If you’ve done any coaching with me, you probably know I’m a huge fan of a good sentence frame. Sentence frames help us set our thoughts on the right paths, and they’re incredibly effective because they’re easy to use. All you have to do is fill in the blank—kind of like doing a madlib!
Great teachers find ways to distill complex thoughts into frameworks that we can fill in and replicate. This is what Donald Miller has done in his brilliant book Business Made Simple. In the book, he introduces the reader to the Storybrand framework, a truly simple way to tell the story of your brand to your customer and center the customer as the hero of your story. For any business owners or authors trying to build a platform helping other people, I can’t recommend his book enough.
But what I realized as I was playing with the Storybrand framework was that some pieces of it captured all of the information I always tell authors to include in their Introduction or Preface. (If you need a refresher on that, check out this post on the anatomy of front matter.) Your Introduction is so important because it sets the reader’s expectations for the rest of the book and tells them exactly why they should keep reading. So you really want to get it right!
So I asked, What if we could use parts of the Storybrand framework to write a really great Introduction? I started playing with some possibilities, and I’ve landed on one that I’ve used several times now in coaching, editing, and ghostwriting book proposals. I’d like to share it with you—along with an example—so you can see how it works.
These four sentence frames make a great way to write your book’s Preface, Introduction, or overview section in a book proposal. Here it is:
Think about a car commercial for a second. You don’t see car commercials going into detail about the mechanics and manufacturing process. No—instead, you see people enjoying the car, maybe driving with the wind in their hair, showing off their new car to their friends, or packing up their car for a road trip. That’s because if you’re BMW, you know that your audience wants luxury and a status symbol. If you’re Subaru, then you know your audience wants to go off on adventures. If you’re Ford, you know your audience wants to be reliable and strong.
So what does your reader really want? Maybe they want to come home from work happy everyday. Maybe they want to know that their family members are safe, or they want to repair broken relationships. Maybe they want a more meaningful spiritual life. Don’t just think about what you have to teach—think about why it’s important to your reader.
What’s getting in the way of your reader getting what they want? Here, talk about the constant, deep pain that your reader is feeling. This is the moment to truly empathize with the reader. Show them that you understand just how painful not getting what they want is. This will build trust and credibility with the reader so that they’re excited to try your solution.
Let’s say your reader is suffering in a marriage that feels like it’s lost its luster, and they deeply want to return to the intimacy and romance they felt in the early years of marriage. In this section, you would talk about how easy it is to lose that feeling of closeness and adventure that characterizes new love. Kids come along. Responsibilities grow. Your job demands more of you. You give more and more of yourself to other priorities, and then—before you know it, and against your conscious will—you find that you and your spouse are living separate lives. You no longer feel like a team.
…Your simple seven-step process for rekindling intimacy in your marriage! Not only will they feel the closeness and excitement they felt earlier in their marriage, it’ll actually be better than that because this intimacy will be built on their shared history and commitments over the past several years.
In this section, talk about the big idea you have (which is the core message of your book) for solving the reader’s problem so that they can get what they want (or something even better!). Your big idea might be a framework, a process, or a mindset that is multifaceted, since you’ll be unpacking it in several chapters throughout the book. Your solution should be meaty enough that it warrants a book, and meaningful enough that your reader isn’t disappointed with shallow solutions. In this section, make a compelling promise to the reader about how you’re going to resolve their pain.
Then, in the last section, explain exactly how you’re going to do it. Prove to them that the promised solution you’ve written is worth the investment of their time (and money). Walk them through the different parts of the book or the seven steps of your process—whatever it is you’re using to organize the main content of the book.
That’s it! With all four sections, I want to make it clear that you don’t have to use these exact words. You don’t have to start every paragraph with that header (though you can, if it works!). But all of that information should be there.
Here’s an example of an Overview from one of my clients’ book proposals that we’ve been working on (shared with his permission!). Kenny Morgan is the founder of Goodstory and the host of the Relationship Business podcast. Watch how Kenny starts his Overview with a compelling hook (also good practice for an Introduction) and weaves in the four pieces of the framework:
When I was 32, I nearly died. My wife Rachel rushed me to the hospital as I grabbed my chest, convinced I was having a heart attack. I was too young for this—but there we were. I laid in the hospital room for days, waiting for a battery of tests and for my heart to feel like normal again. I thought about my six-year-old son and our new baby girl. Would I get to see them grow up and get married? I thought about my wife, and all the dreams we still had for our lives together. All the things I wished I had focused on instead of pouring all of my time and energy into my business.
The EKG results revealed that something was seriously wrong, but it wasn’t a heart attack. It was stress.
My doctor told me that I had a choice. I could continue living the way I was—pouring my life into the creative agency my wife and I had started together, taking on a mountain of responsibility—and I would leave next time in a body bag. Or I could make a change.
I chose the latter, and that has made all the difference.
I decided in that moment to devote my life to what matters most: the relationships in my life. Because nothing gives you clarity about your true priorities like staring death in the face.
You might not be at death’s door. But chances are, if you’re running a business, managing a team, or grinding every day to build your career, you might need a priority re-alignment.
I used to think that working hard, devoting my life to growing my company’s brand, and taking on the world as a scrappy entrepreneur was how to build a life of influence and impact. I convinced myself that I could serve my family best when my business was constantly growing bigger. In my work with hundreds of business leaders across the country, I’ve learned that the one thing we have in common is a desire to change the world—to spread our sphere of influence as wide as possible.
The problem is we exert so much energy on expanding far and wide that we tend to forget the things closest to home: ourselves, our families, our people. It’s not that we don’t know they matter; we do. But we have our priorities backwards, telling ourselves that once our companies grow big enough or we reach a certain pinnacle in our careers, we will be better for the people in our lives. We justify our relentless pursuit of growth by saying that we can help the people around us more when we grow. It’s a tempting deceit, and one that almost every business leader I know falls prey to.
Now I know that the number of followers we have and the number of likes we get are not what really matters. It’s not the numbers on our monthly P&L. It’s telling my son that I love him every day. It’s welcoming each new client like they’re one of the family. It’s helping my team parent through a pandemic and take care of loved ones. It’s setting boundaries with myself and establishing sustainable rhythms for life so that I can show up as the best version of myself right here, right now. We have to remember that no matter what industry we’re in, we’re not in the money business; we’re in the relationship business.
The irony is that once I started to focus on what really matters, my business benefited as well.
This book will lead you on a journey from the inside out—your relationship with yourself, your personal relationships, your professional relationships, and finally your external relationships. Once you transform the relationships in your life, you’ll start to see transformations in other areas as well.
Ask yourself: At the end of my life, what will I be most proud of? It’s not too late to make a change. Come with me on the journey back to what matters most.