When I am exploring a nonfiction book idea with a new client, one of the first things we discuss is the hook. What makes your book different from the hundreds of others that also deal with your topic? What can you do to grab the attention of the potential buyer? In all honesty, a lot of clients struggle in this conversation, and it goes back to the point I made about originality in an earlier post (Tony Robbins Doesn't Need Your Help): although you may not have a unique subject, you can be unique in how you address it.
A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a book with spine that struck me as truly different: Chapter One: You Have the Power to Change Stuff by Daniel Flynn (Thankyou Group, 2016). Flynn's business, thankyou., began by selling water to help alleviate the world's water crisis and now sells more than 55 products to support a campaign to end poverty. According to Flynn, he began his company with no business experience, only an awareness of global poverty and the simple question, "What if that were me?" Unlike many social enterprises, thankyou. gives 100 percent of its profit to its mission. Respect.
Flynn states that the purpose of Chapter One is to encourage readers to "Dream with us. Write with us. Change stuff with us." This book fits within the social entrepreneurship genre that will feature prominently in this blog (Walk a Mile in Blake Mycoskie's Shoes), but it takes a really interesting approach and has several "hooks" I've never seen before. If the company itself is half as innovative as the approach it took to this book, it could do amazing things for the world.
One. Unlike Mycoskie's book that was written when his business had become successful, Flynn's book is about his brand's beginnings ... hence the title, Chapter One. His idea is that he will write sequels (Chapter Two, Chapter Three, and so on, presumably), chronicling the fortunes of the company as it grows. It's a brave move, given the high failure rate of startups, but I like the idea that, over time, Flynn will create a complete business biography.
Two. There is no recommended retail price; instead, people pay what that want to. By asking purchasers, "How much are you willing to invest in an idea that could change history?", some people may pay a dollar, but others might pay thousands simply because they believe in the company's mission and want it to continue doing good work. The "pay what you like" approach was possible because, cleverly, the company pitched the idea to Australia's largest book retailer, which liked what the company was trying to do. I haven't seen the sales figures on this and can't say how effective the idea has been, but I'm impressed by Flynn's commitment to thinking differently about bookselling, a mindset which reflects his entire business ethos. (The downside, of course, is that selling via Amazon and other such platforms won't allow buyers to pay what they like.)
Three. The interior of the print edition is laid out horizontally. This is the most gimmicky aspect of Flynn's approach, which he spends some time justifying at the start of the book. Just as with the pay-whatever tactic, the purpose of the landscape layout is to challenge the reader to depart from the norm and think differently, however uncomfortable that may be. It's a great idea for the printed version, but readers of the ebook have to settle for imagining the reading experience that Flynn describes in the introduction.
Chapter One shows that you do not have to confine your "hook" to the content. There are other ways to differentiate a book from the crowded literary category you might be competing in. But beware: a hook can too easily become a gimmick if it's not done in the proper spirit. However, I believe Flynn gets away with the gimmicks because they fit squarely within thankyou.'s business model, which is founded in thinking outside the box, and I sincerely hope that the company is around long enough for us to find out what interesting ways Flynn can find to write Chapter Two and many more chapters thereafter.
Lorna Partington Walsh, Wordsmith