justgetto the point

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

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

1. Short story long

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

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

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

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

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

2. Leave a little to the imagination

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

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

A recent Freelance Writing post offered this insight:

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

3. Who are you trying to impress?

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

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

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

 

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Just get to the point

john piper

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

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

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

I have ten things to say.

1. Don’t Copy Me

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

2. Focus on Great Goals

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

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

3. Be Seasonally Minded

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

4. Work from Life Goals

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

5. Labor Toward the Account You Will Give to God

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

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

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

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

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

 

John Piper’s Tips for Personal Productivity: Part 1

CONSISTENCY_

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

1. Be consistent in your branding

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

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

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

Look at this example from the team at Risen Motherhood.

Their Facebook page:

rm fb

Their Instagram account:

Screenshot 2018-06-17 at 3.35.08 PM

 

Their website:

Screenshot 2018-06-17 at 3.35.37 PM

 

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

2. Be consistent on your blog and social media

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Consistently ask your audience to take action

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

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

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

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

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

Consistency: The key to building a platform

GOALS_measuring your progress

Most of us love to set goals. All of us love to reach our goals. It’s that in-between process that usually bogs us down. But what if there were tangible ways to measure your progress and maintain momentum? Shundalyn Allen recently blogged about this for Grammarly in her post, How to Measure Your Goals as a Writer and Business Professional, which we have excerpted here:

If reaching your business and writing goals is a journey, setting them is only the first step. To continue along the path and ultimately reach your destination, you must measure your progress along the way. But how?

Consider for a moment how you might track your advancement along a physical route. You may look for landmarks, count your miles, or keep track of the hours spent on the road.

Though same principles apply to your objectives, you need to choose a method that fits well with your aim. For example, let’s say your goal is to attend a writer’s conference each year.

Budget Your Time

Time measurement is the best type of quantification for long-term goals, especially those centered on improvement. For instance, a writer with the intention of writing more regularly may measure his goal of writing more often by setting a timer for 30 minutes each morning. The goal is complete each day when the timer sounds, and when you’ve completed your hourly goal for the week.

Do it Again

Another way to measure an improvement goal is by how frequently you practice. A writer who wants to write more can make an X on the calendar each day she writes with the purpose of accumulating a certain amount of marks per week or month. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld enjoyed so much making a big red X on his calendar each day that he created new material that he began a game with himself: Don’t break the chain. Just seeing your string of past accomplishments may be the push you need to work toward your goal every day.

Do the Math

You can break down goals that have a specific outcome into percentages or milestones. On a road trip, these would be your quarter, half, and three-quarters, and final landmarks. One business goal that suits this type of analysis is to earn $5000 in commission. Your benchmarks would be $1250, $2500, $3750, and $5000. Of course, you can make the percentage targets smaller if you desire. You may find yourself motivated to put in extra effort when you come close to reaching a target, especially if you make a visual display of your advancement. The Way of Life! app uses a color system to identify, monitor, and modify your habits. You can set up reminders to strengthen your positive habits. View trends in charts, chains, and even scoreboards.

Are you Satisfied?

On the other hand, goals without clearly measurable stages may prove more difficult to quantify with the above methods. Let’s say your goal is to improve your assertiveness. You may have a culminating objective (e.g., asking for a raise), but how will you track the development of your goal along the way?

Evaluate your personal satisfaction using a rating system. For example, if you felt as assertive as you could be, assign yourself a ten. Anything less than peak level should receive a lower number with one being passive. Over time, you will be able to see if you are getting more assertive by comparing your numbers for each week. (Remember, only an honest appraisal will generate helpful results!)

When Problems Arise

No journey is entirely free of distractions, detours, and speed bumps. If you feel like you’re deviating from your plan, ask someone distinguished in your field to mentor you or suggest helpful peer literature. Most importantly, don’t give up. It doesn’t matter how many times you run into problems; if you keep moving forward, you will eventually arrive at your goal.

How you measure your goals may vary. The important thing is to monitor your progress, so you feel good when you finally accomplish what you worked for.

At Certa Publishing, we walk hand in hand with our authors through each stage of the publishing process. We can help you develop a timetable and goals to get your book from manuscript to finished product. Contact us today to find out how we can partner with you.

Goals: Measuring your progress

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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

Natalie Brenner_

Most bestselling authors have several not-so-best-sellers under their belt. Or they have a massive platform from which to promote their book. However, the following story by author Natalie Brenner proves that with a little (well, a lot) of hard work and focus, a writer with a small platform can achieve fantastic success on the first try. Enjoy this excerpt from her post Why I Stopped Waiting to Win the Lottery and Just Published My Book:

It was nearly midnight when I desperately tweeted to my 300 precious followers, “Does anyone have any sort of literary agent connection they could hook me up with?

I had little to no idea how to go about getting the book burning inside me published. It felt impossible to get a publisher to bat an eye at little ol’ me. Because really, I had little to no platform and in order to win the lottery of a traditional publisher, I needed a platform.

None of my blog posts had gone viral.

I had been blogging for six years and had 56 dear subscribers.

I felt really successful when a single blog post had over 100 views.

Combining my Facebook friends, Facebook page fans, Twitter and Instagram followers, I had about 1500 names in my social circle.

Platform? What is that? Surely someone will just notice me.

Though my online community was small, I still had countless people asking me when I was going to start writing books. I wanted to have started yesterday, but I didn’t know where to begin or if I could start with so little of a following.

Nine months after tweeting that desperate request, my book This Undeserved Life was released. It became a bestseller in six different Amazon categories, sold over 500 copies the first week and 1000 copies the first month. It remained number one in the Family Health and Adoption category for most of its release. Within 3 weeks it had over 50 reviews on Amazon.

I have since had dozens of readers reach out and ask me about my next book. I have a traditional publisher inviting me to draw up a proposal for my next book. I have had requests to create and offer a course or coaching on various topics. To some, these numbers may be miniscule. To me, they are both mind-blowing and humbling.

In January 2017, I started my email list at a whopping zero when I transferred my website and lost my dear, dear 56 committed community members.

My goal was to build a list of 1000 subscribers by release day — September 18.

To me, this goal was big: I am a full-time photographer, a full-time work at home mom to two toddlers (both under one-year-old at the time of starting the book), and a wife to a full-time unpaid graduate student. And we are involved in church and community events.

My time to give my book and online community (platform) building was at zero, but I moved around priorities and worked my butt off. The goal was met. But not without hard work, determination, and belief in myself and my message.

Have I yet mentioned I began writing this book with two babies under one-year-old as well as a growing photography business? Just want to make sure that is clear: I am not sitting around with tons of time to pursue this, just as you aren’t.

So, how in the world did little ol’ me, a blogger of seven years with a minuscule platform — can I even call it a platform? — become a best-selling author nine months later?

Writing This Undeserved Life was a painful, difficult labor of love and it followed many years of unsuccessfully creating the online community I had hoped for. Let’s dive into the process.

Identity

It all began with grabbing ahold of my identity as a writer.

I grabbed ahold of it tightly and began calling myself and acting like a writer.

A mental shift happened: I began to take myself seriously.

The why

Since reading Simon Sinek’s Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone To Take Action, I knew the importance to start with why.

Why did I want to write this book? Why did I think the world needed it? Why is this book anything different than what’s already available?

Study the pros

After I processed why I wanted to write This Undeserved Life and why I believed the world would be better if it was created, I began studying people who were successful in the book writing, marketing, and selling world as well as people who were successful in my genre.

Just do it

At the end of the day, I just had to do it. Here were the steps I took to write and self-publish This Undeserved Life, in nine months:

I just started doing it

No one is motivated to run a marathon before they start running. Maybe they are, but they’re crazy. When I was training for the Portland Marathon, beginning every training run was difficult.

It wasn’t until I started doing it that I gained motivation.

This was the same for writing my book: I knew there was so much work ahead, but I knew it wouldn’t happen over night.

I simply started showing up and doing the work.

Redesigned and used my website + blog

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

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

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

Expand my circle — influencers

I set out to use my website as a place to interview other authors in my genre who I admire.

I sent emails and explained to them why I loved their book(s), how I’ve implemented their advice or tips, and asked if I could do an interview and book giveaway.

Most said yes, others said no. I conducted interviews via phone, Skype, and email.

I built my email list

After I read and heard how incredibly important email lists are, I began putting a good amount of energy into creating a safe community.

I created a grief guide ebook, Wholeness Despite the Brokenness, and offered it for free to anyone who wanted to download it. I also created an adoption fundraising guide, Financing Adoption with Fundraising.

I found a groove sending out emails to my dear community every other week.

I love this community; they helped me pick my title, my author photo, and more. I want to give my community only good and valuable things.

I wrote my manuscript

While doing these steps and chipping away at everything I could, I was also working on my manuscript. My first draft made my eyes bleed. I rewrote and erased and rewrote the next draft.

The important thing was: I got it out. I wrote the first draft (and then the second and third…)

Make an influencer list and ask for endorsements

I created a three-tier influencer list. These were people I wanted to write an endorsement, and give me a shout out or two.

My first tier was names of people who I knew would say “yes” to reading and endorsing my book. A few were writing and podcast friends, one was a best friend, and the rest were people on my email list.

My second-tier list were people of whom I wasn’t sure would say “yes” to endorsing my book, but I thought might. Most of them were influencers of sorts, whether a popular blog or podcaster or author.

My third-tier list were people who I highly doubted would respond to me, but would make my year if they read and endorsed my book.

I began with tier one: sending clear emails, asking them to read my book, and write a few lines to endorse it. This would be used either for the inside the book, or my website. I gave a deadline. When they responded with “yes,” I sent the PDF immediately.

Once I had a couple, I wrote to each individual influencer on list number two. They were similar emails, but specific to each influencer. I told the author, podcaster, speaker — whatever their respective title — why I was thankful for their work, and how I had used their advice. Then I shared two sentences about my book, along with an endorsement I had received. I asked if they’d be willing to read it and do the same. When they said “yes,” I sent it right away with the deadline. When they said “no,” I asked if I could send them a copy of my book to read for a giveaway or shout out.

I did this with the third tier as well. Each person who responded gave me their address. So even if I didn’t receive an endorsement, I have permission to mail them a copy of my book to share on their social media.

Book launch time — don’t do this alone

Nothing in my life that has been successful has been done alone. I knew I needed a community, and specifically the community I had been working hard to create and build.

I set up a Facebook Group to invite readers to help me launch This Undeserved Life. I gave everyone the manuscript digitally and asked their help on finishing touches of the cover.

This group remains a strong support network: I have loved the community built around This Undeserved Life through that group.

Tim Grahl has an entire podcast series and website that guides you on how to successfully launch a book. I listened to the entire series twice.

Publish and release!

My book is now available on Amazon and has been sold across the globe.

I believe in the message of This Undeserved Life.

There have been purchases from multiple countries and continents, and not because I’m someone fancy. I chose to do the hard work it required.

And, so can you.

At Certa Publishing, we can vouch for Natalie’s experience. We’ve seen firsthand that authors who demonstrate this type of determination and focus consistently succeed, often surpassing everyone’s expectations! If you would like a partner in this complex publishing process, contact us to learn more about our services.

Natalie Brenner: How a first-time author became a bestseller without a large platform

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.

 

The craft of storytelling

finding and working with a cover designer (1)

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

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

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

Finding a Designer

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

Your role

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

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

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

The designer’s role

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

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

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

Put it to a vote

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

Offer specific feedback for revisions

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

Helpful feedback sounds like this:

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

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

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

Unhelpful feedback sounds like:

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

It just doesn’t “pop.”

These are too bland.

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

 

Working With a Cover Designer

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!

4 Ways to Organize Your Writing

finding and working with an illustrator

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

How to find an illustrator for your book

The easy answer: Let your publisher do it for you

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

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

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

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

Approach an illustrator through their agent

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

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

How to work with an illustrator

The publisher’s role

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

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

The author’s role

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

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

Wrong/no art note needed:

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

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

Correct/art note probably needed:

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

          [Art note: Sally loses her balloon.]

When writing art notes, less is always more.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding and Working with an Illustrator