The Story about the Story

I’ve known for a while and repeatedly told my students that writing continues to offer us invitations to spiritual and personal growth even after we’re finished.  Publishing and publicity can become opportunities to deepen our integrity, expand our communities, and understand the world more accurately.

Of course in the mess of book production and the exhaustion of marketing, it’s easy to lose sight of this.  That’s why I keep returning to Seth Godin, who manages to stay steady, full of integrity, and intent on doing good in the world.

The idea of his I’ve been chewing on lately is that marketers do best to create a story around their product, and to connect that story with the community that most needs it and is most willing to talk about it.  We authors usually flinch when someone refers to our work as a product, but, hey—once a book is in the bookstores, that’s what it is, at least until a beloved reader cracks it open and is swept into our created world of words.  Applying Godin’s idea to books, authors and their publishers must create a story around the book, a much simpler and shorter and more compelling story than what’s told in the book, and this second story is what then interacts with potential readers in brief but crucial encounters.

In other words, we’re not done creating when we send in the final proofs.  Alone or with a publicity team, we have to create a story about the story using cover images, text, blurbs, summaries, web pages, tweets, Facebook posts…  Under normal circumstances the work of marketing makes me want to run for the hills, but framed as yet another story, I find myself curious.  How can I tell a brand new story about my novel that nonetheless points accurately and honestly to the novel’s contents?  What sort of story might not just survive but thrive in the overly crowded world of attention seekers?

I find myself needing to hunker down yet again in why I wrote Hannah, Delivered, and why I believe Hannah’s story is important right now.  Rather than straining outward to identify what audiences want, I have to ask what longings my book fulfills and then find the communities who share those longings.  I have to locate that thread of integrity that connects my heart to the heart of my book to the hearts of readers.  And then I need to give that thread a good yank.

How can this not be wrenchingly spiritual work?

How can we not emerge changed, however slightly?

–Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew

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