You’ve heard the saying, “A job worth doing is worth doing well.” That’s one of those old sayings that will always ring true. I was reminded of that saying a couple of weeks ago as I read Perennial Seller: The Art of Making and Marketing Work That Lasts, by Ryan Holiday.
As a writer, the book spoke to me, but it can be applied to any walk of life. By “work that lasts,” Mr. Holiday refers to a creative work or product that isn’t a “flash in the pan.” It is a work that might not be an overnight sensation, but it steadily draws an audience or buyers. It is a book that you want to read again. You recommend it to friends. It does not depend on hype or fancy advertising, but rather builds a fan base via word of mouth.
Part 1 – The Creative Process
Mr. Holiday quotes his mentor, Robert Greene, as saying, “ʻIt starts by wanting to create a classic.’” Mr. Holiday maintains that this doesn’t happen by accident. It happens when you study the classics in your field, and it demands that you know your purpose in creating the book, the painting, or a gadget that will someday make people wonder how they lived without it.
While creating your work, Mr. Holiday says you must ask yourself, “What am I willing to sacrifice in order to do it?”
He also writes about identifying your audience, and the importance of aiming at that target audience instead of the masses. For instance, in my case, I need to be able to say, “I am writing The Spanish Coin for these people. I can’t wait until I have finished writing the novel (or even the outline) before knowing for whom I am writing. I would love to think that everyone will want to read my book, but if I write it with that in mind, Mr. Holiday says I will have written it for no one.
“Who is this for?” is just one of the questions you must ask yourself during the creative process. Another question you must answer is, “How will it improve the lives of the people who buy it?”
Mr. Holiday takes it another step as he offers a list of four more questions that go deeper. They are along the lines of, “What sacred cows am I slaying?” The writers of classics don’t play it safe!
The second part of Perennial Seller: The Art of Making and Marketing Work That Lasts addresses “Positioning: From Polishing to Perfecting to Packaging.” This cannot be left to chance. If not positioned for success by making it the best you can make it and packaging it in the best possible light, your hard work of creating will be for naught.
For a writer, this means that the editing of your book will take a long time. Your manuscript means a lot to you. You have to make sure it will also mean a lot to others – for years to come. You want it to stand out.
Mr. Holiday talks about the importance of a writer finding a good editor and being able to take constructive criticism. He writes, “Only you know how to fix it – but you’ll only find out what’s wrong if you open yourself up to collaboration and input.”
I should make a sign that features that quote and put it by the computer where I do my writing. Along with that, I need a sign with the following quote from Mr. Holiday’s book: “Nobody creates flawless first drafts. And nobody creates better second drafts without the intervention of someone else. Nobody.”
The book goes on to address the writer or inventor being able to succinctly fill in the blanks in the following sentence: “This is a ______ that does _______. This helps people ______.” You must know into which genre your book falls. If you aren’t clear in your own mind how to fill in these blanks about your manuscript, you need to “adjust either the audience or the product until there’s a perfect match. The intended audience is the final blank” in the above two-sentence exercise.
Until you determine who your book is for and what it will do for them, you are aiming at a target you can’t see. Chances are, you won’t hit the target.
Once you identify your target audience, you need to find them and quantify them. I found Mr. Holiday’s personal example for this a bit off-putting. He wrote, “Who is buying the first one thousand copies of this thing?” It’s daunting to think of 1,000 people who will want to buy my novel, but I read on and it got worse.
Mr. Holiday wrote, “For books the superagent and publishing entrepreneur Shawn Coyne (Robert McKee, Jon Krakauer, Michael Connelly) likes to use ten thousand readers as his benchmark. That’s what it takes, in his experience, for a book to successfully break through and for the ideas in it to take hold.”
With those numbers in the back of my mind, I will continue to work on the scenic plot outline for the rewriting of my manuscript titled The Spanish Coin. Another important point Mr. Holiday makes is that the book you write is not only competing with every other book that’s ever been written but with every book that will be written in the future. It’s enough to make me want to throw away my keyboard and concentrate on reading, sleeping, eating, and sewing.
Today’s blog post has hit just a few highlights of Perennial Seller: The Art of Making and Marketing Work That Lasts, by Ryan Holiday. If you aspire to be a writer, artist, or an inventor, I recommend you read this book. (Disclaimer: I have not been compensated in any way for endorsing this book. I read it and got a lot out of it. Come to think of it, word of mouth is important!)
There’s a Part 3?
In this blog post I didn’t even get to Part 3 of the book. Part 3 is about marketing, where he says people do actually judge a book by its cover and the writer must put as much energy into marketing or they do in creating the book. Most writers would rather spend their time writing and leave the marketing to salespeople, but that’s not the way it works. Even bestselling authors have to make personal appearances and pitch their latest books.
And Part 4?
I didn’t get to write about Part 4 of Perennial Seller: The Art of Making and Marketing Work That Lasts, by Ryan Holiday in today’s blog. It’s about “Platform: From Fans to Friends and a Full-Fledged Career.”
Ryan Holiday packs a lot into a relatively small (231-page) book — far too much for me to cover in a blog post.
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a good book to read. I’m finishing The King of Lies, by John Hart, for tonight’s meeting of the Rocky River Readers Book Club. If you’re in the Harrisburg/Concord area, you are welcome to join us for our discussion tonight at 7pm at Rocky River Presbyterian Church at 7940 Rocky River Road, Concord, North Carolina 28025.
If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time.
I’m told that I need to start building a mailing list. If my blog disappears, I want to be able to communicate with you. I promise not to burden you with a bunch of e-mail. In the event I have an announcement to make or I start writing a newsletter, I want to be able to send it to you. Please fill out the contact form found below. At least, I hope it appears below. (You know I’m not computer savvy!)
4 thoughts on “Works That Last”
Janet, thank you for introducing me to this book.. You did a masterful job writing it up. Your writing is so succinct and informative. I had no idea in 1982 when I started to write my Fighting to Win that I would be working on a perennial seller, but it turns out that’s what I was doing. I’ve been getting royalties from it all these years. My thinking then did not take me to considering many of the author’s steps, For example, I never once thought for one moment of how many copies of it I wanted it to sell, or of marketing it. or anything else–just to write as well as my training and talent would take me to produce a relentlessly honest,, compassionate book whose sole, sincere, devoid of ego purpose was–and is–to help people make fullest use of their wondrous abilities, breaking chains of bad thought habits. The first review of it I saw said, “Perhaps the most valuable book you will ever own,” and then the book took off and climbed best seller lists. That pleased me and I was able to buy a new house with the royalties that stated coming in,, but was far from the most important event in my life at the time. My gymnast daughter won the Chicago city championship, which of course made best seller lists far less important.
Thanks again for this post, as fine as your posts always are.
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David, thank you for your kind comments. Funny you should mention your book, Fighting to Win. I visited your website over the weekend and purchased the e-book from Amazon. I look forward to reading it, especially now that I know the author!
I hope you’ll get a chance to read Perennial Seller, although with your track record you probably could have written it. I’d like to hear your “take” on it if you read it. I value your input.
I called the library and the book s being held for me. I’ll get it in the morning. Again, thank you for the tip. You’ve made me think of writing what could be a good blog post. I think your blog is just great. I look forward to it.
Good deal, David! Thank you for the encouraging words about my blog. It has taken me years to (hopefully) find my niche. I enjoy doing it once a week. More often than that was too stressful.