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How Timothy Ferriss Hit the Amazon Bestseller List

Last week the New Yorker ran a long profile of author Timothy Ferriss, giving readers a peek into the life of the self-help expert.

To accompany the feature, we brought back a post from last year when The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman rocketed up (pictured, click to enlarge) on Amazon’s Kindle bestseller list.

We caught up with author Ferriss to find out how he built his massive online audience. He first urged writers to avoid a four common mistakes–read the complete interview below…

1. “Not understanding what type of headlines “travel” via social media. Study sites like www.digg.com and www.reddit.com to see what works.”

2. “Thinking of “social media” as text only. My latest book “movie” trailer, which is only 50 seconds long, took The 4-Hour Body from #150 on Amazon to around #30, where it has remained until dropping to the top ten.  I believe this video was the primary driver behind making the book the #1 “wished-for” book on Amazon.”
3. “Overcommunicating. There’s no need to share every detail of your life.  On my Twitter stream (www.twitter.com/tferriss), I aim for 80% useful links vs. 20% insight into personal life and schedule.  There is no need to share minutiae unless it displays an endearing or grounding aspect of your personality.”

4.  “Not measuring. How many books did promotion X sell?  I know, as an example, which offers in my “land rush” competition converted browsers to buyers most effectively, as I used SlideShare.  How many people watched the slideshow and then bought?  It was the 3-book and 30-book packages.  I could then focus on these for a follow-up promotion, which sold more than 4,000 books on Amazon in less than 20 hours.  Measure the ROI of your campaigns or fail — that’s the choice.”

Ferriss also shared a few strategies for connecting with online readers. “Meet bloggers in real-life, and find those with interests close to yours.  Sending a press release or template email to 500 bloggers is a waste of time.  We’re not talking about a mainstream ABC or CBS audience; blogs succeed based on their specificity.  Get to know your ideal outlets, meet these people in person, and develop real friendships with those who could (outside of selling books) be your long-term friends.”

Ferriss concluded: “Taking this approach, if it results in three close friendships, is worth 1,000 mass email blasts, if not more.  For my first book, The 4-Hour Workweek, which has been on the New York Times bestseller list for 3+ years unbroken, what was the marketing plan?  Famous tech blogger Robert Scoble described my intricate plan as “get drunk with bloggers.”  Not far off.  I spent almost all of my budget, nearly $8,000, on flying to conferences like SXSW in Austin to meet tech thought leaders in person. Go deep or go wide?  I suggest going an inch wide and a mile deep, not vice-versa.”

Finally, he offered advice for targeting the fitness and self-help readership: “Don’t target the lowest-common denominator.  Do NOT try to write for everyone.  Pen your book for your closest two friends who need it, then find the 2-5 blogs those two people would read.  It’s really as simple as that.  We’re at the dawn of the creators’ age, when you don’t have to dumb down your material to have a bestseller; you don’t have to kow-tow to big media that wants to dilute your message so that it offends no one and interests no one.  The publisher — you — can decide the fate of your ideas.  That’s should be exciting to every writer and would-be writer out there.  The timing couldn’t be better.”

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