Growth Hacker Marketing for Authors by Ryan Holiday

Posted by March 11th, 2015

Growth Hacker Marketing for Authors by Ryan Holiday

Ryan Holiday is the author of GROWTH HACKER MARKETING: A Primer on the Future of PR, Marketing, and Advertising, which is published by Portfolio. Ryan shares how authors can use growth hacking, a technique first developed in Silicon Valley, to launch their books and build long-lasting readerships.


Right before our eyes, companies like Facebook, Twitter, Airbnb, and Dropbox went from tiny startups into massive companies. And they did it with essentially no traditional marketing whatsoever.

They used a Silicon Valley technique known as growth hacking that helps rapidly launch and build a company. If one can understand that launching a book these days is not altogether different than starting a company, it should stand that there is something we can learn from these growth hackers. And it turns out that many of their techniques are already being used by forward thinking authors like Tim Ferriss. I’ve even had success applying it to my books and my author clients.

So what do you need to know about growth hacking your book?

Step 1: Product Market Fit

One of the biggest mistakes I see authors make is to begin without thinking of an audience. They end up with a book nobody wants or needs.

The first step of growth hacking requires what is known as product-market fit: a product perfectly designed to fit a specific and critical need for a well-defined audience. As an author, your job is to deeply understand who you are writing for and what specific need you are addressing. This means constantly tweaking and re-tweaking your ideas until you arrive at a book that by virtue of such deliberate planning becomes much easier to sell and market.

While writing his bestselling THE 4-HOUR CHEF, author Tim Ferriss used tools such as SurveyMonkey and Wufoo to ask trusted readers which sections they responded to most. Before any significant section was to be cut or added, multiple prospective readers had to agree. For his book before that, he examined incoming Google searches to his website and ultimately used it as supporting data for his book proposal.

Step 2: Growth

So now you have a clearly defined book with a specific audience in mind. What’s next?

The traditional marketing playbook relies on “generating  awareness” with PR tactics such as trying to get you on the first page of a big-name publication. Growth hackers do not care about awareness. And neither should you as an author. Instead, all the effort and focus should be spent on driving actual readers to the book.

You do this by experimenting with ideas and finding a marketing channel that drives results that you can actually measure. For books, this usually means content marketing and reaching out to bloggers (who would love to feature you because once you have product-market fit, you are reaching out to the right  audience). Partner with anybody who has a large fanbase  that would be interested in your book and track the results with affiliate links. Apply what worked for your next book and remember to always be optimizing: increase your efforts where you are seeing tangible results.

Step 3: Virality

At this stage, you must ask yourself: “We are now getting our first readers. How do we get more?” The best course of action is to let existing readers do that work for you. A growth hacker does not hope that people will magically share or tell all their friends about a product. They engineer virality into their products. Take Hotmail as an example. One of the best decisions they made in their early days was to include “PS I love you. Get Free Email” at the bottom of their users’  signatures. Each time a user sent an e-mail it was essentially a small piece of advertisement for Hotmail. Or even Groupon which has incentives (free credits) for sharing deals to your friends.

This is why you see authors encourage pre-order bundles–because it means people will have copies to giveaway. It’s also why authors now include hashtags–sometimes even on the cover as the founder of NastyGal did–to encourage readers to share and spread about a book on social media. The point is: books sell because of word of mouth. Your marketing has to be designed to facilitate that.

Step 4: Retention

The shame of most successful authors is that they have no way of reaching fans of their previous books. They start every project from scratch. Even if readers loved your book, how will you reach them again? You worked so hard at getting them to buy your book, make sure that you build your e-mail list! Such list  becomes an incredibly valued asset you can build over time. It makes selling book proposals easier–a publisher would be far more likely to bet on an author with a large, existing audience.

For GROWTH HACKER MARKETING, I added one page to the back of the eBook that offered about $60 in additional bonuses to the reader—all they had to do was email That page converts at about 10%, meaning that I now have thousands of readers to announce my next book to.


Growth hacking is a new way. It’s cheap. It’s effective. It’s iterative. It’s practical. And best of all, it’s right there, available for you to try. It might seem like something that only applies to technology companies, but the reality is that forward thinking authors are already using the strategies to create bestsellers today. GROWTH HACKER MARKETING: A Primer on The Future of PR, Marketing & Advertising has the full breakdown of the growth hacking framework.


GROWTH HACKER MARKETING by Ryan Holiday Official Book Trailer


About Ryan Holiday

Growth Hacker Marketing for Authors by Ryan Holliday

Ryan Holiday

Ryan Holiday is the bestselling author of THE OBSTACLE IS THE WAY: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials Into Triumphs and two other books. He is an editor-at-large at The New York Observer and his monthly reading recommendations are found here. He currently lives in Austin, TX. Connect with Ryan on Twitter

Share Button

One thought on “Growth Hacker Marketing for Authors by Ryan Holiday

Leave a Reply

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

7 + 5 =