The Story about the Story Revisited

large__11336221185I’m in the marketing trenches now, preparing to launch Hannah, which means, strangely, that I’m reading books like Seth Godin’s All Marketers are Liars and I now actually know what The Long Tail is.  The majority of writers reading this will probably think, “Marketing?!  I’m not there yet.  I’m still in the private stages of writing.”  You’re absolutely right to protect your tender, beloved process.  I’m with Rilke when he told the young poet:

“You ask whether your verses are good… You send them to magazines.  You compare them with other poems, and you are disturbed when certain editors reject your efforts.  Now…I beg you to give up all that.  You are looking outward, and that above all you should not do now.  Nobody can counsel and help you, nobody.  There is only one single way.  Go into yourself.  Search for the reason that bids you write; find out whether it is spreading out its roots in the deepest places of your heart, acknowledge to yourself whether you would have to die if it were denied you to write.”  –Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

What has surprised me about marketing a book this time around is how often I’ve had to “go into myself” and “search the reason that bids me write” as a key part of an effective book launch.

Here’s one example.  Seth Godin says you need to wrap a story around your product; you need to sell the story.  When I launched On the Threshold, I did what publishers have always done:  I said to the world, “Here’s a collection of essays about the spiritual dimensions of making a house a home.”  I described the story.  Now I know I must create a story about the story for potential readers.  (You can see my story for Hannah below.)  Just summarizing the product isn’t effective.  So I had to “go into myself”, back to that quiet space of deep listening.  I had to identify the book’s heartbeat—it’s life force, which is also, in part, my own.  Then I had to articulate it in a way (hopefully) links it to others’ hearts.

Here’s another interesting example, again from Godin:

“If a consumer figures something out or discovers it on her own, she’s a thousand times more likely to believe it than if it’s just something you claim. … But then you have to tell a story, not give a lecture.  You have to hint at the facts, not announce them.  … The process of discovery is more powerful than being told the right answer—because of course there is no right answer, and because even if there were, the consumer wouldn’t believe you!”  –Seth Godin, All Marketers are Liars

Doesn’t this sound like the creative writing advice, “Show, don’t tell”?  And anyone with experience showing knows that it’s a process packed with surprise for the writer.  So the writer’s surprise—and personal growth—continues beyond the bounds of the book into the terrain of marketing.

I’m beginning to believe that effective outreach, be it commercial or humanitarian, begins in the heart and lands in another heart.  So the quiet, soul-searching work that happens while we draft and revise a work isn’t over when the book hits the stores.  It can continue, if we’re willing.

photo credit: Thomas Geiregger via photopin cc

5 Comments

  1. Thanks so much for your beautiful post and recommendation of Godin’s book. It really speaks to me, as a writer and wearer of other hats, as I am conflicted between marketing and authenticity. It’s wonderful to know I simply need to find and allow my story to speak. And that marketing, distilled down, is heart-to-heart communication. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Dear Mytrae,
      Thanks so much for your comments! When I headed into marketing this time around, I was determined to make the best of it. It’s not my cup of tea. But Godin and others are helping me understand that I can do this with integrity and joy. And might actually grow in the process. It’s pretty exciting! I wish you all the best.
      Elizabeth

      Reply
  2. I enjoyed meeting you at the FFW last week, and I remember our conversation about Seth Godin during and after our circle met. Maybe I’ll take a look at his book. I like the idea of telling a story about your story, and I think that’s what is missing from my marketing spiel. But here’s a question. How can you tell your “story about your story” in a brief elevator pitch? Is there time?

    Reply
    • Dear Lisa,

      So marvelous to hear from you! I appreciated the opportunity to talk with other writers about this difficult work of marketing.

      I do believe there’s time to tell the “story about the story” in a minute or less. It’s incredibly challenging, but also very worthwhile. Here are two different examples I’ve written for HANNAH, DELIVERED. The first is for the jacket. The second is text for the trailer I’ve yet to make.

      1. Late one night in a busy St. Paul hospital, a nurse midwife drags Hannah Larson out from behind her reception desk to assist with a birth. When Hannah witnesses that baby tumble into the world, her secure, conventional life gets upended by a fierce desire to deliver babies. So begins Hannah’s journey away from her comfort zone. In a midwifery apprenticeship in New Mexico, she befriends a male midwife, defends a teenage mom, and learns to trust women’s bodies, then moves back to Minnesota to start her own illicit birth practice. Hannah’s need to stay safe proves both an asset and a liability: homebirth isn’t legal in Minnesota in the 1990’s; to deliver healthy babies, Hannah risks jail time, her community’s respect, and her career. The key to unlocking her fear rests in one birth—her own.
      Hannah, Delivered tells the story of how inexplicable passion, buried strength, and professional skill deliver one woman from fear into a rich and risk-filled life.

      2. What in you isn’t yet born?
      What part of you most wants to come alive?
      Want to become a midwife to your own soul?

      Meet Hannah Larson, a mentor to midwives. She knows what it’s like to live a lie. She’s been afraid. She’s smashed out of her safety zone, served jail time, and learned to trust her body. Hannah knows how to coax a baby into this wondrous world.

      Let Hannah be your teacher.

      You basically have to dig down into the essence of the book. What’s it about at its core? What is its purpose in the world?

      Definitely put me on your mailing list. I’d love to know when your book comes out. I’d be happy to be an advanced reviewer if you need one!

      Cheers,
      ELizabeth

      Reply
  3. Thank you for those wonderful examples! When I read your post, I thought the “story about the story” meant how you, the author, came to write the book or came to the subject matter. That might actually work in my case. But I see what you mean about the story’s kernel, its beating heart.

    I don’t have a mailing list yet, but if (when?) I do, I will put you on it. And thank you for your offer to be an advanced reviewer!

    I am looking forward to reading Hannah this spring.

    Lisa

    Reply

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