Redrawing the Rules of Business Books

BOSTON (TheStreet) -- Superman may have a cool cape, X-ray vision and be faster than a speeding bullet. But can he motivate your sales force, improve your personal finances or spot the hot new investing trend?

It's no secret comic books are no longer just for kids and that adults are snatching up Mylar-bagged graphic novels for escapism and collectability. Until now, however, none have ventured into the realm of business books.

Business Comics

Book packager Writers of the Round Table is working with SmarterComics to repackage and re-imagine best-selling business books into comics.

"It is an opportunity to invite the Twitter Generation into these powerful messages," says Corey Michael Blake, Writers of the Round Table's founder and executive editor of the series.

Already, the company is promoting its wares, on a trial basis, on Amazon ( AMZN). Among the selections are Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill and Bob Byrne, an adaptation of Sun Tzu's The Art of War and Shut Up, Stop Whining & Get a Life: A Kick-Butt Approach to a Better Life by Larry Winget and Shane Clester.

To keep the attention of readers, Blake says that he and SmarterComics founder Franco Arda knew both content and visuals had to be compelling. Winget's No. 1 Wall Street Journal bestseller -- featuring brash and often profane advice on money, business and personal success -- fit perfectly, he says.

Earlier this year, SmarterComics, based in Silicon Valley, distributed the digital version of the book; Writers of the Round Table Press published the print version.

Beginning in January, the company plans to ramp up its efforts and put out an adaptation each month. The initial slate of authors includes Latino entrepreneur Robert Renteria ( Mi Barrio, based on From the Barrio to the Board Room), sales and marketing guru Tom Hopkins ( How to Master the Art of Selling), psychologist John Eliot ( Overachievement) and Wired magazine's editor-in-chief, Chris Anderson ( The Long Tail). The adaptations will be distributed to U.S. bookstores by National Book Network.

Each book will be 60-70 pages long, an estimated 30-40 minute read. Digital versions will be available for Apple's ( AAPL) iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch as well as Amazon's Kindle (a challenge for the last device was creating readable word balloons for the device's e-Ink screen). Print volumes will retail for $12.95 and digital versions will sell for $9.95.

Blake credits Arda with the idea to recreate popular nonfiction as comics for a "generation of readers who want valuable information in quick, easy to understand bits." The concept evolved into the creation of prototypes that were used to intrigue a variety of authors, agents and publishers.

Before entering the world of comics, Arda was an investment banker for Deutsche Bank ( DB) working in London, Hong Kong and Zurich. In 2008, his entrepreneurial instincts led him to move on from the firm. He calls the timing of retirement, just before the market collapse and recession, as merely "good luck."

In his spare time, Arda -- an addict of nonfiction books -- decided to try his hand at writing. The project, a business coaching/self-help tome, was intended to be dedicated to his daughter. Reviewing the work, however, he was unsatisfied. His own book left him cold.

As an experiment, he approached several artists with the idea of repurposing his text in graphic form. Pleased with the results, he set aside his own book in favor of finding a partner and securing other business books that would benefit from the same treatment.

That led him to Blake, whose own media career began as an actor, appearing in commercials for McDonald's ( MCD), Pepsi ( PEP) and Hasbro ( HAS).

Over time, being in front of the camera intrigued Blake less than the behind-the-scenes creative process, and he made the jump to being a filmmaker and writer.He is the co-author of several books, including From the Barrio to the Board Room, which is being used throughout the Chicago Public School District and in youth prisons around the country to motivate at-risk youth.

He admits he was never been much of a comic book reader before Arda approached him.

Blake's creativity and Arda's business sense has proved a good fit. Both understood that as they shopped the idea to publishers and authors they would need "proof of concept," a tangible representation of what they planned. They credit these initial sample pages as helping persuade publishers and authors -- as well as themselves -- of the idea's viability.

Mockups of a potential version of The Long Tail were what persuaded Anderson to agree to that adaption. The prototype pages also convinced them the time and money needed to produce a finished product would be worthwhile, since each book has at least a three-month production cycle -- writing to pencils to inking -- and costs upward of $25,000 to ready for printing. He says the intent is to distill the most intriguing concepts of each book, zeroing in on what will translate best into comics form; a full adaptation could run about 700 pages.

Arda is hopeful the concept will resonate with publishers and authors, who may see the value in a supplemental work that drives readers to seek out the full, original books.

Despite the graphic medium, Blake and his distributor hope bookstores won't shelve the books into the comic rack alongside Marvel ( MVL) and DC superheroes. Ideally, they are aiming for display in the business or self-help section. The books are in black and white in an effort to stress that they are meant to be informational.

"We didn't want them to come across as too much entertainment," Blake says.

-- Written by Joe Mont in Boston.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Joe Mont.

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