Four Major Marketing Principles: Part 1 of 3

by Jim Rubart

[I’m taking time off this week, but I’m leaving you in good hands with this great series on marketing principles. Have fun! ~Rachelle]

Marketing Principle #1:
You Must Shock BROCA

In the early 90s, when I sold radio for a Seattle station, I answered the office phone one morning with, “Dominos Pizza!” This was before caller ID, so I had no idea if it was a friend or a client. It was the latter; one I would describe as devoid of the humor gene. But my slightly insane greeting broke through and she didn’t miss a beat. “Large pepperoni pizza please, extra cheese, we need it by 12:30.” We laughed and then talked business. After I hung up, I called Dominos, put in her “order,” and had it delivered to her office.

Did the fact I got a huge amount of advertising dollars from her later that week have anything to do with my moment of insanity? Of course. Why? I surprised Broca’s area of her brain.

In 1861, French surgeon Paul Broca discovered the area of the brain responsible for speech production, specifically assigning syntax of words while listening and comprehending structural complexity. Broca’s area sits just behind the pre-frontal cortex, the area of the brain where we choose to take action. It’s where we process the pros and cons of a decision and ultimately choose path A or B. But before any sensory input—what we see, hear, read—can get to the pre-frontal cortex, it has to pass through Broca’s area. Broca is the nine-hundred pound bouncer of the brain.

What Broca hates: Boredom. What Broca loves: Surprises.

We hear this regarding our writing: “Open with a strong hook!” “Surprise the reader!” “Develop an elevator pitch that will grab ’em!” Successful authors have learned these skills, but when it comes to marketing, we tend to say the same things, in the same way that everyone else is saying them, so we bore editors, agents and even readers. We end up sounding like Charlie Brown’s parents. “Wah, wah, wah, wah, wah.” It. Does. Not. Get. Through.

When you’ve heard a joke fifteen times and a friend starts telling it again, it’s Broca’s area of your brain that screams, “Enough!” Its Broca’s area of the brain that says I’ve seen that story, pitch, Web site, one sheet, etc., a thousand times before, and I’m bored out of my mind. It’s Broca’s area that is thrilled when a movie or book twists our brain into a pretzel at the end. Remember The Sixth Sense? Or The Usual Suspects? Broca loved those movies! Surprise Broca and you’ll make an impression that can last for months, sometimes years. With our Web sites, phone calls, business cards, thank you notes, one-sheets, conversations, in everything we do we must surprise Broca.

These days we live in an age of information overload on steroids. There are a zillion blogs, Web sites, Facebook posts, tweets, articles to read, let alone the books clamoring for our limited time. How in the word do we stand out? How do we get noticed as authors? How can we get ourselves to the pre-frontal cortex? Surprise Broca.

After one of my first writing conferences I wrote this to an editor I’d met: “If there was time in this life, I think we might have become friends. Maybe in eternity.” Not your typical—and boring, “It was such a pleasure to meet you.” Two weeks later I got an e-mail from him which started our strong, on-going friendship.

Novelist Wanda Dyson puts yellow crime tape around her table when she does books signings. Do you think that attracts more readers than tables that have nothing interesting to draw a reader’s attention?

When author Sharon Hinck ran around ICRS in 2007 with a sword in her hand and a cape on her back, did it surprise Broca? Yep. Did she sell a ton of The Restorer series? Yep. Are the two connected? I think so.

One final thought: Surprising Broca is risky. Will you crash and burn with some people? Yes, absolutely. (Some people will laugh at your crime tape or your cape.) But as I tell my clients, love me, hate me, just don’t ignore me.

Jim Rubart is the owner of Barefoot Marketing ( a marketing & consulting firm in the Pacific Northwest, and his first novel ROOMS comes out in April from B&H Fiction ( He is represented by Chip MacGregor at MacGregor Literary. (

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


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  5. Linda Yezak on March 12, 2010 at 2:45 PM

    >Jim, you are the king of informative and entertaining posts. Thanks for the education. I imagine "Braca" will become a new buzz word among bloggers. 😀

  6. Jim Rubart on November 29, 2009 at 10:05 PM


    Thanks for all the support, everyone.

    Greatly appreciated,


  7. Victoria Dixon on November 29, 2009 at 8:58 AM

    >This explains why my facebook post about the "Beheading 101" class got so much attention…. Thanks so much for this! Now if I could just find where the dog buried my sense of spontaneity, I'd be good.

    WriterJim, thank you SO much for reminding me of God's power! I've said my own prayer this morning!

  8. C.J. Darlington on November 25, 2009 at 12:12 PM

    >Ah, so maybe I'm on the write track with my Ocelot that Reads A Lot campaign starting in Feb. 🙂

  9. Roxane B. Salonen on November 25, 2009 at 1:24 AM

    >I'm going to employ my Broca strategy and …

  10. Livia on November 24, 2009 at 9:06 PM

    >Rose — Since Brocas isn't actually involved in surprise processing (see my earlier comment), its size is probably not related to how much people like surprise. Anonymous 9:29 was on the right track with regions actually involved in surprise (amygdala, etc).

    As for actual surprise processing regions, I don't know about results that tell about size, but I do know that people who like surprises and exciting moments tend to underactivate their amygdala to situations. That's why they like more exiting things — it takees more to activate their emotional processing regions. Incidentally, these people are less likely to get PTSD as well.

    (Hey Jim — sorry I keep butting in! I feel like the annoying kid in class who is always raising their hand with the right answer, but I figure since I'm in the field I'll answer the questions that I can.)

  11. Steph Damore on November 24, 2009 at 8:07 PM

    >Wow, super cool! And such awesome advice!

  12. Rose McCauley on November 24, 2009 at 8:02 PM

    >Thanks to both the Jims for these inspiring lessons! Do you think the BROCA is larger in those individuals who like surprise and adventure more than others? Just wondering. Happy Thanksgiving to all!

  13. Donald James Parker on November 24, 2009 at 6:56 PM

    >It's more fun hearing this presentation in person but for those who haven't had the good fortune to sit in on your presentation – this is good stuff.
    Donald James Parker

  14. Serenissima on November 24, 2009 at 4:52 PM

    >Jim – What a great post! Hope the next time Rachelle takes a vacation, you do another one.

  15. Kristen Torres-Toro on November 24, 2009 at 4:20 PM

    >Must get to know Broca. Now.

    Thanks so much for this post!

  16. Mike Dellosso on November 24, 2009 at 4:18 PM

    >Great post, Jim. Practical stuff I can use today. Thanks!

  17. Richard Mabry on November 24, 2009 at 2:09 PM

    Thanks for the excellent post. I learned some of this in med school, but I must have missed the obvious change that has taken place with aging: My Broca's area is broke-a.

  18. Marla Taviano on November 24, 2009 at 2:07 PM

    >Liked this post super much. Looking forward to the next two!

  19. Robbie Iobst on November 24, 2009 at 1:59 PM

    >Jim, thank you! Lots to mull over after reading your post.

    Rachel, thank you for all you give out to us through your blog. May our Lord give you and yours a wonderful Thanksgiving!

  20. Crystal on November 24, 2009 at 1:49 PM

    >Fantastic post, Jim! I never knew anything about BROCA or the theory behind it . . . but it seems to make sense and is something to definitely consider when writing a query/cover letter.

    And thank you, too, Writerjim, for that wonderfully inspiring story . . . God is still in the miracle-working business! 🙂

  21. Carol J. Garvin on November 24, 2009 at 1:35 PM

    >Thanks for an interesting post. I love the pizza story. I'm not so sure about the Broca theory, but surprise is always more attention-getting than boredom. Sounds like a good marketing approach to me. 🙂

  22. Peter P on November 24, 2009 at 1:22 PM

    >Awesome post!

    I'm going to work on surprising Broca more regularly.

    I might even wear a different color shirt one day just to throw everyone's Broca into fits of surprise 🙂

  23. T. Anne on November 24, 2009 at 12:30 PM

    >This is precisely why I've updated my query.

  24. Reesha on November 24, 2009 at 12:24 PM

    >This was great food for thought.

    I wonder, how do we balance giving an honest emotional reaction to something vs. giving a memorable one that surprises broca? 'Cause sometimes I honestly don't feel all that surprising and I'm afraid that if I fake it, I'll be trying to force originality.

    Love the Domino's pizza story. lol
    Great lesson.

  25. Rebecca Knight on November 24, 2009 at 12:14 PM

    >I love this advice! 😀 I'll never forget the catchy phrase "Shock the Broca!"

    Thanks for this, Jim & Rachelle!

  26. Rosslyn Elliott on November 24, 2009 at 11:46 AM

    >Excellent post, Jim! Thanks.

    Confounding expectations may save your life some day.

    When I was young and stupid(er), I was accosted in a park at night by a man who pointed a gun at me and about four of my friends.

    Eyes popping with crack, this gun-toting dude was convinced that my male friend had forced him off the road earlier that day.

    I had read somewhere that it was good to behave in surprising ways when confronted by a potential assault. So as my friend said: "No, it wasn't me" repeatedly, to no avail, I interjected, "This isn't the guy, but we'll help you look for him if you want."

    My friends gaped at me in shock, but the guy looked puzzled and then walked away.

    Even crackheads like surprises.

  27. Lynn Coleman on November 24, 2009 at 11:29 AM

    >Nice post Rachelle I look forward to the next two in this series. Thanks for taking the time to write these posts.

  28. Anonymous on November 24, 2009 at 11:29 AM

    >What Broca's area *actually* loves — language production.

    What *actually* processes surprise — other places (basal ganglia, amygdala, et cetera).'s_area

  29. Janet Oberholtzer on November 24, 2009 at 11:19 AM

    >Great post!

    I love surprises!
    Would a memoir in present tense be a surprise that works or crashes and burns? Almost all memoirs are written in past tense – and the logical reasons are because it already happened and when we tell a story, we speak in past tense.

    I know a key factor to any memoir is the quality of the writing – no matter what tense it is in, but I'm curious if a present tense memoir could work?

  30. Livia on November 24, 2009 at 11:11 AM

    >Lol. I'm in cognitive neuroscience and I actually haven't seen much literature on Brocas doing surprise processing — as far as I've seen, it's mostly boring stuff like syntax and language processing. I'm not sure if we're really far along enough in the field to know what region is responsible for something as specific as surprise. But the principle you describe for using surprise to get peoples' attention is a good one nontheless, and very helpful for marketing. Thanks for sharing.

  31. Ronie Kendig on November 24, 2009 at 11:07 AM

    >Excellent post, Jim! Fascinating.

  32. XDPaul on November 24, 2009 at 9:37 AM


    I think you broke my Broca.

    Good job.

    I think.

  33. Sharon A. Lavy on November 24, 2009 at 9:32 AM

    >Thanks Jim. Now I'll have to see if husband will agree that I need to go to Indiana in December to listen to you and Chip!!!!!

  34. Virginia @ Where You Hang Your Hat on November 24, 2009 at 8:20 AM

    >Nice, nice post.

  35. Katy McKenna on November 24, 2009 at 8:14 AM

    >I'll pay extra if you can get Dominoes to deliver in the boonies. At 7 am, haha.

    Thanks for the wonderful post, Jim. My sincerest hope is to use your services one day!! And I can't wait to read your book…..

  36. Alisa on November 24, 2009 at 7:54 AM

    >Now I'm hungry for pizza.

  37. Lisa Jordan on November 24, 2009 at 7:29 AM

    >And Writer Jim? Great story!! Very inspiring. Thanks for sharing.

  38. Lisa Jordan on November 24, 2009 at 7:28 AM

    >It's not often I meet a guy doing magic tricks without the guise of a red nose and big floppy shoes, but your intro at the MBT pizza party at the ACFW conference was a great way to break the ice. I watched as participants focused on your words.

    We need to be the same way with a reader. What did you tell me–we have 3 or 7 seconds to hook their attention? So we need to sizzle.

    I went to your website…the header is so inviting. I want to walk along the sand and dip my feet in the surf.

    Great post! Thanks for explaining about Broca.

  39. Buffy Andrews on November 24, 2009 at 6:32 AM

    >What an awesome post. And a great way to start the day. Thanks for sharing.

  40. The Voice on November 24, 2009 at 6:23 AM

    >Boy, the post and the comments have been the best thing to read at 5:30 in the morning.

    It has put a spark in to the dead wick of my imagination. Thanks so much. Can't wait for part two.

  41. Ellen B on November 24, 2009 at 3:59 AM

    >Thanks for this post, it's interesting to know that there really is something behind those moments when saying something strange seems to work! Very inspiring and very useful.

    Writerjim, that story just made my morning! Not least because it reminds me of my grandmother's old saying 'Always live three miles from your nearest relation.' 🙂

  42. writer jim on November 24, 2009 at 3:12 AM


    Sir, you are a heck of a good writer…I mean you taught volumes in a minute. Now I really don't believe the method you taught works when dealing with GOD; but it made me recall an experience:

    Billy is my good friend since our youth; several decades. One day he seemed sad, and after a few hours I asked him what was bothering him. He opened up to me, "Jim, I've lived in a trailer in that bad area for over 10 years. Now that I'm married, I desperately want to move into a nice house…for my wife. I've tried everything. I can't buy a house because I have no money and have never even established any credit. Today I finally realized my new wife is stuck in this old trailer. That's why I'm so sad."

    I said, "Billy, I've got good news for you. I'm going to pray that GOD will let you buy a nice house…TOMORROW!"

    Billy and I were together all day, and I repeatedly prayed out loud, so Billy could hear me. "God, I ask you to let my friend Billy buy his new wife a house TOMMORROW: that's very easy for you to do. But God!!!! I have one request. God, PLEASE, please don't his new house be any closer than 2 miles to my house. I just can't STAND the thought of this guy living any closer to me than that. Please God, don't forget! make it a minimum of 2 miles from me!" Over and over I said the same prayer.

    Billy and I both giggled all day about my teasing about the 2 mile request. But Billy knew I was super serious about GOD letting him buy a house tommorrow.

    The next morning Billy had to go to town…about 15 miles from his trailer. While driving, he saw a man putting up a FOR SALE sign in a front yard of a nice house. He stopped and walked up. In a minute they made a deal. The man took the $40 dollars from Billy's wallet for a down payment, and self financed it for him for 20 years.
    Billy roared up to my house, praising God. I asked him where was his new house? He said, Oh, its down the same road you live on. We got in our cars to show me. We set or speedometers to zero milage. His new house was 2 miles and 25 feet away.

    One reason I told this is an example to writers…that God can do the same for your writing hopes, if you are writing FOR God.
    Thanks to Rachelle for allowing us to share like this.