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3 Essential Steps to becoming a bestseller. Lessons from Tim Ferriss and Seth Godin

‘Learn from the mistakes of others. You can never live long enough to make them all yourself.’ Groucho Marx

Tim Ferriss, Ramit Sethi, Gary Vaynerchuk, James Altucher and Seth Godin are Titans of Publishing. In my research about bestselling authors, their names kept coming up.

Who are they? And they’re all entrepreneurs-turned-authors. They write compelling non-fiction, how-to guides or insightful commentary.

They are talked about all over the internet. They use blogs, emails, podcasts and books. They are sought after at conferences, they are celebrities, their customers will buy books and courses and sign up for conferences on their name alone.

What strategies do they use that you could also use?

So this is what this post is all about. I’m going to give you an overview of what these mavericks did and how you can apply this to your book writing and marketing strategy today.


Credit: Riley Mccullough, Unsplash


Seth Godin nails this. He says that books are vehicles for ideas. Being a non-fiction author is about spreading ideas and starting a movement around your belief.

You have to accept that putting your writing out there is no longer difficult. What’s difficult is getting someone who encounters your writing to share it with someone else. — Seth Godin

It’s obvious but I have to say it. A shareable idea won’t have a chance of liftoff if you’re not 110% passionate about it. The super successful books by entrepreneurs are about subjects that they live and breathe: e.g. Tim Ferris writes about lifestyle design, Seth Godin writes about creating remarkable work, James Altucher writes about being happy and being free.

All these authors are platform agnostic. They publish on lots of platforms, including books. Which makes sense, don’t you think? Today we consume media over multiple platforms and devices.

The ‘book’ itself is less important than the message. So, don’t get hung up on tactics about which format might go first, simply repeat it across multiple platforms including blogs, ebook, paper, audio, video.

Your book must help solve problems that people have. Your number one focus at this stage should be influence. Worry about money and sales later — this will come as you are seen as an authority in your field (from agriculture to property, writing, baking etc)

Don’t get hung up on the format, experiment with one format: physical and ebook book, audio, other products as well. Don’t go in expecting to make millions from your book immediately (this will come with time, but go with the determination that you will give massive value. Publishing a book is great for building a brand for yourself and help grow your business but it’s unlikely to happen overnight.


Credit: Anthony Delanoix, Unsplash


“The secret of leadership is simple: Do what you believe in. Paint a picture of the future. Go there. People will follow.” — Seth Godin

Bestselling non-fiction writers have tribes behind them. Readers who are impacted and influenced by their message.

So you need a following. But it doesn’t have to be tens of thousands or even millions.

Both Ramit and Tim talk about Kevin Kelly’s marketing advice: the true fan rule.

The True Fan Rule: You only need, a ballpark figure of 1000 true fans to make a living from your work.

What is a true fan? Someone who will buy whatever you make, travel the world to meet you or hear you speak, someone who is your superfan. Kevin’s logic is that if you can make $100 per true fan, you will make a ballpark 100k which is enough for most people to sustain themselves.

Kevin argues that having 1000 true fans is enough momentum to push your fanbase to 2000, 5000, 10000. It’s the start of your journey to building your community. Depending on your profession and expertise this figure will vary. If you specialise in something super esoteric like creating Japanese Gardens, you might need less. If it’s helping executives break free from the 9–5 grind, then it might be higher, as it’s a larger niche.

Whether this is your first, second or tenth book it’ll be your true fans that will pre-order your book and give you reviews and recommend your books to their friends. They are the foundation of the tribe that you need to build.

If you’re a business you will have or want to have a tribe already. A tribe consists of the people that your message is for, who is yours? Perhaps, entrepreneurs or frustrated writers or college graduates or stay-at-home mothers?


Credit: Pablo Garcia Saldana, Unsplash


“The longcut is truly the quickest route to get to where you want to. The longcut is the Beatles playing in hamburg, the longcut is ‘what does this community need and how do I do a piece of work that matters, that’s difficult.” — Seth Godin

Nothing good comes quickly. If you wanted to you could churn out a 20–40 page book and publish it on Amazon. Maybe you’d make a few thousand dollars, maybe a few more with some clever marketing and persistent hard work. If you game the system you could even hit a niche category bestseller status for an hour or a day.

But here’s a better scenario: what if your book sells itself, not just for a year or two years but for decades? Rather than sending your poorly-selling book to conference organiser to get speaking gigs, you get so many invites that you have to start turning the invites down? To get this sort of result you need to play the long game.

To really make an impact, you have to create material is miles better than the everyone else. It’s better to spend an extra few months or even a year creating truly evergreen content than mediocre work.

You do this by researching what in the market, and improving on it, consolidating what’s already out there on your topic, in your niche and adding your own flavour. And you need to speak to your audience specifically, not to everyone, but the people that you know need and want to hear what you have to say.

Ramit Sethi, Seth Godin and Tim Ferriss are masters of doing this:

  • Tim Ferriss talks about how his first draft of the 4HWW being “stilted and pompous and using $10-words where 10 cent-words would suffice.” His solution? He “drank wine, sat down, and literally opened up an email client and started typing The 4-Hour Workweek as if I were writing it to two of my closest friends.”
  • Seth Godin talks about how he keeps his chapters to 2–3 pages to reflect how our attention spans today.
  • Ramit Sethi says he spent over 6 months on just plotting the book to get it right. He says it wasn’t easy and he felt like giving up.
  • There are the exceptions who can write for 10 days and churn out a wonderful book (Seth’s Ideavirus was an exception, even for him) but it’s dependent on the person and the idea.

We’re part of a culture that gives us meaningless likes and hearts for short pithy statements. And our senses love the rush of being validated this way. But to create meaningful work, dig deeper, put your toys away and do the hard work to create something remarkable. You should be pushing yourself to write the best content you can.

While writing your book, consider ways that you can share your message now. Start giving away material and advice NOW to help build your tribe. Most businesses blog, but it’s common for this to be delegated to an intern, or whipped up in a few hours. It’s better to create posts that are definitive guides on a topic.

“There are three steps: write, ship, share. The more you write and ship and share, the more people will come to depend on what you’re doing and the easier it’s going to be to spread your ideas. At some point, people will come to you and say, ‘I’m not getting enough of what you’re doing. Here’s some money’, or ‘I’m not getting enough of what you’re doing. Please come speak to my group’, or ‘I’m not getting enough of what you’re doing. Please coach me so I can do it too.’ But none of that happens until you write and ship and share.” — Seth Godin

If you liked this piece, say hello and let me know what challenges you're having publishing your book.

Do you have any tips for being a better writer? Leave me a comment or give me a shout-out on Twitter!

Why Every Entrepreneur Should Write a Book (and not for the reasons that you think)

I was recently invited to a party by a good friend of mine. An entrepreneur.

I arrived late and stood at the edge of the room. I've worked with startups in my previous jobs, and I've been to a gazillion entrepreneur events, they sort of blend into a blur of bland pitches and egos. 

But there were two things I noticed about this particular crowd. Something I haven't seen before.

1. Almost all of them had laser focused pitches.

I'm a high-end life coach

We provide personalised fitness plans based on your DNA

I'm a peak performance coach

Not everyone can get away with making bold claims, but these entrepreneurs sounded sincere, authentic and they spoke with no hesitation. 

2. Most of them were also authors.

They were proud to say they were self-published, and all were doing very, very well.

My friend later told me that they had been on the same course about cementing authority (KPI programme). 

This was new to me.

I mean, sure, I knew a bit about self-publishing (Joanna Penn, Taylor Pearson had already impressed me with their books) but this bunch turned me around on self-publishing. Their drive, their persistence.

I wanted to dig deeper into what these entrepreneurs were gaining, in real terms from their books. After all, they were super busy running businesses, did a book really make a difference?

I interviewed 10 of them on the phone and over coffee. I asked them why entrepreneurs should write books. And for the purposes of making this readable, I separated their answers into 3 buckets.

The first is obvious, the second was interesting and the third I didn’t expect.

#1. Your book is talking to potential fans, friends and customers while you sleep

Having content, videos and books with your message and voice help you reach more people, at scale. Leanne Spencer, Founder of Bodyshot, offers fitness and nutrition based on genetics and DNA profiling. She explained that more often than not, by the time she had met a potential client, they had bypassed the introductions. Why? Because they had read about her, understood her philosophy and method through her online presence and her books.

So what is the potential impact of someone having access to so much of your content?

Daniel Priestly, author of Oversubscribed explains that it takes, on average 7 hours to make a big decision. This happens in business and is part of the process of taking a client through the sales funnel. Think about the hours spent building relationships with clients? In Japan, businessmen entertain and socialise with clients for hours before even discussing a deal. There’s a psychology to this.

“After you have a 7hr+ relationship two great things happen. Firstly, you don’t feel uneasy offering something of value and secondly, you are less likely to blow the relationship by offering something you don’t fully believe in… Strangely, the human brain can’t distinguish between digital media and real life (which is why we still feel sad when a celebrity dies even though we didn’t ever really meet them)” — Daniel Priestly, Oversubscribed

Using content, blogs, videos and books to distribute your message helps to do this at scale. If a blog or video offers an introduction to you and your message, a book is the second step, the equivalent of getting inside your head and understanding your mind. The third step is to meet you in person.

#2. Being a ‘best-selling’ author can boost your authority. Result? More speaking opportunities, more leads.

What do you send a conference organiser? Online links? A business card? How about a book? For all the entrepreneurs I spoke to, having a book made meant getting better speaking opportunities and more organic invites. It goes without saying that if your book doesn’t add value to the topics you’re writing about, then you’re wasting your time. But entrepreneurs like the elite coach and trainer Jean-Pierre de Villiers have used books to boost their brand and business. He is now one of the UK’s highest paid personal coaches.

Authors like Tim Ferris and James Altucher have hit and maintained bestseller status, which is a level that most authors find difficult to achieve. Some of the authors I spoke to had momentarily hit ‘**bestseller’ status but no one was earning more than 20k annually from their books. Not yet. However, almost all recognised that they had muddled through the process but were confident that subsequent books would read and sell better. All were working on 2nd and 3rd books and all of them saw Amazon as another platform to reach their potential allies, fans and customers. Only 30% were natural writers. The rest used grit, perseverance and a reached out for help including paying for professional editors. **Being a best-seller is a whole topic in itself, something I’ll cover later. But it’s enough to know that even if you’re not top of the pile in the Amazon charts, it’s worth considering writing a book.

#3. Writing will help you clarify your mission, your philosophy. Don’t underestimate how powerful this is.

What does your company truly stand for? Robin Waite, author of Startup Online said that the process of writing helped him his systems and belief. 

The world’s most influential companies lead with their mission statements. com. Can you guess who they are?

“To organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”

“To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world”

“To create a better everyday life for the many people. We make this possible by offering a wide range of well-designed, functional home-furnishing products at prices so low that as many people as possible will be able to afford them”

“Provide a global online marketplace where practically anyone can trade practically anything, enabling economic opportunity around the world”

These are mission Statements from Google, Nike, Ikea, Ebay. Having a clear sense of purpose is important. Connect with your customers to show them what you care about and how you’re making the world a better place.

If you want to stand out in a world of content, you need to underline your expertise. Publishing a book is not just putting your thoughts on a blog post. It’s an event. It shows your best-curated thoughts and it shows customers, clients, investors, friends and lovers what the most important things on your mind are right now — James Altucher, blogger, investor and author of bestselling title Choose Yourself

Do you know what your business stands for? Can you articulate it clearly?  If you're thinking about writing a book, what is stopping you?