Could you write a bestselling business book? How about three?
Step 1: Plan to write a book
In the early stages of your career as a coach, a trainer or a speaker, writing a book is a great way of marketing your services.
So what do you do when you’re at the top of your game as a coach, educator or speaker? Write another book, of course.
This is what Marshall Goldsmith, the world-renowned business educator and coach, has done. To date, he has written 35 books – and the three most recent have stormed the bestseller lists.
The one many people have heard of is What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.
‘That is by far my most popular book,’ Marshall says. ‘So that book has sold about a million copies. The other 34 have sold about a million copies, so that book has sold as much as the other 34 combined.’
It’s worth pausing a moment to think about that impressive statistic: 35 books. Why so many?
His early books, it’s clear, did the job asked of them. They were mostly written in collaboration with other authors, providing an overview of subjects such as The Leader of the Future, The Organization of the Future, and Coaching for Leadership.
However, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, published in 2007, outshone all of them, topping the New York Times bestseller list.
And it helped cement Marshall’s position as one of the world’s best known coaches. We’ll explore exactly how it did this later in the post.
Goldsmith’s follow-up book, Mojo: How to Get It, How to Keep It, How to Get It Back If You Lose It, in 2009, was another bestseller and kept him firmly in the public mind.
And after publication of his third bestseller, Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts – Becoming the Person You Want to Be, in 2015, he was inducted into the Thinkers50 Hall of Fame in 2018.
Most of us should be so lucky to have three bestsellers. But success like that poses its own problems and challenges.
Step 2: write a very different book
Foremost, you have to keep your readers engaged. You can’t repeat the style and substance of your first bestseller and expect your follow-up to do as well.
‘We really need to differentiate the books,’ Marshall says. ‘When you write a New York Times bestseller, they’re very sensitive. You write two New York Times bestsellers, people are very sensitive. They don’t want to see a replay of the last book.’
He differentiates between his top sellers by giving each a very different focus. ‘What Got You Here Won’t Get You There was about interpersonal relationships and leadership behaviour.
‘Mojo is much more intra-personal, it’s much more about who am I and my identity, and all those kinds of things.
‘And then the new book Triggers is more extra-personal. It’s about our relationship with our environment. And in the book I talk about focusing on what we can change and what we can’t change.’
A closer look at the first of these, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, reveals how this focus works. First, there’s that title – it neatly encapsulates the problem that the book addresses and directly addresses the reader – ‘You’.
In the first part of the book, he sets out the problem. ‘In the book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, I talk about the challenges and pitfalls that come with success,’ he says.
‘Everyone I coach is a mega-successful person, so I talk about not the blessings of success sometimes, but the curses of success. Why it’s hard for successful people to hear the truth, why we get lost in our egos when we become successful. And I talk about classic problems of success.’
While the focus of What Got You Here Won’t Get You There is the interpersonal, his second bestseller, Mojo, focuses on the intra-personal. Again, the title works well – it’s intriguing – though it’s the subtitle, How to Get It or How to Get It Back, that hooks the reader in.
It’s clear that Marshall’s trio of bestsellers have been indispensable in supporting his coaching business. And by now, you may be convinced that you should write a book too. But what if you don’t have the time or inclination to write?
There are ways around it – and Marshall Goldsmith has some experience of this that’s worth sharing. The spark of an idea that evolved into What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, he says, was a remark by another educator and author, Peter Drucker.
‘The history of that book is quite interesting,’ Marshall says. ‘I was on the board of the Peter Drucker Foundation for 10 years and had the privilege of spending 50 days with Peter Drucker.
‘Peter Drucker said, “We spend a lot of time teaching leaders what to do. We don’t spend enough time teaching leaders what to stop.” He said, “Half the leaders I meet, they don’t need to learn what to do. They need to learn what to stop.” That one comment led to the book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.’
So the idea for the book depended on Peter Drucker. But the writing of it depended on someone else. ‘The genesis of the book is the New Yorker magazine wrote the story of my life,’ Marshall says. ‘And what happened is a man named Mark Reiter read it.’
Mark Reiter, a literary agent and writer, read the magazine article and called Marshall. ‘I’ve read everything you’ve ever written,’ Mark said. ‘The New Yorker magazine story about you is better than anything you’ve ever written by far.’
Marshall shrugged. ‘Well, I’m hardly ashamed of this. I’m not a writer for the New Yorker magazine. You know, I have a day job. And the fact that some woman at the New Yorker magazine can write better than me is hardly something to be ashamed of.’
‘Why don’t we write a book that sounds like that New Yorker magazine profile?’ asked Mark.
‘Well, if we can do it, let’s try it,’ Marshall agreed.
Step 3: Get help to write your book
They could do it and did. And the result was a million seller. ‘So this book is by far better written than my other books,’ says Marshall. ‘Why? I didn’t write it.’
He describes the process they devised. ‘I talk, he writes, I talk, he writes, I edit.
‘So I think the key to writing a New York Times bestselling book is find someone who can write the book for you.’
Having perfected the process, Marshall asked Mark to do it again. ‘That’s kind of the key in my other book Mojo, which is also a New York Times bestseller – he also did that book with me.
‘And my new book Triggers he’s doing with me. So he’s a wonderful guy, great partner. So we have a good working relationship.’ Proof of the strength of their relationship comes in the success of their books.
And he says he has more books in him. ‘Oh, I’ve got several left. Yeah.
‘So Triggers is the next one, which I’m excited about. On the other hand, I want to write a Buddhist book.
‘I’m a Buddhist, so I’d like to write a book about Buddhism. There are many schools of Buddhist thought and I would just talk about my school of Buddhist thought. And it’s not a religious school, it’s a philosophical school, and how Buddhism can be applied in day-to-day life.
‘So I’d like to write a Buddhist book. That’s one thing I’d love to write, down the road.
‘I’d still like to rewrite my own coaching book. Just a very simple guidebook on how I do coaching. I really haven’t ever done that totally yet. I’ve done parts of it, but not really put it all together.
‘So there’s a lot of stuff I would love to be doing that I really haven’t got around to doing yet.’
Clearly, when Marshall Goldsmith writes a book on coaching, people will buy it. But how do other authors writing on a similar subject make their books stand out?
The key, he says, is recommendation.
‘I mean the reality is there are 30 million titles on Amazon, 30 million. There are a million business titles. There’s too many books. Question is, how do you pick something that’s good for you?
‘There’s so many that, if you just go to Amazon, you just get lost looking in a sea of books – and it’s not a good or bad thing, it just is.
‘There’s so many out there. And also I’m realistic. I’m sure there are excellent books that no one hears of or will ever buy.
‘So a lot of life in the book world is luck. I would just recommend people to look for books that you trust the recommender, and the recommender says, “I’ve read this myself. I think it makes sense. Here’s why.” Kind of go with that rather than just guessing, because just guessing is kind of a crap shot.’
Recommendations are one thing, but Marshall also stands out from the crowd in the amount of content he gives away, from videos to PDFs.
He says there are many, many videos of his work available. ‘Well, hundreds at least. I mean, I did a program for Google called Leading Google. They put it online, 83,000 people have watched it.’
Most are available free of charge for two reasons. ‘I’m taking a different approach for a couple of reasons. And again, I’m not recommending my approach to anyone else and I’m not knocking anybody else’s approach. It’s obviously their choice.
‘Again, I’m a Buddhist. My basic attitude is that in the long term we’re all going to be equally dead. Well, do a little good, right?
‘So I give everything away. People can copy, download, duplicate, translate, use in church, charity, non-profit, put their name on it – I don’t care. Do anything you want to with any of my materials. My attitude is, maybe it helps somebody. If it would help somebody, it’s great.
‘Every day I get an email, almost every day someone sends me an email that says, thank you for giving everything away. What’s that worth? It makes me feel good.
‘It doesn’t cost that much money for me. I put it all online. People can use it any way they wish. It’s very clear online, I hope – I try to make it very clear – this is all for you to do whatever you want to. They can use the videos, they can use whatever. So I just think it’s a nice thing to do.
‘And also it makes my life easier. I have no collection problems. I never have any problem collecting money from any of these things. I have no distribution problems and nobody complains. Nobody says it’s overpriced. There’s a lot of advantages here.’