The craft of storytelling

storytelling

It’s Sunday morning. Two churchgoers sit in two different services. They sing many of the same songs and here a very similar offering appeal. Even the sermon theme is the same—the story of Esther. Yet one churchgoer leaves ready for a nap and the other exits the sanctuary with his head full of thoughts, questions and new insights, eager to read the story for himself. What is the difference? The craft of storytelling.

Is storytelling really so vital?

Why does my non-fiction book need to include storytelling?

As writers, we can make the mistake of believing that our message alone is enough to attract an audience and keep their interest. Yet without the craft of storytelling, even the most researched, theologically-sound, perfectly-edited book can sit unread on the nightstand, or worse, un-purchased in the first place.

Still not convinced that storytelling is a crucial skill to acquire as a non-fiction writer? Think of the person who carried the most life-changing non-fiction message to have ever existed… Jesus. And yet, even He used stories—”parables”—to communicate this message to the masses.

How do I incorporate storytelling into non-fiction?

The next time you listen to a TED talk or sermon, pay closer attention to what grabs your attention. We’ll bet that there is one oratory tool that universally makes the audience pay attention: the personal story. When the speaker says, “Let me give you an example,” or “Let me tell you a story,” everyone in the audience perks up. In fact, when the talk is over, we’ll bet that what you remember most about it are the personal stories you heard.

This is absolutely the same for your writing. Facts, research and exposition are great, but using a story to apply that information will instantly breathe life into your message. The author who employs this technique with expert skill is Max Lucado. Consider this example from his book God Came Near:

Wide awake is Mary. My, how young she looks! Her head rests on the soft leather of Joseph’s saddle. The pain has been eclipsed by wonder. She looks into the face of the baby. Her son. Her Lord. His Majesty. At this point in history, the human being who best understands who God is and what he is doing is a teenage girl in a smelly stable. She can’t take her eyes off him. Somehow Mary knows she is holding God. So this is he. She remembers the words of the angel,
“His kingdom will never end.”

Majesty in the midst of the mundane. Holiness in the filth of sheep manure and sweat. Divinity entering the world on the floor of a stable, through the womb of a teenager and in the presence of a carpenter.

She touches the face of the infant-God. How long was your journey!

Mr. Lucado could have simply stated the facts: Mary gave birth to a baby in a stable. Instead, he uses his incredible storytelling ability to transport the reader and illustrate the scene as vividly as if it were a movie.

The basics of storytelling

Most of us are not born with Max Lucado’s gift for storytelling, however, like any skill, it can be learned. Let’s begin with the basics of a good story:

A story arc

If you look closely, all engaging stories follow a story arc, even the animated ones that parents and grandparents may find on repeat in their homes. Recently Pixar storyboard artist Emma Coats shared her 22 rules of storytelling on Twitter. Rule number four stood out to us:

#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

Whether your entire work is a story, or you are just including a one-paragraph testimony, take the time to follow the above story arc. Doing so helps your story flow from beginning to end, keeping the audience captive all along.

Essentials of a good story

Now that you’ve established a story arc, you can begin to improve the story through these simple adjustments:

Pay attention to setting. Just as in the Christmas story example above, the reader needs context for your narrative. Even though your focus may be on the spiritual side of a topic, don’t neglect providing a setting for your message. Consider these two examples of writing about volunteering in end-of-life care:

I sat and prayed with Mrs. Glendale, knowing that she was in her final days. I read her favorite Psalms and played the hymn playlist that I’d made for her on my Spotify account.

or

As I entered Mrs. Glendale’s room for my daily visit, I couldn’t help but notice all the photos set around—some more than 50 years old and others from just this year. Grandsons in baseball photos, a niece at her flute recital, and a gorgeous family reunion photo with four generations included. I struggled with resentment as I wondered where all of these family members were now. Did they not know that their beloved Gigi was living her last days? Why should I, a practical stranger, be the one to read her favorite Psalms? Wouldn’t she rather hear her niece play her favorite hymns on the flute, than listen to them through Spotify on my phone?

Both paragraphs give the same facts, yet the second draws you into the room, feeling what the author is feeling, and understanding the undercurrent to the situation.

Be transparent. No one wants to read a story about a flawless subject. People without imperfection come off as either intimidating or inauthentic. Show us all sides of your characters, whether they be real or fictional. The above example gives us a peek into the author’s struggle: I struggled with resentment as I wondered where all of these family members were now. Your writing doesn’t have to condone or glorify the character’s flaws, but it shouldn’t ignore them either. Being transparent allows your reader to identify with your writing and see themselves within the pages.

By creating a story arc and incorporating setting and character transparency, you will be on your way to becoming a better storyteller. At Certa Publishing, we appreciate the power of storytelling and are here to help you grow in this skill. Contact us today to see how we can partner with you.

 

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Working With a Cover Designer

finding and working with a cover designer (1)

With millions of books for readers to choose from, the first “sales pitch” is the cover. If it is not striking enough to draw attention, it will be passed over for something more interesting on either side.   (Jo Linsdell, Why Book Covers are So Important)

Let’s talk about cover design. It matters. It really matters. The money you spend to hire a professional designer will pay dividends for years to come. Trust us.

You want a professional book cover designer, not just a good graphic artist, your nephew who just took an art class in college, or your friend who loves to paint and draw. Book cover design is a specialty, and even skilled graphic designers who haven’t worked in book publishing aren’t a good choice for this crucial task. (Joel Friedlander, Working With Cover and Interior Designers)

Finding a Designer

The good news is that when you partner with a publisher like Certa, the task of finding a designer doesn’t fall on your shoulders. Publishers have connections and experience with all types of professionals. Some of them, including Certa, have expert graphic designers on staff, which can significantly streamline the process. But even if they simply connect you with a known designer, you have skipped over the “is this person the real deal?” conundrum innate in finding a freelance designer. The publisher will also aid (or completely handle) the negotiations, leaving you with less back-and-forth emails and more time for… you know… writing!

Your role

So what comes next? Does the designer expect a gorgeous hand-drawn sample of what you want your cover to look like? Or, conversely, does she want you to stay out of the process entirely? With Certa, the good news is that the answer lies somewhere in the middle. You are the author. Therefore, your input and vision for the cover definitely matter. However, you are not the designer. Therefore, the skill and expertise of the designer definitely matter. This will be a collaborative effort, that if walked out correctly, can be a stimulating experience that will result in a cover so amazing that neither of you could have created alone.

So what does your designer need from you? Lara Willard offers this list in her post Seven Tips for Authors Working with a Book Cover Designer:

  • Saying “do whatever you want” can often be paralyzing to a designer with a thousand ideas.
  • Therefore, give the professional designer direction but not management. Ask for a creative brief, a tool which helps the designer understand what you want. Give the designer a few ideas to get him or her going, and then let the pro do his or her job.
  • It’s often better to say what you don’t like than what you do. “Can we avoid the color orange?” is better than “My favorite color is purple. I want it purple.”
  • If you provide images or ideas, make it clear that they are to inspire, not require the designer to follow them.
  • Create a Pinterest board of your favorite book covers to understand what styles you like. It can also be a useful addition to a creative brief. (Sharing this with your designer will be especially helpful if you hire a newbie designer.)
  • Know your genre. A good book cover gives the reader an expectation of what the pages inside hold.

The designer’s role

After submitting all of your ideas and inspiration to the designer, he or she will spend several weeks conceptualizing a design. They will likely use stock image sites, peruse successful book covers in your genre and look for fonts that tie into your theme. At this point, they will create several covers, which may vary wildly from one to the next. (The number of mock-ups will depend on the contract your publisher has negotiated on your behalf).

What if I don’t love any of the mock-ups?

Often authors will immediately fall in love with a mock-up, make a few small changes and – voila! – the cover is finished. However, if it isn’t love at first site, there are a few ways to further refine the design.

Put it to a vote

Some authors will pick their favorite 2 or 3 designs and showcase them on social media for their readers to vote on. Not only does this serve to promote your upcoming book, it also offers you a peek into the mind of your customer. Don’t be surprised if your favorite cover isn’t the one picked!

Offer specific feedback for revisions

You can eliminate the mock-ups that you definitely don’t like and then offer constructive criticism of the rest.

Helpful feedback sounds like this:

I love the font and the background color, but I’d like the image to be more realistic and less stylized.  

I love the image and mood of the cover, but I would like a less script-y font.

This cover is a bit too serious. I would like it to have a more youthful look like ______________. (specific example of a book in your genre)

Unhelpful feedback sounds like:

I just don’t like these. Please try something else.

It just doesn’t “pop.”

These are too bland.

There will be few sweeter moments in your life than the one where you hold your freshly-printed book in your hand. Gazing at that gorgeous cover, you will surely feel that all the time and effort of working with a cover designer was worth it! At Certa Publishing, we have helped hundreds of authors through the cover design process and we would love to partner with you. Contact us today!

 

4 Ways to Organize Your Writing

4 Ways to OrganizeYour Writing

Your head is full of ideas for your book or blog post. But wait! Take a deep breath and read this first. Karen Hertzberg of the Grammarly Blog shows us how attention to the organization of our writing will keep the reader’s attention and allow our message to be delivered:

No matter how well you write, no matter how carefully you proofread, your article or story can’t live up to its potential if it’s not well organized.

We all know someone who can’t tell a joke without doubling back to include some missing element that’s critical to the punchline. This happens to the best of us, but it happens less when we take a moment to organize a story in our heads before telling it.

If organizing your thoughts is essential to being known as a superb raconteur, it’s as important in written communication.

Why is organization important in writing?

When you’re preparing longform text, your goal is to make that text as easy for your reader to absorb as possible. If the reader has to double back to make sense of your article, or if it’s presented in a babbling stream of consciousness from which the reader must fish for your main points, your article will have less impact.

Fifty-five percent of visitors will read an article for 15 seconds or less before moving on. Obvious organization will make your post more skimmable, and that’s a good thing! A reader is more likely to stick around when a quick scan reveals that the information in your article is relevant.

Headings with relevant keywords can also help Google recognize critical topics in longer posts, which is better for SEO. That’s especially important if you’re writing a blog post or any other piece of content that relies on search engine traffic.

Four Great Ways to Organize Your Article

Before you begin writing, think about how you’ll structure your article or post.  What’s the clearest way to present your information? Think of yourself as a sherpa—it’s your job to guide your reader through the content. Here are four excellent ways to organize.

1. Chronologically

Developing news stories, features, human interest pieces, and anything with a historical angle can benefit from being written in chronological order, where your story moves from the earliest historical event forward. Chronological organization is also useful when you want to show the evolution of something, like the progress your company has made over the past five years or the way music has changed over the past century.

2. In Order of Importance

Journalists use the inverted pyramid technique, which puts the most critical elements of a story first and then adds supporting facts and details in order of importance. The article begins with the most newsworthy information (who, what, when, where, why, and how), builds on that with essential details, and concludes with general or background info. It works well when you’re writing a press release or presenting news.

3. Problem/Solution

Often, we go in search of an article because we’re trying to solve a problem. If the purpose of your writing is to answer specific questions for your reader, consider briefly describing each problem and then presenting your solution.

4. Numbered List

Often known as a “listicle,” numbered lists are a popular type of content. (Check out this section’s header and structure—voila!) Our brains love lists, and media outlets like BuzzFeed and its contemporaries have capitalized on their tendency to draw us in and hold our attention. If it works for your article, using a numbered list can make for easy, skimmable structure.

Organization Tips

Aside from making your article more readable, organization can make it more attractive. When a reader comes to your page and finds a visually appealing post, she’s more likely to stick around and read what you have to say about your subject.

Section headers will likely be the first things your visitor will read, so make them descriptive. Don’t forget to include relevant keywords for better SEO impact.

Easy-reading elements like bulleted or numbered lists will also send a message to the visitor that your content is easy to digest. Like it or not, our online attention spans are short, and a quick and easy bulleted list can win out over densely packed paragraphs. Summarize in digestible bites whenever that format works for your article.

Don’t forget to include things like images, pull quotes, and other supporting media. These elements bring an article to life and prevent it from looking like a wall of text.

That said, know your audience. Short and sweet isn’t always the way to go. Longform writing is gaining popularity, and things like personal essays work well with this format. But whatever approach you choose, pick a structure that makes logical sense and connects with your reader.

Do you need help structuring your writing? At Certa Publishing, we love to help authors distill their message into an organized, readable format. We are more than happy to step in, no matter where you are in the process. Contact us today!

Finding and Working with an Illustrator

finding and working with an illustrator

Your manuscript is nearly complete. All you need is the perfect illustration. But how do you go about finding and working with an illustrator? Here are some tips:

How to find an illustrator for your book

The easy answer: Let your publisher do it for you

If you’re new to the publishing industry, you may think that it is your job as the author to find an illustrator for your book. While this is possible, there’s a much more efficient route. Allow your publisher to do it for you. Working with a professional publisher has many perks and among them is their connection to established illustrators. They can ensure that you are paired with an artist who produces high-quality work and consistently meets deadlines.

In a recent post, children’s book illustrator Sarah McIntyre offers this advice:

Unless you’ve started out with a partner who’s integral to what you’re making, you don’t need to find your own illustrator; your target publisher knows lots of them. Editors and art directors don’t just take your book and print it; they’re active in creating it with you. Part of their job, and what they pride themselves in doing, is matching you up with the illustrator who’s perfect for your story.

Pro-tip: You may be surprised to find that having a pre-chosen illustrator can actually hamper your chances of being picked up by a publisher. (They are already taking a chance on you and may not also be willing to take a chance on an unfamiliar illustrator.)

Approach an illustrator through their agent

If you have fallen in love with the work of a certain illustrator and feel that your book is the perfect fit for them, you can contact them. However, we recommend that you do so through their agent.  Established illustrators use their agents to screen incoming requests with consideration of the artist’s preferences and schedule.

Pro-tip: Contacting an established illustrator directly is a dead giveaway that you’re a rookie writer. Taking the time to approach the agent in a professional manner will take you much further.

How to work with an illustrator

The publisher’s role

Illustration begins with planning, not drawing. Before anyone draws anything, your publisher will provide the illustrator with the following:

  • Book title
  • A copy of the manuscript (whether finished or not)
  • The physical size of the book
  • Number of pages

The author’s role

Your interaction with the illustrator will likely be less than you expect. Many authors come to the publishing process with very specific ideas of what the art should look like. However, it’s important to remember your role in the process. You are the writer. Without you, there isn’t a book! Your publisher’s role is to get the book into the hand of the reader. The illustrator is a tool that the publisher uses to make this happen. Therefore, it is important that the writer trust the publisher to bring in an illustrator whose work will enhance the book, and ultimately its sales. So, beyond your written words, what the illustrator needs from you, the author is art notes. 

In a recent post, author Marlo Garsnworthy offers these samples of what to do and not to do when making art notes for the illustrator:

Wrong/no art note needed:

Sally was skipping along the path when she lost her balloon. “Oooops!” she said.

[Art note: Illustration should be in watercolor, and Sally is short with blonde hair and she is skipping along a woodland path, holding a red balloon, but the string slips through her fingers and the balloon floats away.]

Correct/art note probably needed:

Sally skipped happily along the path. “Oooops!” she said.

          [Art note: Sally loses her balloon.]

When writing art notes, less is always more.

At Certa Publishing, we have years of experience matching writers and illustrators. We would love to help do the same for you! And we will help to coordinate the entire process, from fee negotiation to final printing. Contact us today to find out how we can help you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t give up on that side hustle: The story of Andy Weir, author of “The Martian”

don't give up

If you’ve ever dreamed of taking a break from your regular job in order to write, you may find it interesting that Andy Weir, author of the bestselling book The Martian, did just that… with no success. So how did he eventually write such an acclaimed novel? This excerpt of an MSNBC article explains:

If you’re looking for motivation to keep your nights-and-weekends side hustle moving forward, Andy Weir’s story of rocketing from part-time scribbler to bestselling author is sure to give you a boost.

Weir’s first book, “The Martian,” is the harrowing tale of a space pioneer who is accidentally left behind on Mars and his attempts at survival. Weir published the science fiction story in 2014 and it became a sensation: It is both a New York Times bestseller and a blockbuster big screen movie starring Matt Damon. The movie received critical acclaim and a hat tip from the space-obsessed tech billionaire Elon Musk.

 Though “The Martian” was a huge success, before the novel debuted, Weir didn’t think he could hack it as a writer. He had tried — and failed — for years. In his twenties, Weir took three years off from his career as a software engineer to try to become a writer, he tells Recode.

“I wrote a book, it wasn’t ‘The Martian,’ it didn’t get published, I couldn’t get an agent, couldn’t get any traction. Kind of the standard tale of woe that every writer has,” says Weir. “I couldn’t break in, so I figured I guess … I either don’t have what it takes or … I don’t know, but went back into the software industry.”

Weir didn’t mind writing software — he worked as a programmer for two and a half decades writing code for computer games, AOL and mobile startups — but it wasn’t his passion, either.

“I live in Silicon Valley, I grew up there, but also it’s just like I’m not a technophile. I’m not somebody who like, oh, I’ve just got to have the latest thing, the latest thing. I liked my job, I liked writing software, but it was never really this thing. It’s not like I liked talking about it at lunch, too,” says Weir.

He did, however, love writing stories, so he kept at it, despite the early failures.

“This wasn’t a sad Charlie Brown music, hang your head situation; I like writing software, but I decided that writing would just be my hobby,” Weir tells Ed Lee, Recode’s managing editor. Weir jokes that helped that at the time he had “no life,” so he could devote time to his endeavor outside of work.

“By the time I was writing ‘The Martian,’ it never occurred to me that it was publishable, and I really didn’t think it would have any mainstream appeal. I thought I was writing for this tiny little niche audience of one percenter nerds like myself who wanted all the numbers correct and the mathematical proofs in the text,” says Weir.

The scientific accuracy of “The Martian” is part of its appeal. Weir goes to great lengths to research, with scientific precision, what it would be like to travel to Mars.

“All the facts about Mars are accurate, as well as the physics of space travel the story presents. I even calculated the various orbital paths involved in the story, which required me to write my own software to track constant-thrust trajectories,” Weir says in an interview published on his own author website.

At the beginning, “The Martian” was one of three larger writing projects Weir was working on. He published them to what he admitted was an unsophisticated, bare-bones website. Each time he published a chapter he received “hundreds” of enthusiastic emails.

“I was writing all sorts of stories. I had three different serials going, and random short stories that I would post. I just kind of wrote whatever I wanted, and ‘The Martian’ was just one of the serials, but it was the one that the readers clearly liked the best, and so that helped encourage me to write it more than the others,” Weir tells Recode.

Early in his career, Weir would get emails from readers who wanted to donate money to him for his writing, but he declined. “I’m like, ‘I don’t need a donate button. I’m a computer programmer, I make a good salary, I’m fine,'” he says.

But otherwise, Weir listened to the feedback he got from his readers.

“My website leaves everything to be desired, and so I was getting emails from people saying like, ‘Hey, I loved ‘The Martian’ but I hate your website. Can you make an e-reader version that I can download and put on my e-reader?’ So I did that,” says Weir. “And then other people emailed and said like, ‘Hey, I’m glad there’s an e-reader version, but I don’t know how to download a thing from the internet and put it on my e-reader. Can you just post it to Amazon so I can just get it through their system?'”

So Weir did that, too.

“And that’s how I ultimately kind of accidentally self-published, and that started … Basically, you have to charge $1 minimum — well, actually $0.99,” says Weir. “And then so it started working its way up the bestsellers in science fiction, and that got the attention of Crown Publishing, and it got me an agent, and a movie deal.

It took Weir a long time to get his career off the ground, but once he took off, he soared.

“The movie deal and print publishing deal came within a week of each other, so I was a little shell-shocked. In fact, it was such a sudden launch in to the big leagues that I literally had a difficult time believing it. I actually worried it could all be an elaborate scam,” says Weir, in the interview published on his website. “So I guess that was my first reaction: ‘Is this really happening?!”

In fact, it was.

At Certa Publishing, we know that many of our authors have other full-time careers. We hope that this article encourages you to keep hustling on the side, to keep making the sacrifices to write and to keep pursuing what God has called you to. Do you need assistance in your writing journey? Contact us today to see how we can serve you.

A Quick Guide to Book Trailers

a quick guide tobook trailers

You’re already intimidated, aren’t you?

A book trailer?

You want me to make a video?

I’m a writer, not a video producer and editor!

Take a deep breath. We get it.

The idea of making a book trailer can be so overwhelming that most emerging authors skip it altogether. But give us a few minutes and you may find that the idea is much less daunting, and even more exciting than you realize.

Three types of book trailers

There are basically three types of book trailers and your choice depends both on how much money (if any) you can spend, as well as your technical ability:

1. The animated trailer – Think Powerpoint but better. You are basically using a presentation software to make slides containing images, book art, video and text. These slides are then merged into a video file that can be uploaded to YouTube or other mediums.

In his article How to Make a Book Trailer, Henry Herz offers a great overview of some apps you can use to create a polished, simple (and possibly free) book trailer.

  • Animoto: Make 30-second animated trailers for $8 per month.
  • Prezi: Make click-through presentations that are trailer-quality.
  • Photoshow: You’ll love how easy it is to use, but keep in mind that the free version only lasts 30 days.

Here is an example of a book trailer for Life of Pi, which was made in Animoto:

 

2. The author-driven trailer- This trailer focuses on the author. It can be an interviwe or simply you talking to the camera. This can be as simple or complex as you like. All you need is a camera, good lighting, some editing experience and a well-crafted pitch. The good news is that most newer iPhones and Android phones have both the recording and editing ability to create a quite professional-looking video. But if you’re not comfortable doing the recording yourself, you can hire a film student or local photographer with a nice camera.

The beauty of this type of book trailer is that the reader doesn’t just get introduced to the book, but also to you, which offers them an immediate connection. If they find themselves relating to you personally, they are much more likely to give your book a try.

Do you think the author-driven trailer is only for those on a budget? Well, check out this one that New York Times bestselling author Lysa TerKeurst produced for her recent book Uninvited:

 

3. The Hollywood-style book trailer– Yes, this one won’t be free, but it’s the most likely to go viral and hold the viewer’s attention. However, with some creativity, a Hollywood-style trailer doesn’t have to be a budget-buster. Free software such as iMovie (already installed on Apple computers) and MovieMaker (free to download for Windows users), make it easier than ever to create a very polished trailer. You can either hire a videographer to capture the footage you need, or you can tap into free stock footage resources like this one.

Here’s an example of a fairly simple book trailer that contains enough high-quality effects to keep you watching:

 

One last thing

Don’t make the trailer about you. Don’t even make it about your book. Instead, make the trailer about an idea. As marketing guru Jeff Goins says,

It doesn’t take a big budget, but it does take a big idea. Successful marketing is about spreading a worthy idea in an interesting and surprising way that makes your audience the hero. Video is a powerful way to do that, so long as you do it right.

Your video should be an engaging narrative that draws the reader in and leaves them wanting more. Just a like a movie trailer that elicits a “oooh we have to see that” response, your trailer should elicit a “oooh I have to read that” response. (Note that this is a different response than, “that author seems very smart,” or “that book is full of good information.”)

Perhaps you’re on board with the concept of a book trailer, but still unsure of your ability to pull it off. We would love to help you! Certa Publishing has created many book trailers for our authors and we would be glad to do the same for you. Head over here for more information, including pricing and some of our work. We look forward to hearing from you.

 

Don’t let fear steal your message

don't let fear

What if you wrote your entire book without saying that thing you really wanted to say… because of fear? Fear of being too “edgy,” fear of being theologically inaccurate, or fear of offending the reader?

In his article How to Stop Fear From Kicking Your Butt and Killing Your Writing, Frank McKinley gets in our face and admonishes us to write courageously. Enjoy this excerpt:

I used to want my writing to be perfect.

I wanted every word to go perfectly with every other word. My sentences had to sparkle. My wisdom had to astound and inspire. And my prose had to captivate people and take them to new heights of motivational ecstasy.

That’s a standard higher than Mount Everest.

I couldn’t reach it, so I gave up and traded my goal for something even better.

Effectiveness.

The Trouble With Perfection

Perfection is difficult to define.

In fact, it’s impossible.

Perfect compared to what?

Who says what is perfect and what isn’t?

Since you can’t please everyone, who should you please?

Focus, focus.

You can’t help everyone. But you can help some. Why not hone in with laser-like focus and apply your talent to a particular problem for which you have a fantastically effective solution?

Fear is Kicking Your Butt

The problem is you’re afraid.

You’re afraid your work won’t be perfect, so you edit each sentence as you write it.

You don’t do that?

Thank God.

Maybe you spend more time editing than writing, thinking you can capture perfection then.

Perfection is a wily devil, isn’t it?

When you spend too much time at the editing table, you’re like I was as an artist. When I worked on a portrait, I would fill, smudge, and erase. I’d work at it with the precision of a master craftsman.

The problem is paper is made of wood.

If you were a sculptor, you’d know you can only carve off so much. There is definitely a point where you can go too far – and totally ruin an otherwise excellent piece of art.

Mess with paper too long and it starts to deteriorate.

How do you know you’ve edited your writing too much?

All the edgy stuff is so smooth, it is sleep-inducing.

You’re so afraid you’ll ruffle someone’s feathers, you hold back the very thing that will stop a reader in her tracks – your audacity.

When that happens, fear has won.

It’s time to start kicking fear’s butt.

Are you ready?

Here are five ways you can write stuff that can change the world.

Write Your Headline First

What better way to develop laser-like focus than to use your headline as a writing prompt?

If you’re going to work really hard on one sentence, make it your headline.

Make it touch a pain point people feel.

Promise a ray of hope that will make people stand up and pay attention.

Take the headline for this article: How to Keep Fear From Kicking Your Butt and Killing Your Writing

Do you want fear to kick your butt?

Of course you don’t.

Do you want your writing to [be terrible]?

No way.

“How to Keep” promises you there’s a better way.

It also hints that your way isn’t working.

If you want the pain to go away, you’ll read the whole post to find out how to do it, won’t you?

That’s effective writing.

Write a Vomit Draft

Novelists know this term.

If you’re not familiar with the term, I’m not asking you to do something gross.

A vomit draft is what you write when you send your inner critic out for a nap. You let the words flow uninhibited. No stops. No backtracking. Just happy, carefree, rant-filled writing.

Don’t stop until you’ve got it all out.

Squash every attempt to change something until every possible word that comes to mind hits the page.

When you’re exhausted, you’re done.

Edit After a Break

If you want to write stuff that makes people stand up and cheer, you need to separate writing and editing.

And I don’t mean take a five minute break.

Take a nap and forget about it.

Go to lunch.

Maybe even climb a mountain.

Separate yourself from your work long enough that your fears don’t have their way with you.

Chances are if you really let yourself go, you’ve got some meaty stuff to work with.

Clean up the prose so it sings. Your voice is unique, special, and melodious. Let your reader hear it in all its glory.

Cut the typos, awkward sentences, and needless repetition.

Then let it go.

Set a Time Limit for Everything

Have you ever had to cram for a test?

You came up with some pretty creative ways to master the material, didn’t you?

Maybe you drew pictures because you’re a visual learner.

Perhaps you set your notes to music because you know you never forget the words to your favorite song.

Or maybe you created a story that covered all the important points you needed to remember.

Whatever you did, you dug deep into your well of creativity – because if you didn’t, you were sunk.

What if you could use that same creativity to bring your writing and editing to a higher level?

All it takes is a kitchen timer.

If you write 1000 words, edit for an hour, then stop.

When you know you have a time limit, you force yourself to do what matters. That’s the key to doing your best work day after day.

If you’re in the middle of something when the time runs out, give yourself 5 minutes – after a break – to finish it.

Then you’re done.

When in Doubt, Publish Anyway

One of the best lessons I ever learned came to me at church.

It was Saturday morning. I was with 100 other men at a seminar called Born Free.

The speaker was talking about the prison our fears build for us.

Then he said a sentence that changed my life forever.

“If you ever find yourself saying, ‘I’m not sure I should have said that,’ then that’s exactly what you need to say.”

Let that sink in for a minute.

If you know you shouldn’t say something, that’s one thing.

If you’re not sure, that’s where your genius might be hiding.

Go ahead and let it out.

That edgy statement could change someone’s future.

Do you want to risk missing out on such an opportunity to make a difference?

So what if your work’s not perfect?

Publish anyway.

So what if what you wrote scares you to death?

Share it with the world.

Some will cheer. Others may gripe. Either way, you’ve done something that matters!

Unleash Your Inner Genius

You’ve just learned five powerful ways to make your writing unforgettable.

If you’ll use these techniques, you’ll have more impact, change more lives, and find more open doors for your message.

And when you feel like a fraud, you’ll have written proof that you aren’t.

There’s no better reward for any writer who’s willing to take big risks to do great work.

At Certa Publishing, we never want fear to get in the way of an author’s message. If you need someone to bounce your courageous ideas off of, we are here for that! Contact us today.

How to research a non-fiction book

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If you’re in the process of writing a book, chances are that you are an expert on your subject. Perhaps you’re a former alcoholic writing on addiction recovery. That makes you an expert. Or perhaps you are a linguist with particular insights into Bible translation. That makes you an expert. Or maybe you’ve raised 3 kids and stayed (mostly) happily married for 20 years. That most definitely makes you an expert!

With this “expert status” can come the temptation to fill your book from cover to cover with only your personal knowledge and experiences. This is why the reader chose my book, you think. They want to know all I have to say on the subject. Well, yes, but that information only carries a certain amount of credibility. It is, after all, only one person’s perspective, which can be easy to dismiss. However, a book that is full of personal experience and knowledge backed up by research offers the reader a richer, deeper reading experience. Suddenly your expertise becomes persuasive and life-changing, rather than just “one person’s story.”

So how do we go about researching a non-fiction book? Here are a few ways:

Decide when you will research

There are times to research:

After you outline, but before you write: This method works best for writers who have developed a very clear outline and don’t plan to deviate from it very much.

As you write: If you  are a great multi-tasker who doesn’t get sucked into the rabbit hole of the internet, go ahead and research as you go.

After you write: This approach works best for most writers. When you come to a section that needs research, add a note in brackets, such as [research]. You can even highlight it with a color. After your rough draft is complete, set aside some time to research. You can simply do a text search for “research” to find all your notes.

Stick with one method of collecting your research

Whether it’s a digital method like Evernote, Pinterest, Google Drive, or a paper one like a legal pad or notebook, choose a method for collecting your research and stick to it.

Evernote: Do you frequently use more than one device, such as a laptop and a phone? Evernote is a great tool for keeping all your notes synced and constantly accessible.

Pinterest: Is your research mostly image-based (or do you have a very visual mind?) Pinterest is like a digital corkboard that allows you to step back and see all of your research in a very visual way.

Google Drive: If you find yourself downloading multiple files from the internet for your research, Google Drive allows you to upload these files to their cloud, so they can be easily accessed from anywhere, without taking up space on your hard drive or in your filing cabinet.

Good old-fashioned paper: There is still something to be said for a notebook that can be easily carried into any situation. No charger or wifi necessary.

In a recent Writer’s Digest post, author Jeff Biggers quoted travel writer Bruce Chatwin, who said, “To lose a passport was the least of one’s worries: to lose a notebook was a catastrophe.”

Biggers continued, “I never travel without a notebook in my back pocket or bag. Whether you’re a travel writer, a memoirist, a journalist or someone writing a biography of an eighteenth century writer, it is essential to have the tools to record your thoughts and discoveries immediately.”

Read to research

There is a difference between digging through a book for a good quote and reading an entire book on a subject. We challenge you to expand your research methods from index-perusing to an all-encompassing digestion of your subject matter by reading as many books as you can on the subject. What has already been written? What research have other authors used? Which perspectives have you not considered? How have other authors structured their books on the subject? Read. Read. Read!

Make it personal

While much of your research will involve Google searches, libraries and scholarly papers, there is one type of research you shouldn’t neglect: the personal interview. If you run across a particularly relevant expert, why not reach out to them for a Skype interview? Are you writing about divorce recovery? You’ll learn so much more from an in-person discussion with a divorcee than most books can teach. Interviews also offer authenticity to the situations you are trying to describe.

Jeff Biggers states, “Hearing their stories, and the motives behind their stories as it relates to your own project, often serves as a way of brainstorming, and opening new doors of ideas. Interviews are essential, even if you’re not a reporter. Languages, voices, accents, descriptions—these are all mainstays of our stories.”

At Certa Publishing, we are experts in the writing process, from start to finish. Need help with the research phase? We would love to partner with you to get your manuscript fleshed out and onto the presses. Contact us today!

Writers, let’s not be overly romantic

Writers,Let's not be overly romantic

It seems the world of writing is full of myths. In fact, it is so common that we’ve addressed it not just once, but twice on our blog. But we see this issue arise so often that we’ve excerpted one of Michael Hyatt’s articles on the topic that we think you will find both challenging and encouraging:

At this point in my career, I’ve sold a lot of books. But I was hardly an overnight success. First came work in publishing and agenting. I learned how book sales worked—and didn’t work—well before I published a word of my own.

I want to use my experience here to puncture a thought bubble I encounter when talking with would-be writers and other creatives. I call it the Romantic View of Creativity. It’s not only dead wrong; if you fall for it, it will sabotage your success.

Wrong but Romantic

There are four main false assumptions in the Romantic View of Creativity. Here they are:

  1. The creative life is easy, if not effortless. It beats “real work,” in other words.
  2. People will seek you out. Your creative fires will just burn that bright.
  3. People will love you for your art. They will be happy to have such a rare individual in their midst.
  4. You’ll easily make a living at this. And you might even get rich!

I am not exaggerating here. I have encountered creatives and other entrepreneurs who believe one, two, or all of these things. When these assumptions prove false, they often get discouraged and stuck. Some throw in the towel and quit before they’ve accomplished anything significant.

It’s a real shame—and also unnecessary.

What Creatives Need to Hear

The opposite of the four points above is closer to the truth. This will not be easy, and there are no guarantees of success. But you shouldn’t let that stop you, because there is good news here as well. Here are four truths you need to climb the mountain.

1. REAL CREATIVITY INVOLVES SIGNIFICANT WORK

Anders Ericsson is a psychologist at Florida State University who did the research behind the “10,000 Hour Rule,” as it was slightly misreported in the popular press.

In his book Peak, Ericsson urged readers to forget the 10,000 figure and focus on the now well-documented fact that mastery in almost any field or art form is the result of practicing a specific task for a long time, often thousands of hours.

Whether you want to be a great author, musician, painter, or comedian, it takes practice. You can’t just show up and expect most people to appreciate your unrefined talent. You must put in the hard work to intentionally practice and invest in your craft.

With respect to writing books—a field I know quite well—doing the work requires you to:

  • Come up with a great idea
  • Develop a proposal
  • Find an agent
  • Shop the proposal
  • Secure a publishing contract
  • Write the book
  • Rewrite the book
  • Submit it to outside editors
  • Process their edits
  • Finalize the manuscript

It’s not easy. This all requires significant effort. Successful writers have to be incredibly disciplined to pull it off. And you’re only just getting started at this point.

2. REAL CREATIVITY REQUIRES SIGNIFICANT PROMOTION

Many years ago, an author told me, “Look, my job is to write the books. Your job is to promote them.” He was simply out of touch with reality.

Successful publishing requires that the author both write the book and assist in its promotion. I understand why many authors are uncomfortable promoting their own work, but this inclination is misguided. If you have invested the hours creating the work and really believe in it, why wouldn’t you want to get the work out to as many people as possible?

It is more important than ever to have a platform. When evaluating potential projects, the first question we asked when I was Thomas Nelson’s CEO was about the book’s content. The second question was about the author’s reach. It was rare for us to offer a contract to a new author who didn’t have a built-in audience that might buy the book.

3. REAL CREATIVITY INVITES CRITICISM

From a distance, fame looks very attractive. Famous people are endlessly praised and adored, right? Wrong. Any time your head rises above the crowd, someone is liable to take a shot at you.

It’s easy to lose perspective when folks hurl those criticisms. I can receive one hundred positive comments, yet one negative barb will throw me for a loop. I suddenly think that everyone hates me, and I am ready to quit.

So take it from a fellow criticism sufferer that what you need is not an absence of criticism but perspective. It helps to sort the criticisms as they come in into three different camps: friends, critics, and trolls.

  • Friends love you and are willing to share with you the truth, even if it hurts a little bit.
  • Critics don’t have anything personal against you; they simply disagree with you.
  • Trolls are spoiling for a fight. They attack you because something is wrong with their heart. My best advice is to ignore them. If you engage them, it only strengthens their resolve.

4. REAL CREATIVITY CAN BE PROFITABLE, WITH DELIBERATE ACTION

For some reason, artists (and even some entrepreneurs) often have an uneasy relationship with money. They undervalue their work. They sell from their heels. This prevents them from taking the steps to make it pay enough to survive and prosper.

This makes little sense. Even the Bible implies that we should not feel guilty about charging for our work. As the Apostle Paul says, “A laborer is worthy of his hire.” If it’s any good, creative work is real labor.

When you put a price on something, you create value. Art that is offered freely without charge is often disregarded. In other words, if you, as the artist, don’t think it is worth anything, why should I? This is why I don’t think giving your work away for free is good for you or for the recipient.

If you truly believe in your work, charge for it and find a way to raise your rates as your skills improve.

Don’t Be Scared

I hope that none of these truths scare off creatives who want to make a living from their talents. As truths go, these are not even that hard to swallow.

What I’m saying is don’t fall for the Romantic View of Creativity. It’s going to take practice, promotion, a thicker skin, and an eye for the bottom line. Some of these things may come easier to you than others but they ought to all be possible, if you set out to master them and keep at it.

You may not be good at these disciplines to start with, but think of it this way: How long did it take you to color in the lines, draw that bow string without squeaking, or craft the perfect opening sentence? Keep at it and you may be surprised what you achieve.

At Certa Publishing, we recognize that our authors have both strengths and weaknesses. It’s our job to come alongside you, offer resources, encouragement and the tools you need to publish your message. Contact us today to get started!

Outside-the-Box Marketing Ideas

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If you’ve spent any time researching ways to market your book, you’ve likely found one common ingredient: cost. Marketing is expensive! And if you’ve just laid out money to self-publish or partner-publish, chances are that you don’t have lots of extra cash lying around to spend on promoting your book.

Fortunately, with a bit of creativity and ambition, there are plenty of out-of-the-box marketing ideas that are sure to increase your readership without significantly decreasing your bank account.

Check out these ideas:

Give your book away

Wait, what? Yes, that’s right. Give your book away. But to the right people. We loved this creative idea from emerging author Brent Jones:

I called and emailed local libraries and independent bookstores, offering them free print copies of my book. Most of them agreed to take it.

Getting my book in the hands of independent bookstores (two free copies each) and local libraries (one free copy per branch) — 26 copies in total — cost me about $195 CAD ($140 USD) for printing and shipping.

I also bought some plastic business card holders and asked each independent bookstore if I could leave a small stack of promotional cards by their cash register. Every one of them agreed.

In total, my book can be purchased locally at seven different bookstores and six different libraries.

I’ve also been booked for four author events at local libraries.

Be news-worthy

Brent noted that giving his book away to bookstores and libraries enabled him to use our next idea… Be news-worthy.

[Donating my book] gave me a new angle: Fort Erie author supports local arts and commerce by donating his debut novel to bookstores and libraries.

I positioned my pitch to local media outlets as an opportunity to discuss the importance of local arts and literacy. And it worked:

snapd Niagara Falls came out to cover my donation to the Niagara Falls Public Library. CogecoTV, the local television station, invited me to appear on their show, What’s New? to discuss my book. And I was also interviewed by Niagara This Week, for an article titled, “Fort Erie author pens debut novel.”

Local media can be an excellent marketing resource and it’s free! You may think that scoring a spot on your city’s morning talk show would be difficult, but keep in mind that the producers of those shows have to fill several hours of airtime every morning, so they are always on the lookout for good content. And what better content than a homegrown author who is donating his or her books?

Not sure how to land a media interview? This post has great info, as well as our previous post, Three Easy Ways to Land Media Appearances.

Offer yourself as an expert

Is your book theology-based? Contact your local seminary and religious universities and offer yourself as a speaker in their weekly chapel or any upcoming seminars. More than likely you will be promoted in their on-campus literature and you will be able to set up a table for signing books. Be sure to donate few books to their library.

Is your book focused on a particular industry? Offer yourself as a free speaker at conferences and tradeshows. Even large companies may bring you in to speak at employee workshops and training sessions. Be sure to email them flyers with your info that they can use to promote your appearance.

Is your book inspirational in nature? Offer yourself to local counseling groups, such as grief and divorce support groups. Contact women’s clubs, retirement centers, and moms groups to see if they need speakers. Bring along a few copies of your book to give away.

You may not see yourself as an expert, but that fact that you’ve written a book on a particular subject offers you more credibility than you think. It means that you have put a great deal of time into researching, thinking and praying about your subject. Be confident in what you offer to others!

Support a charity

We all have charities that are near and dear to our heart. And don’t we wish we could give more to those amazing groups? Your book offers you a tool to do just that. Cathy Presland offers this creative idea in a post for Author Unlimited:

Run a big charity fundraiser so that for every book sold on a certain day or a certain week you give all or part of the profits to a charity of your choice (or better yet, run a fundraiser and then send everyone who donates a free pdf of your book…)

For example, if you have friends saving up for an international adoption, let your audience know that proceeds from your book sales will go towards that couple. Then ask your friends to share this information with their circle of friends.

Also, in times of national tragedy or disaster, such as a flood or hurricane, you can do the same, with proceeds going to the Red Cross, Samaritan’s Purse, etc.

While these ideas may require a little legwork on your part, they can be highly effective, not only in their frugality, but also their marketing reach. At Certa Publishing, we have become an expert at helping emerging authors market their books. We would love to do some out-of-the-box brainstorming with you! Contact us today.