Our video guest this month, coming to you via YouTube, is celebrated radio and television documentary storyteller Ira Glass, of This American Life, on the essentials of storytelling. This is the first of four parts (the other three are available on YouTube as well.)

Find the Drama, Sell the Article or Book

In The Futurist magazine, Lane Jennings suggests, “Besides reporting murders and muggings every night, why not devote a little time to covering nonviolent conflict resolutions among enemies or showcasing achievements by inspiring individuals who deserve to be more widely known and imitated?”

You’ve probably heard that kind of plea before, yet most publications stress the negative. Why? Because negative events automatically appeal to our sense of drama and conflict. But there is a way to turn that to your advantage and still write about positive topics.

The key to selling articles or books about positive events or people is to find the drama inherent in their stories, so that editors or publishers have a hook that will draw readers.

ACTION: Here are three ways to find the drama:

  1. If the story is about a dramatic change that someone has made, usually the drama is in their ‘before’ state. For example, if you propose an article about how someone changed his or her life by losing weight, the drama probably is in how bad their life was when they were severely obese.
  2. If the story is about someone doing something positive for others, often the drama is in their motivation. What happened to them that made them want to help others? Maybe they faced dramatic obstacles themselves (poverty, abuse, health challenges) that make them want to help others overcome their problems.
  3. If the story is about someone who is a success, often that comes after a number of initial failures, and there is drama in those stories. It’s also a great way to highlight what people have learned from their failures.

Let the Dummies Show You How to Write What Sells

Publishers John Wiley & Sons release 200 new “Dummies” titles per year. By now the list is so extensive that it includes “Alzheimer’s for Dummies,” “Beekeeping for Dummies,” and “Napoleon for Dummies.” Since the series started, it has sold more than 150 million copies.

Obviously this publisher is no dummy, and you can learn from them how to write articles and books that sell.

In an essay for the New York Times, Rachel Donadio pointed out some of the characteristics all the Dummies books have in common:

  • goofy chapter headings
  • lots of bullet points
  • tips and lists
  • corny humor

Diane Steele, the publisher of the Dummies series, revealed, “We address the reader as you—you can, next you do this—we don’t talk about we.” She also noted, “We don’t use future tense, we don’t use passive voice, we don’t have long chapters.”

As you’ll see if you look at several books in the series, they also feature cartoons, lots of sidebars, and graphics or icons that identify items of particular importance. Reading these books is a lot more like reading a series of magazine feature articles than an academic tome.

The result is a very reader-friendly approach that sells and sells, and that shows you how many of today’s readers want to process information. If you write in the self-help arena, or about hobbies, or even about history, education, or science, you will increase the appeal of your articles and books by learning—from dummies.

ACTION: The next time you write an article or a book proposal, consider how “dummifying” it could make it more appealing to the reader—and the editor or publisher.


“With compassion, wit and the wisdom from a long successful writing career, Jurgen Wolff guides you step by step, on the inner and outer journey to writing success.”

— Robert Cochran, co-creator and Executive Producer, ’24’


“Highly recommended. Your Writing Coach pays as much attention to writers as to what they write and should help seasoned pros as much as it will help beginners.”

— Julian Friedmann, agent and editor, Scriptwriter Magazine.

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