Perennial Seller: The Art of Making and Marketing Work that Lasts by Ryan Holiday is his latest book on how to create meaningful work that stands the test of time.
It’s a formula to help you create a piece of art that becomes both a classic and legendary.
The theme of the book is about creating something with longevity over instant gratification; something timeless over the ephemeral; the compound effect instead of the instant viral hit.
Perennial Seller sets out to identify what makes a piece of work, a business, product or service, endure for centuries when others become a flash in the pan.
How can a book like The 48 Laws of Power become a bestseller ten years after launch? Or the profits from a film like Star Wars increase 40 years after it first came out? How is Iron Maiden more popular than Madonna on Spotify? Why do they continue to sell and increase in value over time?
In other words, what makes something perennial?
“In every industry—from books to movies to restaurants to plays and software—certain creations can be described as ‘perennial.
“Regardless of how well they may have done at their release or the scale of audience they have reached, these products have found continued success and more customers over time.”
According to Holiday, the creation of a perennial seller is not through luck, blind faith or some other intangible explanation.
Instead, it requires a process that is long and arduous and which doesn’t guarantee you’ll have a bestseller on your hands, though it does increase your odds.
Where did Holiday get the idea to write the book?
In a podcast interview on The Learning Leader Show, Holiday says he received a contract to write a book about book marketing. While considering the tactics to use for the book it dawned on him that, a few years down the line, the book will be outdated.
The marketing industry evolves quickly and what works today may not in two or three years time.
He began to consider what elements of a book – or any piece of work – make it timeless and how he could gravitate toward them.
After all, we live in a culture where there are many short-term ways to be successful but Holiday argues that aiming for perennial status has the greatest results.
In the pursuit of a perennial seller where do you begin?
You need to have the right intent.
Holiday quotes Robert Greene who says, “It starts by wanting to create a classic.”
But there’s a difference between wanting to create a classic and actually creating it. It involves hard work, persistence and agony.
Holiday makes the case that most people are not trying to create a perennial seller but instead want gratification in the short term.
They hope it will be a perennial seller, of course, but hope means nothing if you don’t have the right intent and aren’t willing to go through the process.
To create a perennial seller there must be a need to create outstanding work other than for fame or money. Either of which are not inherently bad but there must be a higher mode of thinking during the process.
The right intent, Holiday says, is fundamental to create work that lasts.
“If you’re to create something powerful and important, you must at the very least be driven by an equally powerful inner force.”
Focussing on things that don’t change is key.
Fads come and go but some things always remain the same. Human nature is fixed and indeed read a book from the Stoics from 2,000 years ago and the wisdom and advice are relevant to this day.
“The idea of going back to the core of our shared humanity is a commonality in masterpieces.
“It’s better to play the longer game. Leave behind the hype and ephemeral infatuations for the time capsule and the one-hit wonders.”
This is why Robert Greene’s books have been so successful. He draws on timeless wisdom from some of the most prominent people in history. The lessons learnt remain relevant to this day.
Understand who you’re creating your work for.
If you don’t know your intended audience how can you create something valuable and meaningful for them? You can’t, but that doesn’t stop many from creating work for themselves instead of an audience.
“It’s not that hard to make something we want, or something we think is cool or impressive. It’s much harder to create something other people not only want, but need.”
You must grab your intended audience emotionally or teach them something they need to understand. And it should be viewed/watched/listened to by the same person many times and each time they get something new out of it.
This is difficult to do and why perennial sellers are uncommon. Regardless, you should strive to adhere to these principles from the outset. At the very least it will bring a higher standard to your work increasing the odds of it being a perennial seller.
Positioning is critical to make it a perennial seller
Holiday argues that creation of a potential perennial seller is only the beginning.
Next comes the positioning of it which means to polish, refine and figure how to best communicate it to the world.
If, for example, you write books, forget about having an agent that will take care of everything because they do not exist. Instead, what you have to do is take responsibility for every part of the process.
“Adults create perennial sellers—and adults take responsibility for themselves. Children expect opportunities to be handed to them.
“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.”
To do this you have to;
- Find an ‘editor’. Someone who can critique your work and provide you with an outside perspective
- Who are you aiming for? Ensure you understand who your target audience is
- Is bigger better? Size is not everything
- Positioning, packaging and pitch. What your product is and who it’s for; what it looks like and what it offers to the audience
- Why are you doing this? What is that you want and what is motivating you?
- Come to terms with commercialism. You may be a creative person and consider yourself and artists but you still have to earn a living through what you do
Marketing a perennial seller
Holiday is a marketer by trade and has authored, Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator and Growth Hacker Marketing: A Primer on the Future of PR, Marketing, and Advertising both of which are successful books in their own right.
Once you’ve developed your perennial seller and positioned it correctly the next step, Holiday says, is to market it.
“Every creator faces the problem of ‘Who will enjoy what I have made?’ Marketing is the solution. It’s not only how you ensure your work finds its audience when it launches, but also how it will continue to find and have one as time passes.
“Marketing is both an art and a science, and must be mastered by all creators who hope their work will find traction.”
Holiday lays out his recommendations on how to market a potential perennial seller including, advertising (don’t do it), PR (do your own), influencer engagement (find your champions) and social media (do it).
He also recommends providing free stuff for your potential customers and fans to help you sell to them over the long-term. And if you can’t make it free, make it cheap.
The holy grail of marketing, to Holiday at least, is word-of-mouth marketing. Everything in the marketing toolbox has their place but it is word-of-mouth which creates awareness and sells.
According to Holiday, all marketing should have a focus on word-of-mouth.
If you’re unfamiliar with marketing, this chapter will prove valuable as it takes a hands-on approach to the subject.
Holiday tends to cover a lot of book marketing in this chapter. This is not a surprise given that’s his day job.
If you’re not writing a book you may think that the advice given here is irrelevant but the tactics laid out here work across all industries, not just the book industry.
Build a platform and don’t stop
You’ve created a piece of work that is destined to be a perennial seller; it’s gone through numerous edits and versions to a point where you couldn’t be happier; your marketing is on point with rave reviews and great word of mouth.
What’s next? Time to relax, right?
Holiday says you have to build your own platform to nurture a long-term fan base.
What’s a platform? Ryan’s definition is thus;
The combination of the tools, relationships, access, and audience that you have to bear on spreading your creative work—not just once, but over the course of a career.
He advocates for building an email list. Email has been around for decades, it’s safe and is a direct communication route to fans.
Your network is your net worth, says the book, and as well as building an email list, it advises building contacts too.
If you want to make a career out of being a perennial seller the grind never stops.
“Marketing Can’t Stop. The Work Can’t Stop. The Hustle Can’t Stop. It Must Go On and On. Once you have started to see the slow accumulation of success for a work over the long haul, you can’t quit on a project. There are many things you can do to continue to update and expand your work.”
Building a body of work is the only way forward to remain relevant. In other words, don’t rest on your laurels. Once one piece of work has finished, start thinking about the next. It’s the only way to keep the momentum going.
Final thoughts on Perennial Seller
In our current throw-away culture of constant news cycles and ephemeral social media, this book is a timely reminder that high-quality content will stand the test of time.
Not that creating high quality is easy nor is a perennial seller guaranteed. But there is a process to it which Holiday has laid out in this book in detail.
If you’re looking to create something you hope lasts a long time – perhaps longer than you – and if you’re willing to work for it then this book is for you.
The examples Holiday uses throughout the book serve as inspiration to you as you embark on your journey.
Due to Holiday’s background, there are a greater number of perennial selling book examples which I didn’t mind. If you’re from a different discipline than writing you may find this a little disappointing.
Other than that, however, the book delivers what it promises. And given the timeless wisdom contained it, Perennial Seller: The Art of Making and Marketing Work that Lasts may become a perennial seller itself.