Dr. Drew Pinsky changed my life. I asked him one simple question, and his answer put me on a path that saved me from a very dark place. But more than that it ultimately helped me achieve success, made me a published author, saved my relationships, and made me happy.

I’m sure this is true for a lot of people. He is after all, a practicing medical specialist of many years and now the host of a major television show, Dr. Drew On Call. But these circumstances were a little different. You see, I am not and have never been an addict. I don’t have an eating disorder or a sexual or medical issue. I have never called into Loveline (though I was a fan). It happened because I walked up to him at 19 years old and asked him if he had any books he could recommend.

I was in college in the mid-aughts and I was invited to a small, private summit of college journalists that Dr. Drew, then the host of Loveline, was hosting. After it ended, he was standing in the corner and I cautiously made my way over to nervously ask a question I thought might be worth taking a shot with: “I heard you read a lot. What should I read?” He said he’d been studying a stoic philosopher named Epictetus and that I should check it out. He also recommended a biography of Theodore Roosevelt that remains one of my favorites (TR it turns out was also a fan of Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius).

Dr. Drew—the sex doctor from MTV and KROQ—introduced me to classic philosophy. That night I emailed my friend Tucker Max (who would later go on to be a frequent guest on Loveline) to see if he’d read it. He told me it was amazing and that I should also read Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. Marcus Aurelius, translated by Gregory Hays, arrived first. My life has not been the same since.

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I had just gone through a breakup of a long relationship (from sophomore year in high school to sophomore year in college) and was wrecked. In fact, I’d spent most of the conference despondent in my hotel room. I was depressed. I was miserable. I been prescribed sleeping pills by a college therapist because I wasn’t sleeping.

So the words of Marcus Aurelius — a Roman emperor writing admonishments and reassurances to himself amidst the stresses of imperial life hit me in the face. The words of Epictetus, a lowly slave teaching at the outskirts of Rome had the same effect.

Choose not to be harmed — and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed — and you haven’t been.” — Marcus Aurelius

It’s not about you, but how you react that matters.” — Epictetus

Anyone who remembers me from that time probably laughs at what a ridiculous convert to stoicism I became. “Have you read this?” I would ask people. “It’s SO good.” You know how young people are when they read Ayn Rand for the first time? I was like that. Enthralled! I was just amazed that something like this existed, something that wasn’t pretentious or impractical. Something that was real and solved my problems.

But unlike some silly Ayn Rand phase, this revelation has only grown for me over time. My understanding of stoicism is no longer so naive and simple, but it is equally fervent. It’s made me a better person, not a harder, less empathetic one.

I saw Dr. Drew again at another college conference a few months later (I guess he was speaking to a lot of college journalists at the time). I was a little late but I snuck up to a seat at the front. After it ended, I waited for everyone to ask their questions and I walked up to him and he remembered me: “You look so much better,” he said. There was a reason, I replied: “It’s because I read Epictetus.”

“I’m so glad,” he said, and then politely corrected my pronunciation. It’s “Epic-teat-us” not “Epic-tey-tus”—though to this day the incorrect one is imprinted on my mind. I said it so many times the wrong way during that period that I’ll never get it right. I think it was this moment that I realized not only the true power of books, but also that it didn’t matter whether I was a college student or a teenager but I could talk to and connect with just about anyone. It didn’t matter if they were a celebrity or rich or powerful — we all had the same problems and needs.

A few years later, Tucker was invited on as a guest on Loveline and I came with him to the taping studio. Of course, Dr. Drew no longer remembered me and I was much too shy to bring it up. But as I sat in that green room, all I could think about was how grateful I was, how lucky I’d been to have an opportunity to ask such a question, and how sometimes the fates align and you’re given exactly what you need.

Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart.” — Marcus Aurelius

This man (and the philosopher he introduced me to) changed my life and in a very significant way contributed to the person I ended up becoming.

And now, over seven years later, I have the opportunity to introduce stoicism to even more people. My book The Obstacle is The Way (Portfolio/Penguin) is about a single exercise that both Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius lived by: “The impediment to actions advances action What stands in the way becomes the way.” We think that the terrible things that happen to us are obstacles — as I did with my breakup — but they are in fact great opportunities. For me, those dark moments contributed to a great awakening. They exposed me, they motivated me to take a risk (to ask a question of an important, busy man) and I was rewarded for it.

The obstacle became the way. And Dr. Drew showed me that.

This post appeared originally on The Huffington Post.



This post appeared originally on the New York Observer in January 2014. Two years later I have three goats and live on a farm. A proposition that appeared “nightmarish” at the time.

I own a goat. Her name is Bucket.

Less than a year ago, I had an apartment in Manhattan, convinced I was ready to live the dream. I was a published author. I had high profile PR and marketing clients. I wasn’t sure exactly which dream I was living but I was pretty sure New York City was the place you came to celebrate it.

Twice today–once while on a conference call and then again while writing this article–I heard scratching at the door. It’s usually the dog asking to go outside. But this was my goat, and she wanted to come inside.

“No, Bucket,” I told her. “We can’t let livestock in the house.”

She scampered off to eat some leaves.

But soon enough she’d be back, like a good-natured amnesiac, to make the same request.

This is life in Austin, Texas. I have a pet goat.

Bucket is a three month old Nigerian Dwarf goat from a small farm in Seguin, Texas. She has blue eyes, a pink collar, and comes when you call her. She also enjoys being picked up and giving kisses. Currently she weighs about 20 lbs. and won’t get much bigger than a medium-sized dog. The only major change we’re expecting are her horns, which already grow a little every day.

When we first started talking about buying a goat, the veneer of utility still existed. Goats are Mother Nature’s little lawnmowers, after all, and I hate cutting the grass. Then we learned that goats do not eat grass. This fact came as a relatively late surprise in the decision making process, and eliminated the half-hearted justification my girlfriend and I had for our $350 impulse buy. She does eat weeds, clover, leaves and other such undesirables, but that doesn’t really matter anymore.

And that is because I find great peace and pleasure in sitting in my office/library and watching her out the window. She doesn’t know I can see her, but I can. I watch her bother the chickens (which have slightly more practical benefits for our fridge). On occasion I will catch her laying down in their coop for some reason. I watch her prance, and every so often, stop and make goat noises to no one in particular.

When I am on the phone, I will walk around the ground floor of the house and track her as she makes her migration around the yard. It’s a game that makes boring calls bearable, though it has required me to stifle a laugh a few times.

Only recently did my girlfriend–who I’ve been with for several years–finally come forward with her dream of living on a farm. Of course, she did this after I bought a house that is not anything like a farm, so we’re doing the best we can.

Is this my first step on the path carved by Susan Orlean? I hope not–though secretly I also hope so. The landscape she painted in her short book, Animalish, of a menagerie of unusual-but-not-exotic animals seems like a writer’s haven and just generally an interesting place to live.

Having animals is soothing (especially if your pretty farm girlfriend takes care of the details). I just get to look at them and pretend they are my friends. I get to project personalities onto them and have ridiculous conversations purely for my amusement.

My favorite is to pretend that my miniature dachshund is horribly betrayed by these new additions to the households and is constantly trying to inform on their behavior to get them in trouble. Or after hearing her dart up the stairs, that she’s breathlessly alerting me to the news that someone has let a goat into the yard.

In reality, she just wants to play. Unfortunately, Bucket does not understand fetch and feigns a headbutt if the dog gets too excited. Dachshunds are great at flushing out badgers; they are not great at taking a horned skull to the face.

When I am out of town my girlfriend sends me photos of their antics–including one recently that had both the goat and the dog wrapped up inside the coat she was wearing. There was also the infamous shot of the goat wearing an American Apparel dog hoodie.

But I also found out somewhat accidentally that my girlfriend and I have slightly different relationships and boundaries with the animal. Back in New York for meetings this week, I got a motion alert from my Dropcam, which monitors my living room and inside doorway. Usually the update is wind related, so I certainly wasn’t expecting to see the goat, the dog and Samantha all playing on the floor together. I guess that explains why Bucket always seems to expect me to open the door and let her in.

Sitting between meetings, watching this interspecies cuddlefest 1500 miles away, I realized the life I had envisioned for myself here in New York allowed for none of this. It was expensive, and it was restrictive. No question it afforded certain business opportunities, but they are purchased at a high cost. Not just in rent and cost of living, but in options–especially ridiculous options.

I’m not saying to run away and live small town life. That sounds equally nightmarish to me–that wasn’t my intention with Austin anyway. Work hard, take it seriously, embrace your ambition. And when you’re not doing that, do something–whatever it happens to be–that taps into the part of you that makes you forget about all the rest of it.

Buy a goat.



I thought I would do a roundup of everything I’ve written and published (other than here) since my last one in July. If you missed any of these, definitely follow me on Twitter, where I post each article when it goes live. Hope you enjoy these articles and feel free to share them.

More to come in 2016!

THOUGHT CATALOG

‘Go Straight To The Seat Of Intelligence–Your Own, The World’s, Your Neighbors’

Human Being, Not Human Doing

A Controversial ‘Spiritual’ Exercise That Guarantees You’ll Have A Good Day

Why Do You Write So Much?

Stop Working For Free! Time Is Running Out

32 Little Rules I Follow To Live A Life That Feels Good Every Day

From Someone Who Travels A Lot: 42 Things I Wish Everyone Knew About Stress And Being Rude While Flying

What Are You Working Towards? Because You Better Know.

How To Buy A House Before You’re 30

Share This If You Don’t Drink And Are Sick Of People Asking Why

Holding On To Toxic Friends Isn’t Harmless: Why It’s Time For A Friend Purge

42 Books That Will Make You A Better Person, Described In One Sentence

21 Stoic Life Hacks For #Stoicweek

The Real Reason We Need to Stop Trying to Protect Everyone’s Feelings

Epiphanies Don’t Exist, Here’s How You Can Actually Change Your Life In A Moment

Here Is Everything I Learned From Reading In 2015

This Is All There Is (And It’s More Than Enough)

Why You Should Be Talking About Work All Holiday Season

No, Don’t Do It Later. Do It Now — The Case Against Procrastination.

3 Books (Ok, More Than 3) You Absolutely Must Read This Year

 

NEW YORK OBSERVER

Julien Blanc, ‘Most Hated Man In The World,’ Shares His Surprising Side Of The Story

The Performance Bias: Life Is Not a Movie, Life Is Not a Novel

Meet the Woman Behind ‘the Most Hated Man in the World’

Texas Forever: How I Found the American Dream in the Lone Star State

The Real Reason We Need to Stop Trying to Protect Everyone’s Feelings

EXCLUSIVE: Author of New Zealand’s First Banned Book in 22 Years Speaks Out

Meet the Genius Whose Chrome Extension Bans All Kardashian Content From Your Computer

The Quiet Co-Founder of the Media Juggernaut No One Writes About

These Parents Lost a Son in the Aurora Shooting. They Want the Media to Change. Now.

What Everyone Gets Wrong About Stoicism Is Exactly Why You Need It

#StoicWeek: 10 Strategies for Turning Obstacles Into Opportunities

This Restaurant Made Fools of Hipsters Everywhere (Or Did They?)

The Best Book About Addiction You’ve Never Heard of Is Back in Print After 50 Years

People Keep Stealing This Photo of My Dog…And She’s Very Upset About It

Here’s the Strategy Elite Athletes Follow to Perform at the Highest Level

 



I wasn’t able to share this article when it first came out, because it promptly sent the book out of stock on Amazon, where it remained so for almost the entire month of December. But now I can and I hope you like it.

Sports Illustrated: How a book on stoicism became wildly popular at every level of the NFL

At the center of perhaps the most unlikely Venn Diagram ever drawn, an even more unlikely group of humans overlap. There’s a former governor/bodybuilder/actor (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a hip hop star (LL Cool J), an Irish tennis pro (James McGee), an NFL lineman (Garrett Gilkey, Bucs), a renowned sideline reporter (Michele Tafoya, NBC), an Olympian (cross-country skier Chandra Crawford), a performance coach (Andy McKay, Mariners), a baseball manager (Joe Maddon, Cubs) and a college basketball coach (Shaka Smart, Texas). That’s just to start.

They’re connected by a book, The Obstacle Is the Way, by Ryan Holiday. It’s a book they’ve digested, drawn inspiration from and applied to their careers. It’s a book about stoicism, the ancient Greek philosophy and its principles, and it has sold more than 100,000 copies, been translated into 17 languages and reverberated in one place not even Holiday expected it to—the wider world of sports. He describes that as a “happy accident.”

The article goes on to talk about how the teams found it, what they got out of it and, what’s most interesting to me, why Stoic philosophy seems to be finding an audience in professional sports. It interests me because it’s so very much not what I expected when I wrote the book. When I pitched Portfolio—a business imprint—a book about an obscure school of ancient philosophy, athletes and celebrities were not who I had in mind. I was thinking business folks, everyday people, lovers of history.

But this was pretty absent minded of me. Because not only did the stoics love borrowing metaphors from wrestling, the Olympics, gladiatorial combat, chariot racing, stoicism had an immediate impact on me as a runner. The idea of pushing the body, testing its limits, preparing for trying ordeals, the presentness inherent in experiencing flow state, the importance of routine and commitment—these are the things that get me up each morning or away from my desk each afternoon to run. At a certain level, most athletes (and really, this is true in all fields) are more or less equally talented. What separates success from failure is the ability to manage the mental component, the motivation factor and the will to endure. The stoics have wonderful wisdom on morality and principled living, but their writing is particularly amazing on those three things.

In any case, one of the best parts about writing a book is watching it leave your hands and reach those of people you respect or admire. You often think a book will have one effect, but it turns out to have a completely different one. Robert Greene certainly didn’t expect The 48 Laws of Power to become popular in hip hop, yet it did. I certainly didn’t expect to talk to any NFL coaches when I wrote the book, but it’s been an eye-opening and educational experience.

Ironically, it’s also been one that introduced me to a bunch of books that have now become my favorites. I read Education of a Coach by David Halberstam about Bill Belichick after hearing from the Patriots. One coach recommended I read The Winner Within by Pat Riley, another that I read The Way To Love by Anthony de Mello. There have been many others.

I’ll add one other thing that helped make this possible. I put my email in the back of it—and I put my email prominently on my site and encourage people to use it. Yes, that’s meant I get a lot of email and spend a lot of time replying—for free—answering questions, helping people with problems, giving recommendations, dealing with jerks, haters and boatloads of spam. But it’s also opened me up to the serendipity of the coaches who felt OK shooting me a note after they read the book. One conversation led to another, which led to introductions, which led to sending books out, which led to the article. That doesn’t happen if you build walls around yourself, that doesn’t happen if you don’t put the time in.

I should have expected that too. I’ve always been the type of person who ‘reaches out.’ When I read something I like or have my mind blown by someone, I don’t just let that thought flitter away. I try to do something with it. Some of the mentorships I’ve had were a result of this impulse, some of my favorite friendships and memories too. I should have figured that successful coaches, athletes, musicians, entrepreneurs would be the same way. They wouldn’t have gotten where they were without that habit. I just (thankfully) wasn’t presumptuous enough to figure it would happen to my book that would trigger it in them.

Thanks for letting me share and most of all, for supporting the book and my writing before anyone else. I couldn’t have done it without you. Thank you and enjoy the article.

Ryan

PS, if there is someone in sports or business that you think might like the book, please send them the link (or a copy). If you need help, let me know.



This post appeared originally on the New York Observer in November 2014. 

In May 2009, I sent an email to a friend. I’d been posting book recommendations on my website for the last couple years, but what did he think of the idea of doing it as a monthly email instead? It was a bad idea, he said–because people wouldn’t be able to share the blog posts anymore. People are protective of their emails, so who would want to sign up for that?

I considered his advice and decide to ignore it. In the five years since, that list, known as the Reading List Email, has grown from 50 friends to roughly 35,000 people with a 50% open rate (which is crazy compared to most lists). It has readers from all over the world, ranging from high school students to Fortune 500 CEOs, NFL coaches, bestselling authors, publishers and entrepreneurs. I’ve sent close to 100 emails to a “total” audience of 400,000+ over the years and sold a few hundred thousand dollars worth of books for retailers over the years.

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After having a great deal of fun writing two big posts for the New York Observer on the ins-and-outs of book marketing, I thought I would do a similar breakdown on how to build an email list.

But first, why build one at all? I love recommending books but deep down I have to admit there was another motivation for creating the list. In 2009, I dreamed of one day writing my own book. How would I tell people about it? I thought if I spend every month for the next several years recommending amazing books to other people, maybe those readers would give me a shot when it was my turn. And they did!

Building an email list is the single best way to communicate with your audience, period. Better than Facebook, better than Twitter, better than ads. Because you own it. Because it is a relationship of mutual trust and opt-ins. That is why you need to build one.

So here’s what I learned building mine:

-When I started, I knew so little about email marketing that I just put up a post on my blog and told people to email me if they wanted to sign up. I figured I could just email them all directly.

-So the first year of the Reading List was me copy and pasting the emails into Gmail. I found out the hard way that Gmail only lets you email 250 people a day (or did at the time). Sometimes I had to batch it over a couple days.

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-Eventually, I turned to Mailchimp–that made my life way easier. But more on that later.

-One of the best books I’ve ever read on marketing taught me a lot about emails. Check out Seth Godin’s Permission Marketing. It will change how you approach your customers.

-It’s critical that you pick an angle for your mailing list. I see so many authors and brands just put up a form that says: “Sign up for my newsletter.” What newsletter? Why would I want a random newsletter from a random person? I decided on book recommendations because no one else was doing it and it was something I was good at. What are you good at? What can only you offer via email?

-I decided to go no frills with the reading list email too. No images, no formatting, all text–partly because it’s easier but also because it is better for mobile. Before you waste too much time designing some fancy template realize that there are marketers out there making millions of dollars on great copywriting alone. Maybe you don’t need frills.

-Though I don’t use a template, I do have a very standardized format that I follow, including the same conclusion I paste onto each email. Keep it simple and you’ll find the list less of a burden.

-I also decided that I wanted my email to be a conversation. I “send” all the emails from my personal address and encourage subscribers to reply. Every month I have all sorts of great conversations about books. Sometimes I even get recommendations that I end up reading and using myself later.

-I said I decided to go with Mailchimp for my backend. Why? I only send one email a month and most plans are designed for people who send lots of emails. Using Mailchimp was cheap and easy. Also they allow bulk imports of emails, which was important because my list already existed. If you use this link to sign up, MailChimp will give you like $30 in bonus credits.

-There are a lot of other good programs out there such as SendGrid, AWeber and ConstantContact.

-Mailchimp also allowed me to put a little form on my website for entries.

-But I’ve also always encouraged people to just email me directly with the words “Reading List” in the subject line. It’s a little bit of a pain but over the years I have manually entered hundreds of addresses this way. Would those people have signed up the other way? Maybe, but I didn’t want to take the risk that they wouldn’t.

-The list chugged along by word of mouth for about two years. Every month I did an email and sold a couple books via Amazon’s affiliate program. The first real bump in subscribers came from Tim Ferriss–I wrote a post for his blog in 2011 and asked if I could link to the list at the bottom. Almost 1,000 subscribers came to the list just from that post.

-Speaking of which, you have to give yourself time. I knew that I wouldn’t need to deploy my email list for years so I was able to develop it over time and treat it right. If you have a product you’re releasing next week, that’s just not enough runway to build a proper list.

-Also because I am thinking long term and know that I have no plans to abandon this list, I was able to buy Mailchimp credits in bulk (a few thousand dollars at a time) and save a lot of money on the cost-per-send.

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Charlie Hoehn suggested a couple years ago that I do a yearly round up. His point was that most people follow along but don’t have time to read all the books. Could I recommend 3-5 BEST for the year, as well? So I do that in December or January and I post it online too. It actually drives leads. Here are the ones from 2011, 2012 and 2013.

-I’ve tried multiple different toolbars at the top of my site to drive signups. First I used HelloBar. Then I moved to the ViperBar, which was great because it offered A/B testing. Recently I moved to Noah Kagan’s SmartBar which is absolutely killer.

-Don’t obsess over unsubscribes. You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs–you can’t email lots of people without pissing off a couple. Provided that you’re adding a lot more than you’re losing, you’re good. A couple months ago, some kook got very upset about something I said about Adam Smith–so I unsubscribed him myself. No reason to bother with it.

-I deliberately have zero monetization plans for this list. It has made a decent amount of money from Amazon affiliate links over the years but in all honesty, it probably barely covers my time and definitely doesn’t cover how much I’ve spent on books myself. The benefit of the list is meaningful, direct access to 35,000 avid readers. The value of that is essentially priceless.

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-In fact, in seven years I have sent a total of two emails to the list that were not exclusively book recommendations. Even my short book, Growth Hacker Marketing, did not get its own dedicated blast–that’s how protective I am of not abusing the privilege of communicating with these readers. This has paid off. For the announcement of my first book, the email list alone was enough to send it sub 100 on Amazon two months before release…and the list was less than 5,000 people then.

-Be ok mailing to very few people for a long time. I was. I knew that I had a long-term strategy. I also knew that recommending some life-changing books even to a small number of people was a beneficial activity in itself. Look at my chart–the size is basically unchanged for over a year. In reality I was excited each time 2-3 people signed up and I also knew that it takes time for word of mouth to spread.

-Obsess about quality. There are some months when I was so-so on the books I read. I debated whether to include them in the list (because that is lost affiliate revenue). I always decide no. The trust and respect of the readers has to trump all. I would rather recommend nothing than recommend a book that ends up letting people down.

-According to Amazon over 30,000 books/products have been ordered via my affiliate link since creating the list.

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-As you can imagine, this was a convincing bit of information to include in my book proposals. I wasn’t just saying that I had some fans who would buy my stuff, I had proof that I had a list of people who bought tons of books on my recommendation (that I didn’t even write!). Having a platform is one of the biggest things that agents and publishers look for.

-Oh yeah, during the launch of Trust Me I’m Lying, I found out that my Brazilian publisher actually found out about my book because they’d been a subscriber for a few years and were willing to take a chance on me.

-One thing I’ve never done well is proofing or editing my emails. I know I should spend more time and I get this criticism a lot. Learn from my bad example here.

-I saw my friend Ben Casnocha speak at UC Riverside a few years ago and was impressed with how he sent around an email signup sheet at the end of the talk. I didn’t want to do that, so I decided I would put a slide in all my presentations that gave away some bonuses if people emailed a certain email address. I’ve probably snagged 1,000 email addresses this way over the last two years.

-The list added 32 people yesterday. I didn’t do anything. Not bad for a day’s work.

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-My publisher Portfolio was nice enough to let me put a page in the back of my first book pushing the newsletter under the title “Further Reading.” As you can see from the graph at the top of the post, this correlates nicely with the growth of the list. It also worked out that they’ve continued to publish my other books–and have benefited from its sizeable growth.

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-That’s something to remember: Lists help promote launches. But launches, if done right, also help grow lists.

-I use MailChimp’sEmail Beamer” to draft almost all the emails. Basically, I type up the email in Gmail, send it to a special unique address and bam, the campaign is ready to go in my account.

-Another unexpected benefit of the list. Authors and publishers send me free copies of their books all the time. It’s also been a great way to connect with authors I admire. Amazon added me to “Amazon Vine” and other cool stuff like that. When the list was small, nobody cared that I recommended a book to 100 friends. But now when I say, “Hey Joe Author, I loved your book and just told 35,000 people to buy it,” they tend to be pretty friendly.

-For the launch of The Obstacle Is The Way I did a Bittorrent bundle. Their email gate (to get the content you have to provide an email) was responsible for over 5,000 emails I got to add to my list. It was the single largest driver for me to date (other than word of mouth).

-I’ve also been a long-time Slideshare Pro user–a program that they inexplicably discontinued recently. Last year, I paid $200 to have this Slideshare made to promote my list. It has done 152,000 views and driven substantial numbers of new emails to the list. Before that, it was a successful blog post. The point is, create content in multiple mediums to inform people about what you do.

-Another thing about protecting your list? Through MailChimp I use AlterEgo to require double authentication for login. I don’t want to mess around with security or privacy with these emails.

-The best way to drive people to your list is to have a list that people enjoy being on. I put a little line at the bottom that encourages readers to forward the email to friends. A lot of them do so because they genuinely do recommend it. Like all things, word of mouth is the best marketing there is.

-Sometimes friends will ask me to recommend their books to my list. I have to be super choosy–honestly, I won’t even recommend books by clients who pay me to consult on promoting their books unless I love love love the book.

-There are a couple of high-profile subscribers like Mark Frauenfelder at Boing Boing and the author Austin Kleon. Their occasional mentions of the list has been hugely helpful.

-In 2012 I got my act together after talking to my friend Derek Halpern. I redid my sign-up page for the list with a clear explanation of what the list was, why people should sign up and what they’d get out of it. It has done wonders for the number of new subscribers. Who’d have guessed?

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-But what really made a difference was the auto-responder I set up. For more than five years, new subscribers were simply added to this list but received nothing from me until the next monthly email went out. That meant that sometimes readers might go 45 days before they heard from me, meaning that some forgot that they’d even signed up (and then promptly unsubscribed). So I added a short, clear email that you now automatically get when you sign up. It hits you with 5 book recommendations to start you off and provides links to some popular articles I have written about reading and writing.

-Of the 20,000-plus people who have gotten this initial note, more than 80% have opened it. It’s sold many, many copies of the books I’ve written, driven great traffic to my articles and of course, made the list more active and engaged. For more on this, I would check out these resources: Start with The Art of the Welcome Email and 13 ‘Welcome’ Email Ideas. You should also look into Really Good Emails, which has a category dedicated to great welcome emails. Tim Ferriss’ introductory email is a great example to follow–it provides exclusive content and highlights some of his best posts.

-In the future I might create a track for users so that there are more automated emails. For instance, a 1-year anniversary email or a bump after three months with some thoughts about reading. Onboarding is incredibly important and I want to get better at it.

-My list doesn’t currently offer sign-up bonuses but I have worked with plenty of clients to develop some. Look at what we set up for Robert Greene. In less than three months he has nearly doubled the size of his email list simply by offering this cool little document we created to anyone who signed up.

-The regularity of the list is important. Some people let their lists lie fallow for a long time. I don’t get that. On the other hand, look at Groupon, which could have been this hotly anticipated, exclusive email once a day but instead became forgettable by oversending. For a list like mine, once a month has been a great middle ground. Enough to keep people active, not too much to lead to burnout.

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-The list has an open rate of nearly 50%. That’s crazy for a list of this size. And guess what? I do basically no subject line testing, no clickbait, no trickery. In fact, for like a year I forgot whether I called it the “Reading List Email” or “Reading Recommendation Email. One might be better than the other but what really matters is having a solid email that people actually want to open.

-I’ve never done affiliate mailings to my list, but I have worked on them with clients. Essentially, it’s when someone mails to their list on your behalf for a cut of the revenue. This can be a great way to expand your reach for a product launch or particular push. Here are some resources: Look into this post on Indiemark, MarketingSherpa’s 10 rules of thumb and Mailchimp’s post on the pitfalls of email list rental.

-Oh yeah, when you have a list, people will come to you all the time to ask “if you’ll send to your list for them.” They ask like it is some tiny favor. See the affiliate point above, but also be very cautious about this. Protect your list. Don’t give yours away. The whole value is that the readers believe that you carefully curate this and that its content reflects your actual values and sensibilities. Don’t trade trust today that you might need down the road. (One nice lesson I learned with my list is that by having a very defined and clear format, I can easily say no because their request just doesn’t fit with what I do.)

-I also worked to develop a popup. I generally hate popups and don’t think they are effective–but a clear, non-intrusive call-to-action can really work. I had it coded so the popup came only after your second visit to the site and only after you’d been reading for something like 30 seconds. This did well for me at first. Recently, I switched over to Noah Kagan’s popup, which is more automated and looks better. It shows up after a reader has seen 80% of a given page and can be easily x’d out of.

-One question I’ve gotten a lot over the years was access to the Reading List Email archive. I’ve deliberately declined to make that available to most people because I want the list to be forward focused. I want them to sign up and look out for the email each month, not go back through what I recommended in 2010. But the archive did make for a really good PDF bonus when I did a pre-order campaign for The Obstacle Is The Way.

-Last month I tried out a KingSumo contest that encouraged people to sign up for the list. I offered a free copy of every book in the October list to one winner. But the benefit of a KingSumo contest is that it incentivizes entrants to invite their friends to participate (by offering them a better chance of winning). My contest wasn’t as huge as some people’s but I did snag around 700 new names to the list.

-I also have two other smaller lists. I’ve collected more than 3,000 emails for my launch of Growth Hacker Marketing (detailed here) and it made for a great asset for the launch. I also collected about 500 random emails during the launch of The Obstacle Is The Way (though almost all went directly to the Reading List Email).

-Think about it: Facebook just announced they were going to be deliberately throttling marketing messages (what a scam). Most Twitter messages get lost in the stream. Email is the best way to reach your people because no one can get in the way.

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I hope this case study was helpful and of course, I hope you sign up for the Reading List Email. More than that, I hope you start creating your own list. You’ll thank me later.

I’ve built a lot of different assets in my career, from marketing campaigns to books to businesses. Honestly, building this list ranks among my proudest achievements. It’s something that no one else has replicated and has succeeded with an incredibly discerning audience. I take some extra satisfaction that it succeeded despite some doubters.

Where it will go in the future, I have no idea. I know it will continue trucking along–in fact, I’m typing up this month’s blast right now.