If you gather a group of 10 writers, you will find that each of them has a different “toolbox” full of digital and not-so-digital writing tools that they can’t live without. Some like to do all their writing on their computer. Some use voice dictation, while others are still buying yellow legal pads and pens in bulk.

Beyond the physical tools of the trade, there are just as many online tools available to writers. But which are helpful and which just add to the noise and clutter of our digitally-dependent lives?

In our last post, we shared some of Jane Friedman’s favorite productivity tools, and we’ve gathered a few more here today that we hope will help, not hinder your writing process.

Freedom

When it comes to writing, what is your number one distraction? If you’re like most writers, you probably said the internet. How often have you seen an hour of your time get sucked into the black hole of Facebook? Or perhaps you’ve tried to write while your phone buzzes, beeps and chirps at you every 30 seconds. Even if you don’t stop to check it, your mind will struggle to stay in the zone of writing. That’s where Freedom comes in.  Freedom allows you to block certain notifications from certain apps at certain times. Don’t want to know about every Facebook comment or Twitter follow? Freedom can help. It can even be programmed to shut off notifications or the internet completely during certain times. Do you always write during your lunch break at work? Tell Freedom and it will automatically hang a digital “do not disturb” sign on your phone during that time every day, keeping you on track and efficient. Here’s a quick explanation of the app’s features:

 

There is a small monthly fee, but if you find writing distraction-free is really improving your efficiency, it might be worth the cost.

Grammarly

We can’t say enough about this amazing (and free!) browser extension. Grammarly integrates with most platforms to automatically check your grammar as you write. From WordPress to Google Documents, from Facebook to Gmail, Grammarly is the proverbial English teacher, hovering over your shoulder correcting your work as you go. Most of the features are free, but a premium membership is available, which offers a few extra tools, such as a plagarism checker.

 

Ulysses

Like Freedom, Ulysses helps to avoid distractions, but this app takes things a step further by consolidating all of your writing tasks into one place. Need to write distraction-free? Check. Need to keep all of your work and inspiration in one place, cataloged by project? Check. Need to easily export your work using various file types? No problem. So what’s the catch? Ulysses is only available for Apple devices and it costs $45.

In her recent article The Best Writing Apps of 2017, Jill Duffy of PC Mag wrote:

Writers who find themselves in the less-is-more camp will want a writing app that strips away anything that could possibly be the least little bit distracting. Distraction-free writing apps are a dime a dozen. The trick is to find one that also offers the tools you need when you need them. In other words, the best distraction-free writing app will hide the tools you need until the appropriate time, rather than omitting them altogether.

With that criterion in mind, Ulysses is my favorite distraction-free writing app, and a PCMag Editors’ Choice.

At Certa Publishing, we believe in equipping our authors with the practical tools you need to write your best. Through posts like this, as well as others about long-form writing, cultivating good writing habits, and writing the rough draft, we hope to provide you with everything you need to pour your heart and life onto the page.

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The Writer’s Digital Toolbox: Part 2

The Writer’s Digital Toolbox

Jane Friedman is a publishing expert and digital media strategist. She recently dished on essential author tools in her post, My Must-Have (Digital) Productivity Tools, which we have excerpted here:

This post is one that I regularly update with my absolute must-have digital tools that enhance my productivity, creativity, and digital-life sanity.

1. Zoom

Zoom is my go-to online meeting service. I use it for client meetings, personal chats, online courses, and even to pipe in guest speakers for in-person events. I’ve found it nearly foolproof since participants can join on any device—including a phone—using video + audio, or audio only. Find out more about Zoom. You’ll find both free and paid plans.

2. Evernote

I resisted using Evernotefor years, but over the last two years, it’s become integral to my workflow. I use it for what I call my “primary to-do list,” which is broken down by day of the week, as well as for first drafts of blog posts, research notes, interviews, and conference talk outlines. I also use for “composting” ideas. If you’re the kind of person who has a million stickies on your desktop, or multiple documents where you’re dumping notes, then take a serious look at Evernote.

3. CrashPlan

This is my continuous back-up system for my computers. It runs faithfully in the background, 24/7, and I don’t have to think about backing up, ever. The annual fee is worth it—check it out.

4. Scrivener

I finally took the leap and started using Scrivener when I began assembling my book, Publishing 101. I will never write a book in Word again. Of course, the big drawback is that Scrivener is not at all intuitive, so you’ll have to carefully go through their free tutorial; you can also find online courses available to turn you into an expert user. I recommend you download and use the free trial version for 30 days as you decide if you’re OK with the learning curve.

5. Canva

Even though I’m an expert user of InDesign and intermediate user of Photoshop, I love Canva to brainstorm ideas and put together quick visuals for social media. (See image at the top of this post!) This free service smartly recognizes that more and more of us need easy tools to design things that look halfway decent, and don’t have the time or resource to hire a professional. While Canva has serious limitations, for lightweight work, it’s perfect.

6. Dropbox

I couldn’t function on a daily basis without Dropbox, which is cloud-based storage of my work files, especially since I change machines so often. It syncs across my desktop, laptop, mobile devices, and I can also access it through any computer if I have login credentials with me.

7. Google Drive

I use Google Drive in addition to Dropbox as a cloud storage system, but specifically for those documents that I collaborate on (where multiple people might need access)—or when I want to share public links.

8. Paprika

Paprika is an app where I store all my recipes. It helps me meal plan during the week, generate shopping lists that get sent to email, and categorize recipes according to my own criteria.

9. LastPass

LastPass is a password manager that helps ensure you never forget a password again—or use bad password hygiene (making you vulnerable to attack). It generates strong passwords and stores your login credentials, securely and locally; whenever you go to a site that requires those credentials, it autofills them for you on a browser. You can get started for free.

10. Acuity Scheduling

This is a full-featured appointment/scheduling software that allows clients to book free or paid appointments with you. No more back-and-forth emailing to set up appointment times—it syncs with your Google calendar (among others). Acuity can be embedded into your site or shared as a link. Free to start, $10/month for most features you want.

11. Zippy Courses

Zippy is my preferred tool for creating and selling online courses. If you have a self-hosted WordPress site, you can buy the Zippy Courses plugin. Or, if that’s too technically complicated, they offer a fully hosted solution for an annual subscription fee. I see at as the most sensible and easy solution for anyone accustomed to WordPress sites.

12. Wave

Wave is a free and robust online accounting service for tracking income and expenses related to your business. It also generates invoices that clients can pay online by credit card.

13. MailChimp

MailChimp is the email newsletter service I use, which is free until you reach 2,000 names. If you’re serious about online marketing, but are still at the beginning stages of building your business, you’re better off using this and not TinyLetter.

14. VisualHunt

VisualHunt is my favorite tool for finding Creative Commons and public domain images to use in my online courses, blog, newsletter, and elsewhere.

At Certa Publishing, we use many of these tools on a daily basis. In fact, we can thank Canva for helping us create the blog post above. What tools make your life more productive? We’d love to hear about it in the comments.

The harsh Amazon review. The stinging comments from a writing peer. The editor’s terse remarks. Finding out that a close friend never finished your book, or even took the time to read it. Criticism comes in many forms. And it comes. There is no holding it back. Even years after you’ve published your book, a freshly written critique can jettison you back to questioning your very worth as a writer.

It would be naive for us to recommend that you simply ignore reviews and move on. But taking one of these 3 approaches will turn criticism from a tool of discouragement to a constructive element in your writing journey:

Be grateful

Someone has left you a nasty Amazon review. Ouch. The last thing you want to do is say thank you! But that is just what the Bible instructs us to do.

… give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:18

So what does that look like practically? It means saying, “Thank you Lord that I have this opportunity to forgive, to reaffirm my worth in you and to even pray for this person that spoke so harshly.”

You can even just be grateful that they took the time to read your work and offer their thoughts, no matter how difficult they are to read.

In her article, How to Handle Criticism of Your Writing, Daphne Gray-Grant writes,

I know this may be hard, particularly if the criticisms are harsh but editing is challenging and your critics are doing you a favour – particularly if they don’t cover their comments with roses. Effective criticism, even if it’s hard to take, will make you a better writer.

Beth Moore recently tweeted this gem about choosing to have a right spirit when critical words are spoken:

Be separate from your writing

You are not your writing. You are a person, made in the image of God. Loved, accepted and redeemed. Your writing is by you and from you, but it is not you. When you take this approach, accepting criticism is much easier. Your critics and editors are not commenting on your personal worth or value as a human being.

Speaking specifically about the editing process, a post on The Surly Muse offered this advice:

Unless you have very poor taste in friends, chances are your critic isn’t out to destroy you psychologically. They’re not pointing out flaws in your work because they hate your guts and wish you would fall under a dump truck. They’re trying to make your work better. You don’t have to agree with them, but it pays to respect their time and their intent.

Be confident

Is your work God-breathed? Have you been journaling, meditating on and developing its ideas for years and years? Then be confident in your work. Is it perfect? No. Is it the greatest book written this century? Probably not. But it is yours, poured forth from the well that God has put within you and only you.

… being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:6

One last note. All books, even the greats, receive negative reviews. Check out these examples curated by Beth Bacon in her post 5 Ways For Authors to Handle Bad Reviews:

“It was one of the most boring and shallow books that I have ever read.” —review of the American classic The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

“Not nearly enough consistency and far to [sic] little plot.”—review of Harry Potter And the Half Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling

“If I were you, I’d peruse it briefly at your neighborhood library before putting hard-earned money out.” —review of children’s classic A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle

“I find myself saying to myself as I read it ‘bla bla bla’ as that is what the author seems to be saying.” —review of National Book Award Winner Shadow Country by Peter Matthiessen

At Certa Publishing, we walk with our authors through the entire writing, editing and publishing process. When the journey becomes difficult, we are here to offer encouragement and perspective. Contact us today to see how we can partner with you!

When Your Work is Criticized: 3 ways to handle it like a pro

3 Steps to Better Sentences

You know your writing needs to improve, but you’re not sure where to start. Enroll in a pricey writing course? Check out every writing book in the library? Consume all the writing blogs you can find? It may not be as complicated as you think.

Stefanie Flaxman, writer for Copyblogger, suggests a simple editing technique in her post 3 Advanced Ways to Craft Better Sentences, which we have excerpted here:

While the goal of “improving your content writing” may seem complex, it’s not necessarily more complicated than improving each sentence you write.

Better sentences add up to better content.

So, let’s break down content writing into sentence writing.

I’m not about to show you how to write a “perfect” sentence. Instead, these three tips will help you remember that every sentence you write is an opportunity to practice.

And during your writing practice, you can implement smart changes that keep your reader focused on your message.

1. No sentence is an island

Even if you’re examining just one individual sentence, it’s helpful to review the sentences that surround it.

There are two main reasons why:

  1. You may have overused a word. Sometimes you’ll intentionally repeat a word for emphasis or because it fits the rhythm of your writing. But we often overuse words without meaning to. When you review your writing, vary your word choice to create a more stimulating reading experience.
  2. You may have belabored a point. Give each sentence you write a specific purpose. If you communicate the exact same idea in two different sentences, it’s probably wise to delete one.

When you look at the broader context of your writing while aiming to improve one sentence, you kick off a sort of domino effect. Noticing one weakness helps you correct other weaker sections.

2. Writing skin needs exfoliation

The most “advanced” skill you can learn is to examine your own writing with a critical eye.

A critical eye doesn’t mean you’re so hard on yourself that you get discouraged. It just lets you swiftly identify areas of your sentences that either hinder comprehension or lack the details that magnetically hold attention.

I like the comparison to skin exfoliation because rough drafts, like dry skin, are … rough.

For example, you’re probably already familiar with the benefits of using active verbs instead of passive verbs.

Changing a sentence from “Joplin was devastated by the twister” to “The twister devastated Joplin” exfoliates the sentence to make it smoother.

Removing extra words is another form of exfoliation.

Here’s an example from my recent article on finding more loyal readers. I’ve bolded the extra words in the draft of this paragraph.

Edith likes Frank’s article idea, but she needs to consult with him andeducate him on the type of content that is the right fit for Cosmopolitan. She’ll give him their writer guidelines so he can use them to match the tone and style of his article to the publication’s specifications.

Here’s the published version of that paragraph.

Edith likes Frank’s article idea, but she needs to educate him on the type of content that is the right fit for Cosmopolitan. She’ll give him their writer guidelines so he can match the tone and style of his article to the publication’s specifications.

To give you one more example, in the draft of this article I wrote, “Here’s the final version of the paragraph that we published.” As you can see above, that sentence turned into, “Here’s the published version of that paragraph.”

Developing an eye for excess will sharpen your writing.

3. “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

When I edit, I always have a browser tab with a Google search bar open.

Why?

Because I’m constantly looking up the meanings of words or idioms that I don’t consider straightforward — anything that sticks out and makes me question whether or not it is correct.

Even if I’m 95 percent certain, it’s always beneficial to verify that it’s the most appropriate word or phrase.

My Google search browser tab is also helpful for double-checking the spellings of proper names, places, products, and companies.

The bottom line here is valuing professional editorial standards that help guarantee accuracy. Take the time to ensure your readers effortlessly understand your content and aren’t distracted by a misspelling, or the incorrect use of a word or idiom.

At Certa Publishing, we are passionate about the editing process. How can we help you?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could simply transcribe all of your sermons or teachings into a book and send it to be published? But of course, it’s not that simple.

Have you ever read the transcription of an interview instead of watching the video? More than likely you didn’t make it to the end. This proves that an interesting conversation or teaching doesn’t necessarily translate into an interesting read.

Converting your sermons into a book will take some skill. But it can certainly be done. So how can you make your book different than an anthology of sermons? Here are four ways.

Break it up

More than likely, your sermons are given in one sitting. The audience sits and listens until the end. However, a book is not (usually) consumed at once. Your reader needs to feel the freedom to come and go from the text. Obviously, this is accomplished with chapters, but also with subheadings, sections, and inserts. These breaks allow the reader to breathe and offers them a sense of accomplishment, without completing the book. Also, shorter sentences are best. Remember that words don’t have the benefit of your voice inflection, so long sentences become cumbersome.

Appreciate the value of a dynamic cover

Your message is incredible. Everyone who hears it remarks on its power and suggests you should make this into a book! But the average consumer scrolling through Amazon doesn’t know that yet. To them, your book is just one of hundreds, if not thousands of books in the same category. Like it or not, you must have a dynamic cover to draw their attention.

A recent study by a graphic design firm found that books with redesigned covers achieved an “improvement in click-through rate [which] ranged from 6% on the low end, to 122% on the high end.”

You may be surprised at how much is involved in an effective cover design. There is so much more to it than fonts and appealing images. In a recent article on Kobo Writing Life, JD Smith wrote on Cover Design Essentials. Smith states that a successful cover design will take into consideration the following:

  • The taste of your target market
  • The right balance of text, colors and images
  • Complementary colors that stand out but don’t clash
  • Proper composition of the text, including title, author and subtitles
  • Branding considerations (if this book becomes the first in a series, can the design be replicated in the future?)

Given all of these factors, it’s clear that the investment in a professionally-designed cover will be well worth the cost.

Add personality to your writing

Have you noticed that your audience often perks up as soon as you begin to tell a story or give a personal example during your sermon or teaching? Why is this? Because we all love a good story and we enjoy getting to know the person we are listening to.

A book is no different. No matter the depths of your theology or the heights of your insights, there is likely another book with similar content. What sets yours apart is how this theology and insight has transformed your life and those around you. Tell those stories. Offer that personal application. This is what keeps your reader coming back for more.

Expand and expound

Often a great sermon has more content trimmed out than left in. Editing all that research down to a 20-30 minute teaching can be agonizing. Writing a book offers you the chance to pick up those discarded nuggets and use them to expound on your subject. Now is the time to dig into the etymology, historical context, and geographical details. What do the experts say? What do the detractors say? Add in those rich insights.

If someone has taken the time to purchase and read your book, chances are they are looking for more information than is typically found in a Sunday morning talk. They want to dig deeper and really study the subject. By expanding and expounding, your book can offer them the knowledge they are looking for.

Great sermons can become great books. By implementing the techniques of text breaks, cover design, an infusion of your personality, and expanded content, you can offer the reader a rich and beneficial read that allows your sermons to continue blessing people and furthering the Kingdom of God.

At Certa Publishing, we specialize in helping pastors and teachers through this exact process. We offer expert assistance every step of the way, from concept to editing to cover design. We believe that the message God put inside of you needs to be told! Contact us today so we can begin this journey with you.

From Sermon to Book: Four keys to make it work

Even if you’re brand new to writing, you’ve probably already given a great deal of thought to your book’s cover art. However, according to marketing consultant Rob Eager, you may need to give equal attention to the back cover copy.

Here is an excerpt from his recent post Write Back Cover Copy That Boost Book Sales:

What if the back cover copy for a book is more important than the front cover art with the title and subtitle?

You’ve heard the old adage “never judge a book by its cover.” I agree, because these days, people don’t judge a book by the front cover. Instead, they judge a book by the back cover copy they see displayed front and center on the book’s sales page at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com, and dozens of other website retailers.

Today, almost 70% of all books are purchased online. That means back cover copy is the new front cover. Those words are the first thing many shoppers see when looking at a specific title. Therefore, that text plays a bigger role than ever before. Bad text will bore readers and lose their interest. Good text will help persuade the reader to purchase. If a book lacks compelling back cover copy, a lot of sales can be lost both online and in the bookstores.

I’ve taught numerous clients how to write convincing back cover copy that helped their books hit the bestseller lists. Below is my four-step process that works for most non-fiction books. (For memoirs and fiction, skip further down this article):

Step 1 – Display an attention-grabbing hook
Present an attention-grabbing hook in the form of a statement or a question in large bolded font across the top of the back cover. Make it jump out from the other text. Use the technique, “What if I told you _____?” to help create an effective marketing hook. Here are examples of book hooks that help get people’s attention:

  • Everyone speaks. Not everyone is heard.
  • You can cure the disease to please.
  • What if you could say no without feeling guilty?
  • Discover how to sell books like wildfire.

Step 2 – Describe the need for your book in society
In the first paragraph under the top marketing hook, use 2 – 4 sentences to explain the big problem in society and the need for your book to exist. What is the big problem you’ve noticed that is affecting thousands of people? What are the consequences people are experiencing? Don’t get too dark or negative. But, state the reality that people are encountering. Below is a good example from the book, The Power of a Positive No:

Every day we find ourselves in situations where we need to say No–to people at work, at home, and in our communities–because No is the word we must use to protect ourselves and to stand up for everything and everyone that matters to us. But as we all know, the wrong No can also destroy what we most value by alienating and angering people. That’s why saying No the right way is crucial.

Step 3 – Tell the reader the specific payoff of your book
Under the problem paragraph, use the transition sentence, “This book will help you…” and then list 4 – 5 bulleted statements that describe specific results people will experience from reading your book. Various examples of effective value statements might be:

  • Escape the guilt of disappointing others by learning the secret of the small no.
  • Increased confidence to control your emotions in sticky situations.
  • Connect and communicate well with team, family and friends
  • Break the “I’ll start again Monday” cycle and start feeling good about yourself today.

Step 4 – Clarify your credibility as an expert who can be trusted
In a final paragraph under the payoff statements, use 2 – 4 sentences to provide a brief bio in a way that explains why you’re an expert worth following. List your credentials and describe your track record of helping people experience the results described above in Step 3. For example, below is a brief version of my bio that summarizes my expertise and the results that I create for clients in the publishing arena:

Rob Eagar is one of the most accomplished book marketing experts in America and a leading specialist in the field of direct-to-consumer marketing. He’s personally coached over 400 authors, consulted with top publishing houses, and helped clients hit the New York Times bestseller list three different ways, including new fiction, new non-fiction, and backlist non-fiction. He even helped a book become a New York Times bestseller after 23 years in print! For more information, visit: http://www.RobEagar.com

We now live in an age where the vast majority of books are purchased online. Thus, the back cover copy is the first text that shoppers see when choosing to buy a book. Getting people to purchase hinges upon the words they read. Language is the power of the sale. Use my simple steps to insure that your back cover copy helps drive book sales like wildfire.

At Certa Publishing, we have helped countless authors navigate the complexities of book cover design and we would love to share our expertise with you.

Don’t Judge a Book by its (Back) Cover

I’m a Writer, Not a Salesperson!

You’re a pastor. Or maybe an elder in your local church. You might be a stay-at-home mom or a teacher. But you’re probably not a professional salesperson. So now that you’ve written a book, it needs to be sold and you’re feeling a little squeamish. Why? Because it’s likely that your initial “customers” will be friends and family, and that feels awkward. You don’t want to be that friend or family member who is selling a product and making everyone feel obligated to buy it. And yet, you need the support and word-of-mouth marketing of your inner circle. So how do you sell your book to those closest to you without it getting all weird? Here are three ways:

Be confident

More than likely your book is the result of years worth of prayer, reflection, research and sustained effort. You’ve sacrificed time and money to produce the manuscript. You’ve edited, re-edited and re-edited again. You’ve agonized over words, commas and even deleted entire chapters. This book contains your highest thoughts and deepest revelations. It may even be the result of God’s call on your life. If so…be confident. Be proud. Be assured that your writing is amazing and will greatly benefit those who read it.  The temptation will be to say something like this,

Uncle Mike, I hate to be pushy, but it would really mean a lot to me if you would buy my book.

Instead, try this,

Uncle Mike, you know how I’ve always been passionate about worship? Well, I’ve finally written down all the things that God has taught me and I would love for you to read it. In fact, you mentioned recently that you had some misgivings about your church’s worship style. I think you might find some helpful advice in my book.

See, your book has value. Don’t be embarrassed about that. Imagine that you are hosting Christmas dinner for all your relatives. You carefully plan the menu and even practice the recipes. After some refining, the big day comes and you meticulously prepare all the dishes. As you set the food in front of your guests, do you apologize for it? No. You are excited for them to try it! You truly believe that this meal will bring them joy as well as nourishment. You should view your writing in the same way. As a gift and a blessing to those who read it.

Be helpful

Which tagline for a stain-remover would be most effective to a mom of young kids?

Five ways to remove baby food stains

or

Buy our stain remover!

Of course, it is the first one. Why? Because it offers a solution to that mom. How will your book help people? Will it provide encouragement to the depressed? Hope to the addict? Maybe it gives pastors’ wives the tools to keep their sanity. Or it educates on the history of the Jewish people. As you promote your book to friends and family, think of ways that it can help them and become a tool in their spiritual toolbox. This approach will take you much farther than simply constantly asking, “Will you please buy my book?”

Be authentic

If you weren’t a pushy salesperson before you wrote your book, please don’t become one now. We’ve all seen it. The acquaintance who suddenly becomes ultra-friendly only to lay on the sales pitch for some product or another.

Books… actually most products… are best sold through meaningful connections. In his bestselling book Your First 1000 Copies (a book we highly recommend), Tim Grahl states,

Let’s sum up what marketing is and should be.

Marketing isn’t sleazy car salesman tactics.

Marketing isn’t tricking people into buying.

Markting isn’t unethical.

Marketing isn’t intrusive self-promotion.

Marketing is two things: (1) creating lasting connections with people through (2) a focus on being relentlessly helpful.

Be confident. Be helpful. Be authentic. These three attributes will start you off on the right foot as you venture into the world of marketing.

At Certa Publishing, we believe that our authors’ books offer tremendous value and we stand ready to help you reach the readers that need the wisdom your book offers.

When More is More

Ramsay is the author of The Blog Tyrant, a popular blog about… well… blogging. In his recent post, How to Write More, he offers the following advice about long-format writing:

Usually people tell you that less is more.

But when it comes to blogging it’s fascinating to note that there are some scenarios where it’s pretty true to say that more is more. More words, more posts, more links, etc.

For example, one of the backbones of my blogging strategy for the past few years has been to create long form content that is at least 3,500 words long.

People like Neil Patel, Glen Allsopp, etc. regularly extol the benefits of writing longer posts – they are statistically more likely to get more shares, likes, links, and subscribers.

And while there is no point in posting more if the content is ordinary, it’s good to learn how to write more if it means you can create longer blog posts that solve more problems, rank well on Google, and form a solid basis for your blog’s long term success.

So, let’s take a look.

How to write more

Here are a few strategies, ideas, and tools that have helped me write more over the years. We’ll begin with the more theoretical tips and then get on to some practical methods.

1. Have a solid set of goals with a timeline

It is really hard to sit down to research and write super-long articles if you don’t have a reason to do it. Knowing your short and long term goals and setting them to a timeline makes an enormous difference.

I made this error for years and years and it wasn’t until my older sister asked me over dinner what my goals were for the year. I ummmed and aahhhhed for so long and went away feeling embarrassed enough that I decided to sit down and figure out exactly what I wanted to do that year.

As Jim Rohn says in a piece on goal setting:

Goals are no place to waffle. They are no place to be vague. Ambiguous goals produce ambiguous results. Incomplete goals produce incomplete futures.

2. Know exactly why you are doing it

I have personally found it crucial to have [clearly defined goals.] For some people it is because they want to get better at a skill, for others it might be making more money to support your family or perhaps even a charity. Whatever your motivation, it can help a lot if you isolate it, make it clear, and then recall it regularly.

Not only does this keep your writing focused and careful, it also helps to support you emotionally when you are having down days where the writing doesn’t flow or you feel like progress isn’t happening fast enough. If you can recall to mind the stakeholders of your progress then it puts a fire under your butt.

3. Read, read, read, read, read

If you talk to almost any writer, author, journalist, or blogger about what helps them be good at what they do I can guarantee that a large portion of them will tell you to read more.

A lot of fantastic things happen when you read – especially when you go outside your comfort zone and look at various sources. First of all, your mind opens up to new ideas. Secondly, you start to discover new ways to express those ideas with your writing. Thirdly, your writing happens with less difficulty because the tones and styles of those authors start to absorb into you.

If you are having a period of writer’s block then one of the best things you can do is take a few hours to read. Look around at the best blogs in your niche, but then go further to excellent long form sources like the New Yorker, WIRED,,… etc. and see if something sparks.

4. Find a place to write and go there… even if you can’t

Finding somewhere to write is extremely important. It doesn’t need to be National Library of the Czech Republic inspiring but it should be enough that it allows you to concentrate in the zone.

The most important thing, however, is that you actually go there and write. This is really easy for me to say – I don’t have kids or a “real” job to go to. And I imagine that if you’re a stay-at-home parent or someone trying to blog while raising a family then it could be extremely tricky. But it is also extremely important.

Try finding a cafe nearby or even a place in your house that is just for sitting and writing. Let your family know that for the time that you’re in there (it might only be 30 minutes a day) that you’re not to be disturbed. You can get a lot done in a short amount of time when it’s just one thing.

5. Start with an extraordinary headline and keep coming back to it

For me, it’s really important to have an excellent headline sorted before I start doing any of the actual content writing. This helps me to stay focused.

Actually, this was a tip I got from a lecturer in University who said that you should write your essay topic at the top of your screen and always have it in sight. Refer back to it again and again and it will help you stay on topic in every paragraph, sentence, etc. I found it useful and so applied it to… writing.

The thing to remember here is that once you figure out the perfect headline/title for your blog post you often find that the content writing flows a lot easier. You know what question your are trying to answer, problem you are trying to solve, etc. and as such everything feels very consistent.

At Certa, we highly encourage our authors to have a blog and keep it fresh with their thoughts, missives and book updates. Hopefully this advice from The Blog Tyrant will help to transform your blog into a place where you can interact with your readers and gain new ones.

Social Media: Going Beyond the Basics

It took you a while, but you’ve embraced social media. You’ve taken the plunge and established yourself on Twitter, Facebook and maybe even Instagram. You’re enjoying the feedback and extra exposure it’s giving you, and you’re seeing the value of the online interactions your work is receiving. But now you’re stuck. How do you take it to the next level? Now you’re back to feeling intimidated again. Never fear, we are here to help! Here’s a quick primer on the writer’s Big Three: Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. It doesn’t have to be as intimidating as you think.

Tweet like a pro

Twitter is mostly comprised of strangers having conversations. Weird, right? It’s true. So keep that in mind with your posts. Ann Handley, author of Everybody Writes (a book we highly recommend), says,

Tweets work best as dialogue, because dialogue establishes rapport and encourages interaction. [However,] even though you might be talking to strangers on Twitter, you’re still talking to people. So write every tweet as you would speak it… to your girlfriend, boyfriend, significant other, dog, cat… or whoever…

Key strategies for Twitter

  • Don’t just pitch your wares. Instead, provide help, information and problem-solving.
  • Put a face on your business by giving your followers a glimpse into your personality and perspective. But be careful of being too personal.
  • Show that your story is apart of a larger movement. Maybe you write books about how you overcame addiction. Use Twitter to champion causes and groups that work in this area.
  • Make your English teacher proud. Just because Twitter is a brief platform doesn’t mean you should sacrifice spelling and grammar. It matters, no matter the platform.

Get the most out of Facebook

  • Photos are essential for Facebook. There are lots of great sources of images: your personal photos that relate to the topic, images you’ve used in your blog, your headshot and your book cover. Great images can also be found online, either through paid sites like BigStockPhoto.com or through several high-quality free stock photo sites like those listed here.
  • Facebook is free, but it isn’t. Thanks to a change in their algorithms, Facebook has made it difficult to reach your audience without paying to “boost” your ad. However, just a few dollars can go a long way. And then you can take advantage of Facebook’s massive amount of user data, which allows you to target your post to a specific audience (i.e. women ages 30-60 who are interested in Bible studies and attend a Christian church).

The key to sucess, then, is being very clear about who your potential customer is – to think niche, not number of likes. – Ann Handley

  • Post less but post more. In other words, keep your posts brief, but write them often. In order to begin engaging with you, your Facebook friends want to know that you will be there often and will respond quickly. Here’s the reaction you don’t want when you post on Facebook: “Oh, wow, I forgot about him!” Instead, you want this reaction: “Oh, wow, I love when he posts… let’s see what he wrote today.”

Be an Insta expert

As you likely know, Instagram is completely image-based. You simply snap a photo, pick a filter, write a caption and post. While there are many creative ways that writers can use Instagram, we suggest that you use consistency of style in your posts. Here are some ideas:

  • Offer a behind-the-scenes look at the writer life. Photos of your favorite coffee mug, writing spot or cat sprawled across your keyboard are perfect.
  • Post selfies with fans and colleagues at book signings, speaking engagements, etc. Be sure to tag the people in the photo to gain more exposure.
  • Use an app like Studio (iPhone or Android) to add quotes from your writing onto beautiful images, like the stock images we mentioned above.

Be sure to set up your account to automatically post your Instagram images to Facebook.

For more great ideas, head over to The Creative Penn’s post How to Use Instagram As An Author Plus 10 Ways to Grow Your Account Organically.

Using social media can be intimidating, but with a little experimenting, we know that you can not only become comfortable with it, but really begin to enjoy the interactions and exposure it brings.

At Certa, we believe our authors have incredibly important stories to tell and we are here to help you tell them, whether in a published book or a quick tweet. Let us know how we can help you today!

So, What is Your Book About?

It may sound like a simple question. But the following excerpt from a post by Rob Eagar, author of Sell Your Book Like Wildfire, illustrates how crucial your answer can be.
College football fans were treated to an amazing game a few years ago as Michigan State upset highly-ranked Wisconsin on the last play of regulation. As time expired, Michigan State’s quarterback threw a last-ditch, 44-yard, “Hail Mary” pass that was bobbled by two players until receiver, Keith Nichol, caught the ball and crossed the goal line.
Some people called the desperate play a “lucky” win, and it was certainly a rare situation. However, Keith made an interesting comment in the post-game celebration interview. He said that Michigan State practiced that exact kind of last-second desperation play every week. In fact, they practice it so much that they have a name for the play called, “The Rocket.”
What does a lucky, last-second catch in football have to do with marketing a book? There are times in life when you suddenly find yourself in a desperate “Hail Mary” situation. For example, you might randomly sit down next to an important person on the airplane. Someone may suddenly introduce you to a high-profile leader at a party. You may be asked to fill-in for a well-known speaker who cancels the day before. You might get asked to appear on a major radio or television show with little advance notice. Each of these situations has happened to several of my author clients.
The question is: are you prepared to handle those “Hail Mary” moments when they arise?
Don’t avoid the work and think you can just “wing it.” Instead, do you practice reciting the value of your book? Do you have a powerful speech ready to give on short notice? Do you rehearse your sound bites so that you could give an effective interview if a TV producer called tomorrow?
Sometimes, the biggest marketing opportunities appear unannounced. If you’re caught off guard, you won’t be in a position to maximize those occasions. That’s why it’s important to continually prepare for those situations. For example:
  • Memorize the key value statements for your book.
  • Rehearse answering media interview questions while driving in your car.
  • Practice a new speech out loud by yourself until you own the material.
After the big win, Michigan State’s football coach, Mark Dantonio, said, “We always tell our players that they have to be ready, because you never know when your time will come.” As an author, a major opportunity to market your book may be just around the corner. Will you be ready?
At Certa Publishing, we want our authors to be the most prepared in the business. We’d love to help you market your book. We can even assist you in crafting a great pitch for those “hail Mary” situations. Let us know how we can help!