THE BLOG
06/17/2013 01:13 pm ET Updated Aug 16, 2013

How Pat Flynn Became a Bestselling Author (It's Not How You Think)

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Today I'm excited to bring you an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the creation of a new bestselling book by a first-time author. Earlier this year, I profiled Pat Flynn and his decision to release his first book on a brand new, untested iPad-based platform called "Snippet." As he discusses more below, he later released the book on Amazon's Kindle Platform, and the book became a bestseller within hours.

Pat is a very innovative thinker, and he has a lot of insights into what it takes to release a successful book in today's rapidly-changing publishing landscape.

Here's Pat:

Like many people in 2008, I lost my beloved job as the U.S. economy crumbled. When I received word that I was being let go, my world caved in around me. The hardest part was telling my fiancee that evening that I didn't have a job anymore. I didn't know what we'd do. I was sad, confused, and scared about what would happen next.

But what did happen next changed everything. And because of it, and the series of events that followed, I am today blissfully happy with work and life as well as the proud author of an Amazon #1 bestselling book. I still can't believe it.

The Myth of Overnight Success

My book Let Go did become a bestseller on Amazon more or less overnight. Within 24 hours, it became #1 in the Small Business and Entrepreneurship category, eclipsing titans like The Lean Startup by Eric Ries and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. In all of Business, it earned the #4 spot and, as of today, has an average rating of 4.8 out of 5 stars from 74 reviews. But that success was five years in the making.

Let Go tells the story of how I overcame the adversity I faced in 2008 to build a lifestyle rich with happiness and financial security. Because I devoted myself to working hard for those five years, I had the opportunity today in 2013 to propel the book to bestseller status in a short period of time.

I owe that opportunity to the amazing people that listen to my podcast and read my blog as well as to the great friends I've made through my work online. I also owe it to my outstanding production team for the work they did to create a top-notch book complete with video bonuses, gorgeous illustrations, and integrated social media conversations. I'm so grateful for everything everyone has done to help make Let Go a success. Collectively, they remind me that, in today's digital age, you need both parts to ignite any success: an enthusiastic tribe and a high-quality product. I'll explain how I managed both in the rest of this article. But first, a final thought on the silly idea of overnight success.

According to Tony Robbins, "The path to success is to take massive determined action." I have no doubt that he's right. Unfortunately, the myth that success can be magicked into existence distracts good people from their path. I want to help them avoid that distraction and stay on the path to their full potential. By breaking down how we engineered Let Go into a success, namely through years of investments and a lot of hard work, I hope that distraction fades. And if a book is in your future, then I hope this article helps you become a bestseller too.

My Amazing Fans

I appreciate my fans so much. They are the reason that I started my podcast Smart Passive Income years ago; I wanted to give back to the world the advice I had received and the lessons I had learned becoming a successful online entrepreneur. To do the show well, I invested a lot of time into studying podcast techniques and show formats. I also invested a lot of money into quality equipment. I was glad to do it because I wanted the show to be the best it could be. And I wanted it to be 100 percent authentic, so, to this day, I don't accept sponsorships and each episode is free.

In each episode, I reveal every detail I can about working for yourself and running a business. Transparency is key with me; I want my listeners to know what it's truly like working for yourself and running a business--the ups and the downs. I also work hard to consistently release new shows and connect with listeners on social media and by email. My approach has attracted a fantastic audience of tens of thousands that has, due to their engagement, made my show one of the top rated business podcasts in all of iTunes. I couldn't be more grateful.

The overwhelming support of that audience, which is shared with my blog of the same name, aligned perfectly to the book. I wrote the book for them as a singular resource of my most important lessons told through a retelling of my personal journey. To make that advice more vivid, my team and I produced bonus videos to accompany many chapters and hand-drawn illustrations to introduce all of them. My fans loved the time and care we put into creating the book. That love translated into the great success we experienced on Amazon.

If there is any magic at all to this sort of success, it comes from the love shared with the audience. Whether you're hoping to become a bestselling author or popular startup or some other version of success, you must show a genuine caring for the people that choose to support you and your work. Authors such as Timothy Ferriss, Seth Godin, Daniel Pink, and Chris Guillebeau (bestsellers all) know this well. So do companies like Zappos, MailChimp, and Buffer.

Simply put: Love your audience and they'll love you back. Give value to your audience and they'll support your work. Believe in your audience and they'll believe in you.

My Mighty Team

Building an enthusiastic tribe of fans is only half the battle of publishing a bestselling book. The other half involves layers upon layers of work to transform the promising idea of the book into a captivating experience.

I'll admit that I had no idea how much work was involved when I started this project. While the narrative was my own and therefore relatively easy to write, the production side was completely new to me. Thankfully, I recruited a talented team of creative pros to help me build Let Go into an amazing experience.

My team included Matt Gartland, my editor and producer; Caleb Wojcik, my videographer and web designer; Jonathan Wondrusch, my illustrator and book designer, and Greg Young, my web developer. Together, we put into place a production plan much like you'd find at a Hollywood movie studio. It all started with pre-production.

Pre-Production Prep

Pre-production on Let Go began with our first of many Google Hangouts. Matt had already seen the manuscript, but before getting too far into it Matt, Caleb, and I came together to discuss the full vision of the book, including mapping out all the multimedia components.

It's vital to note here that Let Go was first published on a brand new platform called Snippet. I'm so honored to have had the opportunity to work with Snippet's team directly as one of their inaugural authors. Snippet allows authors to include HD movies, real-time Twitter hashtag threads, photos, and audio clips directly into books. At present, Snippet is exclusive to Apple devices (which is why we later published with Amazon so that Kindle users could enjoy the book too).

In our pre-production kickoff meeting, we isolated every chapter theme and associated each one with possible media bonuses that would enrich that part of the book. We knew we wanted to include a lot of video, so we listed possible shooting locations and details for each, including target durations, subject matter, and b-roll ideas.

As the pre-production process continued, we refined our shot list and finalized our shooting scripts. Caleb and I both live in southern California, so getting together to film was a synch when production started.

Meanwhile, we did a bunch of research into book covers. I know we're not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but we do. The whole team voted on ideas after the short list of cover examples had been compiled. Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson was the overwhelming favorite. The final cover for Let Go reflects the bold simplicity seen in their cover, including a featured item symbolic to the essence of the book. We also chose to go without a subtitle due to Rework's inspiration.

The website was the final big pre-production item we had to discuss. We hadn't engaged Greg yet to start development because we needed to architect what content we wanted, and where. My Smart Passive Income website gets a lot of traffic, but we felt a new platform for the book (and future books) was the best strategic choice. That decision gave rise to PatFlynn.me.

With all our decisions made, we transitioned into production mode, which is where the fun really began.

Production Pipeline

A lot of stuff started happening all at once as soon as production began.

Matt edited the manuscript as well as architected and wrote content for the new website. Caleb worked with me to finalize our shooting schedule, did all the filming, and cranked out the design for the new website. Snippet had offered their creative team to design the cover, so we shared our inputs and let them loose on it. Matt kept us all on track by manning the production process.

Once Caleb's design was ready, we got Greg involved to implement the design into a functioning website. Likewise, once we approved a cover from Snippet, we got Jonathan involved to handcraft chapter illustrations in the style of the cover. Jonathan went so far as to create a custom font based on the typography in the cover to ensure consistency throughout. All the while, editing, filming, and writing continued.

In addition to producing the book and the media assets, we also spent time during production preparing for launch. Our launch plan consisted of social media strategies, guest appearances on other podcasts, email newsletters with behind the scenes details, blog posts, and more. I took the lead on those marketing efforts once we all felt the launch plan was sound.

As fast as production started, it was over. With all the filming complete, cover approved, illustrations crafted, website content created, website built, and launch activities in the works, the time had come to put all the pieces together in post-production.

Post-Production Polish

Post-production can be nerve-racking because you don't really know how well all the parts are going to come together until assembly begins. Thankfully, there weren't any major bumps.

Matt edited and configured all the web content on the newly implemented website while Caleb finalized all the video edits and compressions. The website turned out great as did the first video: the Let Go trailer. We used the trailer to generate pre-launch buzz for the book while the rest of the post-production process continued.

As Caleb and Jonathan wrapped up their respective visual assets, Matt configured the final manuscript version into Snippet's publishing portal. (We published first on Snippet, then Amazon a few weeks later.) The videos, chapter cover illustrations, and Twitter hashtag thread (#LetGoBook) were added into their appropriate places once polished. When all was in place, including our planned launch marketing, we clicked publish.

The Big Bang

Really, there were two big bangs.

The first was Snippet launch day. We were all anxious to see how the new technology would perform and how the book would be received. We'd seen a pre-published version of the book via a Snippet test app. All looked fantastic, but again, you never really know until you see it live. Thankfully, everything worked great and the book was purchased hundreds of times that day, quickly making it the most popular book on Snippet. To date, there are 3,000+ purchases on Snippet.

While our marketing efforts stayed focused on Snippet, the team switched gears into Amazon mode. Jonathan led the Amazon ebook conversion while Matt readied all the publishing logistics. We also had to create a bonus content page on PatFlynn.me because you cannot embed videos into Kindle books as you can via Snippet, and we absolutely wanted to allow all readers of Let Go in any format to enjoy the bonus videos.

A few weeks later, right on cue, we ignited our second-stage rocket booster by launching on Amazon. Big bang number two. As I shared at the top, Let Go quickly became an Amazon #1 bestseller and has earned to date an average rating of 4.8 out of 5 stars from 74 reviews.

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I couldn't be prouder of the response to Let Go nor more grateful for everyone's help making it such a success. Every part of the experience was amazing. Thankfully, it's not over.

Time Travel and the Path Forward

Back to the Future is one of my favorite movies in large part because I love the idea of time travel. Let Go even features a bonus chapter at the end of the book with advice to my younger self--you know, just in case.

While I don't have a DeLorean with a flux capacitor, I have seen a glimpse of the future thanks to this project. This future rewards authors for thinking with a business mindset and caring with a whole heart about the experience of their books more than the mere words. These experiences are adaptable and additive. That's a good thing because a meaningful story never really ends, it simply expands through the interaction with readers. I plan to do exactly that: expand the Let Go story as my journey continues.

I'm excited for the future of books and publishing because of these opportunities to enrich storytelling and enliven engagement. Mind you, these opportunities for success are closely coupled with serious responsibilities. Neglect your audience or skimp on your production and risk the worst outcome imaginable: obscurity.

If you have an important story to tell or idea to share, then do all you can to spark conversations about that story or idea. You owe that to yourself, the idea, and all those that would benefit from it. Today's most successful authors embrace that responsibility. They make their own success by hustling like crazy. To make their ideas matter, they're committed to being everywhere. And when your ideas are everywhere, they'll travel through time.

John Corcoran is an attorney, former Clinton White House Writer and the creator of SmartBusinessRevolution.com, where he writes about the intersection of politics and business. You can download his free ebook "10 Ways to Use Secret Political Strategies and Tactics to Grow Your Business."

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