New York Times bestseller list is created by polling a bunch of bookstores to see how many copies of books are sold. One way to do that is to just be really popular, and a bunch of people buy your book. That’s the normal way. But you can also do that by paying a company to make it appear that there are a whole bunch of orders by ordering the book, from a whole bunch of bookstores, and then, for example, getting those copies and giving them out at speeches that you’re giving. Now, if you just imagine what it would be, typically you might need to sell 5,000 copies in a month to get on one of those lists. Okay? So that’s 5,000 copies of the book bought at a retail price of, let’s say, $25 apiece. That’s $125,000. Okay? That would be one way to become a New York Times bestseller. As long as the New York Times doesn’t catch on that you’re doing it and then disqualify you. So enormously expensive and not always effective. Plus, if you get caught doing it, you look like some kind of a shady character. So that’s one thing I’m very much telling people: Don’t do that unless you have an enormous amount of money!

Adrian Tennant: Josh, what are some of the ways you’ve seen business books work out really well for their authors? 

Josh Bernoff: You know, the definitions of success are so variable. It really is unique to each person. So, for example, Charlene Lee, my co-author on Groundswell, left Forrester Research, started her own business, partly based on having the reputation of having written this book on social media, built that whole business up, was very successful, and then sold the business for what I’m sure was millions of dollars. That’s one way to generate success. Not everybody’s going to have success at that level. The book Outside In that Forrester published about customer experience generated, you know, thousands of potential clients for them who wanted consulting help. There’s people like Jay who have, are getting, you know, more than $10,000 of speech and speaking 50 times a year. There are people who use the publication and the reputation that they get from it to get an academic position somewhere. Be a college professor. Some books generate leads. I edited a book on artificial intelligence. It didn’t sell that many copies, but it’s specifically about how corporations need to align their sort of data to be prepared for artificial intelligence. One lead that came from that book might generate a 2 million consulting contract for that author. So, these are all possible ways to succeed. And you notice I haven’t mentioned book sales here because book sales are typically not the most important way that people make money. The people who are making a lot of money from book sales are already making a huge amount of money from speeches and other successes that came from the book.

Adrian Tennant: Is there anybody who shouldn’t write a book? 

Josh Bernoff: If you think this is going to be a simple, easy process, then you shouldn’t write a book because it’s not. First of all, if your idea is the same as other people’s ideas, then we don’t need another book on that topic. So don’t write that book. If you are in it for greed. If you’re in it to be like, “Okay, I’ll write this book, and then I’ll make all this money.” No, that doesn’t work. Books succeed because they are helpful to readers. Nobody wants to read a book, which is about me, me, me, how great I am. And, people who are not willing to put in the effort, into the ideas, the research, the writing, and the promotion, if they don’t understand that level of commitment, then they probably shouldn’t write a book. Eighty-seven percent of the people in my author survey said that they were glad that they had made the choice to write a book. So it’s been a good decision for most people. But there are also people I talked to who are like, “Oh man, I had no idea, and I really shouldn’t have even started.” 

Adrian Tennant: So, Josh, as we come toward the end of the podcast, how should authors approach writing the final chapter of a book?

Josh Bernoff: You know, that worries a lot of people, the final chapter. I look at that, and I’m like, “Ha! No, that’s the easy part.” Because consider who’s reading the final chapter. Anyone who gets to that point and has not given up believes what you’ve said already. So they’re in the palm of your hand, and the people who have given up aren’t going to read it, so it doesn’t matter what you put in there for them. So now you basically want to take what the book says as a platform and go further. What will this mean in the future? How will this change the world? What is the next set of steps that people should take after they’ve done these things? You know, just take the idea further, and I’m going to unabashedly say where this is stolen from, which is my former employers at Forrester used to have a thing at the end of research reports called WIM: What It Means, which was taking the idea further. So that’s what we’re doing is basically taking the idea further. In several of these book processes, what I’ve done to create those final chapters is we do a brainstorming session with a bunch of smart people, maybe eight or ten, and we just say, “Here’s what the book idea is, what are the consequences of this?” And if you have eight or ten different smart people, you’re going to get a bunch of really interesting ideas there. And you’re like, “Okay, here’s five of these that I can really use.” And that becomes the material that forms the last chapter.

Adrian Tennant: Josh, what do you hope readers will take away from Build a Better Business Book

Josh Bernoff: What I hope that they understand, more than anything else, is that business books are stories. So if you understand that the whole book is a story and that the book is made out of case study stories, then you’re on the right track. And if you haven’t gotten that message, then you’re not likely to be able to be on a path to success. Beyond that, what I hope that people will do is – whenever they need to do something associated with the book, come up with a title, organize the chapters, figure out how they’re going to write something, do research, get a cover done, deal with copy edits, get the marketing plan –  there is a chapter in there for each of those things, and so they can basically go and dip in and say, “Alright, this is where I am right now. Here’s the best advice on what to do about that.” I just want to save people from pain. I’d say that a third of the endorsements I got were from authors who said, “Oh man, I wish I’d had this before. It would’ve saved me enormous amounts of trouble.” So you don’t have to have that experience. You can read it now and save yourself trouble before you get deeply into the process of writing a book. 

Adrian Tennant: If IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners would like to know more about how to Build A Better Business Book, what’s the best place to start?

Josh Bernoff: My blog is very active – it’s at If you go to, you’ll be able to see how to get the book right there. And if you subscribe to my blog, I actually publish something of substance every weekday. That’s five substantial blog posts every week. There’s a constant stream. I have answers there, and you can ask me a question, and then there’ll be a blog post the next day. That’s one way that I keep in touch with people. 

Adrian Tennant: Josh, thank you very much for being our guest this week on IN CLEAR FOCUS. 

Josh Bernoff: It’s been great to be here, and I hope that this helps some people out there who are considering writing a book. 

Adrian Tennant: Thanks again to my guest this week, Josh Bernoff, the author of Build A Better Business Book. You’ll find a transcript of this episode with links to the resources we discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at Just select ‘podcast’ from the menu. If you enjoyed this episode, please follow us wherever you listen to podcasts. Thank you for joining us for IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

And More