In this episode, you’re going to get a master’s course in book marketing.
Here’s what you’ll learn:
- The #1 thing that helped Tucker Max sell over 3,000,000 copies of his books, and hit the New York Times bestseller list three times. (Think it was fame or media attention? Nope.)
- The story of how Tucker met Tim Ferriss right before the launch of The 4-Hour Workweek
- How Tucker knew that book was going to be a mega bestseller
- Book marketing strategies for some of our past guests
If you’re an author who gets frustrated with all of the options you have for marketing your book, grab a pen and paper because you’re going to be taking notes.
How did you get your start in book marketing?
I didn’t start in book marketing, I started as a writer.
You know, it’s funny. Authors ask me all the time for book marketing advice, and they say, “Okay, how do I get my book to sell?”
I always tell them, “You can’t.”
Then they get all confused and upset. They’re like, “What do you mean I can’t sell my book?! You sold all your books and you did all these tricks and media stunts. Tell me how to do that!”
What I have to explain to them is that none of that actually made my books sell. The reason my books sold is because I wrote things that people wanted to buy.
So I say that, I’m like, “Have you written a book people want to buy?” and they always say one of two things.
Either they say, “Yeah, of course man, just assume that the book’s amazing,” which usually means a book’s terrible.
Or they look at me dumbfounded, as if they had never even conceived of the fact that they should think about the reader.
That’s really the main problem with almost all book marketing, is that it does not start when it’s time to sell the book. Book marketing starts before you’ve even written the book.
You have got to conceptualize in your head, “Who is the person I’m trying to reach with this book and why will they care?” If you do not answer both of those questions very specifically and very effectively, nothing you can do will market a book.
How can you test whether people are willing to pay for your stories or your information?
The way I did it was by giving my stuff away for free.
It’s very counterintuitive, but there are three things about free that really help.
- People don’t value free very highly.
- It lowers the barrier to entry to zero, which makes it easily accessible to anyone.
- Because you’re not charging, there’s no other sort of weird information signal coming in.
By giving it away for free, the other thing that really shows you if people care is if they share it.
If someone reads something of yours and shares it with people — especially with the type of people that the book is aiming to get in front of — that’s almost a foolproof indication that you’ve got something super amazing on your hands.
I think for people who like teach specific things, like informational nonfiction, is to ask do people come to you all the time for advice?
Do other people bring their friends to you for advice?
Do people ask you to come speak?
Do people tell you you should write a book? Not just two or three. Do you hear this a lot?
The best place to experiment with selling something is to the customer you want to sell it to, straight up. There’s no other answer. You could use lean startup principles.
If you think about writing a book, put up a landing page or Facebook ads that’s the title of the book, or lead to a webinar teaching that.
See how many people opt in. See how many people want it, see how many people care.
There are so many ways to test your ideas, but the best way is to see if you can sell copies.
You don’t even have to have it. You don’t have to take their money, just see if people click on the “Buy” button.
What were you doing on a daily basis to market your first book I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell?
There are a few things that I was doing that I think almost anyone with a book can do.
I definitely reached out to people who had audience overlap with mine, and I did something with them.
Maddox wrote this super famous thing, Why Your Kids Suck, where he critiqued kids’ artwork.
That was like literally one of the very first massive memes on the internet. It became a book and all that sort of stuff.
He had a massive audience, and so when my book came out, he did a piece on his site about me and we did an interview.
How did you reach out to Maddox? How do you pitch someone with a big audience?
At the time, I had my own audience, and Maddox wanted to reach my audience. So we were kind of peers. But your question’s a great one, “How do you reach out to people for whom you are not a peer?”
If you know someone in common, that actually works great. That’s number one.
But most people don’t know someone in common, so the only other thing to do is to in some way, shape, or form, understand, “How does my material help this person or their audience?”
In business, how many people want to be on Tim Ferris’s show, or Seth Godin’s blog, or Vaynerchuk’s show?
I have people come through my company, Scribe Writing, all the time, who have great books about relatively obscure topics. For instance, how to structure mortgage deals in Canada. The information is fantastic, and they really know their stuff.
But then their goal is like, “I want to be on the Tim Ferriss show!”
I’m like, “Have you ever seen Tim ever talk about houses or mortgages or deals like that?”
“Well, no… But like, you know, I think his audience could care… and I can be the first.”
That’s just delusional nonsense.
Tim doesn’t care about that, his audience doesn’t care about that, and you could be a woman and sleeping with him and he’s still not going to talk about that on his show because it has nothing to do with his audience.
That’s the disconnect, that people have this fantasy in their head.
“Seth Godin’s going to care about my book about running a scooter business in India!”
No, he’s not.
It doesn’t mean it’s a bad story, it just means he doesn’t care unless you can show him very clearly how you are an example of something that he’s been talking about for a decade. Then he can tell his audience something that makes him look good and you are just the instrument of that.
Tell us the story of how you met Tim Ferriss.
South by Southwest, it was 2007. That was the year that Twitter launched, and I was giving a speech about “Blog to Bestseller.”
For people who don’t know Tim, he was like this hyper-focused, kind of weird looking dude, right in the front row.
He sat right in front of me. He had blonde hair, his eyes were super wide, and he’s writing everything down.
I was like, “This guy’s either a hyper genius, or a weird Asperger’s nerd.” Because you couldn’t not notice him. He wasn’t doing anything wrong, he was just very noticeable.
Afterwards, he came right up and he’s like, “Hello, I’m Timothy Ferris.” He had a script for his intro and it was pretty interesting.
He asked me some question, and I’m like, “I’m going to go get coffee, some other people are coming, let’s just sit there and talk.”
It was him and three or four people, it was like an extended Q&A. This was back when South By was a lot smaller.
Tim made it very clear he was smart, but what Tim also did is by the end of the first hour that we talked, he had offered to connect me with four different people and help me in like three different ways.
To be honest, two or three of the connections were stupid, and one or two of the ways he offered to help were things I didn’t understand.
I’ll give you one that I thought was dumb and I didn’t know why he was offering it. This is funny, he offered to introduce me a founder of this company that had just launched at South By and their stuff was everywhere.
I thought it was really stupid and annoying. It was called Twitter.
He’s like yeah, “I think I’m going to invest, I can introduce you to this guy, Evan Williams. He’s really smart,” and I’m like, “Why the fuck would I invest in this stupid idea?” So maybe I should have listened to Tim a little bit more.
Tim was not approaching me trying to glom onto my fame and take a piece of me. He definitely wanted my knowledge and my help, but he was willing to give value to get that.
He had very specific questions. it was clear he knew what he was talking about, and so I felt like I was kind of talking shop with someone who kind of had a similar level of expertise, at least in the same league, right?
Most people do it wrong. People will come up and be like, “Hey, how are you doing? Let me buy you a beer.” Why? “You know, let’s talk. I want to pick your brain.” Get the fuck out of here, don’t ever say that!
“I want to pick your brain” is code for “I’m going to annoy the shit out of you and ask stupid questions for hours.”
Low level stupid questions. “So tell me, how do I start a blog?” That is code for “I have constructed a fantasy in my head and you’ve achieved that fantasy, and so I want somehow for you to imbue that or impart that on me and I have no idea how that will happen.”
Those people are the worst, and Tim was the opposite of them.
How did you know The 4-Hour Workweek was going to be a big hit?
I knew immediately. Not immediately meeting him, I did not. I knew he was a smart guy and I knew he was a hustler. I liked him enough as a person, he seemed pretty cool.
He sent me a PDF of the book and I swear to god, I was five pages in when I called him and said, “This thing’s going to be a major bestseller.”
I knew immediately, because I knew he nailed the zeitgeist. He was saying things that I knew a lot of people were talking about and feeling, but no one had really put together in a great form.
The 4-Hour Workweek was the thing that struck the right nerve at the right time.
I’ll give you another example. I’m not going to say this book is going to be a Tim Ferriss level hit, but we’re doing a book right now with Joey Coleman on this lecture series he calls The First 100 Days.
His book’s title is Never Lose a Customer Again.
What it’s about is like how to onboard and manage the emotional relationship of your customer with your product and your company so that they stay your customer forever.
His knowledge is amazing. He’s worked with Zappos, Comcast. Like, he’s taught Comcast how to go from the worst to actually now, recently, they’ve become a really highly rated customer service company in the areas that he’s worked on.
Once we finally came up with the book’s title, this thing’s going to do really well.
How much of a mega-bestseller’s success can be attributed to timing?
Look man, a big part of it is luck. You’ve got to have the right thing at the right time.
There are so many books that didn’t do anything in the author’s life, or didn’t do anything for decades, and then all of a sudden they just hit. But this gets back to larger issue.
The reality is everyone is a fucking sheep.
No one has any courage to say that the emperor has no clothes. To say the thing that everyone sees and feels, but no one has the courage to say.
I think having the courage to say that is extremely rare and hard to find in anybody.
But then, that also has to be combined with saying it at the right time.
It’s not enough for it to be the right time, and it’s not enough for it to be the right thing. That’s just really hard.
The thing to focus on is being supremely helpful to the audience you’re trying to write for.
If you narrow your niche enough, you can always find a way to say something that is extremely relevant and extremely valuable to a group of people.
Melissa Gonzales, for example, was a pop-up retail expert. She’s the consultant for that and she thought about doing traditional publishing, and she had been offered book deals.
But they all wanted books about retail that would appeal to a big audience, because they make money by selling copies to as many people as possible.
Melissa was like, “I guess I can write that book, but it just doesn’t feel right and that’s not what I want to say.”
I asked who she wanted to talk to.
She’s like, “Honestly, there might not even be 5,000 people on earth who need to read my book. It might not even be a thousand. But I want the decision makers in major retail brands to read this.”
So we scoped her book down to where it spoke exactly to those people.
Because what those people knew, if you are a high level executive at Macy’s, right? You knew popup and temporary retail and changing retail is important. You know it’s a trend because you’ve heard people say that, but you have no idea how to implement it in your business. You have no idea how to bring ideas to your boss that will impress your boss and drive bottom line results.
Melisa wrote the book for that person. That person, exactly. People who own businesses or high level executives who use popup retail to drive their bottom line and it worked incredibly well for her.
She’s only sold not even a thousand copies, but it’s done millions of dollars of business for her consulting firm and gotten all kinds of speaking gigs. That’s because it’s a massive hit for an audience of 5,000.
It is The 4-Hour Workweek to Macy’s executives. That’s the thing, it’s just Macy’s executives, and no one else.
How did you market your next few books?
The most important thing that I’ve done in my books is put a bunch of my writing up for free in my website. That’s it.
I think everything else that I’ve ever done pales in comparison to that, except for early on getting a little bit of help from Maddox and College Humor and some other stuff just seeding me.
But the thing is once it’s seeded, if your stuff is good, it will spread by word of mouth in the community that wants it. It’s gotta be good though.
I know it sounds weird to say, but all the stuff that I did, all the stunts we pulled and all of that stuff, most of it didn’t actually work. We got attention for the stunts, but it didn’t actually drive sales.
They didn’t actually work. They got attention, so they worked in that regard. But not sales.
Is the allure of media attention a huge misconception of authors?
Massive one, huge.
Everyone thinks, “Oh if I am in the New York Times, all of these amazing things are going to happen.”
No they won’t.
The only thing that ever drove book sales was when people who had audiences that overlapped with mine talked about me to their audiences. That’s it, and that is word of mouth.
Life. Camera. Action.: David Basulto