SPS 141: Creating A Genre, Writing Interesting Books, And The Craziest Marketing Ideas You’ve Ever Heard with AJ Jacobs

Posted on Jan 26, 2022

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Written by Leo Oliveira

Home > Blog > Podcast > SPS 141: Creating A Genre, Writing Interesting Books, And The Craziest Marketing Ideas You’ve Ever Heard with AJ Jacobs

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A.J. Jacobs is an author, journalist, and speaker. He is the author of The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World and The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. His latest book is The Puzzler: One Man’s Quest to Solve the Most Baffling Puzzles Ever, from Crosswords to Jigsaws to the Meaning of Life. He has also given several Ted Talks. As you can tell by the titles of his books, he is clever and funny and lives life with curiosity. 

We talk about AJ’s ability to come up with and write unique books and what he’s learned from having four New York Times bestsellers. This episode will be on his marketing efforts and his crazy experiences when writing his books. AJ shares how he starts with a clear, succinct hook and makes the content relevant to multiple markets. He also makes sure that he has a unique angle when reaching out to reporters and other people who can help with marketing his book.

It’s no accident that his titles and ideas are unique. AJ makes a point to spend 15 minutes each day thinking about a topic and then generating unique ideas and angles about that topic. We also learn about AJ’s research and writing methods. He takes extensive notes on his journey and talks to interesting people. He compiles outlines until he has most of the book in the outline. He then breaks down the topic into sections for each chapter until he has a funny and unique story all his own. We also learn some of his unique marketing methods, from the benefits of Ted Talks to sending over 1000 thank you letters to readers. 

Show Highlights

  • [02:09] AJ decided to write The Know-It-All because he is always looking for inspiration and wanted to write about his life. His father started reading the entire encyclopedia but stopped around the letter B. The book was inspired by AJ’s real life experience with his dad.
  • [03:33] AJ generates a lot of ideas but 99% of them are terrible. He spends 15 minutes a day every morning generating ideas. If he’s still thinking about the idea two weeks later there might be something to it. 
  • [05:14] His idea has to be something the audience will get something out of. He also wants to entertain them and make their lives a little bit better. It has to be something he’s passionate about. It has to be patchable in one or two sentences. He also likes to take on projects around big topics.
  • [07:02] Structure is crucial. Every chapter is about 1 part of the main topic. This is how he tackles the big topics. His puzzle book devotes one chapter to each type of puzzle. 
  • [10:22] In order to research his books he takes extensive notes of everything that happens in his life. He tries to take the reader on a journey. It’s good to be ignorant sometimes and ask the dumb questions. AJ also interviews and talks to interesting people.
  • [11:54] He loves to outline. As his outlines get increasingly filled out, his book just appears.
  • [12:37] AJ’s books usually take about two years. 
  • [14:29] At first AJ didn’t market. Now he enjoys it. He tries to blanket the market and get as many mentions as possible. He slices up his topics and creatively shares with audiences where it applies. 
  • [18:56] AJ wrote a book about family trees and how everyone is related. He’s cousins with everyone and this made a great introduction to get an article in The New York Times. Hey, I’m your cousin is a unique way to reach out.
  • [20:57] A unique method AJ used to promote his book on gratitude by writing 1000 thank you letters to his readers. It took him a year-and-a-half to hand write all of the thank-you letters. He got amazing feedback and some readers posted the letters on social media.
  • [24:29] AJ likes his topics for his books to be easy to summarize like his best selling book The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible which has the topic of the book in the title.
  • [25:07] He’s also given several Ted Talks that have helped sell his book. He’s also been featured on TV shows. His beard helped with the Bible book. Religious-themed books sell well.
  • [28:46] AJ tries to be driven by curiosity in all of his books. 
  • [31:47] Ted Talks move books. It’s great for visibility and booking other gigs to promote your book. It’s good to have a topic that can be summarized in a Hollywood-style pitch.
  • [33:49] To book a Ted Talk, he would do smaller events and see what resonates with people. He would then send in a pitch.
  • [34:57] A quest is an adventure with a goal. Some readers find it compelling to go along for the journey.
  • [36:06] Original ideas are key. AJ makes an appointment to generate ideas. He doesn’t stop until the end of 15 minutes. Take a topic and spin angles for 15 minutes. 

Links and Resources

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