There are four defining features of bestselling personal development books:
Last time I wrote about making a strong promise to your reader with an enticing hook, and then fulfilling that hook by informing & instructing your reader with your novel approach.
If you think of your sticky problem as a brick wall standing in front of your distinct audience—stopping them from getting what they want—then your novel approach is like a demolition hammer, a powerful tool they can use to break that wall down.
But you can’t just give a novice a demolition hammer and tell them to start swinging or chiseling. It takes some skill to wield a tool that powerful, so you have to guide them through the process and make it really easy to implement. This is simple genius.
We convey the simple genius of our novel approach in two key ways: by inspiring and engaging the reader.
One way to impress your reader with your simple genius is to inspire them with stories, analogies, references, and examples. Stories are useful for many reasons, but one of the most important is that they demonstrate the key ideas you want your reader to understand. Stories are a way of showing your reader what X part of your novel approach looks like in action.
One of my favorite books to cite as an example of simple genius is Donald Miller’s Business Made Simple. In just one short chapter (the book is framed around a 60-day approach to fixing your business), you might find: an illustration from Star Wars, a great analogy (comparing the six parts of your business to the six parts of an airplane), and a personal story from his own life. Not only do these stories entertain and delight the reader—they show the reader how easy, straightforward, and true the ideas really are.
You can read more ideas about how to include stories in your book here.
Another way to inspire your reader is to state complex truths simply. This is certainly more of an art than a science, and I think it’s one of the secret sauces that makes thought leaders like Simon Sinek, Brené Brown, Tony Robbins, and many others so irresistible. We love them because they take something that feels complex, hard, or painful and explain it concretely. They make hard things feel doable and worthwhile. When you read these words, you think, “Ok, I can do this”—even if it’s something you fear. These are the quotes you find shared on social media or highlighted in their books.
Here are some examples from someone who does this best: Brené Brown:
I’m convinced that quotes like these are a large part of what made Daring Greatly the phenomenon that it was/is, and launched Brené Brown into fame.
The other way to convey simple genius is to engage your reader with practical advice and ideas they can implement right now.
An author I worked with several years ago, Heather Wolpert-Gawron, taught me that engaging does not mean entertaining; instead, we should think of “engage” like how Captain Picard means it in Star Trek: participate, occupy, involve, interact.
So to engage our reader, we must give them something to do. Here, many personal development books provide examples, but I’ll just share some excerpts from Greg McKeown’s Essentialism:
McKeown writes that one of the practical ways we can embrace essentialism is by learning to say no—and he provides several tangible ideas of what saying no can look like:
Here, McKeown is breaking his directive to the reader (“Say no”) into such easy, practical steps that you really have no excuse not to start using these right away.
This is why simple genius is a component of bestselling book ideas: because it makes these books effective. When you read a book with simple genius, you’re forced to reckon with a choice. You’ve been given the tools to succeed, and you’ve been shown how to do it—so you must decide if you’re actually going to do it. Most people realize that if they don’t take action on what this book offers, they have no one to blame but themselves.
Remember, the goal of a personal development book is to help a reader affect some kind of change or transformation in their life. By inspiring and engaging your reader with simple genius, you make it almost impossible for them to fail! And that is one of the reasons readers will love your book and share it with others.