Yesterday I wrote about Leo Babauta launching an ebook (Zen to Done) as a way to monetize his blog. In that post I promised to try to get an interview with Leo to explore both the wild success of his blog (over 21500 subscribers in 6 months) and the journey to releasing his ebook. Leo was generous enough to answer my questions. I hope you enjoy this interview:
Why did you write Zen to Done? Can you give us a brief synopsis?
Zen To Done is a synthesis of the productivity, organization and simplicity concepts I write about regularly on my site. It started with Getting Things Done (GTD) by David Allen — I’m a disciple and a fan, and for a while I wrote about it regularly on Zen Habits. I discovered some problems with it — not with the system, but with my implementation with it — and discovered that many others had similar problems. So I set out to figure out what those problems were, and how to solve them.
As a result, I pulled in some concepts I’d been writing about separately: the “Big Rocks” prioritization concepts of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (GTD doesn’t prioritize, purposely), and more importantly, the concepts of simplicity and minimalism that I’ve become known for.
Simplicity is the key for me, and that’s why I call ZTD a “simple productivity” system. We need to do less, not more. We need to focus on the essential, and separate the wheat from the chaff. Instead of doing busy work, we should do important work.
That’s ZTD, in short. You can read more about it on Zen Habits (or buy the ebook!).
Why did you decide to monetize your blog with an ebook as opposed to other methods?
I’ve given this a lot of thought, and my philosophy is to provide as much value as possible to my readers, as opposed to focusing on monetization. The decision to do an ebook is consistent with that philosophy.
My readers seemed to really enjoy the posts on ZTD I’ve done on Zen Habits (they remain some of my most popular), and a large number were asking for it to be turned into an ebook. Well, you don’t have to ask me more than 10 times! :)
I decided that the ebook would be the best way to provide additional value to my readers. I’m sure there are better ways to monetize, but I think too often the focus is on the blogger making money, not on the value to the readers. If you give people a lot of value, they’ll appreciate that, and come back for more. That’s my hope, anyway.
How long did it take you to write it?
I set aside my mornings for a couple of weeks to write the book. I still had the regular demands of Zen Habits, and the posts I write for other blogs, as well as my full-time day job and my family (a wife and six kids) … so I couldn’t put everything aside as I’d prefer to do, and focus completely on the ebook.
However, I decided that writing the book had to be a priority, so for a couple hours a day, for about 2 weeks, the only thing I allowed myself to do was write. And I actually enjoyed the process, and have been working on a second ebook (a joint venture with another blogging friend) … with plans to start a third coming up.
it’s a great looking ebook – how did you put it together?
Actually, I can’t take credit for that. I’m a lousy designer. A true designer, James Wondrack, volunteered to do the design, and I think he did a nice job. I’m going to give him a small cut of the first 200 ebooks sold as a thank you.
If any great designers would like to volunteer for my next ebook, let me know!
You’re delivering it with e-junkie – did you look around at other options? Why did you go with the delivery system that you did?
In truth, I’m a newbie here. I did a little research into some of the options, but ultimately made the choice to go with e-junkie based on the recommendation of a blogging friend. It seems to be a good choice so far … it was a super-easy setup, and I’ve had no problems. I also liked that there is no per-transaction fee (only a $5/month subscription fee) and the affiliate program was incredibly easy to set up.
How has ZtD been received by your blog’s readers so far? Are you finding it easy to convert readers to purchasers?
It’s been selling like hotcakes! Seriously, I had hoped to eventually sell 100 of them, over time, but I doubled that number in just a few hours. And so far, they seem to like the book. I hope they do, because I put a lot of work into it, and I feel it has a lot of value.
How did you get 21000+ subscribers to your blog in just 6 months?
Three things, actually, but the main thing has been, again, to focus on the value I provide to the readers. The three things are 1) provide extremely useful content (with catchy headlines) that solves problems my readers have; 2) write guest posts for other blogs, with the same goal of extremely useful content, so that I can tap into new audiences; and 3) use the first item to tap into the multiplying power of incoming links from other blogs and social bookmarking services such as Digg, Stumbleupon and del.icio.us.
I should also mention that I’ve developed some great relationships with fellow bloggers — some outstanding and generous people, really — as well as a great relationship with my readers. These have been key. It’s important that we bloggers not think of other bloggers as our competitors, but as friends, and potential allies. If we link to each other, and share each others’ content with our readers, everyone wins: the blogger who links, the blogger who receives the link, and the readers. And developing a relationship with your readers, while it takes a lot of work (I spend a lot of time answering comments and emails), is crucial to keeping those readers and developing loyalty.
You’re one of the most prolific guest posters on other people’s blogs that I know – it obviously has benefits for you – but can you tell us what the biggest ones are?
I’ve said it before, but writing guest posts on other blogs is probably the No. 1 strategy for marketing your blog and your brand. Well, actually, creating great, useful, readable content on your own blog is No. 1, but if you’re trying to get new readers, you have to reach new audiences. It’s not enough to write great content if no one knows it’s there.
I think of my audience as a sphere of readers. In order to grow that sphere, I need to tap into new spheres, which are the audiences of other blogs. Obviously, some of those spheres overlap, especially if it’s in your own niche … after awhile, you’ve probably reached 95% of the readers in that niche. But not at first, so you should first tap into your niche … and only after you’ve exhausted that should you go outside the niche.
Tapping into another sphere of readers isn’t an easy job. You can do that with a link from another blog, but think about it: a link is usually surrounded by a sentence or two (if that) about your post … but a guest post on another blog is hundreds of words … and what better opportunity to show that blog’s readers how great and useful and readable your writing is?
Guest posts also help with branding: by writing great content for other blogs, you are showing what your brand stands for, and you’re repeating that branding to as many people as possible.
For Zen Habits, guest posting has paid off immensely: readers have enjoyed my guest posts and have come to my blog to subscribe. And the brand of Zen Habits has grown in many people’s minds in this past year, and continues to do so, because of guest posts.
Do you have any productivity tips for bloggers?
Sure, I have many! But some of my top tips:
1. Identify the essential. Blogging can take up your entire day if you let it. Identify the top 3-4 things you can do to improve and market your blog. Knowing what actions/projects are essential and which ones aren’t is the first step to effectiveness. In my opinion, the essential tasks are creating outstanding and useful content, writing guest posts for other blogs, and little else.
2. Focus on the essential. If you have limited time for blogging (and we all do), only allow yourself to focus on those essential tasks and projects … and minimize the rest.
3. Batch process. The smaller tasks, like processing emails and reading through comments and all the rest, should be grouped into a limited time frame later in the day. Don’t do them throughout the day.
4. Keep a list. Whether you use an index card, a Moleskine notebook, a text file, a Google Doc or whatever, keep a list of the tasks and projects you need to do. Get the tasks out of email. From this master list, choose 3 major projects to focus on, and focus 3 most important tasks you can accomplish today. Then focus exclusively on those 3 tasks and those 3 projects.
Those are the 4 things that you can do that will make the most difference.
Get a Copy of Zen to Done for just $9.50 USD
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