A few weeks ago, I posted my long-delayed thoughts about The 100 Best Business Books of All Time by Jack Covert and Todd Sattersten. In the weeks since, I’ve had the opportunity to exchange a few emails with Todd and asked him about writing the book and what he gleaned from the process. What follows is a slightly edited version of our discussion:
Me: Thanks again for your willingness to talk/write a little more about your book. I’ve been following your projects (More Space, The 100 Best, CEO-READ blog, Fixed to Flexible) for something like seven years now, but for those who don’t know, what’s your story? And what’s the story behind The 100 Best?
Todd: What’s my story? I grew up in a small town in southeastern Wisconsin and went to Michigan Tech to get mechanical engineering degree. I was fortunate to get a job with General Electric, where I spent the next six years learning most of what I know about business. I joined my father in 2001 working in his small sheet metal fabrication business. I learned even more about small business. I picked up an MBA from Marquette University along the way.
In 2004, I started working for the business book retailer 800-CEO-READ. I spent six years working there and had an awesome time. What I spent most of my time doing was pushing out the message “We are the experts in business books.” The 800-CEO-READ Book Awards, stewardship of ChangeThis, and the creation of InBubbleWrap all were in support of that mission.
The 100 Best Business Books of All Time was the best example of putting our stake in the ground and saying we know a lot of about business books. The book itself was something I tried to convince Jack, my co-author, of from almost the moment I got there. “We sell books, which means we know people who buy them. Should we write one?” It took 18 months to get the concept right and our publisher Portfolio was really helpful in that regard. We signed a deal in April 2007, delivered the manuscript April 2008, and the book came out in February 2009. The book has done great. We are on our 6th printing and it has been translated into nine languages.
Me: Congratulations on the book’s success. What did you learn from the process of writing the book? What did you learn that was completely unexpected, if anything?
Todd: Things I learned writing The 100 Best:
1. You need to be able to tell someone else about your book in three sentences or less, about 50 words. There were all of these crazy complicated ideas for the book originally. We couldn’t get an agent interested. We went directly to a publisher and they said the same thing: “Why don’t you just do The 100 Best Business Books of All Time?” I said it had been done before. They said everything has been done before and the people who do it right, own it. They get to own the category. That was enough for me, except that the book had to be more than a list.
2. Great books also have nuance. Great books are easy to tell someone else about, but you remember them for how they capture you. Often, it is the style. Sometimes, it is hearing a company story for the first time.
In the case of The 100 Best, we went way beyond the initial list. There is almost 300 additional books that we recommend beyond The 100 Best. We tracked down the cover art and pulled a quote from every book. There are 20 or sidebars with recommendations on case studies, children’s books, and fiction in a business setting.
3. Writing is a practiced, team sport. Great writing doesn’t happen without revisions or an editor. I don’t know anyone who just creates perfect prose. Listen to anything any writer has every said about writing and they will tell you that you write and rewrite and rewrite again. And it could be that I am still a cub in this world of writing, but it is essential to have some one else working with me. I write better just knowing they are there.
The unexpected was that I would have never guessed I was a writer. I chose the college I attended based on the least number of english classes I needed to take. That is something I have worn as a strange badge of honor for years. The 100 Best had a profound impact on how view what I need to do with the rest of my life and it is impossible to accomplish that (‘that’ being connecting business ideas in new ways) without being a writer.
Me: I am curious if there are any books that have come out since The 100 Best that you would add to the list today? Which would be out?
Todd: It’s only been a year since The 100 Best came out, so I think it would be premature for me to start replacing titles on the list. I did like Tribes by Seth Godin and 800-CEO-READ named it Business Book of the Year in 2008, but we generally only let each author get one slot (Drucker and Charan were the exceptions).
Me: What 3-5 books would you recommend that anyone who worked directly for you should read?
Todd: The first five books I would (and have) recommended to people who worked for me:
The first two are about you and what you need to do. The next is about the different kinds of conversation that needs to take place. Purple Cow is about making things that are remarkable. And Financial Intelligence teaches people about accounting, the rules of business, in a way that people can easily understand.
Me: And finally, what’s the next chapter in your story?
Todd: I would say that what I am doing next is more a continuation than a new chapter. I am going to write and speak. I published an ebook in February on pricing called Fixed to Flexible. I am working on the proposal for my next book. And I blog most days at toddsattersten.com.
Business books will continue to be a big part of what I do. I am reviewing books and interviewing authors on the blog. I am a literary scout for Deusto in Spain, helping them with what books to acquire out of the US market. I may also get into helping with acquisitions at a business book publisher. Business and books are going to continue to be where I spend my time.
Me: Thanks, Todd for your willingness to share your thoughts.
Want to know more about Todd? Check these links:
Todd’s Twitter Stream
Download Fixed to Flexible, here.