How Does a Bestseller Happen? A Case Study in Hitting #1 on the New York Times

Last Friday, the impossible happened and a lifelong dream came true: The 4-Hour Workweek hit #1 on the New York Times bestseller list! Thank you all for your incredible encouragement and support.

More unbelievable, this week 4HWW is simultaneously #1 on the NY Times and #1 on the Wall Street Journal business bestseller lists.

How is this possible? How could a book from a first-time author — with no offline advertising or PR — hit both of these lists and stick for three months and counting?

The book was turned down by 13 of 14 editors, and the president of one large book wholesaler even sent me PDFs on historical stats to “reset my expectations”–it could never be a bestseller. The odds seem impossible: there are more than 200,000 books published each year in the US, and less than 5% ever sell more than 5,000 copies. On a given bestseller list, more than 5 spots could be occupied by unbeatable bestsellers like Good to Great or The Tipping Point, which have been on the lists for years.

On a related note, how could a blog that didn’t exist six months ago now be #2,835 on Technorati with 874 incoming links and an Alexa ranking of 9,615?

Is it all luck? I don’t think so. Luck and timing play a (sometimes big) part, but it seems to me that one can still analyze the game and tilt the odds in their favor. I don’t claim to have all of the answers–I still know very little about publishing–but I’ve done enough micro-testing in the last year to fill a lifetime.

The conclusion, in retrospect, is simple… Continue reading “How Does a Bestseller Happen? A Case Study in Hitting #1 on the New York Times”

3 Bibles for Developing Clear Thinking and Problem Solving (Plus: Get an Original 4HWW Manuscript with Extra Content!)

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I have this on my refrigerator

Feeling overwhelmed? Chances are that, after looking everywhere else, unclear or cluttered thinking is the root problem.

Have you defined your desired outcome and eliminated the extraneous? Removed all of the busy but non-mission-critical activities that consume attention?

Business books and consultants often skip the fundamental shift we need most often: better mental software. Cut out the bugs and upgrade your machine with these three blueprints, listed in the order I recommend reading them:

Simple & Direct

by Jacques Barzun

(288 pages)

It is hard to improve thinking. It is near impossible to remember and review after-the-fact. Practicing writing (thinking frozen in time) is the best way to refine thinking and upgrade your present awareness. Barzun’s stated goal in this book is “to resensitize the mind to words.” His refrain, which applies as much to self-talk as it does to communicating with others, is: do not use a word unless you know both its meaning and its connotations. Great advice and a great book.

On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction

by William K. Zinsser

(336 pages)

I have read this book more than a dozen times, more often for thinking than for writing. It is a hysterical read and a great example of what it teaches: how to cut all clutter and keep your communication and thinking crystal clear. If you think you think and write well, read this book at least once. It’s like going from a tricycle to a ten-speed.

The Elements of Style

by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White

(128 pages)

This is the de facto nuts-and-bolts desk reference for all writers and thinkers alike. There is a refreshing artistry to its bluntness… and brevity. I also love that the New York Times can sum it up and violate its rules at the same time with “Buy it, study it, enjoy it. It’s as timeless as a book can be in our age of volubility.” Volubility? E.B. would have slapped them.

Get the Original 4HWW Manuscript with Extra Content!

This list was in the original manuscript for The 4-Hour Workweek, but it was removed — along with bonus chapters and some awesome case studies — due to space constraints.

Would you like to have 1 of the 8 remaining original manuscripts in the world? This was an early version sent to about 15 people for advanced praise quotes, and even the cover is different.

I’m offering it on eBay now, and I’ll return the full sales price to the winner (minus eBay fees) in the form of a gift certificate to DonorsChoose, the educational non-profit I’m addicted to.

I will also write a personal note on the manuscript and give you 30 minutes on the phone to discuss or ask anything you want. Since I don’t do private coaching and my usual speaking fee is $15,000-25,000 per hour, this is a rare offer.

If you’re a fan of 4HWW, this is the ultimate collector’s item for an unbeatable cause. Check out the bidding here!

The 10 Most Common Words You Should Stop Using Now

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Is this what your thinking looks like?

[Thanks for the Japanese vending machine, Woesinger!]

Words are thoughts.

The better we choose our words, the more we hone our thinking machine, and just like software, it’s a case of GIGO: Garbage In, Garbage Out. Thinking hard is pointless if we don’t use the right tools.

Think and speak with precision. Less is often more. Here are 10 common words I have observed to cause stress, depression, and conflict due to their vagueness. All of them are overused to the point of being meaningless. The solution? Stop using them and find more descriptive alternatives. I recommend focusing on removing one or two each week, even if just as an exercise.

In no particular order… Continue reading “The 10 Most Common Words You Should Stop Using Now”

The Best 8 Beverages in the World (Plus: Maui Treehouse and Wild Dog Video)

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Pocari Sweat, not to be confused with Calpis

I am a consummate consumer in the literal sense.

Beverages, perhaps more than any other indulgence, have fascinated me from my first sip of Pocari Sweat in Japan. From Brazil to Zimbabwe, each locale has its superstar drink, and some are as defining of the culture as the people themselves. Here are my top 8 beverages in the world:

#8. Paulaner Kellerbier (Munich, Germany)

Paulaner is one of the six main breweries in Bavaria, and their incredible kellerbier is the only beer in the world that I love. I generally hate beer, but this is as pure as snow and as smooth as silk. It’s a good thing, too, as bottled water is more expensive than brewskies in Munich.

#7. Tanzanian Peaberry Coffee (Tanzania)

Tanzanian peaberry coffee beans, freshly brewed with a simple Krup machine, are near perfect for curing AM grogginess. The only close competitor for early-morning favorites would be Kenya AA coffee, which ups the caffeine but sacrifices some flavor. The former is more elegant, the latter more brute force.

#6. Portuguese Green Wine (Portugal)

Vinho verde, so named for the ripeness and not the color, is sweet and refreshing, perfect for a hot and humid early evening in Lisbon. If you don’t like fruity wines (think Zinfandel), you might be better off trading green wine for a drier Napa Valley Pinot Noir.

#5. Pocari Sweat (Tokyo, Japan)

Not to be confused with the always amusing Calpis Water, Pocari Sweat is the post-exercise darling of Japan. Clear and less sugar-laden than Gatorade, it rehydrates without causing stomach upset and helps you recover from the oppressive heat in a heartbeat.

#4. Acai (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)

Acai, an Amazonian berry, can be found on any beach in Rio. Generally served with a dash of guarana syrup for caffeine and a guaranteed sugar rush, it looks like purple frozen yogurt and is delicious with a bit of granola or banana on top. Just keep an ear open for “acai, acai, acaiiiiiiii!” and look for tan men carrying coolers on their hips or heads.

#3. Long Jin Cha Green Tea (Hangzhou, China)

The famous “dragon well” tea of the western lake district is well known for good reason. It is one of the top 10 best-regarded teas in China and delivers a beautiful combination of lightness, mild taste, and immediate alertness.

#2. Cold Mugicha Barley Tea (Tokyo, Japan)

Mugicha is the anti-heat weapon of choice for millions of Japanese and Koreans. It has a strong flavor, but the few sessions it takes to acclimate and appreciate this unique drink is well worth it. It improves circulation and, in so doing, helps decrease body temperature more than simple ice water. A delicious but acquired taste.

#1. Yerba Mate (Buenos Aires, Argentina)

Consumed from a gourd, and replete with a straw that strains the leaves for you, yerba mate is the food of the gods. It contains three stimulants (caffeine like coffee, theophylline like green tea, and theobromine like cocoa) and provides an extended increase in mental performance without a subsequent crash. I love “Cruz de Malta” brand, and I credit this beverage with producing my first book. Pura vida!

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German Riesling or real Thai Red Bull? Mexican horchata or Panamanian passionfruit? What is your favorite liquid Epicurean delight?

[This post was originally published this morning on the “traveler’s weblog” Gadling . Digg it here!]

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Other News and Goodies:

Want to learn how I hit #1 on the Wall Street Journal and #4 on the New York Times with no advertising or offline PR? Here’s a chance to hear what I did, step-by-step…

I’m aiming for #1 on the New York Times business list this month.

I was #2 last month, beaten by “Outrage”, which is political and shouldn’t be on the business list at all. Arghh! Here’s what I’m offering until end of day this Sunday, July 29: If you order 10 or more copies of 4HWW on BN.com (NOT Amazon) and send the email receipt to amy-at-fourhourworkweek.com with “BLOG BONUS” in the subject, I’ll send you an exclusive interview I did with Jack Canfield–who co-created “Chicken Soup for the Soul” and has sold more than 150 million books–in which I discuss exactly how I planned and executed my blog launch for the book. This interview cannot be bought, and this offer is only good until end of day this Sunday, July 29. Get your ten or more copies for friends, colleagues, clients and workaholic spouses or children here!

Remember the treehouse and wild dog from Maui I mentioned a week ago? Here’s the video…

Trouble playing the video? Click here.

Mail Your Child to Sri Lanka or Hire Indian Pimps: Extreme Personal Outsourcing

Report: Many U.S. Parents Outsourcing Child Care Overseas

[Ed. note: We’ve been able to repair some links by redirecting to the Internet Archives. Please allow extra load times for these pages.]

How far can you push personal outsourcing?

Can you outsource your dating? I did.

Can you outsource your worrying? AJ Jacobs did.

Reading to your children or bickering with your spouse? No problem. Send it all to Bangalore or Bosnia. Even mainstream media like the Wall Street Journal is starting to explore the basic options, but we’ve been there and done that. The mundane is simple if you can cover the ridiculous. So the more interesting question becomes:

What are the limits — and the most entertaining uses — of personal outsourcing?

One friend of mine insisted last April that there were serious limitations to what could be effectively “outsourced.” What about face time? Not in work, mind you, but in the harshest competition of all: mating. In Silicon Valley, where Santa Clara is called “Manta” Clara and San Jose is called “Man” Jose, the odds are against heterosexual men.

Bets were placed over a few glasses of wine, and so it began: I would outsource all of my dating for four weeks.

Even if you would never consider doing something this outrageous, the results were beyond belief, and the process used to pull it off can be used for almost all personal outsourcing. If hacking matchmaking isn’t of interest, no worries. How about a personal chef for $5 a meal? Just keep reading… Continue reading “Mail Your Child to Sri Lanka or Hire Indian Pimps: Extreme Personal Outsourcing”

Media Feast and How to Get on TV (Plus: Winner of the Endless Summer!)

There are three main paths to getting on TV:

1. Make so much noise elsewhere that TV has to pay attention (online is the best place to kick up a firestorm, IMHO)

2. Be a billionaire heiress or pop singer, then either shave your head or go to jail

3. Create and pitch a trend + segment instead of you and your product

Number three is the most neglected.

I once thought that pitching the person and story were the keys to the TV kingdom, but I’ve since learned that’s Minor League. Why? A single person, unless already a celebrity, doesn’t fill 30 minutes on the most popular shows.

The solution is to develop an entire segment based on a new trend or phenomenon.

This is how it looks: find statistics that indicate a new trend, tie yourself into the trend, add experts, case studies, PhDs, and other guests to help fill 30 entertaining and credible minutes about this topic. Give it a good headline and pitch it to producers at the top shows. It’s a simple concept and it works.

To become a quick study in pitching media and creating buzz, I highly recommend picking up Losing My Virginity by billionaire Richard Branson, and for a good tactical guide minus the autobiographical stories (which are awesome), see Author 101: Bestselling Book Publicity, co-authored by one of the top experts in TV placement in NYC, Rick Frishman.

Find below a few recent examples of TV pieces I’ve done — Fox and Friends and Businessweek TV — that resulted from approach 1 above:

http://www.randomhouse.com/crown/4hourworkweek/index.html

http://www.randomhouse.com/crown/4hourworkweek/index2.html

And approach #3? Keep an eye on this blog for more TV news coming soon… 😉

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Grand Prize Winner of the Endless Summer Competition!

With 39.6%, the winner is… Roger! Congratulations to all for such amazing entries. Roger, I’ll be in touch so you can get that trip to Japan you’ve wanted, the coaching, as well as the donation for the causes of your choice. Well played!

The New Face of Philanthropy: How You Can Give $5 Million to Education This Week — Help Needed Now

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Charles Best, educational visionary, at Ms. Shubitz’ Class

I need your help. This is serious.

This week brings a rare chance that expires soon: to give $5 million to education in the US. This is not a joke and not an exaggeration. First, a bit of personal background…

Perhaps once or twice in a lifetime, there is a mentor who makes you believe in yourself, thus changing your world forever.

For me, one such man was Mr. Buxton. Much more than a wrestling coach, he trained us all to be purpose-driven machines. Each of the wrestlers on our 1992-1995 teams went on to enter the “real world” and push the boundaries of the possible: in business, entertainment, and even education. Charles Best, now CEO of DonorsChoose.org, has gone from teaching in the Bronx to rubbing shoulders with Queen Noor, all in the name of revolutionizing education in the US.

Where did it all start? Bashing heads with me each week as we fought for the 152-lb. varsity spot under Mr. Buxton.

The below interview with Charles will show you how to pair a luxury lifestyle with changing the world, how he went from zero funding to receiving help from Pierre Omidyar of eBay, how he got on Oprah, and much, much more.

DonorsChoose.org, which started in Bronx public school cafeteria, is — after years of sweat and tears from hundreds of volunteers — now a semi-finalist in the American Express Members Project, which you’ve seen on TV with Martin Scorcese, Ellen DeGeneres, and others. This is their one big chance, and 100% of the funding will go to classroom projects that you get to choose. In the spirit of “letting the people decide,” they would distribute DonorsChoose gift certificates to all the people who voted, enabling them to apply the award proceeds to classroom projects of their choice.

The margin of victory could well be a hundred votes or less. This is one contest where each person’s vote makes a huge difference. If you want to skip the interview and vote, click here. Otherwise, read on and be amazed… Continue reading “The New Face of Philanthropy: How You Can Give $5 Million to Education This Week — Help Needed Now”

How to Travel the World with 10 Pounds or Less (Plus: How to Negotiate Convertibles and Luxury Treehouses)

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The incredible Sony VAIO VGN-TXN27N laptop. This beauty is less than 2″ thick and weighs 2.8 lbs. If I add a few ounces of weight with the extended battery (on the right) and trick it out, I can get 15 hours of battery life. [Update: I now use a MacBook Air]

The name of the game in world travel is being “fashionably light.”

Practice in 30-plus countries has taught me that packing minimalism can be an art.

I returned from Costa Rica last Wednesday, and have since landed in Maui, where I’ll stay for one week. What did I pack and why? Check out the video… Continue reading “How to Travel the World with 10 Pounds or Less (Plus: How to Negotiate Convertibles and Luxury Treehouses)”

How to Change The World with 200 Books — You Decide (plus Finalists of the Endless Summer Competition!)

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My view from three hours ago in Fortuna, Costa Rica: Volcano Arenal (Photo from Arenal.net)

One of the most common questions I get is: what now? Following the book, what’s my next project? I have a few interesting ideas brewing, but one is bigger than all the rest combined: double the number of science majors in the US by 2012.

I want to change the world. But fundamentally overturning US education will some serious lateral thinking and allies. First things first…

Is it possible to start with just 200 books? I think it is.

No one expected the 4HWW to do what it’s done — least of all me — and I’ll like to give a little something back, something that might catalyze a domino-effect of entrepreneurial and innovative thinking.

Here’s the question I’d need your help with: where should I donate these first 200 books for the greatest effect? In other words, if you had 200 copies of the 4HWW and wanted to change the world, where would you send them?

To keep it manageable, I’d like to mail them in bundles of 25 books or more. I’ve thought of the Kauffman Institute, tradeshows where CEOs attend, undergraduate or high school entrepreneurship classes, as well as at-risk youth programs, but the question is: specifically who should I mail these to for a large ripple effect?

I post this question because I believe that crowdsourcing answers will get me much better results than operating on my guesswork and best estimates.

What do you think?

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Finalists for the Endless Summer Competition:

Before I announce the chosen 10, please note two important points… Continue reading “How to Change The World with 200 Books — You Decide (plus Finalists of the Endless Summer Competition!)”

Paris Hilton Killing Me Softly: How Mass Media Passes Off Crap as News… (plus Learning Annex, 4-Hour Frauds, and More)

Drew Curtis is the CEO of Fark.com and one cool dude. Not only did he introduce me to horseracing and Woodford Reserve four-grain bourbon, but he is — in my opinion — the most brilliant media observer and trend identifier in the US. No joke. On top of that, one thing was glaringly obvious when I crashed on his couch just outside of Louisville: he is happy ALL THE TIME. This is highly relevant to the advice he gives here in our little Q&A:

1. What is “news” now vs. in the 50s? If different, why?

There were certain things that respectable journalists wouldn’t write about in the 50s. For example, JFK managed to keep his affairs under wraps even though most of the white house press corps knew about it. They refused to write stories on it because it wasn’t respectable. Not that it’s a great ideas to have affairs or anything, but at least there were standards. Those are being slowly whittled away. When Saddam was hung, illicit camera phone footage ran on every major network for three days. We’ve crossed the snuff film barrier; all we have left is hardcore pornography as a limit to what media won’t portray.

2. Which media patterns do you find most annoying, and which media patterns do you think are the most dangerous without being obviously so?

Equal Time for Nutjobs. It’s all funny when you talk about people not believing in moon landings, or who think an alien crash-landed in Texas in

1897, or who believe that there was once an ancient mediterranean civilization in Florida. It’s another thing entirely when people start to believe that denying the holocaust is a valid opinion.

3. If you had to limit your information intake to less than 30 minutes a day (excluding email), what would you consume/read/watch?

Nothing. I’d wait until my friends asked me “did you see that?” and then say “no, why do you ask?” and see if their response is interesting. You can always catch up later. Oftentimes when news breaks it’s hours or days before anyone knows what actually happened. Wait until next week for the summary if it’s that important.

4. What was the specific incident or realization that inspired you to write this book?

Initially, I noticed that a story about German condom sizes being too large would reappear occasionally. Then I noticed other stories that

re-appeared on a regular basis, like Seasonal Articles that come out every year (“There Will Be Traffic on the 4th of July”, “People Procrastinate When Filing Their Taxes”, and the inevitable combo article of “Where To Get Your Halloween Candy X-Rayed — By the Way, It’s a Hoax”

Then I noticed other patterns like Media Fearmongering, Out of Context Celebrity Comment, and so on. But the kicker was noticing that when

actual news does occur, all of these types of stories vanish completely. Until the event ends, and then media returns to its old ways

5. What advice would you give to someone who feels guilty if they’re not keeping up with the latest “news”?

Take two weeks off. Don’t watch any news, don’t read any news, don’t listen to any radio talk shows. Then tune back in. Did you miss

anything? Nope. It’s the same old crap, different days. That’s what I’m talking about in my book — the media patterns that are used to fill space. It’s 95% or more of the content of any given news show.

For you low-information diet aficionados out there, as well as anyone who wants a snort-milk-through-your-nose funny read, go grab a copy of Drew’s awesome (he has blurbs from Stephen King and CNN producers) new book, It’s Not News, It’s Fark: How Mass Media Tries to Pass Off Crap as News. It rocks.

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Other Updates and Tidbits — Learning Annex Canceled, New 4HWW Tools from Readers, and 4-Hour Frauds

All Learning Annex appearances scheduled for this week (LA, San Diego, SF) have been canceled.

Because of an unfortunate scheduling mishap, I will not be appearing at the Learning Annex locations in LA, San Diego, and SF this week. My sincerest apologies. This was due to factors outside of my control, and I would like to offer all of you who prepaid for the Learning Annex free entrance to my next speaking engagement where this is possible. Please keep your e-mail receipts!

Finally — a beautiful Excel spreadsheet for Dreamlining!

I owe a special thanks to Jared Goralnick and SET Consulting for putting together a beautiful free spreadsheet that all readers can use for automatic Dreamlining. Download it here and be sure to read the instructions. Too cool. Thanks, Jared!

4-Hour frauds: request for leads and invitation to stop.

It appears that there are a number of people running around offering “4-Hour Workweek” seminars and claiming to be affiliated with me (thanks for the heads up, Shawn). I have no products or seminars related to the book, so this is complete falsehood. If anyone has any information related to anyone doing this, please email it to amy @ fourhourworkweek.com. It has also come to my attention that a number of individuals are using the 4HWW content and trademarks to sell derivative products, primarily online (even linking from my forums!). This includes using the 4HWW trademarks in GoogleAdwords ads and text.

To those of you selling these seminars and products, and using the trademarks for commercial purposes, I invite you to stop. It’ll be about a week before I revisit this to see if it’s continuing. I hate lawyers and all of that, but misrepresentation and federal trademark violation is serious business with serious punishments. I’m sure some of you were unaware that what you are doing is illegal, but now you know: please stop.