For J.K. Rowling it's the single mom jotting down notes on a coffee house napkin.
For Stephenie Meyer it's a stay-at-home mom with itchy fingers and a vivid dream.
For Amanda Hocking it's an empty bank account and a dream to see The Muppets.
What is it?
The story is what makes each of these authors more than just the novels they write. It's what makes them real people, the kind of people readers can relate to, the kind of people we want to know more about.
We all know that today's average author can't hide in a hole of anonymity. Gone are the days of retreating to a lakeside cabin and mailing a new manuscript in to your agent/editor a few times a year. Authors are expected to be social, engaging, personable.
But the truth is, most of us live just like everyone else. We don't have amazing stories or heartwarming "how I made it" anecdotes. Or do we?
Here's the great thing about all the examples I listed above. None of them were born out of super-human, miraculous circumstances. Not a single one could be attributed to once in a lifetime, fluke moments of serendipity.
Sure those stories are out there. The waitress/wanna be actress fired from her latest string of jobs walks out of the restaurant head down and bumps into Steven Spielberg who has been wandering aimlessly trying to figure out who to cast in his latest blockbuster. But if the four authors above are any example, you don't need a freak fate storm to have a great story.
So what makes for a great author story that can set you apart and help readers remember they want to get to know you more? The same things that make up any great story: Be Honest and Be First.
It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that readers are wicked smart. They will know if you are making up the story about finding an old 3rd grade essay in your mom's attic and turning it into a debut best seller. And when they find out, they will crucify you.
Make up all the crazy stories you want and readers will soak them up for hours ... so long as you put them between a book cover. Put it into your bio, and the only thing you'll be writing for the next six months is apology letters.
So please, please, don't make up your story thinking it will make you more marketable, mysterious, memorable, etc. You don't need to do this. Everyone has stories. Don't believe me. Sit down with an old photo album for an hour and try not to tell yourself the story of every other photo you see. Tell your own story, and be honest about who you are.
This one is harder. Amanda Hocking certainly wasn't the first author to self-publish after years of rejection letters. She probably wasn't the first to throw her book up on Amazon hoping to make a little bit of fast cash for something fun. But she was the first to openly admit to doing it.
Without shame, she told every interviewer who asked that she was just hoping to make enough money to buy tickets to see The Muppets. Her covers were homemade, her editing was from friends and relatives and her expectations were low.
Of course, in today's market you couldn't do this, but that's not the point. She was the first to write her story as the girl just hoping to earn ticket money. And that persona she created as the "I still don't know what's going on, but anyone want to go see some puppets" girl is still present in her online and social media presence.
This may be you, just trying to earn enough cash to buy a new guitar, cable TV, fill in the blank. That's great, but you're a few years too late to the party. Amanda already has that story. Find your own. Now maybe, your writing to earn money for a specific thing, but the emotional pull is different. Amanda went with fun and whimsy. Maybe you're trying to make money to adopt a child from Russia. Now instead of childlike merriment, you've got a heartwarming struggle. Hey there new story.
Just like in the stories we write for publication, there really aren't any new stories, it's all in how you tell it. So if you're struggling to figure out what makes your story unique, be sure to take the emotional angle of your story into account.
This is getting to be a lot longer than I intended, and by now you may be wondering what any of this has to do with marketing. Well, everything.
Your story is a huge part of your brand. Think about it. JK Rowling still comes across as the nice lady next door even though she's got more cash money than the Queen. Stephenie Meyer owns her own production company, but is still the mom with a dream. Stephen King stopped getting rejection letters a long time ago, but he's still a stick-it-to-the-man kind of guy. Your story is how your readers will see you. And they will read your stories through that lens.
So what's your story? Who are you? What makes you unique, not just as a writer, but as a person? Now, tell me about it, stud.