What are the Formulas for a Bestselling Business Book?
By Henry DeVries, CEO of Indie Books Intl.
Every business book should tell a story. There are eight great meta stories that humans want to hear over and over again. What type of story are you telling? There are eight basic story structures a book can take, based on the classic eight structures that almost all “stories” follow. This is based The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, a 2004 book by British journalist Christopher Booker, a Jungian-influenced analysis of stories and their psychological meaning. I compared Booker’s eight categories and discovered the same rules apply to the greatest business non-fiction books of all time. Here are the eight categories:
Monster. A terrifying, all-powerful, life-threatening monster whom the hero must confront in a fight to the death. An example of this plot is seen in Beowulf, Jaws, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Dracula. Most business books follow this plot. There is some monster problem in the workplace, and this is how you attack it. Business book example: Slay the E-Mail Monster, The E-Myth Revisited, Whale Hunters, Growing Your Business
Underdog. Someone who has seemed to the world quite commonplace is shown to have been hiding a second, more exceptional self within. Think The Ugly Duckling, Cinderella, Jane Eyre, “Rudy,” and Clark Kent (“Superman”). The business books in this category discuss how someone raised themselves up from nothing to success, a typical rags-to-riches story. One of my early favorites was Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington. Donald Trump books don’t count. He raised himself up from riches to mega riches. Business book examples: Moneyball, Up the Organization, Grinding it Out
Quest. From the moment the hero learns of the priceless goal, he sets out on a hazardous journey to reach it. Examples are seen in The Odyssey, The Count of Monte Cristo, and “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Business book examples: The HP Way, In Search of Excellence, The One Minute Manager, How to Win Friends and Influence People, How to Close a Deal Like Warren Buffett, Never Be the Same
Escape. The hero or heroine and a few companions travel out of the familiar surroundings into another world completely cut off from the first. While it is at first wonderful, there is a sense of increasing peril. After a dramatic escape, they return to the familiar world where they began. Alice in Wonderland and The Time Machine are obvious examples, but The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind also embody this basic plotline. Business book examples: The Prodigal Executive, The Innovator’s Dilemma
Comedy. Think of the movies “Tootsie” and “Some Like it Hot.” Following a general chaos of misunderstanding, the characters tie themselves and each other into a knot that seems almost unbearable; however, to universal relief, everyone and everything gets sorted out, bringing about the happy ending. This is really about solving an idea with a wacky idea. Shakespeare’s comedies come to mind, as do Jane Austen’s novels like Sense and Sensibility. Business book example: 2030: What Really Happens to America, A Whack on the Side of the Head, How I Lost My Virginity, Swim with the Sharks
Tragedy. This is about solving a problem by going against the laws of nature, society, or God. A character through some flaw or lack of self-understanding is increasingly drawn into a fatal course of action which leads inexorably to disaster. King Lear, Othello, The Godfather, Madame Bovary, The Picture of Dorian Gray, “Breaking Bad,” “Scarface,” and “Bonnie and Clyde”—all flagrantly tragic. Business book example: Too Big to Fail, Barbarians at the Gate, Liar’s Poker
Rebirth. There is a mounting sense of threat as a dark force approaches the hero until it emerges completely, holding the hero in its deadly grip. Only after a time, when it seems that the dark force has triumphed, does the reversal take place. The hero is redeemed, usually through the life-giving power of love. Many fairy tales take this shape — also, works like Silas Marner, Beauty and the Beast, A Christmas Carol, and “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Business book example: Out of Crisis, Seabiscuit
Mystery. This appeared from the time of Edgar Allan Poe. From Sherlock Holmes to CSI Miami, the plot that involves solving a riddle has gained immense popularity in the last 150 years. Business book examples: Good to Great, Think and Grow Rich, The Secret, Cracking the Personality Code.