4 reasons why reading fiction can help you write better business books

Reading great fiction teaches you how to add emotionally powerful narratives to business books.

  • Skilled writers can use a fiction writing style to make their business books more entertaining.
  • Writing business books as narrative nonfiction engages with the reader’s five senses.
  • Accelerate the narrative pace, like thriller fiction. Business books do not need to be slow and dry.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Humans seem hardwired to consume and enjoy stories. Fictional stories shape the way we think, affect how we act and influence our choices.

One study revealed that “good storytelling” increased cooperation within a Filipino hunter-gatherer population. And Alexander the Great slept with a copy of Homer’s Iliad next to him every night, a fictional story he used as a blueprint for his conquests. That story drove his choices and changed history.

The average adult spends about 6% of his or her time every day engrossed in fictional stories. Evolutionary theorists have attempted to understand why humans are so eager to consume fiction. But a nonfiction writer doesn’t need to know “why,” only “that.”

By leveraging this human proclivity for powerful stories, nonfiction writers can vastly improve the quality of the books they’re writing.

Narrative nonfiction and emotionally powerful prose

Narrative nonfiction, also known as creative nonfiction, is a style of nonfiction writing that uses an approach similar to fiction writing. For example, the nonfiction book might follow the story arc very precisely and have a clearly defined beginning, middle, climax, and end.

The primary purpose of fiction is to entertain. There are many advanced skills writers can use to up the entertainment value of their business books. These skills include emotionally powerful prose, changes in rhythm, smooth shifts in pacing, and vivid descriptions.

The way to learn all these advanced methods is to read a lot of fiction.

I’m a big fan of narrative nonfiction. Whenever someone wants a book written, I try and persuade him or her to use this method of writing if possible. My purpose when working with writers is to ensure the book they are writing will be read from beginning to end. Making the book entertaining is key.

Leverage the five senses

Description using the five senses is an excellent way to suck your reader into your story. The more engrossed your reader is, the deeper the emotional impact of your narrative.

This applies to business books, memoirs, general nonfiction, self-help, and many other nonfiction subgenres.

Too much description, however, can make a book boring. The way to learn what is “too much” or “too little” is to read a lot of popular fiction. The best fiction books use the senses of taste, smell, and touch to bring the readers into the story and so involve them emotionally.

Brand perception has a lot to do with emotional responses, so this is a vital skill to learn when writing nonfiction.

Pick up the pace and capture the interest

Whether you’re telling an anecdote or writing about your life’s story, modifying the pacing of the story goes a long way towards evoking powerful emotions in people.

Thrillers are particularly good at this, especially near the end of the story. Two writers who do this expertly are Harlan Coben and Lee Child.

By shortening sentences and paragraphs, you immediately accelerate the narrative pace. The same is achieved by shifting quickly from scene to scene.

If you were writing a sales book, you could make readers inch forward in their seats and grip their books (or e-readers) a little tighter by writing a fast-paced anecdote of a million-dollar deal. You could jump back and forth between the manager, the salesperson and maybe even the spouse waiting outside their child’s school, eagerly awaiting a call to know if the deal went through – or if they just lost the house!

Not only will the chapter be exciting, but it will also be memorable.

Anything can be turned into a story if you know how

Once, I worked with an author who had very little to write about other than a short system.

So, we hacked away and worked out how to fill the book with narratives and emotional beats from beginning to end. What began as a lukewarm book quickly became a riveting read.

It does take a bit of smart thinking to figure out how to add emotionally powerful narratives to a book. Reading a lot of good fiction teaches you how to do it and pays off when your business book flies off the shelves.

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3 reasons entrepreneurs should forego traditional book deals for self-publishing

journal writing
One advantage of self-publishing is that there are no literary gatekeepers to hold your book back.

  • MindStir Media CEO J.J. Hebert says now is the time for entrepreneurs to self-publish their books.
  • With shrinking bookshelf space and more people buying online, using a traditional publisher isn’t as practical.
  • By self-publishing, the author also maintains creative and financial control of their work.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Many entrepreneurs are using newfound time at home to finally write down their unique ideas and stories to be published in book form. The Internet is rife with contradicting information about self-publishing and traditional book publishing, so which path should an entrepreneur – or writer in general – use for book publication?

As the owner and founder of MindStir Media, I’m confident in saying that self-publishing is the proper route in many cases. Here are three main reasons why:

1.You’re guaranteed to get your book published

With traditional publishing, you’ll generally need to find a literary agent to represent you and your work. But finding agent representation can be a long and arduous journey. I know writers who’ve spent upwards of a year or two sending out query letters and still haven’t been able to land an agent. Most traditional publishers will only look at a manuscript if it comes in through an agent, so literary agents are a valuable resource and contact when going the traditional publishing route.

The major problem with this approach is that nothing is guaranteed. You could be one of those people who spend years trying to find an agent, or you could land an agent, only to get rejected by the traditional publishers anyways.

With self-publishing, the ball is in your court. There are no literary gatekeepers holding you back. The consumer will be the final judge of your book.

2. You’ll keep control over your book

Writers don’t always consider the topic of rights when comparing self-publishing and traditional publishing. With a traditional publisher, it’s common for you to relinquish your publishing rights to that company, meaning that you’ll lose control over your publishing rights as well as any creative control. If you get to the point where an agent pitches your book to a publisher and said publisher accepts your manuscript for publication, the publisher will own the rights to your book and will ultimately have final say over the content of your published book.

Self-publishing is the complete opposite in every way. The self-publishing author keeps their publishing rights and all creative control, from the cover design to the editing and book production. In fact, you can research and select your own book designer, professional editor, printer, distributor, and more.

3. You’ll enjoy much higher royalty rates

It’s a bit of a dirty little secret in the publishing industry that traditional book deals only payout about 10% – 15% royalties to authors. Some traditional publishing advocates tend to argue that it’s worth giving up 85% to 90% royalties in exchange for superior support and distribution. But with physical bookshelf space dwindling and most consumers buying books through Amazon and other online retailers, that argument doesn’t hold much water in 2021.

An author can simply self-publish online and reach a large network of online retailers through a distributor such as Ingram. In turn, the self-published author can keep 70% t0 100% royalties. If your book sells 10,000 copies, for example, you could see tens of thousands of dollars in your bank account from those sales through self-publishing, whereas traditional publishing royalties might only reach $10,000 or less from those same 10,000 copies sold.

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Meena Harris, niece of Vice President-elect Kamala, wants her new children’s book to inspire ambitious women (and girls) everywhere

Meena Harris
Meena Harris.

  • Meena Harris, niece of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, has written her second children’s book, entitled “Ambitious Girl.” Illustrations were done by artist Marissa Valdez
  • In the book, a young girl watches a woman on television be called “too ambitious” and “too assertive.” In response, she vows to become a persistent, assertive, confident, and proud individual. 
  • Harris has been working to get this book — in addition to her last one — into schools and has partnered with the nonprofit We Need Diverse Books to donate hundreds of book copies to educators and students. 
  • Ahead of her aunt’s inauguration, Harris talks to Insider about her new book, and what is needed to raise the next generation of ambitious women.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The plight of an unapologetically ambitious woman is well documented. Meena Harris is one of those women.

The entrepreneur founded Phenomenal Woman, which creates products addressing sociopolitical injustices, and has another career as a children’s author. Her latest endeavor is a children’s book entitled “Ambitious Girl.” Set to be released on January 19, the book tells the story of a young girl who learns to embrace her ambitions in life.

The book comes a year after the release of Harris’ first book, “Kamala and Maya’s Big Idea,” which was inspired by her mother, Maya and her aunt, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. (That became a New York Times best-seller, and more recently, a video that Meena posted of her aunt exceeded 10 million views on TikTok.) 

“For young girls to see someone who looks like them elected, to the second-highest office in the land, is really an incredible feeling that we’ve all been fighting for a very long time,” she told Insider. Previously, Meena Harris spoke to Insider about her career paths and growing up in a family of lawyers – ambitious women who inspired her to become who she is today.

When it comes to women, the word ambition often has a negative connotation, Harris said. Last year, Insider reported on a study by American Express and The New York Women’s Foundation, which found that many women didn’t like using the word ambitious to describe themselves and wanted to use the word “motivated” instead.

Read more: Alicia Keys is partnering with American Express on ‘The Ambition Project’ to empower women. Here’s how it will expand their access to senior positions – and already has.

“Language has power and words have meaning,” Harris told Insider. “We do not typically hear ambition being used against men, or used to critique men. I don’t think I’ve ever really heard that before. It’s about reclaiming and redefining words that, even though they’re just words, we know they have power.”

Ahead of her aunt’s big day, Meena Harris spoke to Insider about her new children’s book, what she learned growing up in a powerhouse family, and what else is needed to raise the next generation of ambitious women. 

‘It’s not just the work of women to do on behalf of other women,’ Harris said

Raising ambitious women starts earlier than one might expect, which is why Harris decided to put the topic in a children’s book. “There’s a lot of unlearning and relearning around our bias against female ambitious and women in power,” she said. “It’s never too early.”

Her family always tried to lead by example when it came to inspiring each other, she said. Ambition was a good thing to have in her family – and ambitious women were all she knew.

“I grew up in a family of strong, ambitious women,” she said. “My grandmother Shyamala, a cancer researcher and civil rights activist, raised my mom and aunt – and later helped raise me – to fight for change and be role models for others,” she said. “She would say to us, ‘You may be the first, but don’t be the last. It’s actually a line I put into my new book ‘Ambitious Girl.’ “

After graduating from Stanford University and Harvard Law, she had a brief legal career and held jobs at both Slack and Uber. As reported by the New York Times’ Jessica Testa, she was also a campaign surrogate for her aunt. As she entered the workplace, she told Insider, she realized that many women weren’t raised to see ambition as a good thing. 

Read more: Kamala Harris’ niece is publishing a picture book on women’s ambition. She told us why she never ‘sugarcoats’ the reality of racism and sexism when talking to her kids.

“It’s a very worthwhile activity to sit down with your kids and start early to define these words,” she said. “On the topic of leading by example, there are many ways that you can demonstrate what it means. And at the very least, encourage them to understand [ambition] as a positive, not a negative.” 

Ambitious Girl cover image

In her latest book, a young girl takes advice from the women around her, including her mother and her grandmother, who teaches her the importance of growing up assertive, confident, and proud. Harris said that listening to the dreams and career paths of other people is a good way to teach people how to embrace their own ambition. It shows that ambition isn’t a “dirty” word and having dreams is not a “bad” thing. 

This is a lesson that needs to be taught, not just to young women, but to everyone, she said. Because creating an environment that can foster ambitious women is not something left up to women to create. This act requires a complete societal and cultural shift, Harris said. 

“It’s about a patriarchal society,” she continued. “It’s not just the work of women to do on behalf of other women. Men who, by default have more power in the world and in most of these systems, it’s up to them to do that as well.”

In the meantime, all women have to do to be ambitious, is to simply not hide their ambition, she said. It’s about wearing that sweatshirt embroiled with the word ambitious on it, she said. It’s about naming what you want and claiming it for yourself – writing your dreams and building toward what you want. For instance, Harris has plans to release more books. “There’s still so much work to do, especially when it comes to increasing diversity in publishing,” she said. “I definitely have plans for more books – I can’t wait to explore topics for older audiences as well.”

It’s about changing the language that one associates with their dreams, to reflect the positivity of what it means to aspire. “This is literally about as cheesy as it sounds, but what are your hopes and dreams?” she said. “The beauty of that is, it means different things to so many different people.”

Read the original article on Business Insider