17 Ideas To Improve Your Creative Work From The Book “Perennial Seller”

I’ve recommended the book Perennial Seller by Ryan Holiday to people at least five times this week and countless times before that.

It’s a must-read for anybody who makes or markets creative work that’s packed with insights on why some books, movies, music, and products continue to get attention forever and others quickly fade away.

Since I’ve found the ideas about creativity and work I curate each week in my For The Interested newsletter tend to stick with me, I thought I’d do something similar and curate some of my favorite ideas from Perennial Seller.

Here are 17 ideas from the book (with quoted excerpts) which I found valuable and hope you will too.

1. You don’t create timeless work by focusing on instant gratification.

“People claim to want to do something that matters, yet they measure themselves against things that don’t, and track their progress not in years but in microseconds. They want to make something timeless, but they focus instead on immediate payoffs and instant gratification.” (page 3)

2. The Lindy Effect.

“Named after a famous restaurant where showbiz types used to meed to discuss trends in the industry, it observes that every day something lasts, the chances that it will continue to last increase.” (page 6)

3. Focus on the product.

“Phil Libin, the cofounder of Evernote has a quote I like to share with clients: ‘People [who are] thinking about things other than making the best product never make the best product.’” (page 20)

4. Study the greats, not the trends.

“Rick Rubin, the record producer…urges his artists not to think about what’s currently on the airwaves. ‘If you listen to the greatest music ever made, that would be a better way,’ he says, ‘to find your own voice to matter today than listening to what’s on the radio and thinking: ‘I want to compete with this.’ It’s stepping back and looking at a bigger picture than what’s going on at the moment.’” (page 35)

5. Test your ideas in front of an audience.

“Creative people naturally produce false positives. Ideas that they think are good but aren’t. Ideas that other people have already had. Mediocre ideas that contain buried within them the seeds of much better ideas. The key is to catch them early. And the only way to do that is by doing the work at least partly in front of an audience.” (page 42)

6. Create things for an intended audience.

“The absence of an intended audience is not just a commercial problem. It is an artistic one. The critic Toby Litt could have been talking about all bad art and bad products when he said that ‘bad writing is almost always a love poem addressed by the self to the self.’ What audience wants that?” (page 46)

7. Only is better than best.

“Pete Carroll, the Super Bowl-winning coach of the Seattle Seahawks, once told me a lesson he learned from the Grateful Dead. The Dead weren’t trying to be the best at anything, he said; they were trying to be the only ones doing what they were doing. Srinivas Rao, a writer and podcaster, put it well: “Only is better than best.” (page 53)

8. People can tell you something’s wrong, but not how to fix it.

“When it comes to feedback, I think 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.” (page 73)

9. One sentence. One paragraph. One page.

“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 _____.” (page 79)

10. Artists must figure out how to be seen.

“In 1842, a character in one of Balzac’s novels, a journalist, observed that ‘the great problem for artists to solve is how to place themselves where they can be seen.’ If they don’t solve this problem, they die and their work dies along with them. Being lost among all the noise is even more likely today than it was in the French author’s time. (page 110)

11. Demand is a function of price.

“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. It’s true for almost all products — but it’s definitely true when you’re launching something. The cheaper it is, the more people will buy it an the easier it will be to market. Yes, there is such a thing as a Veblen good (the more it costs, the more people want it) but more commonly demand is a function of price. (page 124)

12. Approach the unlikely influencers first.

“I’ve always found that a critical part of attracting influencers is to look for the people who aren’t besieged by requests. Authors are inundated with requests for blurbs from other authors; meanwhile, generals, academics, and CEOs are asked much more rarely. Who would be better to go after, then? Try to find the people least likely to get a request from someone like you, and approach them first, instead of going where everyone else is going. Be bold and brash and counterintuitive not only in how you create your work, but also in who you use to market it. (page 146)

13. Trade up the chain.

“The way I describe this process is “trading up the chain.” In an interconnected media age, outlets pick up and re-report on each other’s stories. By starting with a small podcast where I could tell the story on my own terms, which led to a pickup on a small site that covers a niche, and then sharing and spreading that piece so it was seen by the right people, I was able to ultimately go from a tiny show to one of the biggest and most influential outlets in the world.” (page 153)

14. Get emails.

“After the comedian Kevin Hart experienced several disappointing failures in a row, his career was at a crossroads. The movies he’d expected to make him a star hadn’t hit; his television deal hadn’t panned out. So he did what comedians do best — he hit the road. But unlike many successful comedians, he didn’t just go to the cities where he could sell the most seats. Instead, he went everywhere — often deliberately performing in small clubs in cities where he did not have a large fan base. At every show, an assistant would put a business card on each seat at every table that said, “Kevin Hart needs to know who you are,” and asked for their email address. After the show, his team would collect the cards and enter the names into a spreadsheet organized by location. For four years he toured the country this way, building an enormous database of loyal fans and drawing more and more people to every subsequent show.” (page 185)

15. Be in the business of you.

“At a certain point in his career, Jay Jay French, [Twisted Sister’s] guitarist, said he realized that he wasn’t in the music business — he was in the Twisted Sister business. Meaning, the only people who matter to him are Twisted Sister fans. (page 197)

16. The best marketing is your next creation.

“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.” (page 204)

17: Embrace your haters.

“Some people are not your fans and never will be. But there is still something to be done there: Colonel Parker, the infamous manager of Elvis Presley, came up with the idea to sell “I Hate Elvis” memorabilia so that Elvis could profit from his haters too. Everyone should know who their detractors are and rile them up every once in a while just for fun.” (page 211)

This is just a small taste of the amazing stuff in this book —you can get yourself a copy of it here.