September 15, 2004
News & Opinion: #1: Business books are often too long
Ever started a business book, thought it was quite interesting, yet never finished it? Happens all the time. Often the culprit is the books length. There are several reasons why writing extensive and long business books is a bad idea (unless you are writing a reference book which people have no intention of reading straight through anyway). First, it is far better for a reader to finish a book than not. By completing it the reader gains a coherence and a complete picture of the ideas in the book in addition they are more likely to say they liked it since it was such a fast read. Second, if you give yourself a lot of room to write about a topic the text will tend to sprawl, regurgitate points, and take off on tangents thereby diffusing the impact of the main message. So why do people write long business books? Well for starters it is easier to sprawl than construct a tight and concise narrative that is also engaging. I also believe that writers feel that short text does not connote serious insight which of course is not true. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn Revolutions was a mere 170 small pages. The first draft of The Medici Effect was about twice as long as what ultimately became the final manuscript. The process of cutting the text down to its core and essence was at times quite painful. I didnt cut down the text because the book had to be short, but once I was done it took up no more than 200 pages. One chapter, which I had spent about 6-7 weeks researching and writing full-time, ultimately got thrown out. I realized that although the chapter was intriguing and provided new insight it slowed down the thrust of the book too much. Frank editors, friends and collegeaus are critical here! Some of the most successful business books over the past 5-10 years or so have been quite succinct: The Innovators Dilemma, Crossing the Chasm, The Tipping Point, Good to Great are just a few that have made their point without wasting a lot of time!