Go Big or Go Home (or, How to Make Your Business Book Stand Out)

January 28, 2015

by Jenna Cosgrove

  • An insomniac corporate drone meets a vital, aggressive alpha male and together they start a violent club, which eventually leads to urban anarchy.
  • A cowboy discovers he is HIV positive and, upon discovering how hard it is to get the drugs he needs to live, starts his own HIV drug trafficking business.
  • A shy, awkward man falls in love with a sentient computer operating system.


Recognise any of these concepts? They’re all from fairly recent films. Most people will be able to name at least one, if not all, of them. Why? Because they’re high concept.

Try naming this film:

A woman falls in love with a man, but due to outside circumstances she is unable to admit it, and he has to work to win her over.

Uh, could be any of about twenty thousand romance movies! Now, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with a good romance movie—I like them as much as the next girl. But more often than not, they’re not memorable. They tend to blur into one another (especially when they often share members of the cast).

The ones that tend to stick with us are the ones that bring in a big concept to chew on. How about the woman is a prostitute, and the man is a cold businessman who picks her up on the street? How about the woman lives for weddings and has been a bridesmaid 27 times, and the man is a wedding-hating writer… of wedding columns.

These elements add something new to the same old story, and they’re what make Pretty Woman and 27 Dresses big-timers in the world of romance movies.


How to Make High Concept Work for You

As Amazon self-publishing becomes more common, and more people become Amazon Bestsellers (which doesn’t actually mean anything, but that’s a whole other article), it seems more and more people want to use writing a book as part of their strategy.

Obviously, I’m a big fan of books, and writing in general. But with the onslaught of self-publishing has come the onslaught of Really Terrible Books. Just because you have the ability to self-publish, doesn’t mean you should!

What this means is that it’s becoming harder and harder to stand out. If you’re writing a business book, it’s highly likely that there’s at least a handful of similar books out there, even if you’re writing something industry-specific.

So, if you’ve got competition in your genre, how do you become the breakout star? Oh, come one. Guess. Hint: it’s the subject of the damn article.

High concept in business books is, luckily, something that’s often under-utilised.


Where the High and the Concept Meet

Your first step is research. Yes, it’s unglamorous, but yes it’s also totally necessary. Your book won’t count as high concept if someone’s already done it!

Go through all the Amazon listings you can get through for your genre. Check out what everyone else is doing, how they’re approaching the subject.

For example, if you want to release a book about success mindset, you’re going to find a HELL of a lot of competition out there. A quick search I just did gave me over 25,000 results. The first page alone has big names like Deepak Chopra, Napoleon Hill, Malcolm Gladwell and Stephen R. Covey.

Do the search, and open up any books that look like they have a big concept at their core. Many of the ones I saw didn’t—they were just straight up books about success.

When you have a good idea of what’s out there in your category, it’s time for my favourite part of writing: sitting and thinking.

But what to think about? Answer: YOU.

The high concept of your book is likely to come out of your own life experience. What’s your story? What makes you different? What do you have to offer your readers? (If you can’t think of anything, you might want to rethink this whole book idea…)

What part of you can you build a book concept from? You might be an ex-special forces soldier (this has been done, but you can dig deeper and find a specific part of your service to draw from), or maybe you built a 30 million dollar company by your 23rd birthday (there’s a lot you can do with that story!).

Be careful that you don’t mistake what you find interesting for what other people will. In general, no one cares that you had a bad childhood (harsh but true) and no one cares about you being a parent, unless you’re doing something truly unique in that field. Too many people try to write about these things, and they’re not interesting to anyone. We don’t need more of these books, so go deeper!


The Structure

When you’ve worked out what your concept is going to be, you need to structure your whole book around it. We’ll talk more about different structures in coming articles, because it’s a massive subject!

How you structure is going to be fairly dependent on your concept. Using the 30 million dollar company by the 23rd birthday concept, a potential structure might involve 23 chapters, one for each year of life. Each would cover a different aspect of success, and work in the author’s personal story from birth to 23. Including personal stories that relate to each year would really drive the structure home.

Working out a structure might come easily to you—but more likely, it’s going to be a long process and a pain in your butt. Hey, I didn’t say writing a high concept book was going to be easy… but it will most likely be worth it, if you really care about having a great book that builds your authority in your industry.

Are you writing a book? Are you going high concept? Let us know in the comments!

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