Ep 04: Becoming a Number One New York Times Bestselling Author with Gretchen Rubin

RV: (00:01)
Well, I am excited to introduce you to Gretchen because I think that this is a pretty rare chance to get behind the scenes with one of the most prolific writers in the world. Gretchen Rubin, many of you probably know, I mean the happiness project was like the major number one bestseller forever and ever. It still sells like crazy. She wrote happier at home. She wrote the four tendencies, which is when I think our paths cross because we were kind of like into that self-discipline space and that’s how we met. And I have just adored her and admired her work. I think she’s a fantastic writer, truly the consummate professional. And she has sold more than three and a half million books. And her books are also in 30 more than 30 different languages. And so she is like, you know, really, you know, she’s a speaker also and she does other things. But really I think her writing was the thing that broke her through she hands wall. For those of you that follow us and you know, we talk about breaking through the wall. It was her writing that, that really did that. So I caught another personal favor. I called in and Gretchen, thank you so, so much for being here.

GR: (01:10)
I’m so happy to be talking to you. Thanks for having me on the show.

RV: (01:13)
So, you know, we’re making a little bit of a pivot with our personal, our personal brand. You know, we’re, we’re still talking about discipline and, and you know, those kinds of things. But we’ve shifted to really talking about reputation and studying what creates reputation. And so I’m interested just like off the cuff, what is your definition of reputation or what do you think of, or like, do you have any personal philosophies about how you think of reputation and how you’ve built? Because you have such a huge reputation in like a, you know, the writing world and then also speaking world. So I’m just kinda interested in like your random philosophies on the concept of reputation.

GR: (01:55)
Well, that’s really an important question because reputation, like if you use reputation as a lay person, you think of it as kind of like your integrity or sort of like, you know, do you have an honorable reputation? But if you’re using it in this context, it’s a little bit more like your voice or like why are people coming to you? You have a reputation for talking about certain things. And so for someone like me, I have a reputation for talking about what, I mean that was sort of a big question, which is like, well, what is my subject? What do I write about? And I had the act at one time sort of think hard about like, okay, I wrote a book about Winston Churchill and I wrote a book called power money, fame, sex. And I wrote a book called the happiness project. Like what am I, what am I talking about?

GR: (02:33)
And I’m like, I write about human nature. That’s what interesting. That is my subject. And I think my reputation is I am somebody who writes and thinks and talks and engages with people about the subject of human nature. Now, I have to say, I had this very kind of striking conversation with someone who’s super smart and has an outstanding reputation in herself. And she said to me, Oh, well you can’t say human nature’s your subject. Like that’s too big. And at first I was like, oh, I guess I can’t do it. And then I like, like a week later I’m like, who is she to tell me what I can and can’t do if I say that my subjects, human nature, my subjects, human nature and a deed, my subject is human nature. So one of the things that I do as part of my reputation is I’m always thinking is what is what I’m doing consistent with this reputation of what my interests are.

GR: (03:21)
And I’m also trying to show my idiosyncratic truth as Gretchen Ruben, an individual person walking around. So I’m obsessed with a collar. I live in New York City. I came from Kansas City, Missouri. I’m really close to my sister who lives in La. I wear s leisure all the time. I drink a lot of diet coke. Like, there’s those things about me that are very particular, and then there’s my subject. And so I’m always thinking like, am I putting that out into the world? Because I do think that a certain kind of clarity helps people to engage with you and to feel like, well, if I’m interested in this or I’m in this kind of mood, this is the kind of person that I would turn to. And you have to sacrifice certain things, like to have that kind of clarity because there’s things that like, maybe you’d be interested in talking about that, that just sort of, you know, you have to think like, is this going to kind of broaden and deepen my reputation? Or is this going to muddy and kind of divide my reputation? Not that you want to fall asleep, limit yourself, but I, I do think that a certain kind of coherence is helpful for, for, for an audience to engage.

RV: (04:23)
So did you like human nature? That’s really interesting because yeah, I see the intersection clearly now.

RV: (04:33)
But did you, it sounds like you kind of clarified that after. Yeah.

GR: (04:37)
A couple of books and yeah, yeah. After many bucks I was like, what’s going, what? Like what am I? And then I read this weird book called Profane Waste, which is very strange and it looks completely different from all my other books. Unless you say this is a person who really is studying human nature, then it makes perfect sense. And you’re like, of course this is like a very tiny spotlight on a very kind of surprising and almost mysterious aspect of human nature. But it makes perfect sense that I would be interested in that. [inaudible]

RV: (05:08)
So do you think, do you think someone, cause this is, so this is one of the things we kind of help people do. We said we call it finding their uniqueness and we are, we are often, we look both in their past for hints as well as to the future of who they feel called to be. And kind of at the intersection we go like, Hey, this is, this is sort of your uniqueness.

GR: (05:26)
Do you, do you think

RV: (05:29)
Like how important is it to find that theme like that? [inaudible] Do you think people should try to know beforehand or do you think it’s okay to kind of stumble down the road in your career and then you look back and you go, there’s going to be some consistent through line and then you and then you find it? Or would it, does it even matter that you found it? You think you could have just gone on without knowing human nature was the umbrella?

GR: (05:52)
Well, I think it’s important in terms of presenting yourself because people will say like what your books looks. It looks weird and different from each other. How do you explain that or I think it does help you understand and kind of like almost algorithmically. Like who am I? Like? Like if you, if you go to publish a book, for example, they will say, okay, you’re writing this book. What is the comp meaning? What is the comparable book to the book that you’re writing? And here’s a hint. If you say there is no book like this, that’s not good. Because what you’re saying is this book, because I’m so unlike any other book, we don’t know where to put it in a bookstore. We don’t even know how to think about it. And so you want to be thinking about like, well, who are my allies?

GR: (06:30)
Like one thing about social media is you really want to find the people who are interested in the same kinds of things you are and you want to support them and shine a spotlight on what they’re doing. And then hopefully they become interested in you and turn to you and turn a spotlight to you in and your allies and you’re engaged and you’re, you’re like part of a community that’s interested in something. Whereas if it’s, but it’s kind of hard to know what that is. It’s Kinda like the whole world, you know? It’s like, am I writing? What sports am I writing about foreign policy? It’s like, you know, it’s like, okay, well I don’t, I don’t know how to think about you in an intellectual way and an intellectual framework in a world where I kind of have to know what I’m thinking about.

GR: (07:06)
Now it’s interesting like do you need to know before or after, whatever. So I mean, in my case, I am a very productive person, so I have, I’ve almost compulsively putting things out I would say. And so I had a lot of stuff that I’d put out kind of before I even knew enough to be thinking about what I was doing to ask the kind of questions that you’re asking and talking about frankly. And, and so then I could look back and sort of see like, well, like the evidence told me something about myself that maybe I didn’t have an insight into. Would it have been better to have a sense in advance? I don’t know that I would’ve known in advance, but had I known in advance, that might’ve been very helpful. I really think that in the end, the most important thing is that you’re moving forward.

GR: (07:50)
If you’re creating things like, look, something doesn’t work, then that tells you something. I think sometimes people, they throw some spaghetti against the wall and they, and they, and they get more and more interested in the spaghetti that sticks. And they find that that’s where they’re growing an audience and that’s where they’re sensing excitement and growth and then they go deeper and deeper in that direction. So I think if you kind of can’t tell what it is, maybe you want to start creating and often you might find, well some things come much more easily or some things are kind of endlessly fascinating. When I started writing the happiness project, I let it got led into it because I was like, this is vast, this is limitless. I could never come to the end of my fascination with this subject. And indeed I never have come to the end of my fascination with this subject. But there’s other things that you know, you kind of run out of interest in. And so part of it I think is if you don’t exactly know what it is, start putting stuff out there and then you might also see that certain things get you much more engagement. If you’re really finding that other people are very much more interested in your ideas about one thing than another, then that also will probably be really useful information. I love that concept of endlessly fascinating cause that’s a different answer for each person

RV: (08:56)
With the a hundred percent. But that is such a clue to your uniqueness and like what your, what your thing is. So so let’s talk about just like book sales. Cause you, you know, there’s, there’s like these different echelons of bestseller and you’re like a real, real bestseller. How do you sell a lot of books? Like what do you, what do you think you, you know, is it, is it, you got to have the big social media following and the platform, do you have to have the big publisher? Is it all about what you’re writing? Is it the way that you write? Is it writing for an audience of which there’s a big target, you know, a number of people that fit that demographic or psychographic. Like what do you think is the difference between the books that sell a lot and the ones that don’t?

GR: (09:42)
Well, you’ve, you’ve mentioned so many things that are, that are significant. And of course for every book it’s kind of a little different story and a little different profile. I mean, one thing I would say, I say this, I remind myself of this and I remind everybody I know who’s a writer of this. There are many ways for a book to succeed and a book can be a wonderful success without getting anywhere near the book, but the bestseller list. And so to kind of pin all your hopes and to feel like a book goes to success or failure depending on that metric, I think is very shortsighted. And also that is a metric that there’s a lot of things that go into it that you can’t control. It is not like a pure number. And so I, you know, so it’s a very important metric and I have to say I think about it all the time.

GR: (10:26)
That’s not the only thing. So if you get a lot of exciting speaking engagements, that’s great. If you really deeply engage with a small group of people, but for whom your, your book is like massively interesting or exciting or groundbreaking that works for you. If this becomes the platform or the springboard for another project that is going to end up being more important. Or if it’s, you know, novelists often talk about like the, the novel that’s in the desk drawer is it sometimes you have to write something that’s like completely doesn’t succeed in order to set yourself up for the next success. So sometimes something that is just like a big failure is what you need to learn the lessons that you need for success. So there’s many things, there’s many ways for a book to succeed that said it is nice to hit the bestseller list.

GR: (11:09)
And I will say that it is very, very difficult for a self published book to hit the best seller list. That’s just, there’s many ways for a self published book to succeed. They can make a ton of money, they can have a ton of readers, they can lead a book deals. I mean like TV deals or movie deals. They can lead to regular traditional book deal. There’s like, there can be tons of fun. You can go to conferences. It’s just, it’s just the bestseller list is not set up for that. And obviously some books are of more general interest than others. And I think you have to know, like I have a friend who was writing a book about transracial adoption. Now her book could have been wildly important, exciting thought provoking. She could have gotten excited, you know, become an expert, been invited to conferences.

GR: (11:55)
Is that going to be a bestseller? No, because there’s just not enough people who are interested enough in transracial adoption because it wasn’t even like a memoir about like her profound story. It was like, it was very much kind of about the nuts and bolts of it. And so it wasn’t even like this is going to be amazing memoir, like educated. This was like, this is like how it looks like this is what you need to know if you’re about to embark on a transformation. So that’s a limited audience or you know, or like you’re writing a book about arthritis. I mean probably it’s going to be hard because how many people are interested in that now? There’s always an exception to every rule. So I’m sure people are thinking like, oh, but what about this book? But in general you want to be thinking about, is this a book that, that, that you could conceive of a lot of people reading it.

GR: (12:41)
Now the good news is, is that if you know the actual numbers of books that you have to sell to hit the New York Times bestseller list, say, or it’s tiny, you’re like, how is it possible? I mean, if you sold 15,000 books in the first week, it would be huge. It would be enormous. You would almost certainly hit the list depending on what else was on the list. Because part of it is the list changes. The number of books that you have to sell to get on the list depends on what the other books are and what list you’re on, fiction, nonfiction, self help, et cetera. It will be huge and you’re like, don’t even know 50,000 people in my own life. Like if everybody in my family and like one friend buys it, like, isn’t that like a lot? It’s like, no, it’s not.

GR: (13:20)
It’s hard. And like it’s a, you’re like, we live in a big gun tree. How is it possible? It’s really possible. So this is one of the reasons that you see so many writers these days pushing preorders because a preorder means that you can push and push and push well in advance and then every single book that’s sold in the preorder period hits that first week. It hits at one time. So for almost everyone unless you’re in an exceptional situation, which you can imagine what that would be your first week is when you would have the best chance because that’s when the PR preorders would land. So if I’ve had a hundred people preorder and then 15 people by this week and 15 people buy it next week, well I’m going to, I might hit the list this week because that’s when I have the total number. And also, you know, it is, it’s the, the, the list is not cumulative. The list is like what’s happening right now. And so you could sell over the long term, sell B, B, selling hundreds of thousands of copies. But kind of never get onto the list if it’s just like this slow burn over the long term. So part of it is kind of the weirdness of how the list is determined. It’s, it’s the, it’s the, I’m an Amazon. The Amazon list is the same way. It’s, it’s a acceleration, not absolute numbers.

RV: (14:40)
Yeah. And what would you say, so, so for, to help people understand this, the, you know, like you mentioned 15,000 would be a big, you know, that would be a, a very big launch week. Beyond that

GR: (14:53)
What do you think you have to, what do you have to sell every week typically to kind of land on the list? Would you say that’s very, very hard to determine because there’s a lot of secrecy. There’s no, there’s no transparency around the list. And I’ll suppose I said it really depends on what is on the list. So for instance if, let’s say you’re writing a, like, just like a regular nonfiction book, the Thall if you pay attention, because also one thing to remember is that the publishing the publishing world goes by cycles. And so certain books tend to be published at certain times. So it’s not like random distribution. So books that have to do with anything related to like New Year, new, you tend to be published in like the second half of December or early or very early January because they’re trying to get that new year, new media push and kind of this, you know, store things and people really do care about new year, new you like the like I have the happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast and we see a spike of our listeners at new years.

GR: (15:52)
And on my website and in my book sales, I see a spike because people are like the happiness project. It’s a year long project and how to be happier. It’s January, I feel like having a happier year. So and then, but then you see and in the fall is often a time for like what they would call like a big nonfiction book. So, you know, if there’s like a big, a biography of a political figure or a big political book or like a big work of you know, foreign policy or something like that, they often will come up. They’re trying to kind of set up for the Christmas season. So that’s a really competitive time. Like if you, if you’re selling on that list and then there’s the fiction list and nonfiction lists, then there’s I, what do they call it, like self-help advice, how to, yeah.

GR: (16:36)
On the, let’s say miscellaneous device, how to, yeah. So all those lists are different and depending on, and then, and then you could have a book that’s just like a giant, a giant a giant seller that is just dominating the list. I remember when my book happier at home came out. I, I was, you know, really wanted to stay on the list and Julia tiled, I think, I think Julia child had just died. And so there was this huge surge of interest, or maybe they had released a new edition of the joy of cooking or something. But anyway, there was this and I’m like, really? Todd was one of my spiritual masters so I’d be grudge nothing to Julia Child. But I was like, Dang it, she’s long gone from the scene and yet these taking a slot on this precious list, I would feel the child would like go below me.

GR: (17:20)
But there she was popping up in advance and you know, or something like that. A TV show will come out and like Marie Kondo show premieres on Netflix and now Marie Kondo is back on the list even though she’s been off the list for awhile. And so all these things come to play. You can’t control that. You can’t control what’s on the list, but what the numbers that they’re selling are going to affect how many books because the top, like the top 10 that’s only the top 10 selling. And so if somebody is in there who is selling more than you, but then you’re going to get pushed down, even if the number that you’ve sold would have meant that the previous few weeks you would have made it onto the list. And so there are always, there’s always people who are like in a different week I would have hit the list, but I was in this really super competitive list.

GR: (18:01)
And then it’s a whole thing too about like who publishes what date. So publishers will pay a lot of attention to like are comparable books coming out on the same date as you because they want to see if that’s going to affect the list. But I have to say really this affects very few writers. The fact is it’s extremely unusual at the New York Times bestseller list or the Wall Street Journal or the USA Today or any list. Not so unusual to had an Amazon like number one bestseller in a category. Cause there’s so many categories. But again, I wouldn’t get over focused on this if you’re, if you’re like, because I mean like I know a thousand writers, very few of them have had the New York Times bestseller list, even ones who won Pulitzer prizes and stuff like that. So

RV: (18:44)
Wow. Yeah.

GR: (18:45)
You know, it’s just, it’s hard because it’s a very certain kind of game. And as you said, there’s like certain kinds of books that tend to do better or have it, have it easier and not everybody wants to write that kind of book. And so it’s kind of like you can think about it but don’t get overly preoccupied with it because it’s not necessarily gonna be the right metric to keep you on track to being, you know, building the reputation and voice that you want to build and put out to the world.

RV: (19:18)
Well, and for most of our, our clients and, and even, you know, this was the case with, with us and it’s, it’s interesting like you talk about our second book, you know,

GR: (19:27)
W w

RV: (19:28)
With, with take the stairs, I think our, our best week was like 13,000 units or something huge. That’s, yeah. Which was, yeah. Which was, which was a big one. But then our second book we had, we had a couple of weeks at like 4,000 and missed and didn’t hit the list. And I was sort of, I was sort of surprised by that. But it, you know, it’s it, I think that’s the, the key thing too, like you say it’s, it’s not the ultimate metric and most of the people here, it’s like a book is a vehicle to speaking engagements or to selling their membership site or their coaching program or consulting or whatever. But so just ask you specifically though, because you’ve had so many books stay on for so long, is there anything special that you think you’re doing to do that or is it just kind of the combination of, you know, great writing and then engaging with your audience and you do a great job at this on social and then you know like having the podcast and your email list, I mean, is there, is there anything more to that or is it just kind of like you build for a long time and you put out consistent content to keep your audience?

RV: (20:33)

GR: (20:35)
I mean I wish I had some secret sauce, but it’s like you say is the long game. And I will often say to people who come to me for advice, I’ll be like, do you just want to write one book or maybe two books? And this is like, because you want it to support your speaking thing. Because if you’re doing that, then there’s certain ways to do things that will help you and then certain things you don’t have to bother with. But if you really want to make a career as a writer and like you see yourself writing six books, eight books, anyone you want to build and you want to build an audience and build an audience and there are other things that you would want to do which are going to be kind of a pain to set up and that are going to, are going gonna require kind of consistent maintenance, not huge maintenance.

GR: (21:13)
I think people would be surprised if they see what I do. Like I’ve built it up piece by piece over such a long period of time. I think it’s seems much more overwhelming that you would think that it actually is because I did it over so long. But like I started my blog in 2008, you know, and so so I think, I think you want to know what your aims are because your aims are different. That said, I would say that I believe that one of the most important things that a person can do is to create an email list. Email is the way to have a direct connection to your audience. Everyone else, everyone else is in your way. Facebook’s in your way. Instagram’s in your way. And by the way, Instagram is Facebook. Twitter is in your way. A Pinterest is in your way.

GR: (22:02)
A podcast is much more like an email because it’s going write it in there and there’s so much broad distribution of podcasts that’s more like sending someone an email because you’re giving it right to them. But the thing that’s great about email too is you know something about people. So you, if you have email, like I use convert kit for my email management like I can do geotargeting. So let’s say that I’m coming to speak, I’m doing an event in Boston. I can geotarget people in Boston. So I’m not spamming my whole audience with a mark with a message that’s not interesting to them. Whereas if you’re on Twitter, you know you’ve got to do that. You like you can’t be a specific and you know, Facebook and Instagram offers certain kinds of power and certain kinds of nuance and like those are fantastic tools.

GR: (22:50)
I’m not knocking them as tools, but email is what you have, you control. You don’t, no one’s ever going to charge you for getting well, I mean your, your email provider is going to charge you an, and that does get quite expensive, let me tell you. But it’s a direct connection. And with something like preorders you can start driving people to preorders early and you can say you know, and you can kind of explain to people why it matters because a lot of times people are like, oh, now that I know that it would really help worry out if I did it. Okay, I’ll go ahead and I’ll go ahead and Prereq or I don’t usually preorder it cause I don’t like, you know, it’s just like, then it’s just feels like, why am I doing this because, but but I get it, you know?

GR: (23:26)
And so I always say to people, even if it’s not clear to you what you’re going to do with people’s emails, just keep them in it like a spreadsheet somewhere. Just keep them, and then at some point, I guarantee you, you will be like, Dang it, I wish I had that email list. Oh boy, I do. I’ve been keeping that thing for two years. And then, and then you spam people, you GDPR compliant. Of course, you always say to people, I’m emailing with you because we’ve had some kind of contact before. Unsubscribe. I don’t want to, you know, spam you. But a lot of times people were like, oh, I’m interested, you know, or I’ll, or I’ll, I’ll stay, stick around and see if I’m interested. And then of course, it’s about providing value to people so that they do want to stick around.

GR: (24:09)
But like one thing that I did and then there’s other things you could do. One thing I did, which people had told me, I mean Kinda conventional wisdom told me to do this is have a quiz, like a quiz. People love taking quizzes and the problem is like, what’s your, your quiz is going to be. And I’m like, have you created and blah blah blah. Well, I had this book, the four tendencies and I created a quiz and, and a, it was super challenging. It seems like it’d be very easy to create a quiz. But like my thing, it’s actually four categories. Are you an upholder, a questioner? Obliger or rebel? And you can go take this quiz it, quiz dot Gretchen rubin.com if you want to. It’s free. 2 million people have taken the quiz now it’s great. And, but the thing that is really true, so it was very, very hard, very, very burdensome and went through many, many iterations.

GR: (24:56)
Both because I had to like make the thinking as crisp as possible because it’s easy to get somebody down to two tendencies. The problem is how do you have a question that will break out the four anyway, it was like melted my brain. And then you have to create it in a quiz form. It has to be pretty and it has to work and whatever gave people a little report. It’s not simple, but it really generated emails for me because I p I would give a report to people and they would be intrigued. And then I’d be like, if you want to learn more, you could sign up for my newsletter. And people would be like, okay, I’ll see what she has to do. And then I’m like, and then if you want to read the book, you can read the book. Or if you want to listen to the audio book, here’s a clip.

GR: (25:33)
Do you want to listen? Maybe you want to buy. So then I’m in a conversation and, and like, and at every point I’m like, I want to add value and I want to show people what I offer because if they want to go deeper, they can go deeper. So something like a quiz, if you can do it is great because that’s a way to pull people resources. Oh here’s a, here’s a like I did a, I love children’s literature. So I made this list of my 81 favorite works of children’s literature and young adult literature and everyone still on this like, Hey, if you love children’s literature, here’s a list. Or Hey it’s Christmas time. If you need a list, here’s the list. And people email me and I’m like, Hey, do you want to sign up for my newsletter? Or one thing that I have, I have like a regular newsletter with its, you know, my version of what a lot of kind of author newsletters are.

GR: (26:15)
And then I have something called the moment of happiness newsletter. I love quotations that I’ve been collecting quotations for my whole life. And so I thought, well I always am wanting to and whenever I write a book, like my editor makes me cut out like nine tenths of the quotations cause there’s just way to incantations. It’s like really kind of gums up the works. And I thought, well, I’ll have a way to put these out in the world. I’ll do a moment of happiness newsletter. It is such a joy to me to pick the five that are going to go out that week and like I check it and it’s like, oh, this is so fun for me. It’s a way to share beautiful content about created by other people. These are not my quizzes. These are other people’s quotations with links to books, which I hope people will be interested in instead of like maybe they’ll read and I think it’s value.

GR: (26:59)
I love quotations. I’m constantly doing stuff, reading, stuff like that. So it’s fun for me. It’s fun for my audience. It’s a kind of value and it’s also a way to engage and to create goodwill, to show myself as someone who’s willing to show shine a spotlight on others, not just constantly promoting myself, which is super annoying, but shining a spotlight on other work that I admire and, but it’s a way to remind people like, Hey, I’m here. Maybe you’d like to read my book at last. It’s been 10 years. You’re going on a long car trip. So guide by the audiobook, you know, or whatever.

RV: (27:36)
So yeah. Well I love that. So I wanted to, so going back to, so a couple of things that you’ve talked about there. So number one about the geo targeting you know, we built, we build a lot of the funnels for our clients and do like a [inaudible] and stuff and just for plan. Yeah, it can be complex and just for everybody to know convert kit is the only tool that I know of that does that Geo, it’s like an amazing feature where they’ll take the email address and do the geographic zip code. It’s one of the things that I love about them and it’s like, that’s, I don’t know if anyone else, you know, we use infusion soft and click funnels and you know, Kajabi and there’s all, you know, we’ve used several of them, but convert kits. The only one that I know of that does that, and I’ve always thought that was so brilliant. And I, it’s interesting to hear you say because if you’re doing book signings or any type of public events or you know, like if you’re a musician and you’re like doing, you know, any type of touring. Yeah, I love that. I did want to ask you about the quiz. Was there a was there like a tool that you finally used to help you, like deliver it where you could, you know, actually get your hand around all that? There’s a lot there.

GR: (28:47)
Okay. So here’s a beautiful story of how social media is really valuable and making allies, not competitors is valuable. Okay. So I used a company, a brilliant, amazing company with a fantastic team called a perio. How did I hook up with a perio? Okay. Back Up. And I was writing about habit formation and somehow online or somehow I connected with this guy near Ale e y a l who wrote a book called hooked, which is all about how technology can kind of detect us. And so since I was writing a book about habit formation, this was quite interesting to me, like how he thought about it. And somehow we started getting engaged with each other because we were interested in the same subject because I was out there putting my ideas out there. He was out there pudding and he self published his book cooked first and from that it did so well sell, published that.

GR: (29:38)
Then he got a book deal with a traditional publishing house and he’s a rebel if you know the four tendencies, he’s a rebel. He’s one of my kind of touched on rebels. And so anyway, so then he had a conference, he had this habit formation conference at Stanford and he’s like, hey, you’re writing about habit formation, would you like to come present at the conference? And I was like, well near yes I would like to come present at your conference. So presented this, talking about the four tendencies and this guy comes up to me and he’s like, this is amazing. I am absolutely fascinated by this. We think you should have a quiz. We could create that quiz for you and we’ll do it for you pro bono cause we’re just so interested in, whoa, it was amazing. And like they are like the breasts of perio.

GR: (30:19)
And the thing that was like, the story about it that I like is that it’s, it’s, it’s, you can’t predict where things are going to go. It’s sort of about putting stuff out there and showing up and being interested in being engaged. And and so I, I w I, I think eventually I probably would have gotten to the quiz. Just because it’s such obviously a quiz thing, like you’re one of four categories, which one are you, I mean it’s like, you know, perfect kind of thing. And then also it’s not like which friends character are you? It’s cause I argue that they really are distinct in a way that you can test and that is very predictive and also very stable and whatever. So the quiz, like it was possible to create that quiz. I just had to figure it, be creative and Effient imaginative enough to figure out how to do it and then have the squirt properly and everything.

GR: (31:10)
And so I d I didn’t have, cause I had them, I didn’t use a tool. I’m sure there are tools that you can use online that would help you create something like that. It’s not something that I learned how to do and mine did get quite complex by the end of it, like how we were waiting different things and stuff. But I think that there’s probably much easier ways to do simpler quizzes that would be probably in this regard, just as effective. Yeah. Just from a, from a, from a list building. Yes. People love it. People love it. Yeah. I was thinking, I mean I think people are totally like cool with what kind of breakfast cereal are you and they’re just as likely to take that and then that’s your opportunity to be like, Hey, I know you’ve got a big kick in my whimsical thing about breakfast cereal.

GR: (32:04)
I also, right. You know, in a more serious vein about blah, blah, blah. Maybe you’d be interested in checking the camp. My newsletter. You know, it’s just a touch. It’s a, it’s a, it’s a touch point. And you know, and obviously it’s going to be something that is going to be reflecting of your voice, your, your, your values, your interests, because you want to be attracting to people who are going to for whom your work will resonate. And you don’t want to just like be random. But I was actually thinking about another quiz and it’s fun to think about them, you know, it is really fun to think about them. So, you know, it’s not, it’s not an art. It might be difficult, but it’s not boring to do. That’s Super Fun. And

RV: (32:39)
That’s what a good, what a good reinforcement there. Another close friend of mine she’s actually in the summit is Sally Hogshead and, and she’s got 64 categories or something, right? 48, 49. Yeah. Yeah. Fascinating. And Yeah, she built her whole career on this assessment that just like, she just goes deeper and deeper with it. And so it’s amazing. So, so what I want, I want to get your, your thoughts on another thing. So you said one thing, I love this, you kind of said this earlier, it’s like a theme of just keep moving forward. Just keeping gauging, you know, do things like shine the spotlight cause you never know what it’s going to lead to. Yeah. One of the other things that I feel like you do really well is you’re in the media. Like, I mean I feel like you get these mainstream major media hits pretty often. Is there any like secret to that or like is that just a good publicist? Is that just cause your books have done so well? Like is that relationship building? Like what, what’s the, what’s the media like philosophy?

GR: (33:49)
I think it’s all those things. I do think that it gets a lot easier when you’re at a certain level because people will just give your book a look. You know, it’s always like the breaking through it. It’s always like, is this, is this going to come to someone’s attention? Are they going to give it a close look? One of the things, if you’re being published with a traditional publisher one of the kind of harsh truths, and I’ve been on both sides of this is, you know, they have like their lead titles and that means that in a certain, in a certain season, there are books that they like, or like this is a book that’s going to be big and then their books that they have a more modest expectations for. And then sometimes they’re surprised in books that they didn’t have big expectations for do better.

GR: (34:26)
Like I think the happiness project started out with pretty modest expectations. And then as we were getting closer and closer, they kind of started doing more and more like you know, publishing more and more copies and stuff. So I kind of switched and mid, mid stream. And so in terms of the publishers, publicists and stuff like that, and like the mainstream media gatekeepers, I mean, some of it is like, have they heard of you? And here’s something interesting that I think is I think increasingly these big mainstream media heads maybe don’t necessarily move books as much as you would think many people have said, like you can get on a today show. It doesn’t sell as many books as you think unless it’s just the right book for just the right audience. Or you can be on the front cover of the New York Times book review doesn’t sell as many books as you made there.

GR: (35:13)
A really big, like a big story on NPR that really does move books that seems to be like the thing that, but those are those kinds of books for those kinds of readers. But the thing about the gatekeepers is the gatekeeper. Like once you do it, then it’s easier to do it again because you’re like the kind of person who’s done the today show, you know, and now they look online and they can see everything that you’ve done. And there’s more likely to be a newspaper article about you if you’ve been on TV and you’re more likely to be on TV if there’s been a newspaper articles. So all these things build on each other. One thing I will say is about video. I had someone who was a book booker at one of the major networks tell me that they will not book an author if they cannot watch video of that person online because they’re like, somebody could be a brilliant author and just be such bad television that it just doesn’t work for me.

GR: (36:01)
I’m here to have good television and I just want to see it online and like, could I have this person come in and talk to me? That’s not realistic. I don’t have time for that. Like is that even possible? Like, no, I just want to look in line and see like see an interview with this person. I want to see this person talkie. So one of the things I think, and I know it’s like a huge pain, if you don’t automatically have this kind of clip you really want, even if it’s just something that you did yourself and post posted it on youtube, you need to have a clip where they can see how you speak, how you present yourself, how you present your ideas. Obviously you want to sound smart and interesting and funny and all that. Because I, she said it was a deal breaker.

RV: (36:39)
Yeah. Yeah. That’s it. That’s interesting. But so yeah and I that that’s funny that you say that cause that’s, I’ve, I feel like I hear the same thing and that’s been true for us. I remember the first time, the first time we were on national TV, this is probably 2012. It was like BookScan jumped a thousand that week beyond what we were averaging before. But then I think when we were back on national TV, it’s like 2016 or something. Just nothing. No, no clear delineation of any, any movement at all. But you know, it counts for so many other things. Credibility. And speaking.

GR: (37:16)
Oh well that’s exactly what I was going to say. There’s many ways for something to succeed. And you could be on x morning television show and think, well it didn’t do anything in my book sales, but now I’m going to get that much more money for my next speaking engagement because they’re like as seen on national television. And people like, well that sounds cool. You know what I mean? All these things build. And I think that, you know, it’s not that one thing is gonna be transformative. I think it’s rare that it’s like, one thing is just like blows up. We all know when it happens because you see that happen. Cause it’s so, you know, because that’s what you see. You see when it, it goes huge or it goes viral or something, you know, like rockets to the top. But there are a lot of things that, that don’t have that.

GR: (37:59)
But it’s still really, really worthwhile. It’s frustrating. I mean, one of the things, one of the reasons like going back to the email list or something it’s very frustrating when you feel completely helpless to do anything about your fate. And I had a book that did not succeed called 40 ways to look at JFK. And when your book is a huge flop, what they tell you is it did not find its audience. So that’s looked at that and I had this feeling like there’s nothing I can do. I can’t make them put me on TV. I can’t make them review this book in the newspaper. I can’t get myself to on a radio show. Like there’s nothing I can do. And I’m like, I want to have things that I can do even if they don’t work. I want to feel like there’s something I can do to try to connect with people who are interested in my subject because I think there are people out there and how do I even let them know that the book exists?

GR: (38:48)
Because maybe they would be interested in it, but how are they going to hear about it? And this was way back when. I mean now it’s way noisier than it was, but there’s so many more tools to reach people. And so these, these outlets are fantastic. I spent a lot of times thinking about them. I do cultivate relationships and you know but it’s good to have things that you could do on your own. One thing I would say something that I have done for years and years and years and I really started this I will say altruistically but it turned out to be like really good Karma in the kind of selfish way is for many, many years, I would post six days a week on my blog. Now I don’t, I now on my, my, the way that I approached my blog is changed because blogging has changed, but I prefer many, many, many, many years.

GR: (39:28)
I probe. So what are the things that I started doing then and I still do now is every Thursday I will, or Tuesday used to be I’ll run an interview with somebody. It’s an author and it’s like I have a standard set of questions that I ask them. And then I also say, you can, you can make up your own question. You can just pick and choose the ones you want. You can answer briefly, you can answer long whatever you want. And what’s lovely about this is that a lot of times people will be like, Oh, I have this book or my good friend has this book. Or I’m representing a person who has a book that I think you’d be really interested in. And it’s a very easy way for me to be like, I would love to help out that person. I’m a writer, I know how it is.

GR: (40:03)
I would love to shine a spotlight on something that I think is valuable and worthwhile. But there’s tons of books that I think are interesting and worthwhile. And so I’ve created kind of a systematic way to, for people to feel like if I can be helpful to them in the, in the nicest possible way. And it’s good to do things to build goodwill. And, and same thing like with social media and things like that. You don’t want to spend all your time. I’m sure you’re talking about this all the time. You don’t want to spend all this time talking about yourself, promoting yourself. And a lot of times people say, I don’t want to use these tools because I don’t want to just talk about myself all the time. Like you shouldn’t talk about yourself all the time. Shine a spotlight on other people’s work books that you admire, television shows that you are [inaudible] documentaries that you admire, performances that you admire that like people are very interested in what other people find valuable. And so find a spotlight on that and then you’re a good citizen of the universe. And also it makes you more valuable to someone and more interested in what you have to say about your own stuff.

RV: (41:02)
Yeah, I amen. I mean, I started our old podcast. So yeah, this is the start of our new one, but our old podcast, I started it because every week I had an author friend saying, Hey, I have a book coming out. Can you help me promote it? And I was like, okay, well why don’t we just like turn this into a thing? Yeah. How you and I met and then, you know. Absolutely. And then it’s like there’s certain people that we would connect to other podcasts because we ended up the podcast or doesn’t, it’s just like this is the coolest thing ever. It was like everybody is winning from this thing. Yes.

GR: (41:37)
So you want to have allies, not competitors. Other people who are writing in your space are not your competitors. They are your team. And they’re like with habits. I’m like, you’re already about habits. I’m writing about how we’re all writing about habits. We’re the habit team. It’s not like if you win, I lose. You really like this whole idea of abundance and everything, it’s really actually translates in real life that love that. Yeah. Yeah.

RV: (42:03)
That is just, I love that. I mean that, that’s going to be one of the pullout quotes from this for sure is that other people in your space are not your competitors. They are your team. That is just solid. So on that note, Gretchen, I mean you are, you are so fascinating. You’re so smart. Like I could literally talk to you as long as you could stay here, but I know that we need to probably land the plane. Maybe we can, we can pick this up against some time, but where do you want people to go? I mean, we’ll put a link to you mentioned quiz dot Gretchen rubin.com. So we’ll put a link to that. Is that in anything else, anywhere else you want people to go that to, to connect with you?

GR: (42:37)
Sure. I have my podcast I weekly podcast that I’d cohost with my sister who’s a craft who’s like a big fancy TV show runner in Hollywood and that’s called happier with Gretchen Rubin. And every week we talk about how to be happier spoiler alert. It’s very practical and concrete. And then I mentioned my, my blog, which I’ve kept my, now I call it a site cause a blog sounds a retro, but my site Gretchen rubin.com like I have so much material there about all different kinds of issues, happiness and habits in the four tendencies. And then I also have tons of resources, discussion guides. If you want to read an excerpt of a book or you want to listen to an excerpt, a clip of an audio book or you want a time tracker, you want a nutshell guy to look for tendencies or, I mean I got 81 favorite children’s books I got, I got so many Gretchen rubin.com/resources or you know, you can just go to the site and poke around. There’s, there’s a lot of stuffs there. Yeah,

RV: (43:31)
I love it. So the last little thing you, Gretchen, is if there’s somebody out there watching right now and they are the aspiring writer, and I really resonate with that, that feeling of helplessness and knowing what that is like, just like guys, I, you know, I just, I can’t get any, I can’t get anyone to polish my blog. I’m not in control of this. And you know, if there’s somebody out there who’s feeling a little bit of that helplessness but they, you know, they really believe they have a message and they, they want to get it out there. What would you say to that person?

GR: (44:01)
You know, I would say the most important thing is to get it into a form, whatever form it is that you are choosing to use out into the world. Because there’s a big difference between the person who has a vision in their head and a person who has something that’s been turned into something that other people can engage with. Because until it’s out in the world, even if it’s imperfect you really can’t move it forward. You can’t learn from it. You can’t build something. It. And I think a lot of people can get paralyzed thinking, I have to make all the right choices. I don’t know, should it be MailChimp or convert kit? I should have put all all my effort into Instagram or is it really going to be, you know, where’s the like or is this being Instagram store free? I don’t know.

GR: (44:47)
It’s sort of like, you know, don’t, it’s all the things that we say, don’t get it perfect. Get it going. Don’t let the perfect be the end of the enemy of the good, you know? Exactly. Action is the antidote for anxiety. Put it out in the world. One thing that’s great about all this stuff that we’re talking about is that you, you’re con, it’s constantly changing anyway. You couldn’t keep it the same even if you wanted to. And so it will be very natural for it to evolve as you are understanding of your own subject and your own voice evolve. And also as your understanding of the tools evolve, you can always switch. I wasn’t on ConvertKit, I had to move my whole list over. You know, sometimes these things are a pain, but you can do them. You can rebuild your website if you decide it’s wrong, you know you can start a whole new podcast if you, if you want to start a whole new podcast, I mean, it’s better to like get it out there and start working than it is to have it in your head and think like, if I can’t get it, if I, if I don’t know what to do, I just better wait.

GR: (45:44)
Because sometimes clarity comes through the doing and through the experiment and not, and I think even the creativity I find that sometimes I’m worried that I’m gonna use up my ideas or I’m gonna run out and I need to hold back ideas. But in fact, I find that the more I pour out, the faster, the faster and the faster I pour things out, the more everything fills up again.

RV: (46:05)
Love it. Well, thank you for your encouragement. Thank you for your wisdom. As always. Thank you for your research and your insight into human behavior. We love that. We’ll link up to all of that. Gretchen Rubin, Ladies and gentlemen, you’re awesome. I appreciate you so much.

GR: (46:19)
Oh, well thanks. It was so much fun to talk to you.