The difference between a good and not-so-good management book

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What makes the difference between a good management book that you can’t stop reading, and a not-so-good one that you quickly drop? If you spend almost a year reading many management books (as I did as member of the jury for Managementboek van het Jaar 2022), it’s useful to draw some lessons from that experience. Here are five things that learned for writing my own management book:

  1. What do you want to say? Some authors have a clear point of view, like Caroline Koetsenruijter in “Het agressieparadijs”, who wants to end the aggressive behaviour of Dutch people. Books without a clear point of view leave you wandering around feeling lost, so you keep asking yourself, “Where is this headed?” If your point of view isn’t clear yet, spend some time making it sharper.
  2. Is it written in a readable way? Some books seem to be published without the help of an editor – they’re full of ideas that don’t add up, spelling and grammar mistakes, woolly language, and so on. Get a good proofreader or editor to help you improve the quality and readability of your prose.
  3. Does it appeal to the reader’s imagination? Here you notice the difference between authors who use a lot of stories and examples, and those who describe principles and ideas in an abstract manner. In “Het agressieparadijs”, when you read the story of the parents who put pressure on a primary school teacher to improve their daughter’s grades, it sticks with you. Make whatever you want to say tangible for the reader.
  4. Is it a beautiful book? I love real books that you can hold in your hand, flip through the pages and quickly pull off a shelf when you want to find something. It’s almost painful to me to get a book that’s been badly made, with text that hasn’t been typeset, a messy mix of fonts, Powerpoint graphics and a cheap look. Make a beautiful book that your readers will want to hold in their hand and keep. Your ideas deserve it.
  5. Can you read the text? The biggest problem that I came across most often in the past year: bad contrast caused by coloured letters on a coloured background. I guess they’re meant to make the book look nicer. Unfortunately, it completely backfires because the letters are unreadable. Stick to black letters on a white background – they still work the best. Do a reading test with your printed book and make sure you can read it everywhere.

A valuable lesson from the discussions I had with the other jury members is that different people look at the same book very differently. This is what I am looking for in a book, but you may not agree with this list. So I’m very interested to hear what you are looking for in a good management book!

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