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How to Use the Web to Succeed in Publishing, Life

NEW YORK -- The author of The Four Hour Work Week certainly works hard. In his keynote speech at the Mediabistro Circus here today, he showed audience members how to promote themselves and their business by using social media and other Web tools.

Ferriss' current career started with the book. He's big on data, so when his publisher objected to the original title of the book -- "Drug Dealing for Fun and Profit" -- he tested several possible titles using Google AdWords.

He bid on key words like "world travel," "retire," and "learning languages." With the bids, he posted various links, each containing the text of one of more than a dozen possible book titles. The data said that The Four Hour Work Week was the best title.

The he interviewed best-selling and prize-winning writers. He got consistent advice from the best sellers: promote yourself through radio and through the blogs.

"I spent $25,000 on the book launch," Ferriss said. "I wasted $18,000 on a PR firm. There are good PR firms, but this firm was not accountable or measurable. I spend the rest sending books and galleys to people and meeting people in person. The e-mail channel is too crowded and the phone feels like an intrusion."

He said that in order to learn about blogging, he attended the CES expo, the largest trade show in the U.S., and spent most of the time in the bloggers' center learning about blogging.

He said that when you approach people, you must admit what you don't know, even if asking what "Ruby on Rails" is makes you seem ignorant. It took practice, but he was eventually able to restrain himself, and when people asked what he did, he just said that he was writing a book.

"It was the softest possible pitch. I did not pitch myself. I elicited questions. I emphasized to them that I did not think the book would appeal to them, except for about five pages of it. Now I get promotional requests for thirty books a week and you know that doesn't work."

The goal was to obtain 20,000 evangelists -- not customers but avid fans -- during the three months between when Ferriss started learning about blogging and the publication of the book.

PPC: Phenomenize, Polarize, Communicate

Once Ferriss decided to start a blog, he needed a key phrase to describe it. He decided that the phrase "lifestyle design" worked and did not seek to prohibit others from using the term. "I did not pursue trademark infringement because I wanted to start a trend," he said.

The next step was polarization. "I would prefer to have a few people who love the product instead of lots who think it's okay. If you want people to love the product, you also need to have people hate you. You cannot mobilize the haters to do much for you. I encouraged my readers to go to ning.com and use the term 4HWW."

Ferriss had three pieces of advice concerning communication. In order to get noticed, he wanted to appear on the blog he considered the most influential in his area: 43 Folders. Unable to approach the Merlin Mann directly, he succeeded in getting a post on Brian Olberkirch's blog, which was picked up by Mann. Even though Mann admitted in the post that he had not yet read Ferriss' book, the post was an important step.

Ferriss noted two virtues of this approach: Mann expended no social capital in mentioning Ferriss and also expended little time, simply linking to Olberkirch's post.

Getting mentioned by Scoble was a further boost. Success was clear when the launch of the book became its own meme.

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