The Perennial Seller Book Summary, Review, Notes

The Perennial Seller by Ryan Holiday is a book on how to create movies, books, and songs that will stand the test of time and keep on selling through time.

Book Title: Perennial Seller: The Art of Making and Marketing Work that Lasts
Author: Ryan Holiday
Date of Reading: March 2018
Rating: 8/10

Table of Contents

What Is Being Said In Detail:

 

Holiday’s The Perennial Seller follows a four-part structure:

  • Part I THE CREATIVE PROCESS
  • Part II POSITIONING
  • Part III MARKETING
  • Part IV PLATFORM

The first part is all about creating the best possible art piece (book or movie). You need to focus on excellence and build the best possible product because otherwise, it’s impossible for it to become a perennial seller.

The second part is about positioning. This entire part can be summarized by a single sentence: I’m building_____ for _____ to do______. You need to be clear on what you’re creating, who you’re creating it for, and what will it do to those people.

The third part is about marketing. Marketing serves the purpose of accelerating the process of your product becoming a perennial seller. Instead of waiting for years for your amazing product to be discovered, find champions and create launches to put your product in front of the right people at the right time.

The fourth part is about having/creating a platform through which you will distribute your product. Holiday talks about Iron Maiden here as a great example of musicians who weren’t being played on the radio, but they had their own platform where they shared music with their fans.

 

Most Important Keywords, Sentences, Quotes:

 

INTRODUCTION

 

“Take The Shawshank Redemption, for example. As a movie, it underwhelmed at the box office— never playing on more than a thousand screens and barely clawing back its production budget in gross ticket sales. But in the years since release, it has brought in more than $100 million. There are minor actors in that movie who receive $800-plus checks every month in residuals. Turn on your television this weekend and you will probably find the movie playing somewhere on some channel.” 

“Or as the investor and writer Nassim Taleb has put it, “If a book has been in print for forty years, I can expect it to be in print for another forty years. But, and that is the main difference, if it survives another decade, then it will be expected to be in print another fifty years. . . . Every year that passes without extinction doubles the additional life expectancy.” (The Lindy Effect)

“Robert Greene, whose historic masterwork, The 48 Laws of Power, didn’t hit the bestseller lists until a decade after its release.”

 

Ryan Holiday Quote: “From sacrifice comes meaning. From struggle comes purpose.”

 

“but I humbly submit that longevity has been the aim of my work. I’ve tried to model my own books on the perennial mindset and have started to see the results of those efforts. You wouldn’t know it from the New York Times bestseller list, but in the years since they’ve been published, my books have sold more than four hundred thousand copies in more than twenty-five languages and continue to sell steadily day in and day out. These works may go out of print someday, but every morning that they stick around increases their chances through another evening.”

“How to make something that can stand the test of time How to perfect, position, and package that idea into a compelling offering that stands the test of time How to develop marketing channels that stand the test of time How to capture an audience and build a platform that stands the test of time” 

 

Part I THE CREATIVE PROCESS

 

“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”

”People [who are] thinking about things other than making the best product never make the best product.”

“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.” 

“So that’s what I told her. I said that to become a writer takes everything you have. I quoted that Orwell line too. “You should only be a writer,” I said, “if you can’t not be a writer.” Afterward, my wife told me that I’d probably scared the kid. If I did, I’m not exactly sorry about it. Because once you get past the lack of saccharine encouragement, there is real inspiration in the more honest explanations of what it takes to make it.” 

“From sacrifice comes meaning. From struggle comes purpose.”

““Literature is a wonderful profession,” the friend explained patiently, “because haste is no part of it. Whether a really good book is finished a year earlier or a year later makes no difference.”

“Young aspiring writers like to point to Jack Kerouac, who supposedly wrote On the Road in a three-week drug-fueled blitz. What they leave out is the six years he spent editing and refining it until it was finally ready.”

“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.” 

“In my library I have a little book called Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof. Unless you’re a permaculture nerd, there’s no reason you’d have heard of this book. That’s the whole point—the book is only for permaculture nerds, or at least aspiring ones. While most people haven’t heard of the book, this indie-published engine-that-could has gone on to sell some 165,000 copies (more than most books will ever sell) and is still in print some thirty-five years after its initial publication.”

“In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person—and write to that one.”

“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).”

“As Goethe observed, the most original artworks “are not rated as such because they produce something new” but because they are saying something “as though it had never been said before.”

“The screenwriting guru and story legend Robert McKee told me that he isn’t sure a person can write something great on purpose. But he is certain that we need to do our best on every component part. “I don’t think anyone can actually set out consciously to produce a masterpiece,” he said. “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.” Ignore what other people are doing. Ignore what’s going on around you. There is no competition. There is no objective benchmark to hit. There is simply the best that you can do—that’s all that matters.”

 

Part II POSITIONING

 

“The artist seeks contact with his intuitive sense of the gods, but in order to create his work, he cannot stay in this seductive and incorporeal realm. He must return to the material world in order to do his work.” 

“Seth Godin explains that “being really good is merely the first step. In order to earn word of mouth, you need to make [your product] safe, fun, and worthwhile to overcome the social hurdles to spread the word.”

“Anyone can give notes on a script or suggest ideas for improvements to a product. But who can separate the helpful from the harmful? Only you.”

“Fortunately for all of us, Harper Lee was wise enough to listen. Over the course of several rewrites that took more than two years—essentially an entirely new cast of characters and a new plot, while retaining her unique and essential perspective—Lee created To Kill a Mockingbird, one of the great works of American literature.” 

“Some fifty-five years later, Lee’s original manuscript was published as Go Set a Watchman. Despite the initial fanfare, it proved that Lee’s editor was right. The book is just not that good—the characters are not fully formed, their attitudes make them hard to relate to, and the book has a muddled message.” 

“This is the power of bringing in the perspective of a second person. It’s the difference between a life and world-changing classic and a disappointing flop.”

“Neil Gaiman’s advice captures the right attitude: “Remember: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.”

Nobody creates flawless first drafts. And nobody creates better second drafts without the intervention of someone else. Nobody.” 

“Put the website or the beta version of your app or your manuscript aside and grab a piece of paper or open a blank Word document. Then, with fresh eyes, attempt to write out exactly what your project is supposed to be and to do in . . . One sentence. One paragraph. One page. This is a ______ that does ______. This helps people ______.” 

”Ryan, all your stories are from nineteenth-century white guys. That’s not going to work.” He wanted a diversity of examples in his work so that every reader would feel included.”

 

Ryan Holiday Quote 2: “In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person—and write to that one.”

 

“I came to realize about his brilliant approach was that he wanted every single reader to find someone they could relate to in his books. He wanted them to see themselves across his pages. (There is nothing more badass for a reader than to see themselves as the hero.)” 

“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.” 

“That saying “You can’t judge a book by its cover”? It’s total nonsense. Of course you can judge a book by its cover—that’s why books have covers.”

“A great package on a great product is what creates an explosive reaction. For instance, J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye sold decently when it was first published in hardcover, but then sold over 1.25 million copies in its early pulp paperback edition. The provocative cover, designed by James Avati (“the Rembrandt of Pulp”), had a lot to do with it. In his version, Holden Caulfield is standing outside a strip club and the blurb reads, “This unusual book may shock you, will make you laugh, and may break your heart—but you will never forget it!”

“A friend of mine, Jeff Goins, makes the distinction between starving artists and thriving artists. One adopts all the tropes and clichés of the bohemians and supposed purity. The other is resilient, ambitious, open-minded, and audience driven. Who do you want to be? Which will propel your work the furthest?” 

“Don’t let that inner hipster critic hold you back either. You cannot expect to sell unless you’ve put the work in and made the sacrifices and decisions that allow success to happen. You have to be ready for what comes next: the real marathon that is marketing.” 

 

Part III MARKETING

 

”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. Without it, how is anyone going to hear about what you’ve made?” 

“As Peter Drucker put it: “[Each project] needs somebody who says, ‘I am going to make this succeed,’ and then goes to work on it.”

“What did Steven do? He had the idea to pay to print approximately eighteen thousand copies of The Warrior Ethos in a special “Military Edition” that was not for sale. Then he gave those copies away through contacts he had in the armed services. Eighteen thousand print copies! That’s harder to do than you think: to find all those people, convince them to be an early reader, and deliver the copies to them. The shipping and delivery logistics alone would be a nightmare. (I know—I gave away more than a thousand copies of one of my books to marketing students and it was exhausting!)” 

“In the first month, as the advance copies made their way into readers’ hands, the book sold twenty-one hard copies and thirty-seven ebooks. It took five more months until the book sold five hundred copies in a single month. But it was all heading in the right direction. Within five years of publication, the book had sold roughly sixty thousand copies. On Amazon, its rank remains consistently better than ten thousand (it is occasionally number one in various categories) and the book has around 350 reviews.”

“if the Lindy effect holds true, we should see that The Warrior Ethos will still be selling that many copies.” 

“According to a study by McKinsey, between 20 percent and 50 percent of all purchasing decisions happen from some version of word of mouth. And the study found that a “high-impact recommendation”—an emphatic endorsement from a trusted friend, for example—converts at fifty times the rate of low-impact word of mouth.”

“John Maynard Keynes so accurately expressed it, the market “can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent.”

“Yes, “launch windows” are artificial. But just because something is constructed, as I once heard a wise person say, that doesn’t mean it isn’t important.”

“The publisher and technologist Tim O’Reilly puts it well: “The problem for most artists isn’t piracy, it’s obscurity.”

The more you reduce the cost of consumption, the more people will be likely to try your product.” 

“Grammy nomination. Starting with his first album in 2006, Pretty Lights has given all eight of his albums and EPs away for free on his website. “I knew I’d probably have to support myself and my music through live performance, so I wanted to get it through as many speakers as possible,” he told Fast Company. Starting in 2008, his music was available for paid download on iTunes and Amazon, while still being free for anyone to download from his website.”

“To go back to the TED conference for a second, remember: The videos are free to watch online. It still costs close to $10,000 to actually attend the conference and people are dying for tickets. One drives the other.” 

“Authors can give away whole chapters, excerpts as articles, or a free preview—or they can give the whole thing away for free to a select audience, or have events or sponsors buy copies that are in turn given away for free.” (

”Although it’s hard to turn fame into money in the arts, it’s impossible to turn obscurity into money in the arts. It doesn’t matter how you plan on making your money—selling books or downloads, selling ads, getting sponsorship, getting crowdfunded, getting commissions, licensing to someone else who’s figured out how to make money—you won’t get the chance unless people have heard of your stuff.”

 

Ryan Holiday Quote 3: “The best marketing you can do for your book is to start writing the next one. It is frustrating because it is depressingly, frustratingly true. More great work is the best way to market yourself.”

 

“Amazon has some pretty great pricing and sales data for books. According to their data, the cheaper a book is, the more copies it sells (and, counterintuitively, makes more money than if it were expensive). Economists call this price elasticity.” 

“One writer recently told me that she declined to put her book on Amazon—where 70 percent of all book sales come from—because she made more money on each copy selling on her own site. Understandably, she wanted to make as much as she could per sale, but this is not long-term thinking. Any extra revenue she makes per copy is coming at the cost of being in front of only a fraction of her potential audience. That’s holding her back from establishing her book as a definitive classic in her space.” 

“But maybe you do have some money to burn. In which case, here’s a crazy idea: Actually put it in a giant pile and burn it, then post the video online. Title it “Here’s What We Did with Our Advertising Budget.”

”Dear Teachers of Granite Bay High School, Thanks for Not Believing in Me. Look at Me Now.” It’s the kind of thing that would get picked up in the local press and then online and people would talk about it forever.”

“Another recent example from our friend Paulo Coelho: With the help of his Brazilian publisher, Coelho ran a series of print and outdoor ads that featured the entire text of his famous novel The Alchemist. It’s a giant block of text in 4.1-point font, so it’s basically impossible to read, but it’s still a stunningly clever and brazen move. The brilliant ad reads in part, “Thanks to the 70 million who read the book. If you are not one of them, read this ad.” The result was immediate coverage in outlets like Adweek and, of course, much love on social media.” 

”Tell me what to do!” the student says. Epictetus corrects him, “It would be better to say, ‘Make my mind adaptable to any circumstances.”

 

Part IV PLATFORM

 

“Since 1975—that’s forty years and counting!—Iron Maiden has defied every stereotype, every trend, every bit of conventional wisdom about not just their genre of heavy metal but the music business as a whole.” 

“Iron Maiden performed for 250,000 people as the headliners of the Rock in Rio festival —twenty-six years after the band was formed.” 

“they travel from sold-out stadium to sold-out stadium in a Boeing 757 piloted by the lead singer, often shuttling loyal fans and crew along for the ride. Is that not a model for every aspiring perennial creator?” 

“What’s most inspiring to me is that, despite the fact that a huge portion of the population probably has no idea that they’re still a band—and swaths of a generation has never heard of them—the band doesn’t care. They care about their fans and their fans only. Those are the only people they talk to, the people inside what we are going to talk about in this chapter: their platform.”

“In my definition, a platform is the combination of the tools, relationships, access, and audience that you have to bring to bear on spreading your creative work—not just once, but over the course of a career.”

“The great Stoic 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.”

“Build Your List. Build Your List. Build Your List. If I could give a prospective creative only one piece of advice, it would be this: Build a list.”

“Meanwhile, email is approaching its fiftieth birthday. Seriously. Email is almost fifty years old.” 

“Networking is not going to networking events and handing out business cards—that’s flyering. It is instead about forming, developing, and maintaining real relationships. It’s about being valuable and being available so that one day the favor might be returned.” 

Developing the right relationships with the right people is the long game. This is how legacies are made and preserved.” 

“When we said the Lindy effect means that the things that last would continue to last, the exception to that rule is when owners undermine what made them great in the first place. Perennial sales are not guaranteed. Hard-won reputations can be undone.”

“1962, the scientist Thomas Kuhn wrote a short book titled The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. His thesis was controversial—that scientific change doesn’t follow a line of steady linear progress. Essentially, he argued that scientists in every era have assumptions and beliefs that guide their work. Change happens as these beliefs begin to break down and bold new theories that change the way everything is seen are proposed in their place. This is what he calls a “paradigm shift.”

“It sold only 919 copies its first year. But fifty years later, it has sold more than a million copies worldwide.”

“Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms was released on the day the markets crashed in 1929. Robert Greene’s The Art of Seduction came out shortly after the events of September 11, 2001. Neil Strauss’s The Game was scheduled for release the week after Hurricane Katrina hit. All the expected press for these authors, along with their precious launch windows, were obliterated.”

“The best marketing you can do for your book is to start writing the next one. It is frustrating because it is depressingly, frustratingly true. More great work is the best way to market yourself.”

“Goethe’s maxim goes, “The greatest respect an author can have for his public is never to produce what is expected but what he himself considers right and useful for whatever stage of intellectual development has been reached by himself and others.”

“In the 1980s, artists and critics used to sneer at bands like Iron Maiden, Metallica, and AC/DC who “sold more T-shirts than albums.” This was somehow supposed to be a slur because, coming from people who love music, if you’re not a big seller, you must suck.”

“Bruce Dickinson, the lead singer of Iron Maiden, has a radio show, has written a young adult novel, has led a successful solo career, nearly made the British Olympic fencing team, is a professional pilot, and has founded his own aviation company with revenues of $6 million per year.” 

“What I mean to say is that sometimes the best way to monetize your work—and we do have to make money to live—is not from the work itself, at least not in the short term. We know that perennial sellers can be immensely profitable over time, but they need room to grow, and what better place to grow them than in the fertile ground of your own budding empire?”

“So don’t wait. Build your platform now. Build it before your first great perennial seller comes out, so that you have a better chance of actually turning it into one. Build it now so that you might create multiple works like that.” 

“Because you’re more than that. You’re an entrepreneur, an author, a filmmaker, a journalist. You’re a mogul. Don’t just make it. Make it happen.”

 

CONCLUSION What’s Luck Got to Do with It?

 

“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.”

“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.”

 

Ryan Holiday Quote 4: “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.”

 

“When Kevin Kelly put forth his idea about having one thousand true fans, he wasn’t saying you’d live like a king. He wasn’t saying you wouldn’t have to work hard, or that the struggle would be over. He was saying that you’d be able to make a living. He predicted that technology had made it possible to work and survive as an artist. Nowhere did he say that it would be easy or that you’d be filthy rich.” 

”It feels nice for a moment, then surreal, then back to work.”

“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?”

 

Book Review (Personal Opinion):

 

Did you know that Smokey and the Bandit beat Star Wars on their opening weekend? Today, nobody knows what Smokey and the Bandit is and Star Wars is a multibillion-dollar franchise. If you create something truly great, people will take notice of it and it can become a perennial seller. Just don’t forget to market your product because “the market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent”.

 

Rating: 8/10

 

This Book Is For (Recommend):

 

  • An author who’s in the process of writing their first book
  • An aspiring businessman who is just starting to build their product
  • A millennial who wants to learn what it takes to leave a legacy

 

If You Want To Learn More

 

Here’s Ryan Holiday talking about his book on a podcast.
Evan Carmichael

 

How I’ve Implemented The Ideas From The Book

 

When you take the books we review and summarize on Growthabit, it’s all perennial sellers. We want to create the best possible summary for a book that will be sold for the next 20 years. Because if people still read that book in 20 years, they will still read our summary of it. That’s why you will rarely see brand-new books on our platform.

 

One Small Actionable Step You Can Do

 

Whatever it is you’re creating at this moment, stop, and think about one thing only–“Am I building the best possible product out there?” Because that’s the first step in creating a perennial seller.

Perennial Seller: The Art of Making and Marketing Work that Lasts by Ryan Holiday - Book Summary Infographic
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