What makes a great book great?

James M. Ranson
9 min readFeb 27, 2020


What makes a great book great?

I talk about writing great books a lot.

Why do I do that?

It’s not like anyone else is talking about it. The biggest book coaches and self-publishing gurus out there are the ones talking about how anyone who wants to can write a book, how to write a book as fast as possible, how to write a book without doing any writing, and how to market the book on Amazon once you’re done with it.

Sure, a few people pay lip service to the idea that a book should be good, but when you look past their words and examine the courses they teach, the programs they sell, the books they write, etc., you find WAY more about writing quick books, cheap books, and easy books than you do about writing good or great ones.

And these are the people who are helping dozens if not hundreds of authors write books every year — and making a pretty penny doing it.

Why am I not just doing what they do? In fact, why am I doing the opposite of what they do? Writing great books takes authors more time and costs them more money than the approaches these experts teach. By all basic sales and marketing logic, I’ve got it completely backwards.

Or do I?

Why does quality matter? Why would a business owner want to write a great book instead of a fast book? And why did I choose this hill, of all hills, to die on?

Two reasons.

First, because quality is one of my primary values. I believe that if you’re going to put time and effort into creating a business book, you should create the best business book you can. Anything less literally isn’t worth the paper it may or may not get printed on. And I’d rather work with six authors who share that value than six hundred who don’t.

Second, because I’ve seen way too many disappointed authors with books they’re almost ashamed to promote. Sure, they’re happy to be published authors, but you can tell they’ve given up on the real dreams they had when they started writing — dreams of the book inspiring people, changing their industry, and building themselves a life of freedom. Somewhere along the line, these authors compromised on their book’s quality, and it cost them big time. (For the record, I’ve also been one of these authors before.)

Okay, so you might agree that you want to write a book that’s as good as you can make it. But why try for great?

After all, “great” is something of a loaded word these days. You only have to turn on a news channel to the current presidential campaigns know why. (This is not a political blog, so that’s all I’m going to say about that. Instead, I present this hat without further comment.)

Even outside of politics, greatness is often subjective. One person’s great can be another person’s halfway decent, mediocre, or crappy. Plus, “great” and “good” don’t always mean the same thing. In Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone, Ollivander the wandmaker tells Harry that Voldemort, the most evil wizard in history, did “great things. Terrible, oh yes…but great.” And while we’re talking all things Potter, remember that it was Harry’s goodness, not his greatness, that first moved Dobby the house-elf to hero-worship.

Not only that, but superlatives these days get way, way overused. One of my favorite TEDx talks, by Jill Shargaa, is all about how the word “awesome” is practically meaningless now because everyone uses it all the time.

Given all of this, I often like to use other words instead of “great.” “Quality” or “high-quality” are at the top of that list. So are “excellent” and “the best it can be.” And it’s no surprise that “heroic” and “epic” tend to show up with some frequency as well.

But “great,” for all its faults and foibles as a word, is still one of the easiest, clearest, and most accessible ways to say that something is highly positive or of good quality. For better or worse, I’m often stuck using it just to be clear.

And greatness matters because only great books get great results. Crappy books actively work against you by making you look like a total jacksauce in front of potential clients. Mediocre books only get yawns. And even halfway decent books, while they may not hurt you, don’t help you all that much either.

So for purposes of this article, let’s agree to use the word “great” to mean high-quality, excellent, created and polished with care, able to provide maximum value, capable of getting mind-blowing results for your business, and in all other ways positive.

Okay? Great.

Now this begs another question: what makes a great book great? If you’re going to put in the time and effort and money to make your book great, what does that book actually look like? How will you know if it’s great or not? Where’s the line between being great (clearly worth writing) and only okay (maybe not)?

And that’s what this post is really about.

A truly great book is great in four different ways.

First, it’s great for you.

A great book feels joyful and exciting to write. It’s not a drag, a chore, or a PITA (Pain In The Asbestos). Even when you’re fitting it in around running your business, taking care of your kids, running errands, and enjoying some well-earned relaxing time, writing a great book is something you look forward to making the time for and are excited to spend time on.

A great book is a challenge you can’t wait to conquer, like climbing Denali or swimming the English Channel. It’s a noble and high-minded goal, like curing polio or putting a man on the moon. It’s an engaging activity that demands your full focus and best efforts, like writing flawless code or perfecting a piano concerto. And it’s a journey that means as much as (or more than!) its destination, like the Iditarod or the Camino de Santiago.

Also, writing a great book means writing a book you’re truly proud of. You know this book represents you to the world exactly the way you want the world to see you, and says exactly what you want to say the way you want to say it. You look at it and can’t help thinking “it’s even better than I imagined it could be.” And you can’t wait to share it with everyone in your audience.

Speaking of your audience, the second way a great book is great is that it’s great for your readers.

Because even though this is your book, it’s not actually FOR you. It’s for them.

A great book gives your most powerful, transformational messages and practices to the people who need them most. It gives them information they didn’t have before — and shows them how to use it. It guides them through dark places in their lives or along unfamiliar paths in their businesses. It helps them solve problems they haven’t been able to solve on their own. It inspires them to change their lives, to do things they’ve never done or stop doing things they’ve never been able to stop.

A great book gives your audience exactly what they never knew they always needed.

Expanding from that level of greatness, a great book is great for the world.

A great book is a net positive. It adds value to the world that wasn’t there before. It leaves the world better than it found it.

A great book fosters growth, encourages joy, inspires change, and drives innovation. It has a sense of mission and mentorship, guiding people to take action and shifting the faces of whole industries and fields of study.

And it does this for people who haven’t even read the book yet! Everyone who reads a great book makes their own life or business better by absorbing and adopting what that book teaches, which in turn impacts everyone their life or business touches. Then all of those people are empowered to change, and then the people they touch, and suddenly one great book creates a ripple effect that improves thousands of lives and businesses all around the globe.

A great book is something greater than yourself, and it can create a greater movement than you could create alone.

Finally, a great book is great for your business.

As I mentioned in a recent post, it’s totally possible for a book to both be good for the world and make you money. In fact, that’s pretty much the definition of a great book: a book that brings so much value to the world that it attracts comparable amounts of value directly to you.

A great book builds your authority, positions you as the expert your audience and industry need, improves your reach and visibility, and makes working with you a no-brainer. It gives you a versatile, ethical, and powerful marketing tool for reaching new/better clients, booking more/bigger speaking gigs, and generally doing more of what you already do on bigger stages and for more money. Most of all, it becomes the foundation for your business’s next decade of growth.

A great book is great in all four of these ways.

And that’s the biggest difference between writing a great book and writing a mediocre or crappy one. Most books aren’t written with all four forms of greatness in mind. You might write a book that feels great for you but doesn’t connect with your audience. Or a book that has amazing messages for the world but doesn’t provide a good foundation for your business. Or even a book that will help your audience, change the world AND make money, but never gets finished because it’s the wrong book for YOU to write.

To write a great book, you must consider the four forms of greatness, and then strategize the entire book project around achieving all four. A book written with that approach will have a much better chance of being great (and getting great results!) than one focused only on one or two ways of being great.

The good news is that combining all four approaches to greatness is easier than it sounds! When you consider all four consciously, you’ll find they can overlap quite a bit.

  • A book that connects strongly with your audience and helps them solve problems adds a lot of value to the world
  • A book that is good for the world, as noted above, is good for its author’s business
  • A book that you know will help your business is easier and more fulfilling to write than one that doesn’t have a clear connection to profit
  • A book that will be great in all three other ways will inspire you to make it a book you’re really proud of

It’s kind of like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Each was a strong fighter alone…but they needed all four together to defeat Shredder and the Foot Clan.

So if you want a book that will cowabunga your business to the next level, start by making sure it will be great for you, your audience, and the world too.

And if you’d like some help figuring out how to do that, I’ve got your back! I offer two free Six-Figure Book Strategy Sessions every week, and I’d love to invite you to one of them. Click right here to book your time. I look forward to connecting with you soon!

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Check out my book Don’t Write A Crappy Book!, a comprehensive guide to writing and publishing mistakes business authors don’t know they’re making — and how to avoid them!

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