Why Your Big Personal Awakening Doesn’t Do Anything For Me

Anna Leinberger Posted by Anna Leinberger, Editorial Manager, Acqusitions, Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.

Anna is a writer and editor for Berrett-Koehler in Oakland, CA. More on killer book proposals and writing can be found on her BK Blog.


Why Your Big Personal Awakening Doesn’t Do Anything For Me

When I was a little girl, I lived on a farm.  Now, you simply must understand that there was a creek in the back yard, and that there was a spring where we got our water. I never knew people had “water bills” until I left home.  It was this experience that lead me to a profound realization about humanity and my place in the world. The next three hundred pages are about that realization.

Are you bored yet? I certainly am, and some (not the profound realization of course) of the above is actually true, and it is about me.  My own personal story bores me. If this were the first paragraph of my book proposal, I would have just crashed and burned. 

Starting a book proposal with a gripping story seems like a great idea- you will pull the reader in, in theory. Herein lies the problem- your personal awakening might not actually be as thrilling and gripping a narrative to others as it is to you.

Everyone’s Favorite Buzzword

Storytelling.  Silicon valley loves it, consultants are cashing in on it, TED Talks feature stories more often than not, and we have been using stories to tech children about the world for eons. Clearly stories can be a fantastic teaching tool, communication tool, a way into a deeper place from which to connect.  Like everything, however, there is an art to storytelling, and it can be done very well and very badly.  Step one is to make sure whatever story you are telling is told very, very well. Don’t try to cover all the bases and tell every detail- what is most important? Only focus on that, or you will lose the reader’s interest- fast.

Make sure your story is meaningful…. And not just to you

Your personal awakening is extremely important- to you. When you create a dramatic narrative about yourself to try and get someone else to care about your realization, you are not really thinking about them. The dramatic-ness of your story is simply not enough to make someone care about your own personal heroic journey.  The story of how you got here should bolster the main point- your realization, what change you have felt moved to work for, the lesson you want others to know- not replace it.  Many of your readers will already feel drawn to your message- that is why they have picked up your book.  They all got to this place in their own way, and what they care about is the message.

Go Backwards

Start with the message. Don’t start with how you got there. Draw your reader in by focusing on your shared values, not about your personal context for the values.  Once they care about the same thing you care about, they will be much more excited to read about what brought you to this place. Then use the story to engage the reader- and like magic they will be excited to read your story, not bored by it.