How We Used An Old Writing Adage To Launch Our Product

Guest Blog from Emmanuel Nataf, CEO and founder of Reedsy


Everything is storytelling.

Whether you're speaking to investors, pitching your services to clients, or pushing out a brand new product into the world, the ability to tell a coherent and compelling story will be at the heart of everything you do as an entrepreneur.

My startup, Reedsy, is a two-way marketplace that mainly connects authors with freelance editors and  book designers. As you can imagine, working in publishing means that I’m never more than a conversation away from some solid storytelling advice — and I want to share with you one particular writing mantra that I come back to time and again: Show, don’t tell.

Before I dig into that, I’ll give you a bit of context and share my particular iceberg.

When my co-founders and I first started Reedsy back in 2014, we knew exactly what our USP (Unique Selling Proposition) was and were confident that independent authors would immediately take to it. Previously, many self-publishing authors would work with ‘publishing services’ companies — many of which were thinly veiled vanity presses with editors straight out of college.

With our service, indie authors could now access the best freelance book editors in the world — vetted professionals with years of experience at the world’s largest publishers. The freelancers set their own rates, which make the prices more competitive. What’s not to like?

But for the first month, very few people bit. Our ads were working, we were generating leads around the clock, but little of it was converting. When we finally got around to surveying our leads, we were able to see what our problem was: people liked our concept, they just had trouble believing we were for real.

We had the right story, but we were presenting it all wrong. We were tellingour prospective customers how great we were — but in a space where customers are used to a disproportionate number of scammers, we needed to somehow showthem we were different, better, and utterly trustworthy.

This is where “show, don’t tell” comes into play. To capture anyone’s attention with a story, you want to provide them with the opportunity to connect with your narrative.

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining,” Chekhov said. “Show me the glint of light on broken glass."

To put it another way, telling a prospect that you’re trustworthy will never be as effective as showing them something that makes them think, “Oh, these guys are pretty legit.” Social proof is a part of it — but if you can also inspire your prospective user and become a part of their imagined journey to success, all the better. Otherwise, you might fall subject to the “false hope” debtberg in the Technical Ocean, as described in The Titanic Effect.

We always tell authors not to bother with advertising or promoting their book until they have at least 10 user reviews on Amazon. In fact, if you can get that many reviews in time for your launch, all the better. It’s been proven that without that critical mass of proof, it’s much much harder to turn book browsers into book buyers. The same principle applies to almost any product.

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With Reedsy, we prioritized our freelancers’ profiles around the authors they had previously worked with. We quickly invited authors to publicly review their editors and write guest blogs talking about their personal challenges (or publishing “icebergs,” if you will). We focused our internet landing pages as much as possible on real users. All of this was in an effort to showanyone who arrives at Reedsy that we’re safe, we’re reliable, and we’re not going to disappear with your money.  

When we made these changes, it was like someone flipped a switch. Conversions went from feeling like felling lumber with a butter knife to cutting through a pat of margarine with a chainsaw. All thanks to the power of storytelling!


Emmanuel Nataf is the CEO and founder of Reedsy, the leading marketplace for freelance publishing talent. Since 2014, Reedsy has helped create over 10,000 books with the help of their editors, designers, powerful online toolsand educational resources.