New corporate thriller “Call to Power” out now!

Here is why you must read this hot corporate novel

Reading time: 5 minutes

Call to Power by Jack Page is one of the best corporate novels and corporate thrillers

After three years of intense writing, my new business novel Call to Power: A prime corporate novel was released this week. It accompanies the young and ambitious Paul Cromwell as he joins a failing manufacturing colossus in Pittsburgh. Paul, a generally principled and pious character, turns increasingly vile as the novel moves on and he becomes obsessed with power and career progress. The management of the company is bursting with boardroom intrigues, conspiracies, and power plays. The shareholders and the labor unions are also enmeshed in the battles that will decide the fate of thousands of employees. Their jobs hang by a thread, as the production offshoring to Asia seems inevitable.

But before I tell you why you shouldn’t miss this hot new corporate thriller, make sure to watch the book trailer:

Call to Power picks up the great economic challenges of our time

The novel is not just a corporate thriller that seeks to entertain, but it deals with the three major themes on the agendas of boardrooms across the world.

First, digitalization. Day by day our economic order is challenged by new tech such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, or 3D printing. Jobs in the industrial sector are vanishing at unprecedented rates and don’t appear anymore. Business models are transformed even in branches that have been stable for centuries.

Under my real name I have written extensively (including best-selling business books) about the technological progress and the disruptive force it represents for the global economy. The Rust Belt, however, is the place where these abstract concepts get a face and where you can best see their impact on people’s lives. Call to Power centers on a company that is affected by this massive transformation. While the company’s programming department has a bright future ahead, the manufacturing division is going through an existential crisis, whose outcome seems painfully clear. Read more about why I decided to write Call to Power and why I set it up the way I did in this Q&A on my website.

Second, the rise of Asia as the globe’s industrial powerhouse. This goes hand in hand with the triumphal march of the digital age. Everything these days is centered on services, especially those provided by college-educated skilled workers. Manufacturing becomes unprofitable. Foreign competitors have larger scale production plants, cheaper labor, laxer security standards, and advantageous tariff agreements. As a result, troves of workers are faced with their jobs being lost to competitors abroad. This is not only an economic problem, but it leads also to the disintegration of our social fabric.

Third, morality in business. This is an eternal topic and many corporate novels deal with it. Unfortunately, most business fiction is too simplistic about them. Yes, there is a clear moral line when it comes to fraud, corruption, or murder. In reality, however, the waters for business leaders are much muddier. Managers are faced with tough choices, as they are accountable to many parties: Their shareholders, their employees, their families, society, and finally themselves. How to prioritize? Can there be a moral compass at all? And does the end justify the means? Paul Cromwell is faced with exactly those tricky questions. Moreover, he grapples with his own shifting assessment of what is morally justifiable. Can he live up to his dying grandfather’s wish to stay true to the Christian values he was brough up with?

Benefits of reading corporate novels (validated by scientific studies)

There have been numerous studies about the benefits of reading fiction, but did you know that a diet of corporate novels can be more beneficial than that of other genres? It can be a career booster, lower your stress levels, and help you with private relationships. I have amassed various scientific studies that show seven reasons why you should invest time in reading business fiction. It enhances your empathy levels, your communication skills, your vocabulary, your brain’s horsepower, and your knowledge on a particular industry. Business novels help you to reduce stress at work and prevent mental diseases. Finally, they make you capable of dealing with uncertainty and ambiguity. Read up on each of those benefits here.

How do I make sure Call to Power is a good novel?

The first reviews were very encouraging. The amazing James Raven, who writes one bestseller after another, called it “an excellent book that moves at cracking pace” and “definitely worth five stars.” Yet ultimately readers will have to answer this question for themselves. In the course of the three years it took me to write Call to Power, I was striving to create a high-quality commercial thriller that makes you think about the great challenges of our time, while keeping you turning the pages until late at night.

If you are unsure you will like my style, I encourage you to read my short story Wrangler of Wall Street: A business short story. You can download it for FREE on my website. So you don’t have to spend any money, nor much time to make sure my stories are a match for your taste. Wrangler of Wall Street is a prequel to Call of Power. It introduces Paul Cromwell, the main protagonist, at a time he is still working for a large New York investment bank.

If you are interested in general how you can tell a good from a bad corporate novel, I have written a blog post about five quick ways to do so before you actually read the book.

Get your copy today!

Call to Power: A prime corporate novel is available at all major book retailers. You can find direct links to some of them here. On Amazon, you can also get a print version of the book.

Did you already read Call to Power or Wrangler of Wall Street? Then tell me how you liked it by leaving a review at the retailer where you bought it and on Goodreads. Or shoot out a tweet and make sure to tag me.

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Seven scientifically proven benefits of reading corporate fiction

More than any other type of fiction, business novels can advance your career, make you happier, and even benefit your health.

Reading time: 15 minutes

a black and white picture managers in front of a glass overlooking the skyline of a city, pondering the benefits of reading corporate fiction

The benefits of reading are undisputed. One study, for example, revealed that people feel happier when they read. In the UK, 1,500 people were queried about their reading and watching habits. Of those, 76% said reading improved their life.

But did you know that sound research pinpoints concrete skills that improve with each book we complete? And did you know that corporate novels turbo-charge these benefits? Yes, back-stabbing directors, Wall Street sharks and big-ego corporate lawyers can push our limits in a way no other genre can.

But before you dive into the seven areas below, look at the importance of reading the right business thrillers, because you don’t have the time to waste on anything but the best titles.

1) Increase your empathy capability with corporate thrillers

Reading corporate thrillers is the number one booster for your empathy capacity and thus a long-term career development strategy. It is probably the most important benefit of reading about bankers, lawyers and corporate sharks as you can read in more detail here.  The fast-paced narration style found in corporate thrillers and dramas, makes business fiction the best training engine for understanding and influencing people around you.

Walking in others’ shoes is the best simulation engine for complex social encounters. It will sharpen your ability to read other peoples’ intentions, to understand their circumstances and their drivers, and it will make you comprehend the emotions they experience. I have talked to many headhunters about the skillset needed to succeed within a corporation, but also on the market. Emotional intelligence was the number one skill they mentioned, while at the same time admitting it was the hardest one to improve.

Increasing your empathy, or your social and emotional intelligence as it is sometimes called, will not only help you in the boardroom (and to get there), but it will make you lead healthier relationships in your private life as well. You will be able to better manage the people around you if you are capable of quickly understanding where they come from and how they feel.

The science: There are numerous scientifically valid studies proving that reading fiction is an amazing driver for social and emotional intelligence. Between 2006 and 2009 Dr. Oatley and Dr. Mar have demonstrated how fiction-readers are much more empathic than non-readers and readers of non-fiction books. They were also able to prove there was a causality between fiction reading and empathy-enhancement. Underlying these effects is a concept known in psychology as “theory of mind,” which denotes the human ability to guess how other people feel, how they act, and what they might do. This ability can be honed by regularly digesting corporate novels.

2) Dealing with uncertainty and ambiguity

Corporate novels are the perfect environment for creativity. A study published in the Creativity Research Journal asked students to read either a short fictional story or a non-fiction essay and then measured their emotional need for certainty and stability. Guess who was better able to live without closure? The students that read fiction.

Novels foster those traits in general, but corporate novels do so even more. Good business fiction is not black and white. Compare that to an Agatha Christie type detective story where there is an objectively correct solution to a murder committed by a rogue and completely unethical perpetrator. After the resolution, which is inevitable, equilibrium is restored again. Business is much greyer in that regard. Not least because we have the omnipresent force of the market. On the one hand the invisible hand of the market restrains actors’ perimeter of actions, but on the other it forces them to be resourceful and canny.

Closely linked to the skill of dealing with complexity is fostering of out-of-the-box thinking, also known plainly as creativity.

The science: Researchers from the University of Toronto revealed that people who read fiction had less need for closure than those reading essays. This effect was demonstrated on the short- and long-term. A reduced need for closure in a story makes us deal better with ambiguity, which in turn leads to more effective and efficient information processing. It also results in higher creativity.

3) Enhance your verbal communication capabilities

In point 1) we discussed how building empathic skills can help you become a good leader. Another key skill for a manager is communication. This does not mean chatting with everybody you meet in the corridor or writing long e-mails. Rather, it means conciseness and the usage of techniques that will make your stories stick. Nobody remembers a bullet-point list unless he’s studying for a high-school exam. Yet a well-crafted, sometimes embellished, story with a personal touch and a strong message can be around for decades. In my career I’ve witnessed stories that were remembered in the company even after their main protagonist had left the company for years.

How come stories are so sticky? Our brain is wired to process the most basic blocks of stories, namely cause and effect. Just look at the memory world championships, where contestants are given a string of random words to remember. Almost all participants are inventing stories to keep track of those words. With this technique they can enhance their performance multiple times over.

Crafting such stories is an art in and of itself. That doesn’t mean it cannot be learned. Immersing yourself into great stories is the safest way to develop storytelling skills of your own. If you try to mimic them consciously, you will even learn them faster. Where do you find the best storytelling? In corporate novels.

Besides storytelling, powerful communicators are adept at using metaphors, i.e. language that evokes images, sensations, stimulates your senses in some other way. Whether it was Ronald Reagan, JFK or Jack Welch – all charismatic leaders have used vivid imagery in their language. Never mistake metaphors for a tool solely reserved for the creation of literature. Many of the metaphors we use in our lives are subconscious, for instance when we speak about life as a journey or time as money, but they are no less powerful. We are describing one experience through another domain. Yet fiction is good in that it is creative in its use of metaphors. Business novels teach you the art of describing something dry and abstract in a way that speaks directly to our senses, triggering an impulse that is immediately processed within our brains.

The science: Stories and metaphors are so powerful, because of the way they are computed within our brains. They are processed by the inner layer of the brain, rather than the outer one. Scientists call this brainstem also the “reptilian brain,” as we share this information-processing mechanism with reptiles. This part of the brain evolved much earlier than the neo-cortex, which is doing the mental heavy lifting such as calculation and memory. The reptilian brain is hardwired to respond to certain stimuli in a way humans cannot control. Information coming in this way is computed within milliseconds and triggers an immediate reaction of your readers and listeners.

Metaphors trigger a reaction within our brain, whether we want or not. When Shakespeare wrote that Juliet is the sun, he took advantage of the fact that we cannot possibly read this metaphor without our mind conjuring up the image of the sun. There is an entire strand of psycholinguistics dedicated to the study of metaphors and imagery in language. If you want to go deeper, the best book on the subject is “Metaphors We Live by” by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson. Or start with this article in the New York Times.

picure of a glass office building by night with pink windows showing managers working on their way up

4) A vocabulary building engine

This one probably doesn’t come as a surprise, but reading corporate fiction is the best way to build vocabulary. A broadened lexicon will have multiple direct and indirect benefits.

Your speaking and writing will be more vivid and more memorable if you do not always use the same termini. I am sure you have sometimes stumbled over a creative word in a colleague’s e-mail and you found yourself mulling over it for quite some time. Or somebody used an uncommon word in a meeting or presentation that was slightly unusual but described perfectly well what it was supposed to.

Moreover, corporate novels will teach you how to use management jargon. Wall Street and corporate America have their own specialized vocabulary. So has each individual industry or functional area such as marketing and finance. A good author will have done his research also on the language part. Just like writing a historic novel, a corporate thriller requires studying closely the way your characters talk. And a good author must have authentic experience in the upper management echelons. Not sure how to judge an author’s experience from the text? Read on here on how to see if a book is worth your time.

The science: The scientific evidence on this point is unequivocal: Reading increases vocabulary size. In a large-scale study the website testyourvocab.com queried 250.000 of its users and found not only a clear correlation between time spent reading and the number of words people know, but the dimension of the effect surprised even the most avid supporters of reading. Average English native non-readers would build up a vocabulary of about 20.000 words by their mid-forties and hover around this figure for the rest of the lives. Fiction readers, in contrast, passed the 30.000 mark already in their mid-twenties, had their peak later in life, and never really fell below the 30.000 word mark again. It is also interesting to note there was a significant premium when reading fiction as compared to business books and other non-fiction titles. The advantage fiction readers had over non-fiction readers was just as large as the advantage readers had over non-readers in general.

5) Knowledge on the topic

This one goes without saying. If you engage with an industry on a 400-page journey, you will hopefully have learned something about that business area. Therefore, I encourage readers to delve into all the different sub-genre of the corporate novel. If you are a lawyer and read legal thrillers that is fine, but why not also broaden your horizons by reading about a Mid-West paper manufacturer or a London stockbroker? I never had any interest in biology or medicine, but reading Bad Blood was more rewarding than most financial thrillers, which is the industry I have spent most of my career in. The story of a Silicon Valley startup that sets out to revolutionize blood-testing  is a masterpiece in storytelling and has on top made me realize how the whole business works, how it is regulated, and what type of people work there.

When I wrote Call to Power I decided to make it a manufacturing novel because I wanted to embark on a new adventure. The reader accompanies Paul Cromwell, a young hotshot who has turned the back on Manhattan finance to come to Pittsburg and to work for a maker of anti-theft solutions. For me it was fascinating to enter the world of tags and terminals that beep whenever a shoplifter tries to exit. I found myself immersed into all specificities of the industry, mulling over market and competitor reports, industry events and awards, as well as the supply chain. Very little of it found its way into the novel, but it was incumbent to do the research to understand which parts will be interesting for the reader and around which you can build a good story.

I know very little businesspeople, and even less readers of business fiction, that don’t have the desire to peek into other corporate worlds. You see it in the success of general business newspapers, but also at cocktail parties when guests shoot questions at strangers to find out how their industry works.

The science: I couldn’t find any studies on this particular benefit of corporate fiction, probably because it is self-evident that if you read a novel about investment bankers, you will understand a bit more about them by the end of the book. Nevertheless, I did not want to cut you short of this very important reward of business novels.

6) Stress release and health benefits

It is no secret that reading fiction is a perfect pastime to calm frazzled nerves. Disconnecting from your daily routine, tuning into different worlds, and walking in other people’s shoes can lower your overall stress. Why is reading fiction so much more relaxing than other pastimes? Because it requires your full immersion so that you forget about your mortgage or deadlines at work.

It is beyond debate that literary fiction or even a good detective story have this calming effect, but how, you might ask, can an intense corporate thriller help you reduce stress? And isn’t a romance novel a better way to escape your everyday pressure than reading about my work environment? This would be true if I we were referring to a phenomenon known as escapism in psychology. According to this hypothesis people consume literature, movies or TV-shows to flee from your problems.

But I am talking about something else. Compare it to the simulation of combat by the armed forces. They practice combat with videogame-like simulators so that they are prepared and don’t psyche out in real battle. The goal of these simulations is to make the future experience a little less unfamiliar when it occurs. Professional athletes use a somewhat similar method called mental training. In their minds they repeat the sequence of motions their bodies have to do, say a tennis player practicing how to serve or a skier how to hunker down. By simulating such experiences, they can run through the various scenarios that might occur. What happens in the brain during such a mental practice is that synapses (i.e. junctions between two nerve cells) are created and strengthened. As a result, once the situation is encountered in real life, the body already knows the experience and does not face the same stress as when grappling with something completely new.

Now apply that to reading corporate novels: You can practice all kinds of office-related conflicts, pacts, and ploys, yet in an experimental environment in which you will spare yourself the agony that you might screw up your career. And once you encounter the situation in real life, you will be calmer. Your body and mind will be privy to the circumstances and will in advance have a good understanding what it feels like and what possible paths of escalation or resolution lie ahead. This will reduce the stress tremendously.

The science: The instinctive assumption that reading fiction reduces stress can be backup by figures. A study by Dr. Lewis from the University of Sussex demonstrated that reading was a more powerful stress-reliver than listening to rock music or going for a walk. The monitoring of the heart rate showed how reading calmed people down. Experimentees’ stress levels plunged by two thirds after reading silently for six minutes.

The New Yorker mentions that fiction reading not only slashes stress, but that regular readers are shown to have less depressions, sleep better, and thus suffer from less diseases such as high blood pressure.

7) Brain training and prevention of mental decline

We all grow older and once past our zenith, our body and mind start degrading. That doesn’t mean we have to sit by idly, waiting for it to happen. We do push-ups and morning runs to keep our body in shape, and we can read novels to keep our brains functionable. There is a demonstratable link between reading and a delayed or weakened mental decline. Cognitive and memory performance increase during a life of continuous reading, and don’t dissolve so quickly.

Business fiction is even better than the average novel as it has more complex narratives and a high number of characters and conflicts to keep track of. Financial thrillers are also packed with fast-paced plots and raise the mental challenge another notch.

The science: Neurologists have clearly demonstrated the positive impact of lifelong cognitive activity on cognitive aging. Avid readers faced 32% less cognitive decline in the course of ageing. And reading was proven to reduce the likelihood of suffering from Alzheimer’s disease too.

The essence

Executive and career coaching has become a fast-growing business. The purpose of it is to teach aspiring leaders and managers how to develop empathy and emotional intelligence, how to deal with complexity in an ever-changing world, and how to defend their standpoint in a convincing and inspiring way. They should also become jacks of all trades, rather than being trapped in their discipline’ and industry tunnel-vision. And yes, of course, don’t forget your work-life balance because building up all these capabilities won’t lead you anywhere if you drop dead or burn out at age fifty.

The medicine the coaches prescribe are often group exercises or reflective papers, sometimes simulations of possible scenarios. But the probably most powerful tool is overlooked: Reading corporate fiction. Perhaps it’s because it is so simple that all the fancy coaching would become superfluous, or perhaps because in an age where introspection and self-reflection outside of a group have become frowned upon. Just take a look at the triumphal march of the open offices and endless brainstorming sessions. If you are interested in the bigger picture, I urge you to read Susan Cain’s “Quiet,” which does a marvelous job at showing the power individuals have and that despite the current social mood, work done alone is more often productive than that done in groups.

Why am I telling you this? Because thanks to this new ideology reading has become looked down upon as something nerdy, something that costs you time. But all of those skills that career coaches will charge you a fortune for, you can find by reading novels, business novels to be precise. A life-long diet of corporate thrillers will be the best training and simulation engine for vital top-management skills that are otherwise very hard to get. Sometimes the simplest tools are the best.

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Never waste your time with free corporate novels

To make sure your time is invested rather than wasted, start by looking at a corporate novel’s price.

Reading Time: 11 minutes

A businessman sitting on a chair, working on a laptop in the middle of a clock, symbolizing that business thrillers and corporate novels with great storytelling are usually not free

I noticed recently that I spend as much time browsing, searching, and weighing novels against each other as actually reading them. And it makes perfect sense: For every good business novel, there are ten bad ones out there. Luckily, with books, as with most other goods, price is a good first indicator of quality. For other indicators, read on here.

Let’s be clear: I am not talking about classic literature such as Robinson Crusoe, where the authors are dead more than 70 years and thus the copyright has lapsed. Those novels are part of the canon and have the seal of approval on them. I am talking about recent financial thrillers, corporate fiction, and suspense dramas where the e-book version is priced at zero dollars. In this blog I will put a monetary figure on your loss when reading a bad novel. Second, I will show why the probability of reading good fiction for free is very low. A look from the commercial angle demonstrates there is a clear correlation between price and quality. Stay tuned until the end and you will find some bonus tips on how to still save money when your reading budget is tight.

The strain on your time budget

An average novel offered for free counts between 50,000 and 70,000 words. Books  priced above that are usually between 70,000 and 120,000 words in length. There are statistics saying that the better performing novels are those above 100.000 words, so this is the first reason not to go with free business novels.

But let’s have a look how much time a bad novel will cost you. After all, free is not free. Your time can and should be quantified too. An average person reads about 200 words per minute. Keep in mind that this is a best-case estimate. If you aren’t sitting on your desk highly concentrated, chances are you will often get interrupted, lose your train of thoughts, or even fall asleep. If it is a business novel you are reading, you might even have to jump back a couple of pages to keep track of the many characters that drive the story. So let’s assume a net reading capacity of 100 words per minute. For a free novel you would spend anywhere between 8 and 12 hours. That is at least a very intense workday. Or put differently: A vacation day. Now ask yourself how much money you lose, if you take an unpaid vacation day. 100 dollars? 500? Maybe 1,000? This is the real cost for misjudging a novel. Suddenly the 15 dollars for the book look quite puny, don’t they? The investment case is clear.

For those finance experts among you, also think of the opportunity cost: Every minute you spend reading bad and boring commercial novels, you could have been reading something truly life-changing. And let’s face it: Nothing life-changing comes for free. Or when was the last time you heard somebody say a LinkedIn post had turned their worldview upside down?

Important notice

IMPORTANT disclaimer: Yet even if your day is worth 1,000 dollars, it makes economically sense to read, as long as the stuff you are poring over is of high quality. Great literature is worth the time personally and financially. I have aggregated a number of scientific, University-led studies that show the phenomenal effect reading corporate novels has. But don’t waste time on something that won’t engage you, stretch you, or keep you highly entertained. If you really are among those, whose workday is worth 1,000 dollars and more, you probably know this anyway. You wouldn’t have gotten this far without reading the right things.

A manager checking his watch to determine how much time a corporate thriller will cost him and if the investment is worth it

The economics of free corporate novels

We live in an age of zero-based pricing. Google offers its search engine, its maps, its Android operating system and so on for free. Facebook and LinkedIn do the same with their social networks. We got accustomed to not paying for services, because we sign them over our data in terms and conditions nobody reads or understands. But how does it work with books that don’t have number-crunching algorithms turning ones and zeros into dollars?

Let’s say you as an author need to earn between 50,000 and 100,000 dollars a year to cover your living costs, probably depending most on whether you live somewhere in the Midwest or New York City. This is the profit you need at the end of the year. But this is only your time writing the book. If you are a self-published author – as are most authors that give away free e-books – then you must factor in other costs such as cover design, editing, proof-reading, your own time for coordinating the suppliers, and obviously there are huge marketing costs. What does it matter if your corporate novel is unbeatable at its pricing, when nobody stumbles over it? And don’t forget the overhead: You need to keep managing things such as your website and your social media. In short, producing and getting your business novel out there costs a good deal of money. So how can it be economically viable to give away your novel for free? After all, you might easily end up with a goal of earning 150,000 dollars to get to your initial target of 100,000 profit.

The way you pay

So, what’s the business model? Non-fiction authors often use the book as a sales tool to be presented on their website or to have a door-opener, let’s say for big consulting pitches. With fiction it’s trickier. A large chunk of free fiction novels is vanity publishing. Those people just want to have their book out there, regardless of whether it makes money. The problem for the reader is: If something does not make money, chances are it’s not a good product. Wanting to make money is a good motivation to write an awesome book. When startups used to ask me for funding in my former hob, I always posed the same question: What is your motivation? My favorite answer was high sales numbers and profit. In this case they would be forced to give the customers whatever was good for them, rather than what they thought was best. It is the same with banking thrillers and corporate fiction: The reader must be at the center. I must admit though, that to my great surprise there are many successful novels (especially in literary fiction) that are rather akin to a self-therapy for the author than an entertaining story. You don’t believe me? Check out the highly successful Karl Ove Knausgaard.

The math of mass behind free corporate novels

What about those commercial fiction authors that live from their writing, but are still giving away their books for free? They use a technique that marketeers call loss-makers, pricing one or two products at zero dollars and then hoping there will be some spillover effects. If people like their free e-book, the authors hope, they will buy some of the others too. Hence, you get a lot of series with this type of authors. The idea is that readers might fall in love with the writing style, but even more so with the characters.

That is quite an expensive loss-leader given the calculation above. This technique only works out for authors who have many novels published. So, unless they are in the writing world for decades and have had the time to publish, say 20 novels, I would put an asterisk to the quality of that book. And even if somebody is publishing novels for a decade, he would need to come out with a new book every six months. That sounds more like conveyor belt work, than art, right? Can you really churn out one great book after another in such a short time?  John Grisham and James Patterson sure can, but that’s why they are among the richest and most-widely read writers. Plus, they have major publishers and agents that take care of basically everything, so they can focus on writing only. And still: Neither John Grisham nor James Patterson are giving away any novels for free. Have you ever wondered why? Probably because good fiction has its price.

Consider this: You can get your daily news for free from so many daily newspapers that are distributed free of charge in front of the subway. Or you could read them on the internet. Yet many of us choose to buy a subscription to the Wall Street Journal or The Economist. Why? Because we trust their figures, their analyses, their professional standards. They will shape our worldview to a certain degree, and we readily fork out a couple of bucks to bend it into the right direction. We see it as an investment into a small investment into our future. Corporate novels work the same way.

Beware of the “I want to make the world a better place”-argument

Our commercial analysis shows clearly that quality costs. Whether the authors’ motivation is cross-selling, the conveyor-belt technique or personal branding, many brush away those concerns by claiming altruistic motives. They want the world to become a better place by disseminating knowledge for free, they say. I don’t buy it and either should you. As a banker I am very skeptical when someone tells me they are doing something for the greater good. Especially when I know how much effort really goes into putting up such a product. For Call to Power I spent three years of vacations, weekends and evenings.

Don’t get me wrong: Corporate novels do make an impact on individuals’ lives and the world. It was also one of the motivations to write my book. But if I was solely doing it for the good impact, the hundreds, if not thousands of hours would have better been invested in a soup kitchen. Put bluntly, an author giving away his book for free only to make the world a better place is just as trustworthy as the mission statements of hubris-infused start-ups from the West Coast.

Alternatives for cash-strapped lovers of corporate fiction

I know from my writing, that most readers of corporate thrillers tend to earn above average and will gladly fork out 15 dollars for a good novel. But my readership is also made up of hungry, aspiring go-getters, who are often in their twenties and for whom every dollar counts. Been there, done that. I managed to read a truckload of good books without spending a fortune. How? There are basically three ways.

First, timing. A fiction title is generally something you don’t need to read immediately. Whether you get the book next week or in three months makes no difference. This makes bargain-hunting easier. Publishers and authors experiment with price and play with them to achieve certain goals. Whether it is to push the Christmas sales figures or to support a successful launch campaign that will catapult their business thriller onto the bestseller charts. The best way to monitor this, is by simply singing up for newsletters of authors you are interested in. Follow that easy technique and save a small fortune. But take care: Some authors will spam you. Unfortunately, the likelihood is higher when they have dozens of titles, series, or other products they sell, such as writing workshop. Now you might argue that it is easy for me to criticize this kind of marketing because I don’t offer such services. Fair enough, but I honestly feel annoyed by these e-mail storms and wanted to warn you. Anyway, give it a try. If it’s too much, simply unsubscribe. And if you still want me to send you some campaigns, you can register here ?

The second great way to get a bang for your buck is to buy used books, a technique I myself used excessively during my student years.  Many books might be much thumbed or bear some scribbled notes, but let’s face it: You need a library, not a book collection.

And the third route is to go to a library. Yes, it’s old school, but tried and tested. Also, it comes with some side benefits of its own. Thanks to the unparalleled calm you can devour your corporate novels at a much faster reading pace than 200 words per minute. For me there’s also something special about libraries. The sole idea that knowledge is culled from all over the world and from different epochs and you can simply tune just inspires me. I admit, though, this is a personal benefit not everybody might get out of it.

The essence

Evading free corporate novels is the first step in making sure you don’t waste your time with bad books about Corporate America. For the next steps of your filtering mechanisms read on here.

You can easily calculate the costs of picking the wrong reads about Wall Street, commerce or manufacturing. Especially if you are looking to grow personally as a result of your reading experience, you should never cut short on the initial investment. Just consider the commercial angle and you will quickly realize there is no world-class literature you can expect here. Think about it like this: A small garage band would lunge at the opportunity to play their music for free to a crowd of 200 people. But you also wouldn’t expect Bono there, would you?

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Pictures: Kevin Ku on Unsplash; Jonathan Francisca on Unsplash

Five quick ways to tell which corporate novel is good literature

There are easy ways to sort the wheat from the chaff when it comes to business thrillers.

Reading time: 8 minutes

A pile of novels swirling, depicting that many books make it difficult to distinguis between a good corporate thriller and a bad one

Corporate novels are read by people who don’t have much time; that’s a given. All the more important to quickly check whether a book is worth investing dozens of hours. You can screen out the really bad ones immediately by the quality of the cover and the copywriting. But once you have done so, it gets trickier. Today, there is also no correlation between the quality of a book and whether it is  traditionally or self-published. Luckily, there are five must-haves of good business fiction, most of which can be vetted in the free preview of a novel. Each of these five signs of good corporate literature described below comes with a tip at the end on of how to quickly spot it.

Advice in advance: Hands off free corporate novels! Read here about why this is one of the largest signposts of not so great literature.

1) Does the author have authentic experience in the industry he is writing about?

We all know authors that have been highly successful by writing about worlds they have never set foot in. Karl May wrote Winnetou, sparking European imaginations about the Wild West like no other writer. But these are exceptions. You can come a long way with research, and you don’t need decades of experience in multiple industries, but the author should at least have authentic experience in the business world. That doesn’t mean that you cannot write about trench wars in the board of an oil giant, if you have spent your career at an investment firm or big management consultant. But you should have first-hand knowledge about how decisions are made at a corporate behemoth, how hierarchies work, how people feel when act greed blinds them.

In particular, scrutinize the dialogues. Is the tonality adequate to the setting? An argument at a shareholder meeting will have a different formality in its language than a one-on-one meeting in the cafeteria.

Advice: Outsiders to the corporate world often resort to stereotypes and there is a lack of detail. Also look for any alerts such as unrealistic timelines or figures.

2) What are the outlined conflicts?

All fiction lives from conflict. It is the very essence of every novel, short story and novella. Corporate thrillers and dramas with little conflict can easily be tiresome, but they are also shallow. Conflict is what makes protagonists grow. Ideally it challenges them, stretches them, and makes them move from one pole to the other. That does not mean that the pages need to be bursting with duels and fistfights. A conflict can also be an inner battle of a character or political brinkmanship by bankers and executives. Or it can be shareholders trying to coerce a company’s management to do their will. The more conflicts a book has, the more of a page-turner it will be. Obviously, all of those need to be built and resolved adequately, which unfortunately can only be assessed some way through the book.

Advice: If you can’t gauge the main conflict after the first three chapters, the novel might be rather slow. This must not be a bad thing, but be aware what you are getting yourself into.

3) Do we encounter sizzling characters?

Unlike movies or short fiction, novels have ever since been the best place for character development. Heroes and anti-heroes need to be dynamic, to show a development as a result from the struggles they go through.

Super-strong protagonists do not only change in the course of a story, but they have their rough edges from the start. Glib characters fail to fascinate readers. If the hero of a story is flawless, readers can’t relate to him or her. They cannot build empathy and thus won’t root for them, nor will they feel compassion when their hero experience injustice and pain. As much we aspire to become like their heroes, they need them to mirror some of our flaws.

The Call to Power offers a good example for a sizzling, multi-faceted main protagonist. Paul Cromwell is a young careerist who in the beginning is motivated by noble ideas, namely to rise in the ranks of a manufacturing giant in Pittsburgh to save thousands of jobs. Yet as he climbs the ladder of success his morals tarnish. The conflicts he fights through unleash the dark side of his personality. His hidden vice is an irrepressible lust for power. A power-crazed orphan who believes himself to be divinely chosen is unique and captivating, definitively not a static and flawless superhero we want to emulate. But we want him to succeed. We cheer him on as he drives forward the cataclysmic motions in the novel, just as we mourn his setbacks when he is vying for power in the boardroom. And we grieve even more when he comes to the moral chasm.

Empathy and dynamism will take a character far, but there is a third ingredient that sets apart good from the most captivating protagonists. Read here what makes a character not only good, but electric.

Advice: The first pages won’t tell you where the characters are headed in terms of development, but you can quickly discern whether in a corporate novel they are flat and smooth-edged.

4) How good is the writing style and storytelling technique?

I’ve never made a secret of my admiration for Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, probably the best style book ever written. The core message boils down to this: Cut out every unnecessary word. Keep things as short and simple as possible.

Good style is very hard to build up, but easy to spot. How long are the sentences? Does the author use a plethora of unnecessary filler words? Are there sentences or even paragraphs that can be cut altogether? Are there more adjectives than verbs? Do the sentence structures all look alike?

The question of writing style is not only one on the sentence and phrase level. Have a conscious look at how paragraphs and chapters flow and how the information is presented. Does the author get lost in unnecessary narrative strands? Is he building up suspense by the way he narrates? Is foreshadowing used cleverly or does it give away too much? There are hundreds of such questions that distinguish skilled writers from amateurs.

Advice: This is the quickest dimension to examine. While the descriptive text might be highly polished, only good authors manage to keep up the good style over the first pages of their novel. Make sure to read at least one chapter. It doesn’t have to be the first one.

5) Is the story of the corporate novel unpredictable?

This is the dimension which takes most time to figure out in corporate fiction and thrillers in general. But by unpredictability I do not only mean a big bang plot twist in the second half of a business novel. Good authors lead you up the garden path frequently. Or they throw unexpected obstacles in the way of the very narrative path they have set out. Particularly important for business thrillers is when a character works on a plan and is deranged by an unforeseen event, often triggered by an antagonist. At this point sizzling characters are vital. If they are plain and stereotypical, where are the surprises going to come from? There are only so many acts of God a good novel can bear.

Authors that are weak on the plot but desperately try to be unpredictable often walk into the trap of forcing their characters to do things that don’t fit their nature. As a reader you can rely on your gut here. Does the surprise turn feel realistic? Is the character reacting to outside circumstances the way you would have expected?

Advice: Unpredictability takes time to discover. So look at the outline of the characters. Are they resourceful? If you can’t tell, read some of the reviews. But be aware that many of those include spoilers.

The essence

You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but by its first pages. Following these five steps will help you evaluate the quality of a corporate novel by reading the first two chapters. Why two? Because with business thrillers the first is often not representative. In the business fiction genre, we have many characters, corporate structures, industries that need to be introduced. At the very least the scene must be set. Second, the first chapter often serves to put you in the right mood for reading the novel and is thus not representative.

Bonus Advice: All those five steps are universal; they can be used to judge books in any genre.

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What makes a (good) corporate thriller?

Business novels and dramas are underestimated, but they offer some of the best storytelling in fiction.

Reading time: 8 minutes

A silhouetted manstandingn in a library holding an reading a fast-paced corporate thriller with plot-twists

Good, plot-twist-packed corporate novels can hone your strategic thinking, give you unparalleled insight into the human psyche, and are quite simply page-turners. Yet they are having a hard time to make the masses swoon. Let’s face it: For most of us office life is dull, hence many readers ask why they should read about spreadsheets and bankers in their beds. They prefer to embark on adventures on faraway planets or look over detectives’ shoulders when catching psychopaths. But did you know that the business novel consists of five major strands, each of them holding in tote completely different worlds for the reader? Whatever industry you are trudging along in your daily lives, you will find new domains. The big five sub-categories of the corporate novel – the financial thriller, the legal thriller, the tech thriller, the office drama, and the general corporate thriller – are supplemented by a host of other overlapping and specialized niches.

This article examines the key elements that define a novel as business fiction. If you are more interested in how to tell apart a good from a bad corporate novel, you can immediately jump to my analysis here.

The corporate environment

Obviously, the most defining feature of a business novel is that it is set in a corporate arena. Often the sub-categories run along industry-lines. A legal thriller involves lawyers and judges, while a tech thriller revolves around a seemingly omnipotent tech-corporation, often some time in the future. The geographical settings also vary. Silicon Valley is where tech fiction plays out, manufacturing novels are often set in the Rust Belt, and Wall Street is the undisputed center for financial thrillers. But regardless of the sub-genre, much of the action is driven by top-managers, which is why the ploys and power plays almost always include the boardroom. A company’s employees and executives are vying for power, trying to cover (or expose) criminal activities, or are battling a seemingly almighty cooperation.

It is very common that corporate novels, especially financial thrillers, are merged with political thrillers. When big business and high finance meet Washington DC lobbyists, agents, and government officials are added to the narrative. Frequently, they wrestle over the dismantling or rebuilding of our global economic or financial system. The survival of a nation is at stake. These can be very powerful narratives, but the author must be top-notch, or the story can quickly become laughable like a cheap action-movie.

At this point we should also clarify what is not a corporate novel. First, books that are non-fiction. Bad Blood , for example, is often included in business thriller listicles. It exposes the lies and secrets behind Theranos, one of Silicon Valley’s most cherished unicorns. John Carreyrou’s masterpiece (yes, that term is more than justified and you should check it out) reads like a thriller, but it chronicles real events and thus it is not a corporate novel. BTW: If Bad Blood was fiction, everybody would dismiss it as outright unrealistic, so make sure you grab a copy! Second, other novel types that simply happen to take place in a corporate setting. Type into Amazon boardroom novels and you will know what I mean. It will return mostly romance books and erotica. The important question here is which element dominates in a book? What is the story ultimately about? Is it about a bond trader gone rogue or about a secretary that starts an affair with a good-looking CEO? The same is true for other genre-overlaps. In a dystopian novel an evil big corporation might be at the core, but what is the major premise of the book? But the point is not to engage in academic hair-splitting. Rather, knowing the genre will make it easier for you to find the type of novel you enjoy. Luckily, you get a long way by typing your keywords into your bookdealers search mask.

To tell a thriller from a drama look at the plot

Though the terms corporate thriller/novel/drama are often used interchangeably, there is a noticeable difference. While novel simply describes the literary category of a text, drama and thriller are distinguished by the dynamism of the plot. While dramas are often a bit slower and live from building suspense, thrillers are characterized by a rapid succession of actions. Actions and counteractions follow each other with very little slack in-between. Plot-twists can, but must not be, part of both. Yet there tend to be more of them within the thriller-genre.

It is tenacious myth that thrillers are less likely to embark on the search for a deeper meaning. When I chose to make Call to Power a corporate thriller rather than a drama, I did so because I enjoy building a complex web of actions. Yet Call to Power tackles complicated issues such as digitalization, globalization, and the individual responsibility of managers, on a micro and macro level. The difference is that in a thriller those topics are pondered on through the prism of the protagonists’ deeds rather than through conversations and ruminations. And that makes thrillers so gripping. Frank Underwood, the anti-hero in House of Cards said it best: “We are all addicted to action.”

Underlying frames – typical conflict types in business novels

The reason why we feel so drawn to narratives within corporate thrillers and dramas is that they deal with archetypal stories. In communication science these story-types are called frames, as they make us perceive an issue through a certain angle. Those narrative structures are culturally rooted within us and ergo instinctively recognizable and familiar.

Which frame is referenced, strongly depends on the type of business fiction. Legal thrillers often use the David vs. Goliath frame. A young or ostracized lawyer is up against a giant corporate behemoth with squads of top attorneys. All the more refreshing to have books such as Rogue Lawyer by John Grisham, with a very unconventional hero. With thrillers involving spies and agents, on the other hand, the good vs. evil frame is highly popular. The roles are clear, the characters mostly black and white and mostly infallibly. The reader knows from the onset, who the bad guys are. Both, legal and spy thrillers also make excessive use of the conspiracy frame, whether it is an attempted government takeover or a big tobacco company trying to get its way in court.

And then there is the American Dream frame, in which a young and hungry character works his (yes, he’s usually male) up the corporate ladder. This from rags to riches storyline is especially popular in the US but works in most other countries too. It is a great setup because it guarantees conflict between the characters per default. Business is the most equalizing arena of our society, so when a working-class character rises and battles those from power and privilege, conflict is pre-programmed as two opposite world-views clash. Moreover, there is little black-and-white in this frame. Whatever the socio-economic background of the characters, their methods and ethics are not dictated by it. You find smart, evil, and honorable individuals in all social layers.

Character types – from evil CEOs to uncompromising careerists

The corporate novel features some very specific prototypical characters. Backstabbing colleagues, greedy bond traders, and psychopaths that masterfully navigating the murky, shark-filled corporate waters are common personalities we do not encounter anywhere outside business novels. But there is no role as prominent as the high-powered CEO, who in most stories is a vile, scheming and omnipotent ruler, mostly the antagonist to an upright protagonist. Those roles work perfectly fine, but when skilled authors play with them and tweak them, as readers we get the feeling of a unique novel.

The better thrillers have a more dynamic character setup, in which there are more than two major opponents. The C-Suite usually bursts with plenty of strong, highly ambitious personalities and thus plenty of conflict potential. Better works also feature managers with different backgrounds, motivations, and personal ways – those are the ones that will actively drive forward the plot. This is, no question, very difficult to write. And it can be challenging for the reader too. But the rewards are very high. And besides: Readers of corporate novels are quite smart; they enjoy the challenge. I can tell firsthand that creating many characters with their own backgrounds, their own life-stories and ambitions, takes months. Yet without sizzling characters, the best story will bore your readers.  

The essence

As you see, corporate novels do not necessarily have to involve a crime-element, albeit many do. More defining are the business setting, the character types we encounter, as well as the conflicts that swirl at the core of the novel. Put shortly, corporate thrillers are boardroom intrigues and deceptions, just as nepotism and quid-pro-quos. They are cloak and dagger tactics, just as business scandals and power plays. They are corporate America’s most captivating stories that give a you a crash-course about human nature. Read here how to tell good business fiction from bad one. Or immediately look at 10 great corporate novels I have enjoyed and suggest you read too [link].

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