Perennial Seller by Ryan Holiday - Book Review and Quick Summary
Do you want to make something truly great? A body of work that sticks around, and helps people year after year? Are you sick of everyone telling you to churn out cheap, ’viral’ content? Ryan Holiday has the book for you.
In “Perennial Seller", Holiday tackles what it takes to make a classic piece of work. He outlines the effort needed to create such a piece, and then shows you how to correctly position and market it. The last section of the book outlines the importance of building a platform in ensuring continued success.
Holiday never sugarcoats the path to a perennial seller. His honesty is refreshing in sea of feel-good self-improvement books:
This is what you need to do.
This is the amount of effort it will take.
The book is organized and written clearly. Holiday does his research, and it shows in the myriad of stories and examples supporting the narrative.
I highly recommend this book for anyone who:
- Wants to create something that really lasts, whether it’s a book, a company, a product, or any other big project.
- Is ready to work really hard at it. And then work just as hard marketing it.
If any contemporary non-fiction author is going to create a perennial seller, it’s going to be Ryan Holiday. His books “The Obstacle is the Way” and “Ego is the Enemy” will be around for decades to come.
Buy “Perennial Seller” on Amazon or check it out at the library.
Perennial Seller: product that continues to sell, year after year
The creative process: making a great piece of work takes a lot of work. Be prepared to put in a lot of time and effort, creating, revising, and iterating your idea.
Positioning: You must answer: ’who is this project for?’, ’what does it help them do?’
Marketing: YOU have to do the marketing. Only one thing matters: Word of mouth. Give things away for free, find the influencers in your field.
Platform: Know who your fans are. Build an e-mail list. Build multiple streams of income to support your next great project.
The following are rough notes I took while reading. These are mostly paraphrased or quoted directly from the book.
The Creative Process
Most creatives want to make something timeless, something that truly lasts. But most never give themselves a real shot at it.
Perennial Seller: Regardless of how well they do at release, these products have found continued success and more customers over time. They pay annuities to their owners over time. They are the kind of art or products that we return to more than once, that we recommend to others.
There are too many commonalities among perennial sellers...for luck to be the only factor
Lindy Effect: “If a book has been in print for forty years, I can expect it to be in print for another forty years...Every year that passes without extinction doubles the addition life expectancy” - Nassim Taleb
All the marketing in the world won’t matter if the product hasn’t been made right.
Hard work required
To be great, one must make great work, and making great work is incredibly hard. It must be our primary focus.
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.
What am I willing to sacrifice in order to do it?
If you’re not sure you have that kind of drive, it might make sense for you to quit right now...better to realize that sooner than later. 
"Even if you fail at your ambitious thing, it’s very hard to fail completely.” - Larry Page
Ignore current fads. Rick Rubin urges his artists to “listen to the greatest music ever made...to find your own voice"
Creativity is not a divine act. It is not a lightning strike
Ideas evolve over time. The best we can do is sit down and create something, anything, and let the process organically unfold.
An idea must be given space to develop. Utilize meditative isolation and drawdown periods to wrestle with your project .
Test your work periodically in front of an audience. Make a blog post, or have a dinner conversation.
You must ask: “Who is this thing for?” Write to one single reader, real or imagined.
Also ask: “What does this do?” Does it add value to the world?
Is this something new and important, or something anybody could have made?  Stuff that looks, sounds, reads, and performs like everything else in its field today has very little chance of standing out tomorrow.
The best art is polarizing. If half the people love it and half hate it, you’ve done well.
To be properly controversial—as opposed to incomprehensible—you must have obsessively studied your genre or industry to a degree that you know which boundaries to push and which to respect.
"Spend three times longer revising your manuscript than you think you need"
Wake-up call: there is no one who can magically handle all the stuff you don’t want to handle. YOU are the CEO of your work.
Figure out how to take your inner creative experience and communicate it to the world.
Get objective feedback. Get an editor.
"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
When you get painful feedback, ask, “Is this feedback wrong or is it because I don’t want to hit pause and do more work?"
Know your project.
This is a ___ that does ___ for ___. This helps people _____.
Write this in One sentence, One paragraph, and One page.
Bad “who is it for?’ answers:
- "You know, smart people"
- "The kind of people who read Malcolm Gladwell"
Consider how someone would describe your project. What would they say? Have you made filling in those blanks as easy and exciting as possible?
Who is buying the first one thousand copies of this thing? Service the core audience first...then emanate outwardly from the center
Do you have material that’s relevant to your core audience? And your potential audiences? And your audience’s potential audiences?
- Positioning is what your project is and who it is for.
- Packaging is what it looks like and what it is called.
- The Pitch is the sell—how the project is described and what it offers to the audience.
Of course you can judge a book by its cover—that’s why books have covers.
Why are you doing this?
I am making a ___ that does ___ for ___ because ___
The ’why’ doesn’t need to be public—but if you can’t define the goal for yourself, how will you know you’ve achieved it? How will you know how to make decisions in situations where that goal is threatened?
Once you’ve chosen your mission, you must forsake all other missions.
Consider each decision with some distance, a decade out from now. Wouldn’t you rather have done the difficult thing than taken a shortcut?
We are fighting not just against our contemporaries for recognition, but against centuries of great art for an audience.
Marketing: anything that gets or keeps customers
To have work that lasts, you need a great product and great marketing
Marketing is your job. It is fun and fulfilling when you’re selling something you believe in.
First rule: Nobody cares about what I have made. They don’t know what it is.
Only one thing matters: Word of Mouth
A quick and concentrated launch is a powerful way to get traction. You’re doing a lot of work in advance so that to the public it feels like you’re suddenly everywhere.
Figure out what you have to work with:
- Media contacts
- Info from previous launches
- Favors owed
- Potential advertising budget
- Resources or allies
Ask your platform to see who can help
Even free products cost the buyer in opportunity costs, transaction costs, discovery costs.
Give away free material to spread word of mouth. “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
Cheap books sell more copies and make more money.
What price? as cheap as possible without damaging the perception of your product
Find your influencers
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.
Remember that influencers want to be seen as tastemakers and leaders. Consider “your audience’s audience".
Don’t ask for something, make offers. Think relationship first, transaction second.
Look for people who aren’t besieged by requests.
Almost everyone overestimates the value of traditional PR. It’s rarely worth more than other more effective marketing techniques like discounting or personalized outreach.
If you do wan’t to get traditional press, “trade up the chain.” Or, do things that create media opportunities for reporters .
The most newsworthy thing to do is usually the one you’re most afraid of. “But of course, we can’t do that.” With the timeline we’re considering, no one will remember being “offended” by something.
Newsjacking: “the process by which you inject your ideas or angles into breaking news, in real time, in order to generate media coverage for yourself or your business.” - David Meerman Scott
far more effective when there is already a considerable audience or sales track record.
A rational, efficient advertising campaign involves: * How much a customer is worth to you: their lifetime value (LTV) * how much it costs to acquire that customer: their cost per acquisition (CPA)
If you do have money to burn, might be more effective to do something unexpected with it. At least make sure you have a good time and that your audience has one too.
Principles are better than instructions and “hacks."
Create word of mouth.
We can’t rely on a silver bullet—we need a cache of lead bullets.
Becoming a perennial seller requires the development of a career. It means building a fan base both before and after a project.
Kevin Kelly’s 1000 True Fans theory
Platform: combination of the tools, relationships, access, and audience that you have to bear on spreading your creative work over the course of a career
Build your e-mail list
Social media comes and goes, Email is here to stay.
Ways to build a list:
- Give something away for free as incentive
- Create a gate (give something away for free for an email address)
- Use Pop-ups (Wait till they are enjoying your content)
- Do things by hand
- Run sweepstakes or contests
- Do a swap (recommend your readers join another’s list)
- Promise a service (join my newsletter and get X)
Ways to get your first 100 subscribers from Noah Kagan:
- Put a link in your email signature
- See which social networks allow you to export your followers and send them a note asking them to join
- Post online once a week asking friends/family/coworkers to joing your mailing list
- Ask one group you are active in to join your newsletter
- Create a physical form you can give out at events
Your network is your net worth .
- Never dismiss anyone
- Play the long game, establish a relationship first
- Focus on “pre-VIPs", up and coming people.
Relationships have to be earned and maintained.
Your most important relationship: the one you have with your fans
The Lindy effect fails when the owners undermine what made them great in the first place. Don’t alienate your fans.
Settle in for the long haul
Consider how long it took to write your book, devote at least that much time to pushing it — Barbara Hendricks
Audiences need to hear about things multiple times and be exposed to them from multiple angles before they’re willing to give something a chance.
measure your campaign over years, not months
Build a body of work
The best marketing you can do for your book is to start writing the next one
Repeating yourself is rarely the recipe for winning over new fans.
Build an empire
Most of the real money isn’t in the royalties or the sales. Authors: speaking, teaching, consulting. Musicians: touring, T-shirts, endorsements.
Sometimes the best way to monetize your work, is not from the work itself, at least not in the short term. To support a body of work requires the development of independence and infrastructure. Short of a trust fund or a patient, deep-pocketed patron there is only one way to do that.
"Hard work will get you a professorship or a BMW. you need both work and luck for a Booker, a Novel, or a private jet.” — Nassim Taleb
"Establish a near-permanent ’base camp’ near the summit, consistently close to the top, within striking distance.” — Bill Walsh
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- : Your Network is your Net Worth By Porter Gale