If you want to write a bestselling book, don’t reinvent the wheel.
I get at least a dozen email a week from friends who want to write books.
After three #1 bestsellers from 2007 to 2012, and publishing in 35+ countries, I’ve tried a lot. Having experimented with everything from “traditional” (Random House) to Amazon Publishing, from BitTorrent Bundles to self-publishing audiobooks, I’ve developed strong opinions about…
- What works and what doesn’t.
- What sucks and what doesn’t.
- What makes the most money and what doesn’t.
This post is intended to answer all of the most common questions I get, including:
- “Should I publish traditionally or self-publish?”
- “How does a first-time author get a 7-figure book advance?”
- “How do I get a good agent or publisher? Do I even need an agent?”
- “What does the ‘bestseller list’ really mean? How do you get on one?”
- “What are your top marketing tips if I have little or no budget?”
- “What are the biggest wastes of time? The things to avoid?”
- And so on… Read More
Wine is part of my creative process. How I use it has been influenced by other writers. Why reinvent the wheel?
Sometimes, peculiar routines are the key to sanity… and productivity.
For years, I wrote from 11pm-4am or so, fueled by carefully timed yerba mate tea, Malbec, and Casino Royale left on repeat in my peripheral vision.
But who am I? Let’s explore the odd and effective routines of several creative icons: Maya Angelou (author), Francis Bacon (painter), W.H. Auden (poet), and Ludwig van Beethoven (composer).
Here’s an appetizer, before we get to the full routines:
Maya Angelou rented a “tiny, mean” hotel or motel room to do her writing; Francis Bacon preferred to work with a hangover; W.H. Auden took Benzedrine the way many people take a multivitamin; and Beethoven counted out 60 coffee beans (exactly!) each morning, and developed his compositions through walking and obsessive bathing.
Enjoy the detailed profiles below.
All were excerpted from one of my favorite books–Daily Rituals: How Artists Work–which contains nearly 200 routines of some of the greatest minds of the last four hundred years: famous novelists, poets, playwrights, painters, philosophers, scientists, and mathematicians… Read More
“Put down everything that comes into your head and then you’re a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.”
- Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette
“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very’; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”
- Mark Twain
Writing isn’t a clean process.
In general, attempting to be creative isn’t a clean process. It’s filthy. I wish I could poo diamonds, but — alas — I am not built for such miracles. Instead, I plod and stumble my way through revisions, hacking at mental cobwebs and killing inner demons. Eventually, enough caffeine and wine permitting, I might look down and see something that doesn’t make me gag.
To give you an idea, below are some hand edits of the Introduction to The 4-Hour Chef, which–much improvement later–hit the NYT and WSJ bestseller lists in November of 2012. As I write this, it’s hovering around #180 on Amazon. Keep in mind that the below is after 5-10 drafts:
Even this simple blog post, as one example, was revised and rewritten 14 times. The iteration pays off — it ended up getting 700+ comments. Conversely, one-take wonders usually get burned at the stake, and rightly so.
“Revising,” “iterating” (in start-up speak), “editing”…no matter what you call it, it’s tweaking something bad or mediocre until it finally works. As Ernest Hemingway said, “The first draft of anything is shit.”
If so, sign up for the new Secrets from Silicon Valley series, a week of free classes taught by luminaries like LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman. Check out a partial list of teachers here — you’ll recognize a lot of them.
This guest post by John Romaniello will explain exactly how a first-time author can get a 7-figure book advance, as he did. He’ll also explain how he got Arnold Schwarzenegger to write the foreword to his book (!!!), which you can read here.
This post demonstrates how to sell yourself effectively and–more importantly–how to be yourself effectively. I’ve added my own recommendations in brackets after “TIM”. In a few instances, I’ve also corroborated specifics (e.g. dollar amounts mid-negotiation) from sources other than John, as he rightly didn’t want to earn bad blood.
Before we get started, a few statistics:
Less than 6% of all reported deals get an advance of more than $100k (as of 2011, and it’s gone down since)
On average, fewer than 100 Hardcover Nonfiction Bestsellers in any year sell more than 100,000 copies, and usually only one or two top 1 million sold.
In 2009, John “Roman” Romaniello might have been another casualty of these sobering stats. He launched his blog in 2009 with 0 readers. Roman had effectively no Internet presence. By 2011, he was ranked as one of the top 100 most influential people in health & fitness, sharing space with Jillian Michaels and Dr. Oz. He used that platform to help him build a company that has grossed as much as $240,000+ per month, with a six-figure net. We’ll cover a lot of how he did all this and more.
But here’s the punchline: Roman’s first book deal for Man 2.0: Engineering the Alpha (with a co-author, much more on this later) fetched more than $1,000,000 in advance.
This is practically unheard of, unless you’re a president. So, how did he do it? This post explores the answers and tactics… Read More
Who will be the JK Rowling of self-publishing? Better still: who will be the legions who make an extra $1,000-$1,000,000 per year? (Photo: The Telegraph, UK)
This is a guest post by Ryan Buckley and the team at Scripted. I have added my own tools and recommendations after “TIM” throughout the piece.
Enter Ryan Buckley and Team
Barry Eisler writes thrillers about a half-Japanese, half-American freelance assassin named John Rain. John Rain is the consummate anti-hero, a whiskey swilling, jazz-loving former CIA agent battling crippling paranoia as he adventures around the globe. Readers love John Rain, so much so that they’ve landed Barry Eisler and seven of his John Rain books on the New York Times Bestseller list. [TIM: Here's how the different bestseller lists work.]
Having conquered all that needs to be conquered in the world of commercial publishing, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Eisler’s publisher offered him $500,000 deal for a new two-book deal.
“I know it’ll seem crazy to a lot of people, but based on what’s happening in the industry, and based on the kind of experience writers like you are having in self-publishing, I think I can do better in the long term on my own.”
We asked Eisler for a current update, and he told us that this month (March 2013), he expects to sell 8,000 copies of his 10 self-published novels and stories, which are priced $1-5 each. Despite self-publishing his first story only two years ago, it appears he’s made the right decision. With roughly $300,000 in royalties per year, he already beat his publisher’s offer… Read More
TF: But what about “inspiration”? Does it exist for you?
For me, inspiration is primarily energy. If I feel energy for a paragraph or a description I can almost always get to the essence of it. If I feel dead to myself, I don’t have a chance. I am always looking for energy. Where can I find it? What or who can give it to me? How can I amp up what I have?
A story can help us here. An older friend of mine was once depressed about his advancing years. He lacked zest or motivation for his regular gym workouts. He couldn’t concentrate on his career. One evening this man found himself in an elevator with a woman, a housekeeper who had worked for him in the past. But she was wearing outside clothes, a tight fitting sweater. She was young and beautiful. They talked a little. There was chemistry. She got off the elevator at his floor. They chatted in the hall. She said that she found him attractive. But he could feel this even before she said the words. She embraced him. And that was it. Nothing more happened between them. He was married and not looking for an affair. But he felt a big surge of life. He felt renewed, deeply so. There was a bounce to his step. He returned to the gym feeling ten years younger… There are many ways to experience the girl in the elevator.
If I’m beginning an important new project I try to get away for a few days to feel a different spirit–islands work for me. My mother was a great painter. She spent much of her life on Martha’s Vineyard because the tree line outside her house felt ominous and that spurred her work along with the sound and smell of the ocean.
I look for energy all over the place. Often just riding my bike along the river for three miles from my house to the office heightens my mood. Then I make a cup of green tea and look at my work from the previous evening. I always read back several pages before I try to write anything new. Moving back through interesting material seems to give me momentum to push ahead… Read More
Total read time: 20 minutes
Bolded read time (as a teaser): 4 minutes
I first met Josh Waitzkin at a coffee shop in Manhattan.
About 15 minutes into sipping coffee and getting acquainted, I was thrilled to realize that he dropped f-bombs as much as I did. He was no Rain Man, and I felt silly for half expecting him to be. If you’ve read the bestselling book Searching for Bobby Fischer (or seen the movie), then you know of Josh.
Wandering through Washington Square Park with his mom at age six, he became fascinated with the “blitz chess” that the street hustlers played at warp speed. He watched and absorbed. Then he begged his mom to let him give it a shot. Just once! Soon thereafter, dressed in OshKosh overalls, he was king of the hustlers.
Josh proceeded to dominate the world chess scene and become the only person to win the National Primary, Elementary, Junior High School, Senior High School, U.S. Cadet, and U.S. Junior Closed chess championships before the age of 16. He could easily play “simuls,” in which 20–50 chessboards were set up with opponents in a large banquet hall, requiring him to walk from table to table playing all of the games simultaneously in his head.
He was labeled a “prodigy.”
I disagree with this labeling because Josh has a process for mastery, and he’s applied it to many fields, not just chess. As it turns out, he’s not the only one in his family with this skill. His father, Fred Waitzkin, has processes and tricks he uses for writing both non-fiction (he wrote Searching for Bobby Fischer) and fiction… Read More
The introduction to The 4-Hour Chef. The book has 1,000+ photographs and 100+ illustrations.
If you missed the big news, The 4-Hour Chef is being boycotted by 700+ bookstores across the United States, led by Barnes & Noble.
Why? Because I’m the next big bet from Amazon Publishing. I now have armies of booksellers hoping me to fail, despite my only motivation: getting books to as many people as humanly possible.
Some retailers are rallying behind the book, but they are few and far between. I’m certainly grateful for their support and will help ensure they move copies.
In The New York Times today, David Streitfeld writes:
The book [The 4-Hour Chef] might need all of his considerable promotional talents. It has not yet generated instant heat even on Amazon; on Sunday it was ranked No. 597 in books and 4,318 in the Kindle Store. “The 4-Hour Workweek,” in an updated edition published in 2009, was by contrast No. 328 in books and 2,723 in Kindle.
I don’t rush, and I haven’t even gotten started. I still intend the launch of The 4-Hour Chef to be very different… starting with this post. And despite the hailstorm of blacklistings, I have not downsized my ambitions. I have upgraded them.
Fiction: My goal is to have The 4-Hour Chef hit national bestseller lists. Fact: My goal is to have all three of my books on the lists at the same time.
The New World of Cross Promotion
I have worked hard with both of my publishers, Crown Archetype and Amazon Publishing, to provide a preview chapter of The 4-Hour Chef.
It’s smart business, and I sincerely thank both teams for being forward-thinking enough to make this a reality. There’s also a short sample of The 4-Hour Body in The 4-Hour Chef, which brings the franchise full circle.
The 4-Hour Body on Kindle — notice the new sample chapters in the Table of Contents.
- If you have a digital version of The 4-Hour Body or The 4-Hour Workweek (must be “Expanded and Updated” edition), you now have access to The 4-Hour Chef chapter entitled “HOW TO USE THIS BOOK: CONFESSIONS, PROMISES, AND GETTING TO 20 MILLION.” It’s a funny read, a good primer, and it outlines the entire book.
- If you don’t have digital copies of either of my two previous books, this is a good reason to grab one or both. Have you read The 4-Hour Workweek but not The 4-Hour Body? Now you have an excuse to grab 4HB. Read The 4-Hour Body but not 4HWW? Grab a Kindle copy for $12.99.
If you already have a Kindle version, directions are at the bottom of this post, but first, some industry-wide thoughts…
It’s amazing to me that the last page of every e-book isn’t a sales page for related “backlist” (an author’s previous works) or, at the least, an e-mail opt-in for free similar content (e.g. sample chapters from past or future books). Publishers should study how start-ups refine sign-up flow (scroll down here for good models). To create profitable content in a world of endless noise, you need a direct line. Otherwise, you’re like an advertiser at the Super Bowl, paying $5 million a year to reach the same audience.
Second, traditional publishing is siloed. Competition for authors, and constantly changing staff, means orphaned books left and right. This also means fragmented backlists and lost revenue. There are many authors with books at 2-4 publishers, and despite cordial relationships with them all (in my case and in many cases), the books aren’t cross-promoted. Even though publishers compete for top talent, much like universities, I think the future is in collaboration, again much like inter-university research projects. There is no need for antagonism, especially when the costs of digital experimentation are so low, and the potential downsides can be so easily capped. Once you cap the downside, the upside usually takes care of itself.
Perhaps this promotion is a prototype.
On Your Kindle — The Steps
If you don’t have one of my previous books, nothing special required. Just download one and you’re good to go.
If you *already* have digital copies of 4HWW or 4HB, here’s what to do on your Kindle:
You can receive the new versions by going to the “Manage Your Kindle” page. Find the book in your Kindle Library by typing “Ferriss” in the search field, and click on the “update available” link next to the book’s title.
Within 5 minutes, any of your devices that have the eBook currently downloaded and have an active
wireless connection will be updated automatically. The previous version will be replaced with the corrected version.
Before clicking “update,” please be sure the wireless and “Annotations Backup” settings are turned on for each of your devices. Go to “Settings” –> “Reading Options”. Doing so will retain any highlights, notes, and furthest page read. You can check and adjust your Annotations Backup settings by navigating to the settings menu on your device. For further help with modifying settings, go to http://www.amazon.com/kindlesupport and check the help pages for the devices or applications you are using.
I hope you all enjoy this first chapter as much as I enjoyed writing it.
And keep an eye on the blog. I promise much more excitement this week