Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

Don’t Sell Books, Spread Ideas

If you try to sell a book, you will fail. We don’t need more books. Our shelves are full of them. What we need are world-changing, revolutionary ideas. Don’t assume you need a publisher and a book contract to change the world. You can start spreading your message now.

Spread Ideas

Photo credit: shutterhacks (Creative Commons)

There’s too much information in our world; we are overwhelmed by it. So don’t talk to me about your book. Talk about what matters to me. If you solve a problem, you win. You’ve got our attention. Now, we’re listening. Now, we’re willing to pay you for something. Until then, you’re just another voice.

If you challenge the status quo, people will rally around you. We want to be inspired; we’re yearning for it. This is what we’re all  looking for, not another book to buy.

If you will be inspiring, people will pay attention. You can then use that influence to sell a product, launch a program, or create an event. If you’re a writer, you can finally get published. You’ll probably actually sell some books, too, now that you have permission. The hard part, though, is getting it.

Once you find an idea that resonates with an audience, there is still work to be done. The tough part is earning the right to be heard. You have to compete with all the other voices that are vying for people’s attention.

The best way to break through the noise is to give away something of value for free. If you can charge for it, don’t. Be generous. This will attract the trust of an audience, which is priceless. Once you captivate an audience, you can lead them wherever you want.

How does this work?

Technically speaking, you trade a freebie (something like an eBook) for permission. This can be an email address, a Facebook “like,” or whatever medium suits your audience.

Then, use those contacts to create a list that allows you communicate with them, building a relationship over time. Eventually, you can offer your product, core message, or whatever.

This can’t be a bait-and-switch, though. The offering must be connected to the freebie. If you do this, people will buy from you and keep paying attention. If you keep adding value, you never lose. (Neither do they.)

Already have a book? Great. You’re 10% there. Now, you just have to get people to care about it. Here’s how:

  • Use an excerpt of your book and turn it into a powerful manifesto that spreads. Encourage early adopters by inviting advocates to give you feedback and shape the project.
  • Share the manifesto with friends and influencers who will tell others.
  • Through relationships, build a tribe around the idea. This is not about selling anything (not yet); it’s about changing the world.
  • Participate in communities that care about your message. Be extremely generous towards them — offer free advice, helpful tips and opportunities, and free advance copies of the book for reviews.
  • Reward people for paying attention. Ask questions to keep their interest.
  • Create stuff that helps people.

Once you’ve done all of the above, you’ve begun the hard work. Now you can lead your tribe. Of course, it helps to know where you’re going.

Whatever you do, don’t try to build a business by selling books. It doesn’t work like that. Publishing is, as Seth Godin says, an “organized hobby.”

If you want to make money with it, forget about royalties and get an idea to spread. That’s what I did here.

How have you seen a manifesto used to spread ideas? What other models work? Share in the comments.

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

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  • Totally agree! And thanks for the manifesto idea. I will make a free e-book out of 2-3 chapters of my book and start gathering a tribe around me. 🙂

  • Thanks for the insights Jeff.  It seems counterintuitive to give something away for free, but you’re right.  And it should be your best stuff.  Something that you’re super proud of and that you could charge for.  

    •  yep. totally. just think what that feels like on the receiving end!

  • Next step, book reviews, manifesto, then ebook. Thanks for being so open with the whole process Jeff!

  • This makes so much sense. I never liked the idea of traditional publishing much to begin with. I’ve been thinking about this process a lot lately. I want to write fiction, and I have an idea simmering right now, something blog-related that could earn the permission to write and publish fiction later. Thanks for this practical advice, it’s something I don’t think I would have realized until it was too late. Much to think over 🙂

  • I like to summarize:

    1. Help people.

    2. Get permission to help people by giving them something that helps them.

    3. Then use the permission to help them some more.

    4. Sometimes get their help in developing something that helps them. Then ask them to spread it to help others.

    Is that it? You’re a big helper.

    •  yep. and as you help people, they’ll have no problem paying you.

  • Great input. I’ve been in the publishing game on the other side of the desk for years but now I’m on the writing side I’m discovering there’s loads to learn – so thanks, Jeff.

    •  well, i have loads to learn from you, Dorothy. thanks for reading!

  • Anonymous

    Chris Guillebeau at “The Art of Non-Conformity” seems to do a great job with this tactic. I’ve downloaded and read his manifestos “A Brief Guide to World Domination” and “272 Days to Overnight Success” and they are very inspiring. I wish I could afford to buy some of his products because everything I’ve read so far for free has been really helpful. So yeah, he’s got me as a potential customer just waiting to give him money as soon as I have it. I would say that is a great model for success. 

    •  interesting, Ginny. love Chris’s stuff, but you’re right — it can be expensive. out of curiosity (because I think about things like pricing), how much WOULD you be willing to pay for such a guide?

      • I was looking at the unconventional job guide which starts at $60 and I think I would pay half that right now. If I felt absolutely confident that it really is as good as he says it is and offers 1. clear and easy to follow steps that will help me make a little bit of money for what I’m doing and 2. good information that I can’t easily find on my own about SEO and other technical things that are new to me, I would probably find a way to buy it now. But can anybody on the internet really be as good as they say they are?

  • I started using this tactic more yesterday after releasing my first ebook. Trying to grow my newsletter list to share the book that will be published in September, it’s showing to be a great tool. 

  • I sent this email to you from your online class but this post reminded me about that lesson. I wanted to share this message with the others:

    First let me say … this is GENIUS. If I only had one post from you on your site, this post right here is the one that I needed to hear/read.
    After reviewing this, taking notes and talking to my SEO friend, I’ve now
    totally revamped my marketing plan for my ebook based on your suggestions.

    thank you again for sharing your ideas with us to help us continue to grow!

  • Ekelestuff

    Great one. Your posts are usually great & inspiring. This is very enlightening. Thanks for sharing!

  • Anonymous

    Needed this right now. Just signed a book contract. Now for the hard part, I guess. You keep us thinking, Jeff.    Thanks!

    •  yeah, this is the hard part. let me know how it goes and good luck, Susan!

  • Anonymous

    Well said, Jeff. Valuable insights as always!

  • TOI @Life of TOI

    You are great Jeff. This is my first time here and you are already inspiring me so much to write better for the message itself and not anything else.

  • Very well put and timely for me.

  • I have a manifesto coming out next week! (as you have seen Jeff) I’m super excited! I’m done trying to sell books, my focus is my message: 40 hours is too long to spend being miserable at work. We only get one life, stop “existing” and truly “live” your life!

  • Thanks Jeff.  This orientation is so much less smarmy-feeling.  And that’s gold.

  • Mike Zserdin

    Publishing a book aside, what a fun way to share ideas and make new friends that are just as weird as you or me as the case may be.

    Good thoughts Jeff.


  • Hi Jeff,

    Very glad I came across this post today. It’s timely for me as I’m just starting to put together an outline.

    I also like the focus on, “Permission.” And I agree with you that, “It is the #1 most-neglected discipline in business.”


  • There are so many ideas out there, Jeff. Do you think the underlying question is what unique approach do you have toward the specific idea you are focusing on? 

    • I always think we should be looking for ways to show our uniqueness.

  • Cat York

    Good stuff, Jeff. I’ve been flustered lately, wondering why I should spend time writing when so much is already out there to read. You’re right about creating a message to spread. That’s the whole point isn’t it?

  • Hi Jeff – thanks for the great information. Your posts are always helpful and very informative. Plus I like the idea of having permission to be weird. That makes me happy.

    My question for you is this: what about fiction writers? It seems to me that this is more focused on non-fiction type “topic” publishing, but what to do with a novel? Not sure what my manifesto would be for mine. Perhaps “Stop flailing your inner child, forgive yourself and get on with your life.” Dunno. Just throwing a thought out there.

    How do novelists incorporate this fine advice into our brand and platform? Any tips would be greatly appreciated. Moochass grassyass.

  • Anonymous

    Jeff these are some great thoughts. Spreading ideas is needed. I’ll have to think more about writing a manifesto. Great post.

  • I think that this TED Talk by Simon Sinek relates very nicely to this post.  http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action.html In it he discusses how so many companies market “what” they’re selling rather than “why” I would want it. 

  • Blog Tips and Trick

    I have made quite a bit of money selling e-books and I learned a lot from your article. I will definitely take this information with me for years to come!


  • I loved what you said about needing world-changing revolutionary ideas. Although I went on to read the rest of the post (which was great) that first sentence really grabbed me because it made me stop and think – what is world-changing? what is revolutionary about what my work and how can I communicate even better than I do now? Thank you for that.

  • One thing (actually two) which Jeff does quite brilliantly:
    1. Reduce expectations
    2. Increase work

    when these both combine, you’re ready to create magic!
    yes! right now I don’t expect much things but, I expect work from myself.
    Great post as usual

  • Noura Sabry Shaheen

    Thank you very much Jeff..
    Do you recommend any videos or ideas or people i can talk to about “how to sell an idea?”
    Thanks in advance 🙂

  • Samir

    How true.

  • Jimmy B

    Yeah.. Don’t bother writing or even attempting to contribute to the world of literature, despite the drive inside you to create worlds, and convince readers to unintentionally become emotionally connected to a fictional character. Don’t even try it!! Why? Becuase you WILL fail? (Is that what happened to you?) .. So you are proposing we, instead, use our time more ‘wisely’ and process how we think the world should be ran to all that will hear us?

    Have fun taking selfies of you wearing a sandwich board sign on a street corner with a megaphone, while you secretly hope like hell your book contract come through. Great advice. Hack.

  • Jimmy B

    Sounds to me like you really want to shove a copy of the communist manifesto to every single person you meet.

    If I was at someone’s house or flat, and they said, “Hey Jim, here’s a copy of my manifesto! Wanna check it out?!” I would simply reply with “No, you weird asshole. I’m leaving.”

    So awkward.. Leading tribes? What the hell are you talking about… But please, don’t try to publish a book like I did 4 times blah blah blah”