From the Grave…

by on Nov 16 2010

How do you publish a book 100 years after your death, and have it become an instant bestseller?

Mark Twain just did that.

Yesterday when I purchased his just-released autobiography, it was ranked #4 on the Amazon bestseller list… which is completely amazing.

After all, Mark Twain died 100 years ago… in 1910.

And all this without an “Amazon book launch”… without an appearance on Oprah… without a book tour… how do you do that?

Well first off, Mark Twain was an enormously popular and influential writer in the 19th and early 20th centuries. His novel “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” is clearly one of the seminal works of American literature.

Second, Twain left explicit instructions to NOT publish his work until 100 years after his death.

And even with a 100 year delay, the interest in Mark Twain and his work was enough to turn the book into an immediate best seller.

There is so much here that is just so rich… what would Twain have thought of me buying the book from my home via Amazon? Or the fact that I had to decide if I wanted to buy the physical book or the Kindle edition?

(I'm sure he would have been fascinated by all of it since he was keenly interested in new technology, especially new technology in the publishing industry.)

But the thing that kept running through my mind as I ordered the book was “the long view”… in an age where everyone is a publisher the minute they sign up for Facebook or Twitter… where people blog about what they had for breakfast… where most companies can barely look beyond next month, much less next quarter… here is the triumph of someone who had a REALLY long view.

In my opinion, the easiest way to win… at business, at life… is to take a longer view. To think strategically, if you will.

By most measures, I've had some rather outsized success in my business… and one of the reasons (in my opinion) is that I spend a lot of time thinking about the big picture – the long term stuff.

This is the deal – it's not about the next email I send or the next project… it's about what those things are going to do for my business next quarter, next year, or three years from now.

(Many years ago my friend Paul Myers said I was an “empire builder”… it took me a long time to figure out what he meant, but I think this is what he was talking about.)

Of course, you don't need to be an “empire builder”. And yes, you have to focus on getting profitable and staying profitable. That's the #1 thing if you're starting out.

But if you want to instantly set yourself apart in your market… just start making your decisions based on a longer viewpoint than the other people in your market.

Are your current actions building for the long term? Are you building assets in your business?

BIG HINT: In the online world, the most important assets you can build are: 1) your relationships with clients, prospects, and partners, and 2) your lists of clients, prospects and partners.

In any case… I ordered the physical version of Mark Twain's autobiography. I didn't get the Kindle version, because I think this is going to be a book I'm going to want to put on my bookshelf for a long time after I finish it. It's going to arrive tomorrow… I can't wait.

[EDIT by Jeff: I originally wrote that Twain was an influential writer of the 18th and 19th centuries. After consulting the calendar (and being called out in the comments), I realized my error and changed it to the 19th and 20th centuries. 🙂  ]

57 Comments

  • Rajesh Setty says:

    Thanks for sharing this Jeff.

    I ordered the book immediately 🙂

    I agree – it is tempting to do something quick, expect something quick and fix something quick even when everything in the nature points to timeless wisdom of “sowing and reaping”

    Your blog post is a good reminder to focus on the timelines.

    Mark Twain has set the bar high and probably there may not be anyone who can climb up to those levels. But that should not prevent anyone of us from trying to. In that journey of trying, we will be better than what would have been without trying.

  • Rolo says:

    I’m glad I have someone like you to keep my head on straight. Even though I know that long term strategic thinking is the critical path to long term success, long term thinking tends to fade when I’m deeply involved in the day to day operations of my business. Thanks Jeff for reminding me and keeping me on the “Righteous Path”.

  • Peter Sharples says:

    Wise words and beautifully written, as always!

  • Lee Pound says:

    Jeff, this is fascinating. Of course Mark Twain had no idea there would even be books today but he had the foresight to know that people might still be interested in him and what he had to say.

    I like your view that long range planning is essential. Much of our society has forgotton that working for the future is the way to make things happen. We are a short-term culture right now and it shows. Those who plan long term are most likely to be the winners.

    Great post and great lesson for everyone in business.

  • Cody says:

    I have a whole whiteboard (that I bought b/c of PLF) full of stuff to do at home that is going to contribute to the long term success of my business. I’ve always tried to be a long term thinker, but it seems like we live in a short term world and sometimes it is difficult to consistently think long term, especially with all of the temptations out there.

    The thing that helped me so much was going through PLF and hearing stories in Scottsdale about how everyone else thought about their businesses. Every success story had the same trend. They all thought about building assets over time, not quick money.

    Good stuff Jeff.

  • Bob Stewart says:

    Jeff, this is precisely why I built for myself a web service that would allow me to set up messages with attachments for delivery after I pass. It has since grown into a full blown application that makes this process as simple as sending an email “upon death” and with that came many challenges such as democratizing public-key encryption for the average user but in the end I now have given the ability for anyone to freely create such a legacy for their loved ones too. Great piece, greater peace. -Bob Stewart, Founder of VitalLock

  • Hi Jeff!

    Yes, yes, yes!

    I wrote months ago of the upcoming release of Mark Twain’s autobiography. Like you, I was enthralled with the planning, the waiting and vision of Samuel Clemens. Regardless of his motives or intentions it will be an adventure for all who read the volumes which will be released.

    Can you imagine the delight of all involved in compiling this autobiography to bring it to print? All those ‘insiders’ with access to his work over the years while preparing for this date? It takes a true lover of the words to embrace that concept.

    As a former main street bookseller, and a dabbler in collectible books, I applaud your choice and desire to own the physical book (The ultimate in planning on Twain’s part would have been to sign, date and number 100 title pages to be bound in the first 100 copies!) . It’s not that a digital copy wouldn’t be around on your shelf for many years to come, but there truly is something delightful about the tactile sensation of opening the package (or coming home from the bookstore), grabbing your favorite reading beverage, and settling down with the book in your lap, turning the pages and “getting the lay of the land” while reading through the index, table of contents and bibliography. I think we’re all in store for an intellectual feast. It will be the pondering which will cause you to pause. Please remember to share those with us.

    I wish you many hours of adventure and page-turning enjoyment!

    Best regards,

    Cheryl C. Cigan

  • JD Nichol says:

    First, I love Twain. One of my favorite quotes, “I would rather have regrets for the thing I did than regret the thing I never did.” my abridged version.

    When thinking long term and publishing, I often think, “Will I be proud to show this to my Grandchildren?”

  • Hey Jeff,

    I have a website that I asked my host not to make like for 100yrs. 🙂 JK.
    I agree, I had some ideas of how I was going to make “quick” money but quick realized that will not sustain me. I needed to look at the big picture and how can I position my self and my business ideas for the long haul.

    Thanks

  • Greg Vining says:

    Short term thinking has been one of my biggest challenges in starting my business. I was always coming from a place of need, and need it right now. So, if there was a tactic that would make me money if I did it every day for 6+ months, I tended to ignore it looking for something that would put money in my pocket right away. And, as you can imagine, I had little to no success or money in my bank account.

    I think you’re right on about thinking longer term. Begin with the end in mind, then you can figure out how to get there. And how you can have the greatest impact on the world.

    Greg

  • Hi Jeff!

    I really appreciate the inspirational messages you deliver especially in your recent blog post – there is so much more in here than information on internet marketing business… I am really impressed with the depth of this post (and some others, like “Injecting Poison Into Your Brain”)! Very inspiring, very true, and very essetnial, because you are often focusing on life itself and the way to look at it and live it!

    Thank you! I totally appreciate this!

    Have a great day!
    Dino

  • Sarah says:

    Thanks Jeff. I have been stressing about writing my blog after returning from a failed attempt on an 8000 m peak in the Himalaya. I’ve been so focussed on my short term disappointment that I forgot the bigger game. Getting the fresh air of the long term gives me new energy for stuff I need to do right now. I feel kick-started again! Thanks

  • Ryn says:

    Hey, Jeff, thanks for this great reminder!

    And also, thanks for the heads up about Mark Twain’s autobiography. I’m looking forward to reading it!

  • Jeff: I couldn’t agree with you more. I think one of the biggest problems in internet marketing is that so many people are just trying to go for the “quick buck”.

    In part that may be related to the current economy and the fact that a lot of people are hurting and in dire need for immediate revenue streams.

    However, the long term perspective of “empire builders” just leads to better relationships and a more desirable life style – even in the more immediate time ahead.

    Cheers,
    -Thomas Bartke

  • Bill Armstrong says:

    In these days of INSTANT GRATIFICATION it is nice to be reminded that some things are better when projected long term. I am sure Mark had an idea that his writings would stand the test of time and he was wise to have this book wait patiently for an opportune moment to be released. In our world of internet marketing it could be analogous to a post launch production. Perhaps he thought that in 100 years interest in his writing may be waning and this is his way of re-launching interest in his works, albeit long after he had left the planet. It also points out that he was not interested in the financial gains of his autobiography, he just did it for the sheer joy of writing; which could be a reminder to us that we should be doing what we love to do and not worrying so much about the almighty dollar. The money will come on it’s own accord.

    It reminds me of a saying that goes something like “Infinite patience brings immediate results”

  • Rob Laidlaw says:

    Strategic thinking is something that doesn’t come easily to me, though I fully appreciate the achievements of those who can think beyond today. I aspire to leave a legacy for my great-grandchildren. Thank you, Jeff, for reminding me of this.

  • Ken says:

    Wow! I’m excited for you! Yay! We love books!

  • Blaine Moore says:

    Thanks for the reminder, now I need to decide whether to go buy the book or see if anybody’s thoughtful enough to pick it up for me for Christmas (if I can wait that long…) Heheh.

  • I find this contrast very interesting :
    Over the last 5 years, we have produced more information online than the sum total of every bit of information ever produced in 3 million years of history.

    Not much of it has more than a few days of lifespan.

    I think one of the most valuable lessons I learned from the Product Launch Manager training was – think two steps ahead, and help your clients think further down the line too.

    Thanks for the provoking thought.
    I’m ordering the book right away.

    Sebastien

  • Joshua` says:

    Well, at least thank you for letting me know about the book by Twain – I will surely read it asap.
    i do not agree with your hint – the biggest asset is traffic and inquiries. I am just starting but know this for sure.

  • Mark Coudray says:

    I doubt that Mark Twain had any trouble with identifying his purpose in life. His social observations and commentary are still legendary today. The ability to take the long view is knowing you have a purpose and being crystal clear on it. Today we call that a Mission Statement, but Twain didn’t know that. Like everything he did, his observations and commentaries were steeped in common sense tempered with purpose. When we get bogged down on the tactical, short term, ask yourself; “Is this consistent with my purpose?” It’s and easy test when you’re clear.

  • Celesta says:

    Hmm. He was born in 1835. (Born on the day Halley’s Comet appeared, and then died the next time it came around, 75 years later.) Pretty hard to be an influential writer in the 18th century, when he wasn’t born until the 19th … ;-D

  • Dave Mack says:

    Jeff, I, too, am a big fan of Mark Twain. My favorite quote from him is the following (and remember he said this over 100 years ago, so what’s changed?): “God only created the monkey because he was disappointed with Congress.” I saw Hal Holbrook portray Twain in his “Mark Twain Tonight” back in the 70’s. Amazing!
    I must point out an error in your post. You state that Twain was an “influential writer in the 18th and 19th centuries.” Hmm. He was born in 1835, not 1735. I’m sure you meant the 19th and 20th centuries. Of course, quite frankly, he’s still enormously influential. Great post, Jeff.

  • Jay Rosenberg says:

    Hi, Jeff,
    We reserved the book locally. Can’t wait to open it.
    Guess Mr. Twain has lots to say 100 years later. Probably some nervous Nellies out there whose great-great-grandparents are in for quite a shellacking.
    I’m a subscriber to the Malcolm Gladwell (“Outliers”) philosophy that it takes 10,000 hours of intense effort to become a world class expert. That’s about 10 years. I’ve been working on a project for about that long and am just ready to spring it. I think it will take marketing to the next level. It’s on personality type. I think this will endure as very powerful. (Perfecting it in launches right now.)
    So, I always told you PLF and Jeff Walker will be in history books. It would be great fun to know that one day, someone will say to a classmate in a marketing class, “My Great-Grandpa Jeff invented this, you know.” All the best, Jay

  • Tom Leous says:

    Jeff – Great post, and reminder to not get caught up in today, while forgetting about tomorrow. Plus, putting this book on my XMAS wish list.
    – Tom

  • Joe Large says:

    Jeff,
    Great post but my main question is this…what is your definition of “Living Large”.? Both short and long term? With my last name, obviously it’s come up a time or two…since I live it naturally. ha/ha

    Thanks again for the post.

  • Susan says:

    Your taking the long view must be why your thinking, writing and products appeal to me so much. Thanks, Jeff.

  • Jason Hoobler says:

    Jeff — rather interesting, ironic that you can’t wait to read it !! If you want another example, the one who excelled, but not nearly with such aging grace, was Marcel DuChamp. He retired into semi-anonymity whiling his days away in chess games. It was only of recent note, that his laugh echoed through time when it was revealed that the latrines exhibition and other factory articles of mass commerce “readymades” with which he so confounded the art world’s sense of taste, style and spectacle, were — in fact — handcreated by exacting processes to replication of the article os manufacture but in different dimensions !!! Some food for thought on the subtleties which get jeered at (I much prefer his work to Warhol’s Brillo boxes as well ..)

  • mark says:

    Hi Jeff.
    100% agree with long-term planning is the ONLY way to be great. BUT…. if one forgets the short-term plan of making money now then you won’t be around to enjoy the fruit. A bit of both is necessary in business. The problem is that the short-term is so urgent (get paid, pay bills etc) that it dominates the day and leaves no time for long-term plans.

    I have planning days set aside each fortnight to ensure that I am akways planning for next year. I learnt this while working for a very large Japanese company. They have a 60-year plan, but they also have monthly targets for sales. The result is that they are still in business after 60+ years and it is the business they planned for it to be.

  • Thank you for the referral on the Mark Twain autobiography Jeff. I just purchased it and am really looking forward to reading it. I’m just finishing up Keith Richards new autobiography, “Life” right now.

    That is great. Sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll galore. Twain may be a bit tamer in those areas, but Twains wit is second to none.

  • Katie says:

    Awesome post. Totally true.

  • Bryce Winter says:

    Cool. It’s a fun change of pace to read the ‘long-view’ expressed by an internet marketer. As a brand architect this is my natural view and your piece shows me there is finally a way to connect this with what’s tactical, and immediate.

    Here’s the 100 year (or more!) business plan.

  • Deborah says:

    Beautiful reminder Jeff, well done! I’ve been “feeling” the urge to do just what you are talking about, taking that oh-so-important time to play with “where do I want to be next, next, next…and does this next action take me in that direction”? So I found this validating. Thank you for sharing and being the mouthpiece of Inspiration. Much appreciated.

  • Well put Jeff,
    Part of my business consulting practice is in building the capability in Organizations to truly think and plan strategically. A definition I have formed over the years for Strategy is ” the processes, systems and structures you must put in place to ultimately manifest your strategic Intent (your long range intent of where you are going or what you are trying to create).
    What this means in the Mark Twain example is he put in place a purposeful action (to delay the publishing of his books) to create some long range intent. The question is what do we think his strategic intent was for us today? Or did he in some way shape or form answer that question with the content of his literature? Anyway somethings to think about. Thanks Jeff for sharing your excellent observations in such a compelling manner.
    Mal

  • Laurie says:

    Great post, Jeff! Since I don’t actually believe in an afterlife, I think I’ll consider the moment when I croak as an end point to my long-range planning strategy. But kudos to Mark Twain anyway!

  • Bill says:

    How wonderful. I wasn’t aware of this until your post. My favorite quote from Huck Finn is “Hain’t we got all the fools in town on our side? And ain’t that a big enough majority in any town?”
    I like to think when I’m being a smartass that it’s Twain’s influence. I can’t wait to read the book.

  • Love your point about focusing more on the “long view”. It’s something I’ve been quietly following and preaching for two decades now. With the massive outbreak of entrepreneurial ADD (a.k.a. “microwave attention span”), insatiable societal appetite for being constantly entertained, and the alarming addiction to tactics (printed book vs. Kindle edition) over strategy (a message that’s worth reading a 100 years later) it’s a lesson that deserves to be taught louder and a lot more frequently.

    So many entrepreneurs dream of building an empire, but few have the patience to devote enough time to thinking strategically first, and the focus and drive to put in the “10,000 hours of intense effort to become a world class expert” – be it as an individual or a company. (Thanks, Jay R., for bringing up that great reference to Gladwell’s “Outliers”!) Most just resign to grasping for whatever is the “tactic of the day” that shows up in their inbox in the morning to make a buck here and there… Sadly, the price they pay for such short-term view is never building a business that becomes a true asset that keeps on paying and providing the lifestyle they set out to achieve in the first place…

    Thanks for another great post, Jeff!

  • Dan says:

    “Well first off, Mark Twain was an enormously popular and influential writer in the 18th and 19th centuries. His novel “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” is clearly one of the seminal works of American literature.”

    I hate to be a stickler Jeff but there is no way Clemens wrote anything in the 1700’s. I love his works too but he was born in the 1830’s……

  • You’re fully right, it’s about the people, not just the product. Business is so much simpler than so many would like it to be – if you create value for a set of folks, make it worth more to them than the price you ask, and expose that set of folks favorably to the value you have to offer – as John Jantsch says, to get them to know, like and trust you – then you’ll do business.

    Twain was mad as a hatter, and/or wily as a fox – an understanding of human nature can create marketing miracles today or 100 years from now. We get so wrapped up in the go-betweens – Facebook, Twitter, blogs, e-mail lists – we forget to focus on the human being sitting on the other end of the Internet.

    Great post as always, Jeff – thank you for the work you do.

  • Glenn says:

    Twain [Samuel Clemens] was an excellent early example of a contributor of significance and value on a mass scale. Your point on taking the long view is one that is well taken. I would suggest that this has implications to both strategy and to the qualitative characteristics of what we choose to share. Mass communications media of today make distribution of our own contributions relatively simple and inexpensive – a literal world stage upon which we may conduct our business. If we understand how to foster the admiration of our audience through building rapport and delivering exceptonal value, we practice our craft in a manner that paves the way for our own longevity . . . should that be our choice. Twain set pen to paper to make a lasting impression on history. In like manner, some today will be remembered for their contributions long after they pass from this existence – albeit via modern media.

  • Wow I thought I was educated but I would hold a candle to these comments! all I can say is that I am impressed with the comments as well as the advertised book in question.” Love is perfected through a multitude of words”, I of course are always influenced through the Word of God. However the inspirations that are expressed here are quite amazing, and show real diligence. I am really pleased to see that the long term goals influences are not over and finished with and there is still some moral fibires left in our society as a whole.thanks Jeff signed (revbrian)

  • Jeff:
    As always, you manage to say what is true and bright! I was wondering if I was doing Ok, but you make me realize I have to look for the long term, Thank you!
    Just one detail: You can buy the paper book, the e-book OR (and this is my bussiness) AUDIOBOOK!
    Saludos!

    • Jeff Walker says:

      @Carolina: you’re right… you can get the audio book as well. I forgot about that option. That’s something that wouldn’t have been available for “Huckleberry Finn” – I only wish that we could hear Mark Twain narrating the audio book.

  • Norm says:

    Hey Jeff,
    I feel very touched by the simplicity and beauty of your words concerning this idea of future planning and having the big picture in mind. I am reminded to be faithful now and to ‘enjoy’ the process and to be curious and engaged with others. Thanks for the inspiration.
    Norm

  • Thanks for reminding us of what is important in business and in life. I am afraid that we have all become far too concerned with maximizing our current situation with little or no regard for the long term.

    A really good lesson for everyone.

  • Tom Watson says:

    I agree, too many people get hooked on “instant gratification” instead of taking the “long view”. It takes time to build things that are worth having. This not only applies to business, but to life in general.

  • Muganzi Richard says:

    Great thought there,Jeff.

  • Tim Butt says:

    Jeff,
    Thanks for your targeted blog posts!
    You’re quickly becoming one of the most valued assets to my team.
    Being a long-term visionary, or “empire builder”, is one thing but being able to communicate that vision clearly and consisely and putting those visions into a goal-oriented and attainable strategic plan, is qutie another.
    Keep the thoughtful and valued posts coming.
    Tim

  • Jim says:

    Great post! Thank you for the reminder–> “BIG HINT” : In the online world, the most important assets you can build are: 1) your relationships with clients, prospects, and partners, and 2) your lists of clients, prospects and partners.”

  • John says:

    Most people don’t focus on the long term and that is just a fact. I think Mark Twain was way ahead of his time by leaving instructions to NOT publish his work until 100 years after his death. Building relationships and partnerships is definitely your biggest assets online and thinking in a strategic way is the certainly the key to long term success. Great post.

  • “And even with a 100 year delay, the interest in Mark Twain and his work was enough to turn the book into an immediate best seller.”

    Mark Twain is simply a man of value and everyone would simply want to have a piece of him through is 100-year late published book. Thank you for sharing again this wonderful insight Jeff.

    I agree on your BIG HINT: “In the online world, the most important assets you can build are: 1) your relationships with clients, prospects, and partners, and 2) your lists of clients, prospects and partners.”

    I’ll keep that in mind…

  • Amal says:

    Hi Jeff,

    A friend only told me about your post recently after we had been comparing our personal work profiles. We both started our businesses at around the same time, but they are both developing in very different ways as she focuses more on the short term and I on the long term, and there is much that we are both benefiting from listening to each other.

    It’s sometimes hard to keep going though when you’re aiming for the longer term and not seeing so many short-term rewards, so what I’m doing is building in shorter-term targets that I can achieve to keep my motivation going through the tougher spots.

    Any other ideas?

  • Rick says:

    I haven’t gotten to Mark Twains autobiography but I just finished Ben Franklins. Another one of those seize the day guys.

    Rick

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