Elisabeth Elliot: An author profile

elisabethelliot

A life detoured

She was not an aspiring author and yet her anthology of work persists today among the greats of Christian literature. No, Elisabeth Elliot’s early aspirations didn’t include bestseller lists or writing and speaking circuits, and yet, that is how her life evolved.

What happened?

Tragedy.

After her marriage to Jim Elliot in 1953, Elisabeth’s new husband and his colleagues followed God’s call to the unreached Auca people of Ecuador. Their attempt to evangelize this remote tribe ended quickly in martyrdom, as the Aucas speared them to death in the jungle.

Elisabeth’s response to this immense tragedy stunned her family, friends, and still stuns anyone newly introduced to her story. She chose to stay in Ecuador with her 10-month-old daughter, living with a native tribe and learning the language of the Acau. Elisabeth and her young daughter eventually received the welcome from the Acau tribe that her husband had been denied, and went on to live with and serve them for several years.

While in Ecuador, Elisabeth began to tell her story with the pen and wrote Through Gates of Splendor (an account of her husband’s tragic end), Shadow of the Almighty (a biography of her husband), and The Savage, My Kinsmen (a summary of her own time among the Aucas).

Upon her return to the United States in 1963, the widowed missionary continued to tell her story through books and speeches, providing inspiration and courage to an entire generation of women and missionaries.

Her story is your story

Your life’s narrative may not include spears, unreached people groups, or martyrdom. But your story is more similar to Ms. Elliot’s than you think. Your current circumstances surely include events, tragedies, twists, and turns that you never anticipated in your early life. Divorce, death, miscarriage, financial loss, ministry setbacks, and illness all steer our lives in unexpected directions. Like Elisabeth Elliot, many of us have found ourselves forced to respond to detours we could have never anticipated.

And yet, it is from these life detours that our greatest impact can be made. Ms. Elliot’s work has reached far and wide to affect millions of readers, whose faith has been built up by her testimony.

Joshua Harris, author of the bestseller I Kissed Dating Goodbye, recounts the effect Ms. Elliot’s work had on him in his article for the Washington Post titled How Elisabeth Elliot messed up my love life:

My mother had given me a copy of “Passion & Purity” [by Elisabeth Elliot] and asked me to read it. I was immediately suspicious… So I skimmed the book to appease my mom and tossed it aside…

But after a few years of frustration with my own approach to dating (and without the pressure of my mom forcing me to read it) I picked up Elliot’s book again. This time it changed my life. I read the story of Jim and Elisabeth — two people who were passionately in love and yet chose to put Jesus first. Before their romantic longings. Before their own timetable for marriage. Before their sexual desires…

I guess a lot of people who read her writing would consider it all very backward and old-fashioned, but when I read it I can’t shake the sense that this woman had a real relationship with a glorious God. And then chose to cut the crap and take God seriously in every part of her life. I love that about her. I need her directness. I think our whole generation of evangelicals needs her directness…

Five years after I dissed Elliot’s book, I was 21 and typing with trembling hands a letter to her to ask if she’d be willing to review the unpublished manuscript of a book I was writing called “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.”

I’ll never forget the day I received a typed, postcard reply from her. It read: “Bravissimo! I applaud your forthrightness, courage, God-given conviction, and ability to articulate a message that is desperately needed.” I still have that little note taped in a journal. Her encouragement fueled me to keep writing. And helped me to sell my book to a publisher and not a few readers.

Upon Elisabeth’s death in 2015, famed pastor and author John Piper wrote a remembrance piece about her life, in which he recounted a journal entry that he had written in 1997:

This morning, as I jogged and listened to a message by Elisabeth Elliot which she had given in Kansas City, I was deeply moved concerning my own inability to suffer magnanimously and without pouting. She was vintage Elliot and the message was the same as ever: Don’t get in touch with your feelings, submit radically to God, and do what is right no matter what. Put your love life on the altar and keep it there until God takes it off. Suffering is normal. Have you no scars, no wounds, with Jesus on the Calvary road?

These two testimonials offer just a minuscule representation of the impact Ms. Elliot has had upon the Body of Christ. Yet this was only possible because she chose to embrace her life’s detour and use her pen and voice to build the faith of her audience.

Will you make the same choice? Will you embrace your detour and the opportunity it offers you to share the Gospel and encourage the Body? Certa Publishing has the unique opportunity to offer Christian authors a platform for their message. Contact us today so that we can partner with you.

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Author Websites: Everything else you need to know

author websites 2

Having a dedicated author website is more important than you think. It offers credibility, access and a one-stop resource for your readers. But where do you start?

Last week we shared part of Kimberly Grabas’ post entitled 11 Author Website Must Have Elements, which clearly lays out everything you need to set up the perfect site.

We discussed the need for:

  • A good first impression
  • About/bio page
  • Contact information
  • Email sign-up/updates
  • Testimonials

Here is the remainder of her advice:

6. Social Media

There are two areas to focus on when it comes to social media and your site. The first, is to provide visitors the ability to find and follow you on your various social media platforms.

To encourage follows and Likes, add links to your social media profiles (Twitter, Facebook) on your Homepage, About page, and Contact page. Then ask people to follow or Like you. It’s just crazy enough to work. Let’s try it

The second area to focus on regarding social media, is making it super easy for people to share your site and your content with others. To do this:

  • Write amazing content
  • Add a sharing plugin to every page on your site, so visitors can share your pages via all the major social networks.

The free plugin I use on YWP is called SumoMe, but there are many to choose from.

7. Books, Products and Services

Depending on what you have to offer, you may have separate pages for your books, products and services, or combine everything in one. For books, include a large cover shot, an enticing blurb and clear details on purchase options (with links).

You may want to feature your current project on your Homepage. Provide a link to your Book page for visitors to get additional information about the book, get some behind-the-scenes info or promotional materials. (A press/media Kit for each book would be ideal).

Tip: If your books are available on Amazon, join Amazon Associates and you will be provided a code to link your book. You will also get a percentage of whatever a buyer purchases after they click your link–even if it’s not your book (lets hope it’s a T.V.). Once you have signed up for an account, type in your book title. When your title pops up, click “get link”, and Amazon will give you a variety of options to customize your link. Just copy and paste that code where you want it on your site (sidebar, Book page), and your book will show up with a buy link.

8. A Blog

Websites with blogs get 55% more traffic than websites with no blog. As well, having a blog creates fresh, additional pages of content which is great for SEO (Search Engine Optimization).

If your goals are to be seen by more people, drive potential book buyers back to your site, and establish yourself as an industry authority and thought leader, you need to include a blog on your site.

Here are a few more additional benefits:

  • You can entice your current and future fans with exclusive, unpublished content, inside information and downloadable extras, like sample chapters.
  • Readers find it especially appealing to find out who their favourite author reads or recommends. This is often a missed opportunity to not only engage with your readers, but network with and support your peers. No matter how famous, everyone loves recognition and appreciation, so share the love! This is also a great way to get inbound links–other sites linking back to your site. This too, increases your importance in the eyes of Google.
  • Utilize your blog’s comment section to converse and engage with your audience. You can even encourage interaction between your readers by encouraging them to comment or reply to each others comments.
  • You can have excerpts of your most recent blog posts on your Homepage, which will dynamically update each time you publish. This keeps the content on your Homepage fresh, and encourages people to return for more.
  • A blog gives you the freedom to add additional content and bonuses (see below) without cluttering up your Homepage.

9. Appearances/Speaking Engagements/Latest News/Events

Include a section or page on your site that allows you to inform your fans of your whereabouts and upcoming events. Include things like:

  • Latest News/Events: interviews, blog mentions, reviews and other media coverage items you can share with your audience.
  • Appearances: book readings and signings, speaking engagements, interviews, conferences and professional events, workshops and so on, so your fans can find out the details and attend.

10. Press Page/Media Kit

The purpose of a press page or media kit is to easily provide the media, or anyone wishing to profile you, with the info they need to feature you in their piece.

The contents of a press kit will vary, but here are some of the basics of what you should include:

  • Basic author bio, including contact info.
  • Author photo (use a professional-looking headshot), and any additional photos that can be used when writing about the book.
  • Information about the book, including a sample review, sample chapters.
  • Press release.
  • Testimonials.

The simplest way to make your media kit available is to turn the contents into a PDF. Provide a brief description and a link on a page on your site. Make it easy to find, and consider carrying around a few hardcopies at conferences/events, in case you receive a request for a copy.

11. Bonuses/Extras

Get the creative juices flowing! There are many fantastic ways to build value into your website for your readers and to keep them coming back for more.

  • You can include a slideshow of photographs, sketches, illustrations of characters and locations in your book, and other meaningful images.
  • Add other multimedia like audio files, a podcast, YouTube video and video trailers.
  • Additional research material.
  • If you are an expert in your field, and your book is an extension of your career, include things that spring from the larger context of your work and experience.
  • Younger fans are often interested in contests, games and prizes (autographed books).
  • An author’s favourite book, music, and movie recommendations are also fan favourites, so include these and some of your other influences.
  • Include sneak peeks, additional content that isn’t in your books, main character bios, extra chapters, alternate character POV’s and any other bits that didn’t make the cut. Your readers will love it!

At Certa Publishing, we believe that our authors’ content has the power to transform lives and communities, so we are passionate about people finding your books. An author website is absolutely essential to your marketing. If you still feel intimidated by the process, we would love to help. We can either tweak what you already have or help you find the perfect partner to create one from start to finish. Contact us today!

Author websites: Everything you need to know

authorwebsites

 

We have some bad news. Even if you have the world’s greatest social media interactions and thousands of newsletter subscribers, you’re still missing a key marketing component: the author website.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that a killer Facebook page or YouTube channel can take the place of an author website. Having a dedicated URL means something to readers and publishers.

It means:

  • You’re the real deal and that you’re here for the long haul
  • There is an ever-ready source of information about you and your books
  • There is a reliable way to contact you
  • Your content and style can be previewed before someone buys your book

So what should your author site look like? What content is most important? We’re glad you asked! Kimberly Grabas authored the post 11 Author Website Must Have Elements, which we suggest for anyone beginning to build their site.

This week we are excerpting Ms. Grabas’ first 5 essential author website elements here:

1. Designing Your Author Website: Ensure a Good First Impression

Your author website is an essential piece to the successful book marketing puzzle, but as always, first impressions matter. It is tempting to just get something up quickly, that requires little cost, and get back to the joyful torture of writing your novel.

However, while it’s certainly possible to set up your website quickly and with relatively little expense, it is extremely important to remember that your website represents who you are and what you have to offer.

A website will help to increase not only your book’s visibility across the internet, but yours as well. In many cases, it may be your future fans first impression of you–especially if you have not yet published. Make sure that your site reinforces the image you wish to portray.

With your author brand in mind, ask yourself the following questions about your current or new author website:

  • Will people know what I write within seconds?
  • Does the voice, tone, attitude and mood of the site resonate with my ideal reader?
  • Will they understand the page they are on and what it’s about?
  • Will they know what to do next?
  • Does the site appear credible?
  • Is it clear why they should buy my book or subscribe to free updates?
  • What does the site provide the reader?

Just like it’s important to have fresh eyes editing your novel, ask others for their answers to the above questions and get their opinions on the first impressions your site gives rise to. You might be surprised at their answers!

As you design your site, keep both aesthetics and functionality in mind. You don’t need to run out and hire a $12,000 designer to have a professional looking site, but do keep the following in mind:

  • Your site should look clean and uncluttered. Less is more, especially in your sidebar. And white space is your friend.
  • Your site is polished, legible (go for clear, not clever) and spell checked. Choose larger font sizes and colors that are easy to read. Light fonts on dark backgrounds or minimal contrast between font color and backgrounds are difficult to read.
  • Keep navigation easy and clear, so your readers can find the important stuff.
  • Use color to draw attention to select elements. For example, pick one color to be your “action” color. Whenever you want a reader to take action by clicking a link or subscribing, ensure you use that color only for the link or button, and no where else.
  • Avoid a chaotic mix of colors. Instead pick two to four colors for your design template and don’t try to make everything stand out–then nothing will.
  • Avoid anything unnecessary like Flash (Apple currently doesn’t support Flash), animated backgrounds or music. If your site takes a long time to load, or doesn’t work on a mobile device (iPad), you will lose a large number of visitors to your site.
  • Keep elements consistent from page to page.
  • Is your site branded for longevity? Is it book/genre specific or limiting, given your future writing plans? You do not want to rebrand or redesign the next time you publish.
  • Remember, your site has to be compatible with different browsers and devices, so check how things look on multiple browsers, tablets and phones.
  • Create content that is useful, engaging and well organized. Your posts and copy must be easy to scan. (Ugh, I know! As a fellow writer who bleeds over every word, I feel your pain!) People read differently online, so use bulleted lists, section headers and short paragraphs to convey your message, and learn the importance of writing a magnetic headline.

2. About/Bio Page

About pages are among the most frequently visited pages on the internet. Your readers want to know more about you, and this is the place to tell them.

Even as a visitor is delving into what you’re all about, what they are really thinking is WIIFM? (What’s in it for me?) Keep this in mind as you incorporate some of these ideas into your about page:

  • Consider having a professional headshot and short blurb from your homepage with a link to your About page for more information.

1. Start with a persuasive headline, that lets your visitor know what they can expect.

2. Reassure your readers that they are in the right place and tell them what your site will give them.

3. Strengthen your credibility with some testimonials, reader quotes or other forms of social proof (more on this below).

4. Tell your personal story. Frame your content around what led you to writing, why you write the kind of books you do, what you love about it. Make sure your personality shines through! You can also include your writing credentials and professional associations.

5. If a visitor gets to this point in your about page, you’ve got them interested. Ask them to join your email list, and provide a link to your books, services or other products.

Here are more ideas:

  • What do you want to know about your favourite author? Include that.
  • Keep your About page and Bio up to date.
  • Link to your Media Kit/Press page if you have one.
  • Be personal, but be careful not to over share; stay professional.

3. Contact Information

It’s surprising how difficult authors will make it for their readers (media, agents, publishers…) to contact them. There might be a tiny email address buried at the bottom of their website or noted on some obscure page deep within their blog. DO NOT make your visitors hunt for your contact information!

If your goal is to engage with your readers online, don’t play hard to get.

Make it as easy as possible for someone to get a hold of you. Here’s what to do:

  • Have a contact tab in your top main menu that leads to a page with your preferred ways to be contacted. Don’t list every possible way you can be found, just the best ways. If you use a contact form, make sure it’s simple and you’re only asking for the info you require to get back to that person. If you note your email address, use yourname[dot]com to avoid spam harvesters. 
  • You can also encourage your readers to get in touch with you via the social platform(s) you are most active on.
  • Provide multiple ways for people to contact, follow and Like you. It’s not your readers’ job to find you. It’s your job to be where your readers are.

4. Email Sign Up/Updates

It is never too early to start collecting email subscribers. Early sign ups are the most likely to be your biggest fans and most ardent supporters. These are the people that will forward your new releases and insider updates to their friends, evangelize you on Twitter, attend your events or push up your sales rank on Amazon when they hurry to get your new book.

I highly recommend using Aweber to manage your email list. Using a high quality, industry leader for your email list management is important to ensure your emails get to your fans and not their spam boxes. It’s easy to use, with tons of step by step videos, and very helpful customer service if you get stuck. And putting your form on your site is as easy as copying and pasting.

A few additional tips:

  • Don’t panic! You do not have to produce a newsletter every week. Catherine Ryan Howard at Catherine, Caffeinated makes a point of letting you know up front that “nothing much happens… an email about once a month will cover it…” Just keep in mind that you should not be ‘selling’ something every time (and the only time) you contact your subscribers.
  • Just an email address, or first name and email address is enough info. You don’t want to scare people off by asking for more.
  • Your email optin box should be bigger and bolder than other elements on the page, but don’t overdo it.
  • Make all links and buttons your ‘action’ color (as above). And make sure your links and buttons look clickable.
  • Consider including a signup incentive, like a promo code for your latest book, a bonus chapter, a sneak preview of your next book, or a free chapter from a different character’s POV.

5. Testimonials

Social proof, testimonials and positive quotes from fans and reviewers can go a long way in increasing your credibility and authority with visitors to your author website.

Place real, short and powerful testimonials on your site. Include positive reviews, quotes from fan mail, notable media coverage, and if you have a significant following on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, Wattpad and so on, note it.

Great locations for your fan testimonials are your About page, Homepage and on your sidebar, just under your email sign up form.

Come back next week for the remainder of this comprehensive list of must-have author website elements.

Keep in mind that Certa Publishing is here to help, no matter where you are in the process of building your author site. We can recommend who to partner with for website design or simply look over the one you’ve already built. We’d love to hear from you!

Be the Boss of Your Punctuation

be the boss of your punctuation

 

As you write, you likely hear your English teacher’s voice in your head, constantly fussing at you. However, there are advantages of being out of grade school, including the freedom to play with punctuation.

Recently the Creative Penn blog posted an article titled Punctuation Without Tears: 4 Tips For Professional Punctuation, which we hope will liberate you a bit and help to turn down the volume on the bossy grammar lady in your ear.

All writers feel anxious about punctuation.

Here are my top tips for getting to grips with punctuation once and for all.

1. Forget the Old Rules

First up, forget the old rules. This might sound a bit radical, but it’s not really. Most of the old rules relate to a rather stilted, formal English, which is now long gone. Today’s English is far freer, and so is its punctuation.

Take the following example:

Vector loaded the Squid Launcher. He licked his lips with anticipation. He would show them. All of them. Tonight.

A school teacher thirty years ago would have had kittens, fulminating that the final two sentences are abominations. He or she would have scored them through with a red pencil, insisting that every sentence must have a subject and a verb.

But today — in all honesty — no one cares. There is no requirement to write in full sentences anymore, and it’s liberating. You can create great effects. Like this. Or this. Ha!

So, Tip #1 is to cleanse and declutter your mind of the old rules that once filled impenetrable grammar books. You need to know a few of the most basic principles, but the majority are now irrelevant and of historical interest only.

2. Be Creative with Your Punctuation

There are only three things you can put on a page: letters, punctuation, and spaces.

That’s not a lot, really, out of which to conjure up worlds of fiction and non-fiction.

In fact, this is such a limited group of tools that, as a writer, you need to give the same degree of creative thought to each of them. What do I mean? Well, read this:

All sorts of things get stuck in Wookie fur: duct tape, intergalactic dust, and small mammals.

And then this:

All

sorts

of things

get stuck

in Wookie fur —

duct tape

intergalactic dust

and small

mammals

The words are identical. The only difference is the punctuation and spacing, which have made the two texts radically different.

Tip #2 is to acknowledge the power of punctuation to impact the feel of your writing, and accordingly to welcome it into your creative toolkit.

Punctuation shouldn’t be an afterthought.

It’s not something to leave to a copyeditor. It’s a vital part of how you create the atmosphere in your piece.

Here’s a less extreme example. You might write ‘to be or not to be that is the question’ and leave it for an editor to sort out. He or she might then come back with:

To be or not to be: that is the question.

(Literary, but a bit cold)

To be or not to be? That is the question.

(A little more quizzical)

To be, or not to be — that is the question.

(More languid, and a touch reflective)

To be. Or not to be. That is the question.

(Modern, and mildly brutalist)

If you leave an editor to punctuate your text, you are handing over control of its mood. If, instead, you think of punctuation as a vital component of your vision, you’ll take a pride in it — in how you deploy it — and you’ll approach it with as much care as the words you choose.

3. Punctuation is your Rhythm Section

One of punctuation’s most important functions is to set the speed and feel of a piece of writing. If the text was a band, punctuation would be the rhythm section: it lays down the framework for everything, dictating the tempo and fluidity of the piece.

Look at these three sentences:

Santa Claus wanted just one thing for Christmas: revenge.

Santa Claus wanted just one thing for Christmas — revenge.

Santa Claus wanted just one thing for Christmas. Revenge.

They’re all fine. No one is going to snort or recoil at any of them. But they each feel different thanks to the punctuation mark before the final word.

So, before you start writing, think about your rhythm section.

What mood are you going for?

  • Light?
  • Airy?
  • Jazzy?
  • Solid?
  • Technical?
  • Four-to-the-floor?

You will use different punctuation for different types of writing. A book for toddlers about zombies versus Stormtroopers requires a different approach in punctuation than a step-by-step guide to DIY root canal surgery.

Each demands a distinct feel to fit convincingly into its genre.

For instance, in a simple story book you might decide to avoid brackets because they are annoying and break the flow of the tale. However, if you are writing a set of instructions for assembling furniture, they may be just the thing:

To assemble the guillotine, insert the upright case (Part A) into the long bench (Part B), then slot in the slanted blade (Part C). As always when working in your home workshop, watch your fingers. When completed, keep safely away from children and aristocrats.

Punctuation can give you all sorts of creative options for enhancing the feel of your writing. So, as well as getting stuck into the vocal and guitar melodies, think long and hard about the rhythm section. They work together, and ultimately it’s the interplay that creates the coherence of the whole.

4. Know the Horrors

So far I have recommended that you concentrate on the basics and forget a lot of the old rules, that you get creative, and that you embrace punctuation as the rhythmic foundation of your writing.

On one level I am saying you should relax and feel free to enjoy experimenting with how different punctuation can fundamentally affect and color your writing.

However, I am not suggesting you can do whatever you want. There are some fundamental principles that have to be observed.

  • Full stops (or periods) end sentences and indicate abbreviations.
  • Question marks are for direct questions.
  • Ellipses show that text is missing, a pause, or trailing off.

And so on. These are immutable functions, and you have to work with them.

Although being creative with punctuation is great, and being freed from old rules is refreshing, there are a couple of horrors that will kill a piece of writing stone dead. I’ll mention just two.

The greengrocer’s apostrophe is when someone tries to use an apostrophe to make a plural:

  • slimy cocktail’s
  • impenetrable FAQ’s

This is always, ALWAYS wrong. It looks horrific. Don’t ever do it. Language evolves and one day it might be okay. For now, however, it is absolutely not okay.

The other horror I’ll mention is the comma splice:

  • Goldilocks swung the nunchuk, she liked its weight.
  • The woodsman hated bunnies, he hated them with a Luciferian mania.

Both these examples are made of two complete sentences. Depending how adventurous you are feeling, you can separate them with a full stop (or period), a semicolon, a colon, or a dash.

But the one thing you absolutely cannot use is a comma. It’s wrong, looks wrong, and can quickly result in a manuscript going into the bin.

So, Tip #3 is to learn to spot the handful of truly painful howlers, and avoid them like the plague. We all know they can creep into writing as you are copying, pasting, deleting, and fiddling, but read over your work like a hawk. These errors make you vulnerable, and undermine the endless hours of sweat you have put into your work.

Conclusion

Now that you are firmly in the group that wants to follow modern principles and to use punctuation creatively, the final step in the programme is to learn to love punctuation as a personal and intimate part of your writing style.

Embrace it. Use it to let your personality come through, I don’t mean you should garnish every sentence with exclamation marks. You really shouldn’t. I mean you should feel free to get excited about how you use punctuation.

Try replacing commas with dashes. Try swapping out full stops (or periods) for semicolons. Get a feel for what works with each piece of your writing.

Find punctuation that reinforces the mood of what you (or one of your characters) is saying. Keep doing it. Watch how other people do it. Be inspired.

Before long, punctuation will be a source of pleasure rather than anxiety … and my work will be done.

Happy punctuating!?

Did you know that Certa offers a full editing service? If you need another set of eyes on your semicolons and em dashes, we would love to lend you our expertise. Contact us today.

Stop & Decide: How to push past distractions and get real work done

stopanddecide

It’s 9am. You open your laptop to begin your day. The onslaught begins. Urgent emails. Yesterday’s unfinished business. Calendar reminders. Five texts from the morning drive await. Now your phone rings as two more urgent emails come through. A co-worker pops in to ask a question and inform you of the newest crisis. Your first meeting starts in 5 minutes.

Or… it’s 9am. You walk in the door from dropping the kids off at preschool, then elementary school, then middle school. To the left you see the pile of breakfast (and… ahem… last night’s dinner) dishes in the sink. To the right you see the trail of jammies, toys, and lonely single shoes littering the family room, plus a “gift” from the puppy by the back door. In front of you is the laptop reminding you of bills, emails to answer, volunteer obligations and writing work that awaits.

Where do you begin?

What you do at this moment will make or break your day’s productivity.

What not to do:

  1. Wander from task to task as it catches your eye. Next thing you know, your day will look like a page from the “If you Give a Mouse a Cookie” book, where a lot happens, but little gets done.
  2. Do what seems most urgent. There will always be fires to put out. As soon as one is extinguished, another will take its place. But as we fight them, the crucial big-picture work remains undone. We might say yes to the corporate 5K and the school bake sale for this weekend, but months go by before we ever plan that weekend getaway that our marriage really needs because…guess what…our weekends are full of 5K’s and bake sales. They seemed urgent at the time, but in the long run, are actually preventing us from what is more important.
  3. Be bullied by other people’s priorities. Your coworkers may be pressuring you to help them plan a team-building retreat, however, you are focused on organizing next month’s training conference. It just takes a quick email to say, “I really appreciate all the time you are investing in this idea. I am currently very focused on the training conference, but I am looking forward to hearing how the retreat comes together.”

What to do:

  1. Eliminate distractions.

Turn off all phone notifications except texts. (Do you really need to know right away when Aunt Jo posts on your Facebook wall?)

Signal to your coworkers when you are unavailable by wearing headphones, posting a note on your door (“I’m available after 1pm”) or sending your team a quick text to please hold all non-urgent questions for a period of time.

Handle interruptions by phone instead of text or email (crazy right?). If you must stop your work to handle something urgent, pick up the phone and call those who are involved. What might take dozens of texts and emails can easily be resolved in a five-minute discussion.

2. Prioritize

Stop and write down what really needs to be done. What are the big decisions that need to be made? What are the actions steps that need to be taken? Then, do only those things.

Can we be real for a moment? The reason we often struggle to decide what to do is that we are afraid of doing the work. 

We clean the whole house instead of sitting down at our laptop because we don’t want to face the bills that we owe.

We respond to trivial emails and chit-chat around the office because we’re intimidated by the large project our boss has just handed us.

We look at book covers on Pinterest and tweak our blog layout because we are afraid to do the deep research needed to finish our manuscript.

Before we can do the work, we have to decide to do it. This one action on its own will weed out so many of the distractions because we will stop using them as an escape from the hard things.

At Certa Publishing, we appreciate the busy lives many of our authors lead. And we are confident that with a little intentionality, those authors can produce incredible books that will bless and inspire many. How can our partner publishing model help you accomplish your goals? Contact us today.

 

 

 

 

How to write a book: Ten steps from a 5-time bestseller

how to write a book

Sometimes we make things harder than they are. We see a messy house, get overwhelmed and spend more time procrastinating than it actually takes to clean it. The same happens with bigger tasks like making a will, planning a family reunion or writing a sermon series. In his recent blog post, 10 Ridiculously Simple Steps for Writing a Book, five-time bestseller Jeff Goins explains how to break down the ultimate of big tasks—writing a book—into ten manageable steps.  Here is an excerpt:

As the bestselling author of five books, I can tell you without hesitation that the hardest part of a writer’s job is sitting down to do the work. Books don’t just write themselves, after all. You have to invest everything you are into creating an important piece of work.

For years, I dreamed of being a professional writer. I believed I had important things to say that the world needed to hear. But as I look back on what it really takes to become an author, I realize how different the process was from my expectations.

To begin with, you don’t just sit down to write a book. That’s not how writing works. You write a sentence, then a paragraph, then maybe if you’re lucky, an entire chapter. Writing happens in fits and starts, in bits and pieces. It’s a process.

The way you get the work done is not complicated. You take one step at a time, then another and another. As I look back on the books I’ve written, I can see how the way they were made was not as glamorous as I once thought.

How to really write a book

In this post, I’ll teach you the fundamental steps you need to write a book. I’ve worked hard to make this easy to digest and super practical, so you can start making progress.

But first, let’s look at the big picture. What does it take to write a book? It happens in three phases:

  • Beginning: You have to start writing. This sounds obvious, but it may be the most overlooked step in the process. You write a book by deciding first what you’re going to write and how you’re going to write it.
  • Staying motivated: Once you start writing, you will face self-doubt and overwhelm and a hundred other adversaries. Planning ahead for those obstacles ensures you won’t quit when they come.
  • Finishing: Nobody cares about the book that you almost wrote. We want to read the one you actually finished, which means no matter what, the thing that makes you a writer is your ability not to start a project, but to complete one.

Below are 10 ridiculously simple tips that fall under each of these three major phases. I hope they help you tackle and finish the book you dream of writing.

Phase 1: Getting started

We all have to start somewhere. With writing a book, the first phase is made up of four parts:

1. Decide what the book is about

Good writing is always about something. Write the argument of your book in a sentence, then stretch that out to a paragraph, and then to a one-page outline. After that, write a table of contents to help guide you as you write, then break each chapter into a few sections. Think of your book in terms of beginning, middle, and end. Anything more complicated will get you lost.

2. Set a daily word count goal

John Grisham began his writing career as a lawyer and new dad — in other words, he was really busy. Nonetheless, he got up an hour or two early every morning and wrote a page a day. After a couple of years, he had a novel. A page a day is only about 300 words. You don’t need to write a lot. You just need to write often. Setting a daily goal will give you something to aim for. Make it small and attainable so that you can hit your goal each day and start building momentum.

3. Set a time to work on your book every day

Consistency makes creativity easier. You need a daily deadline to do your work — that’s how you’ll finish writing a book. Feel free to take a day off, if you want, but schedule that ahead of time. Never let a deadline pass; don’t let yourself off the hook so easily. Setting a daily deadline and regular writing time will ensure that you don’t have to think about when you will write. When it’s time to write, it’s time to write.

4. Write in the same place every time

It doesn’t matter if it’s a desk or a restaurant or the kitchen table. It just needs to be different from where you do other activities. Make your writing location a special space, so that when you enter it, you’re ready to work. It should remind you of your commitment to finish this book. Again, the goal here is to not think and just start writing.

Phase 2: Doing the work

Now, it’s time to get down to business. Here, we are going to focus on the next three tips to help you get the book done:

5. Set a total word count

Begin with the end in mind. Once you’ve started writing, you need a total word count for your book. Think in terms of 10-thousand work increments and break each chapter into roughly equal lengths. Here are some general guiding principles:

  • 10,000 words = a pamphlet or business white paper. Read time = 30-60 minutes.
  • 20,000 words = short eBook or manifesto. The Communist Manifesto is an example of this, at about 18,000 words. Read time = 1-2 hours.
  • 40,000–60,000 words = standard nonfiction book / novella. The Great Gatsby is an example of this. Read time = three to four hours.
  • 60,000–80,000 words = long nonfiction book / standard-length novel. Most Malcolm Gladwell books fit in this range. Read time = four to six hours.
  • 80,000 words–100,000 words = very long nonfiction book / long novel. The Four-Hour Work Week falls in this range.
  • 100,000+ words = epic-length novel / academic book / biography. Read time = six to eight hours. The Steve Jobs biography would fit this category.

6. Give yourself weekly deadlines

You need a weekly goal. Make it a word count to keep things objective. Celebrate the progress you’ve made while still being honest about how much work is left to do. You need to have something to aim for and a way to measure yourself. This is the only way I ever get any work done: with a deadline.

7. Get early feedback

Nothing stings worse than writing a book and then having to rewrite it, because you didn’t let anyone look at it. Have a few trusted advisers to help you discern what’s worth writing. These can be friends, editors, family. Just try to find someone who will give you honest feedback early on to make sure you’re headed in the right direction.

Phase 3: Finishing

How do you know when you’re done? Short answer: you don’t. Not really. So here’s what you do to end this book-writing process well:

8. Commit to shipping

No matter what, finish the book. Set a deadline or have one set for you. Then release it to the world. Send it to the publisher, release it on Amazon, do whatever you need to do to get it in front of people. Just don’t put it in your drawer. The worst thing would be for you to quit once this thing is written. That won’t make you do your best work and it won’t allow you to share your ideas with the world.

9. Embrace failure

As you approach the end of this project, know that this will be hard and you will most certainly mess up. Just be okay with failing, and give yourself grace. That’s what will sustain you — the determination to continue, not your elusive standards of perfection.

10. Write another book

Most authors are embarrassed by their first book. I certainly was. But without that first book, you will never learn the lessons you might otherwise miss out on. So, put your work out there, fail early, and try again. This is the only way you get better. You have to practice, which means you have to keep writing.

Every writer started somewhere, and most of them started by squeezing their writing into the cracks of their daily lives. That’s how I began, and it may be where you begin, as well. The ones who make it are the ones who show up day after day. You can do the same.

Did you notice his emphasis on deadlines and a steady work schedule? One of the best ways to implement these is through partner publishing with a company like Certa. We can come alongside you to develop a workable timeline and provide the accountability needed to accomplish this important endeavor. Contact us today!

John Piper’s Tips for Personal Productivity: Part two

john piper pt 2

Recently DesiringGod.org posted the audio transcript of an interview with its founder, Pastor John Piper. He was asked the following question:

“Pastor John, thank you for your Christ-centered precision and for the tremendous volume of your ministry output. I’m curious how you produce so much content. What time do you wake up, or find time to read and write, or eat your cereal? You mention your aversion to TV in Don’t Waste Your Life, but what advice do you have for the daily schedule-making to make the most of life for Christ?”

John Piper responded with ten tips, five of which we shared in our previous post:

  1. Don’t copy me
  2. Focus on great goals
  3. Be seasonally minded
  4. Work from life goals
  5. Labor toward the account you will give to God

This week we are sharing the remainder of Pastor Piper’s tips for personal productivity:

6. Work Urgently

Add to your sense of accountability before God a sense of urgency. “We must work the works of him who sent [us] while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work” (John 9:4). Or Ephesians 5:15–16, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise . . . ” — making, literally redeeming the time — “because the days are evil.” Or Colossians 4:5, “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time.” There is urgency in this. The days are evil and night is coming.

7. Kill Half-Heartedness

Do what you do with all your heart. Be done with half-heartedness. Oh, so many people limp through life doing what they do with a half heart, with half of their energy. If it is worth doing, it is worth doing with your whole soul. Ecclesiastes 9:10, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might.” Jonathan Edwards’s resolution probably had more impact on me in the last 30 years than anything else he said — in his resolutions, at least — when he said, “Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live” (resolution #6). Those words took hold of me a long time ago. I thought: Oh, yes Lord.

The opposite of this — fourteen times in the book of Proverbs the word “sluggard” is used. Isn’t that an ugly word? “Sluggard,” 14 times. And what is a sluggard? Proverbs 20:4, “The sluggard does not plow in the autumn; he will seek at harvest and have nothing.” You don’t want to be a sluggard.

8. Persist, Persist, Persist

Many chops fell a huge tree. Man, this is so crucial because of how quickly we get discouraged after a thousand chops and the tree is not down yet. I just finished listening to Robinson Crusoe. You might say: What in the world? Why is John Piper listening to a teenage novel? I had never heard some of these classics, so I am listening to them. Robinson Crusoe, marooned on an island, all by himself, wants to escape, and he needs a boat. Mainland is 45 miles away. There might be cannibals over there. He is not sure he wants to go, but he needs a boat. He has got nothing else to do, so he is going to make a boat. He finds a tree. This tree is five feet, ten inches, across at the bottom. He has an axe. It takes him 22 days to chop this tree down, 14 more days to chop the branches off, a year and a half to finish the boat with an axe. I’d chop on a tree for a day, two days. I say: This tree is not coming down. I am done with this tree. I am going to work on some little tree. So there is the key. Many chops fell a big tree. Do you want to do something great? Don’t quit. Keep chopping.

9. Joyfully Embrace Hard Tasks

Be willing to do many things in life cheerfully that at first you don’t want to do. They don’t come naturally to you. There is no worthwhile role in life that does not require you to do things you don’t at first feel like doing or that only let you do what comes naturally. So be cheerful in doing the parts of your life that you do not at first prefer to do.

10. Find Your Calling

Finally, find your niche, that is, find the thing you do love to do with all your weaknesses and all your strengths. Put most of your energies and your love there for Christ and his kingdom.

Which of these principles stood out to you? Do you find it difficult to embrace hard tasks? Or perhaps persistence doesn’t come naturally to you. Whatever your struggle with productivity, we hope that you can apply John Piper’s principles and achieve increased productivity in all that you set your hand to do.

How can Certa Publishing come alongside your writing journey? Contact us today to find out.

 

Just get to the point

justgetto the point

Recently we wrote about readability. Did you run your writing through the Flesch-Kincaid test to find out the reading grade level of your work? If so, it’s likely that you found out that you were inadvertently writing above the head of the average reader. This causes readers to tune out too soon or not fully grasp your content.

So what’s the fix? Make all the longer words shorter? Of course, it’s more complex than that, but completely doable. Here are 3 readability trouble spots and how to course correct:

1. Short story long

The problem: We all have one friend, family member, or co-worker, who starts to tell a story and you think, oh boy, here we go. They can make a 2-minute story into a 20-minute rambling, bunny-trail-filled narrative that leaves the listener both bored and befuddled. Well, friend, writers can fall into the same trap. See, we don’t have the benefit of watching the reader in real-time as they trudge their way through our overly verbose writing. We can’t see them sigh, get distracted, or give up altogether. Yet we must keep this common temptation at the forefront of our mind.

The fix: In her recent post, Be Specific! How to Get to the Point in Everything You Write, Grammarly writer Joanna Cutrara offers these tips:

Use appropriate sentence length – Resist the urge to jam too many ideas or details into the same sentence. If your sentence is so long that its meaning isn’t clear or you’ve switched topics partway through, consider breaking it into two new sentences.

Avoid filler words – Cutting out filler words can make your sentences shorter and easier to understand. If your sentence works without it, you just don’t need this word.

Be precise with your words – Make your writing strong and vivid by using specific phrases, instead of ambiguous words like: thing, stuff, good, bad, pretty, and ugly. Also, avoid redundant phrases such as “unexpected surprise” or “very unique.”

2. Leave a little to the imagination

The problem: We want to be completely in control of the story, or more importantly, how the story is perceived by the reader. This leads us to write down every single thought and concept we’ve collected on our subject. It’s the equivalent of handing our toddler a coloring page that we’ve completely colored in. Yes, it may be beautiful, but we’ve robbed the child of the opportunity to participate in the project.

The fix: As writers, we must not forget that the beauty of reading is not in the words themselves, but in the place they take us in our minds. Be respectful of your readers’ imaginations by giving them a starting off point, not a boxed-in, completely detailed narrative.

A recent Freelance Writing post offered this insight:

The critical aim of writing for your readers is not to inform exhaustively, but to suggest; not to thrust upon the reader’s own vision of truth and beauty in detailed completeness, but to awaken the reader’s spirit to help him see a vision of his own. To this end we must stand steadfastly, ready to omit, to compress, to sacrifice.

3. Who are you trying to impress?

The problem: Sure, those flowery sentences or academic terms may impress your writing peers or colleagues, but your average reader may be put off by them. Unless you are writing for a highly-educated niche audience, we suggest that you tone down the professor-speak and switch to a more conversational tone.

The fix: Find someone who is a complete non-expert in the subject you write about. Ask them to read a portion of your manuscript and then summarize it for you. Were they able to truly grasp the concepts, or does it seem that most went over their head? If the latter is true, then you are writing to impress, instead of writing to inform.

In each of these scenarios, there is one person who would be an invaluable asset: an editor. At Certa we offer professional editing services. Our editors are chosen for their experience and professional standards. Their attention to detail ensures that errors are not overlooked, and adds a final polish to your book without changing your unique writing style. An editor will look through your manuscript upon submission and prepare a manuscript evaluation. They will provide you with a suggested editing level, and the rationale for the suggested level. The manuscript evaluation will also list the strengths and weaknesses of the manuscript with any comments the editor has regarding it. This evaluation is free of obligation for our authors! Contact us today to take advantage of this offer.

 

John Piper’s Tips for Personal Productivity: Part 1

john piper

DesiringGod.org recently posted the audio transcript of an interview with its founder Pastor John Piper. He was asked a question that might readily come to your mind as well when you think of such a prolific writer as Mr. Piper. We think you will find his answer goes beyond practical steps and hones in on the heart of the matter.

We have included the first half here and will share the remainder in a subsequent post:

We recently talked about the book you just wrote Pastor John, back on Thursday of last week. . . . In light of that, Brandon in Charlotte, NC writes in: “Pastor John, thank you for your Christ-centered precision and for the tremendous volume of your ministry output. I’m curious how you produce so much content. What time do you wake up, or find time to read and write, or eat your cereal? You mention your aversion to TV in Don’t Waste Your Life, but what advice do you have for the daily schedule-making to make the most of life for Christ?”

I have ten things to say.

1. Don’t Copy Me

First, beware of wanting to be like me. You don’t know the sins of my life. You don’t know how much I have neglected. You don’t know what the costs have been. The real question is how to be the fullest, most God-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated, loving, humble, mission-advancing, justice-seeking, others-serving person you, you can be. Don’t measure yourself by others. Measure yourself by your potential in Christ. That is the first thing that I felt I had to say, because of the way the question seemed to be posed.

2. Focus on Great Goals

Give 10% of your focus in life to avoiding obstacles to productivity and 90% of your focus to fastening on to great goals and pursuing them with all your might. Very few people become productive by avoiding obstacles to productivity. It is not a good focus. That is not where energy comes from. It is not where vision comes from.

People write books about that and make a lot of money, but that is not where anybody gets anything worthwhile done. Getting things done that count come from great, glorious, wonderful future possibilities that take you captive and draw your pursuit with all your might. And then all that other stuff about getting obstacles out of your way. That is the 10% of broom work that you have to do.

3. Be Seasonally Minded

Life comes to us in chapters that are very different from each other. If you are married and have little children, that is a chapter that needs a great deal of focus on the children. If God wills, there may be another chapter for you with different possibilities, different potentials, and different priorities. The Lord will be pleased if you focus on the chapter you are in and live according to the demands of that chapter with all your might.

4. Work from Life Goals

Give serious thought and prayer to what your big, all-consuming life goal is. The biblical expression of mine is found in Philippians 1:20–21: “It is my eager expectation” — this is John Piper, not just Paul talking — “it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” So Christ magnified in living and dying, spreading a passion for that Christ into the lives of others. That is the goal. That is the big, overarching goal. So find yours and make it work in everything you do.

5. Labor Toward the Account You Will Give to God

Get a sense of gospel-rooted accountability before the living God. That is, understand the gospel and the spiritual dynamics of how it works. You don’t labor to get into a right relationship with God. The gospel dynamics don’t work that way. You labor morning to night with all your might because you are in a right relationship with God. Philippians 2:12–13, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for” — ground, basis, foundation — “it is God who works in you.” That is the gospel dynamic. “By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I.” The grace of God had already taken up residence in me and was at work in me (see 1 Corinthians 15:10). And if you get that order out of whack, you may accomplish a lot in life and go straight to hell with all your books and all your buildings.

Let the Lord Jesus intensify this sense of accountability on the last day with the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14–30). He gave to one person five, gave to another person two, and gave to another person one. He came to call account, and the person with one heard those awful words. “You wicked and slothful [lazy] servant” (Matthew 25:26). I don’t want to hear that word. I do not want to hear that word.

I want to experience the opposite, the counterpart to those words from Luke 12:42, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his manager will set over his household?” I often thought those words when I was a pastor. I was “over [a] household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time” (Luke 12:42). “Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes” (Luke 12:43).

I would be sitting preparing my messages or writing something or leading the family in devotion and I would say: Come, now, Lord Jesus, and you will find me doing it. That is the opposite of the wicked, lazy servant who buried your talent and didn’t do anything with it. So that is number five.

Perhaps those weren’t the “quick and easy” tips you expected from an article on productivity. However, at Certa Publishing, we concur that these deeper principles are foundational to any successful, anointed writing career. We would love to hear your feedback on this article. Comment below or contact us today.

 

Consistency: The key to building a platform

CONSISTENCY_

You’ve heard it before. Before you can sell books, you need a platform. A fan base. A loyal following. But how exactly is this accomplished? Just by being awesome? If only it were that easy. Platforms are built just like anything—one piece at a time. Social media posts. Blogs posts. Email newsletters. But if you’re going to build sporadically, waiting for inspiration to strike, you will struggle to gain traction. Consistency is key. Here are three ways to use consistency to build your platform:

1. Be consistent in your branding

When you see those golden arches, you know it’s McDonald’s. No guessing required. Same with the Nike swoosh. Would your “brand” be quickly familiar to your audience? If not, you can change that today.

James McCrae offered this simple advice in his post for Forbes:

Your brand voice includes a visual presentation. Choose a distinct color palette, typography and logo. Have a professional headshot taken and use the same photo consistently across all touchpoints. Make it easy for your fans to recognize your brand from a mile away.

Look at this example from the team at Risen Motherhood.

Their Facebook page:

rm fb

Their Instagram account:

Screenshot 2018-06-17 at 3.35.08 PM

 

Their website:

Screenshot 2018-06-17 at 3.35.37 PM

 

What do you notice? There’s nothing fancy here, but there is consistency of colors, logo and style. Now it’s your turn. Go to your website, blog, author pages and each of your social media accounts. Is your “branding” consistent? If not, take the time to make that change.

2. Be consistent on your blog and social media

The days of posting online only when inspiration strikes are over. In order to build your platform and keep your audience engaged, you need to be consistent on your blog and social media. Are you saying I have to write or post something every day? I don’t have the time or even the ideas to do that. Take a deep breath. We recently profiled author Natalie Brenner who went from having a very small platform to being a bestselling author. She explains how she became more consistent:

I honed my voice and began writing more consistently on my website.

Creating a blog calendar to post at least once a week helped.

Just write — goal was to spend less than 90 minutes per post, publish, and share.

We always encourage our Certa authors to make the most of their content by leveraging it for social media posts. Your manuscript is likely full of quotes and scriptures that can be easily dropped onto an image and posted on social media. Graphic tools like Canva and social media managers like Buffer make it easier than ever to do so.

Quick-format social media also makes consistency easier. You can easily jump on Instagram stories each day to share an inspiring thought, poll your audience or share a photo related to your work. Twitter is also the perfect place for shooting out a quick thought, interesting link or question.

3. Consistently ask your audience to take action

Building a platform is much more than gaining Facebook likes. It involves converting the passive “scroller” to an active consumer of your writing, both paid and free. So how do you create this funnel? By consistently asking your audience to take action. Most writers do this by inviting their followers to join an email list. James McCrae offers this advice:

It’s important to know what action you want your audience to take and gear your efforts toward that conversion. Having a large email list is the metric that publishers value most. Email lists are weighed heavier than social media followers because email is a more stable communication platform. Having an email newsletter creates a deeper relationship with your audience and is less likely to be ignored than social posts. Platforms such as Mailchimp make it easy to build and manage an email list.

Of course, once you have an email list established, you have to send emails! Not sure what to include? Check out 20 Ideas for Your Author Newsletter Email, which includes some great ideas like:

  • Fun facts about your writing process
  • Blog posts from other blogs you admire
  • Book Signing and Event Dates

At Certa Publishing, we recognize that many of our authors lead very busy lives and find it difficult to be consistent in building a platform. We would love to help you in this area. We can help you create a social media calendar, manage your social media entirely or even provide ghostwriting for your blog. Contact us today to find out how we can help you.