Two years ago, Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg told women that in order to succeed in the workplace, they need to Lean In (Knopf, 2013). Her message resonated with readers—hardcover sales per Nielsen BookScan have topped 800K units—and with publishers. New and forthcoming titles encourage women not only to lean in, but also to stand out, grow their value, and take other catchphrase-ready actions.
“[Sandberg] sparked a national discussion with Lean In by encouraging women to pursue their ambitions,” says Dan Ambrosio, a senior editor at Da Capo. “And if you go by recent business bestseller lists, there is clearly a growing and wide-ranging interest in books that speak to female leaders.” In May, Da Capo will publish A Higher Standard: Leadership Strategies from America’s First Female Four-Star General, by Gen. Ann Dunwoody. The book offers business insight in addition to tales of military leadership, a fact brought home by the foreword, written by Sandberg. (For more on this title, see our Q&A with Dunwoody.)
Shawn Donley, new-book purchasing supervisor for Powell’s Books in Portland, Ore., confirms that women are finding advice they can apply to workplace issues from a diverse group of sources. “It seems to be an offshoot of what we’re seeing in other genres: lots of titles with really strong feminist voices,” he says, pointing to 2014 books such as Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist (Harper Perennial) and Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me (Haymarket), which may not speak specifically on business topics, but address issues of confidence and self-perception.
In the wake of Lean In, Donley’s store has also seen healthy sales for several female-oriented business books that pubbed in 2014, including Katty Kay and Claire Shipman’s The Confidence Code (HarperBusiness), Tara Mohr’s Playing Big (Gotham), Arianna Huffington’s Thrive (Harmony), and Sophia Amoruso’s #Girlboss (Penguin/Portfolio).
Amoruso, founder of the online fashion retailer Nasty Gal, offers three main pieces of advice in her book: “Don’t ever grow up. Don’t become a bore. Don’t let the Man get to you.” Readers have responded to her tough talk, with print sales topping 107K units per BookScan.
“Putting your head down and working hard used to be a guaranteed path to success,” says Bria Sandford, an associate editor at Penguin’s Portfolio imprint. “Today, safe jobs disappear daily, and only people who’ve made names for themselves have true job security.” Sandford edited the newly published Stand Out: How to Find Your Breakthrough Idea and Build a Following Around It, by Dorie Clark, author of 2013’s Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review). In her new book, Clark, a marketing strategy consultant, urges readers hoping to thrive in the office to be conspicuous by identifying their big ideas, finding effective ways to promote those ideas to the company leadership, and getting colleagues on board.
While the book doesn’t “specifically call out women,” Sandford says, they may stand to benefit most from her message. “Studies show that women tend to expect that recognition, promotion, and salary increases come automatically as a result of hard work,” she says. “This is not the case, and Stand Out [explains] to the reluctant self-promoter how and why she should get out there.”
The importance of understanding and demonstrating one’s worth in the workplace is frequently a central focus of business books aimed at women.
“Men don’t apologize when they ask for a raise; you shouldn’t either,” says Amanda Murray, editorial director at Weinstein, describing the themes explored in Grow Your Value: Living and Working to Your Full Potential (May), by Mika Brzezinski. “Don’t be afraid to be considered aggressive; be confident and powerful, and don’t be afraid of labels.”
Brzezinski, the cohost of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, is also the author of the 2011 Weinstein title Knowing Your Value: Women, Money and Getting What You’re Worth, which according to BookScan has sold more than 56K units in hardcover and trade paperback. Murray says Brzezinski’s new book cautions women against falling into the trap of “being a people pleaser” and underselling themselves in order to be better liked.
Laura Vanderkam’s I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time (Penguin/Portfolio, June) focuses on another common thread—maintaining a work-life balance—and makes the case that women can have it all. She examines time logs kept by women making more than six figures a year to see how they block out time for work, family, leisure, and sleep.
“Laura addresses the work-hours myth that persists in many big white-collar jobs,” says Portfolio associate editor Natalie Horbachevsky. “When she looked at the data, the women who worked these big jobs worked an average of 44 hours a week, which is really quite manageable, and not much more than the average mother with a full-time job, who works roughly 35 hours a week.” Books like Vanderkam’s, Horbachevsky says, address an issue that many business titles do not: creating one’s best life at home and in the office.
Emily Carleton, senior editor at Palgrave Macmillan Trade, sees business books as becoming “more conceptual—less about how to do a specific job and more about how to approach working life in general.” One example, she says, is the recently released Get Big Things Done, in which leadership expert Erica Dhawan and business strategist Saj-nicole Joni explore the concept of “connectional intelligence,” or leveraging networks to get big results in the workplace.
Carleton says that while the book is aimed at both men and women, it “speaks to how female networks can help propel more women into visible leadership positions and encourage them to take full credit for their work.”
On Their Own
In addition to urging women to assume executive roles in large companies, new titles also promote entrepreneurial efforts and offer guidance to small business owners.
Amistad recently released Miss Jessie’s: Creating a Successful Business from Scratch—Naturally, by siblings Miko Branch and Titi Branch (the latter died in December at age 45). Part memoir and part entrepreneurial how-to, the book relates the lessons of self-sufficiency the pair learned from their family, including from their grandmother, the namesake of their multimillion-dollar hair-care line. The book debuted at #10 on PW’s Hardcover Nonfiction list on April 27.
Another title, Million Dollar Women: The Essential Guide for Female Entrepreneurs Who Want to Go Big (Simon & Schuster, Oct.), by Julia Pimsleur, founder and CEO of the Little Pim second-language program for children, “promises to teach women how to develop the attitude and the skills to take their businesses to the million-dollar level,” says Priscilla Painton, v-p and executive editor of nonfiction at S&S. “Women start more businesses than men do, but more of their businesses don’t make it.”
Not Just For Women
But even as these books address concerns specific to women in the workplace, several publishers emphasize that they also strive for broader appeal. In Grit to Great: How Perseverance, Passion, and Pluck Take You from Ordinary to Extraordinary (Crown Business, Sept.), Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval, the CEO and former president of the Publicis/Kaplan Thaler Group, respectively, examine how success comes from “resilience and perseverance” as much as from talent and connections, according to Roger Scholl, v-p and executive editor of Crown.
“The fact that Linda and Robin—two girls from the Bronx, as they like to say—made it to the top of a male-dominated industry with no special connections or advantages makes them keenly sensitive to the concerns of women, and women leaders, in the workplace,” he says. “But the importance of grit in achieving success is applicable to men and women.”
Emily Sarver, director of editorial and publishing services for Elevate Publishing, a custom publishing company that helps executives develop and promote their books, says that business books by women should not limit themselves only to women’s issues per se, but should speak to the wider business world.
“I think the biggest challenge, even in today’s culture, is for a business book written by a woman to be considered viable as an equally authoritative work,” she says. In November’s It’s My Pleasure: The Impact of Extraordinary Talent and a Compelling Culture, Dee Ann Turner, v-p of corporate talent at Chick-Fil-A, discusses her experiences as a female executive at a predominately male company; but, Sarver says, “the book does not focus on gender issues as a key element of Dee Ann’s story.”
Erika Heilman, cofounder and publisher of Bibliomotion, also speaks to the universality of business titles written by women. “The goal of bringing more women’s voices into the business book market is not to write for [only] women, as much as it is to have women’s experience and expertise be put [alongside] their male counterparts,” she says, offering the example of Disrupt Yourself: Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work, by Whitney Johnson (Oct.), a founder and managing director of Springboard Fund, which invests in women-led, high-growth businesses. As the book’s title suggests, it takes the concept of disruption and applies it to the individual, using the techniques that help a new product or idea transform an industry and adapting them for professional self-improvement.
Heilman says that while the book is aimed at both men and women, the fact that it is a business book written by a woman is still significant. She sees a hunger among readers for a wider range of voices, and even though for years “women in the business space have been reading books written by businessmen,” now they can seek wisdom from a greater variety of authors.
“Some female authors have a strong, punchy message to deliver, while others have perhaps the [so-called] softer side of business to convey,” Heilman says. “It is not one size fits all, but very dependent on the individual, her brand, her message, and her core audience.” And that audience, publishers say, need not be women only.
Alex Palmer is a freelance writer and the author of the forthcoming The Santa Claus Man: The Rise and Fall of a Jazz Age Con Man and the Invention of Christmas in New York (Lyons Press, Oct.).
Below, more on the subject of business titles, including books that address the changing workplace.Changing Culture: Business Books 2015General Ann Dunwoody: Business Books 2015