Please make your book interesting
I do about 150 podcasts a year. Most of my guests are authors who are promoting their books. Most of the books (all) are non-fiction.
After doing about 1300+ podcasts in nine years, I can tell you that most authors say the exact same thing as other authors. And then they say the same things I've heard on a dozen other podcasts.
I've done a good job this past year of recognizing this early on and not having guests on if I read their books and think they have nothing unique to say.
I don't blame them. They want to write a book. They want that credential for a variety of reasons. But they don't have anything original to say.
So, for instance, they might repeat the same marketing/leadership/self-improvement/success advice they've heard or read a million times over. And now they can say they wrote a "best-selling" book and they are an expert. I have no problem with this.
And I take responsibility for only reading their books at the last minute before the podcast (I do this so every single page is still emblazoned in my short-term memory write before the podcast) so I often don't know. Now I try to read part of the book much earlier before I agree to have the authors on.
Again, I am not blaming the authors and I am taking responsibility myself. And I also understand why they do this. Writing is a skill, just like whatever they do for a living is a skill, and it's hard to have both skills.
But here's some ideas for people to have interesting books.
1. Your story is ALWAYS interesting
Whether you believe this or not, your story is the most interesting story you have. It's the one story AI can't tell better than you. You've done interesting things. You've lived your own unique life. And even the reasons you were interested in writing this book, are interesting to me and others if you write authentically.
Like, if you say, "I wanted to give talks about leadership because I thought it would be a way to have sex with strangers I might meet in the audience," then, I hate to say it, that's going to be pretty authentic.
Or if you say, "My dad was constantly humiliated by his boss every day I was growing up so I was determine to learn how to be a leader who did not humiliate his employees" and then you describe the process by which you did this and your stories along the way, that also would be interesting.
2. Don't be a scientist
A lot of self-help books, whether it's about negotiation or the power of being humble or gratitude, or whatever, quote too many scientific studies.
This is awful. Sure, it's nice to have a little backup. But many of that advice is not practical in real life. Just because I know that 7 out of 10 people will give me their subway seat if I ask them, will never ever help me in real life.
I'd rather know the story of why the professor did that research. Or what someone was thinking when a student asked for their subway seat. Or what happened when the author tried the technique in real life.
Many books are just baskets of scientific studies.
Now we have a great new question to ask ourselves when writing a chapter: Can an AI write this chapter? If the answer is yes, then re-write.
I wrote an 80 page book Saturday afternoon about the neuroscience of persuasion just using ChatGPT. I did it as an experiment and have no intention of publishing. But, to be honest, it was a fascinating and useless read.
It even gave me recipes of meals that would spike my BDNF neurons (I have no idea what that is) to give me faster response times in negotiations. I don't know.
But I know people can write really "smart" books now using AI. But they won't be good books.
3. Connect communities.
Robert Cialdini's book, "Influence" is a classic book now in the marketing industry. You know it's a classic book when a 10th anniversary edition comes out and sells well. He's been on my podcast twice and always has interesting things to say.
But I think he got lucky a little. No offense to him because I do think it's a great book and he's a good guy and guest.
I think the science was able to put to words what many marketers and copywriters instinctively knew. So he was able to connect communities: marketers who had been using some of the techniques he describes, and the scientists who have been writing research papers on these topics.
It just so happens that many of the techniques he describes using academic papers are actually able to be used in practice.
So if you write a book sports peak performance and you say something unusual like, "leg strength is the number one thing that correlates to successful golf performance, all other training being equal", and you prove it with science but also share some stories of how it's used in real life, then congrats.
Unusual thing + real story + scientific proof + connecting communities = good book.
Another example is Annie Duke's book, "Thinking in Bets".
Annie Duke took a concept that every statistician knows, "expected value" and uses to describe something that many people would think is counter-intuitive: you can make a decision knowing that the outcome is almost definitely going to be bad for you and yet it's still the right decision.
She's able to tell this story from her experience in poker, research other stories, present the basic statistics (and the history of those statistics) and come up with a unique book.
4. Add to the frontier of knowledge
"Range" by David Epstein, studies the ideas behind the peak performance concept "the 10,000 hour rule".
David has a unique background. Trained as a geologist but obsessed with sports he became the youngest writer for Sports Illustrated by being their "science of sports" writer.
This unusual expertise combined with studying 100s of stories of sports excellence and scientific research allowed him to add to the frontier of knowledge of what creates great athletes.
It might NOT be 10,000 hours of repetition but good synthesis of a variety of disciplines that creates peak performance.
It's not like this idea was a big secret but Epstein uses real stories and backed (as minimally as possible) by science to write a good and unique book that expands the frontier of what we thought we knew about an area.
5. Make an old idea new
Ryan Holiday and Robert Greene are the masters. Ryan takes an old philosophy, Stoicism, and takes a simple concept from it that is relevant to everyone (e.g. "Discipline" or "Ego" or "courage") and tells 30-100 modern day stories exemplifyng the concept and how the story is an example from the ancient philosophy.
This was unique (other books about stoicism tended to focus on the history of it and the history of the ideas rather than putting Babe Ruth or John McCain front and center) and useful.
6. Be a really good writer.
Writing is a hard skill. Like any skill, it takes years and years of daily practice to become good at it.
Which is why the best writers are often fiction writers are people who have focused their careers on story-telling.
Non-fiction writers focus on the non-fiction fields they have become an expert on. This gives them the knowledge to write a book but they didn't necessarily also devote the years to becoming a good writer.
You can tell a good writer by how many people later try to mimic them.
I have read 100s of people trying to mimic writers like Hunter S Thompson (mimic idea: take a lot of drugs and go to a political convention), Tucker Max (mimic idea: write about having sex a lot in college ), Charles Bukowski (mimic idea: drink a lot, have a shitty job, and write about it) without anyone coming even close to the quality of these writers.
Because they miss the point.
All of the above writers are incredibly self-deprecating and great storytellers and writers. The stories they tell are the vehicles they use to exhibit this skill.
Mimicking often fails to reveal the more interesting points that the above writers are really reaching for in their stories because the mimics are typewriting the stories but not really writing the stories, with all of their shades of nuance.
- Tell your story
- Tell other people's stories
- Tell the journey as well as the conclusion (this will unveil your own personal failures along the way).
- Make an old idea new
- Synthesize ideas/communities
- Don't just quote science or other people's ideas.
- Ask, "can an AI write this?"
- Tell us Who you are, Why you are, and Why now? The answers to these questions are unique for every writer and story.
This is not a summary on how to be a good writer. But just a tip of the iceberg on making a book that is interesting enough to be shared with others.
Again, this doesn't mean other people should've write their "expertise" books. I 100% respect that and recommend everyone write a book about their expertise.
This is just a few tips how, if one is not a writer, you can still write a book that moves the needle and stands above the rest.