My Story Trumps Publishing

Recently, a colleague and I were invited to speak to an undergraduate class here in Grand Rapids about publishing and specifically our roles in marketing at Zondervan. It was a great experience. The professor was excited for us to be there, the students seemed fairly interested in what we were discussing, and the food was free (what more could I ask for?).

I’ve found that I love to talk with people about publishing. I think it’s an exciting industry. I’m someone who gets geeked about books and authors. The way retail, marketing, editing, and publicity all play roles in successful book projects is fascinating to me. And despite the rampant change going on in the industry right now, I try to remain optimistic (and even idealistic) about it all. So, any chance I’m given to chat with people about “the world of books” is a good thing. My colleague and I also had a good time collaborating on our presentation.

What was interesting about this particular day was that the class was only mildly interested in publishing, but a lot more interested in something else: my personal story, and my colleague’s personal story.

After our presentation ended we opened up the floor to some Q&A time. The professor encouraged them to ask us anything they wanted “about careers, marriage, anything” he said. Now when I’ve spoken on publishing or book marketing before a couple of questions have commonly popped up: 1) How much does a bestseller make? 2) How do I get published? While the students flirted with those questions no one asked them outright, and they all seemed more engaged with knowing more about us.

So, my friend and I both shared different experiences and lessons from our marriages. I talked a little bit about what a change parenthood was for me. We both shared about our struggles in trying to find a career after college, and so on. It was fascinating to me that our stories held their attention, while our knowledge about a given industry (one that I think is pretty interesting!) only sort of kept their attention.

I’m sure there were a lot of factors that could be dissected and discussed (i.e. Maybe our presentation was simply no good? Or maybe the students were tired because it was right after lunch? Who knows?). The point still remains, story is what held their attention that day. I’m betting if you were to ask any of them today what they remember from the class period they would likely remember bits of our stories, and maybe nothing from our presentation!


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