Book Review: Purple Cow by Seth Godin


My day was unremarkable. In other words, it was boring. I got up--more like stumbled out of bed--much past the time my alarm went off, showered quickly, ate my breakfast--the same breakfast I eat almost every morning--without tasting it, and ran out the door to get to work late, my coffee in my hand. 

I'm late to work, but they still don't have anything for me to do except to browse the internet and pretend to look busy. They are still trying to get the system up. And I think what am I doing here? I could be home with my kids. Why do I have to sit in this seat, caged like a monkey, to earn a paycheck?

I come home late because I got to work late. We take the kids to the library--a special event that used to be a weekly event before we got too busy--and come home to make pancakes for dinner. Put the kids to bed. Exercise. Sit down to write. Maybe later I'll actually watch a movie. And then I'll get to bed late to start the whole thing over again tomorrow.

And don't ask me what I ate for lunch or what I wore today because I don't really remember. Don't ask me about yesterday or last week. Or last month. The days all run together in one empty blur. Unremarkable.

But I can tell you about the worst days and the best days of my life to the minutest detail. I remember my wedding gown and messing up my wedding vows and lighting the unity candle. I remember holding each of my babies for the first time, and I can tell you how many hours of labor each one took, what time they were born, and what day of the week it was. I can tell you about my sixth grade teacher making my 12th birthday a miserable day, but it snowed, which made it all better. Especially since it never snows in December in Texas. I remember missing an airplane flight and spending all day looking for my lost tickets.

What does all this have to do with my Purple Cow book review? Those moments--the best and worst days of my life--were remarkable to me. They are stories that will stick with me for the rest of my life, and I will bore people to tears telling them again and again. Remarkable things are what stand out in our minds.

Just like a purple cow would be remarkable if we should ever see one. It is remarkable products that market themselves, splash headlines, cause long lines at stores, keep you up late at night, make you tell all your friends and every stranger you meet. It's not that these items are just better than everything else, they are remarkably different.

Harry Potter was different. It was a fantasy set in our everyday world, and it made our world seem more magical. As if we might turn a corner and discover wizards walking among us Muggles. And everybody talked about it.

Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog was different. Not quite a move, not quite a TV show, and definitely not sanctioned by the standard producers. Great story and great music and brilliant acting, lovable characters, and a bad guy who was nicer than the good guy. My friend Chuck once said that Joss Whedon did a better job in 3 15-minute sessions explaining how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader than George Lucas did in 3 feature-length movies.

And those works of art that are just plain awful get more mention than those that just fit in with all the rest. Vaniel blogged about a book that was so terrible that he had to tell everyone just how terrible it was! So many people responded, asking for more, that he posted more about it. And believe me, it was so terrible that you just keep reading because you are so shocked by how bad it is. Check it out here.

And I will happily tell you about my favorite movies or groan about the ones I hated with such a passion that I love to list what I hated about them. But all the ones that were mediocre--I don't tell anyone about them. They were good, but nothing to talk about. Just another movie to fit in with all the rest.

And likewise, many of the good stuff--Girl Genius, EragonDr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog, Full Metal Alchemist, The Gamers--were all raved about to us by friends who said, "You gotta see this!" And we did, and then we raved about it to others. Passing it on.

The book Purple Cow by Seth Godin explains how word of mouth works, how you find the "sneezers" that will market your product for you, how you focus on building your cow and finding your sneezers, and how to let that mindset build your business. Godin talks about why, what, and how, and gives many, many examples along the way. And this applies to whatever your product may be--art, music, books, technology, clothing.

Marketing is one of those things I don't really understand very well, and this book put the whole thing into proper perspective. It gave me a better understanding, not just of marketing and business, but also my place and my self-image as a writer. I realize I'm not going to make it if I just try to fit into my genre. I have to stand out. I have to do more and be more. I have to give more.

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