Tim Ferriss (Four Hour Work Week / Four Hour Body) and Chris Guillebeau (The Art of Non-conformity) are my alter-egos. Like Tim, I’ve spent much of my life between San Francisco, Buenos Aires and Tokyo. I also had the idea for a book titled “International Drug-smuggling for fun and profit” – independently of him (and I believe earlier). Chris and I come from the same town, Portland Oregon, and have a passion for non-conformity (which I call ‘holyblasphemy’). Like both, I’ve spent much of my life living overseas, working only part-time, and having almost total freedom from just about everything. What they’ve beaten me to, so far, has been writing and publishing a bestselling book – a life long goal of mine.
In attempting to match their book marketing powers, I’ve established the following case study regarding how each of them wrote, published and marketed their books, and why they are now hugely famous, international bestsellers. Their novel strategies for book marketing and promotion, as well as the success of their books (and brands) should be a source of inspiration for anyone looking to write or publish a book. Although their techniques differ, they have much in common. This article will analyze ten fundamental principles for creating a bestselling book, getting it published, and building an army of supporters ready to purchase it.
Do you want to reach the New York Times bestselling list or have a #1 ranking on Amazon.com?
Then pay attention.
1. Promise the dream
The success of both the 4-hour work week and the art of non-conformity is not in the practical, useful advice given. Instead the authors talk mostly about what they’ve done, personally, to create a successful lifestyle that gives them the freedom that everyone dreams of. People don’t buy the books to learn how to become a Tim or a Chris; they buy them to be inspired to live out their own dreams.
Both books basically say A) It is possible to have a life of freedom, because B) I have done it.
The one thing that everybody on earth wants is more time, more freedom, more wealth. Let them dream about those things for a few hours and they’ll be happy they bought your book.
Lesson: Give people an image of what their ideal lives could be like.
On the other hand, both Tim and Chris can be accused of selling “miracle water” – claiming to have written a miraculous product that will basically save the world. Just look at their subtitles:
“Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich”
“Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life You Want, and Change the World”
Do either books actually fulfill those promises? No – not by a long shot. But they do get you thinking about the subject, and dreaming of the lifestyle. It’s OK to make huge promises – you’re basically just saying “anything is possible.” And that much is true.
Lesson: Focus on making your subtitle awesome and benefit-driven.
3. Ignore the experienced, convert the noobs. (Focus on the people that need you most).
Neither book offers much for experienced travelers, freelancers or people used to independent living. There is a shortage of really practical tips (and this of course, in part because there is no get rich quick scheme that can work for everybody; we all have different skills and abilities). Chris and Tim are not focusing on the experts – they are after the cubicle junkies sick of their boring 40-hour work-week, dreaming of a big life change.
Lesson: Don’t worry about being an expert. If you know more than some people, write a book for those people. Be approachable, write in a friendly, conversational style.
4. Begin with a blog.
Chris started with a website and gained many, many followers (based on his mission statement and call to action) before a publisher sought him out. Tim gained access to an agent/publisher through another author, and then started a blog. Both blogs offered concrete blog posts about how to do things people wanted to learn about. Tim attended blog fairs, hunted down bloggers personally and coerced them into supporting his book launch. He also (I think) paid people to leave comments about the 4-hour work week all-freaking-over-the-place. (You could outsource a project like this pretty cheap and get someone to do it for you).
Lesson: Start your blog early. Offer real content that will help people to do things. Engage other bloggers.
5. Publish mini-books.
This was Chris’ tactic: he made a couple of beautifully designed free books to give away. They were awesome and spread, based around his mission statement and call to action (“looking for extraordinary people to join my movement, etc”).
Lesson: Give away free ebooks. Make sure they are newsworthy by making them visually stunning. Start a movement – don’t say “for more info buy my book”. Say “If you’re an amazing person, come join this fantastic group of people working towards a better world”.
6. Have a story.
Both Tim and Chris are basically selling biographies. They are both sharing the process of becoming successful people living life as they please. Both offer a background story that is interesting. Chris talks about how he didn’t know what to do after school so he decided to start a movement and travel to every country in the world. He also shares his world travels. Tim talks about the business he started and how he learned not to micromanage it, by outsourcing more work, which freed up his time. He also boasts such talents as being a martial arts expert and a tango champion.
Lesson: Tell the background story of your story, connect it to real life or personal events. Make the background story engaging. You are defining the reason for your book, and why that reason matters.
7. Be a personality.
Chris and Tim in their own way are both ego-maniacs, very comfortable talking about themselves, and giving other people advice on how to be more like them. This can be off-putting. Although their personalities are very different and they attract different types of fans, both are comfortable being in the spotlight, being on TV or radio, speaking in public, organizing their own promotional and marketing events, and making contacts with people.
Lesson: A book won’t sell itself. The author has to sell it. You sell it one book at a time, to one person at a time, over and over.
8. Get people involved/build a community
Chris and Tim have both done and excellent job of involving their online communities in the process of their book publishing experiences. Both offer contests and prizes with huge giveaways (like a free cruise or flight anywhere in the world) for participating on the websites. Tim offers people the chance to actually work on the manuscript (editing) or book cover designing, or marketing. Tim had a contest to see who could create the best promo-ad (for the 4-hour body), resulting in the amazing “eat like Santa, look like Jesus” he’s using now.
They ask questions, they respond to answers, they get people talking.
Lesson: The point of having a community is not to sell them your books. It’s to let them sell your books for you, by being your fans.
9. Give back
As mentioned, Chris and Tim give big prizes, awards and gifts out to their followers. They spread the wealth, just for fun (but also because it’s good business).
Lesson: don’t hoard your income. A good rule of thumb is to spend everything your book makes on advertising or marketing, until you’re making the kind of income you’re happy with. If you have fan – be grateful for them and treat them well. Give away a lot of free stuff.
10. Don’t quit
Tim went on to write The 4 Hour Body and made it a bestseller. Chris has moved into high-priced ebooks on a variety of subjects – making money on art, cheap travel, etc. These ‘nonconformist’ guides are big money makers. Both found a way to turn their success into extra products and more income.
Lesson: One book is not enough to be a successful writer. Being a successful writer is about cultivating a variety of products and services, for multiple streams of income.