If You Want to Reach a Bigger Audience, Unleash an Ideavirus

Several years ago Seth Godin published a book called Unleashing The Ideavirus. He told his publisher he wanted to give the entire book away for free. You can download it here.

The publisher thought he was nuts. But, he published it anyway. It spread to so many people that the publisher decided to buy it.

1. There's no friction. You don't have to enter your email address. You don't have to share it on social media to get access.

2. There's no compromise in quality because it's free.

3. He promotes the paid version of the book in the free version.

Seth has a habit of poking the box, questioning the status quo, and writing his own rules.

I knew no publisher would give me a book deal for The Scenic Route. But that didn't prevent me from writing it. It's my most personal book yet. I was more interested in unleashing an ideavirus than I was in selling copies of this book.

So I removed the friction I hired Mars Dorian to design a cover and hired a copy editor to clean it up. It might cost several hundred dollars to produce. It might not make any money. But it's designed to spread. In the long run, an ideavirus could be more profitable than a book that sells a couple of hundred copies.

The primary goal of a creator who unleashes an idea virus is to make her idea spread. With an ideavirus, you make a short term sacrifice for a long term gain. The long term value gain is an idea that the spreads. The short term gain is having someone opt into your email list.

The First 1000 Copies
An audience of 1000 true fan is more valuable than attention from 1 million strangers. Tim Grahl encourages his clients to focus on selling the first 1000 copies of their book.

Why is 1000 copies such a big deal? Most books, traditional or self-published don't sell more than 1000 copies. It's a clear sign you've created something that matters and makes a difference. If 1000 people download your free e-book, it's a good sign you've unleashed an idea virus.

Emotional Resonance
Unleashing an idea virus is counterintuitive. We give up the possibility of collecting someone's email address or money for the probability that our idea will spread.

  • Chris Guillebeau unleashed an idea virus with his world domination manifesto.
  • AJ Leon unleashed an idea virus with The Life and Times of a Remarkable Misfit.
  • Seth Godin has been unleashing small idea viruses with his daily blog. He's released big ones like Stop Stealing Dreams.

But unleashing an idea virus isn't about tactics. It's about emotional resonance. It's easier to get someone to do something when you can make them feel something.

There's nothing about the way I published the scenic route that a publisher would agree with. One version is free, beautiful and it's difficult to share. There are no social media buttons in Adobe Spark. But anyone can access it.

The other version is a $2.99 Kindle book. I hope that the people who buy it will cover the costs of production for the free version.

If you want to grow your audience, unleash an idea virus.

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