Beyond spell check: The readability tools you didn’t know you need

You can write it, but can they read it_

You wouldn’t think of writing your manuscript without spell check, right? Well, we suggest that there is another tool that is equally essential to your work.

See, we have some bad news for you. Your manuscript can be the most meticulously edited, grammatically-glorious work ever written and it can still have “low readability,” meaning that your content is difficult to understand. Yikes. No one wants that.

There’s an app for that

But don’t panic! Like most things in life, there’s an app for that.

First, it’s important to realize that the average reading level is probably lower than you imagine. In fact, in the U.S., the average person reads on a 7th to 8th-grade level. While that might be discouraging, it is still a reality. And this reality means that readability matters if you want your audience to truly grasp your content.

Don’t make your audience feel stupid.

– Drew Westen, psychology professor, Emory University

How to find your readability score

We can hear you asking, but isn’t readability subjective? Thankfully, no. There are digital tools that will evaluate your writing and tell you what grade level you are writing on. The most commonly-used tool is the Flesch-Kincaid method, which focuses on the length of words, sentences, and paragraphs to determine the grade level of a piece of writing. You simply need to run your writing through one of the following tools to find out your readability “score.”

Microsoft Word users:  

  • Follow these steps to use Word’s embedded feature and obtain your score.
  • Use an editing tool like Grammarly that checks your readability as you go.

Google Docs or other wordprocessing software:

Now that you have your score, you can decide if changes need to be made.

In her book Everybody Writes, Ann Handley summarizes the results this way:

“A score of 90-100 means that your writing is easily understood by an average 11-year old.

A score of 60-70 means that your writing is easily understood by teens ages 13-15.

A score of 0-30 means that you writing is best understood by college graduates.

[Dr. Rudolph] Flesch recommended that the score of an average, nontechnical piece aimed at consumers be a minimum of 80 (or approximately 15 words per sentence and between 1 and 1.5 syllables per word).

Here are some examples of average scores for various types of content using the Flesh-Kincaid scale:

  • Comics: 92
  • Consumer ads: 82
  • Reader’s Digest: 65
  • Time magazine: 52
  • Harvard Business Review: 43
  • Standard insurance policy: 10

What to do next

What if your writing scores as unreadable? Do you have to start over? Scrap it all together? Absolutely not. Handley suggests these simple steps to improve your score:

  • Break up long sentences.
  • Cut out complex words.
  • Simplify
  • Consider how your more sophisticated concepts can be broken down into everyday language. Reading other authors on your topic can be very helpful here.
  • Avoid using passive voice. For example, say: The wedding guests felt joy spread through the small chapel Don’t say: Joy was felt by the wedding guests in the small chapel.

Bad vs. Good

The following two paragraphs say the same thing. However, their readability scores are quite different. See if you can spot how the unreadable copy was improved.

Example 1:

Becoming proficient as a choreographer requires a diligent study of technique, musicality, and the history of choreography. Simply being the prima ballerina of your local company does not endow you with an innate affinity for composing movement, and those that make this assumption are doomed to present a production unworthy of the art itself.

This copy generated a Flesch-Kincaid score of 25.18, which is equivalent to the reading level of a postgraduate. Not good.

Example 2:

Great choreographers do much more than put moves to music. First, they become expert dancers themselves. Next, they study music. Then they learn about the great choreographers of the past. You are likely an expert dancer. But more is needed to be an expert choreographer. Don’t skip past the learning phase. Take time to study the craft so that you can produce the best piece possible.

In contrast, this copy generated a score of 70.28, meaning it is readable to most American readers. They both say the same thing, but the second example means that the reader understands the content. And isn’t that the point after all?

At Certa Publishing, we always try to provide our writers with the tools they need to create outstanding content. Whether you need help with readability, marketing or the entire publishing process, we would love to hear from you today.

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

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!

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

stop.png

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!

Keepers of These Oracle Words: Part two

 

keepers of these oracle words pt 2

A few weeks ago we shared some recent writing advice from bestselling Christian author Max Lucado. Today we give you the rest of The Write StuffEnjoy!

We need your writing. Pick up the pens left by Paul, John, and Luke, and write for the souls. They show us how. For example, they always delivered the bread. Have you noticed? They wrote with their lives first. They lived the message before they scribed it.

John was under fire for his faith. “. . . was in the isle that is called Patmos” (Rev.1:9 KJV). Exiled for his passion. Rome locked him up because they couldn’t shut him up. And Paul? He did his writing and thinking about God in the middle and muddle of the world. On a boat crossing the sea or in a prison cell chained to a guard. Luke, it seems, had two loves, Jesus and Theophilus. And he wrote fifty-two chapters in hopes that the latter would meet the former. They didn’t inhabit ivory towers or quarantine themselves in a world of unasked questions. “You know . . . in what manner I always lived among you,” Paul said (Acts 20:18 NKJV). Before he wrote about Christ, he lived Christ. He responded to a real world with real words. Let’s do the same.

Let your life be your first draft. Shouldn’t Christian writers be Christian writers?

Love grumpy neighbors. Feed hungry people. Help a struggling church. Pay your bills, your dues, and attention to your spouse. You’ll never write better than you live. Live with integrity.

And when it’s time to write, write with clarity. Good writing reflects clear thinking. Here’s a tip: Cherish clarity. Make it your aim to summarize the entire book in one sentence. Distill the message into a phrase, and protect it. Stand guard. Defy interlopers. No paragraph gets to play unless it contributes to the message of the book.

Follow the example of John. Jesus worked many other miracles for his disciples, and not all of them are written in this book. But these are written so that you will put your faith in Jesus ( John 20:30–31 CEV).

John self-edited. He auditioned his stories to fit the manuscript. He littered his floor with edited paragraphs. Good writers do this. They tap the Delete button and distill the writing.

They bare-bones and bare-knuckle it. They cut the fat and keep the fact. Concise (but not cute). Clear (but not shallow). Enough (but not too much). Make every word earn its place on the page. Not just once or twice, but many times. Sentences can be like just-caught fish—spunky today and stinky tomorrow.

Reread until you’ve thrown out all the stinkers. Rewrite until you have either a masterpiece or an angry publisher. Revise as long as you can. “God’s words are pure words, pure silver words refined seven times in the fires of his word-kiln” (Psalm 12:6 MSG).

Ernest Hemingway espoused rewriting: “I rise at first light . . . and I start by rereading and editing everything I have written to the point I left off. That way I go through a book I’m writing several hundred times . . . Most writers slough off the toughest but most important part of their trade—editing their stuff, honing it and honing it until it gets an edge like the bullfighter’s estoque, the killing sword.” Describing A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway said, “I had rewritten the ending thirty-nine times in manuscript and . . . worked it over thirty times in proof, trying to get it right.”

I find it helps to read the work out loud. First to myself, then to anyone who is kind enough to listen. I vary the locations of the reading. What sounds good in the study must sound good on the porch. What sounds good to me must sound good to my editors. Sure, editing hurts. So does a trip to the dentist. But someone needs to find the cavities.

Let editors do their job. Release your grip on the manuscript. A little red ink won’t hurt you. A lot of red ink might save you. My most recent manuscript was returned to me sunburned in red. It bled like raw steak. Of its fourteen chapters, thirteen needed an overhaul. I was depressed for a week. Yet the book is better because of the editors.

And isn’t that our aim? The best book possible? We need good books. We need your best book. The single . . . the lonely pastor . . . the stressed missionary— we need you to give them your best words. We need you to write.

Intending to write is not writing. Researching is not writing. Telling people you want to write is not writing. Writing is writing. Peter De Vries said, “I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning.”

A framed quote greets me each time I sit at my desk. “You wanna write? Put your butt in that chair and sit there a long, long time.” Writing is not glamorous work.

But it is a noble work. A valued work. A worthwhile work. A holy work. “How many a man,” asked Thoreau, “has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book!”

May you write such books, give birth to new eras. May you see the heavens like John, love the churches like Paul, and touch the souls like Luke. May you pick up their pens and write for the soul.

At Certa Publishing, we believe that our authors have divinely-inspired messages to share and we are committed to helping as many readers as possible have access to that message. How can we partner with you in the writing process? Contact us today!

 

Keepers of These Oracle Words

keepers of theseoracle words

There are few more notable and prolific Christian authors than Max Lucado. As the author of over 100 books with 100 million copies in print, his writing has reached far and wide. So when Mr. Lucado takes the time to offer writing advice, we are more than eager to listen. Below is an excerpt from an article he wrote, entitled The Write StuffEnjoy!

In our office we receive many questions about writing: how to write, when to write, who can publish, who can edit. Not a week passes that we don’t receive a question about writing. So I wrote down a few thoughts. Hope you find them helpful.

We like to envision him as an old man with young eyes, wild hair, and a raging quill. He wrote by the light of a lamp in the lee of a shack with the fury of a prophet. His pen could scarcely keep pace with his thoughts. A revealing of Jesus, the Messiah. God gave it to make plain to his servants what is about to happen. He published and delivered it by Angel to his servant John. And John told everything he saw: God’s Word—the witness of Jesus Christ!

How blessed the reader! How blessed the hearers and keepers of these oracle words, all the words written in this book! (Rev. 1:1–3 msg).

The old apostle paused only to catch his breath and dip his pen. He stood only to gaze through an open window into the just-opened heavens. If he closed his eyes, it was only to rummage through his treasure chest of words for the one that fit the vision of an often-crowned Christ or a blood-dipped robe. No lazy verbs, no vanilla adjectives. This gate glistened with pearls, and streets spoke of gold. This was God’s revelation. John was God’s revealer. So John wrote.

So did Paul. Yet Paul wrote, not because of heavenly action, but because of congregational angst. Titus needed direction; the Ephesians needed assurance. Timothy struggled, the Corinthians squabbled, and the Galatians waffled. So Paul wrote them.

How he made music with his words. He turned epistles into concert hall sheet music. “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor. 13:1 NKJV).

It’s as if he dipped his pen in honey. He could sound like a poet in the seventh heaven. He could also sound like a pastor on Monday morning. Tired, frustrated. Beginning sentences and not finishing them. Starting a second thought before he completed the first. Throwing out ideas in lumps instead of lyrics. But that was okay. He wasn’t writing the Bible. He was writing to Philemon. He wasn’t crafting epistles; he was solving problems. Paul didn’t write for the ages; he wrote for the churches. He wrote for souls.

So did Luke. Remember the early words of his gospel?

“Since I have investigated all the reports in close detail, starting from the story’s beginning, I decided to write it all out for you, most honorable Theophilus, so you can know beyond the shadow of a doubt the reliability of what you were taught.” (Luke 1:3–4 MSG)

We wonder who Theophilus was and where Theophilus lived and if Theophilus found it unusual to receive a two-volume letter. We wonder what convinced Luke to rivet himself to his wooden chair near a shuttered window long enough to write a gospel. What prompted Dr. Luke to exchange his scalpel for the pen, the crowds for the quiet corner?

When did he perceive his assignment as a kingdom scribe?

We wonder because we’ve wondered if God would use us to do the same. We know a Theophilus or two. We’ve seen the confusion in Ephesus and heard of the troubles in Crete. And we’ve felt the sands of Patmos beneath our feet, its fire within our hearts. And we’ve written: articles, blogs, books, stories. Not like Luke, Paul, and John. But not unlike them either. We’ve had our moments of inspiration. Sandwiched between hours of perspiration, for sure. But we’ve had our moments—mystical moments of pounding heart and pounding keyboard. We’ve felt the wind at our backs and sensed a holy hand guiding ours. We, as our Creator, have beheld our creations and declared, “It’s good.” (Or at least, “It’s not so bad.”) And we have asked: Is this our call? Our assignment? To use words to shape souls?

I first ventured such a question beneath the balmy skies of Miami, Florida. I was a rookie minister in 1979. The church where I served published a weekly bulletin. Many pastors dread such assignments, but I came to cherish it. Tuesday evenings became my notebook date night. I would retreat with pad and pen and sit until something happened. Once a week I went into labor and delivered an idea. Is there any sweeter moment than the writing of the final sentence?

Actually there is. The appreciation thereof. When eighty-year-old Edith Hayes thanked me in the church foyer for my article on prayer. When Joe the boat builder gave copies to his crew. When the pastor from California urged me to write for publication. I smiled for days. It’s one thing to write. It’s quite another to be read.

I came to believe this much: good words are worth the work. Well-written words can change a life. Words go where we never go. Africa. Australia. Indonesia. My daughter was in Bangalore, India, last summer and saw my books in the display window of a shop.

Written words go to places you’ll never go. . . . and descend to depths you’ll never know.

The readers invite the author to a private moment. They clear the calendar, find a corner, flip on the lamp, turn off the television, pour the tea, pull on the wrap, silence the dog, shoo the kids. They set the table, pull out the chair, and invite you, “Come, talk to me for a moment.”

So accept the invitation. We need your writing. Pick up the pens left by Paul, John, and Luke, and write for the souls.

Tune in next week for part two of Max Lucado’s post on writing.

At Certa Publishing, we see our writers as more than just content producers. We see them as those faithful servants working away in the shadow of the great writers that have come before. How can we partner with you in the writing process? Contact us today!

 

Don’t do it! Don’t quit!

 

Don't do it!Don't quit! (2)

We’ve all been there. At the quitting point. When we decide that our work doesn’t matter. Or our voice isn’t needed. Or we just don’t have what it takes to get published. Author Gina Detwiler (co-author of Priscilla Shirer’s highly-acclaimed Prince Warrior series), can relate. Be encouraged by these tips straight from God’s Word:

If I had to pick the hardest thing to deal with as a writer, it’s rejection.

To any young person who asks me for advice in pursuing a writing career, I tell them: get used to rejection. The most famous authors in the world faced rejection, sometimes for long periods. We have a writer saying: “R.I.P.” Rejection Isn’t Personal. But it sure feels like it is! We writers tend to be sensitive, insecure people whose work becomes our identity. If a publisher or editor or agent rejects our story, it’s like they are rejecting us, even though the two are not the same.

I’ll be honest, here: I have quit writing many times. I’ve thought I should get a “real job,” like a plumber. Plumbers bring true joy to people. Nothing like an unclogged septic tank to make you break into a happy dance.

My resolve has never lasted long. But here’s the question: how do you know, when you are doing a thing, that God wants you to keep doing that thing?

One thing I do know, rejection and discouragement don’t qualify as reasons to quit. Remember Elijah? The Prophet of God who, after the greatest success of his career on Mount Carmel, sank into such a deep depression that he wished he’d never been born? (This is in 1 Kings 18-19, if you are following along in your Bibles.) Why? Because his super-duper miracle hadn’t changed a single heart (though it did stop a few). It only made his enemies madder. So, he thought, what’s the point? Why do I even bother?

I love that God answers his weeping and wailing with: lunch.

So, step # 1 When you want to quit: Have lunch. Then take a nap.

God makes Elijah some food and then tells him to take a nap. Can you relate?

Once Elijah is feeling stronger physically, God’s next direction is to take a walk. To the top of a mountain. I’ve found that “walking it out” is a great way to sort through the stuff of life. (Not running, mind you. Nothing good comes of running, LOL.) It’s also a great way to burn off those lunch calories.

Once he’s had a good nap and a nice walk, God addresses Elijah’s spiritual malaise. He asks, point blank: “Elijah, what are you doing here?” God’s not interested in his physical location, but his spiritual one. Elijah starts right in with more complaining: “I’m doing all this amazing stuff for You, but it was a total failure and I’m all alone, so please kill me now” (Paraphrasing here!)

No matter how sure we are of God’s role for us, there are times when we all think: “All I’ve done has gotten me exactly nowhere, so I must be a failure.”

Step # 2: Vent. This is healthy, for a time.

God’s not a fan of us grumbling and complaining to each other, but He’s okay with taking our laments directly to him. After all, there’s a whole book in the Bible called “Lamentations.” God lets Elijah repeat his complaints two times. But He doesn’t say, “There, there Elijah, I know how you feel. I’ve been there.”

Nope.

When Elijah is done venting, God gives him a to-do list. It’s like God is saying, “Okay, feel better now? Great. Here’s what you’re going to do.”

Step # 3: Get back to work. Possibly in a new direction.

Keep in mind: God might tell you to do something you never thought you’d be doing. Elijah wasn’t going to be preaching or performing great public miracles for awhile. He wasn’t going to take down the evil King Ahab all by himself. God has something completely different in mind.

The first thing God tells Elijah to do is to anoint a Gentile king (and not a particularly good one) who would eventually attack Israel and Judah and wipe out all those who failed to heed his warnings on Mount Carmel. Then Elijah was to anoint Jehu as king over Israel, who would take care of all those that the other guy missed, including Elijah’s arch-nemesis, the wicked queen Jezebel.

Long story short: “You do your job, Elijah, and I’ll do mine.”

This didn’t happen overnight. In fact, Elijah wasn’t even there to see it happen, but from that moment on, he never doubted God’s word.

The last thing God gave Elijah: a friend. He led him to seek out Elisha who, the Bible says, followed him and “ministered to him.” Now he was not alone anymore. Their friendship is one of the sweetest and most fruitful in the whole Bible.

Step # 4: Find a friend.

When I was at the point of giving up, God gave me a friend. I found her via the internet, when I went looking for an editor who could help me fix up a novel I had decided to self-publish after trying for months to get a traditional publisher. She turned out to be not only a wonderful writer and editor but a great encourager. We eventually formed a writer’s group. We meet once a month to vent, critique each other’s work, and encourage each other. I can’t tell you what a difference it has made. Having a friend who is walking the same journey as you, who can offer encouragement and correction in equal measure, is vital.

So here’s the bottom line: if one of the greatest of God’s prophets can have a major identity crisis, then without a doubt so will we. Yet perhaps this is exactly the sort of thing we need to move us in the direction God wants us to go.

So until I start getting brochures for plumbing schools in the mail, I’m going to keep doing this thing and trust God with all the rest of it. I hope you will too.

If you feel like quitting, we hope that you’ll reach out to us. At Certa Publishing, we are full of resources, strategies and encouragement to keep writers on the path to publishing and beyond! Contact us today.

3 New Years Resolutions for Writers (that you can actually keep)

3 New Years Resolutions for Writers

It’s that time of year. When we make resolutions that are often optimistic, yet too far-reaching and vague. But when it comes to your writing, we’ve compiled three resolutions that you can actually keep!

1. Be more vulnerable

Most writers can research a topic and write intelligently about it. Yet only the best writers can infuse a topic with their personal experience and soul-level ponderings. This year, strive to take your writing to the next level by inviting the reader just a bit deeper into your life and journey.  Does this frighten you? Author and blogger Jeff Goins offers,

There is something powerful about leaning into fear and doing the thing that petrifies you. Nothing stirs the emotions of a reader like writing “from the heart,” as they say. Don’t hold back now. This is the year where you show all your scars, and maybe people will thank you for it. Regardless, you will be sharing your truth and that is enough.

2. Find your voice

If you’re new to writing (or even if you’re not), chances are you are still looking for that ever-elusive “writer’s voice” that everyone says is so important. Well, they are right. It is important. So this is the year to nail it down.

But how, exactly, does one do that? Fortunately, the answer is very simple. You write. Then you write some more. Then you write more than you ever have. Think of a baker who makes multiple versions of chocolate chip cookies, until finally she nails it… or a carpenter who adjusts his tools, tries endless varieties of woods and leans into the sander just so until he achieves the perfect end result. You too can settle into just the right voice for your writing.

Bestselling author, Jon Acuff gives this advice:

The only way to find your voice is to write.

Only fear doesn’t tell you that.

Fear tells you that you shouldn’t write until you have your voice figured out.

Fear tells you that other writers all know their voices perfectly. Other writers have well sculpted points of view that are honed and polished. Then and only then do they sit down to write.

That is nonsense.

Never wait until find your voice to write.

Write until you find your voice.

3. Establish an online presence

If you don’t have social media accounts, a blog and/or author website, there really isn’t a good excuse. These are must-haves for writers today. And no, your personal Facebook page where you argue with Uncle Harry about politics and share dog photos doesn’t count. It’s time to establish a professional presence online.

The WordCounter blog suggests:

Working writers need a website and possibly a Twitter and/or Facebook account to help with promotion to connect with readers and clients. If you’ve already got something, check to make sure it meets your needs and is professional-looking. If you don’t have anything, either figure out how to do it yourself or hire someone. Your website doesn’t have to be huge or technologically advanced, but it should be professional and informative.

But don’t be overwhelmed. This can easily be done one step at a time. We’ve already put together some great resources for you on this blog.

Do you need to create an author website?

Need help with an Amazon author page?

Not sure where to start with social media?

We are excited to see what 2018 brings for our Certa writers. Contact us today to find out how we can partner with you!