Mark Manson Interview: The Path to Becoming a Global Bestselling Author

Source MarkManson.net

Background

There is a lot of conflicting information about Mark Manson’s early years of blogging so I asked for a timeline of his different websites and an estimate of the traffic he was getting.

Timeline

2007 to 2010: Personal blog that later evolved into a pickup/dating advice blog as it grew. He wrote on Blogspot under the pseudonym “Entropy.”

Audience Size (estimated unique visitors per day):

2007: 0–25
2008: 25–100
2009: 100–300
2010: 300–500
2011: 500–1000
2012: 1000–3000
2013: 3000–10k
2014: 10k to 50k

How has the overall attention economy changed in the past 10 years from when you first started?

The same way you can’t really give investment advice without considering the overall macroeconomic environment (high inflation, oil prices, fed funds rate, etc.), you can’t really give writing or online content advice without considering the macro environment of the attention economy — i.e., what are Facebook/Google/Amazon/Apple doing, what are the algorithms optimizing for, where is the culture’s attention at the moment, where do young/old/educated/uneducated people spend their time?

How many copies of the Models book did you sell in the first year? What are the total sales now?

Models was a slow burn. When it first came out, it didn’t do very well. It sold a few hundred copies and then kind of stagnated. I actually revised and updated it 2–3 times in the first year. But the main issue was that its message was simply contrarian and unpopular in the market I was in at the time. At the time, I was a large voice in the “pick up artist” market, and I wrote a book essentially telling men that they should be honest to women, take their emotions seriously, and stop judging their self-worth based on sex. As you can imagine, it was widely ridiculed when it came out. Fortunately, within a couple years, that market matured/changed its views on a lot of things and Models eventually became the bestselling men’s dating advice book on Amazon. Today, it’s probably sold 300k-400k copies.

Why did you switch to MarkManson.net?

As Postmasculine grew in popularity, a lot of women began to discover the site and become fans. At a certain point, it seemed dumb to limit my brand to be directed towards men when 90+% of what I wrote about applied to women as well. On top of that, rebranding to my own name would allow me to write about basically anything without it seeming weird or out of place.

What were the key principles to your growth?

It’s hard to isolate them because so many of them happened concurrently. But there are a few principles that have served me well over the years.

  1. The first is that I started with an extremely small niche and then gradually pivoted to larger and larger markets. If I had started out as a general self-help blogger, chances are I would have had trouble getting an audience. But instead, I started with dating advice for men around Boston. Then I pivoted into a general men’s dating advice. Then I pivoted into general men’s life advice. Then I pivoted into general life advice.
  2. Understanding which platforms and mediums had the highest leverage at each point. I built most of my initial audience through virality on Facebook. At any given point, there are higher and lower leverage platforms for writing (or any content, in general) and it’s important to always have a general sense of where those are. (See original point about macro environment.)
  3. The returns on content are non-linear. Making an article 10% better doesn’t deliver 10% better results, it delivers 100% better results. Therefore, back in an era where the conventional wisdom was to post every day/week, I backed off and really focused on nailing a homerun article every 2–3 weeks that would go viral. As a result, I had a handful of hit articles that have probably been as valuable as the rest of my archive combined. One is obviously the Subtle Art article. Another is an article called “7 Strange Questions to Find Your Life Purpose.” Aside from going mega-viral when it came out and catching the attention of Liz Gilbert, Tim Ferriss and a few others, Google has treated it very well over the years for some reason. It’s been my highest SEO traffic magnet for many years now. The article “Fuck Yes or No” went viral in 2013 and for many years was actually posted on thousands of people’s dating profiles on sites like OKCupid. Content definitely follows the 80/20 Rule, if not more like 90/10.

How much of your growth do you attribute to deliberate strategy versus just trying lots of things?

Each is worthless without the other. Strategy is worth nothing without trying tons of things. Trying tons of things is a waste of time/energy if you don’t do it strategically.

How much of an impact did Facebook and Twitter have on your growth?

Facebook was massive for me. It’s basically what put me on the map. Twitter has had little effect on my business. These days, that would probably be reversed if I was starting out. Facebook is basically dead and kills the organic reach of any link off platform, whereas Twitter offers a lot of writers to show off their content through tweet threads.

What impact did that ‘Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck’ article have?

It was definitely my most viral article ever. I think it got shared over a million times. But it was also at the tail end of a long string of viral articles from 2013–2015. In that two-year period, I had had 7–8 articles that brought in millions of people each. But beginning in 2015–16, Facebook started choking off their algorithm, pushing people to pay for reach. Around the same time, traditional media started to figure out social media marketing and how to go viral on platforms, so my competitive advantage had mostly disappeared.

For a new writer starting today, what advice would you give to build an audience and make a living?

Unfortunately, today, to build an audience, you have to play with the platforms ON the platforms, which constrains you. It also means that depending on what genre/niche you’re in, you’re going to need to pick a platform that makes the most sense and obsess over it. So if you’re in politics or finance, that probably means just getting amazingly good on Twitter, build the audience there, then get them to move to a newsletter or website of yours. If it’s business, then probably LinkedIn. If it’s self-help or poetry or something, then maybe Instagram. Also, because of these constraints, I think writers should seriously consider concurrently building an audience in audio/video as well. I hate to say it, but the largest growth opportunities these days are in audio and video. I wish it weren’t so.

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John Bardos

John Bardos

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