The 4-Hour Chef is a NYT, WSJ, and USA Today Bestseller! But There is Mystery and Intrigue…


Thanks to all of you, The 4-Hour Chef will now be featured on all of the big bestseller lists: The New York Times (available to the public shortly), The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and Publishers Weekly.


I’m honored to have the opportunity to write for you, and it’s been an amazing trip. It always is. I’ve known some of you since 2007! Seems like a lifetime ago, and I hope to be alongside you for decades to come. Your reviews are what keep me going during the most stressful times.

On that note, let’s look at the week in review: this launch was very different and very challenging. I couldn’t have done it without you, the tremendous online and offline support, including Hastings and the indies backing this book. Without B&N at the party, my team and I had to innovate and experiment to even scratch the lists. Unorthodox bookselling avenues were created (Panera, BitTorrent, etc.) and many new things were learned.

For instance, BitTorrent conversion is NUTS. Of 210,000 downloads (of this bundle) earlier this week, more than 85,000 clicked through “Support the Author” to the book’s Amazon page. We all had to triple and quadruple check that to believe it. Even at a 1% conversion after clicking an effective “buy now” link, that translates to 850 books… and BitTorrent is only accelerating. Wow.

I also came to understand the hard costs of producing The 4-Hour Chef.

This book, a full-color 672-pages at $21-35 end-user pricing, would have been impossible or nearly impossible to produce outside of Amazon Publishing. Marketing and merchandising muscle aside, I owe them tremendous thanks for the most important element of all: paying for exactly what I wanted my readers to have. In the end, product is king. Marketing might get you on the list for a week, but only good content will keep you selling for years. They allowed me to showcase the best of what I had to offer.

To that point: I’m in this for the long-haul, and my goal is never to be a “one-week wonder” on the lists.

I have zero interest in approaching pub date like opening weekend for a big movie. Both of my previous books are still going strong, and my proudest accolade is perhaps the least known. Here it is: there are only two authors (excluding the author/authors of The Bible) who currently have two books in Amazon’s “Most Highlighted Books of All Time” top-10 list: Suzanne Collins of The Hunger Games and me. Crazy but true. Many, many months ago, The 4-Hour Body was #1 for months.

I would love to add The 4-Hour Chef to that top-10 list. That list, which reflects readers’ feeling after buying, is much more important to me than the bestseller lists, which can be gamed. I know exactly how the black-hat folks do it, and I choose not to participate.

Regardless, and much to the chagrin of my critics, I’m just getting warmed up.

This leads us to…

Those bestseller lists — what happened exactly?

For the vast majority of you, the following will be boring. In fact, it’s pretty boring to me, but I need to understand the minutiae. If you’re an author, I’d highly suggest that you get familiar with the lists. They can be fickle and (sometimes) seemingly irrational beasts.

First, here is my previous primer on the basics of the bigger lists.

Next, before we delve into details, a fundamental piece of advice: start-up-style iteration isn’t just for product. It’s also for distribution.

I did NOT pull all my eggs into this first week, precisely because I wanted to iterate distribution. Since I am being boycotted by Barnes & Noble and others, it was unclear which of my sales would be counted or discounted by BookScan and others. I therefore reserved a lot of powder in the keg for later use, once lessons were learned.

It was a good thing I did.

See, I’m as obsessive about book data as I am about tracking physical data. In a single ongoing spreadsheet, I have weekly sales for every channel and every outlet for all of my books since April, 2007.

A few basic observations:

• BookScan only represents 25-30% of the market for most major bestsellers, but its rankings are relatively true, making it a good measure to sort out the variations in the NYT.
• USA Today is the only list that mixes ALL formats, including but not limited to eBooks.  
• The NYT Advice list is the only major nonfiction list that doesn’t track eBooks for “Advice, How-to, & Misc.” This means all how-to books and cookbooks are omitted, among others.
• On the main NYT “nonfiction” print list (not “Advice, How-to, Misc.”), O’Reilly was listed as #2 and the #1 book sold half of what he did on BookScan.
• On the ALL formats USA Today list, the #1, #2 and #3 NYT books were at #24, #70 and #35 respectively, all below The 4-Hour Chef‘s #13 ranking.

Pretty odd arithmetic all around, huh? This leads to…

A few observations and questions to the universe:

– Isn’t it odd that 4HC was the #1 non-fiction book sold on Kindle last week, and the #1 ebook on The Wall Street Journal list, but it doesn’t even show up on the NYT ebook bestseller list?  Why would that be?

– If the NYT list doesn’t reflect what people are actually reading, what does it reflect? Will they adapt to the times (and full spectrum of non-fiction) or be replaced? I would wager they have a matter of months to decide.

– The NYT does not appear to accept Kindle sales for my book, as it’s from a “single vendor.” That’s really too bad, since Amazon is the largest seller of ebooks in the world. It should be noted that Amazon offered The 4-Hour Chef to Barnes & Noble for their Nook device, and they declined.

The 4-Hour Chef sold more than 60,000 copies in print and ebook its first week, which would likely put it at #1 on the NYT combined list if its ebook sales were counted. The media is overlooking this print-to-digital mix change and hanging on to the outdated notion that bestseller status = solely print retail sales. I sold more than twice Bill O’Reilly, who had an estimated less than 10k eBooks and was #1 on the NYT eBook list.

– Amazon sold more Kindle copies than print copies of The 4-Hour Chef. My first-adopter demographic is made up of readers who are embracing digital and driving digital growth, so this is not only relevant, but also strategic. We know, for instance, that week-one ebook sales of 4HC were more than week one ebook sales of The 4-Hour Body (over a 30% increase from my last launch, using the 21,000 number on hand), which given my audience–and it could very much be argued the future of book publishing–is a trend in the right direction.


None of this is sour grapes.

If I were in this for one week, it might be, but I have big bombs held in reserve, all to be used soon enough. I want The 4-Hour Chef to become a movement, and that will take years to reach full potential, not weeks.

I’m in no rush.

This is a ready, fire, aim-type of game. There is a lot more to come, so keep watching. If B&N would like to join the party, I’ll have a glass of wine waiting. Either way, it’s going to be one hell of a party.

Onward unto the breach!

Posted on: November 30, 2012.

Watch The Tim Ferriss Experiment, the new #1-rated TV show with "the world's best human guinea pig" (Newsweek), Tim Ferriss. It's Mythbusters meets Jackass. Shot and edited by the Emmy-award winning team behind Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations and Parts Unknown. Here's the trailer.

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128 comments on “The 4-Hour Chef is a NYT, WSJ, and USA Today Bestseller! But There is Mystery and Intrigue…

  1. Congrats! Making these lists are VERY well deserved. I’m loving the new book.

    It was a pleasure meeting you tonight! Thanks for taking pictures and signing my copy of 4HC. It was easily the highlight of my year.

    Can’t wait to see where things continue to go!


  2. Congratulations Tim. Long may your success continue. I look forward to all your books now and believe you are in the vanguard of change in the publishing world.


  3. I pre-ordered the book from Amazon and then bought the Kindle edition to read on my iPad because although I love print–and prefer print (because I am old)–carrying the thing around to read at spare moments during Turkey Weekend became a PITA. Tim, considering how you chose your title and cover art in the past, I’m sure you did experiments to see at what book-weight people would give up and buy digital…


  4. Congrats Tim on your success and all your hard work, which has changed my life as well as many others.

    I know you are measuring your success based on the NYT lists etc but I also think you measure it in lives changed. A short testimonial from me since I do think 4HC is awesome :)

    Tonight I start archery lessons based on your meta-learning principles. My husband and I have broken it down into parts and been trying to work with the questions you recommend asking pros. Our aim is to win a national competition in the next year.

    We also moved to slow carb eating this year, not quite as hard core as you, but
    1) always eating protein for breakfast
    2) gluten free all the time
    I’ve lost 8 kgs and my husband has lost 12kgs – happy times :)

    After reading the 4HWW several years ago, I started building my own blog and business online, and I am now a fulltime author-entrepreneur and have been 15 months out of the “day job”, plus I’m location independent.

    Thanks again for all you do.


  5. Hi Tim.

    A few thoughts

    *you should probably admit you are a bit sad about making the best seller lists- you have written before how important it is and for example from your bio “He’s also author of the #1 New York Times bestseller, The 4-Hour Body” NYT is the only metric you used to demonstrate the success of 4HB

    *you should strongly consider launching your next book/maybe even the current one as a free ebook on bittorrent. I think especially with 4HC, there is a real difference between owning the ebook and the book ( I have both because I live in australia and 2 weeks waiting for a tim ferriss book is not acceptable!) as the book is so much more useful when making recipes.

    You would get a HEAP of publicity if you used this method, and by releasing it only as a pdf you wouldnt have much of an effect on ebook sales (as kindle has so many other benefits like syncing and highlights).

    You have said before that most of your money is made from after-book effects like professional speaking etc. so i think any loss in revenue would be made up by a better spread of the idea.




  6. Excellent news Tim, congrats. I just received my own copy yesterday from Amazon US and I’m loving it. Was very pleased to see you still have the Helle Harding and are taking good care of it :)


      • I did. Put in the order for the hardcopy via an Aussie site, but couldn’t wait so ordered the Kindle one via amazon as well. OMG Tim, you’re angling for a Guinness Record for biggest single book published, aren’t you? I’m going to have to set aside most of a shelf for just your 3 books alone.

        After reading the ‘cricket cycle’ intro to everyone I know (even though I’m a veggie, I loved it!) I was up to the number/consonant mnemonics on the ebook when my hardcopy finally arrived yesterday. I’ve barely put it down, and the way you’ve used colour to help organise the book I can see is going to make it almost as easy to search as the electronic version. It’s my new addiction. The pictures are fantastic – and today’s lunch was North African Eggs, properly ‘snotty’ :)

        PS Thanks SO much, Tim. This book has finally given me the missing link to cope with eating healthy (and regularly) in a time-starved, commuting life. Let’s see more cookbooks divided into prep and pickup!


      • *Raises other hand*

        I’m not attached to printed books. But I am attached to reading stuff the way authors intend them to be laid out.

        So…yeah I got sold on that.