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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.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
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 the making: That work cannot be outsourced to someone else. You can’t hire your friends to do it for you. There is no firm that can produce a timeless work of art on your behalf for a flat fee. It’s not about finding the right partner, the right investor, the right patron—not yet anyway. Collaboration is essential, but if this is your project, the hard work will fall on you. There is just no way around it. It’s not that the dreaming doesn’t matter or that ideas ?aren’t important. Rather, it’s that many aspiring creators—and certainly many failed creators—don’t dream of producing but dream of having produced. In my professional capacity advising aspiring authors, I’ve met with no shortage of smart, accomplished people who, I’ve realized, don’t actually want to write a book. They want to have a book. I’m sure consultants in every industry experience the same phenomenon: wannabes who don’t quite grasp the prerequisites for what they are setting out to do. At first, these types are frustrating, but the correct attitude is pity—because they’ll never get what their ego craves so desperately. I’ve also learned that wanting to be able to call yourself an author, musician, filmmaker, or entrepreneur is not sufficient fuel to create great work. Especially in a world where it’s easier than ever before to call yourself these things—on your social media profiles, on the business cards you order online that show up the next day, on the legal paperwork for an LLC you can draw up online at the cost of a few dollars. “Lots of people,” as the poet and artist Austin Kleon puts it, “want to be the noun without doing the verb.” To make something great, what’s required is need. As in, I need to do this. I have to. I can’t not.
A lot of people want to play pro ball; few do. It’s safe to say that thinking “It’d be fun” is not the critical difference between those who make it and those who don’t. The hard part is not the dream or the idea; 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. That purpose can be almost anything, but it has to be there. Here are some good ones: Because there is a truth that has gone unsaid for too long. Because you’ve burned the bridges behind you. Because your family depends on it. Because the world will be better for it. Because the old way is broken. Because it’s a once—in—a—lifetime moment. Because it will help a lot of people. Because you want to capture something meaningful. Because the excitement you feel cannot be contained. These are the states of being that create great works of art—not passing or partial interest—and these are the states you should be seeking out. A desire to impress your friends, or because you think it would be a lark, or because all you care about is quick money—well, that will not be remotely enough. To create something is a daring, beautiful act. The architect, the author, the artist—all are building something where nothing was before. To try to create something even better than anyone has ever done it before is even bolder. Sitting down at the computer or with a notepad and committing to pour yourself onto it is a scary proposition. But anyone who has done it can tell you that the process is also exhilarating. It’s exhilarating because you are giving something to the world. You are connecting with other people. You are solving a problem for other people. Feeling the work leave your fingertips?.?.?.??and then seeing it taken in through someone else’s. Expressing some truth that others have been afraid to articulate—in any form. Capturing some experience and preserving it for posterity. It’s the ability to remake the planet, to alter the course of history, to escape death, to enter the minds of other people. There’s a reason that so many artists persist through insuperable obstacles—even the starving ones—to do their work. Because it’s one of the greatest and most rewarding pursuits in the world. It also matters. It can make a difference. It can change people. Sure, it can make a lot of money too. It can even make you famous. But these last two benefits are secondary. The question is: Why are you creating? Why are you putting pen to paper and subjecting yourself to all the difficulties you will certainly face along the way? What is your motivation? Because the answers will determine how likely you are to be successful. This is not a question of “purity.” It’s simple. Compare two creators: one who cares less about what he’s making and more about what it can do for him (make money), and another who, upon sitting down, says, “This is my life’s work” or “This is what I was put on this planet to make.” Who would you bet on? Every project must begin with the right intent. A lot of people seem to think that creating this kind of lasting work is a result of forces outside our control. It’s fate, it’s luck, it’s genius. Look, I’d be the first to admit—factors we don’t control do affect us. But the intent is critical—and, thankfully, intent is very much in your ?control.
What Will You Sacrifice?
George Orwell, author of the classics 1984 and Animal Farm, warned prospective writers of the hazards of the profession in his essay “Why I Write.” He wrote, “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”1
1 John McPhee put it a little less dramatically: “Write on subjects in which you have enough interest on your own to see you through all the stops, starts, hesitations, and other impediments along the way.”
Table of Contents
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
A Gift for You 231
Acknowledgments and Sources 232