James Clear’s “Concentrated Strike” Strategy for Making Atomic Habits a Bestseller

Ever wonder how a book like Atomic Habits becomes an International Bestseller?

It’s tempting to think that it’s down to:

a.) Writing a great book

b.) Luck

Sure, those two elements are vital. 

But if you dig deeper into Clear’s story, you discover that a tremendous amount of careful planning went into his launch strategy. 

Recently, he shared a breakdown of his approach in an interview with Tim Ferriss , which you can check out the transcript for here.

This article provides a summary of Clear’s strategy. 

Most of the steps are replicable, so if you’re writing a book (or plan to at some point in the future), what follows can be a valuable resource. 

Principles


There’s nothing unique about Clear’s approach. 

In fact, a lot of other authors have already recommended similar strategies. 

What differentiates Clear — and what might account for his success — are three factors:

1.) He engineered a concentrated strike. 

Clear carefully orchestrated his efforts so that everything happened within a 3 week window

Because everything happened in a condensed time frame (e.g. 75 podcast interviews being released, 20+ major influencers sharing the book, and 4-5 emails to his list), it gave the launch a tremendous amount of “activation” energy and created the perception amongst his target audience that the book was everywhere. 

Sort of like a “surround-sound” effect. 

This gives potential readers the sensation that they are the only ones not reading the book, which is a major motivator to go and get a copy. 

(Remember how you felt at school when you were the only one that hadn’t seen a show all of your friends were talking about from the previous night.)

The exact details of how Clear created “surround sound” effects are shared in the sections below.


2.) He did it at scale. 

A key differentiating factor in Clear’s approach was the sheer volume of his efforts. 

For example:

— He personally reached out to 300+ podcast guests

— He sent 1,000 copies to influencers

— He emailed his list 4-5 times during launch week

Again, details can be found in the section below. 


3.) He gave himself enough time.

The reason why he was able to execute so effectively was because he gave himself 15 months to plan and implement his launch strategy. 

That’s uncommon – particularly among authors. 

This gave him enough breathing space to do high quality research and reach outs to podcast guests and influencers, both of which were critical elements in his plan. 

For this reason, Clear recommends giving yourself a minimum of 9-15 months to create and execute a high quality launch plan.

Let’s now get into the details of the Strategy.

There were 3 core elements: 

1.) Podcasts

2.) Influencers 

3.) Email List


Part 1: Podcast strategy

Using the following process, Clear created a list of 300 potential podcast hosts to reach out to:

1.) Go through itunes and find categories relevant to your book (e.g. health and fitness, entrepreneurship, wellbeing, etc. 

2.) Identify shows that are already interview shows. In other words, don’t ask for an interview on a show that doesn’t regularly invite guests on. 

3.) Put all 300 shows in a spreadsheet

4.) Draft individual emails to all 300 hosts.


Notes on drafting emails:

Have a general template that you customise for each person. In other words, you can use the same basic skeleton each time, but have a couple of lines that are customizable so you can add a personal touch. 

If the person on the receiving end senses that they are at the other side of a “copy and paste” job, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll get a response.

Here’s how Clear (roughly) worded his customizable sentences in the interview with Ferriss:

“I’m aware you’ve had [insert relevant previous guest’s name] or you’ve talked about [insert relevant topic] in this episode, and I feel like I could expand on that or offer a different perspective. 

Based on your [youtube/podcast/website] comments, it seems like it’s a popular topic with your audience. If you’re interested, I’d love to come on. 

I’m sure the show is going to be a hit regardless of whether I do or not, but if you’re interested, let me know – I feel we could have a great conversation.”

1.) Send the emails approximately 4 months before your launch date and get as many interviews as possible scheduled.

2.) In the final 2 months, record as many interviews as you can.

3.) Important: Ask everybody to release during launch week. Your aim is to have what Clear calls a “concentrated strike”. 

As much energy as possible in a condensed window of time. 

This makes your book launch seem bigger than it actually is. You want people to feel like it is everywhere and that they are missing out by not reading it. 

In Clear’s case, he had 75 interviews released during launch week and then did an additional 25 during the month that the book came out. This meant that in the first month, he had 100 interviews released within one month, causing a “surround sound” effect in his chosen niche. 

Additional Considerations


a.) If you’ve done your homework, properly personalised the reach outs, and made the opportunity relevant for their audience, you should expect approx one third of the people you reach out to respond. 

So if you send 300 emails, expect about 100 to get back to you.

In other words, anticipate approximately 200 rejections ahead of time — and don’t take it personally. 

b.) To boost credibility and increase your chances of getting onto other podcasts, try and get on at least one well known podcast early on and give a good account of yourself. 

Then, when you’re reaching out, say: 

“To give you an idea of some of the things we could discuss, check out my interview with _______.”

Not only will this give you more credibility, it’ll also set you up for a good conversation. 

Part 2: Influencer Strategy

 

 
Reaching out to influencers was the second component of Clear’s “concentrated strike” strategy. 

Here’s how he recommends approaching this for your launch:

1.) Start by thinking of communities that already have a lot of word of mouth by asking: 

What things are people already interested in, that they can’t stop talking about?

When Clear asked himself this question, he came up with:

Crossfitters

Vegans

Bullet Journallers

Parenting & Mommy Blogs

In total, he ended up with a list of 15 influencer categories. 

2.) Next, narrow your list of influencer categories to 5, by asking: which of these communities would the book I am writing be a good fit for? 

(Although there might be a lot of word of mouth in the vegan community, it’s unlikely that you’ll get any responses if your book is about startup investing.) 

This step helped Clear to narrow his list down to 5 influencer categories in total. 

3.) Now, identify 30 of the top influencers in each niche and add them to a spreadsheet. 

In total, this should give you approx. 150 people to reach out to. 

4.) Reach out to all of them using the least crowded channel.

The least crowded channel wasn’t recommended by Clear, but this is usually a good practice when contacting people who have a lot of incoming. 

Ask: how do most people try to connect with this person? How can I do the opposite? 

This approach could lead you to trying novel strategies. For example, you could send a handwritten letter or comment on their personal blog. 

Guidelines for reaching out:

1.) Before you send a copy, make sure to contact them first and ask if they’re interested. (This ensures that you won’t spam anybody nor will you waste any books.) 

2.) Make your ask relevant to their current situation and make it easy for them. Say that you’ll put post-it notes on 3-4 pages that you’d like them to check out that are relevant for them or relate to their work. Let them know they don’t have to read the full book – only these highlighted pages.

3.) Engineer novelty into your ask. One of the reasons why atomic habits was a success with the crossfit community was because very rarely did influencers in that genre receive a book. Normally they get supplements, workout gear, etc. Because of this, many of the influencers who received atomic habits opened up the package, took a picture, and shared it on Instagram – without Clear even asking them to. 

4.) If you find a winner, branch out into similar categories. When Clear discovered that Atomic Habits was a hit with the crossfit community, he decided to branch out and target other communities in the fitness space, such as: bodybuilders, powerlifters, etc. Although he started with a list of 100, he ended up sending 1,000 influencer copies in total. 

Part 3: Email List Strategy

 

When he was asked what he would do if could only do one thing to market his books, Clear responded that he’d focus on building his email list. 

There are two primary benefits to this. 

First, as you’re building the list, you can refine your ideas and get feedback on what’s resonating and interesting enough to include in your book. 

Second, publishers will take you seriously. The only reason Clear got the book deal in the first place was because he had already built a substantial email list.

During launch week, he scheduled 4-5 emails to his existing list building hype around the book. 

These included:

Providing a free sample chapter 

Sharing a CBS segment that he was featured on (again, this created the perception that the launch was a huge event in the culture)

Offering bonuses as rewards. 

For example, if someone bought one copy during launch week, they got access to a private webinar with him. If they bought three copies, they got a secret chapter and extra pdf downloads. If they bought ten, they got a further bonus. And if anyone bought between 500-1000, Clear would do a keynote free of charge. (Note: be careful with what you wish for with this final bonus. Because of this, he ended up travelling to Australia and Malaysia to deliver presentations.) 

2 Bonus Tips from Tim Ferriss


Towards the end of the interview, Tim Ferriss (a 3 x NY Times Bestselling Author himself) shared two pieces of general advice that are also worth mentioning here.

1.) Go Deep with a Small Number of Strategies.

Most authors end up using a “scatter-brain” brain approach where they half-ass about 12 different strategies. 

In trying to do everything, they do nothing well. 

Instead, it’s better to concentrate your efforts on a small number of strategies and go “all in” on them like Clear did. 

This will increase both the quality and effectiveness of your launch efforts.

2.) Choose a “Soft” Launch Week. 

Before you choose the exact week you’ll launch, do some research to identify if any major competitors will be launching a similar book in the exact same week. 

For example, if you have a cookbook coming out, it would notbe a good idea to launch the week before Christmas. 

So that’s the strategy. 

Again, the thing to emphasise here is not what Clear did, but how he did it. 

He argues that his success can be explained primarily by two factors: 

(1.) The scale and volume of his implementation:

Personally reaching out to 300+ podcast guests

Sending 1,000+ copies to influencers

Emailing his list 4-5 times during launch week

(2.) His “concentrated strike” approach

Because everything was released (e.g. 75 podcast interviews) in a condensed 3 week window, it gave the book “surround-sound” effects and created the perception among his target audience that it was everywhere. 

This, in turn, motivated a lot of people to pick up a copy to see what all the fuss was about. 

Obviously, neither scale nor the “surround-sound” effect are possible unless you give yourself enough time to carefully plan and implement your launch strategy. 

So, if you’re serious about giving your book the best chance of success, ensure to give yourself a period of 9-15 months to execute your strategy. 

I hope this “deconstruction” has been as insightful for you as it has been for me. 

If you have a spare minute, leave a comment with one insight from Clear’s approach that you’d like to implement in your own launch strategy. 

 
 
Facebook
Twitter
LinkedIn
Niall McKeever

Niall McKeever

Writer and Founder of The Weekend University. Passionate about making great ideas more accessible.

Read more about me »

The Question & Quote Newsletter

Twice monthly I publish the Question & Quote Newsletter, a short email containing 1 question and 1 quote, designed to help you find clarity, shift your perspective, and live a more creative, intentional and meaningful life. Sign up below to receive it: 

(I hate spam. You’ll only receive one email every two weeks, and you can unsubscribe at any time.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

2 questions & 2 quotes every 2 weeks to help you find clarity. Add the Question & Quote Newsletter to Your Inbox. 

Before you go...

Interested in reading more books? If so, check out this free guide which shows you 3 simple techniques to 3x your reading speed.