Randy Ingermanson 

Randy Ingermanson has published six novels and received about a dozen awards for his writing. He holds a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from UC Berkeley and is the entire software department for Vala Sciences, a San Diego biotechnology company. Randy is the inventor of the "Snowflake Method," used by novelists around the world to design their novels. He the publisher of the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, the world's largest electronic magazine on writing fiction. More than 1000 novelists read his daily blog, the Advanced Fiction Writing Blog. Randy's goal is to become Supreme Dictator For Life, and he may have already succeeded. Visit his site at

Preaching to the Choir by Randy Rooney

aka Randy Ingermanson

I was reading Amazon reviews for my friend’s latest novel when a loud thumping on my back door broke my concentration. I went out to see what the fuss was about.

My plumber, Sam, was pacing up and down on the deck, holding a length of broken pipe in his hand. When he spotted me, he stopped. “Well, the good news is real good. Yer gonna have a brand-new faucet in yer backyard right there by the grape vines.”

A cold brick settled in my gut. “I don’t remember asking for a new faucet. Aren’t you supposed to be extending the irrigation out to the back pasture where we planted the trees?”

Sam’s grin widened. “I was just getting to that. See, I was digging the trench for the new pipe, and somehow that pick of mine slipped and nicked the faucet just a scratch.” He opened his large hands to reveal a smashed faucet. “I figger you’ll probably want to invest in a better quality faucet next time. These cheap little things can’t hardly take a scratch and . . . well, you can see what happens when you nick ’em. Lucky fer you, but I ain’t gonna charge you for the damage to my pick.”

“Lucky fer me, but you ain’t gonna charge me for the damage to my faucet, either,” I said. “Right?”

Sam held up his hand like a cop stopping traffic. “Now don’t go getting hasty on me. I just bet we could work something out here. Could I maybe borrow your computer to order a brand-spanking-new faucet?”

I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted Sam’s grimy fingers pawing at my keyboard, but I didn’t see any easy way out. “Let’s go to my office.” I led the way in and sat down in my chair before Sam could plop his enormous mass into it.

“Whooee, spiffy computer.” Sam squinted at the screen. “Whatcha looking at here? Some kinda books?”

“It’s the reviews on Amazon. Now where should I go?”

“That’s a mighty pretty cover on that book. Is it one of yours?”

“No, one of my friends wrote it. Where should I go?”

“Just keep yer britches on.” Sam leaned in toward the screen. “Lemme just read the review. Anyone that’s a friend of yours is a friend of mine.”

I drummed my fingers on the desk, wondering if Sam was going to bill me for the time he spent reading book reviews on my computer.

Sam laboriously moved his finger across the screen, leaving a trail of grime on the flat screen. “So what does ‘preaching to the choir’ mean?”

I wasn’t quite sure how to explain something that obvious. My friend had been quite upset about her review, and I’d been about to click the “Not Helpful” button. “It means that the book is targeted to the kind of people who are likely to buy it.”

“Whooee! Now ain’t that some kinda smart marketing?”

“Um, what?” Not one of my writer friends has ever liked being accused of preaching to the choir. Neither have I, for that matter.

“Ain’t. That. Some. Kinda. Smart. Marketing.” Sam dragged out each word carefully, the look on his face clearly told me he’d just lowered his estimate of my intelligence.

“Why would you consider it smart marketing?”

“Well, it’s just common sense. If you was selling light beer, you better not make it look like regular beer, cuz someone might buy it thinking it was regular, and then you’d antagonify them fer no reason.”

“A lot of my friends like to write fiction to change people’s lives. Which means they explicitly don’t want to be preaching to the choir. They want to be preaching to people who need it.”

Sam snorted. “That don’t make no sense at all. Just because a feller’s a plumber, it don’t mean he don’t need pipes. Fact is he probably needs more pipes than a civilian, see what I’m saying?”

“Well . . . that makes sense. But fiction is different.”

“No, it ain’t. The folks that buy one of yer storybooks is looking for a story, ain’t they?”

“Well . . . yes.”

“And they’re looking for their kind of story, ain’t they?”

“I suppose, but—”

“Don’t butt in on me. Lookit, a storybook ain’t about changing yer life. A storybook is about fun stuff like car chases and automatic weapons and exploding helicopters.”

“If you like that sort of thing,” I said.

“Well, that’s just the point, ain’t it? If you like that kinda thing, then when you buy yerself a storybook, that’s what yer looking for. You ain’t looking fer a book on fixing yer pipes or installing yer new toilet or swapping out yer brand-spanking-new faucet.”

I shook my head. “Sam, I don’t think you understand. Fiction is about changing people’s lives.”

Sam plunked the broken faucet on my desk. “Lookit, you ain’t getting what I’m saying. If somebody’s got a busted faucet, it ain’t yer job to sell him Drano just cuz you think he needs it. You give the feller what he wants. Otherwise yer a bad plumber and yer gonna get your socks sued off. When that feller’s life is busted, then maybe he’ll come looking for a book on how to fix hisself. But if he don’t think he’s busted, it ain’t yer job to tell him how to get fixed.”

“Then whose job is it?”

“It’s the job of other folks,” Sam said. “The feller’s probably got a family, ain’t he? And he’s got friends, ain’t he? And not all of ’em are busted. The feller ain’t gonna listen to you cuz he don’t know you. He’s gonna listen to folks he trusts.”

“So you’re telling me preaching to the choir is good writing, then?” I folded my arms across my chest. “Convince me.”

Sam shook his head. “I ain’t no smart writer like you, so how should I know if it’s good writing? I’m just telling you it’s good marketing. Lookit, you just write down the names of yer five writer friends that sell the most storybooks.”

I thought for a couple of minutes and wrote down five names.

Sam squinted at the names. “I ain’t never heard of none of them fellers. Which of them preaches to the choir and which of ’em doesn’t?”

I stared at the list for a few seconds. “They . . . all do.”

A smug smile slid across Sam’s face. “Well then, now ain’t that just a co-insolence? Now, we got to buy you a new faucet, so just click on that there link and we can put it on yer credit card.”

“That’s a book! I don’t want a book; I want a faucet.”

“According to you, it don’t matter what the customer wants, it’s what somebody else thinks the customers needs. And according to you, that there book is gonna change yer life. So instead of buying you a faucet, how about we buy you what you really need so you can get yerself fixed?”

“Sam, you’re not getting it. I want a faucet. Now let’s buy me a faucet and I’ll buy the *&$#@ book when I get good and ready.”

Sam gave me a wily grin that told me he had something up his sleeve besides his hairy arm. “You figger you just learned a pretty good marketing lesson?”

I sighed heavily. “Okay, Sam, yes. You’re right. I get it. Now can we buy my faucet?”

“And you figger maybe that lesson was a valuable one?”

“Yes, Sam, it sounds pretty—” I suddenly saw where was Sam was steering me.

“And you figger maybe that lesson was worth a whole lot more to you than the price of some cheap little brand-spanking-new faucet?”

I thought about that for a minute. I figgered it was. “You win, Sam. Now where do we go to order my faucet?”

Sam grinned at me. “Just go on over to It’s just fer plumbers, see? But when a feller’s got a friend that’s a plumber, his friend can help him get what he needs, even if he ain’t a plumber, see how it works?”

“You’re telling me that preaching to the choir isn’t bad, it’s . . . good?”

Sam scooped up the pieces of faucet and dumped them into my trash can. “That’s what I like about you. You ain’t so quick, but if a feller explainifies things slow enough, you eventually get it. Now while yer ordering that there faucet, I’m gonna go out and install yer pipes.”

Sam thumped out of my office. I heard the refrigerator open and the sound of a Coke can opening. I ordered the faucet and then went back to the Amazon page. The review titled “Preaching to the Choir” was still there. It was still a one-star review. But all of a sudden, it had lost its sting. I clicked on the “Write a Review” button and started my own five-star review.

I titled it “Preaching to the Choir Is Smart Marketing.”

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