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
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 complete and total commitment to the idea that our best chance
As my mentor Robert Greene put it, “It starts by wanting to create a classic.”
“People [who are] thinking about things other than making the best product never make the best product.” We’re not just talking about making something that is the best for the hell of it. As legendary investor and Y Combinator founder Paul Graham explains, “The best way to increase a startup’s growth rate is to make the product so good people recommend it to their friends.”
it must be the highest priority of the creators—they must see this as their calling. They must study the classic work in their fields, emulate the masters and the greats and what made their work last. Timelessness must be their highest priority. They have to learn to ignore distractions. Above all, they have to want to produce meaningful work—which, I can say from experience, is often not the goal of people in the creative space.
Ideas are cheap.
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.
There is inevitably a crisis and a low point in every creative work. We all run smack into what author and marketer Seth Godin calls “the Dip.”
Creating something that lives—that can change the world and continue doing so for decades—requires not just a reverence for the craft and a respect for the medium, but real patience for the process itself.
Two of the most essential principles in the famous “Toyota Way”—the internal philosophy that has guided the Japanese car company for decades—explicitly extol the virtues of taking a long-term view and respecting process.
It’s better to do as Hamilton did, as Seinfeld did, and as Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, reminds his employees: “Focus on the things that don’t change.”
“If you focus on near-term growth above everything else,” he has written, “you miss the most important question you should be asking: Will this business still be around a decade from now?”
Lucas’s most profound source material was the work of a then relatively obscure mythologist named Joseph Campbell and his concept of a “hero’s journey.”
Despite the trendy special effects, the story of Luke Skywalker is rooted in the same epic principles of Gilgamesh, of Homer, even the story of Jesus Christ. Lucas has referred to Campbell as “my Yoda” for the way he helped him tell “an old myth in a new way.”
For any project, you must know what you are doing—and what you are not doing. You must also know who you are doing it for—and who you are not doing it for—to be able to say: THIS and for THESE PEOPLE.
we must also ask “What does this do?” A critical test of any product: Does it have a purpose? Does it add value to the world? How will it improve the lives of the people who buy it?
The key to success in nonfiction was that the work should be either “very entertaining” or “extremely practical.”
You want what you’re making to do something for people, to help them do something—and have that be why they will talk about it and tell other people about
So the creator of any project should try to answer some variant of these questions: What does this teach? What does this solve? How am I entertaining? What am I giving? What are we offering? What are we sharing?
“Only is better than best.”
Our goal here is to make something that people rave about, that becomes part of their lives. The buried insights found in those other great works were not put there on the first pass. Work is unlikely to be layered if it is written in a single stream of consciousness. No. Deep, complex work is built through
Perennial sellers are made by indefatigable artists who, instead of handing off their manuscripts to nonexistent caretakers—“kissing it up to God,” to use a Hollywood expression—see every part of the process as their responsibility. They take control of their own fate. Not simply as artists but as makers and managers.
Children expect opportunities to be handed to them; maturity is understanding you have to go out and make them.
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.”
Remember: Getting feedback requires humility.
Today, in order to even have a chance at people’s attention, your project has to seem as good as or better than all the others. Three critical variables determine whether that will happen: the Positioning, the Packaging and the Pitch. 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.
When it comes to attracting an audience, the creators who take the time to get their positioning and packaging right—who don’t just go with their first instinct and hope—are the ones who will win.
At some point in every project I work on, I find myself recommending that the creator take the time to consult the book The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing.
Seneca was a famous Roman philosopher and playwright whose works were so beloved that a line of graffiti from his play Agamemnon remains preserved in ash on a two-thousand-year-old wall in Pompeii.
Seneca wrote that what’s required is “confidence in yourself and the belief that you are on the right path, and not led astray by the many tracks which cross yours of people who are hopelessly lost, though some are wandering not far from the true path.”
With a perennial seller as your goal, the track is clear: lasting impact and relevance.
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.
No better words about the creative process have been produced than when he described starting a project as an adventure. “To begin with,” he said, your project “is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling it to the public.”
You’ve done your creative work. You began your editing and reviewing, and perhaps that sent you straight back to the creative phase for significant reworking. Finally, as you fine-tuned and polished and adjusted for your audience, you began to prepare yourself for the inevitable day of your release. How would you describe this project? What’s special about it? What’s its pitch? Who is it for? All those questions were designed to anticipate the questions you would one day get from the media and from retailers and customers.
Each new work competes for customers with everything that came before it and everything that will come after.
Marketing is anything that gets or keeps customers.
Your product needs a champion. 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.”
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.
Our marketing efforts, then, should be catalysts for word of mouth.
In order to sell over the long term, we knew the faster we hit critical velocity, the better our chances of making it would be.
It’s essential for debut authors to give away at least some of their material, even if only temporarily.
“Free and cheap helps.” So does making the entire process as easy and seamless as possible. The more you reduce the cost of consumption, the more people will be likely to try your product. Which means price, distribution, and other variables are not only essential business decisions, they are essential marketing decisions.
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.
Price is marketing.
As a general rule, however, the more accessible you can make your product, the easier it will be to market. You can always raise the price later, after you’ve built an audience.
Sports Illustrated and they were into it. That article—“How a Book on Stoicism Became Wildly Popular at Every Level of the NFL”—sold
The way I describe this process is “trading up the chain.”
Preparation meets relationships meets opportunity.
As an effective tool for the launch of a product, advertising almost never works. It’s far more effective when there is already a considerable audience or sales track record.
When it comes to creating a perennial seller, the principle to never lose sight of is simple: Create word of mouth.
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.
Iron Maiden focused on one thing and one thing only: building a cross-generational global army of loyal fans who buy every single thing they put out.
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. So a platform is your social media and the stage you stand on, but it also includes your friends, your body of work, the community your work exists in, the media outlets and influencers who appreciate what you do, your email list, the trust you’ve built, your sources of income, and countless other assets. A platform is what you cultivate and grow not just through your creative work, but for your creative work, whatever it may be.
Build a list. Specifically, an email list.
Building an email list is a move toward self-sufficiency for any creator. By forming a direct and regular line of communication with your supporters, you avoid ever being disintermediated. That is an incredibly powerful asset.
Seth Godin says that platforms (and thus lists) are built via “permission assets”—a larger bucket that would include everything from Facebook to Twitter to [insert popular platform of the day]. Basically, anything where people can opt in to hear from you.
Getting your first email subscribers. To get your first one hundred subscribers, Noah recommends doing this: Put a link in your email signature. How many emails do you send a day? See which social networks allow you to export your followers and send them a note asking them to join. Post online once a week asking your friends/family/coworkers to join your mailing list. Ask one group you are active in to join your newsletter. Create a physical form you can give out at events.
There is a second kind of “list” that matters just as much as the list I’ve been describing: your list of contacts, relationships, and influencers.
Some of Tim’s strategies: Never dismiss anyone—You never know who might help you one day with your work. His rule was to treat everyone like they could put you on the front page of the New York Times . . . because someday you might meet that person.
Play the long game—It’s not about finding someone who can help you right this second. It’s about establishing a relationship that can one day benefit both of you.
Focus on “pre-VIPs”—The people who aren’t well known but should be and will be. It’s not about who has the biggest megaphone.
Be generous, do favors, help other people with their products. Email reporters who cover things that you’re interested in (or at least read their work and take genuine interest in it).
Networking is not going to networking events and handing out business cards—that’s flyering.
If your goal is to become a grand master of important relationships, make sure you’re playing chess and not checkers. You better make sure that you don’t overemphasize giving rousing speeches to your troops at the cost of shoring up relationships with critical allies. Doing this work is not only important marketing, it’s essential to establishing a viable and valuable platform.
Developing the right relationships with the right people is the long game. This is how legacies are made and preserved.
If you see your career and your relationships as investments—if you give and help and build long before you ever need anything, if you continue doing great work over the long term—you’ll find that sometimes you won’t even need to ask for support. Your friends and supporters will come to you. They’ll offer.
There’s another line from one of the founding members of the band Twisted Sister, now in its fourth decade as a group. At a certain point in his career, Jay Jay French, the band’s guitarist, said he realized that he wasn’t in the music business—he was in the Twisted Sister business.
People who want long-term success must participate—and do so authentically and honestly.
Audiences often need to hear about things multiple times and be exposed to them from multiple angles before they’re willing to give something a chance.
The best marketing you can do for your book is to start writing the next one.
One of the things all creatives must do during their downtime is explore new ways of reaching new fans.
To cross over, the comedian has to consciously expand her audience and steadily recruit fans from other groups and communities.
Don’t be afraid to try crazy things. Don’t let your brand tie you down to the point where you don’t explore or experiment.
Every industry has its own opportunities. Academics consult. Literary authors teach at universities.
To do our work without a platform is to be at the mercy of other people’s permission.
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.