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E2A 006: The 4 Major Nonfiction Book Types for Entrepreneurs Writing a Book 

 May 18, 2021

By  Scott A. MacMillan

There are many types of books on the market. Do you know what type of book yours will be? What types of books are best suited for the entrepreneur-turned-author?

In this episode of The Entrepreneur to Author Podcast, your host Scott MacMillan covers the four major book types best suited for the entrepreneur writing an expertise-based, nonfiction book.

Listen now to Episode 6 of Entrepreneur to Author.

Episode Transcript

Scott A. MacMillan: You're listening to The Entrepreneur to Author Podcast, Episode 6.

Mike Manz: Welcome to The Entrepreneur to Author Podcast…the podcast that brings you practical strategies for building authority and growing your business. And now here's your host, Scott MacMillan.

Scott A. MacMillan: By now, you've checked off a few important boxes. You're in, you're writing a book. You're ready and your business is ready. You know who your ideal reader is and what they need. You know the central question your book will answer and you've structured a solution that will answer that question in your book, which means you've nailed the subject of your book. You're well past the toe-dipping, thinking-of-doing the stage, I'd say, and that's amazing. Now, here's the next hurdle we'll clear together. What type of book are you going to write? Ah, it's a good question. What type of book are we going to write?

Scott A. MacMillan: The fact is, there are many book types, and I'm not talking about hardcover versus paperback versus eBook. This is an important episode. We're going to dive into the four big book types that fit with your authorship journey. The four book types that will best serve you, your business, and your reader. I'm Scott MacMillan and welcome to this edition of Entrepreneur to Author.

Scott A. MacMillan: The mindset hurdle, reconciling the idea of writing a book with the commitment to and action of doing it are big steps on this journey. They're huge, no question about it. But deciding what type of book to write that best fits your situation and your goals for your business is also vital. Why? Because book type impacts the overall structure and content of your book and not being explicit about this decision will confuse your reader and make your writing effort much more difficult.

Scott A. MacMillan: Now, of course, there are many different types of books on the market. Even narrowing our scope just to nonfiction, you've got biographies, you've got reference books, coffee table books, histories, and the list goes on and on. But in this episode, we're going to focus on just four. The four major book types that are best aligned with the eight big entrepreneur-to-author goals. I won't repeat those eight goals, but if you haven't already, please go back and listen to episode two where I covered each of them in detail. The four major book types for the entrepreneur-turned-author are one, the how-to book, two, the list book, three, the essay book, and four is the parable book. How-to book, list book, essay book, and parable book, the four major book types that are going to be the best fit for 99% of entrepreneurs writing a book to help grow their business.

Scott A. MacMillan: Okay, let's begin with the how-to book. The how-to book offers readers a practical guide to achieving a desired outcome by following a method or a process. If you're an expert with a service-based business, you would do well with a how-to book. That's because the expertise inherent in these types of businesses is usually process-based so they can be broken down into steps or themes and taught. You've heard me discuss the concept of your solution to your customer's problems and your solution as your answer to the book's central question. Well, these proprietary processes or branded methodologies in service-based businesses are typically just that, a reflection of your solution. And they typically map very nicely to the format of a how-to book. The structure of the how-to book is also quite straightforward, making them relatively easy to write. And that makes it a very good choice for first-time authors in particular. How-to books also tend to be easier for business-minded people to get their heads around because they offer a clear value proposition for the reader, just like a product or service.

Scott A. MacMillan: Dale Carnegie's classic How to Win Friends and Influence People, as the title suggests, that's a really good example of a how-to book. My book Entrepreneur to Author is a how-to book, how to write and publish a nonfiction book that builds authority and grows your business. It covers the steps that we use at Grammar Factory for publishing our authors books. And for that reason, when planning it out, it was simply a matter of deciding on the scope needed to answer the central question and then tracing our existing process as the solution that answers it.

Scott A. MacMillan: The second major book type you might consider is called the list book. It's a little bit like how it sounds. At its most basic level, a list book is a collection of content arranged, well, in a big list. The items in the list may be tips, they might be tricks, resources, perhaps recommendations, checklists and the like. You've no doubt come across these books before. The content in the list book is usually grouped into themes or topics to give the book some structure, to make it more digestible for the reader and to give you the expert author an opportunity to add value beyond simple curation of a list. If the how-to book is a relatively easy entry point for the first-time author, then the list book is even more so because the list book is defined by a simple structure and a fairly templated content creation formula.

Scott A. MacMillan: Once you've landed on the central question for your book, it's then a matter of compiling a list of items that contribute to answering that question and then grouping the list items into logical themes. These themes can form chapters of your book, each with a short introduction and conclusion, which is where you're able to layer on your authority and your expertise. Now, some authors confuse the how-to book with the list book, but the difference really comes down to the balance between number of items and the level of detail covered. In a how-to book, you'll cover a small number of topics and a good deal of detail, whereas in a list book you'll cover many more items in far less detail. But otherwise, the major themes could be quite similar.

Scott A. MacMillan: What do I mean by that? Well, although Entrepreneur to Author was written as a how-to book, I could've chosen to write it as a list book instead. If I'd done that rather than focusing on how to write your book, I might instead have provided checklists of things to do at each stage or lists of resources that you could use or lists of do's and don'ts or even lists of one to two-page vignettes about authors who executed each stage of the steps-method brilliantly. And honestly, each of these might've made for a great book in its own right. You can think about it this way. The value to the reader of a how-to book is in the detail, the depth, while the value to the reader of the list book is in the quantity of items covered or the breadth.

Scott A. MacMillan: So how many items do you need to include in a list book? Consider these numbers. Assuming an average of 300 words-per-list item and considering the length of an average paperback book between 180 and 220 pages, then you should probably aim for somewhere between 100 and 150 items. The fewer items you include in your list book, the more detailed each item will need to be. But if you end up with say fewer than 12 to 15 items, I'd strongly recommend that you consider expanding on them and then reframing the book as a how-to book instead.

Scott A. MacMillan: Before we move on, one more note to add about the list book. This type of book can do especially well as corporate gifts or bulk sales to associations since they appeal to readers with differing levels of engagement on the topic. For example, those who are most interested can read it cover to cover and those with more limited interests can skip easily to the section or items that address their specific needs.

Scott A. MacMillan: Okay, so we have the list book and we have the how-to book. Here's a third option you might consider for your book, the essay book, also known as the big idea book or the thought leadership book. Now in full disclosure, the essay book is one of the more difficult types to master, but it is popular with nonfiction authors, with good reason. It's ideal when your goal is to influence opinion and change how readers think about your subject. It's excellent for building authority when you have a unique and compelling way of thinking about your subject, maybe a novel philosophy or a counter-intuitive perspective.

Scott A. MacMillan: The goal of an essay book is more likely to be about convincing your reader of something, rather than teaching them how to do something. Here's how it works. So you start with a key message, and that's vital. It's your hypothesis, your proposed answer to your book's central question. Then through your writing, you lay out your unique perspective on the issue and the benefits of adopting your perspective. And then you back it all up with compelling evidence and stories. And typically, the burden of proof is high. After all, you're trying to change hearts and minds here. The status quo isn't giving up without a fight and that's what can make the essay book so tricky. You normally have to make a really strong case backed by research and backed by evidence or your writing needs to be so engaging and your idea so compelling that your reader will simply believe. That's rare. It's not unheard of, it depends on who your ideal reader is, but it is rare.

Scott A. MacMillan: Like I mentioned, there are easier books to write for the first-time author, but the essay book is a powerful structure for changing how people think about your subject. And when done well, there's no better way to position yourself as a leading authority and thought leader. Now here's another thought. If you are keen to write this type of book, but you worry about your ability to execute it well, you might consider working with a writing coach. They are available and they're very helpful. Now as a side note, if you need one, message me on LinkedIn and I'll help you connect with someone who can help you.

Scott A. MacMillan: All right, three down and one to go. The fourth and final of the four book types I want to share with you is the parable book. This style of book is very different from the previous three. You might've heard of this type of book called a fable book. Now what makes this type of book so different and so compelling in terms of holding a reader's interest is that the style of book is written like fiction. And if we're honest about it, that's exactly what it is. Now stay with me now. In a parable book, the author writes a fictional story in order to teach the reader about the subject. Characters, settings, plot lines, all the story elements that make for great fiction, that all makes great storytelling. That's the parable book.

Scott A. MacMillan: Now listen because this is important. While the style of this type of book is story-based, the focus is on teaching. The story serves the goal of answering the central question. For that reason, just like the other three types of book, the parable book also requires that you have deep subject knowledge. That's critical for the lessons in your book to have practical value for your reader. I also want to add an additional note here that a memoir is in my mind sort of like a parable book. Of course, a memoir, which is based on your real life experience is not fictional, but unlike an autobiography, which focuses on a chronology of a person's life, a memoir pulls selected vignettes that relate to the author's intended message or theme. That makes them really well suited to teaching a lesson based on your own experience, which in turn makes them well suited for entrepreneurs focused on building a business around their unique personal story and parlaying that into speaking engagements, experiential events, personal coaching and the like.

Scott A. MacMillan: Whether a parable or a memoir, this type of book requires a strong creative writing sensibility, an aptitude for fiction writing, and that's not easy, especially for the first-time author. Memorable characters and an interesting plot are major prerequisites for the parable book. If that sounds appealing and in line with your skills, then this type of book can be a lot of fun to write. However, I only recommend it if you have a passion and talent for narrative-style writing.

Scott A. MacMillan: So there you have it, four very different yet hyper-effective book types that you can choose for writing your book. Before we wrap up this episode, I want to emphasize something. It's important that you do choose one of these, not try to merge them together into some sort of mutant creation. It just doesn't work. Trying to combine two different book types results in a disjointed and confusing experience for readers. And it makes it hard for you to structure and maintain consistency in your writing. Of course, that doesn't mean that you can't choose one book type and then include some elements of the others in it. For example, your how-to book can certainly include lists in it or a short parable at the start of the chapter to hook your reader. But choose one book type that you'll use as the foundation for your manuscript and you'll write a far stronger, far more effective book.

Scott A. MacMillan: As you choose a book type for your writing…

Remember This…

Scott A. MacMillan: Whatever style you choose, stick to it. Don't mix and match. Whether that's a how-to book, a list book, an essay book, or a parable book, your choice provides an important foundation for the structure of your book.

Scott A. MacMillan: You're doing the necessary work. And what you'll find is that the more you do, the clearer you get, the less it all feels like work. The clearer you get about all this, the more you can see the end, the reward, the payoff. Authorship is a journey and you're on it. Now is the time. Time to write. Time to publish. And time to grow. I'm Scott MacMillan, until next time.

Scott A. MacMillan


Scott A. MacMillan is a speaker, international best-selling author, entrepreneur, and the President and Executive Publisher at Grammar Factory Publishing. He and his team help expert entrepreneurs write and publish books that build their authority and grow their business.

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