What the Art of Storytelling Can Teach Us about Marketing

by | Mar 11, 2015

By Jason Kong

If you’re like many fiction authors, promoting your work does not top your list of favorite activities.

Various marketing tasks may seem foreign and difficult. Perhaps you feel hamstrung by a lack of knowledge or confidence. And to top it off, you’re under extra pressure knowing you have to sell to succeed.

The good news? Your perception of marketing is probably worse than the reality. Just because you don’t have an MBA doesn’t mean you’re at the bottom of the learning curve. In fact, you’re in better shape than you realize, thanks to one clear advantage.

Your ability to tell a darn good story.

Yes, it’s true: being a fiction writer makes you a better marketer. All that storytelling experience not only helps you create a better product, but ultimately helps you promote it.

Let’s take a closer look as to how.

  1. Only the right readers matter

    Your words come from a certain perspective, and take place in a particular world. Not everyone will want to be part of what you created.

    That’s fine. In fact, that’s great.

    Why? Your writing is meant for you, and others like you. There’s no use worrying about those that don’t get it.

    Your marketing should be focused in the same way, especially online, where the prospect of reaching anyone with an internet connection will tempt you. “Everyone” is not a useful target, especially when you have limited resources. Aiming for the passionate –the readers who enjoy the kind of fiction you write– is more effective.

    Seek the largest audience most likely to connect with your work when you advertise, or guest post on someone else’s blog. Constantly remind yourself that a reader who loves your stories is much more valuable than one who just likes them.

    No one will tell you what the perfect match is, but you can always be more selective of where you spend your effort.

  2. Big ideas require constant reinforcement

    Let’s say you had an evil character in your novel. How would a reader know?

    If this person’s wickedness was central to your story, a one sentence description wouldn’t be enough. Alternatively, through this character’s speech, action, or thoughts you could portray evil intent. You could reveal hidden history as additional evidence. The reactions or perceptions of other characters could also fill in the blanks. Most likely, you’ll choose some combination of elements to make the point crystal clear.

    When your writing conveys a singular idea from multiple angles, it’s easier for a reader to pick it up. The right details reinforce the bigger message.

    You can apply a similar approach with your marketing, because yes, you’re telling a story there too. While you can’t ultimately control what someone thinks of your work, you can shape their perceptions by how you present everything about it. Your online platform, your email newsletter, and your actions are all part of that effort.

    If you write tales of horror, maybe choose dark colors over bright ones for your website design.

    When you put together your landing page, only include copy that bolsters your offer.

    To be known as good to your fans, always treat them well — not just when it’s convenient for you.

    Having a big idea isn’t enough. You also have to tell a consistent story.

  3. Strong openings are crucial

    The beginning of your story can do several important things, according to Stephen King.

    It’s an introduction. To share the context of your tale, and to reveal the style of your writing. It also connects the reader to your voice.

    But most importantly, he explains, it should say: “Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.”

    If the reader isn’t compelled to continue, then the rest of your story is irrelevant. Well, the same is true of your marketing.

    That’s why a well-designed book cover matters. Or why you need to develop quality headlines for your blog posts, social media links, and email subject lines.

    You don’t necessarily have to start off with fireworks, so that everyone notices. But the right person needs to be hooked, enough to give you a real shot.

  4. You have to keep the reader engaged

    When people choose to read your book, you have their attention — for the moment.

    That doesn’t mean you’re on their radar forever. At any point during the story, they can lose interest. It’s up to you to make sure that doesn’t happen.

    So you have to manage pacing. Find spots to heighten anticipation. Interject the right amount of conflict.

    You need engaged readers for your marketing as well.

    Whether it’s the copy on one of your landing pages or a series of blog posts, you need to hold someone’s attention from one place to another.

    That means being mindful of a reader’s interest and speaking to it. That means showing the glittering lure, and not have the next destination be a letdown.

    The ability to get someone to keep turning the page is both the hallmark of a good writer and marketer.

  5. Fundamentals are a great place to start

    Just about anyone can write a story, but not everyone can write a good one. What do you need besides a burning desire to be published?

    You have to know the basics of good fiction writing.

    That means understanding story structure and character development. How to weave quality description and dialogue.

    There’s fundamentals for effective marketing too. These are timeless elements that have proven to work in business over and over again. Like engaging your supporters, or working with partners.

    What separates the amateur writer and the professional one isn’t just a paycheck, it’s the level of commitment to mastering the craft. There are plenty of free articles in The Book Designer marketing archives to steer you on the right track.

    The investment is worth it.

Over to you

What storytelling insights do you have that could help your fellow fiction writers with their marketing? Let us know in the comments.

Jason KongJason Kong is a Contributing Writer for The Book Designer. He also runs Storyrally, an email-based subscription that helps fiction writers with their online marketing.

You can learn more about Jason here.

Photo: bigstockphoto.com

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  1. Stephen Davenport

    As a consultant to independent schools, I have used my novel SAVING MISS OLIVER’S, set in an all girls boarding school, as a base for case studies for leaders of real schools like the fictional Miss Oliver’s School for Girls. The homework for the workshop is to read the novel. In the workshop, I present three cases, difficult problems the leader must solve. Each case is set in Miss Oliver’s School for Girls and involves at least one primary character in the novel.For each of the cases, I divide the participants into groups of eight. In a half hour each group devises a solution to the problem. Then each group of eight reports its solution to the entire group and then I lead a discussion. What makes this a rich learning experience for the participants is that, unlike in many case study workshops, they know the characters, in all their quirky complexity as we know real people, because they have read the novel, and they know the school, its culture and its history. The only difference between this and the real decisions they have to make in their schools is that the workshop is safe. There is no penalty, just deep learning, for a decision that that might not be wise or practical.
    It is a win win: I get to sell a copy to each participant. They get a fine learning experience, a chance to practice their difficult craft, and I also get the chance to spend time with these wonderful people.
    All novels are case studies of something. SAVING MISS OLIVER’S happens to be about a headmaster’s tumultuous year in the fraught politics and intense culture of a girls boarding school. Perhaps other writers could frame their novels as case studies in some way in their marketing.

    • Jason Kong

      Thanks for sharing that, Stephen. I can definitely see how stories can be presented as a learning opportunity, depending on the angle. That’s certainly true in your case.

  2. Schuyler R. Thorpe

    I have pretty much mastered the art of good storytelling with my books, but my, uh, “delivery” on getting people engaged and such has been a let down.

    I’m too confrontational and antagonistic towards people online for the past 17 years. As a result, I’ve pretty much alienated the entire whole of cyberspace.

    Any way I can fix that? Try treating people differently rather than the enemy?

    • Jason Kong

      Well, recognizing what needs to be changed is a huge first step. And treating others as you would like to be treated is a good maxim to follow.

  3. Ernie Zelinski

    I don’t have any “storytelling insights.” This, however, is for one of my favorite quotations related to storytelling:

    “As a novelist, I tell stories, and people give me money.
    Then financial planners tell me stories, and I give them money.”
    — Martin Cruz Smith

    • Jason Kong

      Love that quote, Ernie. There’s a lot of magic in good storytelling!


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