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How to Become a Best-Selling Business Author

How to Become a Best-Selling Business Author

By Aaron Broverman

“Everyone has a book inside them and, for most people, that’s exactly where it should stay.”

The above quote was originally attributed to the late Christopher Hitchens, but best-selling business author Jason Jennings heard it first in a speech delivered by the CEO of Penguin Putnam and he firmly believes it.

“Every publisher is literally besieged with hundreds of thousands of unsolicited manuscripts every single year and many of them are horrible,” says Jennings, keynote speaker and author of five best-selling business books, including Think Big Act Small, Hit the Ground Running and his latest, The Reinventors, which reveals the secrets of leaders and companies that have successfully reinvented themselves.

“The world is filled with weak sucks. They think they have an idea for a book, so they put together an outline and they start sending it off and after 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90 rejections – they just give up and go away. I believe that’s what the system is designed to do. Obviously, their book is no good and they should just give up and go away.”

But if you’re an aspiring author who insists that the book inside you needs to be read by everyone, there are two things you’ll need more than anything else to make it out of the slush pile…


The story of how Jason Jennings published his first book is totally unique and will likely never happen  to anyone ever again – but that’s the point.

About 14 years ago, the speaker and consultant realized that to take his brand to the next level he needed to write a best-selling book. So, like everyone else, he put together a cover letter and treatment for submission to publishers and, like everyone else, he thought it was the greatest thing he’d ever done.

“I didn’t want to send it by mail, so I got the names of about 100 publishers in New York. You can’t send it to a publisher without a name, so I actually called all 100 publishers and I lied. I said, ‘This is ABC News calling and we’re thinking of doing a story on business book publishing, who’s in charge of business book publishing there?’”

Even though he fedexed each package directly to each publisher and wrote a cheeky cover letter informing them that the first one to respond out of the 100 names gets his business, he still immediately received one rejection after the other.

“Some were returned unopened, some I never heard from, some I got standard rejection letters from in the mail, some I got rejection e-mails from and, unlike most people, I just decided I would never give up,” says Jennings.  “I do believe that the last person standing is ultimately the victor and most people just give up too easy with whatever it is they undertake.”

His persistence paid off because finally he got an e-mail from business book editor Adrian Zackheim who was with HarperCollins at the time. The e-mail read something like this:

Dear Mr. Jennings,

I am not interested in your book, I’m not interested in you, I’m not interested in your constituency and please don’t bother me again.

Sincerely Yours,

Adrian Zackheim


Most people would’ve seen that and folded up their tent, but not Jason Jennings.

“Once in a while in life, you have nothing to lose. I knew HarperCollins was owned by Rupert Murdoch, so without thinking I hit REPLY and wrote: ‘Dear Mr. Zackheim, You’re an asshole. What you don’t know is Rupert Murdoch and his son Lachlan are clients of mine. I consult with a number of their companies around the world and the next time I see them I’ll let them know what a jerk they have running their publishing division in New York.’”

Within two minutes, he got a reply from Mr. Zackheim saying that while he still wasn’t interested in Jennings’ book, but if he was ever in New York, Zackheim would give him 10 minutes. Almost as soon as that message hit his inbox, Jennings booked a red-eye flight to New York and was at Zackheim’s office in the morning.

When Zackheim left him hanging when he went for the handshake, Jennings again didn’t miss a beat:

“Oh you don’t shake hands?” he asked. “That’s okay, I’m from California and in California we hug.”

So after Jennings shocked the biggest business editor in New York with the mother of all bear hugs, Zackheim confirmed that he did indeed hate Jennings’ initial idea, but he also needed a book on speed.

Jennings jumped at the chance to write it, explaining that since most business books were on subjects that their authors really didn’t understand anyway, he would approach this book on speed from a research perspective. Zackheim then left him with one more challenge, explaining he only buys books with a title.

“I wasn’t leaving my hotel without a title, so I stayed up all night wracking my brain for the perfect one.”

He came back to Zackheim’s office bright and early the next morning and the editor proceeded to shoot down every title idea Jennings came up with. Then, just as Zackheim was wondering why he was wasting his time with this fool, the man finally came across a title he could sell: It’s Not the Big that Eat the Small, It’s the Fast that Eat the Slow.

Needless to say, Jason Jennings left New York with a book contract.

“The unsolicited manuscripts that editors get every year are horrible, but there are so many of them, you have to be different. There has to be a point of differentiation.”

Best-Selling Karma

Getting the privilege to write a book is only the first step. Then, there’s the challenge of getting it on the best-seller list.

“What gives you the right to write a book is the success of your previous book,” says Jennings. “You have to produce. I don’t care if you’re an author, an actor, a bricklayer or a garbage truck driver – you’ve got to God damn produce!”

His first book was set to hit the shelves in a few weeks and with so much riding on its success, it was the perfect time for his past favours to payoff. He got a call from Craig Kitchen, the president and COO of Premiere Radio Networks, which syndicates over 100 radio programs including Dr. LauraRush Limbaugh and Jim Rome. Kitchen remembered that Jennings had spoken to his leadership group that summer and was never paid. So, as a way to pay him back, Kitchen gave Jennings $1 million in free publicity for his book – single-handedly making it the number one book in America overnight.

“There’s a lesson there too,” says Jennings. “As you go through life, always be nice and do nice things for people because it will always come back to you tenfold.”

But if you don’t know the president of one of the largest radio syndication companies in America, Jennings has some practical ways you can try to make your book a best-seller:

  • Make a list of all your connections and ask yourself, “What can I do for them right now, that they would want to help me?”
  • Don’t believe your own press. Spend extra time shaking hands with those attending your speeches and public appearances.
  • Spend time visiting bookstores and get to know their community relations coordinator, so they’ll order more copies.
  • Send at least three messages about your upcoming new book to your e-mail and social network contacts.
  • Hire a PR firm to promote you and your book and never turn down an interview.
  • Encourage your clients to buy books as payment.

Jason Jennings knows you need to sell at least 15,000 books a week to stay on the New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-seller lists, so his work is never done. Adrian Zackheim once called him “The hardest-working author on his roster” and right now, he is at his lodge proving Zackheim right and working on a kind of follow-up to It’s Not the Big Who Eat the Small, It’s the Fast Who Eat the Slow  called The High Speed Company to be released in January 2015.

“Finding a publisher is the hardest work you’ll ever do, writing a book is the hardest work you’ll ever do, promoting a book is the hardest work you’ll ever do and you got to to love it,” says Jennings.

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