“If you’re pursuing this success because you have some hole inside you that you think success is going to fill, I think you’re going to be rudely awakened.”–Ryan Holiday
Ryan Holiday got his start helping Tucker Max and now runs Brass Check marketing, which has helped a huge number of clients market their products, including clients such as Google and Tony Robbins. He talks today with Commander Mark Divine about his own books and the Stoic philosophy that underpins them. He also shares his thoughts about marketing and especially book marketing. What will you be able to take from Ryan’s insights, and how you will you be able to use them for yourself?
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Transcript & Shownotes
Hey folks, Mark Divine here with the Unbeatable Mind podcast. Thank you so much for coming back and listening today. Totally appreciate it. I don’t take it for granted. Hooyah. I know your time is valuable.
Hey before I get started and introduce today’s guest who is a friend and a terrific author, writer and consultant, coach, all sorts of things, named Ryan Holiday. We are going to ask you one more time. Actually I’ll probably ask you more than one more time. But for today, one more time that if you like what you’re hearing, and you like the guests and you like the podcast then go rate it at iTunes, ’cause it really does help other people find it when they search for similar titles, right? Like Tim Ferris, for instance. So if you search for Tim Ferris and Unbeatable Mind podcast pops right up next to it, then that’s a good thing for us.
Okay, so go rate it at iTunes. And get on our email list if you want at unbeatablemind.com/podcast.
All right. Ryan Holiday. Ryan, welcome to the show. Thanks so much for your time. Real quick, Ryan is a media strategist, a marketing guru–he’s got a company called “Brass Check” where he advises little tiny companies like Google. And he also advises prominent authors, like Tony Robbins, Tim Ferris… (laughing) Mark Divine. Had to get that in there.
At any rate, he’s got some terrific books. I love your books Ryan. I haven’t read the first one, this one sounds interesting, I want to get it: “Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a media manipulator.”
But I have read “The Obstacle is the Way,” and “Ego is the Enemy,” your latest book. And I want to talk about both those today. But before we do that, I wanna ask you first, I read somewhere that you dropped out of school at 19 and you moved to LA with your buddy Tucker Max, and if you don’t know Tucker Max, he’s a bestselling author and his books are hilarious. I think his first book was “I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell.” (laughing) And then he’s got one called “Assholes Finish First.” Like, what’s up with that? Are you and Tucker good friends?
Ryan Holiday: Yeah, yeah.
Mark Divine: (laughing) Do you share a similar philosophy, I should ask?
Ryan: In some ways yes, in other ways no. I met Tucker when I was in college. I wrote an article about him for my college newspaper. And, he was like the first author that I’d ever really met. Like the idea that you could write about your life, and write about what you thought, and funny things that happened to you, as a living was not something that I grew up really understanding. So, I met him, and we had a relationship that wasn’t based on sort of a shared affinity for drinking and hooking up, but we both loved books. And he was a mentor of mine, and he helped me get my start as a writer, ultimately.
Mark: So you dropped out of school… he was coming out to LA to do what? So were you kind of moving out here to co-create together? Or just… was he your impetus to kind of catch a ride west?
Ryan: No, he was about 10 years older than me at the time. He just sold the television and the movie rights to his book, so he was in the middle of adapting that. And I came out and I worked for him. I was his assistant, and then I worked on the marketing for his books, and for the movie that ultimately came out. And he had a media company at the time, that published a lot of other authors online, and so it was sort of a crash course in how one builds an online presence and then turns it into a real brand. In 2006-2007, no one was really doing this yet, and so I sort of got an early look. I ended up leaving school because this is what I wanted to do with my life, and I wasn’t going to learn about it in a classroom. You only really learn about that stuff from someone who’s doing it.
Mark: Yeah, right. ‘Cause he’s creating a whole new way to market and present oneself to the world. That’s interesting. So the book, “Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a media manipulator,” that came out of that experience I’m betting.
Ryan: Yeah, that came from some of the crazy stuff that we did with him. Like we created fake boycotts of his work, we sort of courted controversy. I ended up going on…. I was the director of marketing at American Apparel for a number of years, which is also controversial and provocative. So it was sort of… one of the really awesome stuff about the internet is that sort of anyone can create anything. One of downsides is that anyone can create anything, and it sort of leads to this outrage culture that we live in. Hoaxes and publicity stunts. So it’s sort of an expose about how all of that works.
Mark: Yeah, I wanna dig into that a little bit more, ’cause it’s a world I don’t know much about because most of what we do is try to be completely authentic. But so… when have I been manipulated by you or by Tucker? What are some of the things that you’ve done? I know you’ve just quickly alluded to a couple, but let’s talk about some of the more successful things you’ve done.
Ryan: Yeah, so we did the publicity stunt for the book, where we pretended to be… that we were boycotting. We created these protesters and it became this kind of real huge thing. We did another one where we paid… there was this service a while ago called “Sponsored Tweets,” where you could get celebrities to tweet anything you wanted. So we tried to get them to tweet all these offensive things, and then we leaked what they rejected. We did one where we tried to name a Planned Parenthood clinic after Tucker. We were basically doing anything and everything that you could do to get attention because we found that his audience just found it all hilarious, and weren’t actually… having the media be mad or label you as an asshole is normally bad unless your brand and reputation is based around you being an asshole. So in doing that we would get lots of publicity which we found ultimately sold lots of books.
Mark: (laughing) You know, apparently it’s good for running for president too, isn’t it?
Ryan: You’re totally right. I think what we see in this election is precisely why I was motivated to write the book, which is that, you know, it’s funny to do it for a book or it’s funny to do it for an apparel company, but these same strategies can sort of be used to manipulate politics or foreign policy. And we’ve seen Donald Trump as a presidential candidate essentially be able to do anything and everything he wants from a media perspective because they’re so desperate for traffic and attention.
Mark: How much of media today do you think is manipulation? When I… I studied geopolitics and I track patterns in things and when I see things like what’s going on with Turkey, and I’m realizing, God, there’s just massive amounts of manipulation going on there. Very little of what’s being said by the state media is true. And I’m wondering how much of that is true in the United States as well. What’s your experience?
Ryan: Well at the most basic level, the media is no longer subscription based, but it’s primarily based on advertising revenues. And every article is competing for attention over all the other articles that have been published. You could argue that everything we see is manipulated in one way or another because the writer is trying to get your attention, versus trying to be of value to you. And so I think that’s the biggest manipulation. And certainly, there’s some of the warfare stuff you sort of alluded to, in the comments section and on social media. So I think, to a large degree everything that we read today is manipulated by these forces.
It’s not the same as say, straight-out propaganda, but it’s not as reliable and as truthful as we would think it would be, or we would hope it would be.
Mark: And you gotta think–at least it has in my case–that over time this completely erodes our trust in traditional media. So it’s opened up a huge opportunity for people who actually do tell the truth and do use, you know, authenticity in their communications.
Ryan: I think that’s true, although we’re all facing those same incentives, and so it’s like, truth is… truth and authenticity is a great long-term strategy. But in the short-term, people are often motivated and incentivized to do the wrong thing, and that’s why you have to have sort of a strong, internal compass, as a brand and as a creator of something.
Mark: Right. Wow. Interesting. I wanna turn from focusing on marketing, ’cause this has got kind of negative tint to it, and, you know, what’s going on in the world, and let’s talk about something more positive. Now, you’re a big fan of stoicism and it really comes through in a big way in your book, “The Obstacle is the Way,” which I know has a little bit of a following in the athletic and warrior communities, because those are people who are not shying from challenge. And one of your key tenets is that we must go to the obstacle, overcome the obstacle, and that’s where we’re going to learn the lessons and grow as a human being. Tell me about or tell us about how that book came about–your interest in stoicism, and some of the lessons that you learned writing the book and you were trying to convey in the book.
Ryan: It’s funny, I was sort of introduced to stoicism right around the same time that I met Tucker. There were these two different paths that I was going on at the same time, which I’m sure you can relate to. I was at this conference and I went up to the speaker and I said, “Hey, what books would you recommend to someone my age that you think would be important?” And he told me that I should read the Stoics, and I did, and it sort of hit me like this big pile of bricks. To me, the Stoics are the most practical of all of the philosophers throughout history. They’re not talking about these things metaphysically, or theoretically. They’re saying, “Look, here’s how you should live. Here’s how you should deal with the problems that you face in life. Here’s how you should manage your temper. Here’s how you should manage greed. Here’s what you should do with all the emotions and temptations you feel as a human being.”
And so I was really attracted to that as a young person. I read Marcus Aurelius and Seneca and Epictetus and all of the other Stoics. And what I sort of took away from that, what I’ve tried to live my life by is this sort of stoic mentality of, “Look, you don’t control what happens to you. You control how you respond.” And I think that that’s obviously a mindset that you have to have in sports, it’s certainly in the military you would have to have that same idea, but also as a businessperson and as an entrepreneur, or just an executive. Every day, you wake up and there’s a list of problems you have to solve. And you don’t really solve anything by complaining.
Mark: Right. Right. So Marcus Aurelius, his meditations is an excellent read, recommendation. What about Epictetus and Seneca had… you know, they wrote a lot. Was there a single source that you would recommend that we take a look at.
Ryan: Seneca is probably the most accessible of the stoics. So he has a wonderful essay called “On the Shortness of Life,” that I would urge everyone to read. He’s basically saying, “Life is long if you know how to live it. Don’t think about being afraid of death, think about focusing on living in every moment.” It’s one of my favorite essays ever.
Epictetus is a bit more preachy. You know he was the only one who was an actual teacher. But it’s called the “Discourses of Epictetus.” I would probably urge people to read that last. Although there’s a Tom Wolfe novel, who’s a great author, he wrote a book called “A Man in Full,” that’s based primarily on Epictetus, which might be worth reading if someone was looking for a fictional take on the stoics.
Mark: I recently re-read “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius and it’s fascinating how much he obsesses about death. It’s fascinating. Almost all… A big chunk of the book is about death and how to prepare for death, and how silly it is to get so wrapped up in the mundane things in life because we’re all going to die, basically.
Ryan: Yeah. There’s some interpretations that say that Marcus Aurelius was old and sick when he was writing the meditations. So he’s not writing to tell you that… he wasn’t writing this as this person who was necessarily obsessed with death all the time, but it’s rather he was dying, and he was trying to struggle with this immensely scary, difficult thing, and he just wanted… Stoicism… like most philosophies, or even Christianity, it’s like, “Here’s the bible. These are all the facts. You need to know what’s in this bible.”
Stoicism is much more like sort of like meditation and Buddhism. It’s more of a process.
Mark: Personal discovery.
Ryan: And so Marcus Aurelius is writing these things down as a reminder to himself, and to work through, in some ways probably feeling the opposite. When he was like writing a meditation about like, “You shouldn’t lose your temper, it looks bad, and you’re hurting people,” maybe he lost his temper earlier that day and he’s trying to sort of review and improve and I think it’s so interesting that you have the most powerful man in the world, writing these little notes to himself about how to get better. I don’t think Nero or Julius Caesar was doing that.
Mark: No. It was like his personal journal. He probably didn’t intend it to be published, you know? And consumed?
Ryan: I don’t think he did. And we have no idea what order he wrote any of these things either, right? Because it’s been lost in the course of the translation, so we don’t know if he wrote a lot more and that was all lost. We don’t know if he intended it to be numbered differently. We just know that this smart, wise person… You know we have that saying, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” We have someone who’s, like, the exception that proves the rule in Marcus Aurelius. And he wrote down a couple hundred pages of help/improvement advice. And it survives to us. That just gets me so excited even to think about.
Mark: Yeah, me too. That’s terrific.
Laughing at the fire or Amor Fati[15:50]
So in your book, “The Obstacle is the Way,” you love to tell stories and use them to illuminate some principles. Can you convey just one or two of your favorite stories and principle that you think have resonated the most with your readers?
Ryan: Sure. I love to tell stories because I think Stoic philosophy is so readable that I urge everyone to just go actually pick up Marcus Aurelius or Seneca. But I wanted to add something, so I thought, “How can I illustrate some of these ideas in story?” So one of my favorite stories in the book is the story of Thomas Edison later in his life. His factory catches on fire, and he rushes to the scene. His life work has basically gone up in flames. And his son is standing there. His son’s, you know, shell-shocked, and Edison grabs him and says, “Go get your mother and all her friends. They’ll never see a fire like this again.”
And, you know, he hadn’t lost his mind. It’s like, a fire-truck back then is like a wagon pulled by a donkey. There’s nothing you can do about it, so he’s just sort of enjoying it in a weird, perverse way.
The stoics… you know Nietzsche calls this approach from the stoics, he calls it “amor fati” which in Latin means a love of fate. It’s basically like the things you can’t do anything about are not worth crying over. They’re worth enjoying or accepting, but more than accepting can you find some little bit to enjoy.
Mark: Right. And that enjoyment can just be the lesson and the growth that comes from what happened to you. You know, the challenge, or the injury…
Ryan: Or that thing that… you can laugh, right? You can find some benefit in every situation no matter how horrible.
Mark: For sure. You know, as you’re talking here I’m reflecting upon my experience in the SEAL teams, and whether we know it or not, the SEALs are big-time stoics. You alluded to that with the military and warriors. And boy, you know, when I went through BUD/S training, the hardest training in the world and people are just getting crushed left and right. And those of us who made it, who were thriving there, found the whole thing very funny. Every day was a great opportunity to just have a good chuckle and all the crazy things that the instructors were coming up with–and they’re just diabolical, humorous way that they could induce pain and get people to quit. Was a huge show for those of us 19 who were standing at the end.
So, I think it kind of comes naturally to certain folks. But you can practice it.
Ryan: Yeah, there’s this perception that stoicism means you have no emotions. And really stoicism is about just weeding out the unhelpful, harmful emotion. So it’s not getting angry, it’s not getting depressed. It’s not getting… it’s not taking things personally. But it is enjoying life. But it’s also not pretending that you have control over things that you don’t actually have any control over.
Humor and Stoicism[19:00]
Mark: Right. It’s almost the opposite from the culturally accepted viewpoint of stoics, right? Most people will think that a Stoic is kind of hard-ass or a downer–super-serious. And I often say that one of the most serious men I ever met in my life was the grand master who taught me where I got my first-degree black belt. And he came from the samurai tradition, which is stoicism in the Japanese culture, really. The Bushido Code is a stoic code.
Anyways, he was the… he had the funniest sense of humor and he was often–at least every other class I would see him giggling like a school-girl. I mean, here’s this 10th-degree black belt… and it had a huge impact on me and I often say, it’s important to be serious about the right things, but be light-hearted in the same sense. And I think that’s what you’re conveying the stoics were. They weren’t all these serious, hard-asses. They took things seriously, the right things. But they were able to have a lightness of attitude, and laugh at the fire. Because you’re not about to put it out. And everything in the building is gone.
Ryan: Well, and I think the other thing is if we’re thinking about what “Meditations” is, it’s his notes to himself about the things that he needed to work on most. So he’s not going to write a reminder to himself at night, while he’s leading the Roman… at the front, leading the troops against the barbarian tribes, he’s not going to be like, “Hey, remember to laugh at things when it’s funny.” Or, “Aren’t animals really cute.” And like, “It’s great to have fun.”
He’s gonna write reminders to himself about forgiveness and about the ephemerality of life. And he’s gonna write notes about the things that… being the emperor would be an incredibly difficult job, and he’s going to need help with that, not necessarily help reminding him that, Hey, it feels good to blow off some steam every once in a while.”
Mark: And what I love about that and this discussion is that here’s Marcus Aurelius, already hugely successful–emperor, warrior, leader, author. And here he is toward the end of his life still kind of obsessing about how he can improve himself and go out well. Isn’t that interesting? I love that.
“Ego is the Enemy”[21:23]
That almost bridges to your other book, “Ego is the Enemy,” ’cause I think that there’s a nice connection between, “The Obstacle is the Way,” and “Ego is the Enemy” because ultimately, tamping down and controlling the ego and being able to focus on the right things, the important things in life was really what Marcus was talking about in his “Meditations.” And you know, refining your character and that’s a lifelong process and it’s cool that you can do that literally up to the day you die.
Ryan: I love that too. There is no endpoint, and to the Stoics, the ideal was the sage, right? In the same way that sort of the Buddhists might have the Zen master. But it’s like… that’s something you can’t even dream of being until you’re a very old man. So every day, you’re getting a little bit closer, but you’re constantly comparing yourself against this ideal. Not to feel bad about yourself but to see how much left there is to go. I think one of the things that happens as we become successful, or god forbid, you get given unlimited power the way he did, is that we go like, “Okay, I’m perfect. I know everything I need to know. Everyone is inferior to me.” And that’s what creates so many of the problems that I think a lot of leaders and successful people face is that they start to believe a certain myth or a lie about themselves, and it causes problems.
Mark: Absolutely. And we see that playing over time and time again in the political spectrum. Those who aspire to that power tend to exaggerate and, I guess, fuel their ego until it becomes all encompassing. It consumes them.
Ryan: Yeah. Yeah.
Mark: And that’s problematic when you’re in charge of other people. Especially a whole country.
Ryan: Yeah, it’s like if you’re pursuing this success because you have some hole inside you that you think success is going to fill, I think you’re going to be rudely awakened. Because it never gets filled. And the goalpost is constantly getting moved. So if you think, “Oh, I’m gonna feel great when I have a million dollars,” you’re going to get to a million dollars and then suddenly feel empty still. So what I think ego does, in some ways it’s a motive force, it’s driving us forward, but the problem is it’s going somewhere that it can never actually arrive. And I think it’s better to be more intrinsically motivated, to actually love what it is that you’re doing, than to feel like this success is going to say something.
Because here’s the dangerous part. What happens when you fail? If you think your success says something about you, then what happens when you bump into adversity or difficulty? Now all of a sudden you think that because you had to declare bankruptcy, or you got fired, or whatever, that it says your a failure, and that’s not true either.
Mark: Right, right. Now ego… there’s a number of ways to look at ego. And I think most people just think, “Okay, ego is bad.” Because, you know, it’s a self-centered approach to life and it’s all about me, mine, me, mine, success is about my attainment of wealth or whatever. But kind of in a metaphysical sense, ego is just your self-identity, and, you know, ego can have a really healthy orientation, or integration–or ego can have a very unhealthy nonintegrated expression I guess. So it’s more on a scale of character. You know. Depravity would be the way we usually look at ego. The common definition is bad. And being a highly evolved human being, it just means that your ego is evolved, your self-identity is evolved and is inclusive of others, and all sentient beings, even.
Ryan: Yeah. I think ego has a different definition to different people and obviously there’s the psychological definition which is much more rigid. I’m sort of referring it to more of the colloquial sense, when we say, “Oh that guy has a huge ego,” or “That guy’s an egotist.” What I mean is the sort of collection of traits, sort of endless competitiveness, selfishness, delusion, arrogance. You know, those sort of traits. I think, if we can make the distinction between ego and confidence, then ego is bad and confidence is your belief in your own capacities and facilities, which I believe confidence is earned, and ego is this sort of wishful thinking. And I’d just prefer to focus on what we can earn, versus what we just want.
Mark: Right. I think it’s really interesting to me that ego is the enemy, and one of the primary ways to kill the ego or to check it and put it in place, is through challenges, obstacles. And so, in a sense, you wrote the books in the wrong order.
Ryan: (laughing) Yeah. I think that’s true. And what’s ironic though, is egotism often creates obstacles for us that don’t need to be there, right? When we think that we’re better than we are, we overreach and we cause problems. When we think that everyone worships us, we treat people poorly and we create enemies. When we get complacent because we think we’ve got everything under control, that’s where mistakes happen. So I think that’s true, but also when we are facing obstacles, sort of the worst thing that we can bring to them is ego. What we need is humility and openness and creativity and any number of other traits. The worst thing you can bring to it is that arrogance or that overconfidence that, “Hey, this’ll be easy.” When in reality we should be able to sort of approach this for what it is and for what it needs.
Mark: Right. I totally agree. What’s going through my mind right now, which I think is fascinating, that, you know, I completely subscribe to this philosophy, and I do some writing myself that you’re aware of, and I would have covered these two topics probably in a paragraph each. And you were able to create these bestselling books. How do you do that? That’s extraordinary. I think it comes back to being able to really parse out stories, and examples and really just neck it down into much more refined points. That’s a neat skill.
Ryan: I don’t know about you, but I think as a writer you’re always trying to write for yourself first and foremost. You have whatever you know, whatever you’ve learned, but also what you’re struggling with and so I think I wrote “The Obstacle is the Way,” because it’s a philosophy I’ve tried to live my life by, but I’d like to get better at. And I think for ego… anyone that’s out there doing something is going to have a bit of an ego. And anyone who’s achieved some success is going to have some temptations possibly filling up that ego.
So, I don’t know, it’s just what I was really, really fascinated by. Just like I’m sure in each of your books, that came from your personal, sort of, obsession with those ideas. Because books are such a difficult process, that if you’re not driven by something, you’re just not going to do it.
Ryan’s Stories about Stoicism and Ego[28:56]
Mark: Right. That is so true. So let’s… you told a great story about the fire and Edison, what are one or two other stories that you think would be inspiring and help convey the principles from the “Ego is the Enemy,” book, your more recent book.
Ryan: One of my heroes is William Tecumseh Sherman. He was a general during the US civil war. Who obviously became very famous and very successful, but very few people would have predicted those traits from him. And I sort of contrast him to a Napoleonic figure. You take someone like Napoleon, Napoleon believed he was always destined for greatness. That everyone was sort of a character in the play that was his life. And that’s why he was successful in the short term, but ultimately not successful in the long term. And, you know, things did not end well for him.
B. H. Lidell Hart he’s talking about Sherman, he’s saying, “For someone who’s belief in themselves is not innate, success is much sweeter.” Sherman was this sort of slow… his ascent was this slow, iterative process. Putting one foot in front of the other. He actually–when he was called to see Lincoln at the outset of the civil war he said, “Look, I don’t think I’m ready for command. I would like to only be the second in command.” ‘Cause he thought there was something left that he needed to learn. When, at the Battle of Fort Donaldson, and then later at Vicksburg, he technically outranked Ulysses S. Grant. But he said, “Hey, this is all you. I’m gonna support you however I can.” His March to the Sea was primarily based on his ability to sort of not attack the enemy. Not taking the bait. At battle after battle, he did this extraordinarily risky thing.
So to me he was a model for someone who’s got a large sense of self-control. Who’s able to sort of grow their ambitions iteratively. Who’s able to see opportunities as they come. As opposed to what we tend to think of Generals are, as these sort of visionary bold figures, who think that they know better than everyone all of the time. And so that’s how I’ve tried to live my life as well, and so I’ve always found him to be very inspiring. I talk a lot about him in the book.
Mark: Yeah, that’s neat. I love that story. And it’s true. With leadership that… I think the best leaders never really think they’re ready. You know? And there’s always more to learn, there’s always more to be done, but sometimes you just gotta step into the breach. And that’s where you learn your real juice. But if you just aspire, or you’ve gotta be the leader, if you manipulate your way to the top, you know, stand by, because you’re right, you’re leading with ego at that point.
Ryan: Yeah, I think that’s right. Conversely, I tell the story of Xerxes, the Persian king who was defeated by the Spartans at Thermopylae. You know, he was a delusional maniac who believed that he was a god on earth. There’s this famous story as he was invading Greece, there was this bridge that they’d built. It was collapsed by a freak storm, and so he orders his men to lash the water as a punishment for daring to upset his plans.
Later he writes a letter to a mountain that he’s having to tunnel through, and he’s like, “You know, if you disrupt my plans, I’ll topple you into the sea.” Like, he actually writes a letter to a mountain. And to me that’s the opposite of what a well-adjusted, sane, non-egotistical person should do. It’s ultimately why he was able to be defeated because he thought that just being bigger and better was all that it took. He didn’t understand strategy. He didn’t understand real courage. He didn’t understand leverage. And so he was ultimately humiliated and defeated as a result of that arrogance and that ego.
Mark: Yeah. I love that story. I love how one of our favorite movies of course at SEALfit is “300.” Where Leonidas takes his 300 men to fight Xerxes at the hot gates. The scene that depicts what you just talked about was Leonidas throws this spear and it nicks Xerxes face. And for the first time he sees that he can bleed. ‘Cause up until that moment, he thought he was invincible, he thought he was gonna live forever as a god. And all of a sudden, his confidence was just shot right there. The rest was history.
Ryan: Right. And instead of learning from that experience, he attacks anyway, right? And I think that’s the other part of ego, is that it doesn’t learn. It doesn’t get the feedback that it needs to improve or adjust.
Mark: Correct. Fascinating. All right, let’s move on. One last thing I wanna talk about, because a lot of our listeners are… love to read, and I imagine a few of them are actually authors themselves.
Book marketing. You have a skill at this. Can you talk about some of the ideas that you have? How does a self-published author or any author these days get their book noticed. ‘Cause you’re going through the same thing with “Ego is the Enemy.” Everything’s a game now with the New York Times Bestseller list. It’s very difficult to get noticed. What are some of the strategies we can look at it? These are some of the things we’re gonna be talking about with my next book too. But today, what are some of the strategies to get noticed as an author.
Ryan: One of the problems I think people make is they go make something, and then they think, “How can I get noticed?” When really they should be thinking before they make it, what they need to be to be noticed. They’ll make something that’s very similar to what other people make, or they’ll make something that’s not super-exciting.
Like marketing to me is the gasoline you’re pouring on the fire. It’s not the creation of the fire. I try to do a lot of work on the creative side of things first and foremost, but then, I think you’re a good example of this, people want to have a platform like they want to have lots of fans when they launch. But they don’t do the work beforehand to build that up, so they think it’s like, “Hey, I made this book. Barnes & Noble should put it at the front. And then the publisher should spend a lot of money on advertising and then I’ll be rich.” That’s the thinking. It’s not, “Hey, I’m going to build up a core audience of ten or fifteen thousand fans who love what I do. I’m going to make something that I know solves a problem for them, that’s interesting for them. And then I’m going to launch. And then when I sell those first 5 thousand copies, let’s say, now I have something that’s going to spread by word of mouth.”
‘Cause at the end of the day, every successful book sells because one person recommends it to another person, and they recommend it to another person. And we tend to just think this is magic, and it’s really not magic. It’s a result of work and strategy.
Mark: So you’d need to be starting at least a year out or more, if you don’t have a tribe, or a community, or a following. And blogs and podcasts like we’re doing right now are probably the best means, is that right? Or are there other things that you can do?
Ryan: No, no. I think it’s about building up your network. It’s about building up your fan base. It’s about building up your connections. And then, of course, you want to use all the new technologies out there, right? You wanna be using social media and you wanna be posting on these different sites–you wanna appear on podcasts.
But it’s… like all things, most of the work is done behind the scenes. It’s not sending out a press release and then waiting for the New York Times to call.
Mark: Well. I certainly learned that recently too with the Kokoro yoga book. New York Times didn’t call, I’m still waiting for that one. (laughing)
Ryan: Me too. We’re all waiting.
Mark: I know. Screw them, we don’t need them, right? We’ll do this without them.
Ryan: What you need is people who actually like the thing that you’ve made and you have that. And ultimately that’s what lasts, not, “Hey, I was on Good Morning America for 3 minutes and it sold a thousand books.” I’d much rather have an email list of a thousand people who buy my book over the next 2 years.
Mark: And tell their friends about it, who tell their friends.
Mark: Awesome. Yeah, I agree. Very cool.
Fantastic conversation, Ryan. Really interesting. Everyone who’s listening go check out his new book “Ego is the Enemy.” I highly recommend it. And while you’re there, get his companion, “The Obstacle is the Way.” They really do go together. They’re published in a really nice, small book format. I’m sure there’s a name for that. I love the size of your books.
They almost fit in the cargo pocket, you know? So if you’re a military guy you can just take it out in the field with you. And read it in hindsight and get a lot out of it.
So thank you, Ryan for writing them. I appreciate everything you do. And thanks for your time today.
Ryan: Thank you for having me. I’ll talk to you soon.
Mark: Yeah, look forward to it. All right, everyone, that’s it. So Ryan Holiday, “Ego is the Enemy.” Go check it out. You can find him just by Googling him. He’s got a blog, he’s got articles that come out that are syndicated, and the books are great. So I really enjoy them. And until next time, train hard, stay focused, never think that you’ve got it all figured out, cause ego is the enemy.
Coach Divine out.
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