Why Write If Not to Drive Change? An Interview with Seth Godin

An interview with bestselling author Seth Godin on marketing, writing and making work matter.

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What kinds of writing positively inspire? Surely, poetry and fiction. But what about the writing we do at work? And, what about marketing, writing’s communications relative? 

Creating a positive impact through thoughtful communication has been a prevailing career question.  Thankfully, Seth Godin has inspired me and many others for years on these and other topics. 

His 19 worldwide bestsellers, including What To Do When It’s Your Turn (and it’s always your turn) and Purple Cow: Transform Your Business By Being Remarkable, have garnered tremendous recognition — appearing on the New York Times Best Seller List and becoming Forbes’ Business Book of the Year to name a few.

With the recent launch of his new book, This Is Marketing, there was no better time to tap into Seth’s latest thinking.  In this interview, Seth and I talked about why we should bother with writing when there will always be people unwilling to read it, his advice on the tricky business of naming books, and the writing that inspires him.

Laura Cococcia: You launched This Is Marketing a few weeks ago. I’m compelled by your perspective that we are all marketers – and that we all have the ability to affect change through marketing. You propose relying on empathy, connection, and emotional labor as means of effecting that change, which all seem to be tricks from a writer’s toolkit. The overlap might surprise some writers. Where do you see overlap between “writer mind” and “marketer mind”? Are there any times writers shouldn’t think like marketers?

Seth Godin: Writing is the art of using 26 letters (and don’t forget spaces) to conjure up images, concepts and emotions for the reader. And why bother? To create change. To change actions or beliefs or emotional state.

And that’s what marketers do.  We make change happen. 

The writer knows better than most that the work isn’t for everyone. That plenty of people will encounter our words and not be moved by them. That we have to be specific, not general. That mere entertainment wastes our time and the reader’s time as well…

And so it is with marketing in general. 

We create a product or service, sure, but the real work is in making it matter. In creating a cultural dynamic that establishes that people like us do things like this.

LC: Speaking of marketing, one thing that always stands out about your books is their titles. They’re decidedly not run-of-the-mill: Meatball Sundae: Is Your Marketing Out of Sync?Poke the BoxAll Marketers Are Liars. Titles can be a challenging but important meeting of writing craft and marketing acumen. What advice do you have for writers on ways of naming their work?

SG: I’m terrible at titles. Ignore my titling strategies.

All Marketers are Liars is one of the worst big titles in history. The Dip made up for that one. That was a good one. Purple Cow was a great title, Linchpin was a lousy one.

Your title needs to be unique and evocative, but it also has to capture the energy that the readers wants to bring to the table. 

“Too clever by half” is too clever indeed.

LC: Ending one project and starting another can be both creatively and psychologically tricky.  As the author of 19 bestsellers, can you tell us how you manage the transitions between projects? How can writers overcome pitfalls like fear of never getting started, indecision over what to work on next, and procrastination as a means of avoiding both?

SG: Fear. Fear. Fear.

I’ve finished more than 500 projects.  That’s what I do.  I finish projects. You can’t finish a project unless you start one. 

Finish is what we do.  

If you’re having trouble finishing more projects, stop calling yourself a writer.  You’re hiding inside a hobby.  The professional writer ships the work. 

LC: As a reader, what books have convinced you of something new, changed your worldview or reminded you about the power of storytelling? 

SG: Lewis Hyde, The Gift.  For sure.  Pressfield’s War of Art. Rosamund Stone Zander and Ben Zander’s The Art of Possibility. Frank Herbert’s Dune. Cory Doctorow’s books. Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. Susan Piver’s work. All good places for writers to look. 

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