Below, author and investor Timothy Ferriss describes how he used Basecamp and Highrise to write his new book.
I am an angel investor based in San Francisco (Twitter, StumbleUpon, Evernote, Posterous, etc.), and am best known for my first book, “The 4-Hour Workweek,” which has been sold into 35 languages. For the last three years, I’ve been working on my new book, “The 4-Hour Body,” [Amazon link] which is a minimalist guide to hacking the human body. It covers everything: rapid fat-loss, better sex, better sleep, and I tested everything on myself with doctors and black-market scientists. The new book was a much, much bigger project than “The 4-Hour Workweek”, so I hired and trained an assistant (Charlie) to help me keep everything organized and actionable.
How we use Basecamp
At the end of 2009, I was sending Charlie chapters of the book to review. He’d track his changes in Word and email the files back to me. Within the first week, it became very clear that emailing back-and-forth was going to be a major time-suck and liability. Keeping things in order was hard, and we spent at least 20% of our time looking for the right versions of docs. In December of 2009, we started using Basecamp to keep track of all revised chapters. Right away, it made things 10 times easier, and I had Charlie start putting all of his other book-related work in Basecamp.
For instance, he would post useful “Tools and Tricks” that supplemented each chapter, and would have Basecamp send me a notification email whenever he posted something he wanted me to review. Every few days, I’d quickly look over all of the new posts from the Dashboard, and leave comments on a few of the messages. Basecamp became the war room for all things related to Project 4-Hour Body.
In 2010, I had a very sharp researcher and trained lab scientist (Alexandra Carmichael of CureTogether.com) help me with some of the technical science in the book. I wanted her to submit unusual findings and fact-check chapters, but I didn’t want to open up access to content in Basecamp that was irrelevant or that could be confusing. The solution was simple: we set up a new project, imported the few chapters she needed to work on, and gave her access to that one project. Having her work with us in Basecamp was simple, and we avoided confusion we'd experienced on every other platform.
Which features do you use most?
We limited our feature use to just ‘Projects’ and ‘Messages’ for a few reasons. First, we tried using ‘To-Dos’ for a few days, but found that we’d forgot about them almost immediately after posting. So we stuck to our usual ghetto ‘To-Do’ lists: writing on index cards or the back of our hands.
Some of the projects we currently have in our Basecamp are:
- 30-Second Science [This is the name we gave to the sidebars Alexandra was helping create.]
- 4HB Launch [All marketing plans and fun ideas related to the launch of the new book.]
- 4HB Photos [The book has more than 200 photos, and this is where we kept track of them.]
- 4HWW Marketing [One of the first projects we created, back in December 2009, when we released the expanded version of “The 4-Hour Workweek.” It contains all of our marketing ideas for that launch.]
- Blog stuff [All of the high-level opportunities and promotions related to my blog, including: ways to monetize my existing content, short-list winners or finalists for the various contests I run, etc.]
- Chapter revisions [The earliest drafts of each chapter, along with their revisions, are posted here as Word doc attachments.]
- Miscellaneous [All of the random side projects and ideas we have related to the book. As is typical with anything labeled ‘Miscellaneous,’ is probably the most interesting section.]
- Permissions – Graphics [Remember those 200+ photos we have in the book? Well, this is where we post all of the permissions we needed to get to use those pictures. Huge pain in the ass.]
- Research & Resources [Each chapter in the new book has a “Tools and Tricks” section at the end, where I recommend cool practical stuff (resources, gadgets, etc.) for the reader that supplements the chapter text and makes it all actionable. This is where we posted everything we found, before I added the best ones into the manuscript.]
Picking Partners: Basecamp Becomes the Standard
Basecamp is now the standard when hiring or working with any team. Email might work with one freelancer, but what about when you have three designers and programmers in the mix? Familiarity with Basecamp became a prerequisite in those cases, and that's one of many reasons I ended up working with Digital Telepathy for the design of The 4-Hour Body book website.
They had previous experience with Basecamp, and within hours following our intro call, had posted all the milestones and deliverables for the program on a timeline (see "Overview" below). Here are some screenshots from our collaboration:
How we use Highrise
It’s no exaggeration when I say that we have a small army helping promote this book. We needed a place to keep track of all our conversations with everyone, and be able to quickly put each contact in appropriate groups. Highrise was the obvious solution. Charlie had used it before with a few of his previous clients, including New York Times bestselling authors Ramit Sethi and Tucker Max, so he already had a preferred tagging system he'd developed.
Here are some of the tags we use:
- “.tim” – I use this to indicate people or companies I have strong connections with. They’re usually close friends of mine.
- “@California”, “@NewYork”, etc. – Used to show where a person or company is located.
- “company-in-book” – There are a ton of companies in “The 4-Hour Body.” We wanted to be sure we had them all listed out somewhere so we could easily reach out and open the door to help with the launch / give them free copies of the book.
- “facebook”, “twitter”, and “youtube” – Some of our Highrise contacts have enormous followings online and have offered to help through their strongest channels.
- “newsletter” – These are friends of mine with big email newsletters who had indicated interest in mailing to their lists.
- “promotion” – Sometimes people and companies email me, saying they want to help promote the book. This tag helps us keep track of everyone who has committed to doing a promotion around the launch date.
How will we continue to use Basecamp and Highrise?
We have no plans to stop using Basecamp. It’s made our lives so much easier by completely removing the hassle of emailing documents back and forth. We’ll continue to use it to collect and organize our future ideas and projects.
Our contact list in Highrise is still growing, as we only just started using it about two months ago, but the more contacts and information we add, and the more specific our tags are, the more valuable it will become as an asset.