Why Some Books Last

I was truly thrilled to find out that Growing Great Employees was on the INC./800CEOREAD Business Book Bestseller List for December.  I love knowing that people are still finding it valuable five years after it was first published.

It also got me curious about why certain books continue to find an audience over time and some don’t.  On the INC/800CEOREAD list of 25 books, I noticed that about two-thirds are quite recent – published in the last year or two – and about a third are older.  Most of those came out around the same time as Growing Great Employees – 2007 – but 1 or 2 are even older.

To put this in context: about 11,000 business books are published every year in the US.  So why are some of them still selling 5, 10, or even 15 years after they arrive on the scene? And why do the vast majority fade away….even many that sold extremely well when they first came out?

Here’s my hypothesis: I think two kinds of business books continue to sell over time, for two very different reasons.

The first kind I call “promise of a quick fix” books.  I think of them as the diet books of the business world: they propose that you can meet complex challenges with a few minutes of effort, or with one simplistic idea.  I put the perennially-popular One-minute Manager into this category.  We KNOW you can’t actually manage people in minute…but we sure would like it to be possible – so much so, that we’ll buy the book in the hope that it will reveal some magical secret that would make it possible.

The second kind I call “timeless usefulness” books.  They’re books that provide practical insight or skills around an ever-present challenge or area of  endeavor.  For instance, humans will always want to know how to understand what they’re good at and what they’re capable of: books like Strengthsfinder 2.0 (also on INC/8CR’s) list and What Color Is Your Parachute (still selling after 40 years) fulfill that need.

And as long as people work together toward common goals, they will want to understand how to make their organizations work well (Good to Great), how to manage people (Growing Great Employees) and how to lead (Love Leadership – also on the list this month).

I like to think that I’m writing books that fall into the second category: those that offer useful skills and insight to address the challenges that face people in business now, next year, and into the future.

About Erika Andersen

Over the past 30 years, Erika has developed a reputation for creating approaches to learning and business-building that are custom tailored to her clients’ challenges, goals, and culture.

Visit Erika's Forbes.com Blog

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