What does it take to make work that lasts?
I was telling my friend and author Dave Stuart Jr. about some of the ideas I have for reaching new audiences and marketing my authors’ books. “You have to read Perennial Seller,” he said. He was right.
In reading Ryan Holiday’s new book Perennial Seller, I did get many good marketing ideas—but I also got a reminder that successful books—lasting books—begin as simply a great book. And yet, it’s anything but simple, isn’t it?
Holiday shares four valuable lessons about creating content that lasts:
1. To make great work, you have to be willing to do the work.
“To be great, one must make great work, and making great work is incredibly hard.” – Ryan Holiday
Writing a great book doesn’t just happen. Sure, it starts with a great idea, but a great idea alone will not get you anywhere. Great books come at the intersection of great ideas and the determination and commitment to work hard to achieve that dream. This combination of dreaming + doing puts you in the ideal “Aspirations” quadrant, as another friend and author Russell Quaglia writes. It’s true for students, and it’s true for authors.
Holiday emphasizes the fact that great work is something you have to do yourself. It can’t be bought. It can’t be outsourced. You can’t cut corners. There’s only one person who can make a great work for you, and that’s you.
How do you know if you have it in you to make a great work? When you have something bubbling inside you, threatening so hard to erupt that you can’t not do it.
2. To make great work, be patient.
“There are better, faster ways to make a profit: work on commission somewhere, start another fusion restaurant, get a job on Wall Street, open a marijuana dispensary.” – Ryan Holiday
Working for a publisher, I hear from authors all the time who want their book out as fast as possible, or who want to follow up their first book with another book the very next season. There may be times when urgency is needed… but those are very rare. More often than not, this desire for speed comes from a desire for wealth or fame or career-building of some kind. Not publishing as soon as possible seems to cause a great deal of anxiety—and I think it’s because of the culture of immediate gratification that abounds. If you can tweet or update your Facebook status or publish a blog post in minutes, why should a book take a year or more?
The answer is because publishers aren’t in this business to create content that disappears in a day, that gets covered up by the millions of other bites of information coming at their audience. There’s a real, hard cost that comes with printing thousands of books—so we need to make sure they can sell. We have no interest in jumping on the next bandwagon. We’re in this for the long haul. Ideally, our books will rise above the fray and last in the hearts and minds of readers.
But hitting pause, reflecting on your work, and taking the time to make it better isn’t just something you should do for your publisher. Again, this is about making great work. I know that when I take the time to re-read and finesse blog posts, I’m usually happier with how they turn out. Everyone wins when we embrace the process.
3. To make great work, be open to failure and try again.
“Very few great things were ever created at a hackathon.” – Ryan Holiday
This was one of my favorite points that Holiday made about the creative process. Creativity is something that we must practice; it takes time to get our idea-generating wheels spinning. It takes time to be able to recognize good ideas when we have them—or to know how to take the seed of a good idea and turn it into something great.
Holiday writes, “Creative people naturally produce false positives. Ideas that they think are good but aren’t.” This line was a huge relief to me. I consider myself a fairly creative person, and I take pride in generating new ideas—and it’s an immense frustration to me when I realize my ideas won’t work for some reason. But as Holiday says, it’s natural to produce these “false positives.” The key is to keep coming up with them, keep creating better and better ideas. It’s an iterative process.
4. To make great work, know your audience.
“If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.” – Kurt Vonnegut
Oftentimes, the most successful books are ones you’ve never heard of—but to the super-fans of that genre, it’s the Bible. Holiday writes that having this clarity—knowing exactly WHO you are writing for—isn’t limiting as many authors seem to think; it actually frees you to go deeper with the content, think about your audience’s needs and how you can give them exactly what they need. Trying to appeal to too many audiences usually means you appeal to none.
Knowing who you’re writing for also helps you judge your success: “If you don’t know who you’re writing for or who you’re making for, how will you know if you’re doing it right? How will you know if you’ve done it?” People will share your book if it does something for them, and they know someone else who might need it too.
Believe it or not, I gained these valuable insights from just the first quarter of the book! The other three parts of Perennial Seller focus on positioning, marketing, and building a platform—all essential parts of making great work that lasts. But none of it is possible without that crucial first step: making the great work.