Book Review: Don’t Sell Me, Tell Me

I did not want to like this book.

In marketing, honesty is the best policy. In Don’t Sell Me, Tell Me, author Greg Koorhan explains why this approach works. An honest story always includes blemishes. When you tell an honest story in your marketing, people feel it, they empathize and they trust you. Telling an honest story helps you stand out from the competition since every honest story is unique.

I don’t like the title of this book and I hate the subtitle, How to use storytelling to connect with the hearts and wallets of a hungry audience. It’s a jumbled mess of anatomy and cliche. Under the covers, the book is thin — maybe 10,000 words — fattened with big type and white space. The tone is conversational, repetitive and full of cliches. I was prepared to slam this thing in my Amazon review. Then I read it.

It turns out the book is good — no, excellent!

The author is a scholar of storytelling and, after a slow start, explains the ways memorable stories are created. There is a science to storytelling and Greg Koorhan lays it out simply and convincingly. Effective stories are honest and always contain flaws which build empathy and trust. How these stories make the prospect feel is remembered long after the brochure is forgotten.

Koorhan provides a methodology for extracting our best stories and grooming them for use as sales pitches. The hardest part is being honest with yourself: “Telling the truth to ourselves requires awareness and practice,” he says. Other memorable sound bites include: “Stories do what data does not” and “Audiences identify with broken heroes.”

Don’t Sell Me, Tell Me is a great book about how to tell stories disguised as a marketing primer. If you are looking to tell a company story, a brand story, or your personal life story, this is the fastest, most accurate guide I have seen. The exercises will help you bring out your story and deliver it in a way that delights readers and listeners.

Photo of Author Greg Koorhan
Author Greg Koorhan (source:

It’s no surprise that Greg Koorhan is a filmmaker. In video trailers and short films, you must to cut down hours of raw material to a few seconds with emotional impact. That kind of editing gives you a strong sense of the elements a story must have when everything extra is stripped away.

I went from not liking this book to being a big fan.

I thought it was too thin, but who wants a ponderous tome these days? You get through it quickly and the supporting workbook helps you apply the advice immediately. I didn’t like the breezy tone, but it pulls you in. It feels like the author is just talking to you when, in fact, there’s an enormous amount of research underneath his words into what makes a memorable story.

I highly recommend this book, and not just for marketers or sales people. If you want to write the story of your life, or your business, or another person’s story, Don’t Sell Me, Tell Me gives you tools for extracting interesting stories and shaping them into books, movies and, yes, even marketing pitches.

©2017 by Steve O’Keefe
Executive Director, Staunton Media Lab
Book Reviewed:
Don’t Sell Me, Tell Me
by Greg Koorhan
Published by Crossbow Studio
146 pages, paperback, ISBN 978-0692748275

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