How to Write YOUR Business Book

Writing a business book is hard, from deciding on the topic to creating logic, story, and case studies. A best-selling author and ghost writer, Josh Bernoff, shares his advice on how to plan, write, and sell a business book.


Feb 15, 2019

Writing a business book is hard, from deciding on the topic to creating logic, story, and case studies. A best-selling author and ghost writer, Josh Bernoff, shares his advice on how to plan, write, and sell a business book.

Josh Bernoff has been a professional writer since 1982. He has coauthored three books on business strategy, including Groundswell, which was a bestseller. And he is passionate about clear, brief, fascinating communication.

For 20 years at Forrester Research, he wrote and edited reports on the future of technology. He learned to do kick­ass analysis of business strategy, then taught others to do so. In his last five years there, as Senior Vice President, Idea Development, he identified, developed, and promoted Forrester’s most powerful and influential ideas. He gave hundreds of speeches around the world, got quoted in every news source you can name, and gave strategy advice to countless clients from the world’s largest companies and tech vendors. Josh Bernoff also created Technographics, the segmentation that launched Forrester’s highly successful consumer survey business.

At Forrester he edited two books by other analysts: Outside In: The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business (New Harvest/HMH, 2012) by Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine and Digital Disruption: Unleashing the Next Wave of Innovation (Amazon Publishing, 2013) by James McQuivey.

Before Forrester Josh Bernoff spent 14 years in technology startups writing everything from product definitions to online tutorials to press releases. He studied mathematics in the Ph.D. program at MIT and was a National Science Foundation fellow.

Josh Bernoff is also the CEO of, a non­-profit organization dedicated to the pursuit of wellness through changing habits. He likes recreational biking and cracking wise in front of audiences.


Michael Krigsman: I know you've wanted to write a book because we all want to write a book, and it's damn hard. Today, on CXOTalk, we're talking with the guy, who is the guy, about how to write a book. I'm Michael Krigsman. I'm an industry analyst and the host of CXOTalk.

I'm so thrilled to welcome Josh Bernoff. He was the top analyst at Forrester Research. He's a bestselling author. John Bernoff, welcome back to CXOTalk. I'm happy to see you.

Josh Bernoff: Thanks, Michael. Really great to be here to talk to your audience. Yes, in the last four years, I've focused my effort on writing, and especially on helping authors who want to create a business book that helps them boost their standing as an expert.

Michael Krigsman: [Laughter] Tell us the name of your company.

Josh Bernoff: Okay. The name of my company is WOB LLC. That stands for Without Bullshit, a book that I wrote right after leaving Forrester. It was called Writing Without Bullshit. I do tend to tell the truth, and that's something people have to get used to.

Michael Krigsman: It's funny because I always think of you as Mr. No Bullshit. You write a daily column. It's great.

Josh Bernoff: Yes, well, that's what I want people to think of me as, and I've increasingly focused that on telling the no bullshit story about what it takes to do a book and then when you shouldn't do it, when it doesn't actually make sense for people.

Michael Krigsman: All right, so let's begin at the beginning. Why should somebody write a book?

Josh Bernoff: They need to ask a question, which is, "When this is done and it's out there, what's it going to do for me?" Unless you really have a lot of idle time and this is just a hobby, the reason people write books is because they want to boost their standing as some sort of a thought leader or an expert. The reason you write a book is because you have an original idea about something, about how people can be more productive, about how artificial intelligence is going to change the world, whatever it happens to be, and you want to help people to understand that and then, eventually, work with you or your company to actually react to and benefit from that trend that you're talking about.

Michael Krigsman: Josh, explain the mechanism that these kinds of benefits happen when you write a book.

Josh Bernoff: Well, a book basically is content marketing. It's a way to get a bunch of connected ideas out in the world where people can see them. It will certainly give people the ability to speak, sometimes keynote speeches that make money but, in many cases, it's speeches at other places and conferences it will get you onto podcasts, it will get you other people writing about you, the ability to write op-eds. I think, to the extent that your book has an idea that spreads, it's a way for people to talk about what you think, tell other people about it, and create at least some sort of virality about your exciting way of looking at the world.

Michael Krigsman: Creating virality about your views and your name is a key thing, but I think many people look at best sellers and they say, "I can do that," and they want to get rich.

Josh Bernoff: It's very unlikely that somebody writing a business book is going to be successful to the point where they're making $500,000 a year on speaking engagements and bringing in hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of royalties. Now, that happens. There is a Daniel Pink out there. There are people like that, but most people just don't have the ability to rise to that level. Even if they do, they're unlikely to hit. It's a hit or miss kind of thing.

I'll just mention that my first book that I wrote with Charlene Li called Groundswell ten years ago about social media, it was a very well written book. It was a great idea. It sold 150,000 copies. I was like, "Oh, that's so awesome. I know how to write a bestselling book."

Well, I knew how to write a good book and I got lucky with the timing. I've gotten up to bat a bunch of times since then and helped other people with books that I thought were excellent, but it hasn't happened at that level of success. Even though those other books have been helpful from a thought leadership perspective, you don't usually get the chance to just bat at a best seller.

Michael Krigsman: The average book is not going to 150,000 copies; not even close.

Josh Bernoff: No. If you're in a position to get 10,000, 20,000, 30,000 copies of a book out, you'll be moderately successful as an author, at least as far as the books go, but you could be incredibly successful in terms of generating business. I often find that what matters is not how many go out there, but that that book gets in the hands of someone who says, "Ah! This is the person I need to talk to. This is the idea I need to know about. That is really where the value is, is in reaching those people that are exactly the right audience for you."

Michael Krigsman: All right, so the summary is you write -- for most of us, you write a business book because it will help you reach your target audience, get your name out there, and build your brand.

Josh Bernoff: Exactly right. I want to focus on what you said about your target audience. You need to have a very clear idea, when you start, of who that audience is. If you're writing a book on artificial intelligence, your audience might be CIOs and their direct reports. If you are writing a book on marketing, maybe it's CMOs and their direct reports. If you're writing a book on productivity, then your audience might be really anyone who wants to be more productive at work, but that's a little bit of a different proposition. Unless you have a clear idea of who is going to benefit from the book, and I mean specifically--salespeople, marketing people, whatever--unless you have that idea in your head, then the book doesn't have the necessary focus to be successful.

Michael Krigsman: That audience is the kind of crucial -- once you decide on your motivation for writing the book, defining your audience is the next crucial step.

Josh Bernoff: Yes, it is, and I'd go a little bit further than that. You want to have a statement of how you are going to help people. All successful business books are about helping people. If they're about strategy, they're about helping people to develop strategies for their business. If they are about productivity, they're about helping people to get more done during their day.

There are a few that are a memoir, and that's just entertainment, you know, "How I started this company, this exciting thing happened." But, in the end, those are just like fiction. People buy them for the narrative. 99% of the time the question is, what's my target audience and what will they learn that will be helpful to them from reading this?

Michael Krigsman: I got a free copy of Neil Young's autobiography and it was very entertaining. I don't think I learned anything, but I enjoyed it.

All right, how do we identify the right audience?

Josh Bernoff: I think that ought to be simple. First of all, there's no reason for you to write a book if you don't have an idea. You need to have an original idea.

How did you get that original idea? Well, that comes from your work. If you're a consultant, maybe you talk to dozens of people who are all trying to scale up from medium to large size businesses. Maybe you are a company that offers ratings and review software, so you're helping people to improve their websites and use ratings and reviews.

Whatever it happens to be in your business, you are presumably providing some sort of a product or service that's helping people. Your audience, in general, is the kind of people who you've been helping in your work. Your objective is to help them to understand what you've learned from interacting with so many people like that over the course of that work.

Michael Krigsman: The audience then is the set of people that you have been selling to, working for; is that the summary?

Josh Bernoff: I'd go broader than that. The set of people that you have been interacting with and influencing in some sense or another. It might be that you sell to medium-sized businesses, but you've got a realization that you think helps small businesses and larger businesses as well. But unless these ideas that you've developed in the course of your work are applicable to that whole audience, then you really don't have enough of a focus to be able to say something useful.

Michael Krigsman: All right. Now you've identified that audience, what does that mean for the way you construct the book?

Josh Bernoff: Well, I'm going to actually reveal to your listeners here the complete code for how business books work.

Michael Krigsman: I'm taking notes. I'm taking notes. Go, go, go.

Josh Bernoff: Okay. It's not a secret. Anyone who has read business books sort of knows this, but I keep getting authors who are like, "Oh, they don't understand how this works."

The key thing to understand is about chapter 1. Chapter 1 has one purpose. Chapter 1 of your book is the "scare the crap out of you" chapter because you've got to jolt people awake and make them say, "Oh, my gosh!"

There are two forms of "scare the crap out of you." There's fear and there's greed.

Fear is, "Oh, my gosh! Something bad could happen unless I do what this book says." It might be, we need to change the way we safeguard our data or we're going to have a data breach. That would be an example of a fear book.

Greed is much simpler. That's just, "Oh, there's a trend here. If we jump onboard this, we can be more productive. We can be more successful. We can make more money."

These are not exclusive either. You can have fear and greed in the same book. Chapter 1 is to scare the crap out of you. Chapter 1 tends to have a bunch of unsupported assumptions in it because people are willing to give you the benefit of the doubt.

It's like, "Oh, my gosh. This sounds amazing. This is really different. I never thought about it this way. If this is true, then I have to do things differently."

Well, that's what the rest of the book is about. The chapters that follow chapter 1--chapter 2, chapter 3, and so on--are going to be backing up your case. This is where the person says, "If this is true," you're like, "Let me explain to you the proof about the fact that this actually is true."

Then what follows that are the consequences. Here is what this means for middle managers and here's what this means for senior managers. Here's what this means for pharmaceutical companies, and here's what it means for medical device companies, and here's what it means for doctors.

Or, there are five steps you need to follow and here's step one. Then the next chapter is step two. The next chapter is step three and so on.

The last two-thirds of the book, I guess you would say, is about the consequences and then what you need to do to actually take this insight and do something useful with it.

Michael Krigsman: Josh, you've been describing a story arch, and so maybe weave that concept in here for us.

Josh Bernoff: Okay. Certainly, there's an arch for the whole book, but I think, actually, more important is to look at the arch that goes on in an individual chapter because those are the stories that get woven together into the whole book. I was recently working with an author, and I realized this person doesn't really understand how these ideas go together. I realized, okay, I should write down how that works.

If you have a chapter in a business book, you want to think about an objective. This is like the behavioral objectives that educators use. The objective is something like, "At the end of reading this chapter, the reader will be able to--" so it might be, "At the end of this chapter, the reader will be able to recognize the four causes of disruption and understand how they apply to their business," or, "At the end of this chapter, the reader will be able to change their strategy about how they use email and become more productive."

Now, the reason I say you need that objective is because, at the beginning of the chapter, you set up the problem. It's not a mystery. You say, "I'm going to tell you how to do these things. Then you explain, "This thing comes next and this thing comes next and this thing comes next." It's like, "Okay, now I see how to do the thing that this chapter was trying to teach me to do."

I should also talk about case studies. I'm actually editing a book right now. My feedback is going to be, "This is all theory. When do I see this actually in practice with companies?" It just makes so much difference in a book to tell stories.

I learned early in my career. Because I was an analyst, I wrote a book proposal. The agent came back and said, "This isn't a business book. There's no people and there's no stories."

It's like, "Ohhhh, that’s really important." What I realized is that all books, including business books, are made out of people and stories, which means you need to have case studies that start, "Fred had a problem. His business wasn't growing the way that it used to. As a result, this happened. Then this happened. Then he had this realization and he did this. These things happened, and they all lived happily ever after."

Then, at the end of that, you say, "What can we learn from Fred's experience?" Without those people and stories, it just becomes sort of dry, academic, and uninteresting.

Michael Krigsman: Storytelling is a crucial aspect of this whole process.

Josh Bernoff: Yes, it is. There are some books that are almost all case studies. The ingredients of a business book are the case studies. There's argumentation. There are proof points like statistics and surveys, for example, and there are recommendations; you have to do these things as a result of what I've seen or what I've explained.

The people and the stories are what make this come alive because the reader, as they are reading it, they say, "Oh, yeah. I see what she's going through. I feel the same way. She solved her problem. Maybe I can solve my problem in the same way."

There are also the stories with the unhappy ending. "Oh, look what happened to him. That was a disaster. I've got to make sure that doesn't happen to me."

Michael Krigsman: What are the components of a good story? I think storytelling is so important and people have a lot of trouble with it. What are the components of a good story?

Josh Bernoff: I just want to say that the best stories are from first-hand interviews or experience. In one of my books, I wrote the story about how T-Mobile succeeded. I didn't get a chance to interview them, and that was okay. But it's much better if you actually get to interview the people first-hand and write their story, whether they're some individual nobody has ever heard of or a product manager at Proctor & Gamble.

The ingredients are, you'd get a quick introduction to the person. "Chandra had been a product manager for the last 15 years. In fact, she'd always wanted to do that since she was a child." That's all you need to say about Chandra. We don't really want to know what color hair she has or that her mother was a ballet dancer.

Then you set up the problem. These are the problems that this person faced. You talk about the struggles that they had trying to solve those problems. There's usually some sort of a realization. Then very important is you need to have results, preferably quantitative results.

They finally hit on this. Once they started doing this, sales increased by 27% and they made $116 million more than they had the previous year. Okay, now I'm paying attention.

The final part, which is typically not actually shown in the story but comes right after it in the text, is what I call the moral of the story. This is, "What can we learn from Chandra's experience?" Then you get into connecting that to the lessons, structures, frameworks, or advice that you have in your book.

I actually had an editorial comment in one of the books I worked on recently. The guy thought it was so funny, he actually published it on his Facebook. I said, "This is a fascinating story. However, it actually proves exactly the opposite of what you're trying to say in this chapter." [Laughter]

We realized, okay, there's a problem. It's a really interesting story, but it doesn't actually communicate that you are an expert and you have knowledge and a different way to look at things. In fact, it's showing people the opposite of what you said is actually true.

Michael Krigsman: Can you explain to us the link between that initial focus you described at the beginning of our conversation on the importance of audience and the type of stories that you weave in so that we don't run into this kind of problem that you just described?

Josh Bernoff: I think it should be pretty clear that the people that you're telling the stories about should be similar to the people who are reading the book. In some cases, that's aspirational. If I'm going to tell you a story about a product manager at CVS, then if you're a project manager, you're going to be like, "Okay, well, I don't actually work at a retailer, but my problems are not all that different from his problems, so maybe I can take some lessons from this." People like to throw in stories about Shonda Rhimes or Michael Jackson or something, and that's fine, but you really don't need very much of that because most people don't identify with those folks.

Now, it can be aspirational. For example, in Groundswell, my first book with Charlene Li, we talked about people in all different roles in business, and that book ended up being relevant for people not just at the C-level in corporations, but all the way down through the management ranks. But they were all basically saying, "Hey, boss of my boss, look what these people did. We should be doing that," so it was relevant to them because it was relevant to the environment they worked in, even if they were not the CMO of some company.

Michael Krigsman: It sounds like, as you described earlier, writing a book, in a way, is like content marketing. It sounds like the lessons you're describing of focus and being aware of the needs of the audience are actually not any different from concepts in marketing such as personalization and being aware of who you're selling to.

Josh Bernoff: That's very much the case, but the difference here is the stakes. If you look at content marketing, okay, so you write a blog post. All right, so that took you an hour and a half. Maybe it goes through some reviews, but that's a relatively small amount of effort.

Go up a level of effort. We're going to write a white paper. We're going to have to do a survey and do some analysis. Maybe hire a writer to do that. Okay, maybe we end up spending $8,000 or $10,000 worth of effort on that. If that fails, it's not a disaster.

If you do a book, you're going to be working on this for three, four, five months. As a result of that, you really have to get it right. If you put that much effort in and then you don't write it properly, you don't launch it properly, you don't think carefully enough about the audience, you don't use the right publishing model, there are all these things you can do wrong that will cause it to fizzle. Then, at the end of that, it's like, "Wow, that was a lot of work and it didn't really do much good."

Michael Krigsman: Okay. On the subject of blogs, we have a question from Arsalan Khan on Twitter who asks, "What are your thoughts about building a book audience in a blog? For example, writing chapters and subchapters in the form of blog posts, and should media be added to it?" I think what he's asking is, can you take your blog posts and turn them into a book?

Josh Bernoff: I did. This is my most recent book that came out under my own name, Writing Without Bullshit. The way I wrote this is I started a blog about writing. I covered as many topics as I could about passive voice, about what it's like to do editing in a company, all of the different things. Then when I looked at all of those pieces, I was able to organize that together and say, "You know what? There's about two-thirds of a book here." I'm definitely in favor of both building an audience and trying out ideas by blogging.

Now, there is a philosophy that says that if you've already put the ideas out by blogging, then people won't want to read the book. But it's difficult for people to assemble all of the different ideas in your blog into a coherent whole. Frankly, the person who is a big fan of your blog is much more likely to tell other people they ought to get the book than to be complaining that it's the stuff we already read. The kind of people who tell you not to do that, they're called publishers, and you shouldn't listen to them.

Michael Krigsman: That's an interesting topic, so let's talk about publishers. You've now got the book. How do you bring your book to market?

Josh Bernoff: Okay. The first thing to understand is that you want to be thinking carefully about publishing models before you write the book because it's a very big risk to go and write the whole thing and then, at that point, be saying, "Hmm, I wonder what I could do to get this published."

There are three basic publishing models that you can use. How you act will be different depending on which of these you choose. If you have the ability to generate a very big audience and sell 10,000 or 20,000 copies that you can prove it, then you might consider going through traditional publishing. I've done a number of books through traditional publishers. That book I just showed you was at HarperBusiness. My first book was at Harvard Business Press.

The good news about going that way is that you actually get paid to do it. You get an advance. The challenge is that you have to get selected. They have to actually believe you, which means you need to pitch them before the book is done with a proposal, and that's a fair amount of work. It is probably about 15 to 18 months between the time that you make the deal and when the book comes out. Most people are too impatient to really put up with that. If you're not willing to wait a while, then you're going to have a problem with traditional publishing.

The second model that's available now is a hybrid publisher. A hybrid publisher is just like a traditional publisher, except the hybrid publisher works for you. You basically hire a publisher to produce the book for you.

I ghostwrote two books last year and both of them are being done by a hybrid publishing model. Here, I'll show you one of them. This is a book called Marketing to the Entitled Consumer. You can see it says, Nick Worth and Dave Franklin with Josh Bernoff. Those are the two guys that I helped with this book. We hired Mascot Books to produce the book for us.

That goes much faster and, frankly, hybrid publishers are much more responsive because you're paying them. You're probably looking at more like eight or nine months between when you make the deal and when the book comes out as opposed to 15 to 18 months. The challenge there is it's expensive. It might cost you $10,000, $20,000, even $40,000 or $50,000 because you're paying for everything including printing the books.

The third model, which I've increasingly been involved in, is a self-publishing model. In the self-publishing model, you produce the book and then you upload it to Kindle Direct Publishing, and it's available on Amazon as both an e-book and a print on demand book.

I edited two books that fit that model in the last year. This is an example of one of them. It's called Data Leverage, and you can see the two authors are Christian Ward and James Ward.

It's a paperback book, but it looks pretty much like any other paperback book. It's a quality product. We did a nice cover on it. It's well edited. It went through copy editing. We paid somebody to do the cover. Anyone can get a look at this.

It's much less expensive to produce a book this way, but such a book will not appear in the airport bookstore. It will not appear in anyplace except on Amazon. While it can be produced much more quickly, it has a lot less of an impact than a traditionally published hardback book.

If you want speed, you go with self-publish. If you don't mind the cost and you want to go moderately fast, you can go with a hybrid publisher. If you want the prestige and you want to get paid, but you're willing to wait a while, you can go with a traditional publishing model.

Michael Krigsman: Josh, you mentioned earlier that if you think you can sell--what was the number--20,000 books, then you may be a candidate for traditional publishing?

Josh Bernoff: Right. There's one publisher I know. I'll mention their name. It's Wiley. The guy there has specifically told me, "If you can prove that you can sell 20,000 copies, we'll consider it. If you can't, we won't." They're not in the business of trying to take big risks. They really want you to show you're going to do all of the work, and that means you need to have speaking engagements or a sales force that's going to roll it out or a blog that reaches a million people or some other mechanism that proves to them that you can sell 20,000 copies.

The other publishers, some of them are a little bit more willing to take a risk with you. But increasingly, in your book proposal, you need to say, "These are the activities I'm going to use to promote the book and why I believe we can sell X number of copies."

Michael Krigsman: If you self-publish the book, do you gain the same benefit of credibility and the opportunity as sort of a key to open the doors to speaking engagements and other kinds of activities that you would have if you were going through a traditional publisher?

Josh Bernoff: It's harder. It's definitely harder to do that. Most of the people who really want to have an impact are going to be going through either a traditional publisher or hybrid publishing. There's no free lunch here. You either have to pay or you're not going to have as big of an impact.

If you look at the two books that I edited last year that went through this model, one is called Clarity Wins, and that's for small businesspeople to be able to get referrals, and that book doesn't have to sell 20,000, 30,000, or 40,000 copies to be successful. It just has to get into the hands of people who say, "Oh, I've got to work with this guy," and then generate business for the person who wrote it.

The same with the Data Leverage book I showed you. That just needs to get into the hands of the people who are making data strategy decisions in companies. They're going to read that and say, "Oh, man. I've got to work with these guys. They're the experts." It will generate that business for the authors of that book.

Michael Krigsman: We have another question from Twitter. Viraj Shah says, "Can you summarize the experience of writing a book in one written sentence?"

Josh Bernoff: [Laughter] No, I cannot. The reason I cannot summarize the experience of writing a book is that it is not the same for everybody. If you ask me to summarize my experience of writing a book, I would say, "Come up with an incredible idea, do some fascinating research, interview people to get really interesting stories, and then weave it together using pros that makes people thrilled and excited." That's my definition of a good time. The fact that that's my job now, my gosh, I'm just so excited to be able to do that at this point in my life.

Other people find the experience painful. It's like, "I can't figure out what I want to say. I can't get the words to flow. I can't figure out what the structure is. I don't really know what my idea is," and that can be very frustrating.

To be frank, that's really what my business is about is to sit down with people like that and help them. Even in the cases where they've had that and that's come out, and they're like, "Oh, look here. I've produced it. Here it is," if you don't launch it properly, then the experience of writing a book is, "Wow. I put all of that stuff, all of my energy into that. I produced this really good thing, and then it went out into the ether and made no impact whatsoever."

Michael Krigsman: I talk with many authors. It seems like a lot of my friends and professional colleagues are authors. The part that universally people seem to hate is the editing and revision process.

Josh Bernoff: You're making me feel like the dentist, right? It's like I know I need this, but I know it's going to hurt. [Laughter]

It doesn't have to be that way. In particular, when I function as an editor, I am always very clear about what I believe the problems are and also why the writer is having these problems. When you can connect what you need to do to how it will make the book more effective, it doesn't become so painful.

The editing process is just basically somebody saying, "Oh, you're a bad writer. You're a bad writer. You're a bad writer. I'm so smart and you're so stupid," yes, that's going to be painful. An appropriate editing process, the editor is a partner with the writer. At the end of it, the writer is saying not only is the book better but, also, I feel like I know more.

I'll just mention this. At Forrester Research, part of my job was to edit the most important reports that people were working on. I consistently heard two things. One is, while I was doing it, they said, "Wow, you are really making me work much harder than I ever had to work on one of these reports before." Then when it was done, they would say, "Would you edit my next report?" [Laughter] Clearly, there was an understanding that that was getting to a level where it was valuable to the people who were having that editorial experience.

Michael Krigsman: What about the time commitment? I'm sure there are many people who have the platform, have the experience and the ideas, but they just don't have time to write a book? What about that?

Josh Bernoff: That can be very hard. The kind of people who write the best books are successful businesspeople. Successful businesspeople are not known for having a whole lot of time available. People end up working on nights and weekends sometimes or on airplanes. If you can do that and that's good for you, that's great.

Other people have a really hard time getting themselves into the right frame of mind to do that. That's where, in some cases, ghostwriting comes in. The book I showed before the marketing book, those two guys really wanted to write it themselves. Then after a while, they came back to me and said, "We just can't get the time together to do this."

If you read that book, it is their ideas expressed in the words that would have been the words that they used. They just hired somebody else--in this case, it was me--as their ghostwriter to assemble it and put it together. It was a lot easier for them to read what I wrote and said, "All right, here's what you got right. Here's what you got wrong. Here are the changes you need to make," than it would have been to actually sit down and write paragraph after paragraph of pros given how busy they were.

Michael Krigsman: I want to shift in a moment to the marketing of the books. However, I do have a burning question that I've wondered about folks like yourself who write books for others. How do you keep your ego in check that you're doing all of this work and it's not your name at the end of the day on the top of the door, so to speak; it's somebody else's name?

Josh Bernoff: [Laughter] There's a pretty easy answer to that question. I get paid.

Michael Krigsman: [Laughter]

Josh Bernoff: I just wrote a book for a CEO in Silicon Valley about artificial intelligence. I ghost wrote that book for him. My name is on the cover, but it's below his name, and that's as it should be because it's his ideas and his concept.

It was an exciting project to work on. I'm really pleased with how it came out but, when there was a disagreement, he always won because it was his book. Having ghostwritten those two books last year, I'm ready to do one on my own, but it's just a different kind of project.

When you are an editor, when you are a ghostwriter, or when you're doing idea development with an author, and those are the three of the things that I do, it's really not about me. I'm in a service position. It's just like anyone else who is in a service position. Your job is to serve the needs of your client and it's really not about getting your name on the door. That's appropriate when you write your own book. It's not appropriate for these other things.

Michael Krigsman: It's funny. I interview a lot of people, obviously, for CXOTalk and moderate panels. It's very much exactly the same kind of thing. When you're interviewing somebody, I'm sure it's when you're the same way you're editing or writing for them. Your job is to bring out their best.

Josh Bernoff: I very much feel that way. My definition of success is that when someone looks at what I've helped them to create, whether I'm ghostwriting for them, whether I'm editing them, that they look at it at the end and say, "You helped me to say what I really needed to say. You allowed me to get my voice." I'm not trying to say what I believe. I'm trying to help them to say what they believe, and that's the definition of success in those kinds of relationships.

Michael Krigsman: All right, we have under ten minutes and there's one remaining topic that we absolutely need to talk about. That is, you've now got this book. You've either gone to a traditional publisher who now expects you to be the one to sell the book and market the book, unlike the old ways where that was kind of their job--no longer--or you've published the book yourself and, if you don't sell it, ain't nobody going to sell it at all. Selling the book is really darn important. How do you sell your book?

Josh Bernoff: If you're going to pitch a traditional publisher, you actually have to include a section in the proposal about how you're going to do this. I find that that's valuable for people, specifically because it forces them to think through the steps. There are many elements of that. It's just different based on what your assets are.

Among the elements are your ability to give speeches. If you're in a position to give the keynote at a conference, that certainly will make a difference. There are increasingly large amounts of bylined article activities, opportunities, so you write an article for CRM Magazine, or you write an article for a training magazine or whatever the outlet is, and they have space to fill and they're happy to do that.

I've written a number of articles for Harvard Business Review online, which gets a pretty significant audience. Some people have the ability to write op-eds, for example. There are social media, so you would certainly have a chance to talk about it and share shareable things, infographics, videos, that kind of thing.

There is also more traditional content distribution, so blogging. I blog every day at, every weekday. I've built up an audience there, and that gives me the chance to get the word out.

If it were your book, Michael, and CXOTalk would be your chance to get the word out. If you have regular communication with the audience, you can do those things.

It's also possible to hire a book publicist. The publicists basically understand how to do the things that I've talked about, only much more professionally. They all reach out to 150 influencers about this. They'll reach out to a whole bunch of podcasts to try and get featured on them. They'll be able to identify more byline articles and traditional press articles, chances for you to get quoted in the press, put out a press release because your idea is relevant to something that just happened in the news.

Whoever wrote the book about national emergencies is going to be a very popular guy in the next couple of days. Of course, you have to pay the publicist but, if you want to ramp things up to the next level, that's a great way to do that.

Michael Krigsman: I will say that here on CXOTalk, we get pitched, folks who are writing, who have written books. We got pitched, for example, the chairman of Nokia, who was a guest on this show because he wrote a book. It was a pretty interesting book.

I'll give a shout-out to an agency, a literary -- I don't know if they'd be called a literary agency. I don't know if they're publicists, but they do book PR at a very high level. That's Fortier, F-O-R-T-I-E-R. They're excellent.

Josh Bernoff: If you look at that, they do that. K. Vanrex (phonetic) is the one I'm working with now. Stern & Associates is another one that works with people who do a lot of public speaking. Yeah, they're top-end people who can help you out.

Michael Krigsman: Okay. We have just a couple of minutes left. Any final thoughts on this topic, Josh, that you think is important to share that we haven't covered?

Josh Bernoff: I guess what I'd leave people with is this question of, people start with, "I think I might want to write a book," or, "People tell me I should write a book." Unless you have an idea that can actually change people's thinking and help them to do better in some way, then don't do this because you're talking about months and months of work. But if you do have that idea, if you really have this burning need to let people know that the world I different from the way they think it is, and if you're willing to put in the time and effort, it can be a very rewarding thing.

I guess what I'd say is, people really need to sort of take a step back and assess why are they doing this. To the extent that they can justify that because they really have this powerful idea, it can be a very powerful thing to do to reach your audience.

Michael Krigsman: Okay. Well, Josh Bernoff, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today. It's been a very interesting conversation.

Josh Bernoff: Michael, thanks. Thanks for having me on. I guess the last thing I'll mention is, if people want to get a look at what a book proposal looks like, if you go to the "goodies" area on my website and go to the bottom, you can actually click on and download a copy of the book proposal I wrote for Writing Without Bullshit and get a look at what's actually involved in that.

Michael Krigsman: Okay. Everybody, thank you so much for watching. Before you go, please, now subscribe on YouTube and go to the CXOTalk website. Also, sign up for our newsletter. We have amazing, amazing interviews there. Come back and we'll see you again next time. Okay, everybody. Have a great day. Thanks. Bye-bye.

Published Date: Feb 15, 2019

Author: Michael Krigsman

Episode ID: 582