“In a world marked by constant change, where the rich of today are often the poor of tomorrow, due to circumstances beyond their control, the only security is your ability to produce something of value for your fellow man, and your only guarantee of happiness is your joy in producing it.
“He has NOT dedicated his life to reaching a pre-defined goal, but he has rather chosen a way of life he KNOWS he will enjoy. The goal is absolutely secondary: it is the functioning toward the goal which is important.”
“When it comes to actually getting things done and making progress in the areas that are important to you, there is a much better way to do things. It all comes down to the difference between goals and systems.”
“I quit because baseball was sacred to me until I started getting paid for it. The more that “baseball” became synonymous with “business,” the less it meant to me, and I saw less of myself in the game every time I got a check…It was only after I quit that I wished I hadn’t always kept my head down, relentlessly climbing to reach the top of the game, to fulfill an American dream. I wish I had looked up more often, even at the cost of some of my success.”
“The course of history has finally written it’s next chapter. There’s no more bullshit. I’m going to tell you why you have to quit your job. Why you need to get the ideas moving. Why you need to build a foundation for your life or soon you will have no roof.”
“I’ve watched some of my friendships fade out of the corner of my eye, and I don’t want that to happen with you. It’s a kind of love, by the way. It’s awkward to say that, but it is. Not as binding in the day-to-day as love for lovers, but it has the same responsibilities, and I need to remind myself of that from time to time, so thank you for being my friend.”
“Loneliness is not just making us sick, it is killing us. Loneliness is a serious health risk. Studies of elderly people and social isolation concluded that those without adequate social interaction were twice as likely to die prematurely. The increased mortality risk is comparable to that from smoking. And loneliness is about twice as dangerous as obesity.”
“Men are pressed — from the time they’re very young — to disassociate from everything feminine. Paradoxically, it makes men feel good because of a social agreement that masculine things are better than feminine things, but it’s not the same thing as freedom. It’s restrictive and dehumanizing. It’s oppression all dressed up as awesomeness.”
“We as a society have been conducting a play-deprivation experiment with our children. Today’s children are much more deprived than children were 60 years ago and much, much more than children were in hunter-gatherer societies. The results, I think, are in. Play deprivation is bad for children. Among other things, it promotes anxiety, depression, suicide, narcissism, and loss of creativity.”
“The only calibration that counts is how much heart people invest, how much they ignore their fears of being hurt or caught out or humiliated. And the only thing people regret is that they didn’t live boldly enough, that they didn’t invest enough heart, didn’t love enough. Nothing else really counts at all.”
Before I get into all the details of my marketing plan, I want to get one thing off my chest… Writing a book is a looooong damn process. It takes so much time that I’m embarrassed whenever someone asks me if it’s done. The reason for this is that I technically “finished” the book a couple months ago. But then I entered the editing phase, where I had to do complete revisions more than a dozen times. Even though I was done, I wasn’t even close. That’s because books are never actually done; they are all just good enough for the author to ship. I’m only going to consider this book “done” when it’s on sale. So if you want to be alerted when it’s up for sale, sign up for my newsletter.
Granted, I could have sped this entire process up significantly in a number of ways. I could have recorded my spoken thoughts and transcribed them, or never edited while writing, or shut off the internet… I also could have just stuck to writing ONE book instead of deciding to do a second book mid-stream. But no matter what, this process would have taken me several months. I didn’t want to release it until it was “good enough” and that is an awfully tedious phase to reach.
Alright, that’s enough of that. Let’s get to the good stuff…
Laying The Foundation
In order to understand why my plan is the way it is, you need to know all the things I currently have going in my favor. My particular advantages are very different from most first-time authors, but as you’ll see, it doesn’t have to be that way…
- I’ve studied online product launches for five years. I’ve read thousands of blog posts and tons of marketing books, and took notes on everything I learned. Then I got my feet wet by launching a couple small products I created (see: Recession-Proof Graduate, Negotiate It) while helping other people market their works (see: The 4-Hour Body, I Will Teach You to be Rich, App Empire). All of those were successful projects for me, but I had many failures along the way. Sometimes I made good money, and a lot of times I didn’t make anything. But I wasn’t really interested in a paycheck — I was interested in gaining experience and lifelong skills, while doing fun and worthwhile projects. In short, I paid my dues.
Lesson: Anyone can learn how to become a great book marketer and effective entrepreneur for free, or very cheap. You just have to be willing to read, study under a few experts, experiment, learn from your mistakes, and keep growing. Here are some of my favorite resources for aspiring authors:
- I’ve been practicing writing and building my platforms for five years. I have an email newsletter with about 5,000 subscribers, and an established blog with good content. Those are my two most valuable assets, where I get to practice the craft of writing and direct communication with readers. I focus exclusively on earning the trust, respect, and love of my audience. I’ve given away a lot of free quality content so I could accomplish those things. I also have Twitter (good for traffic), a Facebook page (meh — pretty useless), and a few other things like Youtube (in retrospect, I wish I’d focused on creating more video content for my account) and Delicious bookmarks (14,000 followers but it’s sadly useless for traffic). I don’t know if I have the dedication, but if I was starting over and trying to build a super loyal following, I would probably take the podcast route (audio, not video).
Lesson: You don’t have to become a blogger, but you should have a platform where you can showcase your work and build up a permission asset for your fans/customers. Even though they’re a pain to run, quality email newsletters and drip sequences have the best ROI, by far, for running a successful launch.
- I’ve been building my network for five years. I did a TON of free work so I could work with people who were way out of my league. I started when I was unemployed and fresh out of college, living in my parents’ basement in Colorado. First, I did a virtual internship with Seth Godin, then I reached out to Ramit Sethi (a former Seth intern). I helped Ramit with video for his site, and offered to help Tucker Max do the same. After a few months, they both recommended me to Tim Ferriss, who hired (and mentored) me for three years as a paid employee. I moved out to San Francisco to work on The 4-Hour Body, where Tim introduced me to an insane number of successful and influential people. He also allowed me to edit guest posts by other great writers, which made me even better.
Lesson: Aspiring authors should be willing to help other established authors in exchange for their real-world education. Put in the time to build meaningful relationships and earn their trust by doing quality free work. Don’t expect compensation right away; whatever money you lose will be made up for in experience and relationships. Look at this as an investment in your abilities and your network. Do anything you can to work with and learn directly from the pros.
- I became an expert on my topic. I certainly didn’t set out to become an anxiety specialist; I was just obsessed with healing myself for a very personal reason — it was a tremendous source of pain for me. I tried every solution the “experts” said would work, discovered most of them didn’t help, then found the few critical things that did. I knew firsthand that the book I wanted to read did not exist, so I decided to write it. Same thing happened with Recession-Proof Graduate. Figuring out what to do after college was a nightmare. I tried the traditional route, it didn’t work, then I figured out something that did.
Lesson: Start with your biggest source of pain — the one problem that you would kill to solve. Whether that’s a form of physical pain (poor health), technical pain (poor design or functionality), or even spiritual pain (bad entertainment). It just has to be a problem you’re strongly motivated to solve for personal reasons. Try all the top-selling solutions on the market, take notes on what they’re doing really well, and what they’re doing really wrong. Now go make the product / service you wish existed.
- I confirmed there was strong demand and gathered email addresses. Before I fully committed to writing this book, I wanted to see how my audience would respond. The “How I cured my anxiety” post went up six months ago, and immediately took off — hit the #1 search result on Google for “cure anxiety,” averaging 900 visitors per day, etc. (I couldn’t have hit #1 on Google organically if I didn’t have a well-established, 5-year old blog). After the post got some traction, I embedded a sign up form at the bottom of the post, asking readers to fill out a brief survey. I asked if they were: interested in buying a full book on the topic, what format they wanted it in, what would make the book worthwhile, and their email address. Within one week, I had more than 100 readers signed up. Since October, over 1,000 people have signed up. Those aren’t pre-orders, but they are prospective buyers. Finally, to ensure my book had the potential to sell for a long time, I looked up Google Trends data on ”cure anxiety.” The demand has been steadily increasing for years, and with all the recent news pieces I’ve come across on anxiety and loneliness, I suspect the timing for this book is ideal.
Lesson: Creating a great product is really hard and time-consuming, and it will be extremely painful if you make something that no one wants to buy. Confirm that there’s strong demand AND strong intent to purchase for whatever you plan on making beforehand. If people aren’t biting, either re-position your product, find a category with stronger demand, find a niche that’s ready to buy, or go back to the drawing board. You MUST validate your idea before you make it!
- I wrote the book I wanted to read. By far the most important thing I did was making a great book, because this is the ONLY way a book will continue selling for years. I worked hard to ensure this book would be solid by doing tons of research, writing for hours on end, printing it off a dozen times, reading it aloud, making line edits, then allowing a group of beta readers to offer me their feedback. At this point, the vast majority of the book’s flaws have been hammered out. It’s not perfect, but it’s finally good enough.
Lesson: You can’t sell a book that’s bad… Well, you can, but WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO?! What a tremendous waste of your time (and your readers’ time). Make something great, that you are confident is unique or superior to what the market is currently offering. That way, you can confidently sell it to others because you know it’s the best you have to offer.
Dealing with Doubt
Alright, so that covers where I am right now, PRE-launch. I have a lot working in my favor, but that doesn’t mean I’m kissing my biceps and high-fiving strangers. There are plenty of things I’m still worried about…
For one, I’m afraid I won’t be able to help my most desperate readers. The thing I’ve learned from my anxiety post is that there are a ton of people out there who have crippling anxiety because of extremely difficult pasts (victims of rape, incest, physical abuse). They’ve unquestionably gone through far worse than I have, and a lot of them will come to me with their wallets out, asking to take the pain away. I have serious doubts that my solution will be theirs. Still, I hope it helps, and for anyone who’s unhappy, I’ll provide a full refund. Just know that my book is primarily for workaholics and people with General Anxiety Disorder.
Two, I occasionally feel weird talking about my anxiety. I love talking about play and what helped me get better, but it’s strange for me to talk about the emotional pain I went through.That part of my life wasn’t exactly rainbows and sunshine, and talking about it occasionally evokes a twinge of residual pain. I have a lot of sympathy for people dealing with these issues, and I hope my story will make them feel less alone AND give them a clear plan to heal themselves. Still, I feel strange admitting I went through that whole ordeal.
Three, I’m afraid I’m overextending myself big time in this launch (see below). I can already see there’s A LOT for me to handle, and I’m not sure I’ll be able to pull all of this stuff off the way I’ve planned it. I’m still trying to figure out which tasks I can successfully delegate. That’s always been an issue for me; swallowing my pride and giving ownership to someone else. It’s foolish and it wastes time for me to tackle everything. I wish I had a team of smart people working together in the same room as me, but alas, I do not.
Finally, I’m walking in the footsteps of some pretty big giants. I want to pay tribute to all of the people who helped me get my foothold in this world. I don’t want to screw this up, because I really don’t have many excuses. There’s so much in my favor.
Preparation for the Launch
There are a number of things I’ve been doing to prepare for a successful book launch. Here they are:
Beta readers. Instead of having a publisher edit my book, I had 30 beta readers edit my book for free (you can read how I pulled this off here). The group consisted of professional authors, world-class journalists, freelance copywriters and editors, ghostwriters, teachers, and grad students. These people now have a vested interest in seeing the book succeed, and I’ll encourage them to leave a thoughtful Amazon review when it’s up for sale.
Finished the product. So many pieces to this, but here are a few important ones that I spent a lot of time on… Tucker Max helped me come up with a great title (haven’t announced yet, but it’s critical to have something people can comfortably recommend to their friends). I just finished the back cover copy the other day (super important for converting Amazon browsers to buyers). The amazingly talented Erin Tyler designed my cover, and Ryan Case did the photography. I can’t wait to do a post on the cover alone, because the book looks incredible. [Sidenote: I bought my ISBN and barcode through Bowker, NOT Createspace -- the latter prevents you from listing your book on other online retailers.]
Youtube video trailers. This is a HUGE part of my marketing I put a lot of effort into. I made not one, but seven trailers. It’s a standalone series on healing anxiety that’s intended to be useful to Youtube viewers for years to come (rather than just doing a single promotional trailer for the book). I currently have the #1 result on Google for “cure anxiety,” so I’ll be aiming to have some of the top results on Youtube as well (the #2 search engine on the internet). All of the videos in the series will link to each other, so if one takes off, the others hopefully will too. Tim Stiefler and Mitchell Shotts are making the videos (they’re based in Austin, you can see some of their work here). We still need to make a video summary for the book, which I’ll post on the Amazon book page.
Set up email drip sequence for book. I want people who are on the fence to have free access to most of the book’s content, including the video trailers. One way I’m going to do this is by having them sign up for a “10 Day Anxiety Healer Course” (or some name like that). Each day, they’ll get an email from me with a quick lesson and a simple assignment. After a few days, I’ll start gently reminding them that they can buy the book to get all the content. (FYI – Tim Grahl specializes in helping authors create email platforms and sequences for their books.)
Set up book’s website. I actually still need to get this taken care of. Scroll to the bottom of this post if you think you can help me.
Optimize PDF for sharing / conversion, publish to Bittorrent Bundles. I’m going to split the book up into a series of PDF’s that people can pirate. It will be optimized for (A) sharing on social media, and (B) buying the book on Amazon. I have ZERO issues with people pirating my content. For me, it’s free advertising. I know it’s going to happen anyway, so might as well plan for it. Plus, I pirated a lot of media in my high school and college years, so it’s sort of the least I can do :) I might include a few handwritten notes in the PDF, saying something like “Hey Pirate Buddy- For the same price as a burrito, you can own the real deal. But if you don’t want to buy the book, would you send this PDF to someone you think it could help? Arrrr (Love), Charlie.”
Over-deliver for readers. Hopefully this comes through when you go through the book — I’ve got bonus materials and helpful content out the wazoo. I focused heavily on giving the reader an incredible, personal experience (more on that in #11).
Bonus gifts for people who buy multiple copies. Tim did this in the Land Rush promotion for The 4-Hour Body, and it worked really well (15K copies sold in three days). I’ll going to offer bonus gifts for people who buy 1, 3, 30, 300, and 1000 copies. I’ll have a clear picture on the blog for each package, showing what you’ll be getting in an image AND brief video trailer (with a prominent “BUY NOW” button). I’ll also have a system set up to automatically distribute bonus gifts for purchases of 1-30 copies.
Repackage content and optimize for social media. I have a lot of great quotes in my book from hugely successful people who made their living by playing. I took those and made them into shareable visuals for a variety of platforms (Slideshare, Pinterest, Youtube). Not sure how well they’ll do, but we’ll see.
Schedule guest posts and podcasts. I’m aiming to have all of my guest content appear on sites within 48 hours (Monday and Tuesday). The goal of my content is that it will be USEFUL and ACTIONABLE, which means the reader will be able to immediately change their life, in some way, for the better. It’s important to ensure the headline and content for each article is brag-worthy (i.e. the reader feels like they’re elevating their status by sharing it with their friends). For top sites, I’ll aim to do multiple guest posts. When I have data on my best performing guest posts (# of shares, # of click-thrus to Amazon), I’ll send those articles to influencers I know to share with their audience.
Video trailer for support group, and post-purchase “Thank You” video. I’m going to offer a 6-week support group for readers who buy the book. The book will be enough by itself for healing anxiety, especially if you’re a Do-It-Yourselfer. But if you want personal attention, better understanding of the material, and accountability, you will probably want to be in the support group too. It will contain 6 hour-long workshops where I’ll go over that week’s content and any reader questions. Readers will have to apply to ensure the quality of the group is really high. In the application, I’m going to ask what the reader’s biggest obstacle is for overcoming their anxiety, so I can focus on overcoming those obstacles in each lesson. I’ll also need to gather contact info (email, phone, mailing address). After they’ve filled out the application, they’ll see what place they are “in line” and how many are “behind them.” People who apply but don’t get in will still walk away happy — they’ll get a bonus of some sort. It will cost at least 10X more than the book to be a part of the group. You can sign up to get notified when the support group’s application is open here.
Publish book through Createspace. The book will be available in the following formats: Paperback, Amazon Kindle Ebook, Apple iBooks, and PDF (DRM-free). I’ll release it in the top 4 English markets (United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia). The two categories I’ve chosen for my book are not crazy competitive, which will increase my likelihood of hitting the #1 spot in both of them during marketing week. My categories are: (1) Health, Fitness & Dieting > Mental Health > Anxiety Disorders; (2) Business & Investing › Business Life › Health & Stress. I’m going to enroll in KDP Select so I can promote the book for free to Amazon Prime members at some point.
Ask for reviews from beta readers. All of my beta readers will be given a free copy of the final book, and I’ll ask them to leave an Amazon review. But I won’t just ask — I’m going to show them how to leave an honest, helpful, and thorough review. This is important for two reasons: (1) The best review you get in the early days will often be the best review forever (other people on Amazon vote for it and it stays in the top spot); (2) Most people won’t know what to do unless you tell them. To make it crystal clear what reviewers need to do, I’m going to show a few case studies of excellent book reviews. I won’t tell them to leave a 5-star review; I just need them to be honest. If they felt certain parts of the book were weak, they should let other potential readers know. One other thing I’ll do: Record video interviews with people who make great case studies, edit the videos, then ask those people to post them on Amazon.
Announce book to my email list. This will be a soft launch. My main focus is to get a ton of Amazon reviews (ideally 100) so that the book’s sales page will convert well going forward.
Bonus gifts for book buyers! Major incentives to buy the book. Different packages if you buy 1, 3, 30, 300, or 1000 — and one Golden Ticket. I won’t reveal those gifts now, but they will be very worthwhile.
Live webinar. On the big day (either Monday or Tuesday), I’m going to do an extended live webinar where I talk about the book, discuss my marketing efforts, and connect with readers.
Keep my email list informed. The 5,000 people subscribed to my newsletter will get updates on the book and special offers throughout the week.
Guest posts. Assistants will help me monitor discussions about the book, keeping me posted on which comments I need to jump on.
Reddit AMA. This will be a bit challenging (and might fall totally flat) but I’ve seen it work well for other authors. I’ll probably give away the book to Redditors through BitTorrent. Need to have assistants pre-loading common questions to kick off the discussion. I experimented with this awhile back and got slammed for coming across as too pitchy. Need to be careful and genuine with this audience.
Ask readers to promote the book to friends. Asking readers to post on Facebook isn’t enough. I want people to email friends, or gift the book to them through Amazon. I want them to say exactly why they need to read the book, why it will change their life. Or best of all, I want them to tell their friend face-to-face while they’re playing. I’ll give readers a short checklist of ways they can give the book to people they care about.
Book launch party. I’m not sure if this will work at all, and I’m pretty positive it won’t move any books. Still, I’d like to give it a shot… Instead of doing a traditional book launch party, where I invite a couple hundred people I barely know to a nice venue, I want to invite everyone to go out and play with their friends. I’ll make a public invitation on Facebook, with a compelling and honest description — something you’d say to your friend after a few drinks — and a call to unplug for a few hours. Then I’ll list all the best play activities they could do. If this gains any traction, I’ll link to the event in some of my guest posts. The picture(s), title, and description of the event are critical for this to take off, but I’m not sure if it will work. Worst case scenario: it doesn’t, and oh well.
Announce support group and workshops. I’ll do a live webinar for people who bought the book, where I’ll announce details. Applications will open up, I’ll sort through them, collect payment, then commence the 6-week program.
Contact Amazon KDP newsletter, GalleyCat, Publishers Weekly, and GoodReads. I’m going to give them my sales data, and the results of my launch efforts. If they decide to write about my book and share my results, it will help other self-pub authors, validate the book, and give me another round of marketing.
Make video trailers public on Youtube. After the launch dies down, I’m going to switch my video series on healing anxiety from “Unlisted” to “Public” so everyone can access them.
Set up Wikipedia page. For me, and my book.
Record the audiobook. I’ll record this at my friend’s podcast studio (though these guys are supposedly the best audiobook producers in the business). Then I’ll publish it through Audible by going through ACX. Once again, I’ll get a bunch of reviews up before promoting this.
Focus on selling in bulk to businesses, organizations, and schools. This is going to be a HUGE part of my ongoing marketing. I’m far more interested in selling a ton of copies with one transaction then having to continually convince thousands of individuals to buy a single copy. For any company that buys 300+ books, I’ll speak at their venue (in the beginning, at least).
Answer Quora questions related to anxiety. Just like guest posts, I’ll write evergreen answers that people can continually refer to, with a soft sell on my book.
Make Udemy course on curing anxiety. I’ll take the best lessons I learn from running my support group, and package them and the book into a video course people can take.
Secure international rights. Only if the book does well and there’s demand overseas. James Altucher recommends this service.
After all of this is done, and assuming the book is a success, I will talk to traditional publishers. The book needs to do really well through online sales for several months. If that’s the case, I will approach traditional publishers, show them my sales numbers, tell them I need help getting my book in stores, and offer a proposal.
Bookstores still sell books, and it’d be a dream to see mine prominently displayed in a Hudson’s or B&N or Tattered Cover. But after the launch, I don’t need a publisher’s help with anything but physicaldistribution. All of their other responsibilities have been covered.
“But Why Aren’t You…?”
There are a lot of things I’m NOT doing to launch my book. Here’s what’s missing, and here’s why I’m not doing it:
- Why I didn’t go with a traditional publisher: Publishers are generalists who cover the gamut of production. They bear the responsibility of a bunch of important and difficult roles — book cover design, layout, editing, distribution. Unfortunately, they have to spread themselves pretty thin because they’re juggling so many different projects. Because of this, they tend to do a decent-but-not-great job at each of their roles. That’s not just my experience; countless authors have complained about this dynamic. Frankly, I’d just rather do things my way and work with the team I’ve built.
And another thing: Publishers AREN’T marketers. They don’t do anything to help sell copies of your book. They just help you produce the book, then get it into physical locations. It’s up to the author to take control of the marketing so the book actually sells.
There are a TON of reasons why it makes more and more sense to self-publish. Fortunately, a bunch of smart people have expounded upon them:
- Why I’m not focused on traditional media (e.g. Today Show, Good Morning America, etc.) The vast majority of TV shows, magazines, and newspapers have surprisingly little influence on SALES. I know a number of authors who had major press pieces and it didn’t move more than a couple hundred books. Why? Same reason that Facebook ads don’t really work — the context is wrong. The user’s intent is NOT to buy, but to be entertained. Plus, the viewer probably doesn’t have quick access to Amazon during that moment, which makes converting to a sale that much harder by default. Unless the book gets a rave review from an influential talking-head or included in some controversial news piece, traditional PR — from what I’ve seen — doesn’t move a ton of copies. Of course, getting traditional media coverage IS helpful. It adds an air of legitimacy to your book, and validates you as a professional. That can lead to a number of doors opening that you didn’t even know where there. Still, I prefer to take the online route from the outset. I learned from Tim that it’s far more effective to make a ton of noise online for a brief period, then field requests from traditional media (rather than trying to convince them to tell your story).
[Note: Getting PR for books is not my specialty. Ryan Holiday is arguably the best in the world at this, but his services don't come cheap.]
- Why I’m not trying to hit the New York Times bestseller list: I made the choice to not go with a traditional publisher. That means I made the choice to not have immediate placement in book stores. That means I cannot hit the NYT bestseller list during the launch, because NYT list includes sales at physical locations — which I won’t be in — to determine their rankings. The only category that’s possible for me to hit (though it’s unlikely) is E-Book Nonfiction. I have no clue how they determine E-book rankings at this point, but it’s not a big deal. For this book’s launch, I’m just going to focus on getting good word-of-mouth with audiences that crave this type of material. I’ll do that by compressing the majority of my promotional efforts into a few days. That should result in a solid ranking on Amazon, and hopefully, enough of a nudge to set the book’s sales in motion.
- Why there isn’t a heavy emphasis on social media: Social media doesn’t make much sense for me to focus on. People are using those sites to browse, be entertained, and kill time. They are searching for content that will elevate their status – stuff they can share with their friends that will make them look cooler. Most importantly, social media users are not in a buyer’s state of mind, and therefore they DO NOT CONVERT. I’ve seen data on email outperforming social media in sales by 50X(!)… So, I’m roughly 50X more interested in sending quality emails to qualified readers, and just as interested in doing podcasts for rabid-followings (although those types of podcasts are few and far between). The inbox is sacred space, and so are headphones. Social media is noisy, cluttered, and optimized for people with ADHD.
I’m most interested in the people who find my post on Google then look at my book’s Amazon page. People on Google are actively seeking a solution to their problem RIGHT NOW; they have intent, which means they are far more likely to BUY THE BOOK. And once they get to Amazon, they are one-click away from purchasing. So it makes sense to focus my efforts on optimizing for Google and Amazon users first — those are the people who are most likely to BUY.
My social media plan is pretty simple: create content that people will immediately want to share. That means writing a handful of amazing guest posts with rabid audiences. If you want to know my plan for each platform… With Twitter, I’m going to gently nudge people to tweet about my book OR my top-performing guest posts (so they have a choice on which link will be best for their following). For Facebook and Pinterest, I’ve made some cool graphics people can share (visuals and infographics tend to perform best for those platforms). For Youtube and Slideshare, I’ll have a number of evergreen presentations and tutorials that will be linked to each other (if one takes off, it helps all the others).
- Why book tours don’t make sense: As much as I’d love to travel around the country and visit bookstores, I can’t justify the amount of time, energy, and resources that would require. It would take at least a week, cost thousands of dollars, and probably wouldn’t move many books (I’m not famous or influential enough to gather a crowd — I suspect that I’d average 0.7 readers per stop). That being said, I am very open to traveling across the country for anyone who buys several hundred (or 1,000+) copies. For those people, I’d be happy to speak to their organization on the topics in the book.
What I Really Need Help With…
I’ve received a lot of emails from friendly people. They usually sign off with this:
“If you need help with anything, just let me know.”
I appreciate what these people are offering (which is “anything”). The problem is that I’m never going to take them up on this offer. Ever. I have no idea what they can do for my book, so that gesture — while it makes them feel good to include — doesn’t compute for me.
You want to help with the book? Well, you’ve read the post and you know what I’m planning. If it’s not obvious, here are some of my biggest pain points:
Making the book’s website. My designer friend doesn’t have time to put this together, so I need help making a basic website for the book. This is a relatively easy task BUT I don’t want to hand it off to someone who hasn’t done great / similar work in the past. If you’re interested, send me your portfolio.
Figuring out how the upsell for the support group will flow. The last thing I want is to leave the book buyer with a feeling of “Really? Already trying to f-ing upsell me?” I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to pull this off with the video I’m going to shoot, but it’s the actual sales page I’m worried about. I want to put something together that will make them feel confident that they’re making the right decision, and gently nudge people away who don’t need the upsell. If you’ve worked on sales funnels, send me a description of what you’ve worked on (and the results you got).
Converting blog visitors to buyers. I’m getting roughly 1,000 people per day reading the article. I have a sign up form at the bottom to collect email addresses, but I’ll really need to be able to convert these people to buy the book. If you have any expertise in conversion, tell me your story.
If you have questions for me on the content in this post, please leave a comment below.
If you’re an author or entrepreneur who wants marketing consulting, set up a call.
“Oh, I never let anyone read my stories… What if they didn’t like them? What if they told me I was no good?”
I struggle with this myself sometimes. For the career book I was working on (an extension of Recession Proof Graduate), I didn’t let anyone see an early draft for several months. The problem with doing this is that I was in my own head for so long that I could no longer recognize when my work was garbage. My writing was just a bunch of words I’d rearranged, expanded upon, chopped up, and cut into one big unstructured mess. It was ugly, and I was pretty underwhelmed with my work for a long time.
I could have avoided this if I’d actually, you know, shown it to a few people and talked to them about it. Instead, I did about a dozen major re-writes by myself, for a book that was 120,000 words long. If you don’t know or can’t imagine what that’s like, then I truly envy you. It’s not fun.
This isn’t a common thing, and as far as I know, no author has entrusted the responsibility of editing to a large group of their own readers. I wasn’t totally sure if it would work…
I don’t have a massive audience like some of the guys I’ve worked with in the past, but I do have a few thousand readers (that’s you!) who have gotten to know me very well over the last five years. But more importantly, I knew that a lot of my readers were sharp go-getters. Most of you guys have read the Recession-Proof Graduate guide, and are very familiar with the benefits of doing free work. So when I asked you all to help me in my last post, I was thrilled to hear from 90 readers who were eager to give me feedback.
First, I had to see who was qualified as a great Beta Reader. I asked my readers to fill out an application if they wanted to be considered, which asked them for the following information:
Do you have any experience in editing other people’s writing? If so, please describe.
Why does this project interest you? Why do you want to help? [Optional: Make a brief video (no more than 3-minutes) explaining your answer. Post to Youtube or Vimeo, mark it unlisted, and send me the link.]
How long have you been reading my content? Has it impacted you in any way?
I asked them these specific questions for the following reasons:
I needed to be able to get in touch with them.
I needed proof that they were smart, and knew a thing or two about professional writing/editing.
I wanted to know their backstory to see if they fit the profile of an ideal reader for this book.
I wanted to reward people who’d been reading my content for years, so I could put their names in the acknowledgments section of the book.
The application did a great job of accomplishing all of these things, and I was blown away by the quality of the applicants. These weren’t just average people; they were highly qualified for the exact job I was asking them to do. The group of 90 applicants consisted of world-class journalists, professional authors, freelance copywriters and editors, ghostwriters, bloggers, legal professionals, teachers, tutors, grad students, research assistants, Redditors… It was the perfect mix of smart people who read a lot.
Far superior to relying on a single editor at a publishing house!
[Note: Even though professional editors who do this stuff for a living can be great, they can also be pretty underwhelming. In my experience, they tend to focus on legal issues and fairly trivial minutiae, which is useful for the publishing house (prevents mishaps, makes them professional) but doesn't do much in terms of making a better book for the reader. That's an important distinction, and I'll choose the group that wants to make a better book for themselves every time.]
I emailed a PDF of my book to 35 (roughly one-third) of the applicants — most of whom I’d never interacted with. Here’s what I requested from them in my email:
If you’d like to send me your feedback (which I hope you will), please keep the following in mind:
Above all, BE OPEN AND BRUTALLY HONEST. If something sucks and needs to be cut or rewritten, say it. Don’t be afraid of offending me. I want to know if you read something and mentally disagree with me, or if you start to get bored and go to check Facebook, or if you skip ahead. I want to know when you’re deeply engrossed with the copy, or when you want to tell a friend to read it. I want to know any extremes you felt after reading specific sections (was it empowering? disappointing? boring?)
Pointing out parts that are confusing or need clarification, along with any questions you have, is REALLY helpful.
Suggesting fixes. If you spot a problem with the writing and can think of an easy way to fix it, let me know.
Don’t focus too much on little grammatical errors (unless they’re truly glaring). I’m mostly looking for broad stroke feedback that will really help the reader.
Basically, I gave the beta readers permission to let me have it. I wanted to spot all the things that repeatedly tripped them up, confused them, or turned them off.
And it worked. Really, really well.
I only expected about 20% of the beta readers to send me notes, but more than half of them ended up doing it. And their notes were consistently fantastic. They were open and honest, intelligent, and highly detailed. And because the group was fairly diverse, they all brought a fresh perspective to the table. Almost every person who gave me feedback pointed out something useful that I wouldn’t have noticed on my own.
The biggest benefit of crowdsourcing edits was in spotting patterns. Instead of wondering whether a single complaint about my writing was legitimate or not, I could just take note on how many other people brought up the same issue. The worst parts of the book were all brought up repeatedly, and I’m happy to say I’ve fixed (or I’m in the process of fixing) every major problem.
I can’t really talk about the specific notes I was given without giving away details in the book, but I will share one of the most valuable notes I received…
The award for “Best Edit” goes to Alex McClafferty (co-founder of WPCurve), who sent me this:
I think you should lead with Chapter 2 and follow it up with Chapter 1. I’ve talked to you before and know you are a very genuine guy, but the way Chapter 1 is framed (with no context to your anxiety issues)… you sound like a spoiled brat. Chapter 2, on the other hand is the real deal. It actually moved me, which was sort of weird after a day of grinding on my biz.
I got chills when I read that. I knew he was 100% right. That first chapter made me sound like a whiner, and everyone — including me — had missed it. I switched the two chapters, and it instantly read three times better.
This was such a critical edit, because it completely changed the flow of the book. It hooks the reader much faster now, which will dramatically boost sales over the long run (the conversion rate of the people who preview-then-buy it on Amazon should increase substantially). Being able to spot big picture edits like that is extremely helpful, and I only know a handful of people who are great at it. So thank you again Alex!
# # #
Having a group of beta readers was one of the best decisions I’ve made as a writer. I can’t tell you how much better this book is because I showed an incomplete version to a ton of supportive people I’ve never met. Instead of focusing on fixing all the minor details (which is easy to get caught up in), I was able to spot the biggest weaknesses in my book. And as a result of fixing them, the book has probably been saved from several 1-star reviews on Amazon. The aggregate ratings of my book are going to be higher, guaranteed, because of the beta readers.
And I can tell you from firsthand experience: No publishing house will ever be able to trump a crowd of smart and enthusiastic readers editing an author’s work. These were real people who gave me pages and pages of their thoughts and notes, with line-by-line feedback. They didn’t put in all of this effort because they were getting paid to do it as a job, but because they genuinely wanted to help and it was fun for them. As anyone who’s done free work knows, that’s usually where the best work comes from.
If I was an author who was in the editing stages (I am, but also hypothetically speaking), I would do everything in my power to get an early draft into as many of my ideal readers’ hands as possible. Not your friends and family (their notes are too kind and forgiving), or even people you know (they’re biased) – just a group of people who all fit the profile of your ideal reader!
Find at least a dozen people that you think would love your book. If you can’t find them in real life (e.g. guest speaking on your expertise at schools, book clubs, local meet ups), use your audience online. If you don’t have an audience online, you can find them in specific forums on Reddit, or in the highly active GoodReads community (look for people reading books that are similar to yours). Do some digging on each person’s online history, just to make sure they’d make a good beta reader. Ideally you want people who are highly active, intelligent, thoughtful, and have integrity (you can tell by the quantity and quality of the posts they’ve done).
Reach out to those people, sell them on who you are (say you’re a humble first-time author), tell them what your book is about and why you think they’d enjoy it, then ask if they’d be interested in a free unfinished copy in exchange for their thoughts. Offer them a shout out in the Acknowledgments section, a free consultation call, or something that you can give each of them that will be valuable and fun (free brownies!)
Rinse, repeat, and get yourself a big group of people who are giving you their notes. The more people providing feedback on your writing, the better. Don’t be outraged or nervous reading their critiques — far better to see harsh reviews now, rather than on Amazon!
You need a great book in order for it to sell, and beta readers helped me reach that point in record time. They made my writing stronger, provided me with a group of enthusiasts who want to see the book succeed (they’re now baked into the writing), and ultimately increased future sales.
Thank you again to all of my beta readers. You’ve helped me create something special.
[Note: There are three things I would have changed about this whole process. (1) I would have used Wufoo instead of Google Forms. It was kind of a pain reading all of those applications in a spreadsheet. (2) I would have used Draft to receive feedback, rather than having everyone email me individually. (3) I would have scheduled all of my calls with readers on Clarity. I started doing this halfway through, when I remembered that Clarity provides a custom link that sets your consultation fee to "Free."]
# # #
So… what did these beta readers actually have to say about my book? Again, I have to spare you the details of their specific notes, but here is some of the general feedback I’ve gotten:
“It’s emotionally honest, it’s practical, it’s unique, it will make people talk. All great stuff.” – Ryan H.
“Super readable. I read it in one sitting. It’s hard to put down… When I started reading the 15 things, I started keeping a list of the best ones. It literally ended up being all 15… I didn’t take enough notes because I was too transfixed, and I flew right through it.” – Zach O.
“WOW… REALLY enjoyed the book! I can’t wait for it to come out to be able to share it with people! It was such an easy read, and I’m really particular about books… (don’t like to read that many books)” – Michael G.
“I was imagining that this would be more of a pitch for Free Work, but it really is it’s own piece and provides huge value. It’s going to help a lot of people who didn’t even know they needed it” – Zach O.
“I love the overall message in this book. Your story really resonates with me. As a freelance paralegal, I’ve been feeling the exact same things that you did – if I’m not working, I’m not productive. For me, it actually feels weird not to work.” – Tina K.
“Easily one of the best intros to a book I’ve read. This felt like a movie.” – Mohnish S.
“Up to page 28, and compelled to email you. This is f*ing great, Charlie. Resonates.” – Rob H.
“This was one of the rare books I could read in one sitting. Speaking from an unbiased opinion, I liked it very much!” – Thomas U.
“I’m going to implement this stuff on my own, even though I don’t feel like I struggle with anxiety. I just think this can help me be a happier, more fun person… Incredible work. You’re going to help a lot of people with this book.” – Justin M.
“It’s REALLY well written. Conversational but tight, and engaging the entire way through. I could feel myself getting sucked into each of your stories and being taken through the journey start to finish… Section #3 hit me pretty hard personally and sent me into a frenzy of free writing about my own life and what I’m doing.” – Edward D.
“I’ll start off by saying that overall, it’s an awesome book. Phases 4 and 5 were particularly golden. These parts contained the most compelling stuff, super useful, and a great and entertaining read. I’m straining to think of a single way to improve those sections. More generally speaking, your writing really shines when it’s autobiographical, and you’re very good at blending first-person with second-person to illustrate your points.” – Scott H.
“I had been thinking about taking an improv class for a long time and you finally got me to do it. It was one of the best experiences I have ever had. I was able to face my problems head on. I left each class feeling so much lighter after all the exercises and laughs. It did wonders for my confidence and really just helped me get out of my head.” – Andrew E.
“I think you’re doing a fantastic service to whoever reads this and uses it to help effect positive change in their lives. Which, I’m guessing, is your primary objective, and I believe you’ve achieved it… You’ve assembled some really helpful content here and relayed it in an entertaining and heartfelt manner. The #1 takeaway I get from it all is that you’ve taken concepts that some people would initially bristle at (because of what they’ve been programmed to think by society) and presented it in a nice fun package that’s tough to say no to.” – Cortis L.
“This book has a natural, down-to-earth tone that I really enjoy. It makes me laugh and think, which is always a good thing… The scripts and examples of what a person can do, going from the extreme to the comforting, really gives this an edge to other nonfiction books I’ve read that claimed to help you. Of course, the books I read are usually from scientists and researchers, so there’s a reason for that… You’ll notice about a quarter of the way through the book, my sticky notes became progressively more casual. I stayed with this format because that is genuinely how I felt when I wrote those notes. I wanted to be as straightforward as possible, and to show you parts where you made me crack up (Breaking Bad) and where I felt confused. The book brought out my natural personality because you showed me yours.” – Jessica C.
And even though I made a request for beta readers to not talk about the book online, a few people couldn’t resist:
But my favorite commentary on this early draft came from my friend Ali. She’s a synesthete, which means she sees words and numbers in colors. She first told me about her super power when we were talking about our favorite books at dinner one night, and she mentioned that she’d read Lolitamore than 20 times because “it’s like experiencing a rainbow.” Here are a few comments she made on the colors of my writing:
“After the intro, there is a noticeable shift in lightness. At first, the writing felt dark, the words were harsh, and punctuation was the blunt. As it progresses, it lightens, and as a result, the color of the words and the sentences start to brighten. It’s less about a difference in actual color, and more about a change in shade.”
“The colors of this section of the book are the most wide-ranging thus far. Now, in addition to the lighter shades, new hues have been introduced and it generally feels more rich in color. It is possible this is due to the lists of activities portion, or just the sense that the mind is being expanded since you are providing methods for this to occur. There is now a variety of color that has been introduced- I am seeing several shades of yellow and a washed out red, as well as a midnight blue and more of a sky blue.”
If you had any doubts as to whether or not these reviews were real, that comment should lay them to rest. Couldn’t make that up if I tried.
Of course, not all of the feedback was usable. A handful of people sent me congratulatory notes, which were nice to read, but had no impact on the book. And I actually got one overwhelmingly negative review from a reader. There’s either a cultural difference in our beliefs about life and work, or this person flat-out didn’t like my writing style (or me). This is what they had to say, along with my responses:
“I found this a superficial read, with very little that I or anyone else could possibly action. The book doesn’t seem to know whether it’s a personal memoir or a recipe book for others.”
I won’t argue if they didn’t like the book, that’s fine. But I do take issue with one thing they criticized, because I intentionally designed this book to be highly actionable. In fact, there are three big sections that explicitly show how a reader can implement certain parts of my routine into their life. In one section, I explain the weekly writing exercise I did that helped me identify and eliminate my biggest sources of stress. In the next section, I break down every single technique and exercise that helped me, along with the easiest course of action the reader can take to start doing it immediately. In the next section, I show my weekly schedule — broken down hour by hour — which reveals everything I was doing. All three of these sections are highly actionable, I can’t stress that enough.
“I suspect this book is much more important to the author, as a way of laying his own ghosts, than it would be to any reader. It feels self-indulgent.”
It was a therapeutic and rewarding book to write, no question. But I wouldn’t have put this book together if tens of thousands of people hadn’t already been helped by my original post on how I cured my anxiety. There’s a reason that post rose to the #1 spot on Google for the search “cure anxiety,” and that it displaced highly ranked Oprah and Dr. Oz articles, and that WordPress reached out to ask if they could feature it on their homepage. The reason was simple:
That article was important to other people. It helped them. And I can promise you that the book is better — much better.
I’ll wrap up the beta reader feedback with an exchange I had with my good friend in San Francisco, who wrote this message to me after reading the first section:
I can’t help but feel bad that you were having a tough time, and we (or I, rather) didn’t know it/the extent of it. I know I didn’t have much of a “before” Charlie to compare you to, but it makes me sad that you were struggling, just across the street from where I spent a lot of my time. I’m glad we helped you stay sane, as you say, but I don’t know… I guess reading the blog post (and now the book) is a good reminder to ask someone how they are, and then ask again.
There’s nothing to feel bad about. You guys were always great. The way I handled myself was my choice, and I’m glad it played out the way it did. If it happened any other way, this book probably wouldn’t exist, and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done.
# # #
Last but not least, I need your help… I would love to get my book into the hands of some of my heroes who have embodied play. I quote many of them throughout the book, but all of them are extremely high-profile and — as far as I’m aware — I don’t have any connections to them.
I know this is a long (and I mean loooooong) shot, but it never hurts to ask…
If you have a personal connection to any of the following people (i.e. they would answer your phone call, or you’ve shared a meal together), AND you would be willing to email a digital copy of my book to them, please let me know by contacting me or leaving a comment below.
Late last year, I decided it was time to write my first book.
This was not a decision I made lightly. I knew firsthand how much time and effort a book would take after working on The 4-Hour Body and The 4-Hour Chef (both 600+ pages long). In fact, I kept delaying this project because I knew it would take at least six months to finish… Still, I knew I had to write this book.
No other author had produced anything like Recession-Proof Graduate, which I was dying to expand upon since I’d posted it in 2009. The core concepts in RPGrad — free work, virtual apprenticeships, digital portfolios, in-demand skills — are what I wanted to cover in-depth. Together, they make up the new rules and most reliable strategies for landing great work in today’s volatile economy.
This is a book I’d been preparing to write for a loooong time…
For the last five years, I’ve been researching, bookmarking, note-taking, and collecting case studies of people who’ve landed dream jobs and built incredible careers. I’ve read dozens of books and thousands of articles. I finally started putting my prep work to good use this past year, as I outlined, wrote, re-wrote, cut, trashed, and rearranged the first several drafts of my book.
Before this process began, I thought authors were a bunch of drama queens. They were always complaining about how hard and exhausting it was to write a book. But now, I can see that they weren’t exaggerating — writing a book is a pretty miserable process.
Case in point: I thought I had the perfect structure for this book. Then four friends reviewed an early draft, and all of them said a huge chunk of the book didn’t fit. I cut 35,000 words (about 100 pages) in one hour. At least six weeks of work were gone, just like that.
But from those 35,000 words I’d cut, I saw 12,000 that could be re-arranged and made into a new book. This second book — a mini-memoir — would contain all of the details on how I cured my anxiety.
I knew that the demand on this topic was very high from my post about the importance of play. Tens of thousands of people read it in a couple weeks, and I received hundreds of messages from anxiety sufferers. I also noticed that my content was of higher quality (see: less scammy) than most of the information out there, as my post organically climbed up to the #1 spot on Google for “how to cure anxiety,” right above Oprah.com:
I decided to temporarily postpone work on the first book, so I could put together the memoir.
This second book only took me a few weeks to write. It’s not quite finished, but it’s pretty damn close. I’m really proud of it. I actually love it, which is something I rarely say about my own work. It’s deeply personal, it touches upon a big cultural problem, and it contains simple solutions and a 3-week plan that will help the countless people suffering in silence. I can’t wait to release it.
I showed an early draft to a handful of readers I’d corresponded with through this blog. This is what they wrote back to me:
“As a workaholic who’s had a long history of panic attacks myself, this is awesome. My best friend right now is paralyzed with stress, fear and panic attacks, to the point he won’t leave his home. I cannot wait to give him this book when it comes out.”
“Read it – loved it. First impression is that after reading it, I felt really happy – haven’t felt like that after a book in awhile. The book’s got heart.”
“I’ve read, watched and tried just about all of the anxiety ‘cures’ out there. Your book instantly clicked for me because you’re someone I can actually relate to. A workaholic, who to the outsider was doing great, but behind closed doors was battling crippling anxiety, just like me. Reading about your transformation gave me a huge sigh of relief, knowing that an anxiety-free life is possible without pharmaceutical drugs. I’ve already gotten started with your plan.”
I’ll announce more details in the coming weeks (including the title, cover, table of contents, excerpts, etc. — no hard release date yet). For now, I’d like to extend an offer to you guys…
How You Can Get Involved
My highest priority right now is to make this anxiety memoir as great as it can possibly be. So, if you think you have the chops to give me brutally honest feedback on what I’ve written, you can apply to be a beta reader byclicking here.
[Note: I can only pick a few beta readers, so put some thought into your application if you really want to do this.]
All beta readers will get a personal shout-out in the Acknowledgments section of the book. I’ll also do a free 20-minute phone call (something I typically charge for) with any beta reader who wants to chat with me, about any subject — career advice, marketing, anxiety stuff, info about these books… whatever you want.
My second highest priority is to SELL a ton of copies of this book upon its release. I’ve got quite a bit of experience in book marketing, and a team of smart people working with me. Still, I can use all the help I can get. If you think you can strengthen my marketing efforts or are interested in buying my book in bulk (50+ copies), then please click here.
That’s it for now. Like I said, I’ll release more details on both books in the coming weeks/months, but if you have questions, feel free to fire away in the comments. Just know that the anxiety book will be released first, followed by the career book.
[Note from Charlie: The response to this post has been incredible. Over 100,000 people have read it, and for the past year, it's been the #1 search result on Google for "cure anxiety." If you want to read a free chapter from my new book on how I cured my anxiety, click here. Otherwise, enjoy the post!]
For a long time, I thought I was going crazy. I’d convinced myself that something horribly wrong was about to happen. I thought I would be stabbed, shot, or arrested every time I left my apartment. I was sure that there was an impending disaster that would melt the social contract and pit my neighbors against me. I saw criminals and undercover cops everywhere I went. All that “world is coming to an end” talk — I bought into it.
Every moment was exhausting. I dreaded being around more than one person at a time. I eyed everyone like they were judging me, pitying me, or attempting to manipulate me. My attention was divided in every interaction: one half of me would pretend to be normal, while the other half would be trying to keep it together.
I could feel various parts of my face twitching, like I was about to crack. My hands shook constantly. It got so bad that when a friend came to visit me, I couldn’t drink a glass of water because it kept spilling just from me holding it.
I tried to behave like nothing was wrong, when all I wanted to do was lock myself in a room and curl up in a ball. If someone had tapped me in the chest, my body would have shattered. If someone had ordered me to cry, my face would have flooded. I felt fragile, weak, and hollow.
I was ashamed. I didn’t want to be around anyone – not because I stopped liking people, but because I didn’t want them to catch my weird energy. I wearily watched my girlfriend cry when I confided that I felt dead inside, all the time, and I didn’t know how to fix it.
I laid on the ground for 20 minutes one night, wondering whether I should call an ambulance. My heart was beating so hard and fast that I could actually hear it, and my left hand was going numb. My first panic attack.
My anxiety lasted for more than a year. It affected how I breathed, how I thought, how I ate, how I slept, and how I talked. I was serious and tired and afraid, all the time. I wanted so badly to return to my normal, lively, care-free, confident self. But I didn’t know how to shake it.
I tried everything to fix myself: meditation, yoga, high-intensity workouts, long runs, therapy, therapy books, keeping a journal, super clean diets, extended fasting, drugs, deep breathing exercises, prayer, etc. I even took a six-week course, made specifically for men who wanted to overcome anxiety. A few of these things helped, a lot of them didn’t. Some of them made things worse.
Then one day, I discovered the cure. When my mind processed it and recognized it was the solution, I started laughing. The answer had been so obvious all along.
In less than one month, I was back to my old self. The cure for my anxiety was free, fun, painless, and immediately effective. I have no fear that those feelings will ever return. If they do, I’ll be able to wipe them out right away.
I hope this post can help you eliminate your anxiety once and for all. It’s not nearly as hard as you think.
“Adults are just obsolete children.” – Dr. Seuss
Have you ever witnessed a little kid working out on a treadmill?
Or meeting up with a friend to chat over coffee?
Or wearing a suit and making cold-calls?
Or attending a networking conference to hand out their business cards?
HELL NO. That stuff is lame and boring. If you saw a kid doing any of those things, you would laugh and wonder what the hell was wrong with them.
Kids don’t run to get in shape; they run to feel the grass beneath their feet and the wind on their face.
Kids don’t have a chat over coffee; they pretend and make jokes and explore the outdoors.
Kids don’t go to work; they play their favorite games.
Kids don’t network; they bond with other fun kids while playing.
There is no ego. There is no guilt. There is no past to regret, and no future to worry about. They just play.
And that’s what I’d forgotten, what I’d been missing, all along.
Giving myself permission to PLAYwas the cure for my anxiety. It was a subtle but powerful shift in how I viewed the world.
For two years, I had unknowingly prevented myself from playing. I am a workaholic, which can be pretty horrible when you work alone. No one tells you to stop or take a break, or that you’re burning yourself out. I’d find myself tethered to the internet all day, sitting in a chair for 10 hours and staring at a bright screen. Even when I was “finished,” I’d impulsively check email several times between midnight and 2 a.m. I know it’s dumb and unnecessary and “What could be so important?” and “You need your sleep,” but I did it anyways. I was oblivious to the fact that my nerves were being frayed for hours on end, and that I desperately needed fun face-to-face time with real human beings.
What made matters worse were the idiotic rituals I’d fallen into. Drinking coffee all day, then drinking alcohol with friends on the weekend. I didn’t get outside, I didn’t move enough, I didn’t sleep enough. My weeks were a cycle of over-stimulation and numbing.
I read Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. The message of the book hit me like a brick wall – it explained what I’d been doing wrong this whole time. I had completely deprived myself of play for nearly two years! Even when I had been “playing” (doing fun activities with friends), I would still feel guilty or self-conscious. My mind was elsewhere: what I’d done wrong in the past, how I was compromising my future, and how I was wasting the present. I was so critical of how I was living my life that I couldn’t be in the moment.
Getting out of that mentality saved me. I remembered how happy I’d been growing up, even just years before, and I knew why I’d been that way: I’d always allowed myself to play.
“A lack of play should be treated like malnutrition: it’s a health risk to your body and mind.” – Stuart Brown
The real problem had been my state of mind.I’d become increasingly adept at rejecting any form of “non-productivity.” I couldn’t allow any form of play if it didn’t contribute to earning money or doing something “meaningful.” Even when I was with friends or doing something that was supposed to be fun, I couldn’t stop thinking about all the time I was wasting. I wasn’t being productive; I was losing valuable time. I had to get backto work!
What would the world do without me and my important work?!
Without realizing it, I became very serious, even though I’d never been serious in my entire life. I couldn’t play because that meant I wasn’t working, and I couldn’t really work because I always felt tired and jaded (because I never let myself play!)This resulted in me convincing myself that life was a miserable grind for adults, and that I needed to be very serious if I wanted to get through it. I approached everything this way, and treated my work as a form of self-imposed slavery.
Little did I know how limiting that mindset was, and how much it was hurting the work I was doing.
Play is what has driven and shaped every beautiful part of our culture. Music, concerts, books, cooking, sports, movies, television, fashion, art, video games… We pay for these things so we can experience the fruits of another person’s PLAY. And the most virtuous form of work, according to some of our most revered and accomplished minds, belongs in the realm of play:
“I never did a day’s work in my life. It was all fun.” – Thomas Edison
“Play is the highest form of research.” – Albert Einstein
“The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” – Steve Jobs
“Without work, all life goes rotten, but when work is soulless, life stifles and dies.” – Albert Camus
“A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labor and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both.” – François-René de Chateaubriand
I know a lot of really, really accomplished people. Some of them approach their work in this way — they play. Others are very methodical, rigid, and systematic. It doesn’t look like play – it is unquestionably work. And it took me a long time to finally realize… I do not function well in the latter group.
I HAVE to approach work as play, otherwise my work sucks. When I tackle a problem with a sense of play – voluntarily because I’m inherently attracted to it – my creativity and optimism and happiness soars. I become fascinated with the world. I fall in love with people. And whoever I’m working with helps me make the game more fun, and our positive energy becomes contagious.
I realized that nearly every important career decision I’d made had been rooted in play. All the cool jobs I got – and the very concept of FREE WORK – ultimately came from me viewing the work as a form of play. They were activities I didn’t need to be rewarded or paid for (even though I was), because they were fun. It didn’t feel like hard work because I got to “play” with cool people, I got to be challenged and learn a ton, and most of the time, it felt like it was just a game I’d made up. And that’s where my best work came from: the belief that I was creating and playing my own game.
Once I saw that I’d forgotten to treat my work as play, I knew what I had to do in order to fix it. It was simply a choice.
When I moved down to Austin, a friend introduced me to his buddy David via email, and suggested we should meet. David replied to me with the usual request: he asked if I wanted to grab coffee. I paused a moment, then wrote back:
“Hey David, good to meet you. This is an irregular request, but you want to meet up at a park and play catch? Haven’t done that in awhile and it’s a lot more stimulating than sitting around and drinking coffee.”
“SURE THING. Playing catch sounds like a f*ing blast! I’ll ping you in a bit and if we can’t do it today, let’s play ball tomorrow!”
And it was a blast. It removed the pressure of us having to talk and impress each other, so we could just focus on the game.
I used to feel a bit nervous on first dates. I had to be “on” for hours at a time. The last date I went on was great — the energy wasn’t uptight at all because we played around the whole time. We ordered whisky Shirley Temples, shot cherry stems through our straws at random people, and cracked jokes about the karaoke singers. There were no attempts to be cool or charming, or thoughts about where this date might take us — it was all about making the moment fun.
That’s how I’m approaching my meetings and dates from now on: what games can we play together?
Life is funny. Back in college, I used to read Tucker Max’s site and think, “What a fun guy.” I’d go out with my friends and drink, and we’d try to create our own crazy stories. Now, Tucker is a close friend. We play homerun derby together every weekend. We come up with fun pranks we can pull. We make inappropriate jokes until we’re doubled-over laughing.
I just finished six weeks of improv classes — three hours every Monday. Every session, I was thrust into situations where I was essentially guaranteed to fail and look foolish. At first, I was nervous and slightly mortified. My heart beat rapidly and I would sweat when I had to perform in front of 15 other people. But by the end of the six weeks, improv became a tremendous source of strength. All of us were there to play, to go with the flow and say “YES” to every possible situation we were thrown into, to cheer each other on and have fun together. We all looked foolish, but we all trusted each other. And that’s how it should be all the time — saying “YES” to every moment, knowing it’s another opportunity for you to embrace life and have fun (Improv, by the way, was the most effective remedy to curing social anxiety that I could have possibly conjured).
I’m signing up for more improv classes. I’m scheduling travel. I’m having fun because I’m making play a priority. And you know what? I feel 100 times better than I ever thought I would. I’m back to my normal self. I love life again. (I’m even writing a book about it)
Play is what we all LOVE to do. Play is where our subconscious naturally guides us. Play is the state where we are truly ourselves, once we let go of our egos and fear of looking stupid. Play immerses us in the moment, where we effortlessly slip into flow. Play allows us to imagine, to create, to bond with and understand each other. Play is what creates our strongest social circles.
And most importantly, play utterly destroys anxiety. Play gets you around other humans, face-to-face, and allows you to form a real connection with them. Play allows you to stop taking your life so damn seriously, so you can start living again.
Life was never supposed to feel so serious or scary in the first place! The people who try to convince you that it has to be that way just aren’t very good at playing. They’ve forgotten what it’s like. So have a laugh, remind them, then go find better playmates. Everyone is looking for someone to have fun with. Go out, create your own games, then get others to join in. Just play.
You don’t need more money. You don’t need more free time. You can always do it. Play is a state of mind – it is a way to approach the world.
It’s only a choice: Anxiety or Play. Take your pick.
“Man is God’s plaything, and that is the best part of him. Therefore every man and woman should live life accordingly, and play the noblest games… What, then, is the right way of living? Life must be lived as play…” – Plato
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UPDATE: For several months last year, this post was the #1 result on Google for the search “cure anxiety.” More than 100,000 people have read it, and many of them requested more information. So I put together a short book — based on this post — called Play It Away: A Workaholic’s Cure for Anxiety,which reveals everything I did to conquer my anxiety and return to my normal self (click here for a free chapter).
The book is a step-by-step blueprint for curing your anxiety — quickly, painlessly, without drugs, and without having to spend thousands on therapy. There’s nothing else like it on the market, and it’s been really well-received so far. Here’s a message I received from one of my first readers:
“After reading your book, everything clicked for me… I can’t explain how nice it was to know that someone finally understood AND has solutions to change these feelings… The answers I’ve been searching for and asking doctors about for almost the last 3 years, you were able to summarize in one book.”
I’m also going to be offering a 6-week support group to guide you — step-by-step — through the process of healing your own anxiety. The book is available for sale now (paperback, Kindle, iBooks, and PDF – Audible to come), but you’ll have to wait for the support group to open up (won’t be for at least another month). If you’re interested in the support group, please fill out this form.