How To Write A Best-Selling Book | Tim Ferriss

hi Steve Harrison here with Jack Canfield welcome back to our live cast and anytime TV producer wants to put on a great show they really try to line up an all-star series of guests and there are guests sometimes that are hard to get and Tim Ferriss is with us we’re thrilled to have him he’s a hard to reach he’s known as the the author of the 4-hour workweek the foyer body and because probably only works four hours a week you know he picks his media interviews closely and I know that because he was mentored by you Jack we’re glad that he said yes to this live interview I’m thrilled to have him he’s one of the coolest guys I’ve ever met in my life and I met him when he I think he was like 26 years old and he was making like 65 thousand dollars a month and using the Internet in a whole new way that in the computer world and wanted to write a book and I was fortunate enough to get to know him and and learn Lots from him but the thing was I was able to introduce him to my agent who agented the my success success principles book and I get a really nice Christmas present every year from that guy saying thank you thank you thank you for dissing me to tempest well Tim want to welcome you to our show here thank you for having me yeah it’s it’s entirely my pleasure to be here and pay it forward if I can in any way well Tim you know I was saying earlier that Jack is obi-wan Kenobi and if he’s obi-wan Kenobi you’re Luke Skywalker yeah well that’s uh I’m a Star Wars geek so I’ll take I think obi-wan Kenobi is much cooler than Luke Skywalker why tends to be kind of whiny but you know maybe that’s maybe that’s also part of my makeup but I I will take it and I am uh I’ve learned a lot from Jack and we words I was just saying before we came on Lama F because the technology I think can be very confusing to people I just said you know the box of crayons has changed the toolkit may have changed slightly but the principles of the principles and I think you know Jack really embodies how to apply them repeatedly consistently and very few people could do that we have we have just thousands and thousand teen eighty-four people watching our live cast and one of the things that we know is that a lot of them are thinking of writing a book but they’re they haven’t done it yet okay there’s they’re often feeling uncomfortable fearful doubtful maybe afraid of criticism take us through your journey I know that you began teaching like a college course and then you had this idea of the book it’ll tell us a little about how you decided to write the 4-hour workweek the book was somewhat accidental as Jack can attest to so I really learned to hate writing ah my senior thesis in school almost killed me and I vowed I could do not add to myself a four write anything longer than an email ever again after after I graduated and of course that hasn’t quite worked out the way I expected but in the course of building my own business after graduation started guest lecturing at Princeton twice a year in this high tech entrepreneurship class which I really enjoyed I still go back I tried to twice a year loves loved teaching I’ve always loved teaching and at one point I was traveling and trying to sort through my existential crises at the time and pull myself out of the business all of the things that later ended up in the 4-hour workweek and one of the students who was very snarky pretty typical Princeton stuff and I can say that cuz I went there I said in the comments the feedback forum said well I don’t know why you’re teaching a class of 50 students you should just write the book and be done with it ha ha ha and so these ideas kept occurring to me for chapters or concepts or teaching or headlines whatever and I couldn’t get to sleep I’m really bad insomnia so I started writing down these notes just to get back to sleep so I haven’t a notepad I’ll write them down just go back to sleep and they started to mount up mount up mount up and I was in Argentina dancing tango at the time long story haven’t read 4-hour work week and I had a fair amount of time during the day so I decided to put together a proposal learn about publishing just for the hell of it never ever not only did I not plan on writing but I didn’t want to write a book and I sir I got it all together I thought to myself this is actually somewhat interesting maybe not very interesting and I sent it I sent the proposal to Jack which at the time was called lifestyle hustling terrible terrible title terrible and I said it to Jack and I said Jack am i completely crazy and full of it or is there actually something here and I’d really appreciate your feedback and I developed a relationship with Jack but mostly going to Jack for sort of philosophical life advice more than anything else so this is the first time I had asked about the publishing business and he wrote back I remember and then he said actually I really think there’s something here you should go forward to be perfect for Fox and Friends and this and this and he should meet these three people and and I was a bit taken aback because as he called my bluff I expected I was almost hoping that he would say yeah this book write anything I don’t think it’s for you but you’re great at this and this so I go back to what you were doing and instead he said no you should and I was like oh boy here we go and ended up meeting to Steve who’s now my agent and has been for ever since I you know met him through Jack and that just led me on this entire journey the book was turned down by 26 out of twenty seven publishers which sounds like a lot until you hear what was it Jack for Chicken Soup for the Soul 144 publishers yes then exactly so I think the number of copies you sell is proportionate to the number of people who turned you down I think because you I guess so basically jack is sold you do you add million you had 62 six digits to the end of the number of publishers and then you’ve sold that or more copies of your books but that was the journey it was it was very uh it was made much easier by having a couple of simple introductions and tips from Jack and then everything else flew that everything else came from that not so you mentioned that you find writing very very difficult and I think that people can really relate to that ones are watching or or you know our live cast so Tim you’re now the author of the 4-hour workweek the for our body you’ve got this great book give a little plug here the 4-hour chef that will be coming out take a look but give some what would you suggest to people that are watching you and they’re saying you know what boy writing it does seem pretty daunting what are some ways of making it easier I’ll tell you so the the first four chapters I wrote for the 4-hour workweek I remember I had to toss out because we’re so pompous sounding they were terrible like big Ivy League words it was terrible terrible writing it was boring to write and it was boring to read so I tossed it and then I was like all right I need to relax I need to be funny so I tried funny and it was like slapstick stupid it was so bad it was like you know the a transcript of the Three Stooges it was not it was not good writing and then I decided you know I’m just going to write this for the one or two friends I have who are experiencing the same problems I’ve kind of figured out that’s it and I’m going to write to them as if I were sending an email to them heartfelt email two glasses of wine that’s the tone like I’ve had two glasses of wine I’m relaxed I figured a couple of things I really want to help one or two friends and that’s how I started to write it’s funny you say that because Jack was in Philadelphia speaking to some of my clients just last week and this was a point that you really made that it’s a mistake that a lot people make is they try to sound perfect or better they try to sound bigger than they are and I always say that you should talk and I love what you said two glasses of wine there was three cups of tea by Greg Mortenson now up to cup and 1/2 glass of IU – but the idea is that I talk like right like I’m talking over the table to someone we’re having you know lunch how would I talk to them so it’s a very transparent personal relaxed conversation with someone I care about hmm yeah go ahead Jim no I was just going to add a couple of things so the first even though I’m not a fiction writer at this point who knows maybe I’ll try that and make a mess of things but bird by bird first for all the psychological trials and tribulations bird by bird is the book that I read when I feel like I’m going into the abyss or having a complete meltdown it’s a wonderful book for getting out that but I also would say like when you’re stuck when you’re not sure what to write tell a story so you like show don’t describe it show it so if you’re like oh how should I describe this point do this do that like bullet point this bullet point that give an example give a story and just so what’s an example of how you did that in the 4-hour workweek uh it well anytime I I hit a sticking point which was very very very often I would there were a couple things that I would I would ask myself who whose story can I tell like who embody is this point or this principle I mean Jack obviously is a master of this style of storytelling and secondly PO Bronson who is a great writer and has written many many good books at one point I heard him on a panel and somebody in the crowd asked him about writer’s block and and you said well when I get writer’s block I think about what makes me really really angry and I right about that and it’s actually fantastic advice if you write about what most frustrates you why it frustrates you and then like what you did about it uh you usually come up with something good and I would also emphasize sorry I have a lot of thoughts on this but that like the book is the most important thing you need to bake the product the market heading into a good book like that’s that for me that is almost all of it and then the rest a lot of it takes care of itself but what I would say is make your quota really small so two crappy pages a day that’s your quota for me that’s the only way I can slog through a book like not happy pages a day this idea of to is is I think we’re hitting the number two yeah all right yeah I cannot think of a book or I’ll just want to like cry into my pillow and go to sleep I can’t do it well with job we have a question from the live a chat here’s love this name somebody by name of eventual million that’s like s the site how did Tim improve his writing skills if he never thought he was a writer is it the person’s I’m not exactly a writer but I got approached by two literary agents what would you say I was yeah so for improving writing I would say there are a few there few keys so I I did I did take the craft of communication very seriously because you need to good business but I never considered myself a writer you don’t need to be a good writer in the literary sense you have to have an authentic voice and that’s it a consistent authentic voice which is you and I would say that to improve your writing let’s see on writing well is a book that really helped me simple and direct also another book that that really helped me and what I would say is you have to imitate before you can create so if you really really love a certain writer let’s say Kurt Vonnegut in my case is one writer I love imitate his style try to write two pages as if you were Kurt Vonnegut and then maybe you maybe you turn out three pages of garbage and then you get into your flow and you know it’s not garbage because you needed those three pages to warm up to get to the point that you eventually use to start the factor and so let me ask you this we have Michele Lopez from Colorado hurt her question is in your view is bad publicity worth it and we have another question from I love this name naughty photog for Tim havoc had a handle sensitive material that freaks people out of sexual nature is it seriously this is both our biggest selling point and a detriment I know a for our body you came up with a really killer teasing bullet that got you a lot of publicity of a sexual nature yes yes I did it so I would say that just to address both points I do believe there’s such a thing as bad publicity I do not agree that all publicity is good publicity I think that particularly in an age where Google real estate is extremely important if you have if you have earned somehow a bad publicity I do not believe that it pays positive dividends doesn’t mean you to cry over bad reviews either but I don’t go out of my way for bad publicity certainly but on the flip side related to the sexual content I don’t go out of my way avoid offending people if it is a byproduct of me having a strong opinion on something I think will help a lot of my readers I am happy to polarize I do not shy away from it so I’m not going to you know needle someone in a really offensive way just for entertainment but uh if there is no polarity if you don’t take a strong helpful stance on anything then you’re not going to create any debate you’re not going to create a discussion and in a social world that lukewarm response is going to kill you mmm yeah this you you were able to get advice and from Jack and feedback what do you think the average person who is thinking about writing a book can can really learn from from Jack and just his many years of experience as an author oh man I mean we could we could go on a thought about it but and I think that mr. Jack has it’s not like Jack had one successful book uh Jack had to earn the success of that first book more than almost anyone I know and tried everything I may be the sort of portfolio of things that were thrown at the wall to see what would stick is just my endemic to me and I have tried a lot of stuff Jack has tried everything under the Sun and then some and I think that what’s very important when you’re trying to create a world-class book and have a world-class launch let’s say and world-class longevity like hitting the bestseller list from one week isn’t interesting to me hitting the bliss and staying there for a couple years that’s really interesting to me and I think that you know jack knows how to do all of that and just as important being able to tell you what to do and this is something that’s neglected I think is pointing out what not to spend a lot time on and you know I remember speaking to Jack really early on at one point and there are many tools to use again you have to pick your weapon so to speak but we spoke way early on and it was you know radio these specific outlets really move books blogs increasing in importance really have an impact in he’s following ways and so I just focused on those two things I mean that was the launch of the first book hmm yeah yeah and one thing I think you – you know obi-wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker here one thing that you really have in common is you’re both I remember I asked you on the teleseminar said well Jack you know what do you say to people just said well Jack got lucky with Chicken Soup for the Soul and he’s like no no we were really strategic you know and I know Tim you’re extremely strategic when it comes to your marketing let’s talk a little bit about leverage you know getting influential people this is something that Jack and who we have a big emphasis on in bestseller blueprint Tim this is something that you identified for yourself is to identify certain influentials who could then do some of the heavy lifting for you so that you can save time talk a little bit about how you did that with your books I did it it’s a long conversation but I’ll give the short the short version so the 80/20 principle versions of the advice is if you are seeking out influential people online so let’s just say they’re bloggers chances are they they will be u 2 cube is very hard YouTube can work so very hard to get the attention of a youtuber with 2 million subscribers they’re getting hit a hundred times a day and have a business manager in Hollywood it’s just it’s just very hard a lot of the top bloggers I can still be reached if you think’s number one is you’re not trying to sell a book everyone in the world that’s how you fail in marketing you need to have a sniper shot what that means is to hit the New York Times list depending on your week depending on your category let’s just say it’s 10,000 books a week ok Sunday to Sunday 10,000 books a week be really specific in who you reach out to and make sure that your content is absolutely a perfect fit threading the needle with their audience if don’t bother because if you were pitching the New York Times and you had the wrong section they’re not going to run your story same thing with a good blogger so you have to have very very specific targeting what I would say next is that emailing those people is competing in the most crowded channel possible so if you have a little bit of lead time and I would HIGHLY highly recommend it is that you go to appearances if you’re going after tech let’s say know thy audience my case my first my first target not my only audience my first target because I belong to that demographic it’s 20 to 40 year old tech savvy males that’s it with a focus in San Francisco New York and I start there so I know who I’m going after then I would go to a place like South by Southwest so X s sorry s x SW comm Austin Texas every year that was one of the tipping points for the 4-hour workweek I would go there meet these people in person hang out with them don’t pitch them get to know them it’s not a transaction and if you view it as a transaction you will fail it has to be a relationship that you cultivate over time and you do that by getting them to trust the messenger before the match which it doesn’t matter how good your messages if they’re worried about putting you on the blog then having you do something stupid and embarrass them they’re not going to do it I and I would say lastly is don’t don’t pretend like your product appeals to everyone so one of the things that I did when I met really good bloggers is I would ask them a lot of a lot of questions and then when they said well where do you up to I’ll say oh I’m working on my first book book and I kind of leave it at that and to be like well what’s it about and I let them lead the conversation in that way and then I would just offer very very gently I would say look I don’t think the whole book will be of interest to you to be perfectly honest but they’re there one or two chapters maybe 20 pages total I’m happy to send you a review copy my publishers give me a bunch of them and I can just put a sticky note on those two chapters I don’t expect you to promote it I don’t expect you to endorse it but I have a bunch of these copies and you might actually enjoy it so happy to send you one if you’d like and that was the pitch bloggers do not respond well to a hard sell any more than you know call this the New York Times would and I deal with both of them and I’ll tell you like you know my blog my blog has more than half the number of subscribers than the Wall Street Journal so you should treat it accordingly don’t send me a crap don’t send me a crappy pitch I won’t respond and I know you you like to give bloggers that have big followings exclusive content and even even as you’re right because one of the things that we’ve been emphasizing is that you have to think marketing even while you’re writing the book you’re talking about got to build relationships I know you structure some of your content aren’t you already thinking about what blog this could go in as you write as you write the book a little bit or give some feedback on that yeah absolutely yeah absolutely so the the one of my writing tips would be to write in a modular fashion so if you look at the 4-hour body it’s really a choose your own adventure book and they’re about 50 books in one and you choose prism interest you that makes it easy to order which is a benefit to the reader it makes it easy to write an order which is also helpful when you hit a sticking point one slam your head in a car door okay so this is that I yeah let me ask you this one thing what go ahead I don’t did you know I was just gonna say by thinking about which blogs would be a perfect fit for certain content it makes your book better because you’re not being salesy you are answering the question who is my reader and that is the marketing who is my reader hmm great point you know one of the things that people watch this live cast they see Jack Canfield with 47 New York Times bestsellers they see Tim Ferriss Wow you know the 4-hour workweek you know and they and the 4-hour body and they’ve seen this parade of best-selling authors and they’re hearing us talk about all the success which really can be theirs if they put together you know things in the right way we’ve also talked Tim about how there are benefits of just being an author even if you don’t become a best-seller but the thing is people hold themselves back there’s fear doubt you’ve mentioned that writing is difficult I just saw a great quote from you on Twitter the other day I can’t quote it exactly but it was something to the effect that when we think about our own insecurities and fears we forget that everybody else has those as well speak to their speaks tell us a little bit about what advice would you give that person who’s thinking I really want to be an author I really this sounds exciting I want it I want to step forward but I’m afraid of what I don’t know maybe people reject me or criticize me or would speak to that uh I would say that Willie are a few things so and I have to be very candid here so the first is uh I got a blasphemer a very very successful author at one point very successful and he said to me if you’re gonna write a book write an effing book don’t mess around don’t do me yeah okay because it’s more of a liability than anything else I would say that you know writing a good book or a book is like losing 100 pounds you can do system le and almost get aren t the outcome if you follow a certain recipe I think the jack is better qualified than just about anyone to offer that but I’m not going to say that it’s easy but I will say that the process of attempting to write a book is valuable even if it never gets published okay secondly if you write a book and publish a book even if it is not a huge New York Times bestseller who cares the most important marketing article I’ve ever read is called 1,000 true fans it’s written by Kevin Kelly who was the founding editor of Wired if you could handpick the thousand people in the world who got your book delivered to them in person and they read it from cover to cover would it be worth writing that book and I would say absolutely and you can in some ways engineer that that and how do you do it because you know you a reader and then you write the book then at first and foremost you want to read and then secondly that they want to read hmm here’s a question from Jenny Kinson she said for Tim if Tim was starting right now what a program like Jack’s bestseller blueprint would this help him or would he do it the hard way that’s the question well I don’t know why I would do it the hard way so I would I would go I would find the best mentor someone who’s actually done it someone who’s not speculator and you know Jack has done it repeatedly many many times over so I I don’t know why if you can afford it I don’t know why anyone would not do it but if you figure out the value of your time I mean you could spin your wheels for years on this stuff and most people do and they it’sjust I don’t see I’ll see the reason to do it III don’t see the reason to make your life harder than it has to be Jack we were talking about there’s a lot of different things that you need to come together to be successful as an author and Tim is the poster boy for a lot of different positive attributes in this regard what do you see in his story that that people can glean well I see two things I think someone who you know one of the great things that makes people successful is being willing to be teachable and to know that you don’t know and to be willing to go find out and learn from the Masters one of the chapters I have my book is a study with the Masters and I’m not the only master Tim it reached out to over the course of his career but that willingness to say okay I know that I don’t know and I’m going to find out and what Tim’s done in everything he’s done is said who knows the most about this I’m going to go study with them whether it was people for his book on you know how do you exercise better what do you do nutritionally how do you lose weight too fast nose you know he spent a lot of time and money traveling around the world to study with the experts so when you study with a master you can you can speed things up you know in the book outliers they talk about takes 10,000 hours to become a master and Tim has proven over and over with you know he’s a Guinness Book World Record of the number of tango turns it can be done in a minute that you can speed it up if you study with someone who’s really good at what they do and so hanging out with people whether it’s through a program or through mentorship or through coaching or through an audio program whatever he’s done that and pretty much every area of his life and the second thing is a relentless commitment to excellence I mean a impeccability on a level that you rarely see and you’ve heard three people tonight say that Lisa Nichols Marilyn subtle and now Tim that you’ve got to write a good book and you have to care passionately about what you do and then do the best you can to make it the best you can and to identify your audience I see so many people try to be something to everybody and you said you know Who am I writing to let’s Mitch it them and we did it with chicken or niche books did very well when we wrote to a specific audience as opposed to the mass public and I think those are and then Tim is a he’s one of those people that really does go and give before he gets I mean his willingness to go out and really create relationship with bloggers and to give and to connect and to be real and to not be like you know doing a transaction as he said it’s visibility credibility and then profitability and he’s a master at that as well and and being in action takers Tim speak to that a little bit because you’re known as gay the author of the 4-hour workweek he must not work a whole lot is kind of the thing and I you know I know but but you’re somebody clearly who takes action how is that talk to talk to us a little bit about that well I would say just just to address one point real well two points really quickly because I think they’re important that I’ll answer that the the first is that the bloggers who ended up helping me with let’s say the 4-hour workweek I’m still friends with those people seven years later I found people I connected with well I would be friends with anyway who happened to be writing about similar that thanks and we got along and we still get along uh secondly I would say as it relates ii just just to encourage people is that i still have days multiple days where i do not write thing I am still paralyzed and screwed up so I’m not getting everything right I am succeeding despite that because I follow a couple of rules basically and that goes all in terms of taking action I would say that people are afraid to take actions they’re afraid of failure and which is never really clearly defined but just encourage people if you’re considering doing something writing a book quitting a job whatever it might be is you have to fear sit just like you goal set so write down you know the worst things that could possibly happen if you tried X whatever it is you have a column of those things second column is things I could do to prevent these outcomes and then third column is what can I do to get back to where I am net out undo the damage if any of these things happen you run down and then you realize this is this is a piece of cake this is nothing this is completely recoverable if I even if I completely flop and I think that’s what people need to do to take action oftentimes okay so my last question is what I call my my Tim Ferriss question I’ve been looking forward to asking you this Tim I don’t know if you’ve ever been asked this but but how does the philosophy of Seneca how does it how does it apply to writing a book and promoting a book Wow Wow yeah the this is the philosophy of Seneca they’re a couple of things so Seneca as well as kata I won’t go into like a whole stoicism rant because I love stoicism if you want if you want an operating system for life I’ll just tell you my stomach my set and I can thank you for the the softball pitch after Jetta the Seneca is would teach a few things and he was the most successful investment banker in Rome advisor to the Emperor world famous playwright in that day in Rome not just an idle philosopher but he would say you need to learn so for it for instance he would recommend that you wear odd clothing which is something actually I think was Cato did to learn to only be embarrassed about the things that are worth being embarrassed about number one so don’t like pie in the face who cares like why are you trying to impress people you don’t like anyway I get over it second is that when you learn that the most important things in life are not dependent on let’s say having a number one New York Times bestseller but they’re dependent on the process and the people you surround yourself with then you you eliminate your fear of loss you eliminate your fear of failure and then you can do things that are seemingly impossible and I would say that perhaps perhaps those are two well the principles that Seneca would it would emphasize well I think that’s a great note to end on hey thank you so much for the generosity of your time and giving us your inspiring story and strategies has been great to be with you yeah my pleasure thanks for having me well it keep it up that the fear of family like a beer commercial I love you man thank you for joining I’m here really I’m here in in very large part because of the early help and guidance that you provided me so my pleasure all right thanks take care see you guys bye