How to Create a Viral Book Trailer (or Get 1,000,000 Views for Almost Anything)


How do you create a viral video?

I am asked this quite a lot. I’ve been asked by authors, TV producers, and first-time Kickstarter entrepreneurs. In my experience, the answers are the same for all of them.

In this post, I’ll deconstruct one example: The 4-Hour Chef (4HC) book trailer, which is now the most-viewed non-fiction book trailer of all time. Roughly 1.5 million views and counting.

Before we dig in…

First, let’s make a distinction: creating a “viral” video is not the same a creating a “popular” video, but both can be valuable.

If you use ads to drive 1,000,000+ views, a video is not viral; it is popular. If your views come from organic sharing (or incentivized sharing like DropBox), it can be considered viral.

This post is also intended as a companion to my post, Behind the Scenes: How to Make a Movie Trailer for Your Product (or Book), which goes into equipment, planning, and (tons of) other details that I’ve omitted here.

For later — below are resources that will save you a TON of time and tail-chasing…

Feel free to skip the box for now if you like:


YouTube Channel stats –
Viral video chart –
Trending videos –

Good blog posts on the topic, probably in this order:

Outlets that cover trends and tools in online video well:

YouTube Creator Playbooks

Now, without further ado, here’s how we got ~1.5 million views for my latest book trailer…

Step 1: Storyboarding

This is like creating a comic book for the trailer, scene by scene. It’s the same process used by Pixar, among many others (video example here).

Here was my first stab for 4HC:

Click here to enlarge the below.

Click here to enlarge the below.

Optional Step 2: If Budget Allows, Assemble a Team

For the 4HC trailer, I brought in several specialists to help with production and promotion.

Please note that a team is nice-to-have and not must-have insurance. To date, my most viral video had zero budget. Here’s what gets you 4-5 million views:

That said, I like to tilt the odds in my favor whenever possible. Here’s my A-Team for doing so when funds allow:

Directing and post-productionAdam Patch
PR strategy and implementationRyan Holiday and BrassCheck
Marketing, YouTube influencers, and experimental campaignsMekanism (Thanks, Jason and team!)

But how do you choose someone like Adam, if it’s not Adam? You ask for proposals, of course.

Typically, before you hire a production lead like Adam (who also acts as a general contractor for the production team), they will put together a proposal or “treatment”, which includes an itemized budget.

For 4HC, since I’d worked with Adam before, things started with my storyboarding and an in-person lunch with Adam.

Below is the 4HC “treatment,” cobbled together from our subsequent emails and conversations. It gives you a good idea of what you might expect you see:

4-Hour Chef video trailer Treatment

Step 3: Shot List and Logistics

Once you agree on look and feel, you have to roll up your sleeves: it’s time to scout locations, find talent (if needed), and choose specific shots for a to-do list (the “shot list”) that you check off as you film.

Special thanks to Chris Young and the amazing ChefSteps team for letting us use their Mr. Wizard-like food lab in Seattle. We shot the entire trailer in Seattle as a result. Here’s the kind of fun we had (see first 15 secs):

Our full shot list is below. Note that “CU” stands for “close-up”, and “TT” stands for “tabletop”.

Step 4: Shooting Principal Footage

Not much to say here, other than shoot a TON of material when you have the chance. It’s easier to edit down than to add extra shooting days.

Below an example of original footage that will be magically changed in the next step. Here we used one of my favorite books as a stand in:

Step 5 – Editing

The first step is to cut down hours of footage into 120 or fewer seconds. This is tough but important work.

If you make the finished product look polished enough for broadcast, you might have opportunities (or make opportunities) to get it on major TV. Here’s the process I used to get bookings.

The 4-Hour Chef trailer was featured as my introduction on everything from Dr. Oz to The Hallmark Channel. It’s the perfect adrenaline rush and sales pitch wrapped into one. Especially for short-form TV interviews — typically 3-4 minutes total, with multiple hosts — you’ll be strained to get a word in edgewise. It’s fantastic to let your video hit the talking points, doing the sales job for you.

Now you have a “rough cut” of the trailer. This is first draft, without graphics or special effects.

Once the footage, cuts, and order of scenes is agreed upon, you arrive at “picture lock,” which means that the footage and length can’t be changed. Only at this point does it make sense for anyone to create time-consuming graphics, animation, or sync’d music. Something like this, for instance:

Here’s the complete progression from first “draft” to finished product. Can you tell what changes in each version?

Now that you’ve taken a shot, here’s the full commentary from Adam, taking you though it step-by-step:

And how exactly does Adam work his magic?

Let’s watch how Adam edits the opening atrium scene in The 4-Hour Body trailer, which also has roughly 1,000,000 views. But first, take a look at the finished trailer and notice the opening shot of me at my desk:

Now, we go behind the scenes:

Step 6 – Music

For The 4-Hour Body trailer, I chose music first (Splinter by Sevendust), which I then set visuals to. This turned out to be a licensing headache marathon, and I explain the whole how-to process here. And that was with the band offering it for free! For this new 4HC video, we had custom music produced after the video was complete. The talented Luis Dubuc provided a sync’d jam, and we were ready to roll. No fuss, no muss.

Custom music need not be expensive, and you can even use crowdsourcing with start-ups like Audiodraft. I’ve used them before as well (see here and here).

Step 7 – Launch and Promote

First, a super basic note on uploading. ENSURE YOUR VIDEO CAN BE VIEWED ON MOBILE DEVICES!

25% of global YouTube views come from mobile devices. I screwed this up for The 4-Hour Body trailer, and I’ve been unable to reverse the mistake and make it viewable on mobile; as a result, I’ve lost hundreds of thousands of views.

Screwed on YT
No option to change — shite!

So, avoid being a dumb-ass like me and get it right the first time. Back to launching once you’ve uploaded…

The 4-Hour Chef trailer premiered on HuffPo, then it was reposted to my blog here. When I announced the post my Facebook fan page, we promoted it through FB’s paid mechanism. Notice that this was all done on 11/7/12 and 11/8/12 — roughly two weeks before official book launch on 11/20/12.

One of the most effective promotions I did was a unique BitTorrent bundle of 680MB+ of free content. For the super-low labor involved, it drove fantastic numbers:

Watched the trailer on YouTube: 293K people
Visited the author’s website: 325K people
Visited the book’s Amazon page: 852K people

But that was just one piece of the YT traffic puzzle.

When it comes to YouTube, you need to realize what you’re up against in terms of noise: 72 hours of video are uploaded every minute. To capitalize on the opportunity (it’s the second largest search engine in the world), you need to plan. Spray and pray almost never works — your competition is too good.

So, what to do?

First off, do not split your ammo. If you’re considering ads to help drive traffic, do it when it counts: the first 24 hours, when you can combine it with all PR for a synergistic effect. Momentum begets momentum, and early success begets later success. I often pile nearly all book launch media/interviews into a 5-7 day period (Check out this madness).

Team Mekanism was responsible for 99% of all my YT-related PR and directly and indirectly 50%+ of traffic. BitTorrent and my PR that week make up the rest. Mekanism combined extensive PR outreach with early judicious use of TrueView ads and StumbleUpon traffic (Disclosure: I advise StumbleUpon).

Here’s Mekanism’s explanation of what they did, first as PDF with screenshots, then as text:

4 hour chef coverage from Mekanism

Bolded emphasis below is mine:

To help support Tim’s book launch, Mekanism took a three tiered approach: connecting him to relevant online influencers, hosting a contest on Pinterest (to expand his exposure among the female demographic), and promoted content within Slideshare.

[TIM: Slideshare is hugely underused for product launches. We used it for The 4-Hour Body as well.]

Online Influencers:

To drive widespread awareness of The 4-Hour Chef, Mekanism reached out to credible online influencers to help drive word-of-mouth. Mekanism reached out to bloggers and YouTubers across a variety of verticals relevant to each of the different chapters within the book. For example:

• Food Enthusiasts
• Male Lifestyle
• Science + Tech Bloggers
• Mom Bloggers
• Lifehackers

In researching outlets and people, Mekanism took an approach very similar to that outlined by Mike Del Ponte in his Hacking Kickstarter post. The key is establishing relationships, and ensuring your content/message is tailored to each individual blogger’s audience. To accomplish this, Mekanism not only crafted custom pitches, but also provided a wealth of assets that could be freely used: exclusive excerpts, interviews with Tim (live or recorded), his video book trailers, images, etc.

Without a doubt, the most engaged audiences were those of several YouTube stars/channels, specifically SourceFed & WheezyWaiter. These appearances led to thousands of comments and likes and contributed to YouTube being the second largest traffic drive to Tim’s target landing pages.


We wanted to see if it was possible to get a deck outlining the benefits of the 4-Hour Chef on the homepage of Slideshare, vis a vis having it rank on Slideshare’s ‘Top Presentation’s of the Day’ section. Slideshare was chosen because it has a well-educated and affluent user base that matches the target consumer of The 4-Hour Chef (69% college grads, 37% have $100k+ HHI).

First, a Slideshare deck was created to outline the benefits/chapters of 4HC. Next, we did the math to determine how many views, and in what period of time, were needed to drive the into the ‘Top Presentation’s of the Day’ section. Based on our observations, it seemed as though 15,000 views within a 24-hour period was likely enough.

Having this understanding of required viewing density, we uploaded our deck and promoted it via paid StumbleUpon ads and drove the content to the homepage of Slideshare via “stumbles,” ensuring everyone visiting the site the day of launch saw the presentation.

Keep in mind that the sum is greater than the parts. Here are more of the parts, written in a report to Tim:

Slideshare Presentation
– Made the ‘Hot on Facebook’ and ‘Hot on Twitter’ section (on homepage)
– Was ‘Featured’ (also on homepage)
– Peaked as 2nd most popular presentation last night

Sourcefed Video
-#3 most liked & top favorited ‘How To & Style’ video of the day
-#5 most viewed ‘How To & Style’ video of the day
-#65 top favorited & most liked video on YouTube today (of all videos across all categories)”



The goal of all of this, of course, is to build a rapid view count number that pushes the trailer above the noise. This then propagates into additional organic sharing, all of which sells books.


So, those are the basics of stacking the deck in your favor for online video. Most posts on “virality” are vague generalities, so I wanted to dig into the weeds. Hopefully you like this.

Are there any other details you’d like to see, or questions you’d like answered? Please let me know in the comments.

Posted on: April 10, 2013.

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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That’s how we’re gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation! (Thanks to Brian Oberkirch for the inspiration)

91 comments on “How to Create a Viral Book Trailer (or Get 1,000,000 Views for Almost Anything)

    • It isn’t about only working 4 hours per week. The work in 4HWW is defined as something we wish to do less of. Looking at the subject matter, it’s obviously a labor of love. The day in day out drudgery of ‘earning a buck’ and checking inboxes is what’s missing here.


  1. Tim many thanks for this post. I am in the beginning stages of a product launch and there were MANY points you made that I’ll be drawing inspiration from for my own endeavors.

    I really liked the explanation of story-boarding and the information relating to the approach Mekanism took to getting the video going in the early stages.


  2. Tim,

    This is J.R. I have been a big fan of your work since I first picked up your book on Jan 7th 2008. It was between semesters senior year of college in Miami FL and I was completely lost and dreading having to get a real job. Anyhow I’ve been connect with your work since that time and….loooooong story really short have recently had a big breakthrough involving Zen koans and the concepts of accounting and entrepreneurship. It’d be great to chat about this for a few minutes. If you’re interested you can just send an email.

    With Trust,



  3. this is awesome. you’ve detailed everything from the storyboards and treatment to the production and distribution. this should be required reading for all filmmakers. thanks!


  4. Cool article. Here’s a question:

    Getting linked by authority websites is the most important factor to get ranked high by Google result pages. Are press relations and creative agencies more valuable to a muse than an SEO company when it comes to getting ranked higher?

    A little more detail:

    For a muse scenario, I’m wondering if you could delve into a little the services a company like Mekanism provides versus a company that focuses on SEO. Things have changed a bit with SEO since 4HWW came out.

    I have an ecommerce website where we sell pretty niche products. In order to rank for the important keywords and keyphrases, we have to do SEO in order to get higher up on Google’s results page.

    The hardest and most effective part of SEO is undoubtedly link building, and it seems like SEO companies seriously do not help with this at all. They claim to build links for you, but it’s extremely shady and they don’t disclose exactly what links they have built. When they do, they are almost always useless links. SEO companies seem really only useful for helping you with your keyword research, fixing title tags and copy.

    Getting a link from websites like Lifehacker or Gizmodo is incredibly valuable, but SEO companies seem to not be very good at that type of outreach or press relations. Wouldn’t the time/money spent on SEO services be better used by getting more press, specifically online, so you get more quality links back to your website?

    tl;dr: Linkbuilding is crazy important for your muse’s website. Is blogger outreach possibly the best thing you can do to help your muse, thus rendering the services of an SEO company useless?


    • Hi Allen,

      Really depends on the companies (there are good SEO firms), but I generally prefer PR firms with a lot of digital savvy, such as understanding the PageRank value of Gizmodo etc.

      I focus more on the PR side with known outlets as targets.

      Hope that helps!



      • Yessir. As I was typing my question, I sort of started to realize the answer. I need to build my brand and in the process, the links will come.


    • Allen its seems you’re not clear on what your end goal is here, SEO is more about capturing existing demand in the search results whereas PR/media outreach is more about creating demand and awareness, two completely different marketing approaches.

      Sure there is some crossover and PR can result in decent links but you can’t expect an SEO firm to do PR work for you….at the end of the day an SEO firm’s job is to generate organic rank and quality traffic that converts, link building is the wrong metric to judge their performance on.


  5. I’m definitely going to do this with my first book. I’m just starting to write it now but I have big ideas! I have your book to thank for that, Tim.

    I’m still on 4HWW but 4HC is next.

    Thanks Tim, for being such an inspiration.


  6. This is a brilliant guide Tim – thank you.

    I’ve been reading more and more about Slideshare and your breakdown of the demographic there is really useful information.

    If you were to estimate a cost to produce the finished video and promote through those channels, what dollar value would you use?


  7. This is an incredible post. I loved reading it. It reminds me that anything can be done, and there is a way to accomplish any result you want.

    Thanks for sharing all the details… and congrats!


    • This is absolutely the secret we’ve seen with our clients on Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Most projects fate is already sealed by the time they launch. By the 48 hour mark, it’s usually pretty easy to guess roughly how much the project will do overall.


  8. Ah this is great! I just saw yesterday that Psy had 1.5 billion views on YouTube. Prrretty wild.

    I’m curious to see what can be done by clever unsigned bands, and eager to experiment now!


  9. Hi Tim,

    First off let me say, long time follower love your work.

    My name is Shaun and I am 23, living in Australia. I wanted to give some thanks! This article was perfectly timed for me as my boss (at my 9-5) has asked me to produce a series of short informative youtube pieces on our company, will be referring to this post frequently.

    Lastly I wanted to make a suggestion, Being Perth / Australia based, it’s hard for me to travel to catch you speaking at any of your conferences. As I am actively seeking to do so, Here’s my suggestion.

    It would be amazing if you could organise something like a bootcamp, a week, with yourself, sharing experiences eating slow carb, training occams, developing muse generation techniques and just general lifehacking goodness.

    I assume there would be many foreigners who would be interested in making the trek to see you for something like this! Anyway just some thought’s thank’s again for as usual being a constant source of assistance and inspiration for many of us.


    • Hi Shaun,

      Thank you for your comment. Two things:

      – I’ve been thinking of a bootcamp, so thank you for the reminder, and
      – I should be speaking in Australia in November, I believe. Keep an eye on the blog for announcements!

      All the best,