Everybody wants what feels good. Everyone wants to live a carefree, happy and easy life, to fall in love and have amazing sex and relationships, to look perfect and make money and be popular and well-respected and admired and a total baller to the point that people part like the Red Sea when you walk into the room.
Everyone would like that — it’s easy to like that.
If I ask you, “What do you want out of life?” and you say something like, “I want to be happy and have a great family and a job I like,” it’s so ubiquitous that it doesn’t even mean anything.
A more interesting question, a question that perhaps you’ve never considered before, is what pain do you want in your life? What are you willing to struggle for? Because that seems to be a greater determinant of how our lives turn out.
Everybody wants to have an amazing job and financial independence — but not everyone wants to suffer through 60-hour work weeks, long commutes, obnoxious paperwork, to navigate arbitrary corporate hierarchies and the blasé confines of an infinite cubicle hell. People want to be rich without the risk, without the sacrifice, without the delayed gratification necessary to accumulate wealth.
Everybody wants to have great sex and an awesome relationship — but not everyone is willing to go through the tough conversations, the awkward silences, the hurt feelings and the emotional psychodrama to get there. And so they settle. They settle and wonder “What if?” for years and years and until the question morphs from “What if?” into “Was that it?” And when the lawyers go home and the alimony check is in the mail they say, “What was that for?” if not for their lowered standards and expectations 20 years prior, then what for?
Because happiness requires struggle. The positive is the side effect of handling the negative. You can only avoid negative experiences for so long before they come roaring back to life.
At the core of all human behavior, our needs are more or less similar. Positive experience is easy to handle. It’s negative experience that we all, by definition, struggle with. Therefore, what we get out of life is not determined by the good
feelings we desire but by what bad feelings we’re willing and able to sustain to get us to those good feelings.
People want an amazing physique. But you don’t end up with one unless you legitimately appreciate the pain and physical stress that comes with living inside a gym for hour upon hour, unless you love calculating and calibrating the food you eat, planning your life out in tiny plate-sized portions.
People want to start their own business or become financially independent. But you don’t end up a successful entrepreneur unless you find a way to appreciate the risk, the uncertainty, the repeated failures, and working insane hours on something you have no idea whether will be successful or not.
People want a partner, a spouse. But you don’t end up attracting someone amazing without appreciating the emotional turbulence that comes with weathering rejections, building the sexual tension that never gets released, and staring blankly at a phone that never rings. It’s part of the game of love. You can’t win if you don’t play.
What determines your success isn’t “What do you want to enjoy?” The question is, “What pain do you want to sustain?” The quality of your life is not determined by the quality of your positive experiences but the quality of your negative experiences. And to get good at dealing with negative experiences is to get good at dealing with life.
There’s a lot of crappy advice out there that says, “You’ve just got to want it enough!”
Everybody wants something. And everybody wants something enough. They just aren’t aware of what it is they want, or rather, what they want “enough.”
Because if you want the benefits of something in life, you have to also want the costs. If you want the beach body, you have to want the sweat, the soreness, the early mornings, and the hunger pangs. If you want the yacht, you have to also want the late nights, the risky business moves, and the possibility of pissing off a person or ten thousand.
If you find yourself wanting something month after month, year after year, yet nothing happens and you never come any closer to it, then maybe what you actually want is a fantasy, an idealization, an image and a false promise. Maybe what you want isn’t what you want, you just enjoy wanting. Maybe you don’t actually want it at all.
Sometimes I ask people, “How do you choose to suffer?” These people tilt their heads and look at me like I have twelve noses. But I ask because that tells me far more about you than your desires and fantasies. Because you have to choose something. You can’t have a pain-free life. It can’t all be roses and unicorns. And ultimately that’s the hard question that matters. Pleasure is an easy question. And pretty much all of us have similar answers. The more interesting question is the pain. What is the pain that you want to sustain?
That answer will actually get you somewhere. It’s the question that can change your life. It’s what makes me me and you you. It’s what defines us and separates us and ultimately brings us together.
For most of my adolescence and young adulthood, I fantasized about being a musician — a rock star, in particular. Any badass guitar song I heard, I would always close my eyes and envision myself up on stage playing it to the screams of the crowd, people absolutely losing their minds to my sweet finger-noodling. This fantasy could keep me occupied for hours on end. The fantasizing continued up through college,
even after I dropped out of music school and stopped playing seriously. But even then it was never a question of if I’d ever be up playing in front of screaming crowds, but when. I was biding my time before I could invest the proper amount of time and effort into getting out there and making it work. First, I needed to finish school. Then, I needed to make money. Then, I needed to find time. Then… and then nothing.
Despite fantasizing about this for over half of my life, the reality never came. And it took me a long time and a lot of negative experiences to finally figure out why: I didn’t actually want it.
I was in love with the result — the image of me on stage, people cheering, me rocking out, pouring my heart into what I’m playing — but I wasn’t in love with the process. And because of that, I failed at it. Repeatedly. Hell, I didn’t even try hard enough to fail at it. I hardly tried at all.
The daily drudgery of practicing, the logistics of finding a group and rehearsing, the pain of finding gigs and actually getting people to show up and give a shit. The broken strings, the blown tube amp, hauling 40 pounds of gear to and from rehearsals with no car. It’s a mountain of a dream and a mile-high climb to the top. And what it took me a long time to discover is that I didn’t like to climb much. I just liked to imagine the top.
Our culture would tell me that I’ve somehow failed myself, that I’m a quitter or a loser. Self-help would say that I either wasn’t courageous enough, determined enough or I didn’t believe in myself enough. The entrepreneurial/start up crowd would tell me that I chickened out on my dream and gave in to my conventional social conditioning. I’d be told to do affirmations or join a mastermind group or manifest or something.
But the truth is far less interesting than that: I thought I wanted something, but it turns out I didn’t. End of story.
I wanted the reward and not the struggle. I wanted the result and not the process. I was in love not with the fight but only the victory. And life doesn’t work that way.
Who you are is defined by the values you are willing to struggle for. People who enjoy the struggles of a gym are the ones who get in good shape. People who enjoy long workweeks and the politics of the corporate ladder are the ones who move up it. People who enjoy the stresses and uncertainty of the starving artist lifestyle are ultimately the ones who live it and make it.
This is not a call for willpower or “grit.” This is not another admonishment of “no pain, no gain.”
This is the most simple and basic component of life: our struggles determine our successes. So choose your struggles wisely, my friend.
Introduction: Who is Mark Manson?
Back in January of this year The Guardian published an article about me because I used the word ‘fuck’ so many times it nearly broke a popular iPhone app.
In September of last year, Elizabeth Gilbert, the Eat, Pray, Love lady shared an article of mine to her 400,000 Facebook fans. The article compared finding your life purpose to eating a shit sandwich and asked whether your sandwich has an olive or not. Her fans shared the article over 10,000 times just from her page alone. They also complained mercilessly about the crude language. A few days later, she removed the link from her page. As an apology, I offered to buy Liz a sandwich. As far as I can tell, she still has no fucking clue who I am.
About a year ago, a classic article of mine called ‘Fuck Yes or No’ went viral, being shared over 300,000 times on Facebook and 20,000 times on Twitter. Despite the (again) crude language, the piece ended up being debated in a number of high-profile places related to dating advice. It eventually found its way onto the famous radio show Loveline, where its advice was lauded for its bluntness and simplicity, as well as its liberal use of the word ‘Fuck.’
My name is Mark Manson. And I write self-help for people who hate self-help. I also write the word ‘fuck’ a lot. Somehow this has found me a massive and adoring audience. I don’t have a relevant degree. I don’t have any sort of certification. I even have a disclaimer on my site advising people to take absolutely nothing I say seriously whatsoever. Yet groups from the United Nations to the University of Utah have asked me to speak to them.
What the fuck is going on here?
My (Somewhat) Accidental Success
I started blogging eight years ago on a lark. My roommate thought I was a good storyteller and that I should share some of the more dumb and ridiculous stuff I
did with the world. “It’s fun,” he said. “It’s kind of like a journal, but other people can read it,” he said.
I told him it was a horrible idea. I told him blogs were lame. That nobody read them and even if they did, they didn’t care about them. And that anyone who wrote one was entirely self-indulgent and clearly had nothing better to do with their time.
So obviously, I started a blog. And within six months, I had over 100 readers per day and men emailing me offering to pay me money to give them dating advice.
OK, that was unexpected.
At the time I had a fancy desk job at a large and prestigious financial institution. I was in my mid-20s and had been there for all of two months -- first job out of college, first rung on the career ladder and all of that.
I hated it. Every second of it. I discovered that I fit in with corporate America about as well as a Jew fits in at Christmas. So I said fuck it, dating advice it is.
I quit my job and started an online business selling and promoting dating advice.
For three years, I worked my ass off selling dating advice online. And for three years I struggled to make any money.
The advice wasn’t the problem for me. I’ve always been very good at synthesizing complex concepts and explaining them succinctly. It was the selling that I couldn’t do. I was terrible at it. I can’t sugarcoat a turd and sell it as candy to people. That just isn’t me. I tried. I was bad at it. Nobody bought it. And so as the years dragged on and I watched other people in the industry make a killing while I floundered, I got pissed off. I got pissed off at the absurd claims by some of the businesses in the industry. I got pissed off at the clients and their sense of entitlement, not to mention their totally unrealistic expectations. I got pissed at myself for wasting so much time and energy on something that clearly wasn’t going anywhere.
But if I was going to go down, I figured I might as well do it in flames. So I removed my filter. And I removed it in the only place where anybody really paid attention to me anyway: on my blog. I started writing what I really thought about these so-called dating problems: Why that girl really didn’t call you back; Why you keep attracting the same deadbeat losers over and over again (hint: it’s you); Why your constant need to measure and objectify everything in your life results in soulless, empty shells of relationships.
Put simply, I started writing the truth. As I saw it, at least. And I started writing it in my own voice.
And lo and behold, after three years of barely even being able to pay my own rent, my site’s traffic tripled in a matter of a few weeks. Within a couple months I was doing more than 2,000 visitors per day and had become one of the most popular dating advice sites in the world. Feeling as though I had finally stumbled onto something, I decided to rededicate myself to blogging full-time.
Now, for most people in online business, “blogging full-time” is tantamount to committing entrepreneurial hari-kari. You might as well enter into a career collecting seashells. But fuck it, it was the only thing that seemed to work for me: writing about life.
In the summer of 2011 I self-published my first book, Models: Attract Women Through Honesty. The book went on to do extremely well. As of June 21, 2015 it’s sold in the vicinity of 45,000 copies, at $14.95 and $19.95 price points. I’ve also sold another 7,200 audio book through both my own site and Audible.com at $39.95 and $29.95 price points.
Most of Models’ success did not come from any big marketing campaign. In fact, the marketing campaign for it was quite small, just a simple page with some quotes and emails from people who loved it. I’m proud to say that it came primarily through word-of-mouth and the staying power of its core message. It has a 4.7 star average on Amazon.com with 192 five-star reviews. On Goodreads, it has a 4.49 average with 684 five-star ratings. It is consistently the top-rated men’s dating book in the dating category on Amazon.com, even ahead of Neil Strauss.
But by the beginning of 2012, I began to notice something odd. People who had no interest in men’s dating advice were reading me. Women, for one. Women emailed me and told me that my book (written for men) was better than any women’s dating advice book they had ever read. Then the older, married readers began to email, saying that even though the book didn’t touch upon marriage at all, the concepts strengthened, and even in some cases, saved their relationships. Soon people from different countries began to write in. Then LGBT people. Then sisters saying they bought the book for their brothers, fathers saying they bought the book for their son, and on and on.
I began asking them through email what brought them to my site. Why did they care? And they told me that even though they didn’t have any specific major life problem, they found the tone and honesty of my writing refreshing. They said it cut through all of the bullshit out there. That it was real. Life is hard, after all. We
all have to compromise our dreams and ambitions sometimes. Sometimes our relationships hurt more than they help. Sometimes we feel like failures no matter what we do.
These were things nobody else was saying, but things these people needed to hear. And somehow, in stumbling across some potty-mouthed asshole talking about
Tinder and buttholes, they found the person willing to say it, and willing to say it well.
In June of 2013, I redesigned my site and re-launched it as a more generic blog with a slant towards personal development. I no longer wrote to men but to everyone. I wrote about more than relationships and dating and began touching on deeper life issues and cultural issues. The site exploded. In the span of just a few months my monthly readership went from a respectable 100,000 per month to over 500,000 per month. Today it stands at over 2 million unique visitors per month.
In November 2013, I wrote an article called “The Most Important Question In Your Life.” It pointed out that we should not ask ourselves what happiness we want in our lives, but rather what struggles we want in our lives, since it is our ability to cope with struggle that is the greater determinant of our success and happiness in the long-run. The article did well, garnering about 60k Facebook shares and a few hundred thousand pageviews. But then The Huffington Post picked it up and it shot into orbit: garnering more than 307k Facebook likes, 7,000 tweets and pageviews in the millions.
But even though “The Most Important Question” performed well quantitatively, it was the qualitative feedback that convinced me that this was the position I wanted to take in a full-length book and put my name, my credibility and my brand behind. I still receive emails from people in all walks of life saying that this 1,000 word article full of silly jokes changed how they see their own lives.
My message was pretty simple: our ability to embrace the negative experiences in our lives is the greatest determinant of our long-term happiness, success and fulfillment. The avoidance of suffering generates more suffering. Embracing pain reduces pain.
I decided that this should be the thesis of my next book. And I promptly got to work on it. The more I worked on this thesis, the more examples began to sprout up everywhere. The strongest and most long-lasting relationships are those that can withstand conflict the best. The greatest successes are borne out of the greatest willingness to fail. Confidence is not the elimination of insecurity but rather the comfort in one’s insecurities. Curiosity and growth can only come out of uncertainty and self-doubt.
The list goes on and on. And sure enough, when I began to experiment with placing some of these concepts onto the blog, the readership response was overwhelmingly positive.
Love is Not Enough: An article that essentially makes the point that for a relationship to work, something more important than love must exist. I was pleasantly surprised to see this article go mega-viral after a few months, netting
over 160k Facebook likes and 6,000 tweets as well as over 1.5 million page views. This piece is the basis for the book’s chapter on relationships.
No, You Can’t Have It All: An article extolling the unfortunate truth that everything in life requires a sacrifice and that we must start choosing what goals and dreams we’re willing to let go of. It’s basically the most anti-positivity message wrapped in a bow of F-bombs and poop jokes. It has since netted over 12.5k Facebook likes, 700 tweets and was picked up by Business Insider.
Fuck Yes or No: An older article that has been incorporated into the message of the book. I wrote ‘Fuck Yes’ or No in mid-2013 based on a short conversation I had with an extremely successful entrepreneur and investor. The gist is that one
should only say yes to things one feels strongly about. Aside from that, learning to say no well is possibly the most important trait one can develop. I applied this idea to dating in the article and it promptly went nuclear. 412k FB likes and 7,000 tweets later, people often email me telling me that they print this article out and read it again every couple weeks.
The Confidence Conundrum: This past February, with a draft of the book almost complete, in a state of mental panic I decided to write an article that basically summed up all of the advice of the book to make sure I didn’t just waste 15 months of my life on something stupid that nobody would ever care about.
So in about 30 minutes one Sunday evening, I whipped up “The Confidence Conundrum.”
The article did well, netting 3.3k FB likes and 1,000 tweets. Business Insider and Quartz both picked it up and republished it. One Twitter user tweeted it out saying, “The smartest thing I’ve read in years.”
Ironically, my confidence was restored.
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck: If the content of the book is based so much on “Most Important Question,” why is this the title of the book?
I spent most of 2014 writing. By early 2015 I had produced some 500-something pages of material, although it was clear that much of it wasn’t going to make it into any final draft.
I showed chunks of what I had written to people and they basically came back with the same reaction: “Amazing content, boring delivery.” Basically, having been in my little writing cave by myself for so long, while the ideas were right, the end result of what I had written had become to longwinded and philosophical. Things needed to be fun again.
Around this same time, I wrote an article titled, “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck.” The article was completely irreverent and outlandish even though it
basically gives the same advice as “Most Important Question.” It was one of those things where as I wrote it, I said to myself, “I can’t believe I’m actually going to show this to people.” For example, this is one of the paragraphs:
“In life, our fucks must be spent on something. There really is no such thing as not giving a fuck. The question is simply how we each choose to allot our fucks. You only get a limited number of fucks to give over your lifetime, so you must spend them with care. As my father used to say, “Fucks don’t grow on trees, Mark.” OK, he never actually said that. But fuck it, pretend like he did. The point is that fucks have to be earned and then invested wisely. Fucks are cultivated like a beautiful fucking garden, where if you fuck shit up and the fucks get fucked, then you’ve fucking fucked your fucks all the fuck up.”
Ironically, the article is the most popular thing I’ve ever written. The article has earned more than 1 million (yes, million) Facebook likes, 25,000 tweets and crested more than 6 million pageviews. Tim Ferriss posted it on his Facebook which immediately gave it a second wind and this article just does not ever die. Even today, it makes up about 20% of the traffic to my site and I still receive 50- 100 emails each week about it.
So here I sat with a problem (book has good content, but is too dry and boring) and an unexpected solution (stop giving a fuck). The result: this book proposal.
All in all, my experience with these articles over the course of about a year showed me one thing: that readers are hungry for a book that frames their problems in a different and more honest light. That doesn’t treat happiness like some solvable goal to be achieved, as if it were a checklist or a really complicated Lego set.
I’m extremely passionate about this message and I’ve seen the results it has garnered over the last year through my own site. I believe it’s a home run waiting to happen and has the potential to become a generation-defining zeitgeist-like thing that will shape how much of my generation views the world for years to come.
Why This Book Matters
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck is a response to the orgy of delusional positive thinking that goes on, both within the personal development industry, but also within American culture at large. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck makes the argument, backed both by academic research and well-timed poop jokes, that our ability to improve our lives hinges not on our ability to turn lemons into lemonade, but rather on our ability to learn how to stomach lemons better. It’s an acceptance of our faults, an acknowledgement of our fears, a nod to our inherent uncertainty, and a surrendering to our pain. Once we embrace those negative aspects of our lives, once we stop running and avoiding and instead start confronting the painful truths, we begin to find in ourselves a spontaneous
emergence of classic virtues such as courage, perseverance, honesty, responsibility, curiosity, and forgiveness. This process is explained in detail but also in an easily accessible and fun way, a way that I would argue has not been achieved in any pop psychology book yet.
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck is more than just a book with some advice. It presents a new theoretical model for understanding oneself. My goal here is more than to simply publish a good book, it’s to establish a new school of thought, to carve out a new corner of the self-help industry and plant my flag in the ground, to have this book discussed and sold decades from now, and perhaps even after I’m gone. To do that, I had to build a framework for conceptualizing our one’s own life and problems from the ground up. I had to write for longevity, not just the quick sale.
As you will see throughout this proposal, I am confident that I have established and written the correct book with the correct message to be highly successful in today’s self-help market. From a strong understanding of the brand I want to build and the market I’m inserting myself into, to heaps of quantitative and qualitative feedback from my blog, to kick ass content that will stand on its own legs for years to come, this book will be a home run. And I need your help to take it even further.
A Self-Help Book for People Who Hate Self Help
In case you haven’t read a newspaper in the last three years, allow me to be the first one to tell you: Millennials are different. They have different political beliefs, different life priorities, different buying habits, and different sexual/romantic behavior to all previous generations.
In general, Millennials are known for two things: 1) being way more cynical than anybody should ever be in their 20s and early 30s, and 2) being super ADHD and more interested in their Instagram feed than having a conversation at dinner.
Both of these are true for the same reasons. We grew up with the Internet – therefore we were exposed to more information (read: more fucked up stuff) than any other generation before we could even drive. We watched 9/11 happen and lived through not one, but two Vietnam-esque decade-long wars while people we grew up with died. We also graduated college just in time to watch the economy crater into its biggest crisis since 1929.
Thanks to the Internet we also happen to be the most well-informed generation (we read more news than anybody else) and thanks to student loan pyramid schemes, we are also the best-educated generation, so we’re more aware than anyone else of how financially screwed we are.
So yeah, we’re a little cynical. And bitter.
Therefore, what would the generation-defining self-help book of today look like? What would it appeal to and what questions would it answer? What message would it perceive as its generational-defining message to carry it through its adulthood in one mental piece?
In my opinion, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck is that answer. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck presents an alternative and anti-establishment message. It says, “Fuck positivity, because let’s be honest, shit is fucked and we have to live with
it.” It says, “We actually are extremely limited, so we should get to know our limitations rather than ignore them.” It says, “No, not everybody can be extraordinary, there are winners and losers in society, and some of it is not fair or your fault.”
This may sound like a Debbie Downer of a book, but in my experience, Millennials (and others) find these messages to be quite liberating. As a generation, we were raised in such a way that our self-esteem was constantly protected, we were always told we were special, great and that all of our dreams could come true. Then we grew up into a world where these things were all clearly not true. There is no message out there accommodating this reality for this demographic at the moment.
But Millennials, while making up the core of my readership, are not the only ones gravitating toward this message. Just in the last year, I’ve accumulated a large readership of older readers, from Gen Xers all the way up to grandmas and grandpas who send my articles to their grandchildren.
Because ultimately, while the day’s cultural issues are somewhat life-defining for the earlier generations, they’re being felt by all generations. In 2015 people are starting to realize that bigger, better, faster or more productive doesn’t necessarily mean more happiness. In fact, striving for improvement all the time can often create less happiness.
People are realizing that the majority of what is shown through media and pop culture is manufactured and artificial. That these are false standards to hold ourselves up to and that by engaging in them we are often just making ourselves feel worse about ourselves.
People are realizing that money is nice, but giving a shit about what you do with your life is better. That giving up modern luxuries – deleting the Facebook account, closing the laptop, disconnecting the email, having a smaller house, selling the extra car – these are the new luxuries because they free one up from petty stresses and obligations.
People are realizing that wealth comes not from a big bank account but from a wealth of experience. That paradoxically, even though it’s easier to connect with others than any other time in world history, that that same wealth of information makes it really hard to maintain strong relationships. That the mentality of more, more, more has peaked, and that our life can be improved more not by what we gain, but rather by what we give up.
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck delivers this message with bitchslap and gusto – along with a series of cool stories intermingled with the usual irreverent potty humor. This book is a necessary antidote to our toxic culture of more run out of control. It’s a much-needed grab-you-by-the-shoulders-and-look-you-in-the-eye moment of real-talk. It’s that tough-love that our instant-gratification culture desperately needs right now. Much like Batman, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck may not be the book Gotham deserves, but it’s the book that Gotham needs.
This “anti-positive thinking” approach to life and happiness has been a growing trend in recent years and I believe that it represents an emergence of a new kind of zeitgeist on how people approach happiness and success today.
First on the scene was investigative journalist extraordinaire, Barbara Ehrenreich with Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America (2010). As one would expect, Ehrenreich does a fantastic job of researching the history of positive thinking, how it has influenced business, culture and politics, and then
demonstrating the deleterious effects it’s had in all of these areas. The weakness of Ehrenreich’s book is that there is nothing prescriptive in her book. It’s a thorough (and somewhat dry) look at the problems associated with delusional positive thinking, but presents little discussion of the potential solution.
A couple years later, another investigative journalist, Oliver Burkeman from the UK, took a stab, this time providing a bit more prescriptive advice. His The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking (2013) not only investigated the loopy self-help world from the inside, but also provided some alternative “negative” perspectives as well. The problem with Burkeman’s book is that while it shows him dabbling in various self-help methods (of both the positive and negative varieties) he doesn’t come to any firm conclusions on what’s good and useful and what’s just bunk. The reader is largely left to figure it out for themselves.
That same year, Bobby Knight, the NCAA basketball coach famous for throwing chairs and winning championships wrote a book called The Power of Negative Thinking (2013). The book has done well, although undoubtedly much of it is on the back of his popularity as a sports figure. Knight shares his strategies and mindsets that helped him be so successful in sports and claims that it was by thinking “negative” – minimizing mistakes, focusing on challenges and
weaknesses, not envisioning successes or becoming too satisfied with
accomplishments – that allowed him to stay successful for such a long-time. The book is interesting, but it’s light in the thought department. The man is a good coach, not a philosopher, so he kind of just leaves you with a few tidbits of what made him successful and that’s that.
The most definitive book of this new movement has been Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle is the Way (2014). Holiday, like me, is young and primarily an online personality. Most of his sales came through his own platform and marketing efforts. According to Holiday, he sold over 32,000 books in the first six weeks and hit the New York Times bestseller list.
As impressive as Holiday’s work is though, his book was largely aimed at reviving ancient Stoic philosophy. He incorporates wisdom from the Greeks and Romans (particularly Marcus Aurelius) throughout the book. And as clear of a writer as Ryan is -- and as much as Marcus Aurelius is my homeboy -- his focus on classical philosophy undoubtedly limits the scope of his appeal. My book will be more approachable and more narrative. In that sense, it will appeal to a similar readership as Tucker Max’s I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell. It should also appeal to fans of Kelly Williams Brown’s Adulting: How to Become a Grown-Up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps; and Chris Guillebeau’s The Art of Non-Conformity and The Happiness of Pursuit.
Platform and Promotional Strategy
I have been building an online platform and selling from it since 2008. In that time, I’ve done over $1.3 million in sales of e-books, courses and seminars through my various websites, with most of that coming in the last four years. Launching products and marketing them online was my career before I chose to become a published author. Not just an after-thought.
It’s actually because of this previous success that I was initially going to self publish The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck and launch it myself. But I chose a few months ago to exhaust any opportunities I may have in the publishing world because I recognize that even though self-publishing has come a long way, a traditional publisher can still give me much wider reach and greater publicity than putting the book out myself would.
In this section I will simply go through the numbers of my platform, as well as talk a little bit about my team and our past success. Then I will talk about some of what I’m able to do to support the launch of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck.
All stats are as of June 30, 2015.
Facebook: 163,243 Fans + 6,871 Friends/Followers on my personal page Twitter: 31,485 Followers
Google+: 5,788 Followers
I also have active profiles with large followings on: Instagram, Pinterest, Medium, Goodreads and Quora.
It should also be noted that because the book likely wouldn’t launch until early 2016 (more on that below), at the current rate of acquisition, the size of my social media platform would likely include over 225,000 Facebook Fans/Followers, 45,000 Twitter Followers, 7,000 Google+ Followers and so on.
The email list is the life-blood of any online business. Email subscribers are not only more engaged than social media followers, but you can segment them, target them individually, and measure their engagement more effectively.
Email subscribers also buy far more often than social media followers.
It’s for these reasons that I aggressively seek to acquire new email subscribers and am constantly testing various opt-in strategies on my site.
As of June 29, 2015, I have 307,795 email subscribers.
I am fortunate (and skilled) enough to enjoy extremely high engagement on my email list. My broadcasts often receive over 40% open rates (industry standards vary between 10-20%) and hundreds of readers email me every single day.
I project that in January 2016, at current rate of acquisition, I will have around 400,000 email subscribers.
Sales of My First Book
On July 5th, 2011, I self-published my first serious full-length book. It is called Models: Attract Women Through Honesty. The niche I wrote for at the time was men’s dating advice.
Since then, I’ve estimated total sales of Models in the vicinity of 45,000 sales through all channels (as of June 22, 2015) at $14.95 and $19.95 price points. I also estimate approximately another 7,200 audio book sales through both my own site and Audible.com at $39.95 and $29.95 price points.
Models’ success did not come from any big marketing campaign. In fact, the marketing campaign for it was quite small. I’m proud to say that it came primarily through word-of-mouth and the staying power of its core message. It has a 4.7 star average on Amazon.com with 192 five-star reviews. On Goodreads, it has a 4.49 average with 684 five-star ratings.
It is consistently the top-rated men’s dating book in the dating category on Amazon.com, ahead of mainstays such as Neil Strauss and Erik von Markovik.
Public Appearances and Speaking
I’ve been featured in only one major place thus far: this Forbes.com piece about my business. But I have also been quoted in articles at The Daily Beast and The Sydney Morning Herald and Stuff Magazine.
My writing has appeared in a wide variety of major publications, including: TIME.com, CNN.com, Huffington Post, Business Insider, New York Observer, Vox, and Quartz.
I’ve appeared on WGN Radio in Chicago as well as dozens of podcasts and webcast interviews.
I’ve spoken at The University of Southern California (USC), the University of Utah, and The University of Vienna (all about entrepreneurship and online business).
I’ve also given a presentation to the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in Cyprus about the concepts in The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck (although I presented them under a different name).
Throughout the years, especially during the dating advice days, I often participated in conferences and seminars. I estimate I’ve probably presented to live audiences around 100 times in the last eight years, and have given presentations at conferences and seminars in the US, Canada, UK, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Thailand and Singapore.
Over the years, I have developed a number of relationships with editors and writers at various established publications. I can more or less get something published at will at the following places:
Huffington Post, Business Insider, Quartz, Vox, New York Observer, Good Men Project, and TSB Magazine.
I have loose connections to editors/writers at the following publications and could potentially get some media publicity through them:
The Wall Street Journal, TIME, CNN, Beta Beat, and Yahoo! News.
I am connected with over a dozen other business owners and markets within the men’s dating advice market, many of whom have email lists numbering in the millions. I don’t think all of them would promote The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, but I could get at least some of them to.
I’m also well-acquainted with a number of major influencers in the online world, including Derek Sivers, Dan Andrews, Ryan Holiday, Christopher Ryan, Jordan Harbinger and Jodi Ettenburg, all of whom have platforms numbering in the hundreds of thousands of readers/listeners.
And who knows who will pop up. I’ve had my work posted on Facebook and Twitter by people such as Tim Ferriss and Liz Gilbert without me asking. NFL and NHL players have retweeted my articles recommending them to fans. I even had an actress from the TV soap opera All My Children tweet that she wanted to marry me.
So at the very least, I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.
As I mentioned previously, I initially intended on self-publishing The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, so my internal team has already done quite a bit of legwork preparing the scaffolding for a successful large online launch. My expectation going into a book deal would be that I would handle much of the online launch and the publisher would handle the brick/mortar launch as well as generating supplementary publicity (interviews, articles about me, radio/TV spots, etc.)
As we envision it, the online launch would go something like this:
• About Three Months Before Launch Day – Start by announcing the book title, launch date and give a few teasers as to the content. Announce pre order date. Test waters for launch parties.
• About Two Months Before Launch Day – Show the cover of the book. Post a FAQ with common questions about the book answered (I will likely have received tons by then.) Behind the scenes, begin to cull together joint venture partners to promote the pre-order and/or launch itself. Contact editors at publications and create a schedule of guest posts and
promotional interviews for launch week.
• About One Month Before Launch Day – Start pre-order. Post first excerpt from the book. Run some guest posts in major places (maybe even an
excerpt). In the pre-order, I will offer a scale of prices with all sorts of
giveaways and bonuses for people who are willing to pay more or who are willing to buy early. Add book to Amazon.com for pre-order. If doing
launch parties (likely some combo of LA/NYC/London), push those hard. Book plane tickets. Get some sleep, I’m going to need it.
• About Two Weeks Before Launch – Post another book excerpt and do one last push for pre-orders. Write and prepare guest posts like a crazy, crazy man.
• Launch Week – Switch strategy away from internal sales on my site to pushing for external sales through Amazon.com or local book stores.
Guest posts go up everywhere. Q&A on Goodreads. Interviews for
podcasts. Any media publicity the publisher gins up during this period as well. Attend launch parties.
• Week After Launch Week – Collapse and nearly die of exhaustion.
• Two Weeks After Launch Week – Find some really quiet beach
somewhere and drink margaritas until I forget who I am. Sleep.
• Four Weeks After Launch Week – Return to civilization. Buy myself an Xbox or dog or something. I did it.
Chapter Outlines (As They Stand Now)
(Note: The book has already been through a couple re-organizations, but the meat of the material is all there. The order/organization of the book is subject to change depending on what we both decide is best.)
Chapter 1: Life’s Most Important Skill
In my life, I have given a fuck about many people and many things. I have also not given a fuck about many people and many things. And those fucks I have not given have made all the difference.
People often say the key to confidence and success in life is to simply “not give a fuck.” Indeed, we often refer to the strongest, most admirable people we know in terms of their lack of fucks given. Like “Oh, look at Susie working weekends again, she doesn’t give a fuck about having a social life,
does she? Or “Did you hear that Tom called the company president an asshole and still got a raise anyway? Holy shit, that dude does not give a fuck.” Or “Jason got up and ended his date with Cindy after 20 minutes. He said he wasn’t going to listen to her bullshit anymore. Man, that guy does not give a fuck.”
The goal of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck makes one simple point: that learning how to choose what matters to you and what does not matter to you, is perhaps the most useful and important skill in one’s life. Chapter 1 introduces this idea. The rest of the book expands upon it in various ways.
Chapter 2: Meaning is What Matters
Hiroo Onoda spent 27 years in a remote jungle burning farms and killing Filipino civilians because he didn’t know World War II was over. When he found out and came home, he said that he was proud of his sacrifice and would gladly do it again.
Dave Mustaine became a rock star, sold millions of records, played to sold out arenas, and toured the world. Yet, despite all of his success, in an interview in 2003 he broke down in tears and admitted that he felt as though he was a failure.
In 1959, an English drummer was unceremoniously kicked out of his band. He would spend the next 20 years struggling as a session musician. The band that kicked him out was called The Beatles. And Best would later claim that getting kicked out was the best thing that ever happened to him.
Happiness is malleable. It can appear in almost any place and under any circumstance. What matters is the meaning. Meaning makes happiness. What we give a fuck about determines the nature of how we feel about
ourselves. Chapter 2 explains, through a variety of stories and psychological research, how our perception of what makes us happy is subjective and often nonsensical.
Chapter 3: You Are Always Choosing
Imagine for a moment that someone puts a gun up to your head and tells you that unless you run 26.2 miles, they are going to kill you, your family, your friends, your pet cat, and your fifth grade teacher.
Even if by some chance you are an athletic stalwart who can run a marathon at the drop of a hat, it would be an agonizing, terrifying and traumatizing few hours.
Now imagine that you spend six months training for a marathon. Your family and friends fly into town to wait for you at the finish line. Your friends are planning a party to celebrate your accomplishment.
Same physical actions – run 26.2 miles – yet completely different
“experiences.” One horrible, one exhilarating.
Often our perception of how “good” or “bad” an experience is simply has to do with our perception that we chose it, that we are responsible for it. Chapter 3 makes the point that whether we realize it or not we are always choosing our experiences and that any perception that we are suffering comes from us being unconscious of this choice.
Chapter 4: The Value of Pain
When you stub your toe on the coffee table, you may scream some expletives and hop around like Mick Jagger on amphetamines. But before you commit domestic abuse on your furniture, realize that that obnoxious pain exists for a reason. Pain, both physical and psychological, exists for a reason. It’s feedback. It’s nature’s way of saying, “Uhh, pay attention, and maybe don’t do that again.”
Today, our culture thrives on the avoidance of pain and the pursuit of pleasure. But pain has a purpose. And to avoid it merely creates more pain. Chapter 4 looks at the value of pain in our lives and how we often try to avoid it rather than accepting what it’s trying to teach us.
Chapter 5: How We All Get A Little Fucked Up Inside
I got kicked out of school when I was 12 for smoking cigarettes. When I was 13, I got arrested for selling marijuana. When I was 14, my parents divorced, and when I was 15 I often came home from school to see my mother crying.
Pain from our past that isn’t dealt with fucks us up. It fucks us up and causes us to give a fuck about stuff we have no business giving a fuck about – you know, like heroin needles, masturbating eight times a day, or shooting up a school.
Chapter 5 takes a deep look into the ways that avoiding what hurts us only creates compensating behaviors that ultimately hurt us more. Whether it’s through addiction, an overgrown narcissism and sense of entitlement, or a
desperate neediness and codependence, when we shirk away from the trauma in our lives, it continues festering beneath the surface, waiting to sabotage us.
Chapter 6: Love is Not Enough
Contemporary culture treats romance as end in and of itself. We look at Romeo and Juliet and see beautiful romance, not two completely
psychologically fucked kids selfishly killing themselves and ruining their families in the process.
Shakespeare likely wrote Romeo and Juliet as a warning of the pitfalls of romance. And this is why: pursuing relationships purely on the basis of pleasant feelings is like pursuing anything on the basis of pleasant feelings: you’re going to end up screwing everything up.
Chapter 6 looks at how our avoidance patterns and unwillingness to acknowledge our own choices tangles us in bad relationships and creates unnecessary problems in an otherwise healthy relationship.
Chapter 7: Our Instant-Gratification Culture
Edward Bernays was the godfather of modern marketing and invented the public relations industry. He was also Sigmund Freud’s nephew.
This is not a coincidence.
Bernays understood before anyone else, that if you can poke and prod at people’s insecurities and suppressed pain, you can get them to buy just about anything. He proved this time and time again with his famous marketing campaigns.
Today, in the 21st century, perhaps marketing has become too successful. Because if our entire economy thrives by prodding people’s insecurities, we’re creating a population of more and more insecure people. Chapter 7 looks at how this has happened and how we can tear ourselves away from it.
Instead of only giving a fuck about happiness. Instead of constantly pursuing what makes us feel better, the answer is counter-intuitive: we must give a fuck about what hurts, about the sacrifice and the struggle. It’s only then that we can liberate ourselves from our constant feelings of
compensation, entitlement and desperation.
Chapter 8: Failure is the Way Forward
One night, walking home from a theatre performance the famous poet John Keats had an incredible insight. He realized that all success was a result of “negative capability,” i.e., the ability to tolerate failure, self-doubt, uncertainty. He realized, at only twenty-two, that all good, ultimately comes from this willingness to accept the bad.
Keats of course died a couple years later (but we won’t hold that against him). Because in many ways, failure is far more useful than success. Failure educates you, motivates you, makes clear where you should be focusing your attention and what meaning you should be choosing. Enter cliché about Thomas Edison and 10,000 failed attempts at the lightbulb, but the road to success, much like hell, is paved by good—and failed—intentions.
Chapter 9: The Power of Saying ‘No’
A few years ago, I met a guy who sold his business to Yahoo! for $40 million dollars and retired at the age of 35. Now he mostly sits around playing guitar and traveling to Asia. He also invests in some start-ups and has seen his net worth balloon to more than double what it started.
Casually chatting with him, he told me that there’s one credo he’s always followed in business. “It’s either a ‘Fuck Yes!’ or else I say no. If I’m not excited about it, I don’t do it.”
It soon occurred to me that this does (or at least should) apply to basically everything in life. Relationships. Career. Buying a house. Petting your cat. Eating a waffle. Whatever. Either it’s a “Fuck Yes” or it’s a no.
This all sounds nice, but that means one must get good at saying no. And it turns out, despite all the conventional wisdom always telling people to be more positive and say yes all the time, saying no is far more important. Saying no allows us to build trust with others. It develops respect for both others and oneself. It allows one to commit to someone or something. No is necessary.
Chapter 10: Why You’re Wrong About Everything
500 years ago, cartographers thought California was an island. They thought fire was made of a substance called ‘phlogiston.’ They thought sickness was caused by an imbalance of fluids in the body.
We laugh at these ideas now. But that’s because we have had 500 years of progress. Just think back to things you thought were true when you were 20 and chances are they will seem almost as silly to you as the phlogiston.
Most people spend their lives trying to be right about everything. I say let’s admit we’re wrong about everything. Because we are. And when we at least acknowledge that we’re wrong or that we don’t know, then we can avoid messes like suicidal cults, politically-motivated genocide and stalking someone because you think angels told you to. By the way, a woman stalked me for four years because she said angels told her to. But you’ll have to wait for the book to hear about that.
Chapter 11: Radical Forgiveness
Jesus and I don’t really get along. I don’t think he knows that. It’s just I have a problem with the whole religion thing.
I was raised Christian and so while I don’t believe in the religious stuff, I can’t help but acknowledge some of the impact many of its principles have had on me. One of those is the belief in radical forgiveness.
In Chapter 11, I begin to wind the book down by looking at forgiveness not necessarily in a moral sense, but a psychological sense. Because, after all, pain and trauma is really only absolved when we forgive it. And any feelings of unworthiness we may have picked up throughout our lives is only overcome when we learn how to forgive ourselves.
Ironically, this is what not giving fucks is all about: narrowing our focus down to what really matters, that people (including ourselves) are flawed and that those flaws should be accepted and at times even celebrated, not denigrated.
Now let’s all hold hands and sing Kumbaya.
Chapter 12: Of Divinity and Death
When I was 19-years-old, a good friend of mine drowned at a party. We tried to save him but it was dark and nobody could see him under the water in the lake. It was a tragedy. But in a strange way, it was one of the best things that ever happened to me.
For millennia, philosophers and smart people, both east and west, from The Buddha to the Stoics, from Ernest Becker to Steve Jobs have lauded the benefits of contemplating one’s own death. This chapter closes the book with a slightly more philosophical look at mortality, where we choose to find meaning, and what happens when we have no more fucks left to give.
If this all sounds rad, then let’s talk about how this all could potentially happen.
As explained above, the book is more or less written already. The first draft of the book was completed in the beginning of March of this year. I had my team look at it and give me feedback and I’m about halfway through the first major revision.
Realistically, I think I could have the book finished enough to begin working with an editor within 2-3 months.
My goal is to get a deal signed before the end of the summer. Assuming, I get back to the draft as soon as a deal is signed, I can have something really solid to an editor by September/October of this year. That would (I guess?) tee up the book for a Q2 2016 launch? (Let’s hope.)
Anyway, the point is, unlike most non-fiction book proposals, my thing is already 75% draft-ready and I will be ready to begin collaborating fairly soon. Yay.