YA lit? Y U should use these tactics in your tech storytelling
In 2022 the young adult (YA) books market is expected to grow from $10.82 billion in 2021 to $11.34 billion. YA isn’t just for kids though – in fact 55 percent of its readership comes from adults.
So why are books written for teenagers a billion dollar industry? Well, there's a good reason for that – they’re fun, easy to follow, and there’s something in it for everyone while still engaging in a powerful discourse.
As a longtime lover of books, I’ve consumed more than my fair share of YA. Not only have I read the vast majority of the YA bestsellers for the past 10 years of my life, but I’ve also re-read most of them too (I am a nerd).
While I might not be writing about love triangles and magic, I like to apply the lessons I’ve learned in my reading to the writing I do for my public relations clients today.
Hogwarts vs. tech – it starts with worldbuilding
The best part of YA is that so much of it is set in fantastical, dystopic worlds. Magic and nightmare abound. An entire planet is encased in the pages of a novel. While tech is firmly rooted in reality (sometimes, I mean, I think Neuralink sounds pretty sci-fi, but I digress) – setting the scene for a cool tech company isn’t all that different from building up the magical world of Hogwarts.
When I first started working with a super innovative healthtech company it was hard to get pick up for their story. Their tech was so new and groundbreaking that no one had ever heard of it before (let alone understand why exactly it was so cool). For a while I focussed on what made their technology different, how there was nothing out there like it – and got… nowhere (as in the-book-hadn’t-so-much-been-cracked-open levels of nowhere).
Recently, I turned back to one of my favourite books – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
What struck me as I was reading for the millionth time was the attention to detail and the ability that Rowling has at building up a whole universe that people could connect with. She was writing about werewolves and shrieking shacks, and wizard prisons and all of it felt relatable, despite the fact that I myself am not a werewolf, nor do I know any werewolves.
So, I re-jigged my pitch and began to draw parallels between the tech and the problem that it solved.
By identifying real world issues that anyone could connect with (receiving too much junk mail, for instance), I was able to highlight how this innovation was relevant to everyday life and already had a place in the world.
It worked! Once I was able to find balance between the magic of the product and the relevance it has in the lives of readers and journalists alike, I was able to start getting media pick up for my client.
Attention span of a teenager? That’s fine
I read The Hunger Games in a single rainy day when I was 16 years old. It’s not just because the book was good. In YA, the pace is so quick that it makes your head spin. The Hunger Games moves through the chapters quickly – it’s all rising action until the section ends in a gut-wrenching climax. It pulls you along.
The same principle applies when we’re in storytelling mode for reporters (or if you’re doing PR internally, when you’re crafting key messages before doing outreach.)
Recently, I was giving a client media training in preparation for a slot on a tech podcast. When I asked him to tell me a little about himself and his company, he gave a complete answer. Too complete. Not just his origin story. He threw everything in there. Team members who had come and gone. Technology adopted, then replaced. This pivot, then that pivot, then a third foray down a sideways strategy that also got replaced. It was all pretty interesting and potentially fodder for any number of stories, but more than I could take in for the moment.
I honestly couldn’t remember very much about what he said (and fortunately, had a recording. Pro-tip: always record the interview when you’re gathering your facts for stories)
So, I gave him some advice. When you’re asked to answer a question you need to think about your audience – what was his audience most interested to know? The top thing? The one thing? The thing that they’d come away with, even if they were only listening for part of the conversation
I steered the client to hone in on the biggest, most astonishing developments of his AI from the last year. His responses became more memorable and engaging. When he did the podcast, the host was so pleased they asked to have him back on for a follow-up episode later on!
Cut out whatever isn’t absolutely essential to the tale you’re trying to tell. Think about how it fits into the news of today. Ask yourself how it provides value to your audience. And when it’s time to tell your story, keep your audience on the edge of their seats.
Make your story work on multiple levels
Starlink is a business idea that could change the world: a network of thousands of satellites offering a connection to the world from the middle of nowhere, or even in the middle of an active war zone (It’s how besieged Ukrainians are keeping in touch with the rest of the world right now). It’s wireless internet ad infinitum. It’s a grand technical achievement. But to a lot of people, it’s just magic.
How is your company’s story like magic? How can it capture the imagination of reporters (and the audience that reads it – ie. your customers)?
Companies are building things that seem as though they came out of the most fanciful fiction.
There’s an analogy here, again, to YA fiction, which appeals to such a wide audience due to the fact that it’s simple and easy to follow while still being high-level enough that grown-ups will enjoy it too.
This is something that C.S. Lewis does particularly well in The Magician’s Nephew. The magical animals adopt the grown up character of Uncle Andrew and name him Brandy, “because he made that noise so often.”
As a kid this was funny to me because it seemed like a silly miscommunication, but as an adult this is even funnier – who wouldn’t need a drink after falling into some scary, magical world with talking animals and a Lion god? This worked on multiple levels.
We try to apply this in our PR work. For instance, I used to have a client who worked in the data security sphere. That would be interesting to techie reporters, but how could we reach more general-interest reporters? We needed a story that worked on different levels.
I had him run through easy-to-understand examples of how, in the middle of an upsurge in cyber hacks, employees could change the settings on their smartphones so they didn’t (and by extension, their company) didn’t become victims.
On the one level, we had a story for cybersecurity-specialist reporters who could appreciate the technical nitty-gritty of context about the hackers themselves.
But that was too abstract and foreign for a “general news” reporter. For those journalists, we threw them the smartphone story. Not everybody gets cybersecurity, but everyone can appreciate how changing 2 or 3 settings on your phone helps you in the here and now.
Are you ready to tell your company’s story in a way that works on multiple levels and gives reporters that “rising action” feeling where they just can’t look away? Hope this helps.
Need some storytelling pros to do that for you, our tech PR agency would love to tell your story.