SPS 224: The Engineer Approach To Writing a Successful Business Book with Todd Sattersten

Posted on Aug 23, 2023

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Written by Chandler Bolt

Home > Blog > Podcast > SPS 224: The Engineer Approach To Writing a Successful Business Book with Todd Sattersten

Many aspiring business book authors dream of hitting the bestseller lists and selling millions of copies like mega authors such as Malcolm Gladwell and Simon Sinek. But how exactly do you write and publish a successful business book that resonates with readers?

Todd Sattersten, publisher and co-owner of Bard Press, gives us an insider’s perspective. With an engineering background and over 20 years in book publishing, Todd takes a process-driven approach that has led to several bestselling titles.

Read on to learn the secrets behind creating business books that sell.

The Bard Press “One Book Per Year” Model

Most publishers take a venture capital approach, funding numerous book projects in hopes that one will be a breakout hit. Bard Press flips this model on its head.

Todd only publishes one book per year. This intense focus allows him to devote serious time and attention into developing the book into a bestseller contender.

Rather than a mutual fund with diverse investments, Bard Press is a stock picker carefully selecting one high-performing asset. Todd works closely with the author over a full year to hone their idea and create a book with wide audience appeal and staying power.

With just one new release annually, Todd can also focus marketing dollars into promoting that single title over multiple years. This extended runway helps drive continuous book sales rather than relying on a short burst after launch.

Defining Your Book’s Core Problem

Great business books identify and solve a pressing problem for readers. But how do you pinpoint what that central struggle is?

Todd stresses the importance of moving from symptoms to diagnoses. Readers may articulate their surface-level pains but you need to dig deeper to the root cause.

For example, someone might say knee pain is their frustration. But the underlying issue could be an injury, arthritis, overuse, or other factors.

Success comes from properly framing the problem so readers have an “aha moment” of realization. They need to feel you truly understand their challenge on a visceral level.

The key is immersing yourself in your book’s target audience. Todd sits in on coaching sessions, interviews clients, and absorbs their worldview. This helps uncover pain points and reframe them for maximum impact.

Crafting a Business Book to Sell: The Step-by-Step Process

With a firm grasp on your book’s core problem, how do you craft the rest of the package? Todd walks through the in-depth Bard Press process:

  1. Act as an Architect First

Todd compares his role to an architect designing a custom home rather than a spec house. He works with authors to carefully plan out all aspects of the book before writing begins.

This includes pinning down the title, subtitle, book description, table of contents, opening chapters, and more. The heavy lifting is done upfront.

  1. Start With the Title and Subtitle

Titles and subtitles are marketing hooks that communicate what the book is about. They should highlight the positive change readers will experience.

For example, a title like “Good to Great” promises to transform readers from modest success to elite performance. An irresistible title draws people across the bookstore.

  1. Craft a Strong Table of Contents

The table of contents acts as an outline for writing the book. It should clearly convey what each chapter will cover.

Authors shouldn’t start writing until the TOC is solidified. This prevents meandering drafts and speeds up the writing process.

  1. Write in 4-6 Months With Clear Guidance

With planning and outline in place, authors can crank out books in just 4-6 months. Todd won’t let them start without defined direction. This tight writing window maintains momentum.

  1. Refine As You Go

Todd checks in periodically to retest whether the title, subtitle and TOC still aligns with content. He helps authors refine the book’s shape as needed.

  1. Develop a Year-Long Launch Plan

Book promotion starts long before launch date. Todd brainstorms ideas tailored to the author’s unique platform and audience. This extends the title’s visibility well beyond release week.

In summary, Todd frontloads planning so authors have a firm foundation for an efficient writing process. He keeps the book’s core problem front and center throughout.

Why Choosing the Right Title and TOC Matters

We just covered why Todd insists on defining the title, subtitle and table of contents upfront. But why is this focus so critical?

The title and subtitle act as the book’s first sales pitch. They need to instantly communicate three key points:

  1. What does the book focus on?
  2. How will the reader change or benefit?
  3. Why should they care?

An unclear or vague title dooms your ability to hook readers.

Meanwhile, the table of contents acts as both an outline and another marketing tool. Chapter titles should clearly state what the content will cover.

hidden chapter names try to be clever but fail to inform. A concise TOC helps authors write a cohesive book true to its purpose.

Todd believes nailing down these elements first makes the entire project flow smoothly. Authors have clear direction and readers get transparency into the book’s value.

Secrets to Getting Your Book into Airport Bookstores

Airport bookstores can be a lucrative sales channel for business books. But they also have some quirks. Todd shares insider tips on making airport retail profitable:

  • Focus on wide audience appeal. Books need to grab attention from passersby. Narrow niches get ignored in busy airports.
  • Pay for premium placement. Airport real estate is expensive. You need face-out front display to drive volume sales. Less visible shelves see 80-90% fewer sales.
  • Don’t count on selling enough books to profit. Break even is unlikely. View it as marketing for other revenue streams like speaking gigs.
  • Work through distributors. Airport deals typically require a distribution partner with connections. Self-published authors have a harder path.
  • Commit to a long campaign. Short stints won’t gain traction. Be prepared to keep buying placement month after month.

Airport book positioning costs big dollars. But for business authors it can pay dividends in exposure, credibility and ancillary income. Just know it’s an investment not a money maker from books alone.

Distribution Tips for Self-Published Authors

What if you want to break into airport bookstores as a self-published author? It’s doable but challenging.

First, determine if your book has a clear value proposition for travelers. Mass market appeal is a must.

You’ll likely need to secure a distribution partner. Companies like Ingram can get your foot in the door.

Other options are to try contacting airport book buyers directly or working with an independent bookstore distributor. But they prefer proven sellers.

Be ready to pay for premium space. And commit to an extended campaign of at least 2-3 months for visibility.

While feasible, airport distribution remains easier for established publishers. But if you can get a foothold, the awareness can boost your overall sales.

Key Takeaways for Writing Your First Book

Todd leaves us with two pieces of parting advice for prospective authors:

  1. Start building your audience now

Don’t wait to start sharing your ideas. Begin cultivating email subscribers, social media followers, speaking opportunities, or other ways to engage with those interested in your content now.

This lets you validate your book concept and refine it based on feedback. It takes years to grow an audience large enough to launch successful books.

  1. Experiment with different distribution channels

Figure out which digital platforms allow you to effectively reach your target readers. Is your tribe on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, TikTok, forums or email?

Try different approaches until you find what sticks. This will become the foundation to scale up when you eventually publish your book.

In conclusion, writing a bestselling business book requires skill and strategy. Following an intensive planning process, immersing in your readers’ worldview, and piloting your ideas sets you up for success.

While many authors focus on rapid release over perfection, Todd Sattersten proves that a meticulous approach can yield big rewards. Let these insider tips guide you in crafting business books that sell.

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