This is Part 1 of my in depth IM interview with Tim Ferriss author of The 4-Hour Workweek. You can read my introduction to Tim in my previous post.
In Part 1 I ask Tim about the concept behind his book, we talk about how he wrote it (as I know many bloggers are looking at getting book deals) and talk about some of the lessons he’s learned about building buzz around his book. In Part 2 (which I’ll publish tomorrow) Tim and I talk blogging and he shares some of the lessons that he’s learnt in using a blog to support his blog launch.
Darren – ‘The 4 Hour Work Week’ is a great title for a book – what’s it about?
Tim – The premise of The 4-Hour Workweek is that there are three currencies in a digital world: time, income, and mobility. In the last 2-3 years, it’s become possible to do things like outsource your life and create virtual businesses, both of which can enable you to live the lifestyle of a millionaire on less than $50,000 per year.
The concept of retirement, as well as single offices with 9-5 clocks, is hopelessly outdated.
Darren – How did you come up with the idea for the book?
Tim – It came out of my guest lectures in high-tech entrepreneurship at Princeton University. In 2004, I was working 80-hour weeks in Silicon Valley as the CEO of my own start-up, and I realized that income had no practical value without time. The next two years were spent traveling through more than 20 countries, automating my business, checking e-mail once per week, and interviewing other “lifestyle designers” who had figured out how to “hack” life in a digital and flat world. It was a wild ride that continues today.
My students were the ones who suggested I make it into a book, and the idea wouldn’t go away, so here we are.
Darren – A lot of bloggers are also aspiring book writers – what advice would you give bloggers currently writing books (both the writing of them but also the promotion of them)?
Tim – Bloggers are uniquely positioned to create bestsellers, but there are some huge myths among bloggers about publishing. Number one: do not write your book and then attempt to sell it. Non-fiction is sold with book proposals, not completed books. Above all, do not create an e-book or self-publish as a path to a big publisher. No publisher will purchase something already self-published.
For actual writing, I found that identifying your peak periods in your circadian rhythm is key. Some big-name authors recommended I just sit in front of my computer every day from 8am to 6pm, and it was like living The Shining. Awful. My book only took off once I accepted that my best writing was done from 1-4am when I was highly caffeinated on yerba mate tea. The quality of my writing dropped miserably if I tried to do more than four hours per day. It’s not necessary to put in 9-5 hours.
For promotion, I recommend becoming an quoted expert first, using something like ProfNet to figure out what journalists are working on. PR Leads is a good outfit: www.prleads.com or, if you want to get an extra month through me, www.prleads.com/discountpage
Second, I recommend spending $500-1500 on “media training,” to both train for offline Q&As, but also to get a reel of yourself that you can use to sell yourself as a guest to TV producers. You can see a demo reel I did in LA at http://www.timferriss.com/dev/ferriss-multimedia.htm.
Third, focus on promoting internally at the publisher as much as promoting outside to readers. Without publisher support, you won’t have good distribution, a good publicist, etc. Make the people at your publisher your allies and it will set the stage for a successful launch. It is impossible to launch a big book alone.
Darren – Where does one buy yerba mate tea?
I bought it in Argentina, but you can just search for it online. I don’t recommend liquid types — too unstable. My favorite brands are Cruz de Malta and Rosamonte. If you can’t deal with loose leafs, you can get Cruz de Malta in little tea bags, which is called “mate cocido”. It’s awesome stuff. I was quoted in the NY Times for a yerba mate article, which I found out about via PR Leads. Now I can legitimately say I was featured in the NY Times, and that helps you in a million ways.
Darren – How’s the launch of your book going? I’ve heard it’s already ranking well on Amazon?
Tim – The launch is going extremely well. I should say “pre-launch”, as the book isn’t technically out until tomorrow (Tues)!
The book has been around #100 on Amazon for about four days straight, which is very unusual. It was on the “movers and shakers” and also around #30 in it’s categories. So, technically, it’s already a bestseller and isn’t even out yet!
Darren – Wow – nice work. How’d you get it so high?
Tim – The key has been establishing real friendships with awesome bloggers who share similar interests. There are some cool writers in the blogging world, and I’ve gone out of my way to ensure I meet them when they’re most vulnerable: in person. Somewhat like how I stalked you! LOL…
Darren – I wondered why you were so friendly :-)
Tim – There are a few rules for building buzz about anything in the blogosphere, whether a book, a product, or your own blog….
I have built my blog traffic and book buzz using mostly offline activities, and I recommend others do the same. It is the empty channel right now. I come from a direct marketing background (including online analytics with companies like Marketing Experiments, which I partnered with for close to six years). Once a marketing channel becomes saturated, like PPC, it gets expensive and largely ineffective. This is when I would migrate to a neglected medium like print or radio for advertising. Similarly, there are different media, or vehicles, for reaching bloggers. The most saturated and difficult is e-mail, followed by phone, and the least popular and most effective at the moment is in-person. Rather than fight for attention with everyone online, I’ve focused on attending and speaking at events where bloggers are the attendees.
This seems expensive — with plane tickets, hotels, and all — but I look at it like a direct marketer would. I want leads, whether that is readers or bloggers who can link to me. What is their Lifetime Value (LV) to you in dollars, if you had to quantify it? If one good blogger links to you and you get 200 high-quality subscribers, are they each worth $2, and the blogger therefore at least $400? If you can productize your knowledge effectively, certainly.
Here is the most important part, though: for it to work, you need to be genuine. What does that mean? If you wouldn’t want to grab a beer with a blogger or hang out with them, you’re just trying to sell them something, and it’s transparent. If you have the shared interests and personality traits that would make you a good match in the first place, it happens naturally once you take the effort to introduce yourself and… another key… help them somehow, whether commenting well on their blog, offering advice, or introducing them to other cool folk.
I just had a pre-launch party for the book last Friday, which is a case study in what can been done if you make the in-person connections. Three of my now friends are heavily involved in the tech communities and all have birthdays around the time of book launch, so we held a “Birthdays, Beer, and Book Bash!” that got 250+ RSVP from a ton of the top bloggers around San Francisco. I gave away about 200 books, signed copies, had a ton to drink, misbehaved and had fun. I was 100% genuine and just myself. The outcome has been awesome — becoming an Amazon bestseller is just a sample of things to come. I’ve also been interviewed by the largest newspapers in Canada and the UK as a result of buzz from the party! Fun stuff.
Darren – I notice on your book (which I got a preview copy of today – thanks) that it says that it’s also available as an e-book. Why are you doing that and how did you get your publisher to agree to that?
Tim – Ha! That’s a funny one. So, here’s one thing I forgot to mention. YOU don’t usually sell a book to a publisher. You get an agent, then that agent pitches the book to editors, and then you and your agent decide what to negotiate if they make an offer. In my case, we decided to sell worldwide rights to Crown (an imprint/division of Random House). They also go e-book rights, so that’s their work. The funniest part for me? The e-book costs around $17… and the hardcover costs less than $14 on Amazon! Fuzzy economics, but what do I know?
Darren – So a 4 hour work week sounds like a pretty nice goal – how many hours do you work per week?
Tim – If we define “work” as what you do for income, I spend about 2 hours every 10-14 days checking email for my companies. The structure is entirely virtual, even though I have 200-300 contractors at any given time, and I’ve removed myself from the information and decision flow.
Now, if we look at time on the book, it’s a lot higher, but I’m not doing the book for income. NOTE TO ASPIRING AUTHORS: writing books is not a good way to make money. The benefits are huge, but not often financial. For me, if I had 100 million dollars in the bank, I would still be writing this book and spending most of my time learning about publishing and PR. I love it.
My book is not about being idle at all. It’s about spending little or no time doing things that you dislike or find boring. It’s about adding more life, not just subtracting work.
Darren – So if one’s only working 4 hours a week – what do they do with the other 164? Taking out the sleep, there’s still a lot of time to fill in. Do people find it hard to adjust to all the ‘space’?
Tim – It is enormously difficult, and that’s why retirement is so flawed. Please just assume that they’ll make enough money to stop working and then be happy. Instead — and I’ve interviewed dozens of millionaires and retirees who agree on this — you get severely depressed and even suicidal! Why? Because most most people never define the alternate non-work activities that they’ll use to “fill the void” once they remove work and the office. It is not as simple as most think. Sitting on a tropical beach is cool for about three days, then it’s just as boring as hell. I dedicate an entire chapter, called Filling the Void, to this, as I’ve never seen it addressed well elsewhere. For me, it’s learning new skills (especially languages), and thinking up hugely ambitious projects like this book. I’m also trying to get every teacher in every public school in the US access to private investors for better materials, trips, etc. THAT is a big project! It’s exciting, and that’s what I think people should chase in life: excitement. Not happiness — the term is so overused as to have no meaning. Chase excitement and you’ll find happiness, but not the other way around.
Want to know more about Tim’s ideas? Buy the The 4-Hour Workweek