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Episode 330: A Play-by-Play Breakdown of How Tim Ferriss Launches a Book

Sep 30, 2020


Tim Ferriss needs no introduction. He not only hosts one of the world's most successful podcasts and maintains one of the world's most successful blogs but he was also an early investor in companies like Uber and Shopify and is the author of five #1 New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestsellers, including The 4-Hour Workweek and Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers

Since there's no one alive who's better at launching books, I decided to do something new for this episode: break down exactly what he does and how he does it. His tactics include reading 50 different books on his book's topic before he even starts writing, offering spectacular launch bonuses for those who buy his books in bulk, attending conferences in order to chat with bloggers and influencers and way too many others to list in this post—so many that you'll soon learn why this required its own episode.

If you like this sort of episode, I'd be excited to do more on other people who are brilliant at launching books but would be hard to land on the show. It's fun to research and talk about how someone like Ferriss manages to do what he does (spoiler alert: it doesn't involve just getting lucky). Please let me know in the form of an Itunes review if you want me to do more of these. In the meantime, enjoy this breakdown!


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Okay, welcome to Launch Pad. It's a podcast hosted by me, Anna David. And normally it's a podcast where I interview the world's most successful entrepreneurs and bestselling authors to talk about how they launch their books. And I wanted to try something different, which if it's, if it works, then I'm going to keep doing it. And you're going to have to tell me by reviewing the podcast on iTunes, if it works or not today, I am basically going to take apart the launch strategies of some of the most successful books of all time, not interviewing the guest the author who did it, but basically calling together from everything I can find online about it, to see what they did, which I actually think will be more valuable than if I could get the guests on my podcast, because we don't have to waste time with questions.

And I've already distilled down to what I think is the most successful. However, Tim Ferriss, if you're listening, I would love to have you on this show. So you guys did today. We are going to break down the brilliant and incredibly successful Tim Ferrisss, various strategies that have made him a multiple bestselling author on every list known to man, including Amazon. So if you are a rock dweller, Tim Ferriss he was an early stage technology investor and advisor just, you know, companies you've possibly heard of called Uber Facebook, things like that. Ali Ali Baba. And as I mentioned, the author of five number one New York Times and Wall Street Journal, best sellers. And these include the Four Hour Workweek, the Four Hour Body, the Four Hour Chef and also Tools of Titans, which I highly recommend because it is a collection of tips from all these huge people that have been on his podcast and he compiles all their tools.

And he's got a podcast which I think is the most popular podcast of all time. It has exceeded 500 million downloads, like a few more than this show, but like not many. And if you ever said to yourself, well, Tim Ferriss, maybe he just got lucky. This episode will convince you otherwise because I work harder than anyone I know. And I'm glad that I don't know Tim Ferriss, because I would not be able to say that. And the irony that this guy got well known, releasing a book called the Four Hour Workweek. This guy must work 400 hour work weeks to get what he has accomplished done. So his first book, the Four Hour Workweek, let's talk about it came out in 2007. And as of today, it has about 8,700 Amazon reviews. Now it's interesting to look at the Amazon page because he's got dozens of blurbs, but one is from Jack Canfield.

And then there's a bunch from a bunch of people I had never heard of. And I've heard of people in this world. So if we're studying what he does perhaps just having one blurb from a person that people are gonna recognize, and then a whole bunch of people, they had good credentials, but, but I would think, Oh my God, it's Tim Ferriss's book. Every single blurber is going to be super world famous. Anyway, as legend has it, when the four hour work week was going to come out, he didn't have, he wasn't a big name. He knew his publisher. Wasn't going to go all out. So what he did is he went to the consumer electronics show, which is a show in Vegas, which for the record, I've known about my whole life because dad used to have a TV stereo store in the Bay area, in the seventies and eighties.

And he would always go to the consumer electronics show, which was always on my birthday, which is June 6. So I know that this takes place in June. And it's when I was growing up because I was like, this is like a nerd factory. I mean, what is this thing? Apparently it's like now the coolest place ever. So Tim Ferriss, allegedly didn't even go into the electronics conference. He sat in the blogger lounge. And when people came in, he chatted with them and he'd say, what are you doing here? And they'd say, this is what I'm doing. What are you doing here? And he'd say, well, I have this book coming out. It's called the Four Hour Workweek. And the person would say, Oh, what's that about? And they would have a whole conversation. And then he would say to them, you know, I have a bunch of copies with me and I probably don't want to read the whole thing, but I, but maybe there's 20 pages or so that you would want to read.

And he gave them copies of the book, but in, but that was so smart, not putting the pressure to read an entire book, but sort of crafting based on what he knew about this person from talking to them, which would be the pages they would respond to the most. Now, before he do that, before he could even have this it's title, the Four Hour Workweek, he decided to test titles. Now this is something that most people do buy. If they do it at all, they go to Facebook and they put a post and they say, Hey guys, do you like this title or this title better? And maybe they'll have an actual vote. Well. they'll put four titles. And then someone will, there's an open space for other people, by the way, I've done this. So I thought I was being really thorough. Then I heard what he did. 

So he had these different titles and among them were Broad Band and White Sand, which is kind of catchy. Also Millionaire Chameleon. I would have never voted for that one and Drug Dealing for Fun and Profit. And he also had the Four Hour Work week. So he bought Google ads to see which of those titles perform better, but even more insane, he created mock covers, got these covers printed up, went to the Palo Alto Borders. May it rest in peace, all borders stores are gone now. And he slipped these mock covers on these books that were already there and took a seat and just watched people. What did they pick up? What did they read? I mean, that's kind of crazy. He could have gotten in a lot of trouble. I mean, I don't know how much trouble you get in, in the Palo Alto Borders for slipping book covers on, but you know it's, it's a ballsy move. 

I don't think I, I, I would have the balls to do that. So that's how he came up with this title that really I just don't think had it been called Millionaire Chameleon, it would have caused the crazy sensation that it did now. Here's another thing he did. And he calls it the land rush. And this is what the rest of us call bulk orders. How do you motivate people to buy more than one copy? How do you motivate them to buy a copy? And then other people who say have companies or facilities or some reason that they would want to buy bulk copies, how do you really incentivize them? So for one copy, if you bought one copy, you got this private Q and a with him, you know, with a group and him. And then if you ordered four copies, you would get an advanced copy of his next book, which was the Four Hour Body, but it had a different fake title at the time. 

Then it would go up. If you got a hundred copies, you would get some stuff and an invitation to a private party with him and his friends in San Francisco, like cool tech friends, that's pretty great. And then a thousand copies, you would get a full day of consulting with him. Plus he would fly you in from wherever you were to San Francisco. Plus he would pay for food and entertainment. God knows what the entertainment could be. So what would he said is the goal is to deliver two to 10 times more value in that bonus. Then the amount that the person paid for the books. And he has been able just through asking friends and obviously putting up some of his own dough. But, but he's been able to offer $4 million worth of free bonuses. Whoa. I created bonuses for my most recent book and it really makes me see that giving away my courses and a bookmark.

And t-shirt was really just not as, not as impressive as what Tim Ferriss does. So let's talk about his next book, the Four Hour Body and the subtitle is An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat Loss, Incredible Sex and Becoming Superhuman. So let's talk about that as a subtitle, look how many things he was able to work in there, uncommon. So you're already going to go, okay, I've never seen this before. Rapid fat loss, not weight loss, fat loss, you know that he had logic behind all of these. Like maybe more people there's, it's less competitive to you to rank high for a keyword like fat loss rather than weight loss, who knows incredible sex. I mean, that doesn't even, that wouldn't even belong in the title you would think and becoming super human. So he has found three things that a lot of people would want.

And he has told you that it's stuff you've never heard before because it's uncommon. So, you know, people will say they don't want to have subtitles on their books because they feel that it will weigh a down. He really proves  that a subtitle, which no one's gonna see because nobody says, Hey, did you read The Four-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat Loss, Incredible Sex and becoming Superhuman? No, they just say, have you read the Four Hour Body? You know, the way you can lure people in with this subtitle and also have them be amazing keywords that people may be searching for. I don't know if they go to Amazon and search incredible sex, I'm sure people do it.

The other thing that's notable is obviously he is not just meticulous about his marketing. He is also meticulous and endlessly hardworking when it comes to the actual writing. 

So the Four Hour Body supposedly went through six rounds of edits. Now, obviously it can get confusing. What is around of edits? You know, I know for my books, once I print, I print them and, and then go over, you know, do line edits probably five or six times before I even consider it a draft. But what I'm assuming that six rounds of edits means when, when you're Tim Ferriss, it means that you did all of that. You got your draft, you gave it to your editor and then you gave it to your editor five more times. That's what, I'm pretty sure I meant. But when he was writing, he was all already thinking about the marketing, which is something I always, always recommend. So it's, he said that even when he was coming up with the table of contents, when he was coming up with chapter titles, he thought about what would make great eight guest blog posts for his friends, with these super popular blogs. 

And he asks himself, will this be the defining book in its category? And will it be just as five years from now, which I think is a goal everybody should have. Why bother putting all this work into a book if it's just going to be the flavor of the month. So we've talked, or I don't know if I've talked to on this podcast about it. I'm sure I have. I talk about it a lot. This concept that Kevin Kelly, the co founder of Wired coined called a 1000 true fans. And the theory goes that you do not need to be world famous in order to make it as an artist. All you need is a thousand people who will buy anything you create, who will drive to the next town. If you're hosting an event who will do everything I am lucky to have about six of those people, maybe you listening.

Well, you are, if you're listening, you're definitely one of them. I'm far from a thousand, but, but Tim Ferrisss is a big fan of the 1000 true fans concept. And so he would ask himself while writing his book will this appeal to a thousand diehard fans who will likely be in my demographic. And his demographic is for thirties, forties tech, savvy men in different verticals, whether that's for sports, food, marketing, PR, whatever it may be. So he's not just targeting a thousand true fans. He's targeting a thousand true fans for each section of the book. That is a lot more than a thousand people. So when he says, which I think is fascinating, the marketing for me is 80% focused on creating the book and 20% focused on getting that into the market and influencing those markets. So marketers are big on the 80 20 rule.

It usually one way it applies to my life is that in terms of my clients at Launch Pad. 80% may be not so easy to deal with. And then I'm going to have the 20%, that are a dream. And there's a bit there better ways to talk about the 80 20 rule, but you'll hear a lot of marketers talk about that. Okay. And so this is what he did with The Four Hour Body. He announced it in September on his super popular blog, even though the book wasn't coming out for another two months, he announced it. And then he focused on writing these super high quality blog posts for the time in between when he announced it and his book release. And he made sure he, he only talked about his book, like every four posts. So he wasn't slamming his audience with like buy my book, buy my book. 

He said my book is coming out, but he just sort of layered it in between these other super high quality blog posts. Then about December 15th now, a glut of health-related books come out in January and that's to take advantage of the fact that we all have delusional new year's day, New Year's resolutions, where we sat, Oh, you know what? I am going to go to the gym every day, meditate four times a week, whatever it is we say, so those books are very popular, but knowing that those books were popular, he said, I want to beat the rush. So I want my book to come out December 15th. And he actually had to convince his publisher to let him do that. And he did. And so then what he did is before then in between September and December, he sent out a thousand advanced copies to friends, influencers, people who had had him speak at events sent it out. 

And then at 5:00 AM on the day of the launch, send an email to them and put as the subject line URGENT, that might be the most brilliant part of this whole thing. That is an email everyone's going to open, open it. And he says, it'll take you 30 seconds. Could you please write a review? He didn't sprays it like that, but that's my summary. I was not one of those thousand people. So I did not receive that email, but Tim, I just want you to know that for your next book. I will totally be one. He also, you know, a lot of us do video trailers and I will say that back in the day, the publishers that I worked with were very fond of going create a viral video. We were also clueless that we would then go try to create a quote viral video, which is like saying, create a, just go out and create a sensation. 

Like you can't decide that something's a viral video, but we didn't know. And, and so I, with my first two books, I did create kind of cool trailers, but it was, the one for Party Girl was really funny. Actually it was these two people but it was focused on a girl in a bed.  I hired an actress. It wasn't me. And then you pan out and you see she's in bed with a guy and then you pan out further and you see she's in bed with two guys. For my second book, I actually got Harper Collins to give me thousands of dollars for a trailer. And I hired a director, a real director, and we did castings. And I remember we made it like one of those ads, you know, those like Christian mingle ads, whatever those, those ads are on TV for dating. 

I, I don't remember. I just remember being very frustrated that we spent all that money and that like nine people saw the video. So now I will say I create those videos on an app called Clips, which I think is super awesome. I usually spend a few minutes doing it and have the trailer. I am not Tim Ferriss. Now the reason that I don't put all of this money and time into trailers is I don't have his audience. So if I put all that, I may just end up frustrated. Like I was on my first two books, but he hired a big director to do a trailer. And because he's got that audience, he knows a lot of people are going to see it. He also had a bunch of friends with big email lists, email their lists. And so, you know, people like Joe Polish, my mentor, people like Neil Strauss and a whole bunch of people like that who've got, who've got not just big email lists, but they've got people on their email lists that are his Tim Ferriss target reader.

So another thing he did, Tim Ferriss is he layered his press. So starting on the 8th of November. So for you keeping track, if the book came out December 15th, that's you know, about five weeks before he got posts and stories places like Wired, Huffington Post, New York Post, Buzzfeed, Business Insider, then after the release, it got huge. Suddenly that's when he's written about in the New York Times, multiple times, he goes on The View. He goes on Dr. Oz. And it all just blew up, but it didn't all happen at once. You know, he has said that his goal was for his ideal reader to kind of suddenly see that this book is everywhere. 

So the final Tim Ferriss book I want to talk about is the Four Hour Chef. And I want to tell you that before writing it, he read and took notes on about 50 cookbooks. Now I start this by saying, you know, I work harder than anyone. I know. I didn't read 50 books on writing to write my book on writing. I'm going to tell you the truth. I didn't read any books on writing. Didn't occur to me but it occurred to Tim Ferriss. So that's what he did. And then he did a promotion where he released a digital bundle on something called BitTorrent, which I don't even really understand what that is. I sort of always thought of that as like the dark web or something. But anyway, it's a site with 170 million users. And this digital bundle contained a section of The Four Hour Chef. It had deleted chapters, it had bonus video content and BitTorrent decided to promote that bundle. And that means that over 1 million users downloaded it in its first month out there.

So in conclusion, let's just say that, that Tim Ferriss is one of a kind. And I don't know anybody else in the world who, who would, who would do all of this, but, but each of those, each of those tactics has something I believe we can take from it. Even if it's just putting URGENT in your subject line, the day of your release, even if it's asking friends to email for you, they don't have to have 50,000 people on their email list. Even if it's when trying to get press layering. It, even if it's thinking about blog posts, as you write each chapter, and maybe if we ever live in a world again, where we get to go to conferences, it's going to those conferences with your book, but not shoving your book on everyone there, but just chatting and making friends. 

And maybe it's creating blog posts and interspersing promotions for your book throughout those blog posts, or maybe it's these bulk orders, or maybe it's going to bookstores and slapping your book cover on different books. Whatever one day, maybe if bookstores come back.

So that is your special episode on Tim Ferriss and his brilliant marketing efforts that have more than paid off for all of his books. And, yeah, let me know if you like this breakdown. There are many other people who are brilliant at launching and marketing their books, and I would love to be able to break those down. So that's it. And I will see you next time.