After 27 weeks inching up NPD BookScan’s self-help bestseller lists, author Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life hit #1 in the week ended July 9, 2017. From its very first pages, the HarperOne title takes a confrontational stance against other self-help books. “Much of the self-help world is predicated on peddling highs to people rather than solving legitimate problems,” Manson writes. Instead of positivity, the book urges readers to accept failure and to choose a few things to really care about in life.
Manson’s brand of what he calls “self-help for people who hate self-help” produced a slow-burn bestseller that took 10 months to top the self-help list (in the week ended July 23, it was back at #1 after slipping to #2 in the prior week, and it was #5 on the hardcover nonfiction list). According to BookScan, Manson has sold more than 346,000 hardcover copies of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck since the book’s September 2016 release—but more than two-thirds of those sales happened this year (sales counted through July 23, 2017). “The book sold about 2,000 copies a week in its first weeks of release, but now [it] sells 10,000 copies a week,” said Allison Risbridger, an industry analyst at NPD BookScan.
“The publishing world is a weird thing,” Manson said. “Success and triumphs happen on a very long time scale.”
In 2011, Manson self-published his first book, a dating handbook titled Models: Attract Women Through Honesty. He built his reader base with articles on his blog, podcasts, free e-books, and social media outreach. (For more on Manson’s experiences with self-publishing, see “The Subtle Art of Finding a Niche.”)
Readers posted glowing tributes to the guide on Reddit. “I bought Models: Attract Women Through Honesty and this page changed my whole perception on women, and maybe it will for you,” wrote one fan in the Seduction community on Reddit; this single testimonial prompted 1,700 “upvotes” (indications that the comment adds value to discussion) and more than 100 replies from other Reddit users.
After years of promoting his self-published book, Manson expanded beyond dating guidance to tackle general life advice in The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck. When literary agent Mollie Glick took the book out to publishers, Manson made a point of hyping the “loyal” blog readership he’d cultivated over eight years. He recalls telling his publisher, “I can guarantee a good 10,000–20,000 in sales. I know my little fan base is going to show up.”
While Manson’s first traditionally published book wasn’t an instant bestseller, it did earn some key celebrity endorsements. In May, Thor star Chris Hemsworth gave the book a major boost, posting an unsolicited review seen by his millions of Facebook fans: “Hilarious, confronting and damn refreshing,” wrote the movie star. “A good kick in the arse that I needed!” That post received more than 46,000 Facebook reactions and 1,800 shares on the network.
Risbridger compared Manson’s slow-building bestseller to You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life (Running Press). Success coach and author Jen Sincero published the book in 2013, but it didn’t crack the top 10 on BookScan’s self-help list until June 2015; so far in 2017, it has been either #1 or #2 on the self-help list. Risbridger called Badass another “example of great author marketing gaining momentum through blog and social media presence.”
Manson attributed some of his success to reader frustration with the self-help genre. “There’s a demographic of people out there who are either just fed up with the genre, or they tried it and it didn’t work,” he said. “I very consciously try to write towards those people, because I’m one of those people too. And once I started targeting that group, my website really started to take off.”
Despite the popularity of Manson’s anti-self-help approach, the genre is doing just fine. According to NPD BookScan, unit sales in the self-help category in the year to date are up 12% from the same period in 2016, which in turn was up 13% from 2015. Last year marked the third consecutive year that self-help books logged double-digit growth. “I don’t think readers are fed up yet,” concluded Risbridger. But, she noted, “perhaps there’s a shift in the type of self-help books readers are hungry for.”