worry about looking up that word. I’ll get to the meaning in a minute.
Recently, one of the Abingdon
authors, Krista Phillips, posted a blog about marketing and the inner
conflicts we sometimes have about selling our own work. As Christians,
we are taught to embrace humility and to reject bragging, especially
Yet we also believe that God has
gifted us with unique voices and hearts for telling great stories that
embrace His Word and share that message with others, just as He
directed us to do. We remember that He shared His lessons in the form
of parables, and that storytelling is something that resonates in all
of our hearts―more than some folks want to believe.
I sometimes hear from people who
“never read fiction; those stories are just made up.” Oh, what they’re
missing! Because centuries before nonfiction books clustered on library
shelves, back when the world was lit only by fire, our history, our
heroes, our faith, and our traditions were passed on, generation to
generation, by storytellers.
You, each and every one of you,
are one of their heirs.
In almost every language, a
special word (often more than one) is used for the guest who was
revered, welcomed, and embraced around every hearth.
And that’s just a few. The word
we’re most familiar with—bard—was a particular class of poet
storyteller, usually connected with one household, supported by the
lord of the land. The bard composed verses that passed on history,
tales, and legends of the household. Other, less lofty (and less
compensated) storytellers committed to memory prodigious numbers of
tales. In one Celtic tradition, a potential storyteller spent at least
twelve to fifteen years learning and reciting, memorizing more than 250
prime stories and 100 secondary stories that could be shared at
a lot to keep in mind. In the case of the Welsh cyfarwyddion, this
contributed to the creation of the triads,
made easy memory cues.
They’d use them to remember kings, battles, heroic tales (“The Three
Chieftains of Arthur’s Court” or “The Three Battle-Leaders”), but they
would also have triads that passed on common wisdom. One of my
favorites: “Three things to be controlled above all others: the hand,
the tongue, desire,” familiar words if you’ve ever read James 3.
Storytelling is, if you will, a
part of our cultural DNA.
Like many writers, I come from a
long line of storytellers. As a kid, I perched on my grandfather’s knee
and listened to a bunch of folks who’d just spent their days in the
fields tell one story after another, most of them full of fun and
pranks, with lessons hanging barely beneath the surface. When I grew
up, I turned all intellectual and pretentious, and wrote such pieces as
In the Image of Our Fathers:
Formulaic Heroes as Classic Myths―a grand title for a
master’s thesis that compared modern genre heroes to the classic quest
In other words, Louis L’Amour’s
tales of the Sacketts bear a great resemblance to Beowulf―and the
travels and travails of the Bible heroes. Are there any greater
adventures than that of Paul’s shipwreck or David’s battles? (I’ve
always said that if you really want to bring boys to Scripture, delay
teaching them John and start with 1 and 2 Samuel.)
So what does all this rambling
about storytelling have to do with marketing books?
You have two gifts from two
traditions: one of words; one of faith. You also have the directive to
share your faith with as many people as possible. Your gift, your
biggest opportunity to do that, is with your words.
Fiction may be entertaining,
just as the stories of the cyfarwyddion were. But the lessons are
always, always “hanging barely beneath the surface.” So whether you’re
gathered around a fire or curled up in a recliner, if you’re reading or
writing, you are in the process of sharing our traditions, history, and
So to market a book is not
bragging. It’s taking your light out from under a bushel.
story, shapes the culture.