I recently read “Perennial Seller: The Art of Making and Marketing Work that Lasts” by Ryan Holiday. Below are the quotes I found most interesting. If you like the quotes, buy the book here.
“Promotion is not how things are made great – only how they’re heard about.” (19)
“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.” (19)
“Art is the kind of marathon where you cross the finish line and instead of getting a medal placed around your neck, the volunteers roughly grab you by the shoulders and walk you over to the starting line of another marathon.” (28)
“But Hamilton’s “topical writing has endured” works like The Federalist Papers and George Washington’s farewell address – “because he plumbed the timeless principles behind contemporary events.” (30)
“Seinfeld has transcended the era it was produced in primarily because, like many classics, it focused on what was timeless about timely events.” (31)
“Jeff Bezos reminds his employees, “Focus on the things that don’t change.”” (31)
“You can’t make something that lasts if it’s based on things, on individual parts that themselves won’t last, or if it’s driven by an amateur’s impatience. The creative process will require not only time and work, but also the long view.” (31)
“Peter Thiel writes, “If you focus on near-term growth above everything else, you miss the most important question you should be asking: Will this business still be around a decade from now?” (33)
“Creative people naturally produce false positives. Ideas that they think are good but aren’t. Ideas that other people have already had. Mediocre ideas that contain buried within them the seeds of much better ideas. The key is to catch them early. And the only way to do that is by doing the work at least partly in front of an audience. A book should be an article before it’s a book, and a dinner conversation before it’s an article. See how things go before going all in.” (42)
“Creation is often a solitary experience. Yet work made entirely in isolation is usually doomed to remain lonely.” (43)
“You don’t have to be a genius to make genius – you just have to have small moments of brilliance and edit out the boring stuff.” (43)
“Classics are built by thousands of small acts. And thinking about them in that way allows you to make progress.” (44)
“It’s about finding the germ of a good ideas and then making it a great product through feedback and hardwork.” (44)
“Many creators want to be for everyone… and as a result end up being for no one.” (45)
“Identify a proxy from the outset, someone who represents your ideal audience, who you then think about constantly throughout the creative process.” (46)
“You want what you’re making to do something for people, to help them do something – and have that be why they will talk about it and tell other people about it.” (49)
“The more clearly it expresses some essential part of the human experience, the better chance the products that address it will be important and perennial as well.” (49)
“The creator of any project should try to answer some variant of these questions:
What does this teach?
What does this solve?
How am I entertaining?
What am I giving?
What are we offering?
What are we sharing?” (51)
“An essential part of making perennial, lasting work is making sure that you’re pursuing the best of your ideas and that they are ideas that only you can have (otherwise, you’re dealing with a commodity and not a classic.” (52)
“The Grateful Dead weren’t trying to be the best at anything, they were trying to be the only ones doing what they were doing. Srinivas Rao put it well: “Only is better than best,” (53)
“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.” (53)
“The higher and more exciting standard for every project should force you to ask questions like this:
What sacred cows am I slaying?
What dominant institution am I displacing?
What groups am I disrupting?
What people am I pissing off?” (54)
“Brashness, newness, boldness – these attitudes are not at all at odds with perennial sales. In fact, it’s an essential part of the equation. Stuff that’s boring now is probably going to be boring in twenty years. Stuff that looks, sounds, read, and performs like everything else in its field today has very little chance of standing out tomorrow.” (54)
“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.” (55)
“Cyril Connolly said that literature is writing meant to be read twice – everything else is mere journalism.” (57)
“One agent I work with put it to me, “Spend three times longer revising your manuscript than you think you need.” (58)
“Robert McKee said, “I don’t think anyone can actually set out consciously to produce a masterpiece. I think what we do is to tell the best story we can, the best way we can, and produce it in the best way possible, and then see how the world reacts to it.” (59)
“The more nervous and scared you are – the more you feel compelled to go back and improve and tweak because you’re just not ready – the better it bodes for the project.” (59)
“Nobody wants the hassle of cultivating a diamond in the rough. If you want to be successful, you’d better be cut, polished, set, and sized to fit. What does that mean? At a very basic level, if you’re not amazing in every facet, you’re replaceable. To publishers, studios, investors, and customers alike.” (68)
“Remember Neil Gaiman’s advice: 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.” (73)
“Seth Godin explained, “Everything that has a clear path to commercial success is in a genre.”” (80)
“This is why creators must know which variable(s) the project will hing eon. They must know which conventions of the genre they are observing and which ones they are taking a risk on by tweaking or subverting. They must understand – even if it is some vague gut notion – what they are making and what they are aiming for. If they do, the rest can be lined up against it.” (81)
“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 projects for them. You need to know this so you can edit and refine the work until it’s so utterly awesome that your target group cannot resist buying it. Marketing then becomes a matter of finding where those people are and figuring out the best way to reach them.” (86)
“The key to this is to service the core audience first and do so in a way that does not alienate the others – only then can you emanate outwardly from the center.” (87)
“Robert Greene wanted a diversity of examples in his work so that every reader would feel included.” (89)
“You must create room for the audience to inhabit and relate to the work. You must avoid the trap of making this about you – because, remember, you won’t be the one buying it.” (89)
“Today, in order to even have a chance at people’s attention, your project has to seem as good as or better than all the others. Three critical variables determine whether that will happen: the Positioning, the Packaging and the Pitch.
Positioning is what your project is and who it is for.
Packaging is what it looks like and what it’s called.
The Pitch is the sell – how the project is described and what it offers to the audience.” (90)
“Work that is going to sell and sell must appear as good as, or better than, the best stuff out there. Because that’s who you’re competing with: not the other stuff being released right now, but everything that came before you. A new TV show is competing with on-demand episodes of Breaking Bad and Seinfeld and The Wire. A new book is competing with Sophocles and John Grisham.” (91)
“Harvey Weinstein wrote to Errol Morris with this admonition:
Speak in short one-sentence answers and don’t go in with all the legalese. Talk about the movie as a movie and the effect it will have on the audience from an emotional point of view. If you continue to be boring, I will hire an actor in New York to pretend that he’s Errol Morris… Keep it short and keep selling it because that’s what is going to work for you, your career and the film.” (96)
“You’re going to need to explain to reporters, prospective buyers or investors, publishers, and your own fans:
Who this is for
Who this is not for
Why it is special
What it will do for them
Why anyone should care.” (97)
“You must be willing to be a big enough jerk – ahem, enough of a perfectionist – to say: “No, we’re not moving on from here until we get this right.”” (98)
“Nothing else will matter – the quality of your product, the strength of your marketing – if the premise and the pitch of the product are wrong.” (98)
“I am making a ____ that does ___ for ___ because ____.” (98)
“If your goal is to make a masterpiece, a perennial seller for a specific audience, it follows that you can’t also hope that it is a trendy, of-the-moment side hustle.” (100)
“We can’t prioritize the gatekeepers (the media) over the goalkeepers (the audience). To do so is foolishly shortsighted.” (103)
“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.” (104)
“Winston Churchill said, “To begin with, your project is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling it to the public.” (105)
“Marketing is anything that gets or keeps customers.” (110)
“It is the job as the marketer of my work to make people care, and that’s not going to be possible if I start with any illusions or entitlements.” (115)
“A recent study found that when you visit the Facebook News Feed, more than 1,500 pieces of content are vying for your attention. There is, in other words, a 1-in-1,500 chance of even seeing a desired customer.” (116)
“No one has the steam or the resources to market something for more than a short period of time, so if a product is going to sell forever, it must have a strong word of mouth.” (119)
“Our marketing efforts, then, should be catalysts for word of mouth.” (119)
“Hey, as many of you know, I have been working on ___ for a long time. It’s a ___ that does ___ for ___. I could really use your help. If you’re in the media or have an audience or you have any ideas or connections or assets that might be valuable when I launch this thing, I would be eternally grateful. Just tell me who you are, what you’re willing to offer, what it might be good for, and how to be in touch.” (126)
“A smart business friend once described the art of marketing to me as a matter of “finding your addicts.” (128)
“Price is marketing.” (140)
“A critical part of attracting influencers is to look for the people who aren’t besieged by requests.” (146)
“We announced he was accepting Bitcoin payments for the book… both of them ended up getting media attention, mostly from outlets that don’t otherwise cover rap music or books.” (160)
“Tell me what to do!” the student says. Epictetus corrects him, “It would be better to say, ‘Make my mind adaptable to any circumstances.’” (170)
“If you have to choose between spending money to pay for a publicist or buying your own products and giving them away to the right early adopters, you should go with the latter every time.” (170)
“Where other bands relied on radio, on being on MTV, on being timely or on trend, Iron Maiden focused on one thing and one thing only: building a cross-generational global army of loyal fans who buy every single thing they put out.” (177)
“Casey Neistat says, “Platform is not a stepping stone. It is the finish line.”” (183)
“Marcus Aurelius once admonished himself to be a “boxer, not a fencer.” A fencer, he said, has to bend down to pick up his weapon. A boxer’s weapon is a part of him – “all he has to do is clench his fist.” In developing a platform, we eschew the promotional apparatus that must be rebuilt and picked up anew with each and every launch. Instead, we choose to bind ourselves to an audience, to become one with that audience, and to become one with our weapon.” (184)
“Focus on “pre-VIPs” – The people who aren’t well known but should be and will be.” (193)
“More great work is the best way to market yourself.” (205)
“Creating more work is one of the most effective marketing techniques of all.” (205)
“It turns out that with each new album, the sales of a band’s previous album will increase. As the researchers wrote, “Various patterns in the data suggest the source of the spillover is information: a new release causes some uninformed consumers to discover the artist and purchase the artist’s past albums.” (206)
“There is a difference between something that services your audience and something that expands it.” (210)
“Colonel Parker, the infamous manager of Elvis Presley, came up with the idea to sell “I Hate Elvis” memorabilia, so that Elvis could profit from his haters too.” (211)
“Some questions to ask yourself:
What are new areas that my expertise or audience would be valuable in?
Is it possible to cut out the middleman like a label or a VC and invest in myself?
Can I help other artists or creatives achieve what I have achieved?
What are other people in my field afraid to do? What do they look down on? (These are almost always great opportunities.)
What can I do to make sure that I am not dependant on a single income stream?
If I took a break from creating, what would I do instead?
What are parts of the experience ro community surrounding my work that I can improve or grow?” (214)
“Luck is polarizing. The successful like to pretend it does not exist. The unsuccessful or the jaded pretend that it is everything. Both explanations are wrong.” (220)
“As Nassim Taleb puts it, “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.” (220)
“The more you do, the harder you work, the luckier you seem to get.” (221)
“We do what we do because there is nothing more rewarding than the artistic and creative process – even if those rewards aren’t always financial, even if they don’t accrue as quickly as we might have originally hoped.” (224)
“Bill Walsh 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 to the summit.” (226)
“Steve Martin once explained that there were three levels of “good” when it came to a movie: “One is when it comes out. Is it a hit? Then after five years. Where is it? Is it gone? Then again after ten to fifteen years if it’s still around. Are people still watching it? Does it have an afterlife?” (229)
Liked the quotes? Buy the book here.