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- Reading Between the Reps: Books & Biceps
Reading Between the Reps: Books & Biceps
How Jon Finkel Is Shaping Minds and Bodies With Books & Biceps
-Ah, remember the movie Revenge of the Nerds? The 1984 cult classic taught us all a valuable lesson: According to pop culture, jocks, meatheads, and nerds cannot coexist in the same universe.
Seems like a bit of a bummer, doesn't it?
What is the point of ruling the football field if you can't also be the king of the chessboard?
Thankfully, there's a hero in our midst -- one man who's decided to take a bold stand against this divisive notion.
Meet Jon Finkel – acclaimed author, fitness enthusiast, and Books & Biceps newsletter creator.
Now, you may be thinking, "Books and biceps? That's like combining kale smoothies with pizza!"
But hear me out.
Jon's vision is to create a platform that offers physical strength and intellectual stimulation in equal measure -- because, as he puts it, "You can't have a healthy mind without a healthy body, and vice versa." Jon created an exciting mashup of literature and fitness with his newsletter. This is how he explains it:
“The newsletter is like if your meathead best friend, who’s also an author, took the time every week to share cool books you’d actually read and challenging workouts you’d really try.”
If you're tired of feeling like you must choose between being a brainiac or a gym rat, let Jon be your guide.
You never know; you might become the ultimate jack-of-all-trades -- and the envy of every clique in town.
Unleashing the Power of Words and Weights—Jon Finkel
Jon Finkel is no stranger to the power of words and the influence of a good story.
Author of multiple books such as:
1996: A Biography
Hoops Heist: Seattle, the Sonics, and How a Stolen Team's Legacy Gave Rise to the NBA's Secret Empire
The Athlete: Greatness, Grace and the Unprecedented Life of Charlie Ward
Jon has successfully carved out a niche for himself in the literary world.
Not only does he write books, but he has also written for media publications like Men's Health, Men's Fitness, GQ, Details, The New York Times, and ComedyCentral.com!
He was also the editor-in-chief and publisher of the National Football Foundation & College Football Hall of Fame's website.
Outside of his impressive resume, he is a husband, a father, a doggy dad, and an ocean swimmer with a garage gym he affectionately calls The Flex Factory.
However, his love for weightlifting and fitness has led him to create a unique space where these two passions intersect.
The Birth of Books & Biceps
Finkel admits that he had no idea what he was doing for a long time. Initially, he wrote about books based on his interests and work experience, relying on his well-read background.
However, he soon realized the importance of building an audience list by learning the basics of marketing and lead generation.
Jon researched some of his favorite writers and entrepreneurs to develop his skills further and followed their blueprints. For instance, he followed Tim Ferriss's 5-Bullet Friday Newsletter, which helped him gain valuable insights into what works and what doesn't.
"When I first started, I knew authors who had newsletters, and I figured I wrote a lot of books, so I should start one. It began as me basically copying Tim Ferriss, like here are five things I saw this week. I think 50% of authors do this when they start a newsletter."
Who Is Tim Ferriss?
Tim Ferriss is not your average Joe.
He has many talents, from being an entrepreneur to being an investor, author, and podcaster. He's well-known for his self-help book, The 4-Hour Work Week, which has helped thousands of people improve their productivity and succeed.
Like Jon, Tim's personality and writing have inspired many to follow in his footsteps.
He's a productivity guru, and his tips and tricks are beloved by entrepreneurs and business owners worldwide. But what sets Tim apart is his wit and humor. He's not afraid to make fun of himself, and his podcasts are always entertaining and informative.
Books & Biceps: The Ultimate Fitness Library for Your Body and Brain
The Books & Biceps newsletter is more than a digest of book recommendations and workout tips.
It's a thriving community of over 6,000+ strong sophisticated meatheads – a term Finkel proudly redefines as individuals who are as passionate about their bench press as they are about their latest read.
This includes Super Bowl champions, New York Times bestselling authors, NBA All-Stars, fitness icons, book-loving athletes, and dedicated dads united by the belief that strength doesn't just come from lifting weights but also from lifting words off of pages.
Every week, subscribers are treated to a potent mix of timely reading recommendations, sports and fitness motivation, and insightful columns.
The newsletter also features expert/author Q&As, answering pressing questions and providing fresh perspectives on fitness, lifestyle, and writing.
Finkel's innovative approach to fitness and reading is gaining widespread recognition. The New Yorker hailed him as "The Meathead Getting Other Meatheads To Read," a testament to his successful efforts in changing perceptions and encouraging more people to embrace the power of books.
Behind the Scenes of Arnold’s Old Muscle & Fitness Column
Jon divulged some fascinating information about his newsletter and its comparison to Arnold's Pump Club, a popular newsletter by Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Jon mentioned that he helped ghostwrite Arnold's column for Muscle & Fitness back in the late 2000s when Arnold served as California's governor. The outline for each column was a list of topics he discussed with the Editor-in-Chief and other writers that spoke to Arnold’s commitment to bodybuilding.
"At Muscle & Fitness, Joe Weider, who brought Arnold over to the U.S. in the 1970s, ran the magazine. He [Arnold] was still involved on the masthead. I read so many of his old columns to try and capture his ideas and voice. We usually only saw his feedback over email. I’m sure he had someone on his end too since he was running California, but we always saw the articles improved. When it comes to training and building a body, he’s the best of all time.”
Jon states he admires Arnold's Pump Club and sees it as a sign of how much the fitness industry has evolved.
When he worked for Muscle & Fitness, newsletters were physical or elemental emails. Now, they offer an opportunity to connect with readers more personally.
Jon's Infamous On-Camera Interview With Arnold
In a lighter moment, Jon recalled his infamous on-camera interview with Arnold Schwarzenegger for the 60th anniversary issue of Muscle & Fitness magazine. Jon’s interview was pushed back because the photo shoot ran late, and he had to scramble for a time and location right before Arnold had to leave. He jokes, “I chose the worst location of all time.”
"We had to hold the interview outside due to time constraints, so I grabbed what I thought was a quiet spot outside the studio. Turned out to be like Grand Central Station. FedEx trucks were backing up, people stopped and asked for directions, graffiti was on the dumpster behind us, and we even had an accident in the backdrop. This was my dream on-camera interview at the time and it was a complete nightmare for us. But Arnold was cool and rolled with it.”.
11/ Here is the complete video, with wise ass comments from a buddy of mine, the former M&F video editor, spliced in:
— Jon Finkel (@Jon_Finkel)
Sep 12, 2022
“Man, I never heard the end of that from my buddies,” Jon laughs. “Great memory, though.”
The Challenges With MailChimp
Finkel started by using MailChimp for his newsletters.
However, he found the platform to be rather user-unfriendly and clunky. He described it as an aircraft carrier when all he needed was an agile, nimble speedboat.
"I used to joke when I first started on MailChimp that all I wanted was a speedboat to help me get out newsletters fast and efficiently, but I felt like I was trying to move a cargo ship up a river.”
Although he acknowledged that some of the bulky features could be helpful in large-scale businesses operating massive campaigns, they could have been more relevant for individual creators like himself.
Jon sought a more streamlined and appropriate tool for his newsletter.
The process of finding the right platform for newsletters can be a daunting task.
However, for Finkel, the solution finally came as beehiiv.
He came across this platform through mentions on his Twitter feed and positive recommendations from fellow users. "I don't remember exactly when I first started hearing about it. I think early 2023. It started bubbling up in my Twitter feed. I was hearing about people starting to use it or shifting over from Substack. Then I got a bunch of DMs from creators I trust telling me to try it. They were right.”
Despite initial hesitation, Finkel eventually switched to beehiiv and has been pleased with the results ever since.
beehiiv: The Chris Paul of Newsletter Platforms
Finkel had been using MailChimp to manage his newsletter, just like many other authors. However, when he discovered beehiiv, he realized the platform's full potential and began to utilize it for his newsletter.
Finkel was particularly impressed with beehiiv's functionalities and compared it to Chris Paul, the renowned NBA point guard known for facilitating plays for his team. For Finkel, beehiiv was a facilitator, helping him understand the possibilities of turning his newsletter into its own brand, business, and revenue stream.
"beehiiv is like the Chris Paul of newsletters. It puts me in a position to succeed and anticipates what I need. Because of its versatility, my goals have really evolved and caused me to think bigger.. For instance, one of the things every author laments is that you can’t track who buys your books from major retailers. Meaning when someone buys your book on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or in a local bookstore, you don’t capture any of their information personally to market future books. It's not like Amazon sends you a list every month and says here's the email address of 840 people who bought your book. With beehiiv, my plan went from simply sharing updates on my books to harnessing the platform to build a brand and attract readers who would dig my future books and the ones I’d already written.."
Now, Finkel has transformed his newsletter into more than just a promotional tool for his books. It has become a standalone brand, community, and revenue stream.
beehiiv—An Instant Transformation
The difference between MailChimp and beehiiv, according to Finkel, was immediate.
beehiiv offered a streamlined, user-friendly interface that catered specifically to the needs of individual creators. It removed all of the unnecessary clutter and allowed Finkel to focus on what mattered most – creating valuable content for his audience.
Finkel appreciated that beehiiv was designed with the individual creator in mind. It gave him the tools he needed without the complications of features intended for large-scale businesses.
Impacts of Using beehiiv
Managing a newsletter has become popular for individuals and businesses to connect with their audience.
However, running a newsletter business can be challenging, requiring a large team to ensure efficient operations and scaling.
This is where beehiiv comes in - a platform that allows individuals to manage their newsletters effectively and efficiently without needing a large team.
By focusing on the needs of individual creators, beehiiv has provided a streamlined, efficient platform that allows authors like Jon to connect more effectively with their audiences.
Jon highlighted the potential of running a newsletter with a lean business model. With beehiiv, he has operated his newsletter more effectively, allowing him to focus on creating valuable content for his audience.
Finkel's transition from MailChimp to beehiiv illustrates the importance of choosing the right tools for your business. With beehiiv, he has found a platform that allows efficient operation and scaling of his newsletter business.
Emulating Tim Ferriss
Finkel revealed how he stumbled upon affiliate marketing by observing influential figures like Tim Ferriss.
Initially, Finkel believed Ferriss recommended products like Athletic Greens or Audible in his newsletters simply because he genuinely enjoyed them. Only later did he discover Ferriss was an affiliate marketer and earned a commission every time someone clicked on those links.
This newfound knowledge completely transformed Finkel's perspective on newsletters. He realized that they could be a valuable business partner to generate revenue between book releases.
"When I first started reading Tim Ferriss or other people’s newsletters a decade ago, I was pretty naive. I figured he was only talking about Athletic Greens or another product because he liked it. Now, I understand how it works. Yes, he likes, trusts, and uses the product, but he also made money from every sale and sold ads to market it as an affiliate. Like I said, I was naive. But it’s a smart model that works for creators..."
By strategically incorporating relevant affiliate links into his newsletters, Finkel could provide his audience with valuable content and earn a steady stream of passive income.
Brand-building has become crucial to an author's success. As a renowned author, Jon suggests that unless an author is as well-known as John Grisham, who gets sizable advances for each book, finding ways to monetize other aspects of the writing process is essential.
"If you're going to start your own brand as an author, unless you're John Grisham or unless you're one of these guys who just automatically is getting, you know, a six-figure or seven-figure advance for everything you pump out, you might as well get paid for the middle part, and share what you're doing along the way with your readers.."
For an author, building a brand means creating a unique identity that resonates with the readers. It includes developing a distinctive writing style, creating a solid author platform, and establishing a loyal fan base. Authors can increase their visibility and reach, leading to excellent monetization opportunities.
A vital way of monetizing the writing process is by diversifying income streams.
Merchandising: Authors can earn money by selling merchandise related to their books, such as T-shirts, mugs, or posters. In fact, Finkel just launched his Books & Biceps store.
Services: They can offer other aspiring writers online writing courses, workshops, or coaching services.
Engagements: Authors can leverage their brand by securing speaking engagements, consulting opportunities, or even film and TV adaptations of their work.
The publishing industry is becoming increasingly competitive, and authors must build their brands in order to succeed.
Authors can create a sustainable career and achieve long-term success by monetizing other aspects of the writing process and diversifying income streams.
Jon Finkel emphasizes the importance of sharing the final product, the personal journey, and the creative process behind it.
Jon believes this approach helps build a stronger connection between authors and readers, leading to more meaningful engagement and new revenue streams.
One of the specific strategies that Finkel recommends is using newsletters as a way to deepen this connection and offer additional value to readers.
Using platforms such as beehiiv, authors can turn their newsletters into powerful marketing and monetization tools, providing exclusive content, behind-the-scenes glimpses, and other perks to subscribers.
This approach can help authors build a loyal fan base, generate income, and further their writing careers.
Buzzing Innovation at beehiiv's Design Lab
Jon firmly believes in the power of design to enhance the reader's experience. He shared his thoughts on the importance of design and the flexibility it provides creators.
Finkel was particularly impressed with the abundance of options in beehiiv's Design Lab, allowing creators to tailor their newsletters to their vision. He emphasized the importance of exploring these options and creating a design that aligns with the newsletter's brand and content.
“Just like authors spend significant time making sure we get the cover of our books right, newsletter creators have the same chance to make a powerful impression with their landing page and email design,” Finkel says. “The Design Lab makes that possible to do on your own, even if you’re not a great designer.”
Despite admitting that he wasn't a graphic artist, Finkel pointed out that this should not discourage creators from designing their newsletters. He suggested that even those less artistically inclined could hire someone to assist with the design process.
However, Finkel also noted that the design's aesthetic appeal is likely not a make-or-break factor for subscribers. While he believes that design can enhance the reading experience, he doesn't think people subscribe or unsubscribe based solely on the color scheme or design elements.
For him, the main focus is consistently delivering valuable content to his readers. He believes that having a strong and consistent content strategy is far more important than simply having a visually appealing design.
Utilizing Canva and Other Tools
In addition to the Design Lab, Jon mentioned using tools like Canva to visually enhance his newsletter.
Canva offers user-friendly features, allowing creators to effortlessly incorporate graphics into their newsletters.
Jon also highlighted the intuitive nature of working with these tools. Unlike his previous newsletters, where he would write in Word or Google Docs and then copy-paste the content, he now writes directly in the newsletter platform.
He appreciates the ease of inserting links and other elements in his content.
The Journey to Growing Subscribers
Jon Finkel, the author of the Books & Biceps newsletter, has seen a significant rise in his followers since he started taking newsletters seriously and transitioning to beehiiv.
He no longer views it as a mere formality but rather an essential aspect of his journey as an author.
Initial Subscriber Count
When he started his beehiiv newsletter journey, Jon had around 1,400 to 1,500 subscribers.
He noted that the platform's ease of use was a significant impetus for him to focus on growing his subscriber count.
Quadrupling Subscriber Growth
Since transitioning to beehiiv, Finkel experienced significant growth in his subscriber count, which quadrupled in just over six months, crossing the 6,000+ mark.
"Earlier today, I passed 6,000. Using the boosts and referrals has really helped, and the quality has gone way up because I've been able to do it much better. The ability to put a beehiiv link on everything, whenever I do a thread or a post on Twitter or Instagram, is huge. I've seen a lot of subscribers come in that way."
This impressive growth can be attributed to several factors, including the "Boost" feature on the platform, the quality of his content, and his strategic use of social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram to promote his newsletter.
Finkel also noted that referrals played a massive role in growing his subscriber base, indicating that his existing subscribers were actively sharing his content with their networks. This word-of-mouth marketing approach helped him reach a wider audience and gain more subscribers.
The growth in his subscriber count motivated Jon to set even higher targets for himself, aiming for 7,500 subscribers by the end of Q1 and hitting 15,000 by the end of the year.
This demonstrates the importance of setting realistic yet challenging goals to stay motivated and grow a successful business or brand.
Leveraging Past Works for New Subscribers
Finkel's strategy of promoting past works has successfully built a loyal reader base.
By showcasing his older works to his subscribers as if they were brand new releases, he has generated renewed interest and excitement for his books.
“What this has allowed me to do is use my backlist,” Finkel says. “For those who don’t know, a backlist is the catalog of past books an author has written. With beehiiv, I can share the books I’ve written in the past with all my new subscribers who may not know I wrote them. And I can be timely. If something is in the news about the NBA bringing a team back to Seattle, I can share with my audience that I wrote a book called Hoops Heist about the history of the Sonics blurbed by Kevin Durant, Gary Payton, and Coach George Karl. When Father’s Day rolls around, I can promote Life of Dad, which was endorsed by Mark Cuban."
Moreover, by leveraging special occasions such as Father's Day, Finkel has been able to tailor his promotional efforts to his readers' interests and preferences. This approach has helped him expand his audience and foster a deeper connection with his existing readers.
Finkel's ability to have his books endorsed by influential figures such as Mark Cuban has also contributed to his success.
This endorsement has added credibility and trustworthiness to his works, making them more appealing to potential readers.
A Unique Blend of Fitness and Books
Finkel's Books & Biceps is a unique thematic blend that reflects his interests.
In addition to sharing his books and columns on fatherhood, the second component of Books & Biceps is, of course, the ‘biceps’, or workout and motivation section of the newsletter. Finkel looks for exciting fitness trends, workouts, lifting feats, or even new music he pumps in his garage gym to share.
“I also like to share challenges that my readers can relate to and write about my journey,” he says, “For instance, last summer, I set a goal for myself to bench 315 pounds like I did in college. I shared the workout and my progress along the way. I also set out to do my first triathlon and wrote about that. The coolest part is that readers chime in and join me. It’s such a great community. We all push each other. It’s that old saying, ‘iron sharpens iron.’
Unlike many creators who may rely on productivity apps like Notion or Evernote to map out or schedule issues of their newsletters in advance, Finkel prefers to keep his content timely and personal. He shares what he is doing or has recently done, providing an authentic glimpse into his fitness journey.
“Other than some great author interviews I have lined up that have to coincide with an event or publishing date, I write everything else in Books & Biceps the week it comes out,” he says. “Nearly every issue, I’m sharing pictures from the Flex Factory or basketball court or pool from that actual week.”
Connecting Readers With Workouts From Movies
Using his connections from his past career in magazines, Finkel frequently contacts trainers to obtain knowledge on the workout routines followed by actors for specific film roles.
By sharing these exclusive behind-the-scenes fitness regimes, he adds a unique twist to his content, allowing readers to connect with the fitness journeys of their favorite stars.
A Curated Collection of Book Reviews
Finkel's love for books also plays a significant role in his newsletters.
Thanks to his past work reviewing books for magazines, he receives many books he researches for his readers. He also handpicks books based on recommendations and his personal favorites.
One of the highlights of Books & Biceps is the author interviews. Leveraging his network and connections in the publishing industry, Finkel has interviewed several New York Times bestselling authors, including Ben Mezrich, Jeff Pearlman, Mirin Fader, Shea Serrano, and more.
"Many books get sent my way because I've been doing this a long time, and I used to do all the book reviews and stuff for many magazines. But I still buy most of the books I read that make it into the newsletter. I cruise Barnes and Noble all the time. The coolest part of Books & Biceps is that because I am an author, I know many people writing these books, and it's very easy for me to get a hold of them through our agents or editors and share a behind-the-book interview with my readers.."
These interactions provide readers with unique insights into the minds of these accomplished authors.
A Springboard for Ghostwriting Opportunities
Finkel's newsletter has also served as a springboard for his ghostwriting career.
Despite having a modest subscriber count initially, the visibility and credibility of his work attracted high-profile individuals, including well-known athletes and TEDx speakers.
"Ghostwriting is very lucrative. If you're ghostwriting a book for a big athlete, entrepreneur, or speaker, those little emails asking if you’d be interested in working with them can be worth a lot. I always like it when those pop into my inbox. I'm typically pretty busy on deadline with my books, so a project really has to appeal to me at this point for me to take it on. My rule of thumb now is if a project doesn’t feel like an emphatic “yes!” then it’s a “no.”
Over time, these individuals contacted him for ghostwriting projects, providing him with opportunities to write for some prominent names confidentially.
The Books & Biceps newsletter has become a potent tool for Finkel, helping him expand his reach and influence beyond book sales.
The Benefits of beehiiv and the Future of Books & Biceps
For Finkel, beehiiv has made his life easier.
As he prepares to ramp up promotions for his upcoming book, Macho Man, which comes out April 2nd, having a one-stop platform like beehiiv has proven invaluable. He appreciates the control it gives him over his content, especially when organic reach on social platforms is dwindling.
The Books & Biceps newsletter offers book recommendations and fitness insights. It's a unique combination that reflects Finkel's interests and expertise, making it a compelling read for those looking for inspiration both intellectually and physically.
Finkel praises beehiiv for its simplicity and responsiveness. He appreciates the lack of red flags and the prompt customer service, which has made his experience with the platform smooth and positive.
His journey offers valuable insights for other creators looking to build, grow, and monetize their newsletters.
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