What I Learned from Launching My First Best Seller

My new book, The Art of Work, launched a few weeks ago and immediately became a Publishers’ Weekly, USA Today, and Washington Post bestseller. It also hit #1 in all its categories on Amazon and was #7 of all books overall.

Book store
Photo Credit: Snipergirl via Compfight cc

Soon, I want to peel back the curtains to show you what we did, how we did it, and what I learned. But before we talk about that, we need to talk about the book itself.

This is the fourth book I’ve launched, so you’d think I’d know how to do this by now. But the truth is this was the first book I feel like I launched the right way. And there are a few reasons why that is. Here’s what I learned (you can scroll down to the summary to get the gist).

Writing a good book is not enough

As an author, I try my very best to not write bad books. Hopefully, that goes without saying. However, I always thought the way publishing worked was you wrote the best book you could, tried to promote it, then left the rest to fate. But that’s not the way it works. Not really.

I’ve written good books before and then struggled to promote them, because I overlooked an important step in the process. Determined to do things differently this time, I asked a book marketing expert how he helped best-selling authors launch their books into the stratosphere. And he told me his secret:

90% of the marketing is done once the book is finished.

What I’ve learned from watching other successful authors is it’s not enough to write a good book. You have to write one that’s interesting. I wanted my book to be one that people would talk about for years to come. And the way to do that is to bake the shareable concepts of your book into the actual book.

What ensued was an additional month of edits in which I took every idea and story in the book and tried to turn them into what my friend Lysa calls “sticky statements” — that is, phrases that stick in people’s minds and get them to share your work.

What I learned in the process is that there is a difference between writing a good book and an interesting one. No amount of marketing can save you from a boring book.

Launching takes more time than you think

I hate planning. I’m a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of guy. Sadly, though, I had seen the fruit of such planning strategies with previous book launches, and I wanted this one to be different.

When I met Chris Guillebeau in person six months before my book launch, he asked me how it was going. Sheepishly, I told him I hadn’t done anything yet. “Oh,” he said. Well, we need to get to work.

I remembered hearing Jon Acuff saying once at a conference that after he hit The New York Times Best Sellers list that he had all these people calling him asking how they could do what he did.

“When do you launch?” he would ask.

“In a month,” they would say.

“I’m sorry,” he’d reply, “but I can’t help you.”

Why? Because, according to Jon, it takes a year to launch a best-selling book. So I had some catching up to do.

What I ended up doing was meeting with my publisher in December, quickly hammering out a simple but powerful plan that gave us the best shot of hitting a best sellers list.

You don’t need a team, you need an army

With previous book launches, I’ve tried to do nearly everything on my own. I’ve had launch teams and early reviewers, but that was about it. I completely underestimated how many people you need to get to talk about your book to make it a success.

Inevitably, following this strategy, I would run out of time, energy, and resources, and have to throw in the towel, frustrated that I couldn’t do more. The launch always ended with me having a long, unfinished to-do list.

With The Art of Work, I was committed to doing this differently. So I pulled out all the stops and gathered an amazing group of people to help me launch the book well. And lest you think you need some big budget to do this, I should point out that most of these people were volunteers.

If you write an interesting book that’s good, people will want to share it. But you’ll still have to ask them. (Case in point: My book already has over 190 reviews on Amazon. How did this happen? Well, I very intentionally asked people who read the book to leave an honest review.)

Great marketing will only get you so far

You can only tweet, email, and Instagram about your book so much before you begin to exhaust your audience.

“At a certain point,” a best-selling author friend told me, “magic has to take over.” People have to start talking about the book without you. That’s why making sure your book is interesting (I followed this set of criteria) is so important.

A book is a conduit for an idea. In the case of The Art of Work, the idea that each of us was put on this Earth to do something meaningful was a compelling one. When people bought the book and started reading it, many were excited to share it. Why? Because the book helped the reader help someone else.

This is what Jonah Berger calls “social currency,” which he says is one of the secrets to viral content. If you can give somebody something that makes them look smart when they share it (like the interesting facts beneath a Snapple bottle cap), more people will want to pass it on.

In the end, the book has to solve a problem or address a felt need. This goes for both fiction and nonfiction — whether the need is the need to feel not so alone in this world or to believe that another future is possible. We read books to not escape this life, but make sense of it.

At least, that’s what I think.


So to boil it all down, if you’re a writer wanting to launch a book the right way, don’t do what I did for three previous books and try to cram too much into too short a window of time or foolishly think you can do it all on your own. Instead do this:

  1. Write an interesting book, following these criteria. Bake your marketing into the product itself. This will make it way easier (and more fun) to promote.
  2. Give yourself enough time. Plan your launch at least 3-6 months in advance, preferably a year. Here’s a framework worth following.
  3. Get your team together, including a launch team as well as a team of influencers who can help you spread the message. Michael Hyatt explains how he did this here.
  4. Focus on the long game. Having an instantly best-selling book is great, but most books launch and then disappear. The best books gain momentum over time. And that is usually the result of the author not giving up on the book.

What’s next?

This is the number one question people have asked me: What’s next? And the answer I give surprises them: Nothing.

Of course, I already have an idea for the next book (I can’t help coming up with new ideas — it’s a disease), but honestly I don’t want to rush it. This is a mistake I’ve made in the past. I’ve spent a year writing a book, then invested a whole week into launching it before moving on to the next thing.

“If you want to sell more books,” Tim Grahl once told me, “keep talking about your current book.”

That’s the plan. I intend to focus on this book for the foreseeable future. Why? Because I believe in it. Because I want to continue the conversation that it began. And because I still believe there are more people out there who need this book.

So that’s what’s next. I intend to keep going with this book and this message, helping people find the work they were born to do.

One more thing…

Lastly, I just wanted to say thanks. I am so grateful for all you’ve done to help spread the word about this book. None of this would have happened without you.

I’d be honored if you’d leave a review on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Goodreads telling me what you thought of the book once you’re done with it.

And if you haven’t yet had the opportunity to read The Art of Work, have no fear. It’s available for the cost of a few Starbucks Venti Orange Mocha Frappuccinos. When you pick up a copy at your favorite retailer (my preference is the local book store), submit your receipt at the book site, and get $250 in free resources.

So that’s what I learned (and in a future post, I’ll share with you some more details on exactly what we did, tactically).

When it comes to finding your calling, what’s your biggest struggle? Share in the comments.