I'm going to let you inside my head more than usual today. I apologize in advance.

Many of you surmised that my prior post about the genie was really a cleverly disguised analogy to my new book, and that once I trapped you into saying you would take the genie's deal, the follow-up would be me saying, "Therefore buy my book!"

But that wasn't my scheme. There's a longer play.

I was trying to isolate (unscientifically) for how many people among us would turn down a deal that is unambiguously good. The real world is never unambiguously good, so it wouldn't make sense to generalize the genie analogy to the book.

I have been seeing a pattern in the past several years that makes me wonder if a sizeable portion of the public has become anti-success. The media has pitted the general public against the one-percenters for several years, so that might be a factor. And the bottom-feeders on the Internet (Gawker, Jezebel, etc.) have business models that involve taking celebrity quotes out of context to demonize them. So it would be no surprise if the public disliked successful people more than ever.

But I have also lately observed people who seem to reject their own best paths to success in favor of paths that are clearly bad. Let's call those choices "loser choices" because any rational and objective observer would see it that way. I wondered if I was seeing an emerging pattern or an illusion.

This line of thinking started because I was seeing the 5-star reviews pour in for my book, How to Fail at Almost Everything. It's getting the best reviews of anything I've written. And the feedback I'm getting by email is just as good. Yet the sales rank is relatively low compared to books in the genre that have worse reviews. So what's the explanation for the exceptional reviews and relatively low sales rank?

It could be any of these explanations.
  1. People aren't especially interested in pursuing "big" success.
  2. People don't believe books can improve the odds of success.
  3. People don't believe that I could write a useful book in this area.
  4. People think success requires more work than they choose to take on.
  5. People believe books can help success, but other uses of time are more effective for pursuing success than reading a book.
  6. People don't know the book exists.
  7. Something about the marketing/positioning of the book isn't working.
  8. People don't like me personally.
  9. People assume the book is more humor than helpful.
Feel free to add to the list.

My attempt in the prior post to isolate for a "loser preference" was interesting but ambiguous. I'll stick with my belief that if you offered a group of strangers a million dollars each with no strings attached, 10% would turn it down for reasons that would seem ridiculous to the other 90%. But I don't think the loser preference is enough to account for the high reviews and relatively low sales rank of my book.

Normally I would just shrug and move to the next project with a better-luck-next-time attitude. But this one is different. And here's where I'm going to let you inside my head more than normal. That's always dangerous.

As I've said in a few media interviews lately, I already have all the money I need personally for the rest of my life. Every dollar I make from now on will be spent by others. But success of the sort I have enjoyed brings with it an unexpected obligation. By virtue of my job, I have an oversized impact on what ideas the public is exposed to. And that means I have an unusually large ability to create positive change in the world. How do I ignore that and go fishing? It would feel immoral.

Now here comes the part I shouldn't say: There is a non-zero chance that my book, How to Fail, could be one of the most useful books ever written.

That claim sounds absurd and arrogant to anyone who hasn't read the book. If you have read it, you probably had the same reaction as the 5-star reviews. And by that I mean you said to yourself some version of "Every 25-year old should read this."

The value of any book would be some function of how useful the topic is and how many people read it. How to Fail addresses what might be the most useful topic of all time: personal success. If the book works as the 5-star reviews believe it does, and it has the potential to make anyone who reads it more likely to succeed, the ripple effect of that improvement could be civilization-altering. Putting that in simpler terms, what if everyone in the world were 5% more effective in pursuing success? Wouldn't that be an enormously positive development?

Realistically, I can't rule out the possibility that I wrote a book that readers believe is helpful but isn't. Such books clearly exist. But that feels unlikely to me, given the nature of the reviews and the type of content in the book. The folks who have read it understand what I mean.

There's no easy and objective way of knowing if the book is as useful as readers seem to think. So let's artificially say the odds of it being useful to a reader are only 20%. And the expense for buying that 20% chance is less than $20 and a few hours of time. Who turns down that deal?

I'm trying to isolate which factor is most important in keeping folks from buying what might be one of the most useful books in the history of civilization. If I figure out where the obstacle is, I'll lean on it a bit and see what happens.

I am well aware that many of you will read this post as nothing but arrogance and delusion. I totally get that. And keep in mind that I have no objective way to know your impression is wrong. Crazy people don't always know they are crazy. That's precisely my dilemma here: My opinion of the value of the book sounds crazy even to me.

But I've decided to open myself up for the inevitable barrage of insults that this post invites in the hope that one of you will say something revelatory on one of these two questions

1. If you read the book, am I wrong that it is useful?

2. What do you think is the biggest factor keeping OTHER people from reading it?  


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+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 16, 2014
Okay so I won't rehash what has been already I think become obvious.

1) the name of the book seems to have "failed"
2) the cover seems to have failed
3) the books demographic seems to have targeted badly

The main thing I think though is that knowledge today is virtually free and because it's free it means that knowledge and keys to success no longer hold the power that they once did. I think the thought that goes through many people's mind is that they want something that improves their life immediately so a 75% increase in success over their life is only 1% increase in their happiness today. Where as a book like 4 Hour Work Week which has maybe 2% increase in their overall happiness has that 2% increase upon reading the back page and the first 20 pages with not much use after that. My suggestion then would be what could you do to increase the immediate happiness percentage of the book while keeping the usefulness of it. I'm by no means an expert but here are my thoughts:

1) Post a reading of the book on YouTube (either read by yourself or a fan willing to work for the book)
1a having fans do readings on YouTube could be a fun way to bring the book to more people though I don't know where the legality of that falls.
2) draw a web comic of certain points of the book and when someone mouses over the comic it opens an excerpt of the book with a buy button at the beginning and end of the excerpt.
3) write/talk about how you did research for the book cover, name and marketing and how you think it ultimately failed. If people don't like success then maybe the failure of the book would attract more notice.
4) Anecdotally I did a search on tpb for your book vs the 4 hour work week, the result was that your book had far fewer seeds (about 10%) than 4 hour work week. I bring this up because I think authors and publishers fail to realize that if your book is being stolen than that means people are willing to break the law to get it, which is ultimately a good thing for the book. I'm not saying to promote the theft of your book but I'm saying that may be a better indication as to the popularity of the book with a demo of 22 to 32. I wonder if there would be a way to seed tpb and other sites with legal excerpts / comics of the book that would then cause people to buy it.
5) I have seen other authors do limited edition books with special packaging and hard covers to a book to promote it. I wonder about doing a kick starter with specially designed covers additional works (maybe not for press/failed dilberts) and signed copies to promote the book more.

Anyway I'm sure all my ideas are bad or not usable but if it sparks anything or helps you sell your book that would make me happy. Also, I'm doing my part and ordering http://amzn.to/1dz15rC for myself and family. Hope you have a great day and keep failing.
Jan 16, 2014
Actually when I read the problem of the genie the first thing that occurred to me was: this sounds a lot like the problem of getting people to get flu shots.

Same price point. Same benefit ratio. But with a flu shot there can be a time investment (usually not) and it won't necessarily be a pleasant way to spend time.

But it's essentially the same problem if you take time out of the equation.

The way I framed your question in my mind was people like predictable outcomes and predictable value. And the genie is not offering that. The genie's deal is a good one. But there's nothing predictable about the outcome - the outcome is vague and unspecified.

Flu shots are the same. It might work. It might not. There's no way to tell. Statistically speaking you are much better off getting it - but the reason people don't is because of the outcome uncertainty involved. They have other, more certain ways to spend money and time.

As a thought experiment I thought it was fine and if you actually sit and think about real world examples they're there. But why people don't do things that are in their interest is an interesting thought experiment and I think the answer is: because many people don't really make rational decisions. The reasons for that are worth looking at. But it's probably a games theory problem - which is essentially saying that different people value different propositions differently. This applies as well to flu shots as it does to mysterious genies.
Jan 16, 2014
I'm still reading it. Sorry to say that work and family have distracted me from it, but I am committed!

My thoughts on the book overall are that there's a lot of negative-incentive to read it. For starters, the title kinda sucks. I mean... as a blog reader, I totally get it -- it's consistent with the way you write, and it's self-deprecating, and since I appreciate your talents and personality, it's cool for me. But for a person less familiar with you, it comes off a bit... like... "How I suck at things that you might be good at, but I'm a winner and you're a loser." Or maybe "I'm lucky and you're not"

The part of the book that's viewable on Amazon's free preview is basically a laundry list of reasons why we shouldn't consider you an authority. It's way too self-deprecating. Some of your favorite phrases (e.g. "Passion is !$%*!$%*! and "Goals are for Losers") go so entirely contrary to common wisdom, that coupled with your prostrating introduction and scary title...

Honestly, I probably wouldn't have been interested in reading it if I wasn't such a huge fan of yours that I've checked your blog nearly every day for closing in on a decade, now.

[I think you indirectly hit on the biggest problem, which is that the book can't be summarized without making it seem lame. The sum of the parts is what gets the 5-star ratings. But any paragraph taken out of context sounds 100% lame and useless. That's been a huge problem for the publicity. I worry that the more soundbites I provide, the worse the book looks. -- Scott]
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 16, 2014
Scott, how about creating an "Improvement Foundation", donating all the profits of the book to that foundation, then have the Improvement Foundation do something improvey?

That would signal that the book is truly about improving mankind. Since you can't make it free this strikes me as the only way to neutralize the idea that you are just promoting it for your profit.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 16, 2014
Yes, the book is useful. I wish I had read it when I was 25 instead of 65. I don't know that it would have changed much of what I did, but at least I would have felt better about the system versus goal approach. How often have you been in a review meeting and been asked "where do you see yourself in 5 years?" I always felt that if I was enjoying myself and being successful at what I was doing, that barring bad luck I would continue to be enjoying myself and being successful.

I do partially disagree on the passion versus system thing. I want to have passion for what I'm doing, but I know I won't be successful without the system.

As to why other people aren't reading it...

What is the sale level compared to your other non-fiction books, for example The Dilbert Principle or The Dilbert Future. They all have "Dilbert" in the title. Would the book sell better if the title was Dilbert's How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big. I'll bet there are lots of people who just look for Dilbert rather than Scott Adams. Amongst the general public, Dilbert is a much more recognized name and brand than Scott Adams. Without Dilbert in the title, it looks like just another self-help book or guide to life book. There are lots of those. How does one choose. Probably luck of the draw.

Is it really doing that badly? Here's the Amazon rankings for the Kindle and hardcover editions:

Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,922 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
#2 in Books > Arts & Photography > Drawing > Cartooning
#2 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Business & Investing > Careers > Guides
#3 in Books > Humor & Entertainment > Humor > Self-Help & Psychology
Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,695 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
#6 in Books > Arts & Photography > Drawing > Cartooning
#7 in Books > Humor & Entertainment > Humor > Self-Help & Psychology
#21 in Books > Business & Investing > Job Hunting & Careers > Guides

Over and above the categories, and that may be an issue as well, those rankings are pretty good. You might want to look at who's #1 in those categories and see how they're doing relative to you. For example, the #1 book in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Business & Investing > Careers > Guides is The 4-Hour Workweek. Obviously people would prefer to work less than to be successful.

Please let us know what you find out.

Jan 16, 2014
Taken in isolation, a 20% chance to improve your life for $20 sounds like a great deal. Problem is, Americans are deluged every day with products and services that promise to make your life happier in one way or another: self help books, investment schemes, fad diets, hair gels, Caribbean cruises, cologne, the next killer app....they all promise to make your life complete. I will probably buy your book at some point because I enjoy your blog and I think the book will be entertaining. But I will not buy it because I think it will improve my overall happiness, I already have a hair gel for that.
Jan 16, 2014
I liked the book.
I wonder how many of the "5 star raters" are also chronic Facebook "likers" or Twitter "re-tweeters"?
Jan 16, 2014
Having read the book, I know your high self-opinion is intentional, so no insults from me. I read the Kindle version on my mobile. It's the first book of its type that I've read, and I bought it based on the Kindle sample that I read. I downloaded the free sample based on your blog posts and the Amazon reviews.

1. If you read the book, am I wrong that it is useful?
I thought it was as useful as a book can be - without being able to clip me round the ear every morning to keep me in line.

2. What do you think is the biggest factor keeping OTHER people from reading it?
If people do take note of Amazon reviews, they might be like me: I read the most useful (according to Amazon) reviews, both positive and negative. I expect there to be negative reviews, and if I can live with the shortcomings they list, then I might buy the book/product.

It strikes me that there are always plenty of people around to say, "Woo! It's great! I love it" so I'm looking for more depth or nuance in the review.
Jan 16, 2014
I haven't read the book, but my guess about your problem is 25 year-olds are the people this book is most likely to help, and they probably aren't reading Dilbert or your blog, and maybe you aren't marketing it to them in a successful way. A bunch of 48 year-olds like me might believe that no matter how good the book is we are probably beyond the self-help road to success stage of our lives, and would probably be more likely to buy your book if it was marketed as insightful and thought provoking humor, the thing we like about you already.

I also haven't read the other posts so I hope I didn't just repeat a lot of points.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 16, 2014
1. I found the book to be entertaining and enjoyed it.
2. I already tend to think the way you do and enjoy your humor.
3. I have been testing the diet system and so far it works great.
4. I have been using several of your other systems already for years.

Speaking of sounding arrogant, consider the stupidity level of the average person. Now consider that half of the people out there are stupider than that. You are trying to improve the lives of people who think that watching 2 hours of television a day is a useful expenditure of time.
You have to be smart enough to recognize that there is a problem before you seek help.
Isn't working a miserable 9 to 5 job and hating every minute of your life what MOST people do?
Isn't that NORMAL? God forbid we be ABNORMALLY successful. We'll stand out! The tribe will cast us out! Fear!!!!

Well, that's my best guess anyway.

Disclosure: I am a 5 star reviewer

Jan 16, 2014
@[All the commenters saying Scott should make this book free]

I dont think thats such a good idea for the following reasons:

1) Scott himself said this in a response but it seems to have gotten spammed out so Ill say it: the cost of the book is part of the overall package. Or, to put it another way, if you pay for the book you get more out of it for psychological reasons.
2) That would upset all the folks who went ahead and paid for it. Anyone who thinks that should not be a factor needs to step back and see things from Scotts point of view.
3) There are already ways to get the content of the book for free. And one of them (the library) is legal!
Jan 16, 2014
The only reason I read the book is that I like the way you think. I don't think you made much non-marketing effort to reach out to a new (larger) audience.

I really enjoyed the book; and don't think I would have had it been a mass market book.

Will it change my life? I doubt it, but I think the advice was very good, and if my programming allowed greater flexibility it would be helpful input.

Maybe my kids are flexible enough to have this advice help them. Can you tweet the book, or put it on instagram?
+5 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 16, 2014
You have the Ian Fleming / James Bond problem.

Dilbert is wildly famous, Scott Adams is not. (To make matters worse, Dilbert himself is not a model of success.)

Agatha Christie solved this problem by killing off Poirot. I beg you, in the name of whatever you wacky atheists hold sacred, not to do this.
Jan 16, 2014
there would be some fear in gifting a book with this name: the recipient may feel I think of him as someone failing in everything, and that through this gift, I am showing sympathy that he can ultimately win big. just a guess. big-fan-disclaimer
Jan 16, 2014
unambiguously good is not enough.

it needs to cost something and it needs to fit into ppls personalized achievement strategies.

Some ppl want to plot their eminent rise in the shadows, and then overpower their enemies with a tsunami of success. Other ppl want to chip away on a rock for 20 years to see, feel, and know they are making progress each day.

Ppl need something that fits their own life goals aggressivity.

Scott framed genie as investment with same order magnitude return.

If you set your sights high enough, that is wasting your time because you are filtering thru `$20 worth of service you dont even care about $ that low. Just the sales pitch itself is lost opportunity you could have been curing cancer with.
+6 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 16, 2014

Here are my suggestions:

1. The title of the book has a negative attitude.

Suggestion: Re-launch the book with a positive title.

2. Selling a book in this era of cyber intelligence is like selling music CDs.

Suggestion: Try the missionary position. Not literally ofcourse. You know what I mean.

3. The scientific logic of your objective math allows you to analyse what, who, where, when and how.

Suggestion: If you want to think of 'why', step out of the room and discuss it on the streets.


Hope one of these work for you. Have fun.

Jan 16, 2014
You're focussing on a completely wrong aspect. And you should know better: A few days ago, you said yourself people are not rational. So forget about all those chances, percentages, and value. The decision to buy a book, even one about success, is not rational. Ask someone, even someone interested in the topic: Do you *need* to buy this book? The answer will be mostly "no". There's really no need to buy this book. It is surely interesting, and the 5-star reviews indicate it may be a good book. But do I really need to buy it now? No.

One thing I've also learned - and I've been in a similar 5-star, no sales situation as you - is just something being good doesn't make people want it. Half the people need to love it, the other half needs to hate it. It needs to polarize. Let people get into a fight over it. Because then, all of a sudden, the undecided people need it: They have to buy and read it to pick their side in conversations.

(On a side note, "There is a non-zero chance that my book, How to Fail, could be one of the most useful books ever written" is a bad way to formulate what you want to say, especially with a background in hypnosis. This reads almost as "There is a zero chance that..." and even if it doesn't, "non-zero" appears as "almost zero." The rest of the blog post then didn't sound as controversial as you probably wanted it sound.)
Jan 16, 2014
Hi Scott - I am middle aged, middle success-ed, and have read a lot of self help books including yours which I bought in hard cover.
Personally I dislike the title, hate the cover design, and I felt cheated that none of the fake endorsements that you previously solicited on this site ended up on the jacket. It also turns out that I already knew most of the material in the book from years of following you.
That doesn't mean it isn't a great book worthy of the 5 star reviews, or that I wouldn't gift it to an open minded teenager, just that it doesn't feel like a marketer's dream product. Maybe if you promised a 1:1 Skype session included with each book to build some buzz?
I'm also guessing you can sell them by the truckload after you do a speaking engagement because it isn't the content or the author, just the lack of (sex/edginess/notoriety) appeal to the general book buying public.
My $0.02.
Jan 16, 2014
My first instinct is that the most likely reasons for not buying the book are 6,7&9.
I also know people who prefer or only like to read fiction.
Plus I wonder if there is an age bracket where people are interested in self help books, so your potential target reach is narrowed. I assume you have taken that into account by comparing to other self help book sales, but it also means your ambition to change the world could be affected.
Jan 15, 2014
Scott - It's one thing to read the book and say "Man, I wish I'd read that when I was 25. It would've been incredibly useful!", if that's the case and your audience isn't 25, you're admitting it has no useful value to an older demographic. Do you have any accurate demographics about your blog readers versus your target audience for your new book?
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