Storyselling 101

I just had this really cool epiphany.

For the past year or so, I’ve been trying to figure out why my business model works, because it doesn’t make a damn bit of sense. I write blog posts about topics from tattoos to website crashes to nonconformity. And also, I write guest posts for other blogs, and direct traffic from those sites back here, where people can read about tattoos, website crashes, and nonconformity.

At this point, something happens.

And on the other side of that something, people hire me to coach them or to build them websites, or they buy one of my courses.

But the process is a black box. Step 1: Collect underpants. Step 2: ? Step 3: Profit. Somehow the “?” got filled in, but I’ll be damned if I knew what had filled it.

Then, I started a call and webinar series with Clay Collins on the topic of “Preselling and Storytelling,” and it all started to come together in my mind:

I’m a storyteller.

My dad would at this point roll his eyes and say, “Duh,” because I’ve always been a storyteller. I have a novel in my closet to prove it. I have a humor collection to prove it. I have copies of a column I used to write for my high school’s terrible newspaper (headline: “Why Barney Must Die”) to prove it. But ever since I started doing this online thing, I got it into my head that I was a marketer. Or a coach. Or a WordPress website guy. Or a creator of info products.

But I’m not any of those things. Not primarily, anyway, and not in total. At root, I’m a storyteller.

Every point I make on my blog, I make through stories. Every call I record, I fill with stories. Every email I send to my list includes a story.

Everything I sell, I sell through stories.

You can do it too.

The big four steps of Storyselling

Down the road, it’s possible that you’ll hear me talking about the big THREE steps or the big FIVE steps or whatever of Storyselling because hey, this is a work in progress. But for now, there are four. I know this because I just got done roughing them out for the call series I mentioned I’m doing with Clay.

Step 1: Find your ideal reader
I’m borrowing Stephen King’s concept here, from his book On Writing. Stephen suggests that rather than just kind of writing out into a void or for a vaguely imagined “audience out there,” that you instead imagine one ideal person that you’re writing to and for. Stephen King’s ideal reader is his wife, Tabitha. When he writes a scary scene, he’s trying to scare her. When he cracks a joke in print, he’s trying to make her laugh. Sometimes he’ll start to ramble in a story, and when that happens, he’ll notice the “Tabitha over his shoulder” starting to roll her eyes and get bored. And that’s when he’ll change directions and pick up the pace.

You may not have a specific living person who embodies your ideal reader, so you may want to create one in your mind. What sex is the person you’re writing for? What age is that person? Is your ideal reader rich, poor, or somewhere in between? What is he or she into, personally? What is his/her sense of humor like? Fill in as many details as you can.

You may notice that crafting an ideal reader means narrowing your focus so that your work will appeal to fewer people rather than more. That’s the idea. You want a smaller group of true fans, not a larger group of vaguely interested readers.

Step 2: Craft your protagonist and find your theme
When you use stories in your copy and your marketing, you’ll be telling nonfiction stories, but sexing those stories up merits a few glances at fiction writing — but without actually fictionalizing your own story, okay? We’re shooting for the coolest aspects of the truth, not lies.

You are the protagonist of your story. But are you a likable character? Do you resonate respect and integrity? Are you paper thin like “the good guy” or “the bad guy” in a fast-paced plot driven story, or do you have some depth to you? Are you believable as a character, or are you only showing people the narrowest parts of you: “I am a telecommunications expert.” No person is wholly defined as “a telecommunications expert,” so don’t define your story’s character that way. Make that character human, interesting, flawed, complex, believable. Make that character someone.

Then think of your offer as if it were a plot. How was it created? What drove its creation? Is there any theme to it? Sometimes a product or brand’s backstory is about rebellion, or about righting a wrong in the world. Look at Pam Slim’s book: Escape from Cubicle Nation. That screams “triumph of freedom over slavery,” which is the same theme that drives Star Wars. And you know Pam has an X-Wing Fighter in her garage.

Step 3: Practice inception
In the Leonardo DiCaprio movie Inception, dream thief Leo is tasked with planting information in a subject’s mind instead of doing his usual job of stealing it. The tricky thing about inception, though, is that a person’s mind will resist a thought that it knows came from someone else. So the trick is to find a way for a person to believe the idea was their own.

Good, persuasive storytelling copy puts the reader inside the world of your story, where they’re free to notice on their own that yes, they do have a problem and that yes, they really do resonate with the story you’re telling and that hmm…. what you’re selling or promoting would probably be a good way to address that problem.

Step 4: Have a point and a desired outcome.
I added this one because most bloggers are storytellers. Most bloggers, however, do not make much money from their blogs’ stories — and it’s because story stops at story rather than leading to one solid, intended, directed outcome.

You can tell the story of your punk rock days, or you can use the punk rock story as a way to describe the disconnected feeling that entrepreneurs experience, and how different they are from traditional 9-to-5 workers — and then you offer readers the opportunity to opt in for more details.

You can tell the story of how your luck really isn’t “lucky” at all, or you can use it as an allegory for how anyone can make their own luck, and suggest a product that might help them generate a bit more serendipity in their own lives.

I guess my signoff here is, “Stay tuned.” Remember that story about how Archemedies supposedly ran through the streets naked in exhilaration after realizing that his body displacing bath water suggested the physics revelation he’d been looking for? I almost did that after this dawned on me. (It’s kind of cute to say that I don’t know why my business works, but it’s a pain in the ass to not be able to improve or build on something because you don’t know what it is.)

So… are you telling your own story? And if not, why not?

P.S: If you dug this post, check out my course that’s aaaaaaaall about this, called Storyselling 101.

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