Sunday 25 February 2018

How to become a publishing phenomenon - like global sensation Joe Wicks

Lean in 15: Joe Wicks
Lean in 15: Joe Wicks

Edel Coffey

Joe Wicks may not be a familiar name - but you're bound to have heard of his Twitter, Instagram and Facebook handle, The Body Coach. The 25-year-old former personal trainer has become a global Instagram phenomenon in the last year.

When we met in Dublin a couple of weeks ago, his healthy eating book, Lean in 15, had sold over 300,000 copies in the UK in just four weeks, and was selling at a rate of 10,000 a week in Ireland. To put those figures in perspective, in 2012, Maeve Binchy's A Week in Winter sold 36,582 copies.

So how did Wicks go from anonymous personal trainer to the hottest publishing phenomenon of 2016? It all comes down to social media.

Wicks has steadily built up an army of followers Instagram, where he posts fun 15-second video clips. He came up with the idea of posting recipes because he wanted to reach more people than the 100 clients a week that he was working with as a personal trainer.

"I had this idea of 'lean in 15', a recipe for a lean meal in 15 minutes in a 15-second video clip. And I never for one second thought I was building a business or a brand or monetising a social-media following. I had no strategy. I just did it because I thought it was funny and fun," says Wicks.

As his following started to grow, and his followers began to ask his advice on fitness and diet, he realised there was potential to create a product, which was his 90-day fitness plan. The plan costs £147 and within the last year 105,000 people have signed up to it. As a personal trainer, he earned £5,000 a month on a really good month. Last month, his company turned over £1m.

As his Instagram followers grew from 100,000 to 750,000 in the space of a year, it was only a matter of time before the publishers came calling.

One major London publishing house approached him about doing a book. "I thought I'd come in for a meeting, I went in on my own. I didn't know you needed an agent. They said we'll give you X amount of money and I thought wow, that's so much money. But then I took some advice and realised I needed to get a literary agent and this guy took me around the publishers and it went to a blind auction of eight publishers bidding for the book, so you can imagine the advance went up a lot."

The result is he has two more books coming this year, and a fourth in 2017.

So what advice does he have for those who want to build a social media following as a springboard for securing a book deal? "I did a talk at the marketing society in Singapore and you're talking to CMOs and chief marketers from Disney, Unilever and all of these companies who are spending millions and millions on trying to do what I've done organically, which is to create an audience, engage an audience, give them content and make them love what you do. I was never trying to sell anything. I've given out so much free content consistently, so, eventually, when I have this book that people can purchase, they feel like they're part of it and they want to buy it.

"You've got to be authentic. Don't try and copy someone else, just be yourself and have fun. Be genuine, be passionate and don't try to sell. People are drawn to positivity so if you're positive and you're nice and funny then they'll want to hang out with you and come see you. Make time for social media. Without that following you're never going to expand your business, you'll hit a ceiling. It all adds up. The key to it is you've got to be really consistent. You can't just do one post a day."

Wicks walks the walk when it comes to updating his account. When his meal of steak, vegetables and mashed potatoes arrives, he takes a picture of it with his iPhone, saying, "camera eats first!"

Lean in 15 by Joe Wicks is published by Bluebird Books

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