Business Book Kryptonite, Part II

Here is Part II of the Kryptonite piece—book topics that are mostly avoided by seasoned business book editors. To reiterate, I am not saying that there have not been bestsellers in these areas—there have been; it’s just that these topics—as well as the ones discussed in Part I of this posting—have proven to be over-published, tired, or just difficult to package (e.g. right title, cover, etc.). Still, there are many books published in these categories year in and year out, by optimistic editors hoping to buck the trend. Perhaps the most published area is the first one below:     

* Books on creativity or innovation: Every so often one of these books hit a home run, although it is far more difficult today than it was say, a decade ago. Drucker wrote the first book on innovation in 1985: Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Clay Christensen published the huge bestseller The Innovator’s Dilemma in 1997.  Since then, it has been downhill for innovation books. Yet publishers and authors continue to toss their hat into this ring. Type in “innovation” at Amazon and one gets more than 248,000 hits. There is no doubt that innovation is the key to any firm’s future. But, like ethics, managers probably consider themselves to be fine innovators, and don’t need a book to teach them what they already know. That’s why the vast majority of creativity or innovation books disappoint their publishers.   

* Advertising and Branding books: For some reason, publishers love books on branding. Maybe because they feel like they are in the branding business: publishing 100 books is like creating 100 new brands each season. But the reality is that there aren’t enough people out there buying books on branding to make the category robust. We get tons of proposals on branding as do all business book publishers, I am sure. The reality is that the entire sales and marketing shelf is smaller than the management/leadership bookshelf, and by quite a bit.  That’s why buyers of business books for the largest retailers are wary of branding books. They seldom go out in big enough numbers to turn them into bestsellers. But there are exceptions. Portfolio’s Seth Godin publishes hit after hit in books on marketing and branding—but the super-blogger is in a class of his own.     

* Day Trading Books: In the mid-1998 the electronic day trader was born (with a book with the same name). I was publisher of McGraw-Hill’s finance publishing program when we published the first two books on day trading. We forecasted that we would sell 7,500 copies of the first book on the topic, which was fewer than 200 pages and a whopping $35. The Electronic Day Trader  went on to sell more than 150,000 copies, as did the second book, How to Get Started in Electronic Day Trading. Within 18 months there were more than fifty books published on the topic from two dozen different publishers trying to cash in on the biggest craze in years. Then came the NASDAQ crash of 2000. Since 90 percent of the stocks that day-traders bought and sold were NASDAQ stocks, that wiped out tens of thousands of day traders and sunk the field. Like so many other instances (e.g. such as microcomputer books in the early 1980s), publishers over-published the field, and were left holding the bag when the party came crashing down.   

* Business Books for Gen-Xers: A few of these have sold well. One great example is Quarterlife Crisis. But it really is one out of a thousand of these books in this area that makes it. The truth is that people in their twenties are not avid business book buyers. But when one comes along that really speaks to them, they will turn out in numbers to buy them. Quarterlife Crisis sold about 150,000 copies, which is a business book bestseller by most any standard (by the way, who knew that they so many people have a crisis that early in their lives?).

* 401k books: Hardly anyone thinks they need a book on 401ks. They are probably right. Most companies offer a small menu of funds and people think they can figure it out for themselves. However, the average breadwinner between the ages of 62 and 65 has only a little more than $100,000 in 401k money.  (Maybe they needed a book after all). One book that is bucking the trend in this category is Daniel Solin’s The Smartest 401k Book You’ll Ever Read. That book is published by Perigree, a division of Penguin (the publisher I work for and write for).

That’s it for this two-parter. For all aspiring authors in search of their first book idea, you may be well advised to avoid these ten areas. Questions or comments? Please send them along and I will answer them.



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