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