back to books

Perennial Seller: The Art of Making and Marketing Work That Lasts


Personal Thoughts

Best-selling author and marketer Ryan Holiday calls such works and artists perennial sellers. How do they endure and thrive while most books, movies, songs, video games, and pieces of art disappear quickly after initial success? How can we create and market creative works that achieve longevity?

Summary Notes

  • Though I suspect that’s not why most creatives fall far short of making work that lasts for even ten minutes, let alone ten years. The truth is that they never give themselves a real shot at it. They fail because, strategically, they never had a chance. Not when almost every incentive, every example, every how-to guide they look to, even the cues they take from well-meaning fans and critics, leads them in the wrong direction.
  • Here’s what’s even crazier: Chances are those companies will still exist in ten years. Whatever changes I will have to make to this book in later editions, I have little doubt that, barring some tragedy, the Pantry, Shawshank, Iron Maiden, and Zildjian will still be going strong. They are examples of a phenomenon known in economics as the Lindy effect.* Named after a famous restaurant where showbiz types used to meet to discuss trends in the industry, it observes that every day something lasts, the chances that it will continue to last increase. 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.”
  • These questions are what led me to research and write this book. In the pages that follow, we’re going to examine these questions in many forms, from many industries, from many eras. Not just the incredible amount of work that goes into the creation of works that stand the test of time. But how to position them. How to market them. How to build a career around them. And how to avoid falling for the seduction of short-term notability to focus on the real brass ring: long-term success and renown.
  • Surely one way to ensure that creating amazing, lasting work is impossible is by convincing everyone that it cannot be done on purpose.
  • With the right mindset, the right process, and the right set of business strategies, you can increase the likelihood that your work will join the ranks of these classics.
  • 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 a complete and total commitment to the idea that our best chance of success starts during the creative process.
  • They must study the classic work in their fields, emulate the masters and the greats and what made their work last.
  • There are millions of notebooks and Evernote folders packed with ideas, floating out there in the digital ether or languishing on dusty bookshelves. The difference between a great work and an idea for a great work is all the sweat, time, effort, and agony that go into engaging that idea and turning it into something real. That difference is not trivial. If great work were easy to produce, a lot more people would do it.
  • In my work with authors, I’ve met with no shortage of smart, accomplished people who, I’ve realized, don’t actually want to write a book despite what they say. They want to have a book. We find these types in every industry. We should pity them—because they’ll never get what their ego craves so desperately. I’ve also learned that wanting to be able to call yourself an author, musician, filmmaker, or entrepreneur is not sufficient fuel to create great work. Especially in a world where it’s easier than ever before to call yourself these things—on your social media profiles, on the business cards you order online that show up the next day, on the legal paperwork for an LLC you can draw up online at the cost of a few dollars. “Lots of people,” as the poet and artist Austin Kleon puts it, “want to be the noun without doing the verb.” To make something great, what’s required is need. As in, I need to do this. I have to. I can’t not.
  • Here are some good ones: Because there is a truth that has gone unsaid for too long. Because you’ve burned the bridges behind you. Because your family depends on it. Because the world will be better for it. Because the old way is broken. Because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime moment. Because it will help a lot of people. Because you want to capture something meaningful. Because the excitement you feel cannot be contained. These are the states of being that create great works of art—not passing or partial interest—and these are the states you should be seeking out. A desire to impress your friends, or because you think it would be interesting, or because all you care about is quick money—well, that will not be remotely enough. To create something is a daring, beautiful act. The architect, the author, the artist—all are building something where nothing was before. To try to create something even better than anyone has ever done it before is even bolder. Sitting down at the computer or with a notepad and committing to pour yourself onto it is a scary proposition. But anyone who has done it can tell you that the process is also exhilarating.
  • “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”
  • Elon Musk has compared starting a company to “eating glass and staring into the abyss of death.”
  • “You should only be a writer,” I said, “if you can’t not be a writer.”
  • Consider the construction on La Sagrada Família in Barcelona, which broke ground in 1882 yet whose completion is slated for 2026—the hundred-year anniversary of the architect’s death. The months and years and decades fall away. The Sistine Chapel took four years just to paint; the planning and the building took even longer. Matthew Weiner mused on the idea for Mad Men for years after first writing it down. Even finishing the first episode was not the end—or even the halfway point—because no one wanted the show. He called the show his mistress and carried it with him in a bag for years as he worked on other projects, watching it get critiqued and rejected time and again. From the time he started until production on the pilot began some seven long years later, very little visible progress occurred along the way (it was another year after that before he was able to film the second episode). Eventually there were immense rewards for his patience, but let’s not forget that even the momentous moment when Weiner got the green light to finally make his beloved show it was simply the beginning of seven more arduous years of writing, directing, and filming. 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. This is why I asked you about your motivation. This is why intent has such a large impact on your ability to persevere and survive. Because you will be tested. Not once, but repeatedly.

Perennial Seller: The Art of Making and Marketing Work That Lasts


Some other book notes you might like

Back to notes

Did You Enjoy This?

Then consider signing up for my Monday Medley newsletter. It's a collection of fascinating finds from my week, usually about psychology, technology, health, philosophy, and whatever else catches my interest. I also include new articles, book notes, and podcast episodes.

Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.