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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Comments

  1. Michelle says:

    This is a timely post for me, I really relate to this,
    “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.”
    This is what I’m working on. I just printed this post out so I can read it more closely.

  2. Nice!

    Great epiphany, great post, and great steps for telling a good story. Definitely something I need to work on since most of the stuff I write is lacking in good stories. It connects with readers, but I know it would connect more deeply if I started using stories more frequently.

    As usual, thanks for the tips!

    Jerry

  3. Johnny says:

    Thanks, Michelle and Jerry – glad I could help. It really was an amazing thing to realize. Now I’m just trying to break down the steps further and further…

  4. Laura says:

    Yep! Love it. This is right on target. It is absolutely all about the storytelling. It always has been. You weave a great story in this post, and I’ve just RSSd your feed to continue reading more!

    Thanks!
    Laura

  5. Congrats Johnny, sounds like a transformational moment but I think this is one of your best posts:

    “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.”

    This is your business model. You tell the story of your transformation. As Stephen King would say, you show–don’t tell, and you do it with humor and vivid images. You make your readers see your journey, your mentor with the pink hair–and you become the hero who frees the slaves.

    And just to mark the occasion, I noticed you filed this under a real name like “online biz” as opposed to “idiocy” (which is …) or “random crap” or some of the other titles. Yes indeed, the journey is all about growth.

    When you grow, we all grow. Thanks.

  6. Johnny, it’s really cool when you see someone realize something about themselves that everyone else knew all along.

    I think anyone who has been following you or reading your stuff over the last year could have told you that your great strength is storytelling (and storyselling).

    Of course, you wouldn’t have believed us. Best to figure these things out for ourselves, right?

    Thanks for letting us all come along on the ride. And keep the stories coming!

  7. Hmmm, interesting. Yes, I could see the storytelling but not the storyselling in your stories. Mostly I was only vaguely aware of the selling bit – which I think is cool.

    I have only recently realized I am a storyteller although now I can see it’s been happening since grade school but I can’t see the storyselling in mine yet. I was hoping the product/service/whatever would make itself apparent as I told the stories but they are so random, that hasn’t happened. Maybe I need to start with a sell in mind and work backwards rather than the other way around. I don’t know, I’ll think on it.

  8. Jen Gresham says:

    By the way, I happen to be IN the course Johnny is talking about. As someone who already considers herself a decent storyteller, this is a powerful series when combined with Clay’s marketing know-how. Thanks for putting the time into, Johnny!

  9. I came across this tonight as I was writing a blog. I used your tips tonight, right away. Thanks for sharing. I took some buyers through a house the other night and had a horrible experience. That story really tied my blog together. Thanks again for the help.

  10. Tom Likes says:

    I’ve just recently decided to do a personal blog. I’ve done a couple on certain subjects, but hadn’t “branded” me. This has reminded me that all my writing shouldn’t be dry & techie.

    Thank you for the ideas and the story about Stephen King.

  11. Tom Likes says:

    This is me. My gravatar was with a different emai, and I added this new one.

  12. I saw a video clip recently on the best way to address really big issues is to approach them in a small way and it made me think about my own difficulties with expressing the big topics I want to blog about. Your entry makes me think about that some more.

    It also makes me think of fables and parables and the parts of the copywriting classes that say to take what you’re talking about down to the core emotional benefits.

    I have always had trouble making my stories interesting (at least as I imagine others view them) when I’m telling them to other people. It hadn’t occurred to me yet that some of the other things I’d been learning could relate. So thanks for that mental connection.

  13. Dude — that inception thing is sort of along the lines of spoon-bending… whoaaah. Hey, this is starting to sound like some serious shit… :) ok, i’m starting to think I should really actually go listen to those damn intvws now!

  14. Johnny says:

    Just an update for anyone who’s absolutely dying to know every little detail of my life and business, which is clearly all of you:

    This “Storyselling” thing has been so compelling to me that I keep thinking about and working on it constantly. I’ve actually already created an intro course about it called (surprise, surprise) “Storyselling 101.” I’m currently offering it as a bonus to Clay Collins’s Presell Formula (get Clay’s PSF, get Storyselling 101 for free), but I’ve gotten enough interest casually off of my list that I think the handwriting is on the wall and I’m going to need to sell this thing.

    And to follow: Advanced Storyselling.

    Anyway, join my Advance Discount List if any of the above intrigues you, or just hang out and swap Storyselling stories if not. Either is all good with me.

  15. Lauren says:

    This is by far the best post on how to blog I have ever read. Ever!!

    Thank you!

  16. Rosalyn says:

    I absolutely loved this article! I tell stories everyday on my bill paying job. I will incrporate this in my shop to conect with the very person like me. I will definitely use this information and wait for more. Get it…..more….stories! LOL

  17. I just figured out where I had heard of you before! Some Yahoo! article about you using someone else’s business card as your own with your name filled in by pen.

    Great article! If you give me a minute, I just might remember what the point of the story was…All I remember is that I laughed a LOT while reading that article – which is VERY important to me as I am a sleep-deprived new mom whose 2nd job-on-the-side-now is being an entrepreneur. (Was my 1st job…whatever! LOL!!!)

    THIS time, I’m hearing of you through an Etsy newsletter, and THIS time, I’ve bookmarked you! (I’m almost positive I did it before, but I can’t find it…Sorry! )

    I’ve got to say I love a good story. Sometimes even a not-so-good can be riveting if there are enough twists or a good lesson in it. But “storyselling”? I’m gonna have to look into that. That’s a new skill I should learn!

    Thank you for bringing it to my attention!

  18. Indounik says:

    You’ve just given a great label and definition to what it is that I’m trying to do in my brand spanking new little online shop on Etsy. From the get-go, I determined to include in the item description an anecdote and/or a nice quote that has some relevance to each product or to the name I’ve chosen for it.

    I don’t have a blog at this stage but as a storyteller from way back, this approach felt right for me , especially as my products come from or are inspired by a culture with its own rich tradition of storytelling.

    As green as I may be at this game, I recognise that I’m writing to a more narrow market. I know that what I’m selling, and the way I’m selling it, will appeal to only certain types of people.

    For anyone who might be turned off by too much text, I’ve included an “At a Glance” section where they can get the guts of what they want to know about the product.

    So far I’ve listed only a modest number of products so being tipped to your post by the Etsy Success newsletter has given my a timely bit of reassurance. And so has a little bit of feedback sent my way today by a shining example of the “one ideal person” for whom I’m writing. She’d taken the trouble to open each listing and add it as a favourite, and has told me: “I love your shop!! I really enjoy all you have there.”

    Thanks for the informative read.

  19. storybeader says:

    I do this all the time – my mission statement “using art to tell stories”
    I’m the storybeader, and I write a haiku for each necklace and handmade journal!
    {:-Deb

  20. Very cool concept. Something to try for sure. Thanks for the insight :)

  21. Marcia Hoeck says:

    I like this too. And not just because I’m Johnny’s mom and have been listening to him ramble like this for years. But because it really makes sense.

    God jod, bob.

  22. Tomatzso says:

    Johnny, thanks for the post and the good ideas, in particular, thinking of an audience of one particular person.

    There is also a negative double check which I use which is to imagine what I have written to be the output of ‘pub bore’ (ie someone who makes your eyelids heavy) – and then edit ruthlessly.

    My view when writing, focus has to be on the story, and entertainment value, rather than on the selling or the commercial end result.

  23. Betty Suarez says:

    I like very much your post on “Storyselling”. No doubt people can relate and pay more attention when people are telling stories. Thanks for the tips on how to write stories. I am going to start using those tips more often in my blogging.

  24. Johnny says:

    @Lauren – Wow, thanks!

    @Marquina – The biz card thing was originally on Zen Habits, but sometimes services snipe content from big blogs, so it could absolutely have ended up on Yahoo. Here’s the post it linked to:

    http://johnnybtruant.com/how-to-make-the-most-of-south-by-southwest-last-weekend/

    Glad to have you around!

    @Indounik, Storybeader, and TiffanyMorganDesigns – That Etsy journal mention was a total out-of-the-blue shock… had no idea it was coming! But it’s way cool that people got something out of this.

    @Everyone else – I’m out of time, so I’m sending you a heartfelt “Awesome thanks to you.”

  25. Great post. Really got me thinking. I think you’re really onto something here.

  26. Marcel says:

    Excellent article, will add your hp in my favorites

  27. mason says:

    You forgot to credit the SouthPark gnomes for your blackbox method…

  28. You are right about most bloggers being story tellers. I personally never considered myself a story teller and to be honest still don’t. I like to talk about things that interest me and hopefully say something that others will like to read/hear. but I have never had an ideal reader in mind. I like that idea and plan to really think about and setup an ideal reader in my mind that I am writing and speaking to.
    Thanks for the tips.

  29. I’ll immediately grab your rss as I can not find your email subscription hyperlink or
    e-newsletter service. Do you’ve any? Kindly let me recognise so that I may just subscribe.
    Thanks.

  30. Hi, Johnny! Very interesting this post! Thanks for sharing it! We are conducting precisely a study on storytelling, its characteristics, structure, advantages and others. If you want to dig deeper on this subject please don´t hesitate to visit our blog:
    http://sopadehormigas.wordpress.com/trabajo-de-investigacion/1-caracteristicas-del-storytelling/

    I hope and be of great use.
    Regards, The team of “Sopa De Hormigas”.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Storyselling 101: The fine art of selling more stuff through stories, in four easy steps (my own secret sauce) [...]

  2. [...] Storyselling 101: The fine art of selling more stuff through stories, in four easy steps (my own secret sauce) [...]

  3. [...] Storyselling 101: The fine art of selling more stuff through stories, in four easy steps (my own secret sauce) [...]

  4. [...] Storyselling 101: The fine art of selling more stuff through stories, in four easy steps (my own secret sauce) [...]

  5. [...] Storyselling 101 It’s a marketing piece, sure, but it applies to everything you do. The most compelling way to educate is to do it with a story. People identify with and engage in stories. Ever watch a good movie and end up on the edge of your seat for most of the movie? That’s engagement. Engage your readers with a story. [...]

  6. [...] back it seemed I was pretty much a sucker for a good story.  Johnny B Truant talks about “Storyselling” – and in reading it I can see some elements of what starts to get me hooked.  And I [...]

  7. [...] Storyselling 101 – The big four steps of using storytelling to sell window.fbAsyncInit = function() { FB.init({appId: "156604931021092", status: true, cookie: true, xfbml: true}); }; (function() { var e = document.createElement("script"); e.async = true; e.src = document.location.protocol + "//connect.facebook.net/en_US/all.js"; document.getElementById("fb-root").appendChild(e); }()); [...]

  8. [...] who stalk me (and you know who you are) know that I’ve been talking a lot lately about “Storyselling,” which is a way to sell stuff using stories. But nothing is infallible, so I wanted to [...]

  9. [...] who stalk me (and you know who you are) know that I’ve been talking a lot lately about “Storyselling,” which is a way to sell stuff using stories. But nothing is infallible, so I wanted to [...]

  10. [...] post. Tell stories. Real people’s stories. Another blog I frequently read calls this idea “storyselling.” And it’s perfect marketing shtick—get people who live there to stand behind it in their own [...]

  11. [...] ran a post on my blog a few weeks ago on what I call Storyselling, or what sales copy can learn from fiction. It was all about pulling people into your world by [...]

  12. [...] ran a post on my blog a few weeks ago on what I call Storyselling, or what sales copy can learn from fiction. It was all about pulling people into your world by [...]

  13. [...] ran a post on my blog a few weeks ago on what I call Storyselling, or what sales copy can learn from fiction. It was all about pulling people into your world by [...]

  14. [...] stories written by Johnny B. Truant who writes a pretty cool blog himself. Check out his post on “StoryTelling 101″ target=_blank” which is where I got the idea for this post and the info on Stephen [...]

  15. [...] ran a post on my blog a few weeks ago on what I call Storyselling, or what sales copy can learn from fiction. It was all about pulling people into your world by [...]

  16. [...] ran a post on my blog a few weeks ago on what I call Storyselling, or what sales copy can learn from fiction. It was all about pulling people into your world by [...]

  17. [...] Storyselling 101 | Johnny B. Truant (tags: marketing, storytelling business) from → Uncategorized ← Like Marketing = Like Advertising? No comments yet Click here to cancel reply. [...]

  18. [...] Your guide in the quest to find more of those best people is intimate knowledge of your ideal reader. [...]

  19. [...] Your guide in the quest to find more of those best people is intimate knowledge of your ideal reader. [...]

  20. [...] Your guide in the quest to find more of those best people is intimate knowledge of your ideal reader. [...]

  21. [...] Write stories – everyone loves stories. They draw you into the copy and, ideally, the stories should be focussed on the reader. In fact, stories are so powerful there’s even a new buzzword called storyselling. [...]

  22. [...] late storytelling is now being used by the smaller guys too. Smart folks like Johnny Truant, James Chartrand and Jonathan Fields (these are not affiliate links) keep talking about how a good [...]