Perennial Seller: The Art of Making and Marketing Work that Lasts – by Ryan Holiday.
Date read: 8/6/17. Recommendation: 9/10.
You can't go wrong with any of Holiday's work. His latest is a great read for anyone who considers themselves a creative, and particularly insightful for writers and entrepreneurs. If you're thinking of writing a book or bringing an idea to life, start here and save yourself a few headaches. He outlines best practices for the creative process, along with the importance of positioning, marketing, and building a platform. The most important advice can be summed up as playing the long game. If you want to create something of lasting value, there are no shortcuts or paths to immediate gratification. Put in the work.
See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.
People claim to want to do something that matters, yet they measure themselves against things that don't, and they track their progress not in years but in microseconds. They want to make something timeless, but they focus instead on immediate payoffs and instant gratification.
Part I: The Creative Process
The better your product is, the better your marketing will be.
"People who are thinking about things other than making the best product never make the best product." -Phil Libin [Evernote]
"The best way to increase a startup's growth rate is to make the product so good people recommend it to their friends." -Paul Graham [Y Combinator]
"Lots of people want to be the noun without doing the verb." -Austin Kleon
The hard part is not the dream or the ideas; it's the doing. It is the driving need that determines one's chances. You must have a reason–a purpose–for why you want the outcome and why you're willing to do the work to get it.
To create something is a daring, beautiful act. The architect, the author, the artist–are all building something where nothing was before.
Creating something that lives requires not just a reverence for the craft and a respect for the medium, but a real patience for the process itself.
The risk for any creator is over-accounting for what's happening right in front of them...must think bigger and more long term than that.
"If you listen to the greatest music ever made, that would be a better way to find your own voice to matter today than listening to what's on the radio and thinking: 'I want to compete with this.'" -Rick Rubin
How within seemingly ordinary people there can exist depths of wisdom, beauty, and insight–and that if they put in the work to plumb those depths, they might reap incredible rewards.
To wrestle with all these conflicting, difficult ideas that go into creating, you often need real silence. Meditative isolation, where you sit and wrestle with your project.
The brilliant military strategist John Boyd utilized what he called "drawdown periods." After a one a.m. breakthrough, he'd spend weeks just looking at an idea, testing whether others had already come up with it, identifying possible problems with it. Only after this period ended would he begin the real work on the project.
For one of my books I gave myself a January 1 start date for the writing. Two months before, in November, I entered by drawdown period. No more reading or rereading. Just thinking. Long walks. Resting. Preparing.
A book should be an article before it's a book, and a dinner conversation before it's an article.
Successfully finding and "scratching" a niche requires asking and answering a question that very few creators seem to do: Who is this thing for? Instead 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.
"Having no specific user in mind" one of the eighteen major mistakes that kills startups. -Paul Graham
Stephen King believes that "every novelist has a single ideal reader" so that at various points in the process he can ask, "What will ____ think about this?"
Just as we should ask "Who is this for?" we must also ask "What does this do?" A critical test of any product: Does it have purpose? Does it add value to the world? How will it improve the lives of the people who buy it?
Yet far too many people set out to produce something that, if they were really honest with themselves, is only marginally better or different from what already exists. Instead of being bold, brash, or brave, they are derivative, complementary, imitative, banal, or trivial. The problem with this is not only that it's boring, but that it subjects them to endless amounts of competition.
"People want things that are really passionate. Often the best version is not for everybody. The best art divides the audience. If you put out a record and half the people who hear it absolutely love it and half the people who hear it absolutely hate it, you've done well. Because it is pushing that boundary." -Rick Rubin
*Think of the technology that is subject to protests and legislation (Airbnb, Uber)
"The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death." -Steven Pressfield
Part II: Positioning
So much in the history of art and culture hinges on moments like this. Faced with soul-crushing feedback or rejection, how does the creator respond? With petulance and anger? With open-mindedness and interest? With obsequiousness and desperation? Or careful consideration that parses the signal from noise?
As infuriating as it may be, we must be rational and fair about our own work. This is difficult considering our conflict of interest–which is to say, the ultimate conflict of interest. We made it.
"When people tell you something's wrong or doesn't work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong." -Neil Gaiman
Do I feel like overriding this feedback because it's wrong, I ask myself, or is it because I don't want to hit pause and do more work?
The fact is, most people are so terrified of what an outside voice might say that they forgo opportunities to improve what they are making. Remember: Getting feedback requires humility. It demands that you subordinate your thoughts about your project and your love for it and entertain the idea that someone else might have a valuable thing or two to add.
You must be able to explicitly say who you are building your thing for. You must know what you are aiming for–you'll miss otherwise. You need to know this so you can make the decisions that go into properly positioning the project for them...Marketing then becomes a matter of finding where those people are and figuring out the best way to reach them.
For creators, it's typically easier to reach the smaller, better-defined group. If you reach the smaller group and wow them, there will be many opportunities to spread outward and upward.
Who is buying the first one thousand copies of this thing? Who is coming in on the first day? Who is going to claim our first block of available dates? Who is buying our first production run?
The same article with a slightly different headline can have a tenfold spread in readership. One stands out; the other doesn't.
Creators will often spend years making something but then rush through their descriptive copy in an hour.
A great package on a great product is what creates an explosive reaction.
Imagine if your product were for one group–say, successful adults with disposable income–but your branding violated what they expected in terms of style and appearance? Wealthfront changed its name from KaChing.
My "book about Stoic philosophy," for example, had to become "a book that uses the ancient formula of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius to teach people how to not only overcome obstacles but thrive because of them."
There are many different missions. Whatever yours is, it must be defined and articulated. Once that has occurred, there is one last thing you must do. You must deliberately forsake all other missions.
If you've committed to doing something incredibly difficult that countless others have failed at before, you probably also shouldn't be juggling five other projects at the same time. You'll need to put 100 percent of your resources toward this one.
Nothing has sunk more creators and caused more unhappiness than this: our inherently human tendency to pursue a strategy aimed at accomplishing one goal while simultaneously expecting to achieve other goals entirely unrelated.
Only crazy people would compare themselves to people on totally different tracks.
Jeff Goins makes the distinction between starving artists and thriving artists. One adopts all the tropes and cliches of the bohemians and supposed purity. The other is resilient, ambitious, open-minded and audience-driven. Who do you want to be? Which will propel your work the furthest?
Part III: Marketing
"Customers will not come just because you build it. You have to make that happen and it's harder than it looks." -Peter Thiel
Don't delegate the marketing...You can cut back on a lot of things as a leader, but the last thing you can ever skimp on is marketing. Your product needs a champion.
Not everyone has the dedication to make it and to make it work. Marketing is an opportunity for you to distinguish yourself, to beat out the other talented folks whose entitlement or laziness holds them back.
I gave away more than a thousand copies of one of my books to marketing students...In the first month, sold 21 hard copies, 37 ebook. Took 5 months before the book sold 500 copies in a single month. Within 5 years, book had sold roughly 60,000 copies.
Think about a favorite album, restaurant, or pair of shoes. How did you first get turned on to these? How do you find most of the things you like or consume on a regular basis? How did you find your favorite book of all time?
"The problem for most artists isn't piracy, it's obscurity." In other words, we spend a lot of time insisting that nobody steal our work or get it for free...but we forget that being unknown is a far worse fate for an artist than being underpaid.
"Although it's hard to turn fame into money in the arts, it's impossible to turn obscurity into money in the arts." -Cory Doctorow
70% of book sales come from Amazon.
What we've created is a central fact of existence to us–after all, we made it. But to most other people, it's optional. They can easily do without our work. A savvy creator embraces this reality and makes taking a chance on it as easy and frictionless as possible for the audience.
I've watched an Instagram post from an influential person take a book to the top of Amazon; meanwhile, a New York Times profile about the same project had next to no impact. When a real person, a real human being whom others trust, says. "This is good," it has an effect that no brand, no ad, no faceless institution can match.
If you want to reach influential people, make something that will make them look good....Make your audiences look good.
Identifying influencers...if you're living and breathing what you do the answer should come naturally...who are the people who influence you too? Don't have to be famous, but they should matter a great deal to the audience you are trying to appeal to.
Best way to ask someone to endorse or share your work...The best way is not to ask.
Think relationship first, transaction second.
I've always found that a critical part of attracting influencers is to look for the people who aren't besieged by requests. Authors are inundated with requests for blurbs from other authors; meanwhile, generals, academics, and CEOs are asked much more rarely...Try to find the people least likely to get a request from someone like you, and approach them first, instead of going where everyone else is going. Be bold and brash and counterintuitive not only in how you create your work but also in who you use to market it.
In my experience, almost everyone–from brands to artists–overestimates the value of traditional PR. Much of the press that people chase is ephemeral and ineffectual, yet expensive and time-consuming to get.
Media outlets have trouble getting people to pay for their own product–what makes you so sure they're going to be able to convince their readers and viewers to buy yours?
Only areas where traditional press is underrated? Credibility and status.
Newsjacking–James Altucher book launch at same time Bitcoin was blowing up. Announced he was accepting Bitcoin and got tons of bonus media attention.
Advertising can add fuel to a fire, but rarely is it sufficient to start one.
We are better off taking the money set aside for advertising and putting it into every other marketing bucket instead.
Part IV: Platform
Kevin Kelly: "1000 true fans"
Building an email list is a move toward self-sufficiency for any creator. By forming a direct and regular line of communication with your supporters, you avoid ever being disintermediated.
I wasn't important or interesting enough for people to just sign up based on my name alone. So I came up with an idea: What if I gave monthly book recommendations? (The thinking being that one day I might recommend one of my own books to this list). Once a month for four years I sent this list out, and as a result it grew from ninety original sign-ups to the five thousand people to whom I announced my first book. By the time my next book came out two years later, the list was at more than thirty thousand, and today it's at eighty thousand.
Building your list is not someone else's job. People will not beg you for the opportunity to join it. You can't buy subscribers. No list is built entirely through advertising. It will take work–sometimes years of work–for it to pay off. But it will be worth it.
"I urge authors to consider how long it took them to write their books and see them published and to devote at least that much time to pushing them." -Barbara Hendricks
It is far better to measure your campaign over a period of years, not months.
Most think they're too good for it, or they are to sensitive to push hard enough..."Success almost always requires an unstoppable authors.." -Stephen Hanselman
As Goethe's maxim goes, "The greatest respect an author can have for his public is never to produce what is expected but what he himself considers right and useful for whatever stage of intellectual development has been reached by himself and others."
Most of the real money isn't in the royalties or the sales. For authors, the real money comes from speaking, teaching, or consulting.
"Hard work will get you a professorship or a BMW. You need both work and luck for a Booker, a Nobel or a private jet." -Nassim Taleb
Bill Walsh (legendary 49ers coach) explained that his goal was to "establish a near-permanent 'base camp' near the summit, consistently close to the top, within striking distance." The actual probability of winning in a given year depended on a lot of external factors–injuries, schedule, drive, weather–just as it does for any mountain climber, for any author, for any filmmaker or entrepreneur or creative. We do know with certainty, however, that without the right preparation, there is zero chance of successfully making a run at the summit. Walsh made three such summits in eight years.