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Book Summary: Perennial Seller – The Art of Making and Marketing Work that Lasts

We’d all like to have our little place in history, wouldn’t we? Even if you’re not the next Steve Jobs, you probably still wish to leave some kind of lasting legacy. And you probably hope to do this by creating something. Of course, this creation shouldn’t have but a brief existence; it should be eternal. The Book you’ve written, the app you’ve developed, the work of art you’ve created – whatever you’ve produced, you definitely want it to last.

But in a world that is all about being new and fresh, how do you create a product that is more than a flash in the pan? In other words, how do you make a perennial seller?

This book summary will teach you how. You’ll learn how to take all the steps, from the moment you have that first creative idea right through to what it takes to continue to survive – and even thrive! – in an industry that’s predicated on newness.

In this summary of Perennial Seller by Ryan Holiday, you’ll also learn

  • what blasting music out of a car’s loudspeakers has to do with perfecting your product;
  • how YouTube can help you with perennial success; and
  • what connects Iron Maiden with an insurance mailing list.

Content Summary

Recommendation
Take-Aways
How can we make a product that remains valuable?
Make it Timeless
Make it Specific
Make it Accessible
Creating a perennial seller requires hard graft, and great ideas alone will get you nowhere.
Motivation, and a readiness to make sacrifices, are crucial to creative success.
To be a successful artist, become your own CEO and track down an ace editor.
Testing your product to perfection is essential.
Marketing your creation is your job alone, and there is one essential rule to remember.
There is no one right way to do marketing, though word of mouth should always play a role.
A platform is great for holding people’s attention, and it will also ensure creative independence.
Creating a mailing list is critical for survival and you can even start before finishing your first product.
Summary
Conclusion
About the author
Genres
Table of Contents
Overview
Review/Endorsements/Praise/Award
Video and Podcast
Read an Excerpt/PDF Preview

Recommendation

Marketing expert Ryan Holiday sets out to show you how to create and market products that, like Star Wars or the iPhone, continue to earn money for years after they debut. The former head of marketing at American Apparel, Holiday says too many artists and entrepreneurs try to cash in on trends and fads, instead of pursuing the real earning potential in quality creations that will continue to resonate with future audiences regardless of how styles change. Holiday’s advice on creating a product isn’t as interesting as the rest of the book, offering mostly standard counsel to work hard and keep revising. However, in the second half of the volume, he gives readers original and pertinent advice, and offers quirky, inspiring ideas on do-it-yourself marketing and the importance of building a strong relationship with your fan base. We believe Holiday’s advice will encourage and assist entrepreneurs, marketers and artists.

Take-Aways

  • Whether you are creating art or building a business, aim to make it stand the test of time.
  • Instead of instant gratification, shape a product or service that can produce earnings for many years.
  • You need to make conscious creative choices and business decisions to create a classic.
  • As your development work progresses, share parts of it with others and learn from their feedback.
  • Be in charge of every stage of the process, from creation through marketing.
  • To achieve long-term sales, cultivate a loyal fan base.
  • The most effective form of marketing is word of mouth.
  • Media coverage is surprisingly ineffective in driving sales.
  • Offer all or part of your product for free to inspire people to talk about it.
  • Two important tools for a long career are an email list and a wide professional network.

“In every industry— from books to movies to restaurants to plays and software— certain creations can be described as “perennial.” By that I mean that, regardless of how well they may have done at their release or the scale of audience they have reached, these products have found continued success and more customers over time. They are the kind of art or products that we return to more than once, that we recommend to others, even if they’re no longer trendy or brand-new.” – Ryan Holiday

How can we make a product that remains valuable?

The movie ‘Star Wars: A New Hope,’ and the book ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ are perennial sellers. Like all perennial sellers they live on by word-of-mouth. I learned about Star Wars from a friend in grade school, who heard about Star Wars from his dad…20 years after its release date.

Ryan Holiday has uncovered methods of making and marketing products to maximize word of mouth. By using his methods, our work (blog posts, videos, books, etc.) can remain valuable long after its release date. By learning the tools to make a perennial seller we can do the hard work now and reap the benefits for years to come.

Here are three methods we can use to maximize word of mouth and develop a perennial seller.

Make it Timeless

Focus on a topic or problem that never gets old.

Author Dale Carnegie released the book ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ in 1936. People still recommend ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ it to their friends in 2017. Why?

Dale Carnegie’s book solves a timeless problem: social anxiety. People struggle with social anxiety today as they did in 1936. People will continue to struggle with social anxiety for the foreseeable future.

If you want to make a perennial seller ask yourself: why will people still be talking about this ten years from now? (tip: focus on reoccurring human problems and not the latest technology)

“Focus on the things that don’t change.” – Jeff Bezos

Make it Specific

People share products they love.

When people enthusiastically share a product with their friends, the products audience will grow organically over time (like compound interest).

If you want to make a perennial seller, you need to ask yourself: Who specifically will love this?

“It’s better to make a product that one hundred people love than a product one million people just like.” – Paul Graham (Y Combinator founder)

People love products that fit their needs, wants, and interests. Therefore, you must narrow your focus and direct your energy on making a product for a specific person (or niche group of people). All perennial products can be described in one sentence: This is a __, that does__ for __.

When you help a specific person solve a specific problem, that person (and people like them) are more likely to fall in love with your product and share it with everyone they know.

“Many creators want to be for everyone . . . and as a result end up being for no one. Picking a lane isn’t limiting. It’s the first act of empowerment we take as a creator.” – Ryan Holiday

Make it Accessible

It’s better to be underpaid than to be unheard of.

“Think about all the stuff out there that you haven’t checked out— even though most of it is really cheap. That’s the kind of abundance we enjoy as consumers. There is so much out there that you couldn’t possibly consume it all in your lifetime. So we ignore a lot of it, especially the stuff that looks expensive. Which is why as creators we have to get more comfortable with giving people a taste of our work— or, in some cases, giving some people the entire meal for free. That’s how we build an audience and gather momentum.” – Ryan Holiday

Don’t be afraid to mark down your product at first (make it free!). The low cost will make it accessible to more people. When a low-cost item is of high utility and quality, people will share it with everyone they know.

“As a general rule, however, the more accessible you can make your product, the easier it will be to market. You can always raise the price later, after you’ve built an audience.”- Ryan Holiday

Creating a perennial seller requires hard graft, and great ideas alone will get you nowhere.

You know that old maxim about product success being 20 percent creativity, 80 percent marketing? Well, you can safely ignore it, because it’s pure bushwa.

If you want to develop a perennial seller – a product that always sells, year in and year out – you’re going to need to put a lot of work into the creative process. Marketing is not a magic wand. To be successful, your creation will have to be a world-beater from the get-go. And there’s no escaping the hard work that creation entails.

No company knows this better than Microsoft. It’s forced some real stinkers on the market, hoping that marketing would make up for product shortcomings. Just think of its failed MP3 player, Zune, or its dismal search engine, Bing.

In contrast, Microsoft Office has only gotten better over the years, and is now a classic 25-year perennial seller, thanks to its sound software design.

But, of course, if you’re going to market a product you’ll need to develop one in the first place. Just having lightbulb moments will get you nowhere.

To drive this point home, consider how many aspiring writers you’ve met who haven’t actually published a thing. You know the type; he talked your ear off at this or that party, claiming he would soon produce a masterpiece, though he hadn’t written anything yet. It’s one thing to have an idea for a film’s plot, or a concept for a start-up, but it’s quite another to actually get going.

Ideas alone are worth nothing. Take the writer and comedian Sarah Silverman’s advice. You needn’t wait for someone’s approval to get going: just write!

So exactly how do you turn an idea into something real? Just what kind of hard work is needed? Let’s turn to that now.

Motivation, and a readiness to make sacrifices, are crucial to creative success.

There are loads of people who say they’d like to play professional football. Why do they want to do this? Many believe that “it would be fun.” But that kind of flabby rationale really isn’t enough to fuel success. It’s not concrete, and it’s not going to lead to the kind of motivation that produces actual results.

The same holds true with creative work. A strong sense of purpose is the surest way to success.

When you combine your work with a purpose, you’ll have the motivation to push through any barriers that stand in your way. Let’s imagine you’re a writer with a strong purpose to make the world a better place. When your articles or books on this subject get rejected, you won’t simply give up. You’ll keep on writing and submitting your work because you know that your purpose is a worthwhile aim.

Of course, there are other situations that might drive you and inspire your sense of purpose. It may be that your or your family’s survival depends on your success. Desperation can be extremely galvanizing, a fact that dovetails nicely with the other thing you’ll need to succeed: a willingness to make sacrifices.

Take athletes as an example. No doubt they’d prefer to spend a beautiful summer day chilling with their friends, sipping cold beers. But where will you actually find them? In the gym, lifting weights, or out on the track, running laps.

Likewise, creatives like writers and artists must seal themselves off and shut out distractions to actualize their vision.

This is the case for you, too. You need to make those sacrifices to ensure that your efforts pay off. But exactly what sort of hard work is involved? Let’s look at that now.

To be a successful artist, become your own CEO and track down an ace editor.

Somewhat paradoxically, there’s more to being creative than creativity alone. Novelists don’t get published by simply jotting down a masterpiece and mailing it off to some grateful publisher.

It’s not that simple.

If you want your work to be successful, you’ll need to be a CEO as well as an artist.

Many creatives would prefer to be just that and leave the editing, promotion and marketing to someone else. But unless you’re already rolling in dough, that’s not going to happen.

The competitive nature of the market can’t be underrated. For instance, at least 300,000 books are published each year in the United States. To make your book stand out, you’ll have to do more than be a sequestered, tortured genius. You’re going to have to act as your own CEO, devising commercial strategies for your product.

Though the responsibility for success ultimately rests on your own shoulders, however, an outside critique or alternative voice is always helpful. Such a voice usually comes in the form of an editor.

An editor can’t be some stranger pulled off the street. She’s got to be a professional in the field, someone you can trust to be honest with you. Friends won’t cut the mustard.

Writers and screenwriters ought to turn to actual editors. Musicians may want to seek the advice of sound engineers or composers. Athletes should rely on expert coaches and judges.

This last creative step – the editing step – is often neglected. But you’ll thank yourself later for taking it. Nowadays, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is considered an ageless classic. But the novel began its life as an imperfect manuscript submitted to an editor, Tay Hohoff. Hohoff’s criticism was brutal. She demanded that Lee rework the text to make the narrative more structured and coherent. Without this editorial effort, you wouldn’t know who Harper Lee is.

So we know that editing and perfecting a product is critical. But how does that process actually work?

Testing your product to perfection is essential.

You might think that if your product is close to being finished, you can relax a little more. Well, banish the thought. As you near the finish line, you should get more obsessive still by testing and improving your creation.

In fact, for your work to be successful, you’ll have to test and rework it over and over.

Creatives and producers often do this by engineering some surprising methods for quality control.

Just take composer and producer Max Martin. He’s written songs for the likes of Celine Dion and Adele, and, over the years, he’s developed a neat trick called the “LA Car Test.”

Martin likes to cruise down the Pacific Coast Highway while blasting whatever song he’s testing out. This gives him a chance to experience the song as a typical radio listener would. If it works while he’s cruising down the road, it’s probably going to work for the masses.

Here’s another practice that you can take advantage of before releasing your creation to the public. Step back, ask yourself what you originally aimed to achieve and whether your product really represents this.

This technique is called the One Sentence, One Paragraph, One Page method.

When your mind is clear, take out a fresh blank piece of paper. Now write down precisely what your project constitutes, in a single sentence. Now do that again, but in a single paragraph. And again, in a single page. This procedure will impose coherency on your creation.

Imagine that you’ve written an autobiography, but incorporated fictional elements. Now, when you’re describing the project using the One Sentence, One Paragraph, One Page method, you may find it difficult to say whether you’ve written fiction or nonfiction. This sort of observation will force you to refine the content and make it more consistent.

Until you can describe your work concisely and convincingly, your primary task will be product enhancement and constant improvement.

Marketing your creation is your job alone, and there is one essential rule to remember.

It’s easy to feel swamped by the amount of culture and art out there. As a creative person, you may feel intimidated and daunted. How exactly are you supposed to make yourself stand out from the crowd?

The answer is marketing. But remember: this requires hard work and independent effort. You can’t rely on others to do the work for you.

The reason for this is simple. After all, you’re the only one who’s really invested in your product. Paying somebody else to push your creation isn’t going to work, because no one is going to care about what you’re doing as much as you do.

Many artists have come to this same conclusion. For example, author Ian McEwan jokes that half the time he acts as his own employee, a miserable salesperson of the actual author’s creations.

And, unfortunately, marketing a product these days is far from easy. At no time in history has it been easier for consumers to compare prices and search for competing products.

With this in mind, there is one thing you should never forget when marketing your work. Nobody will give a fig about your creation unless you push it. You’ve got to work to show consumers why they should care.

You are, in short, a marketer of your own products. And to market well, you’ll need a healthy dose of humility.

For example, one of the author’s clients had the chance to present his new product on several successful podcasts.

Such opportunities are one in a million. But the client was initially unenthusiastic. He wanted to do a single conference call, with each podcast on the line, and be done with it. Fortunately, the author reminded him of the importance of humility and persuaded him to go on each podcast, which proved to be a marketing coup.

So marketing is important. And the good news is, it’s not as complicated or dry as you might think.

There is no one right way to do marketing, though word of mouth should always play a role.

If the bad news about marketing is that you always have to start from a position of audience ignorance, then the good news is that there are plenty of strategies to spread the word.

In fact, sometimes the most creative approaches are the most successful. There are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to marketing, as author Steven Pressfield well knows.

In 2011, Pressfield wrote The Warrior Ethos, a book that examined how humans deal with and overcome adversity. It was entirely self-published, with no external support. To market it, Pressfield made a special military edition and printed 18,000 copies, which he distributed to friends and army contacts.

It took a lot of effort to publish and deliver the books, but it was well worth it. In the following months, the book’s sales figures went through the roof. Even today, they are stabilized at around 13,000 copies sold per year.

But this is no fluke. The success of The Warrior Ethos was based on stellar marketing practices – mainly word of mouth.

A study by the consultancy firm McKinsey outlines that word of mouth accounts for 20 to 50 percent of purchasing decisions. In today’s consumer environment, emphatic recommendations from close friends are marketing magic. It’s been shown that people are up to fifty times more likely to purchase a service or product if a close friend enthusiastically recommends it, as when compared to an acquaintance mentioning it in passing.

Word of mouth is also the best strategy for ensuring your product remains a long-term best seller. With that in mind, target your marketing efforts accordingly to increase word-of-mouth mentions of your product. Social media is a godsend here.

Marketing is essentially all about creating word of mouth, whether you’re trying to get your product off the ground or sustain income.

A platform is great for holding people’s attention, and it will also ensure creative independence.

Once you’ve put your product out, the temptation is to feel that you’ll be forever defined by this one achievement.

But if you want continued success you’ll have to develop your presence in the public eye, independent of any one single creation.

Therefore, you’ll need a platform where you can alert people to the latest goings-on.

A platform combines all the skills, connections, communication channels and followers necessary to ensure the success of your creative work and nurture your own personality as a creator.

A platform is especially useful for surviving in difficult times.

Winston Churchill is a good example here. He had been a successful politician early on in his career, but his rivals kept him on the fringes between 1931 and 1939 because of his radical stance against Indian independence.

However, that downtime didn’t ruin him. He had another platform he could rely upon thanks to the fact that he’d built a second career. Churchill wrote books and articles, and he sometimes appeared on the radio, so that, even while in political exile, he continued to exert influence and make money.

The other benefit of a platform is that it means you can make your success independent of other people. It’s entirely your own. Just look at the success of Casey Neistat, who spent years as a promising filmmaker and even premiered two films at Cannes.

However, Neistat decided to forge his own independent following. He created a platform profile on YouTube and now has millions of subscribers and hundreds of thousands of views each day. His audience is his own. He has managed to cut out the middleman, and can now personally decide whether his work gets broadcast or not, which also means his profits are entirely his own. Now that’s artistic freedom par excellence.

Creating a mailing list is critical for survival and you can even start before finishing your first product.

Imagine that one day, on a whim, the media and the industry lose interest in your work and decide to blackball you.

Until recently, you couldn’t really have done much to combat such a turn of events. But now you can.

A mailing list is by far the most important survival insurance for a creative of any stripe. At its heart, a mailing list is a direct line of communication to people who know you or value your work. But it takes time to build up that support base. Start early. There’s no point waiting until your career is waning.

That’s exactly how the band Iron Maiden stayed on top of the game. Heavy metal had had its mainstream halcyon days in the 1980s. But those soon faded, giving way to grunge.

But Iron Maiden had built up a mailing list, long before anyone thought of doing so. Consequently, they never lost direct access to their large fan base. They still play massive sold-out concerts to this day despite heavy metal’s having gone out of vogue.

In fact, you needn’t even have a product ready before you start compiling your email list. Ideally, you want fans before your product even drops.

That sounds a bit back to front, but it works. All you need is a strategy to find your would-be fans.

Actually, that’s precisely how the author managed such great sales on his first book. He knew he wanted an email list of interested people ready before publication. So he created a monthly newsletter with book reviews. That way he could also publicize his own book, once it was published.

Thanks to this scheme, when his first book was released, the author already had five thousand people on his mailing list. Today, he has 80,000 followers.

Okay, so now you’ve got the lowdown on developing your creative work. You know the importance of product and platform creation, and how crucial marketing is. It will take a lot of hard work, but it also isn’t rocket science. You can create it, if you really want to.

Summary

Built to Last

Creating something that will stand the test of time is a more effective sales strategy than trying to capitalize on a current trend. An enduring creation, whether it’s a product, a company or a piece of art, will go on earning money long after you’ve finished working on it or promoting it.

“The difference between a great work and an idea for a great work is all the sweat, time, effort and agony that go into engaging that idea and turning it into something real.”

Few creators pursue this strategy. One reason is that many business and creativity gurus emphasize finding a fast path to success. Creators often pay too much attention to modern metrics of accomplishment – such as your number of “social media shares” or the amount of investor capital your start-up attracts – which tend to highlight the most fleeting aspects of success.

“While luck is certainly an important factor, perennial success is also the result of the right decisions, the right priorities and the right product.”

Another obstacle is that many people find the idea of creating an enduring work far too intimidating. You’re putting your product up against the offerings of the likes of Apple Computer. But creating something that lasts doesn’t require a genius level of talent or a direct line to the muses. Anyone can make a perennial seller. You just need to understand the creative and marketing principles that underlie enduring popularity – and to be willing to work very hard.

Making

The first step is to spend as much effort and time as you need to create work of the highest quality. Keep in mind that making something that’s truly great requires following a long, rough and frustrating road.

“All the marketing in the world won’ t matter if the product hasn’t been made right.”

George Orwell, author of 1984 and Animal Farm, said that writing his books was like battling a lengthy disease. You will need to plan and polish, seek feedback, possibly change course and, if necessary, even start over again.

First-time novelist Harper Lee faced this challenge when she submitted a manuscript to an editor. The editor called it a failure, and Lee spent two years rewriting and revising her story, creating new characters and revamping the plot. The result was the classic To Kill a Mockingbird.

“To be great, one must make great work, and making great work is incredibly hard.”

Creativity does not strike like lightning. An idea may come to you in a flash, but the initial idea is a relatively unimportant part of the process – what matters is how you shape that idea into reality. Psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman, who studies creativity, says creators rarely have a fully formed idea at the start of the process. They begin with a “hazy intuition” that evolves as the work goes on.

“Deep, complex work is built through a relentless, repetitive process of revisitation.”

For example, the original idea for Pixar’s film Up involved “two princes who lived in a floating city on an alien planet.” As writers worked on the script, that sketchy idea evolved into a story about making an escape by tying balloons to a house.

Timeless, Universal Themes

The film Star Wars has remained popular for decades because, amid all its special effects, the movie addresses timeless themes common to everyone. Writer and director George Lucas based his space adventure on the “hero’s journey,” an archetypal quest that provides the framework for humanity’s oldest myths and epics.

“If there is any magic in creative expression, it’s how small, even silly ideas can become big, important, awe-inspiring works if a person invests enough time in them.”

To create something that resonates with an audience, you need a clear idea of who is in that audience. Ask yourself: What purpose will your work serve for them? How will it affect them? What problems will it help them solve?

For instance, if you’re a writer, you must have a clear concept of whom you are writing for. Otherwise, your work can end up as an exercise in self-indulgence. Stephen King, author of Carrie, The Shining and On Writing, suggests that you picture an individual “ideal reader,” and imagine how he or she will react to each passage you write.

Test and Refine

Seek feedback throughout your creative process. Share parts of your work with friends and colleagues and gauge whether it is eliciting the response you want. As you come to the end (or what you think is the end) of the creative portion of your work, submit it to the scrutiny of an impartial, outside authority, as a writer submits a manuscript to an editor. A maker usually grows too close to a project to judge objectively whether it does what it’s supposed to do.

“The creators who take the time to get their positioning and packaging right – who don’t just go with their first instinct and hope – are the ones who will win.”

Rigorously assess your nearly finished product. Write three descriptions of your creation: a one-sentence description, a one-paragraph thumbnail and a one-page portrait. These descriptions should answer four questions about your product:

  • What is it? – Be specific. Include the artistic genre or the product category in which you are positioning it.
  • What does it do? – For instance, it could provide entertainment or information.
  • How does it help people? – The product should offer a precise solution to a clear problem. For example, Craigslist offers an easy way to find apartments and goods. Pixar movies solve the problem of providing entertainment for children without boring their parents.
  • Is it right for the intended audience? – If not, you’ll have to revise the product further. Alternatively, you might pitch it to a more appropriate audience.

Marketing

Don’t think that you’ve created something great and can sit back and wait for the audience to find it. You might imagine that selling the product is your publisher’s job or the responsibility of your company’s marketing department. Marketing has to be your job. No publicist you hire will care as much about the product as you do, and no one will understand it as well. Expend as much discipline, persistence and creativity to sell your product as you did to make it.

“The kind of important lasting work we are striving for is different – we’re talking about making something that doesn’t rely on hype or manipulative sales tactics.”

To craft an effective marketing campaign, start by accepting a difficult fact: No one has heard of your product, and no one cares about it. Dismiss any feelings that you are entitled to an audience. Even if your work is a masterpiece, people will not look for it if they don’t know it exists.
Marketing doesn’t mean you have to spend money on newspaper ads or billboards. Paid advertising has only a limited effect on spurring sales. Instead, concentrate your resources on stimulating the only effective marketing tool: word of mouth. Instead of broadcasting your message, try to get your product into the hands of a small number of people. If the product is great, those people will begin to spread the word.

Build Buzz

Generate buzz about your product by applying these tactics:

  • Give it away – To get people talking about your product, someone must try it. Getting people to invest money and time into investigating a new product or artwork is challenging. To lower this barrier, offer the product or part of the product without charge. Services like Spotify and Amazon Prime reeled in customers with a free entry level or free trial.
  • Sell it cheap – The cheaper you price your product, the more units you are likely to sell. Sometimes marketers worry that a cheap price will undermine the “perception” of a product, but that’s unlikely unless you are dealing with ultra-luxury goods.
  • Find the “influencers” – Find the tastemakers and trendsetters in your field and try to get them to endorse your product. The best way to do this is organically, by cultivating relationships with them and sending them free samples. You don’t need to snare big celebrities. Bloggers and other Internet personalities may be more receptive because they are not constantly flooded with requests. Despite their lower profile, they can have tremendous influence in their individual niches.

Using the Media

Many creators assume that getting media coverage is an important part of marketing, and many enjoy the ego boost they get from media attention. However, press coverage has surprisingly little direct effect on sales, thought it can enhance your “credibility and status.” Being able to brag on your web page about your appearance on a popular television show will probably pay more dividends than the appearance itself. Snag media attention with these techniques:

  • “Trading up the chain” – This tactic takes advantage of the fact that media outlets monitor each other, looking for story ideas and trends. If you can get your story onto a small local show or get a mention in a niche blog, larger outlets may pick it up.
  • “Newsjacking” – Pitch your story by connecting it to some currently trending news or subject. James Altucher, author of Reinvent Yourself, got press attention when he announced that people could buy his books with Bitcoins, a hot topic at the time.
  • Making news – You can pique journalists’ interest by staging a media-friendly event that ties into the theme of your product. For instance, when former Pentecostal minister Jerry DeWitt launched a book about his embrace of atheism, he hosted a “church service for atheists” in the Deep South. The New York Times and CNN covered his event.

Building a “Platform” for Long-Term Sales

For long-term relevance, create a body of work and cultivate a career. Your platform is an essential element of a successful career. A platform includes your fan base as well as the tools you use to form a bond with them, such as an email list, social media and a professional network.

“Perennial sellers – big or small – not only refuse to die or fade into oblivion; they grow stronger with each passing day.”

The career of the heavy metal band Iron Maiden is a good example of how artists can build a platform they can use to sell their work for the long term. The band was never a favorite on radio playlists, but since 1975 it has sold more than 90 million albums and it still plays to sold-out stadiums. Rather than focus on traditional marketing, the group concentrates on maintaining a strong relationship with its fans. They return the favor by buying everything the band produces.

“No one has the steam or the resources to actively market something for more than a short period of time, so if a product is going to sell forever, it must have strong word of mouth.”

An email list is your most important tool when you are building a platform. When you compile a list of people who have expressed interest in your work, you won’t have to go through the process of finding your audience over and over again each time you launch a new project. And you won’t have to rely on the media to get the word out. You can speak directly to your audience.

Building Your Network

Building strong relationships – with the people who buy your product and the people who can help you market it – is one of the most effective ways to nurture your career. However, building your network does not involve going to networking events and trading business cards.

“Promotion is not how things are made great – only how they’re heard about.”

Instead, consider the more informal practices of Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, The 4-Hour Chef and Tools of Titans. Before he had any books on the bestseller list, Ferris traveled around to conferences such as Austin’s South by Southwest to meet influencers, build relationships and help other people when he could. If you are genuine in your desire to build positive relationships and are generous with the help you offer others, you can create a large resource to draw on when you need to get the word out.

“The reality is that the race to creative success today is really a marathon.”

Ferriss’s tips for effective networking include:

  • Be open to everyone – Treat all the new people you meet as if they could put your name in lights. You never can tell when you’ll come across the person who can do just that.
  • Think about the long term – Don’t go into a relationship calculating what you can get out of the person. Cultivate an authentic relationship that, over time, benefits both of you.
  • Find the “pre-VIPs” – Keep your radar tuned for those special people who aren’t famous now but probably will be someday.

Conclusion

The key message in this book:

When it comes to creative work, there’s no escaping the hard work that’s needed. In fact, you’re actually going to have to work perhaps harder than you would in any other field. Not only do you have to actually do the creative work; you also have to be your own CEO, marketing director and PR professional. But with the right strategies, none of this is impossible.

Actionable advice:

Network indiscriminately and passionately.

As a creative person, you’ll always be largely dependent on people’s support. Therefore, treat everyone you meet as if they had the ability to get you a spot in the New York Times – because you never know. Someday, you may meet someone who can do just this, if not something even more helpful.

About the author

Ryan Holiday is one of the world’s bestselling living philosophers. His books, including The Obstacle Is the Way, Ego Is the Enemy, The Daily Stoic, and the #1 New York Times bestseller Stillness Is the Key, appear in more than forty languages and have sold more than five million copies. He lives outside Austin with his wife and two boys…and a small herd of cows and donkeys and goats. His bookstore, The Painted Porch, sits on historic Main Street in Bastrop, Texas.

Strategist Ryan Holiday runs the firm Brass Check and is the former director of marketing for American Apparel.

Ryan Holiday | Website
Ryan Holiday | Twitter @RyanHoliday
Ryan Holiday | Instagram @ryanholiday
Ryan Holiday | Facebook @ryanholiday
Ryan Holiday | YouTube
Ryan Holiday | TikTok @ryan_holiday
Ryan Holiday | Email

Genres

Writing, Research, Publishing Guides, Web Marketing, E-commerce Professional, Creativity, Business and Money, Internet Marketing, Entrepreneurship, Self Help, Personal Development, Art, Finance, Philosophy

Table of Contents

Introduction 1
Part I The Creative Process: From the Mindset to the Making to the Magic 15
Part II Positioning: From Polishing to Perfecting to Packaging 61
Part III Marketing: From Courting to Coverage, Pushing to Promotion 107
Part IV Platform: From Fans to Friends and a Full-Fledged Career 173
Conclusion: What’s Luck Got to Do with It? 219
Afterword 229
A Gift for You 231
Acknowledgments and Sources 232
Index 243

Overview

The book that Inc. says “every entrepreneur should read” and an FT Book of the Month selection…

How did the movie The Shawshank Redemption fail at the box office but go on to gross more than $100 million as a cult classic?

How did The 48 Laws of Power miss the bestseller lists for more than a decade and still sell more than a million copies?

How is Iron Maiden still filling stadiums worldwide without radio or TV exposure forty years after the band was founded?

Bestselling author and marketer Ryan Holiday calls such works and artists perennial sellers. How do they endure and thrive while most books, movies, songs, video games, and pieces of art disappear quickly after initial success? How can we create and market creative works that achieve longevity?

Holiday explores this mystery by drawing on his extensive experience working with businesses and creators such as Google, American Apparel, and the author John Grisham, as well as his interviews with the minds behind some of the greatest perennial sellers of our time. His fascinating examples include:

  • Rick Rubin, producer for Adele, Jay-Z, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who teaches his artists to push past short-term thinking and root their work in long-term inspiration.
  • Tim Ferriss, whose books have sold millions of copies, in part because he rigorously tests every element of his work to see what generates the strongest response.
  • Seinfeld, which managed to capture both the essence of the nineties and timeless themes to become a modern classic.
  • Harper Lee, who transformed a muddled manuscript into To Kill a Mockingbird with the help of the right editor and feedback.
  • Winston Churchill, Stefan Zweig, and Lady Gaga, who each learned the essential tenets of building a platform of loyal, dedicated supporters.

Holiday reveals that the key to success for many perennial sellers is that their creators don’t distinguish between the making and the marketing. The product’s purpose and audience are in the creator’s mind from day one. By thinking holistically about the relationship between their audience and their work, creators of all kinds improve the chances that their offerings will stand the test of time.

Review/Endorsements/Praise/Award

A Financial Times Book of the Month Selection

The book may find a cult following on Madison Avenue the same way his work on stoic philosophy, “The Obstacle is the Way,” did in the NFL. –Steve Rubel in AdvertisingAge

“How to create lasting success in a world of flash-in-the-pan hits and how to extend the proverbial 15 minutes of fame to a decade or even a century.” —The Financial Times

“The book every entrepreneur should read this year.” —Jeff Haden, Inc.

“Every artist aspires to create timeless, lasting work and this book is astudy on what it takes to do just that. Ryan Holiday has written a brilliant, inspiring guide to ignoring the trends of the day to focus on what matters and what will lead to real impact. If you want to write, produce, or build something amazing, read this book.” —JAMES FREY, bestselling author of A Million Little Pieces and Bright Shiny Morning

“As a showrunner or any kind of artist, you have to know when to stick to your guns and trust your gut, when and whom to ask for help, and how to define and lean into your brand. This book gets to the core of each of those elements in an attempt to help creatives be successful for along time.” —DAVID ZUCKERMAN, television writer and cocreator of Family Guy, American Dad, and Wilfred

“My first book took five years for it to become a bestseller. It sells more now than it did ten years ago. You won’t find a better guide to create something that lasts than Perennial Seller! Ryan Holiday is one of the great marketing minds of our time!” —JON GORDON, bestselling author of The Energy Bus

“Ideas are a dime a dozen, but those who put them into practice are priceless. [In Perennial Seller], Ryan shows you how to become one of “those” through his simple and cutthroat strategy for what it takes to be a successful creative in the modern world. This book couldn’t be more timely!” —JAKE UDELL, founder of TH3RD BRAIN; manager of Grace VanderWaal, Gallant, ZHU, and Krewella

“In an era of disposable hot takes, Ryan’s writing blends thoughtful and thorough contrarianism with delicious anecdotes to back it up. Perennial Seller continues that tradition.” —RICKY VAN VEEN, cofounder CollegeHumor and Vimeo, head of global creative strategy at Facebook

“I said this about Ryan Holiday’s last book, but I’ll say this now about this book. This is his best book. This will be a perennial seller. Everything in here is so true and it is a guide to creativity in the real world.” —JAMES ALTUCHER, author of Choose Yourself

“Ryan Holiday is more than a marketing genius—he is an extraordinary thinker whose instincts deliver him deep into the human condition. I’ve been lucky to work with Ryan, and his goal is unwavering—to help creators make work that lasts. Perennial Seller is the perfect distillation of his ideas, and that rarest of gifts—a road map to success and an insight into life.” —ROBERT KURSON, New York Times bestselling author of Shadow Divers

“Autodidact extraordinaire Ryan Holiday strips away the ridiculous obsession with contemporary bestsellerdom and gets to the heart and soul of individual genius, creating timeless classics that change people’s lives year after year after year. For those of us who wish to summon the courage and forgo instant validation in favor of deep and original creation, this book offers not just the Why, but the How. A must-read for creators of all persuasions.” —SHAWN COYNE, cofounder of Black Irish Books, author of The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know

“Fashion, like most industries, is all about what’s popular right now, yet at the same time the best designers and creators aspire to make and sell things that will last more than just a single season. Holiday’s new book is the ultimate road map to making your work and your message stick.” —AYA KANAI, chief fashion director for Cosmopolitan, Seventeen, Redbook, and Woman’s Day

“At this moment, it’s easy to think of music as no more than ephemeral content. For this reason, it’s more important than ever to make work that stands the test of time. This book is a complete and current handbook for writing classics. Perennial Seller clears a path through the noise. If you are interested in creating work that stands the test of time, then Perennial Seller is a must-read.” —JUSTIN BORETA, The Glitch Mob

“Every artist who wants to create a thriving career that outlasts fads, trends, and technologies needs to read this book. It’s a formula for becoming a classic and legendary.” —MICHAEL RAPINO, CEO and president, Live Nation

Video and Podcast

Read an Excerpt/PDF Preview

The more books we read, the clearer it becomes that the true function of a writer is to produce a masterpiece and that no other task is of any consequence. —Cyril Connolly

A few years ago I got into an argument with a friend. This person—whose company I enjoy and whose work I respect—had declared the following to aspiring creatives on Twitter: “You should spend 20 percent of your time creating content and 80 percent of your time promoting it.” This kind of thinking sounds right. Lines like that are easy to repeat at conferences and cocktail parties. It styles the speaker as part of some bold new breed of creator, not one of the old, stodgy dinosaurs. In its own way, it is inspiring too, saying: Don’t overthink it; just get out there and hustle! There’s only one problem: It’s terrible advice. So terrible that I know the successful entrepreneur who said it could never have gotten to where he is if he’d actually followed his own advice. He didn’t have a large audience just because he was good at marketing—his successful marketing was dependent on the fact that he had a great product. Not only was he a counter?example of that very line of thinking, I can’t say I know too many people whose success was built by spending one fifth of their time creating and four fifths loudly hawking the work they’ve just thrown together. While there are many different types of success in this world, and prioritizing marketing and sales over the product may lead to some of them, that is not how perennial success is created. The kind of important, lasting work we are striving for is different—we’re talking about making something that doesn’t rely on hype or manipulative sales tactics. Because those methods ?aren’t sustainable. And they do an injustice to great work. Even as someone who loves the challenge and creativity and rigor of marketing, I’m alarmed at how many creators gloss over creating. They fritter away their time on Twitter and Facebook—not killing time, but believing that they are building up followers to be the recipients of their unremarkable work. They have meticulously crafted brands and impeccable personae crafted through media training. They spend money on courses and read books on marketing to develop sales strategies for products they ?haven’t even made yet. All this churn may feel productive, but to what end? To make something that will, eventually, disappear with the wind? Even the best admen will admit that, over the long term, all the marketing in the world won’t matter if the product hasn’t been made right. In fact, it’s a classic “measure once, cut twice” scenario, in that the better your product is, the better your marketing will be. The worse it is, the more time you will have to spend marketing and the less effective every minute of that marketing will be. You can count on that. Promotion is not how things are made great—only how they’re heard about. Which is why this book will not start with marketing, but with the mindset and effort that must go into the creative process—the most important part of creating a perennial seller.

The Work Is What Matters

The first step of any creator hoping for lasting success—whether for ten years or ten centuries—is to accept that hope has nothing to do with it. To be great, one must make great work, and making great work is incredibly hard. It must be our primary focus. We must set out, from the beginning, with complete and total commitment to the idea that our best chance of success starts during the creative process. The decisions and behaviors that bring you to creating the product—everything you do before you sit down to build whatever it is you’re building—trump any individual marketing decisions, no matter how attention—grabbing they turn out to be. And, as we’ll see later, those creative decisions can be critical marketing decisions in themselves. Crappy products don’t survive. If you have phoned in the creative process, disrespected it, built a mediocre product, compromised, told yourself, “Hey, we’ll figure the rest out later,” then the project is likely doomed before it’s even finished. The battle will be futile—and expensive. Look at basically everything Microsoft has made in the last decade—from the Zune to Bing. That poor company seems resigned to spending billions on marketing products that inevitably lose money. Meanwhile, Microsoft Office is still a cash cow after two and a half decades. I’m editing this book with it. It’s why all the pre—work matters so much. The conceptualization. The motivations. The product’s fit with the market. The execution. These intangible factors matter a great deal. They cannot be skipped. They can’t be bolted on later. So if not with a keen eye ?toward marketing, where do we properly begin our pursuit of a perennial seller? As my mentor Robert Greene put it, “It starts by wanting to create a classic.” Phil Libin, the founder of Evernote, has a quote I like to share with clients: “People [who are] thinking about things other than making the best product never make the best product.” We’re not just talking about making something that is the best for the hell of it. As legendary investor and Y Combinator founder Paul Graham explains, “The best way to increase a startup’s growth rate is to make the product so good people recommend it to their friends.” Clearly that doesn’t just happen. Instead, it must be the highest priority of the creators—they must see this as their calling. They must study the classic work in their fields, emulate the masters and the greats and what made their work last. Timelessness must be their highest priority. They have to learn to ignore distractions. Above all, they have to want to produce meaningful work—which, I can say from experience, is often not the goal of people in the creative space. The fact is, many people approach their work with polluted intentions. They want the benefits of creative expression, but they desire it without any of the difficulty involved. They want the magic without learning the techniques and the formula. When we look to great works of history as our example, we see one thing: that powerful work is a struggle and that it requires great sacrifice. The desire for lasting greatness makes the struggle survivable, the sacrifice worth it.

Ideas Are Not Enough

The actress, writer, and comedian Sarah Silverman is often approached by aspiring writers asking for career advice. “I want to be a writer,” they tell her. Her response isn’t to encourage them or tell them how great they are or to ask to see their work. Silverman doesn’t say “You can do it!” or “How can I help?” Instead, she’s blunt. “Well, write!” she says. “Writers write. You don’t wait to get hired on something to write.” Imagine how many people indulge similar fantasies every year: “I should start a company.” “I have a great idea for a movie.” “I would love to write that book one day.” “If I tried hard enough, I could be ______.” How many of those people do you think actually go through with building the company, releasing the movie, publishing the book, or becoming whatever it is they claim they could become? Sadly, almost none. While many dream perennial—selling dreams, they think that the wanting—instead of the work—is what matters. An aspiring creator once wrote to the filmmaker Casey Neistat about whether he could pitch him about an idea he had. Casey’s response was swift and brutally honest: “I don’t want to hear your idea,” he said. “The idea is the easy part.” Neistat was expressing a truth every creator learns, one that is all the more essential in an online world where things can be shared with the click of a button: Ideas are cheap. Anyone can have one. There are millions of notebooks and Evernote folders packed with ideas, floating out there in the digital ether or languishing on dusty bookshelves. The difference between a great work and an idea for a great work is all the sweat, time, effort, and agony that go into engaging that idea and turning it into something real. That difference is not trivial. If great work were easy to produce, a lot more people would do it. If you are trying to make something great, you must do th



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Book Summary: Perennial Seller – The Art of Making and Marketing Work that Lasts

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