I’ve been thinking a lot about food stories lately. They’ve been on my mind for a lot of reasons: Thanksgiving is coming up and I’m hosting for the first time; we celebrated my Yayo’s legacy of paella at the Paella for the World Festival a few weeks ago; I’ve been reading Heritage and binge-watching Mind of a Chef.
All those reasons plus, well, you know, working on cookbook proposals. But even all the proposals I’ve been working on lately that aren’t food-related have made me think about stories.
Stories are the magic behind books. It doesn’t matter if it’s a romance or a diet book—stories are what bring it to life and make it worth reading.
Yet stories are often the most difficult thing to coax out of authors, especially in the nonfiction world I work in. I’m convinced that it’s because storytelling is beaten out of us in school. We’re told to avoid “I,” and that what we have to say isn’t interesting enough, and that writing is just about the accurate conveyance of information.
And yes, there are situations where just-the-facts-ma’m writing is necessary. But books for a general audience are definitely not that place. Really, any writing that will become leisure reading for someone is not the place to bury your voice under a pile of platitudes. That includes blog posts, articles, social media updates, etc.
The people who have broken out spectacularly in their fields are those who understand that stories are the way to make the meaning of your work come to life (Deb Perelman and Brené Brown are two writers who come to mind who are always fun!) These writers also understand that storytelling is the best way to connect more deeply with readers (in fact, storytelling is hardwired into us). And its the best way to build an audience that is not only engaged and eager to support your work, but that is poised to come away from your writing a better person.
So the way I see the equation is this: stories + staying in touch = happy, engaged readers. That’s why I always advocate a simple 2-step method for building an engaged audience that centers around those basic principles. I had created a PDF outlining this last year, but when I went back to look at it, I realized it was….ugly. Very ugly. Sort of like a kindergartener had designed it in Microsoft Paint. Without looking at the screen.
I went in and cleaned it up, rewrote sections to make it (hopefully!) more helpful, and pulled in a new design to make it (definitely!) less ugly than it was. I hope you find it helpful to use and enjoyable to look at—something we always strive for in books!