Sales and Storytelling: the Hook

We’re all familiar with the cut-to-the-chase sales tactics that seem necessary in order for businesses to survive.

But what can we learn from the business world if our mission isn’t to close a deal?

Lots.

It seems that two vastly different types of writers have emerged over the centuries, and only one of them gets all the hype these days:

“Soundbite writers” and “sonnet writers.”

Yes, I just made these two terms up. One of them is infinitely more chic than the other, and much more likely to be measured in terms of dollar value as opposed to longevity.

You recognize them instantly.

Soundbite writers include the swath of journalists, columnists, bloggers, and page-turner authors whose immediate goal is to snag an audience on the first line.

It’s an art (or maybe more of a science), and it depends on effectiveness in order to achieve the end goal—often a reward in money or publicity. But what frequently disappoints me about this style is that sometimes the article, post, or book thins out as you get past the first paragraph or chapter. What promised originality and excitement turns out to be drab and trite after the first thrill. It’s sort of like slurping the whipped cream off the top of your coffee, and finding the drink black underneath. (Sorry, black-coffee fans. But seriously, you do have weird taste!)

What all soundbite writers ultimately have in common is that they’re selling something up front—and fast.

“What about sonnet writers?” you ask. “Is that even a thing anymore?”

Sonnet writers are those who don’t try to hook, reel in, and catch their reader all in the first sentence.

They often take a more inductive, gradual approach, revealing bits of information here and there and giving their audience time to chew and digest as the story goes. Often it takes several chapters before you feel like you really have a handle on the story’s world and the major players.

Sonnet writers aren’t afraid to take their time, because what they’re selling isn’t a scenario or a situation—what they’re selling is a character. A lead.

The thing is, though, they’re still selling something. It’s simply a different object than what soundbite writers are selling, and consequently it takes a different strategy—many different strategies, actually.

Think classic literature for a second:

Gone with the Wind

The Great Gatsby

Pride and Prejudice

Anna Karenina

Great Expectations

None of these books start with rapid-fire, on-the-spot action— in fact, many of them have a reputation as being a “slow read.” And yet each of them has earned the title of masterpiece, and has survived for at least a century. It’s not because they don’t sell something. They do. It’s because they sell their lead characters.

So even if you’re not a business guru, you can still learn something from the concept of sales.

Next week I’ll cover some specific ways that master authors have sold their characters, and how you can apply that to your own writing.

Because a character, like a real person, is almost always going to be more memorable than a situation or event.

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