Aftermath: The Motivation Hacker

It's been almost six months since I published The Motivation Hacker, my book on how to get yourself to want to do what you always wanted to want to do. Here's what surprised me.

Sales (updates: First Year Book Sales, Second Year Book Sales, Fourth Year Book Sales)

I use a site called PredictionBook to compare my private guesses to reality for things like this. It helps me be less overconfident. I took a brutal calibration beating on my predictions for how many copies I'd sell in the first six months:

  • 10 copies: 97% confident I'd sell at least this many
  • 50 copies: 65% confident
  • 100 copies: 38%
  • 500 copies: 11%
  • 1000 copies: 5%
  • 10000 copies: 1%

Here's how many I actually sold:

Amazon: 913. Smashwords: 128. iBooks: 37. Nook: 11. Kobo: 5.

So while I thought I'd sell 50-100 copies, I gave less than 5% probability to selling the 1080 that I've sold so far. Bad guess! All I did was post that I'd published a book on a few social networks and put it on my website. I don't have too many direct connections or website hits, so I must have gotten a lot of readers recommending it.

As far as I can tell, the 400 sales spike in August came from a friend dropping two sentences about my book in a blurb in a sidebar that took up 5% of a page of an issue of Fast Company. Traffic tentacles barely brushed my website, so a lot of strangers must have typed "The Motivation Hacker" into Amazon.

I'm prismatically pleased that so many people have read my book. I intended only to have a fun summer, get myself to do a lot of crazy missions, and write something my friends and family wouldn't mind reading. If I were trying to be heard or make money, I'd write something else. I hear post-apocalyptic dystopian young adult sci-fi with sixteen-year-old strong female teenage protagonists as chosen ones switching angstily between love triangling and battling other teenagers until overthrowing a government is hot right now.

Reader Enthusiasm

Planning: 3:09. Journaling: 31:49. Writing: 83:32. Editing: 61:28. Publishing: 14:51.

I spent only 195 hours writing, editing, and publishing the book. I didn't market it, I didn't pick a marketable topic, and I didn't try to make it accessible--I just wrote what would be fun to write. Given that the global market is saturated with great books on which well-practiced authors worked much harder, I am boggled that I have 16 reviews averaging 4.9 stars on Amazon and 24 ratings averaging 4.29 stars on Goodreads. One of only two 4-star Amazon reviews was from my grandpa, so it's not all nepotism, either. Thanks for telling it like it is, Grandpa. I wouldn't rate it 5 stars either.

I only heard from two people who didn't like it, and neither of them had read it (and they were both right about what they disliked).

A coincidence: a fascinating guy approached me at a San Francisco Quantified Self meetup and started talking about my book. He told me this story about how he was in a café in Romania and was reading the book when he overheard a group of people in a booth behind him vigorously discussing what sounded like the same book. He turned and said, "Are you talking about Nick Winter's book?" and they said, "Yes, that's the guy!"

I was even more surprised, since he assumed that the book was in wide circulation, whereas I knew that there were fewer than two hundred copies out there at the time.

I've hung out with several readers who dug it so much that they wanted to meet me. This was unexpectedly great, since they were fascinating and I am trying to make friends in San Francisco. One reader even used the techniques from the book to do things roughly as intense as I did during that summer.

Reader Apathy

I ask almost all of the readers I talk to what kinds of motivation hacking they're doing because of the book. Almost no one did anything concrete that lasted more than a week after reading the book, although almost everyone was excited about it when talking to me.

This was not a surprise. I took my best shot at inspiring people, and only the people who were already abnormally inspired took more than a small helping of the advice. People who write books about how to be awesome are strange. They do strange things. But you don't have to be that weird to enjoy reading books about how to be awesome. With so much great advice out there, everyone's in the habit of ignoring advice. I'm certainly now tired of giving it. Since one of my abnormalities is a strange willingness to take advice, I now prefer to hear what other people have to say and get tired when talking about my own stuff.

Experiential Sampling

There's a three-page subsection on happiness tracking and experiential sampling and why we're usually wrong about what makes us happy. I get more emails based on that section than on the entire rest of the book. You know what they ask? "What's the app you used for that?"

Beloved reader, I use a maniac concoction of Telepath (Mac), Annoyster (iPhone), Notes (iPhone), Emacs, Excel, numpy, and a couple other Python scripts.

What you should use might be one of PACO (Android, soon to be iOS, somehow still not out of private beta?--email if you have any troubles), Reporter (iOS), iMoodJournal (iOS and Android), Happiness (iOS, haven't tried personally) or (SMS). I'll keep this post updated when I know more about what's out there. Let me know if you know good experiential sampling mood tracking mobile apps, ideally which can do one of 1) lightweight reminders and tagged 1-10 happiness capture and 2) tag analysis to produce things like this gluten-free pie chart, although hard to read, tells me what's important in life:

Missing Writing

I have the bug again. I had an epic dream in which the plot of a novel came to me, and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it. Now's not the time to write a novel--I have a lot of code to write--and I'm sure it's much harder than writing nonfiction, but the idea still creeps within me in the stillness between moments.


People are impressed when they hear you are writing or have written a book. It doesn't matter if it was just for fun and was self-published and profited only $8.36 per hour. They don't have to really read it, but the fact that you're making it--they respect that. What if it's self-indulgent hogwash? Doesn't matter, authors are cool.

On one hand, it's disappointing when I get respect based on superficialities, like having written a book, spent too much time in school, or done well on some test. If you approve of me without even having met me, how much of that have I earned? Sometimes it's hard not to seek that kind of trivial prestige.

On the other hand, it's amazing how supporting people are of creative endeavors. From acquaintances who encouraged me to friends and family who read drafts and gave me excellent feedback--I can't imagine writing if people weren't into it. Thanks, everyone!


Hacking on CodeCombat, a multiplayer programming game for learning to code. Mastermind behind Skritter, the most powerful Chinese character learning app.

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