Great thoughts on creating a timeless masterpiece (whether music, book, or any art) - and then promoting it. Very inspiring for any creator.
The true function of a writer is to produce a masterpiece.
Focus on the things that don’t change.
In a year, will the extra two days you spent seem excessive? In ten years, will spending ten extra days?
Haste is no part of it. Whether a really good book is finished a year earlier or a year later makes no difference.
Even if you fail at your ambitious thing, it’s very hard to fail completely.
Will this business still be around a decade from now?
There were forty-seven alternative endings for Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. He rewrote the first part of the book, by his own count, more than fifty times. He wrote all of them, trying them like pieces of a puzzle until one finally fit.
Jack Kerouac supposedly wrote On the Road in a three-week drug-fueled blitz. But he spent six years editing and refining it until it was finally ready.
A creative work usually starts with an idea that seems to have potential and then evolves with work and interaction into something more.
Small, even silly ideas can become big, important, awe-inspiring works if a person invests enough time in them.
Within seemingly ordinary people there can exist depths of wisdom, beauty, and insight - if they put in the work to plumb those deep depths.
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. 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.
Find your niche and scratch it!
Charlie Rose asked Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the blockbuster musical Hamilton, what set him apart from some of the smarter, more talented kids he had gone to school with.
Miranda answered: “’Cause I picked a lane and I started running ahead of everybody else . . . I was like, ‘All right, THIS.’”
Know who you are doing it for - and who you are not doing it for.
Write to please just one person. Don’t make it so specific that the only member of that audience is you.
It’s not what a book is, it’s what a book does.
The key to success in nonfiction was that the work should be either “very entertaining” or “extremely practical.”
Be the only one doing what you are doing. Only is better than best.
The best version is not for everybody. The best art divides the audience. If you put out a record and half the people who hear it absolutely love it and half the people who hear it absolutely hate it, you’ve done well. Because it is pushing that boundary.
A movie must be better to see the second or third time than it is the first time. There must be more in it to see at once than any one person can grasp. It must be meaty, full of implications.
Work is unlikely to be layered if it is written in a single stream of consciousness. Deep, complex work is built through a relentless, repetitive process of revisitation.
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.
Be testing your project as you create it.
Seriously test your creation as it begins to resemble a final product.
Does a summary of the book work as a talk?
Write a press release about it before the idea is even given the green light.
If you can’t come up with a way to express your idea in exciting and compelling terms at this early stage, well, good thing it was caught in time before you launched that dud.
Write out exactly what your project is supposed to be and to do in:
This is a ______ that does ______.
This helps people ______.
What genre does it fit in? Genre matters.
Everything that has a clear path to commercial success is in a genre.
We need to be able to put things into categories so we know where they fit.
No creator can magically inherit the audience of another.
Explicitly say who you are building your thing for.
It takes ten thousand readers for a book to successfully break through and for the ideas in it to take hold.
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.
Each is essential. Each feeds into the others.
Done properly, your work will scream: “Pick me - forsake the others. This is urgent!”
Done haphazardly, your work simply says: “Bleh.”
Of course you can judge a book by its cover - that’s why books have covers.
Consult the book The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing. The first seven laws of this classic marketing tome deal with the art of positioning and packaging.
My book about Stoic philosophy, for example, had to become “a book that uses the ancient formula of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius to teach people how to not only overcome obstacles but thrive because of them.”
The artificial notion of a launch is almost more important now than ever - customers have so much choice, they tend to choose what appears to have momentum.
People choose what others are choosing.
Email : “Hey, as many of you know, I have been working on ______ for a long time. It’s a ______ that does ______ for ______. I could really use your help. If you’re in the media or have an audience or you have any ideas or connections or assets that might be valuable when I launch this thing, I would be eternally grateful. Just tell me who you are, what you’re willing to offer, what it might be good for, and how to be in touch.”
What is the right price to create a perennial seller? As cheap as possible without damaging the perception of your product.
Damaging the perception of your product through price is very hard to do.
A classic of any kind has two characteristics:
1) It’s good
2) it has been consumed by a lot of people (relatively, at least).
The cheaper a book is, the more copies it sells (and, counterintuitively, makes more money than if it were expensive).
Everyone overestimates the value of traditional PR. Much of the press that people chase is ephemeral and ineffectual, yet expensive and time-consuming to get.
But traditional press is underrated for the use of credibility and status.
“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.
The most newsworthy thing to do is usually the one you’re most afraid of. The thing you joke, “But of course, we can’t do that.”
Be wary of overinvesting in social platforms.
People who want long-term success must participate.
Jay Jay French realized that he wasn’t in the music business - he was in the Twisted Sister business.
Work at supporting your art at least as long as you worked in the creation phase of it.
The best way to market yourself is by making more great work.
There is a difference between something that services your audience and something that expands it. Call it the “One for Them, One for Me” strategy. In a good career, there’s room for both.
The internet is favoring people who can move horizontally and integrate vertically, who can create innovative empires, not just produce work.