Listen to two bestselling white male authors shoot the sh*t about launching a book, and you’ll learn a few things

Last month, I met a potential client who’s an author. They told me about an episode of The Tim Ferriss Show in which Tim Ferriss interviews James Clear about his bestselling book, Atomic Habits. Avery—an imprint of Penguin—published the book in 2018, so it isn’t new, but there are lots of tactics they discussed that I hadn’t done for my book launch.

The conversation is almost 2.5 hours, so I saved you a lot of time and made notes on the major points, which were discussed at about the 1 hour 24-minute mark. The episode is on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Below is the YouTube version; the book convo starts at around the 1:16:00 mark.

1. Research the bestseller structure

The first thing Clear did was research other bestselling books in his category (Self-Help) and browse the Table of Contents to see what the reader’s journey was for each book. One thing he found was that books usually had three parts.

Takeaway: With bestselling books, there’s always a winning formula. Books by publishers know the formula that sells books and they will repeat it. This research is also valuable if you haven’t written your book yet and you’re struggling with an outline.

What I would have done for my book: Nothing different, really. The only business book in the vegan world was Vegan Ventureswhich confirmed the structure I wanted to follow for my book. So it inspired me to move forward, but I’d say both of us were pioneering with our books. However, trendsetter doesn’t equal bestseller.


2. Have a great title

Clear did the same research with book titles, analyzing what the bestselling titles in his category have in common. He found that the best titles:

  • Describe the topic
  • Are compelling
  • Describe something the reader wants
  • Are a phrase no one’s using

The last point is really important because if you use a popular phrase or one another company is using, that’ll blow your SEO and make it hard for readers to find the book. Atomic Habits is a fantastic title. You know you’re going to learn habits that make a difference and hopefully improve yourself. And no one used that phase before the book came out.

Takeaway: You can research bestselling titles in your category, but the formula above is pretty damn good. If you don’t already have a website, the domain should be available for your book title too if you want to start one. I’ve heard that the best titles are 1 to 3 words long, and then have a longer subtitle. Don’t make it hard for readers to find your book!

What I would have done for my book: My working title was Vegan Marketing Success, which I admit would have been catchier than what it is now with “Stories” added at the end, but it needed a subtitle I couldn’t nail quite the way I wanted.


3. Media, podcast, and influencer outreach strategy

Ferriss and Clear spent the most amount of time talking about this, for good reason. This is really how you go from 1:1 selling to one to many. If you want to be a bestselling (or even just selling) author, you need to talk to media.


Audience Development and Media List

Clear developed a media list one year prior to the book launch date. He had a relationship with a CBS TV host who said she wanted to do his first interview when the book came out, so he already had a lead on a major media interview exclusive.

He also started thinking about and nailing down target groups who would be interested in reading the book. Crossfitters were one of these groups, as they develop habits that are crucial to their fitness regimes. He made plans to give one chapter to targeted online outlets, bloggers, etc. that have consumers in these groups.


Podcast List and Strategy

Clear also developed a list of 300 top podcasts that interviewed guests and would be interested in the book. Instead of just blasting the same email pitch to all the pods, he sent customized emails that related his book to their listeners and even told them the page numbers of the book that would interest the hosts. I assume he gave away ebooks or advanced hard copies for this.

He sent the media pitches 3 to 4 months prior to the book launch date and spent a few months recording 75 of the 300 interviews pitched. He asked that the interviews be released the same week the book launched.


Influencer Strategy

Finally, Clear identified influencers who love talking about a topic he covered in the book. He sent advanced copies to them and asked them to post when the book launched. Same strategy as the media.

Takeaway: All of this buzz during the week of the book launch got people buying en masse. It also makes it seem like the author is everywhere, even though he recorded a lot of the podcasts well before the book launched.

What I would have done for my book: I started contacting media 2 to 3 months before my book launched, so I probably could have done outreach earlier now that I know some podcasts book 6 to 12 months in advance. I probably would have given David at Vegan Business Tribe an ebook and the first exclusive pod interview (although he doesn’t normally have guests—it happened because of Mitali at The Vegan Publisher!). I did lots of posting in vegan business groups on social media, and many of the vegan networks already knew about my book because I mentioned them in it (but that doesn’t mean they helped me spread the word).

If I’d known there were podcast databases out there, I would have used one to pitch more popular business or marketing podcasts vs. the ones I did which had published under 100 episodes. I’ve also sent or offered to send a few ebooks to notable vegans in business, but not everyone responded or has finished the book to review it. Tough and busy crowd, the vegans are!


I searched for Clear’s top interview on YouTube and came across this video summary by Escaping Ordinary (B.C Marx) who has 1.07 million subscribers and creates visuals that go along with book summaries. This came out three years after Atomic Habits was published and is his top viewed video at 15 million views. I want my book summarized too!

4. Email strategy

Another big part of Clear’s strategy was leveraging his email subscribers, which were already in the six figures. He sent sample chapters to his list, more book excerpts during launch week, and then had other offers depending on when people bought and how many copies.

He offered exclusive webinars and other offers for people who bought within launch week. He then had more bonuses for folks who purchased 1, 3, or 10 copies.

He didn’t go into how he tracked the purchases and offered these bonuses, but I’ve seen authors who have a link to pre-order their books and ask for receipts to deliver their bonuses. If you don’t know how to set this up on a website, you’ll definitely need the help of a web person to create this system.

One thing’s for sure though: you’ve gotta have an email list.

Clear did mention he offered keynotes to folks who bought a certain # of books (I’d guess 500), but would never do that again as he got burned out from all the requests he had to fulfill!

Takeaway: Start building your email list if you don’t already have one. Have a plan to tell your subscribers about your book in advance, and some sort of incentive strategy to encourage purchases the week of launch (which determines the bestselling status) and also bulk orders.

What I would have done for my book: I had next to no subscribers before I launched my book, so my marketing strategist helped me build it and also gave me a local media list. I also added all the contributors to my list automatically when I started sending weekly emails so they knew I was working to get the book out there. I probably could have come up with some bonuses for folks who purchased during launch week (although I had a staggered ebook vs. paperback/audio launch, which I WOULD NOT do again) or purchased bulk orders, but honestly I think doing the media/podcast run was more effective than my email outreach.


Other tactics

Clear and Ferriss talked briefly about social media and Clear mentioned he focused on Twitter and Instagram, which I think is smart. I posted for over 4 months daily on six networks and I doubt anyone bought my book from Twitter, my Facebook page, or LinkedIn company page. I would have maybe posted there monthly or for the big milestones and then daily on Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn, plus TikTok, which I neglected completely.

I’m curious to know where he started in terms of followers, because he’s got 1.2m on IG and almost 1m on Twitter now.

Clear also created two other products to build on his book: a Habit Journal and Engraved Pens. I would say upsells are nice, but unnecessary. A lot of authors do bookmarks. In the year my book came out, I asked folks if they wanted workbooks or courses that built on my book, but I didn’t get enough responses so I didn’t move forward on those products.

The final point I want to make is that a major publisher released Atomic Habits, which has an advantage over a self-publishing author in terms of resources. The publisher can have some media connections and can send many advance copies to media and influencers. Atomic Habits is also now published in several languages. Self-publishing authors can do this too, but at their own cost.

Note that Clear still did the bulk of the media outreach work—which self-publishing authors can and must do. While self-publishing authors can’t send 100 advanced copies out before launch, you can still leverage your ebook. (I sent out one of my proof copies to a podcaster and it landed me an interview.) Remember that many readers nowadays prefer ebooks and audiobooks, and it also saves some trees.


Need a marketing strategist to help you market your book so you can get it in the hands of readers? Read more about my services here and contact me if you’re ready to begin!

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