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Pictures Don't Actually Sell Business Books

Anna Leinberger Posted by Anna Leinberger, Editorial Manager, Acqusitions, Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.

Anna is a writer and editor for Berrett-Koehler in Oakland, CA. More on killer book proposals and writing can be found on her BK Blog.

Pictures Don't Actually Sell Business Books

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Ever since Business Model Generation hit best-seller lists, aspiring business authors everywhere have thought they found the holy grail: PICTURES!!! Engaging! Whimsical! Creative!  The underlying assumption being “this is how I can get people to be excited and engaged with my (admittedly dry and mundane) book on supply chain management!”

There is just one problem..

Scratch that, there are quite a few actually.

Won’t it make my book much more marketable?

You can probably guess my answer from the tone of this post: no, not really.  

Pictures alone are not going to bring your book alive if there is no idea to bring alive.  The bottom line is this: if your content is not engaging, no picture is going to help.  The most important attribute of Business Model Generation’s success is the idea- the groundbreaking, innovation inspiring content.  Without that- if it had just been another book on leadership that said nothing new about leadership, the pictures would just have looked overwrought.  You can’t use pictures to make an otherwise lukewarm topic more interesting.

But my book IS more interesting!  It is groundbreaking! Pictures are going to make it soar!

Here you have to ask yourself – why do you want pictures?  If your answer is any of the above reasons- capture interest, endear yourself to your readers, make it more interesting… you still have a problem.  Another thing that made Business Model Generation successful was that the graphics and art were the content.  The art and visual storytelling components were integral to the very concept of the book.  It was not an add on- “oh, why don’t we add pictures to illustrate our point?!” There is a concept that musical theater actors are taught about how to make breaking into song at awkward moments more believable.  The idea is this- your character has to feel so overwhelmed, so moved by the moment, that they have no choice but to sing.  The energy and motivation for the song has to be internally generated and so strong that the character would actually explode if they do not.  Book content to support extensive graphics and cartoons needs to be similarly motivated concerning the images. It is not that the words shouldn't speak for themselves, but the story you are telling must absolutely demand a visual component.

Which brings me to……..

Be vigilant of your medium

But those whiteboard cartoons are so great!  They are engaging and clever and really help to elucidate the topic! True- those videos (the ones with a narrator voice over and an illustrator drawing out the concepts as he speaks) are spectacular. However, they are videos, not books.  You need to let your medium shine- and if your medium is a book, that means text.  A text that is interrupted with too many pictures can’t do its job right.  If you want to write a graphic novel-type business book, go for it- but slapping a bunch cute cartoons into a book that is really about the content and the text will just be distracting.

And finally- whatever medium you choose, make sure to research a publisher who has done similar books in the past- don’t try to fit a square peg in a round hole.  You want to choose the publisher who is experienced and successful with books that resemble the book you want to write.  That will give your book its best shot. 


Charlotte Ashlock
Charlotte Ashlock

Great post!

December 4, 2015