Rerun! This column first ran in the July 2008 issue of CFOM.
But it’s still a marketing principle issue I believe most novelists
need to learn. So we’re going to run it again for those who might have
missed it the first time, or for those who need a review.
In the early ’90s, when I sold
radio for a Seattle station, I picked up the phone one morning and
said, “Domino’s Pizza!” This was before caller ID, so I had no idea if
this would be a friend or a client. It was the latter; one who always
seemed devoid of the humor gene. But my slightly insane greeting broke
through and she didn’t miss a beat. “Large pepperoni pizza, please,
extra cheese; we need it by twelve thirty p.m.” We laughed and then
talked business. After I hung up, I called Domino’s, put in her
“order,” and had it delivered to her office.
Did the huge amount of
advertising dollars I got from her later that week have anything to do
with my stunt? Of course. Why? I went for broke. I surprised Broca’s
area of her brain.
In 1861, French surgeon Paul
Broca discovered the area of the brain responsible for
speech—specifically assigning syntax while listening, and comprehending
structural complexity. Broca’s area sits just behind the prefrontal
cortex, the area of the brain where we choose to take action. It’s
where we process the pros and cons of a decision and ultimately choose
path A or B. But before any sensory input—what we see, hear, read—can
get to the prefrontal cortex, it has to pass through Broca’s area.
Broca is the 900-pound bouncer of the brain.
What Broca hates: boredom. What
Broca loves: surprises.
We hear this regarding our
writing: “Open with a strong hook!” “Surprise the reader!” “Develop an
elevator pitch that will grab ’em!” Successful authors have learned
these skills, but when it comes to marketing, we tend to say the same
things in the same way everyone else says them, so we bore editors,
agents, and even readers. We end up sounding like Charlie Brown’s
parents: “Wah, wah, wah, wah, wah.” It. Does. Not. Get. Through.
When you’ve heard a joke fifteen
times and a friend starts telling it again, it’s Broca’s area of your
brain that screams, “Enough!” It’s Broca’s area of the brain that says,
“I’ve seen that story pitch, Website, one sheet, etc., a thousand times
before, and I’m bored out of my mind.”
It’s Broca’s area that is
thrilled when a movie or book twists our brain into a pretzel at the
end. Remember The Sixth Sense? Or The
Usual Suspects? Broca loved those movies!
Surprise Broca and you’ll make an impression that can last for months,
sometimes years. With our Websites, phone calls, business cards,
thank-you notes, one sheets, conversations—in everything
we do—we must surprise Broca.
days we live in an age of information overloaded on steroids. A zillion
blogs, Websites, articles, and books are
for our limited
time. How do we get our work to stand out? How do we get noticed as
authors? How can we get our fiction to the prefrontal cortex? Surprise
Often when I speak before
audiences, I start my talks by doing a magic trick that illustrates my
opening point. Do you think I surprise Broca? Do you think I’m
After one of my first writing
conferences, I wrote a note to an editor I’d met that contained this
line: “If there was time in this life, I think we might have become
friends. Maybe in eternity.” Not your typical—and boring—“It was such a
pleasure to meet you.” Two weeks later I got an e-mail from him. He’s
now one of my closest friends inside or outside of publishing.
Wanda Dyson circles her book
table at signings with yellow crime scene tape. Does she surprise
One final thought: Surprising
Broca is risky. Will you crash and burn with some people? Yes,
absolutely. (Some people think my magic tricks are lame. No, I don’t
like them.) But as I tell my marketing clients, love me, hate me, just
don’t ignore me.
And isn’t surprising Broca the
life God has told us to live? Aren’t we supposed to risk, step out of
the boat, and try something that gets our hearts pounding a bit? So
let’s step out and risk with our marketing.
Let’s go for Broca.