The 4-Hour Body: How Do You Follow Up A #1 Bestseller Without Repeating Yourself?

After 'The 4-Hour Work Week,' the wider world thinks I'm obsessed with time management, but they haven't seen my real true obsession: physical optimization.
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After 'The 4-Hour Work Week,' the wider world thinks I'm obsessed with time management, but they haven't seen my true obsession: physical optimization.

I've recorded almost every workout I've done since age 18. Since 2004, I've been tracking everything from complete lipid panels, insulin, and hemoglobin A1c, to IGF-1 and free testosterone. I've had stem cell growth factors imported from Israel to reverse "permanent" injuries, and I've flown to rural tea farmers in China to discuss Pu-Erh tea's effects on fat-loss. All said and done, I've spent more than $250,000 on testing and tweaking over the last decade. That was just on me personally.

My blog, which started with 4-Hour Work Week, now gets 1,000,000+ visitors per month, and it was key for recruiting hundreds of male and female human guinea pigs to help me test every fad diet, exercise program, or supplement you can imagine. The breakthroughs my readers produced were incredible.

I've said what I have to say about business. To rehash the same material would be boring for me to write and boring for others to read. I'd like people to read my work because of the way I deconstruct controversial subjects using self-experimentation, not because of a single topic. I don't want to be "The 4-Hour Workweek" guy; I'd prefer to be known for the way I approach
the craft of writing and storytelling.

It wasn't hard to get my publisher on board for this shift of topic. In the proposal for The 4-Hour Body, I provided more than 20 pages of proof that it could be bigger than 4HWW, including the following list, which shows the top 10 Google searches that drive the most traffic to my blog:

1. 4 hour work week
2. how to lose weight
3. four hour work week
4. lose weight
5. tim ferris
6. how to loose weight
7. tim ferriss
8. timothy ferriss
9. 4 hour workweek
10. loose weight [this is not a typo]

On top of this, there was no "Option B." My position was simple. I felt confident I could write a category-killing book in only one category: diet and exercise. My next book was going to be The 4-Hour Body, or I wasn't going to write another book. That simplified things.

The last thing I wanted was the much-feared "sophomore act." Beyond spending three years on 4-Hour Body (three times more time than on 4-Hour Workweek), timing the release was critical.

After reviewing the top bestsellers in health over the last two years, it was clear that a full third of those books had been published in the traditional "New Year, New You" window, with big promotions rolling out on Janurary 1st. In the below chart, produced when I wrote the proposal, you'll notice that a full half of the December releases fell at the end of the month for planned Jan 1st promotions.

The first order of business was to somehow avoid the category noise and competition for consumers and media outlets of that window.

Great content is absolutely necessary for long-term sales, but you must also take charge of your "windowing" and finding the best combination of low-noise (relatively lower category competition), high-signal (the best call to action to your base with the highest response rates), along with optimal store traffic is the way to go. So, the strategy in a nutshell is NST: low-Noise, high-Signal,
growing-Traffic. I didn't want to come in at peak traffic and then track to diminishing foot traffic.

What did we do? I pitched hard for a December 14 release date. This required flying from San Francisco to NYC to present my case in person to my publisher, Crown.

I felt it would allow me to mobilize my base for multi-copy purchases for the holidays, starting with pre-orders late November, which would increase initial retailer orders, improve placement (even if unplanned), and then perfectly set up strong in-store promotion starting January 1. Books in the same category would be getting started from a standstill in January, whereas I would, i hoped, be steering an absolute avalanche that started as a snowball more than a month earlier.

The publisher, however, had some legitimate concerns.

Moving the book right into the busiest holiday shopping window would mean a few things: little or no available promotions, and, in some cases, little time for retailers to get books out onto shelves.

Making this move, risky from an in-store promotion standpoint, required taking a Hollywood holiday blockbuster approach to the launch. The unusual video trailer/teaser launched last week was intended as a viral focal point of other base-mobilizing efforts. As an angel investor in start-ups like Twitter and
StumbleUpon, I believed this could work.

The video worked beyond all expectations. As soon as it debuted, the book moved from around #150 on Amazon to #30, and it's been hovering between #30 and #75 since, all before publication.

It's been great to have a publisher and booksellers who have believed in and supported this plan.

That said, authors need to come to terms with a sobering reality: no one is going to care about your book as much as you do. It's not your agent's responsibility to make your book a success. But he or she will help. It's not your publisher's responsibility to make your book a success. But they will help.

You are responsible for shepherding your book onto the bestseller list and into the hands of millions. From the idea to finished product, from the marketing plan to windowing, you need to be informed and act as a driving creative force. This means that you will collaborate with others--you cannot succeed without their help--but it also means that you will need to have many uncomfortable conversations.

Fight for what you believe, using data and compelling arguments. Beyond the satisfaction of a book you've produced with blood, sweat, and tears, there is a science to the bestseller.

In those moments of doubt that we all have, remember: The 4-Hour Workweek was turned down by 26 out of 27 publishers.

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