The Power of the Personal Story

personal story

In a mid-sized church in middle America, a pastor begins his sermon on the suffering of Christ. He describes the heartache of the garden, the betrayal of the disciples and the ultimate anguish of the crucifixion. Throughout the message the congregation listens politely, throwing up an occasional “amen,” or nodding in agreement. But then a certain phrase catches their ears.

Let me tell you a story.

Intuitively the audience perks up, leans in, and focuses.

The pastor begins to tell about the recent deaths in his family and his wife’s family. He tells of a day where the grief was so great, he sought out a solitary spot near a lake to simply “sit and cry.” But then he recounts how an elderly woman spoke to him and reminded him of God’s love. This brought great encouragement and reminded him that God was near, even in his suffering.

From this personal story, the pastor transitions back into the Gospel story, reminding the audience that their suffering his suffering is not unfamiliar to Christ and that we can find comfort in His ultimate victory and triumph over death. Emboldened by his own experience, the pastor speaks with an extra dose of passion and an increased amount of compassion. He has lived what he is preaching. And the message rings true.

As the service concludes, there is a palpable sense in the air that today was different. Most cannot pin it down exactly, but all know that this was a message they will not soon forget.

So what was the difference?

The pastor’s personal story and willingness to be vulnerable.

You see, with enough training and practice, anyone can stand before a congregation and preach a message. Likewise, with enough training and practice, anyone can write a book.

It is those who are willing to infuse their preaching or writing with their personal story that will really make a difference. Cognitive scientist Roger Schank says, “Humans are not ideally set up to understand logic; they are ideally set up to understand stories.”

Let’s take an honest look at your writing. Let’s look past the extensive research and facts. Past the scriptural interpretation. Past the data-driven information. Does your book include your personal story?

There is a reason you are writing on your topic. You have a personal connection to that topic somehow and so your book should be infused with your stories. Doing so invites the reader to perk up, lean in, and focus, just like our congregation above. And like our pastor’s message, your book will be infused with a certain boldness and effectiveness that would be lacking if written by someone who had not lived your story.

Your readers may not be able to pin it down exactly, but they will know it is a message they will not soon forget. And that is the power of the personal story.

 

 

 

 

The Future of Christian Publishing: According to 4 Agents

future of christian publishing

We love when experts dish on the Christian publishing industry. What are they seeing? Where are the trends? Who is driving the industry and who is falling behind? So today we’re sharing this excerpt of Publishers Weekly’s Agents Discuss the New Norms of Christian Publishing by Ann Byle. Enjoy!

With a bird’s eye view of which authors and topics get through publishers’ doors, Christian literary agents remain optimistic about an industry that is experiencing moreconsolidation as bricks-and-mortar stores close.

 “Christian publishing is a viable and growing marketplace,” Steve Laube, president of the Christian Writers Institute and Enclave Publishing, as well as longtime literary agent, tells PW. “The death of publishing has been forecast for 40 years, and it’s never been right.”

Though they are surviving and some even thriving, publishers remain cautious, according to agent Wendy Lawton of Books & Such Literary Management, who says that publishers are more risk-averse now than ever before in her almost 15-year career.

“Advances are tied closely to past sales and we see less inclination to offer advances based on what they believe ‘might’ be possible,” Lawton tells PW, noting that prudence may be the reason for the industry’s viability. “Perhaps this attention to the bottom line is why Christian publishing continues to remain healthy and the future continues to be bright despite hundreds of store closings.”

Publishers continue to brace themselves for the loss of even more Christian retail outlets this year, but the strongest impact of store closings could be leveled at authors in the category. The shrinking footprint of Christian retailers is already leading to a new normal where writers are also expected to have a marketing team behind them, according to Blythe Daniel of her eponymous literary agency.

“Authors are going to have to make up for fewer sales channels,” Daniel says. “The future of publishing does not depend on retail outlets—it’s going to be important for authors to create marketing avenues around themselves that aren’t reliant on publishers.”

It’s not unusual for authors to influence book sales through strong followings on social media, podcasts, blogs, YouTube, etc., but the concept of an author platform continues to be “confusing” for all concerned, says Lawton. “Most publishers understand that numbers [of followers and website visitors] mean little; it’s the level of engagement and the care with which a platform is maintained.”

According to Alex Field, founder of The Bindery, if a publisher sees a connection to potential readers, “they are betting that his or her books will have a similar appeal to readers. Sometimes that bet pays off, especially when the author is deeply engaged in the marketing and launch campaign around the book, and sometimes it doesn’t,” he says.

The key, according to Field, is that authors need to be “active and influential online in some way, because many book purchases these days happen online.”

Yet Laube notes that publishers still look beyond an author’s platform when considering a manuscript. “It’s rarely a cut-and-dried formula of platform=publishable,” he says. “Sometimes the instinct of ‘this is a great book’ can get someone past the publishing gatekeepers.”

In addition to changes to how books are acquired and sold, agents are also noticing several content trends in Christian publishing. Daniel sees more opportunities for agents to bring creative concepts that don’t necessarily fit with the usual Christian living titles. “Publishers are asking me to help create a book that might include DIY guides or recipes, and are looking at four-color or two-color books for, say, family gatherings or teen girls,” she says. “They are also looking at brand development, creative packaging, and concept-driven books.”

Laube sees an uptick in books on social justice issues, sexuality, and racial issues, as well as a wave of books for “disaffected young women—” or women dealing with issues such as the stress of marriage, job, and family. He points to Rachel Hollis’ Girl, Wash Your Face as an example. “I suspect acquisitions of this ‘trend’ will slow down and the best authors in the category will become those who fill this need,” he says.

Field, of The Bindery, says publishers are “chasing after ‘books for the church’ lately,” with some seeking books for leaders while others are looking for devotionals and gift books aimed at churchgoers. Many publishers are also developing new children’s book lines or deepening their lines to appeal to parents as well as grandparents. “Publishers are looking for authors who will appeal to a wide audience generationally and to millennials in particular,” Field says.

Remaining largely unchanged, perennial topics such as prayer, parenting, and marriage continue to be big business in Christian publishing. “It’s either tried and true authors or tried and true subjects presented in a fresh, new way,” Lawton says.

Laube adds, “There continues to be acquisitions of readily consumable and evergreen topics that can be seen as ‘self-help.’”

Fiction’s hottest subgenre at the moment is romantic suspense, but, according to Lawton, “We are beginning to hear calls for straight suspense.” Laube says publishers’ lines are relatively full of romantic suspense, and so interest may wane. He and Lawton both perceive a renewed interest in straight historicals, and agree that Christian fiction on the whole remains a strong category.

“The number of publishers offering fiction has dwindled in recent years, but the readers have not gone away, so we’re seeing growth in the publishers who continue vigorously acquiring novelists,” Lawton says.

Overall, agents are optimistic about the Christian publishing industry. The Steve Laube Agency averages a new contract every two business days, Laube says, while The Blythe Daniel Agency has 95% of its projects picked up, and The Bindery contracts nearly all of its projects.

“Publishers continue to look for new content and new authors,” Laube says. “Is it hard sometimes? Yes.”

We found these insights encouraging! What are your thoughts? Are you feeling the pressure to grow your “platform,” as they mentioned? The good news is that Certa Publishing has years of experience partnering with authors in this area. Need help? We’re just a click away. We would love to hear from you.

How Well Do You Know Your Reader?

how well

This author just gets me.

How would you like to read that in an email or Amazon review? There would be nothing better! But what does that mean for an author to “get” the reader? How is that achieved?

Let’s think through an example. Brooke is in her mid-thirties and she’s mothered three beautiful girls through the newborn and toddler phases. Through trial and triumph, she has learned the tricks of getting babies to sleep through the night. This must be shared! she thinks. And so the book begins.

At first glance, this seems like a great beginning. Brooke has lived through the ultimate research experiment – her own daughters. She’s seen success – they sleep through the night. And she’s willing to share her story – the book.

And yet, we believe Brooke is still missing a key component: empathy.

Sure, she has her personal experience. But this isn’t an autobiography. It’s a parenting book, which will be read by all types of people. People very different from Brooke. Different in culture, age, upbringing, parenting style, and needs. Before she types the first word, Brooke needs to find a way to empathize with her potential readers. And to do this, she must get to know them.

In her bestselling book Everybody Writes, Ann Handley quotes Johnathon Colman of Facebook:

It’s hard to have real empathy for people’s experiences if we don’t really get to know the people themselves. Not just in aggregate… I mean the real deal: actually talking with them. Or, better still: listening to them.

So how would Brooke go about getting to know the people who need her book? The same way any author on any topic can. Here are a few ideas:

  • Start in your personal life. Who do you know who might need your book? Look within your company, family, church and community groups. Ask if you can grab coffee with these potential readers and be ready to listen to their personal experiences.
  • Go online. Social media groups are an excellent source for finding like-minded individuals. Are you writing about geriatric fitness? There are groups for that! Are you writing about debt-free living? There are groups for that too! Join a few of these and simply observe. What are the common struggles and experiences you see there? What types of resources are most often recommended and requested?
  • Read book reviews. Single out a few successful books similar to yours and read their Amazon reviews. You’ll be amazed at how much personal information is shared there! Try to zero in on why those books meant so much to the readers who love them. Look for common themes.

Here’s the hardest part of this empathy journey. You may find that your book’s core themes aren’t as relevant to potential readers as you thought. Thinking of our fictional writer, Brooke… she may find that it isn’t scientific data about REM cycles that really moves her readers, but instead encouraging testimonials. On the converse, she may discover that new parents are skeptical of testimonials and are instead seeking proven, documented scientific research in this area. Now that she is armed with this knowledge, she would be wise to adjust her writing in order to better serve her audience.

Ms. Handley goes on to quote Nadia Eghbal, co-owner of Feast, an online cooking school:

Your customers don’t buy your product to do your company a favor. They’re doing it because your product makes their lives better. So if you want to sell something, you need to explain how you’re helping them.

And there is the key. Empathizing with the reader and keeping their needs foremost in your mind as you write.

At Certa Publishing, we are confident that our authors have tremendous potential to offer much-needed resources to a world in need. We want nothing more than to partner with you to create a book that shares truth and offers real hope and help to those who need it. Contact us today to see how we can help you make this happen.

 

3 Prolific Christian Authors Answer Your Writing Questions

3 prolific

If you could sit down with your favorite Christian authors, what questions would you ask? Today we’ve gathered the advice from three industry greats in order to spur you on in your writing journey.

How do I build a platform?

Lysa Terkeurst is one of Christian writing’s biggest names. Her newest book It’s Not lysa-sidebarSupposed to Be This Way, is having a profound impact because of its brutal honesty and transparency. Lysa wrote this book in the midst of her husband’s infidelity and her cancer diagnosis.

In a recent blog post, Lysa Terkeurst answered the question of “How do I build a platform?”

Usually, a platform created by the authors own hard work has to come before the book. Now, there are exceptions to this. Sometimes, a writer’s idea is so fantastic that the publisher feels there is a market for the book based on the title and subject matter alone. But most of the time someone who wants to be an author needs to lay some groundwork first. Here are some things you can do to help build a platform:

* Pray and ask God what message might be inside of you that is something you feel passionate about and that could add value to other people’s lives.

* Look for opportunities to share this message in both the spoken and written form.

* Start in your own home church. Talk with your pastor and or women’s ministry leader about what is stirring in your heart and how you might be used to fill a need in your church.

* If your message is Biblical in nature- lead a Bible study in your home for your friends and neighbors.

* Build your blog. Shannon over at Rocks in My Dryer has some great advice on this here.

* Be willing to invest in going to conference that can help clarify your calling and give you the tools you need for speaking and or writing.

* Don’t get discouraged about starting small. I started small. Very small. But over time small can grow. For me, writing and speaking has been a whole lot more about what God needed to do in me rather than through me. He would never let the size of my opportunity be bigger than what my spiritual maturity could handle. And I praise Him for that.

* Each day, ask for your assignment from God. Today, your assignment might not look like it is accomplishing much toward your goal of writing a book. But if you ask God and follow His lead, His assignment is the exact right thing for you. I’ve said it and lived it for years— “God’s shortest route to His richest blessing is paved with one obedience decision after another.”

How do I balance writing and family obligations?

Priscilla Shirer may be one of Christiandom’s highest grossing PriscillaShirer-C-400x600authors and speakers, but she still struggles to balance work and family life like any other writer. In a recent interview on CBN, Ms. Shirer details an experience with God that eased the tension between writing and family obligations:

“You know, balancing this crazy life is just like every other mother,” Priscilla explains. “It is a continuous matter of prayer, a continuous matter of pulling my hair out and going, ah! Lord…what did I get into this? How do I balance this? That is just life — that is just the nature of every mom’s life I am sure — just trying to keep it all balanced.”

Priscilla says she will never forget one morning when God displayed his faithfulness and ability to balance her life.

“I was pregnant with my second son at the time, Jackson was 18 months. At the time a very demanding, too demanding travel schedule to be honest…,” Jackson admits. “And to be honest, I was shedding a tear or two. I was looking at life, saying…this is not working. How am I going to be able to handle all of this?”

“And just as I was crying out to the Lord, the sun came up…the birds starting singing, the flowers were opening up, dew was on the grass. I just kind of saw the world come to life, and as clear as a bell, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Priscilla, if I can handle all of this…don’t you think I can take care of your life too?’ And I will never forget…God promised He would balance my life for me.”

How can I maintain my writing integrity, especially if I am in ministry?

Prolific writer Eugene Peterson will always be best known for writing The Message, a Eugene Peterson.  Courtesy photobeloved Bible paraphrase. Peterson was also a Presbyterian pastor for much of his life and a true theologian. Writing integrity was of paramount importance to Peterson, which he explained in an interview with The Gospel Coalition:

Good writers are people who pay attention to language, are interested in telling the truth, and are in some ways finding themselves inoculated against the fads of what will sell, what will please. Good literature almost always goes against the grain of the culture: interpreting it, subtly criticizing it, maybe not polemically. Pastors are right in the center of deceit and corruption and bad use of language. We have a commitment to use words accurately and honestly.

Good writing does not come easy; it takes a lot of discipline, a lot of self-criticism. A lot of people in my position want to know how to write, and after talking to them for a while I realize, “You don’t want to write, you want to get published; you’re not willing to go through the disciplines, the rejections.” Rejections are often compliments, because we’re not writing for popular taste or the stuff that just titillates people, what makes them feel good or bad or whatever. Propaganda is the worst kind of writing; there’s almost something pornographic about it. It just dehumanizes what’s going on, and we’re just filled with it right now politically, so I think of the importance of poets and novelists, because I think of poets as the high priests of the language. No poet writes in order to get published, not in America, so anybody who takes the path of poetry is going a lonely way and a not lucrative way.

It’s hard to be a good novelist in America because of all the Stephen Kings. There are good novelists and great novelists, but I think for pastors their training isn’t how to use their imagination like novelists in the sense that they see the narrative connection of everything, how everything fits into the story. So if our imagination isn’t trained to see these connections, relationships, and the way words work to bring out truth rather than just facts, we are just giving lectures from the pulpit, moralisms in a counseling place. It’s a great responsibility, I think, to learn to use words rightly. Pastors don’t realize how much we owe to our congregations, to the public, to learn how to use words rightly and skillfully and truthfully.

At Certa Publishing, we want nothing more than to see our authors develop and thrive in their craft. What other questions do you need to be answered? Contact us today to find out how we can help you grow as a writer.

Why you should (and should not) write a memoir

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You should write a book!

Have you ever thought of publishing your story?

Wow, other people should really hear what you’ve been through.

Have you heard these words? Perhaps you’ve survived cancer, divorce, or the death of a child. Or maybe you’ve stepped out of poverty into prosperity. Out of depression into a life of happiness. If so, then someone has likely insisted that you write a book.

But should you? Should you really?

Yes.

And no.

Allow us to offer some advice from established authors who know a thing or two about the world of publishing:

1. Don’t write because you think it is the only way to tell your story

Christian author Nancy Guthrie offers this counsel in her post People say I should write a book. Should I?

I think the biggest question is this: Is writing a book the only, the best, or the most natural way for you to be a good steward of this experience so that God might use it in the lives of others?   It is for a few people. For others, there are other ways that are a far better fit with their personality, their strengths, and the opportunities presented to them.

2. Don’t write your story if the rejection will deepen your pain

Again we look to Ms. Guthrie:

When the book is about loved ones who have died, we want to extend their lives and give meaning to their deaths by seeing their story in print, so when a publisher isn’t interested, it can feel like another death, and certainly another deep disappointment, a sense that we have failed in extending their impact.

3. Do write your story once you are a proficient memoir writer

Simply having a story to tell does not mean that you are equipped to tell it through the written word. Writing is a gift and talent that is separate from your life-changing experience. Only those who have become proficient as memoir writers should attempt to get their story published.

Literary agent Rachel Gardner offers this advice in her post Telling Your Personal Story:

Create a reading plan for yourself. Set a goal for the next year or so of reading at least 20 good memoirs and 5 books about writing memoir.

Begin to craft your book. After you’ve spent months (or years) writing down the stories of your life and learning about the craft of memoir, you’ll be ready to start putting those stories together and creating a cohesive manuscript — your memoir. That may take many more months. You’ll want to get feedback on it from some readers, perhaps join a critique group, and do as many revisions as necessary to make your memoir shine.

4. Do write your story once you are in a healthy place

While it may be cathartic to write a memoir as a form of therapy, doing so will not produce the caliber of writing needed to get published.

Ange de Lumiere, who works as a book coach, advises:

When I wrote the book about my father dying, I did expect to be taken back to the emotions that I felt when he was given one month to live. But I was grateful that I had done a lot of work on myself so that it was not too painful.

I wasn’t writing for the sake of sharing my pain; I had a message to share, which is that death is not the end. My book’s purpose is to show that there is another way to see death and to start a revolution in the way we approach it. So it is very important to be clear about the purpose of your memoir and to allow yourself to be vulnerable and authentic.

The truth is that there is much more to writing a memoir than many would imagine. At Certa Publishing, we endeavor to prepare our authors to navigate the unique struggles of each genre. If you are considering putting your story on paper, we would be happy to come alongside you in the process. Contact us today.

Just the Basics: 3 simple rules about writing

Blog Just the Basics

You’ll find plenty of “secrets to success” on the internet geared toward writers. But the truth is that there are a few fundamental principles that most successful authors stick to. Writer Jeff Goins recently shared his 3 Important Lessons on Writing, which are simple on the surface, but really do form the foundation of an enduring writing career. Enjoy this excerpt:

Great writing requires great ideas

All great ideas start out as terrible ideas. The job of a writer is to constantly capture ideas, refine them, and deciding which ones will see the light of day.

Someone recently asked me how much of my writing sees the light of day. At one point, it was probably close to 100%. These days, it’s more like 20%. The older you get, the more critical you get—of yourself, of others, of everything.

Writing is a process of searching for the right idea and not stopping until you find it. Ira Glass once said of his show This American Life that the hardest part of telling a good story is finding one. Why is This American Life one of the most popular podcasts in the world? Because they are relentlessly seeking the best ideas and throwing out the average ones.

Malcolm Gladwell has said something similar about his own writing and how he tirelessly searches for the right story or the perfect piece of research to illustrate the point he’s trying to make.

Don’t settle for average ideas. Great books and articles and blog posts come from great ideas.

Writing is manual labor

Recently, while coaching a client who’s working on a book, she shared that she was behind her word count goal, clocking in at 17,000 words when she should really be closer to 25,000. I told her no problem. This is how it goes.

Inspiration tends to happen in fits and starts. It’s a bit of a crap shoot sometimes. One day, you turn on the faucet and all that comes out is a steady drip. The next day, it’s like a fire hydrant exploded. Your job is to go to the sink every day and turn the handle.

That’s writing. It’s an effort. It’s a job. We don’t control the inspiration.

At the end of the day, writing is just good old-fashioned blue-collar work. You sit down and you write until you’re done. You show up at the factory in your coveralls, punch your clock, and stand at the assembly line doing your work until the day is done.

Some days, you may write only a few hundred words. Other days, you may write thousands. It doesn’t matter. Don’t try to figure out the mystery of the process. Don’t try to squeeze all the productivity you can get out of a single writing moment. It won’t work.

Those efforts tend to do more harm than good on creative work. Just trust the process. Show up, do the work, and trust that something good is emerging.

So when you do show up, what does that look like?

I don’t know a serious professional writer who doesn’t have some kind of routine, at least when they’re on deadline—which, for a serious professional writer is almost always.

What is a routine?

It’s simple:

  • Pick a place to write in every day
  • Pick a time to write every day
  • Pick an amount of time to write every day

That’s it. It could be your kitchen table at 9:00 a.m. for thirty minutes. Do that every day—or at least more often than not—and you’ve got yourself a writing routine.

Everything is marketing

As a writer, everything you do is marketing.

Marketing is one of the most misunderstood aspects of the professional writing life. Marketing is not the mere promotion of your work. As Ryan Holiday says, you should constantly be sharing your message wherever you can, and ever so often come out with a new book. That’s marketing. It’s constantly talking about the work you’re doing and occasionally selling something.

People should never wonder what you’re about. They should never not know what you’re up to, creatively. That doesn’t mean there can’t be mystery. It just means your job is to live your message, to embody it.

Your message is your best marketing asset. Talk about it with anyone and everyone as often as possible without being annoying.

Get feedback wherever you can, because the best way to validate your message is by sharing it. People will naturally tell you what they think. And if they don’t, their silence is a message in itself.

As you are working on a book, you should constantly be talking about that topic, getting feedback, testing ideas, and so forth.

At Certa Publishing, we couldn’t agree more with these simple rules for writing. Do you have any to add? We’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Stop beating yourself up

Blog Stop beating yourself up

Self-criticism will sabotage your writing career at every turn. You simply must get it under control. This is especially true for those of us who have put our faith in the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Knowing we are sons and daughters of God requires us to silence the negative self-speak with the truth of His Word:

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!  (1 John 3:1)

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart. (Jeremiah 1:5)

Author and communications consultant RiShawn Biddle wrote on this very subject in a recent post for Michael Hyatt’s blog, titled Stop Being Your Own Worst Critic, which we have excerpted here:

Does this one ring a bell? You, reader, are your own worst critic. Your penchant for nitpicking every detail and harshly critiquing your accomplishments makes it difficult for you to make progress or sometimes even get simple work done.

If it doesn’t apply to you or someone close to you, then you have a great day. If it does, then read on, Macduff.

What your inner self-critics needs to do is learn is that focusing on your strengths is a better pathway to success than fixating on weaknesses. Take these three steps and you will become your best critic and champion.

1. Realize you are more than enough

Self-criticism is normal and even healthy in small doses. But as the saying goes, the dose makes the poison. When you always approach your work with negativity, it’s paralyzing. It also makes you more susceptible to criticism from others who may not have your best interests at heart.

You need to know that much of the criticism in your head has no resemblance to what you are actually doing in real time. More often than not, you are more than enough to tackle the task at hand.

Realizing you are enough starts by applying Apple Founder Steve Jobs’s famed adage that “you can only connect [the dots] looking backward.” Often, it means looking at your past successes, as well as previous pitfalls, and how they can help you tackle the challenges ahead.

2. Stop with the negative talk

Self-criticism starts with negative words. It’s not just the I-can’ts and the not-good-enoughs. Every time you critique a meaningless detail, or nitpick a perfectly good presentation, you put yourself on the path to lifelong self-sabotage.

Simply ignoring the words of criticism isn’t enough. You must combat them with affirmations of your capacity to succeed. This starts at the end of the day by looking at the big picture of success as well as listing and reciting I cans, I ams, and even I wills — affirming your ability to achieve. By affirming these things before going to bed, you get ready for success the next day.

Another strategy is to embrace the concept of good enough. Along the lines of what Wired revealed about what consumers wanted, your colleagues expect your projects be successful, simple, economical, not perfect. Once you change your expectations of what you should do, you become less self-critical.

Finally, write down your past successes so you can reference them every now and then. Even the simplest signposted achievement can cause you to feel positive about your ability to succeed in the future. Those positive words can crowd out the negative words stuck on repeat in your head.

3. Keep building your strengths

One reason why we are so self-critical is that we become fixated on our shortcomings. It becomes easier to focus on what we lack rather on our considerable skills and successes.

This is a mistake. Fixating on weaknesses takes precious time needed from building upon the strengths you already have.

More often than not, your shortcomings are the flip sides of those very strengths you already possess. Lacking a master’s degree, for example, may be the reason why you put so much time mastering your work. Your blunt speaking is the result of your leadership skills. Your stumbles in public speaking are matched by your considerable rhetorical skills as a writer.

Put your energy into building up your strengths. That includes learning more about your strengths as well as the key tools you will need to get better. And learn to tout these strengths instead of talking about your shortcomings.

What you say will affect how you think about yourself. At some point it will probably dawn on you that you were more than enough, after all.

If you find yourself in the text of this article, we hope that you will take its advice to heart, as well as the truths of what God says about you.

At Certa Publishing, we hate the thought of any of our authors beating themselves up through self-criticism. We believe in you and what God has put within you! If you need encouragement today, please reach out.

Should Pastors be Writers?

Blog Should pastors be writers_

If we asked you why pastors should not write books, you could probably quickly rattle off some reasons. Distractions, temptation to seek fame, etc. However, have you considered why pastors should write? This was the very theme of a recent Gospel Coalition interview with pastor and author Anthony Carter, which we have excerpted here:

It’s no secret: pastors like books. We read them, we quote them, we give them away. After all, the foundation for our entire ministry is the written Word of God himself. Take away that book and we have no ministry.

But what about the writing of books? How should pastors think about putting words on paper for publication? Anthony Carter, lead pastor of East Point Church in Georgia, has written, co-authored, and contributed to a number of books, including most recently Blood Work.  Carter warns against the desire for attention and the distraction that writing can take away from pastoral ministry but also encourages pastors to pursue writing and publishing if they can.

Should a pastor write? Is writing a valid part of pastoral ministry, or does it distract us from the people we’re called to care for? 

Carter_PX_webAll pastors are writers. For me, writing is just an extension of preaching ministry. Every week I write a sermon. All preachers do. Whether you write a full manuscript during sermon preparation or not, writing is indispensable to good preaching. Therefore, it is not a distraction; it is what all preachers do. Nevertheless, if the pastor pursues it apart from the pastoral ministry, then it could be a distraction and become a source of pride.

A young pastor comes to you wanting to be a published writer. What advice do you give him? How should a pastor evaluate and pursue a call to write?

All pastors should seek to get published. The process of writing and being published is a great learning experience. It causes you to think about how you communicate outside of sermonic sound bites and gives you another venue through which you can communicate to the congregation. So I would encourage the young pastor to write.

However, I would caution him against thinking more highly of his writing than he should. As I said, consider writing as an extension of the pastoral calling, and be contented if no one but people in your local congregation read your book. After all, you have been called to the local flock, not the world. If my congregation reads and is encouraged by what I write, I should consider myself blessed.

Writing for publication brings a measure of national attention. How does a published pastor resist temptations to pride and cultivate humility?  

Actually, most books get published with little to no national attention. If you write for national attention, you are writing for the wrong reasons. I would encourage any pastor to remember and take to heart this sobering reality: Most people won’t even know that you have published a book, and the rest won’t care.

In his book Excellence: The Character of God and the Pursuit of Scholarly Virtue, Andreas Köstenberger says, “Writing never just happens. If you are called to write, you must actively plan for it and doggedly persevere in it.” Take us into your writing routine. How do you actively plan for and doggedly persevere in the writing task?  

I write sermons practically every week. This is the bulk of my writing, and where my writing is primarily concentrated. Writing books or blogs is more a fruit of the preaching ministry than anything else. Consequently, I plan my writing like I plan my sermons. First, I start with an idea that grabs my attention. If I am not interested in what I am writing, I doubt others will be either. Second, I outline my thoughts with the end in mind. What do I want people to take away from this article or book? Then I develop the outline seeking to get myself, and subsequently my readers, to that end. Third, I set aside time where I can spend on the deliberate exercise of writing. Like anything else, writing takes discipline. Discipline is time and effort.

Are there any practices or disciplines that have helped you develop skill as a writer?  

I don’t know how much skill I have as a writer. I am sure many would say not much, and I would tend to agree. However, I find that I write better when I read good writing. Good reading is the best discipline I know for being a good writer. In fact, when I read good writers, it does two things: one, I am reminded of how weak my writing is and, two, I am encouraged to try and write better.

What do you think? Do you agree with Pastor Carter’s thoughts on the subject? Comment below to let us know.

At Certa Publishing, we have helped many, many pastors become authors. In fact, we would consider this one of our specialties. Contact us today to find out how to get started on your writing journey.

Who are you on social media?

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As a writer, your presence on social media is key. If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you’ve seen us discuss follower counts, Twitter, platforms, and social media in depth. Today we’re looking at who you are on social media. You’re probably thinking, “Um, I’m me. Who else would I be? And why are you asking me to be someone I’m not?” Think of it more like a persona or a character.

Still not sure? We’re going to let Christy Huggins of Eventbrite explain in this excerpt of her recent post for Grammarly.

Refining your personality on social media can be a daunting process.

Individuals and brands get into trouble trying to create an entirely new personality on their social media accounts. Social should be a channel for you to deliver and develop a personality—but not to create an entirely new one. That can come off as forced and inauthentic.

If you’re writing social content on behalf of a company or brand, finetuning your personality is about writing copy that taps into your followers’ emotions.

That’s why we teamed up with Grammarly [on a] project where we unveiled five characters that accounts like yours should embody on social media. Find the one that most aligns with your personal or brand voice, and discover the emotions you can inspire.

Character #1: The Cool Curator

We all have that one friend who’s always in the know—the early adopter of new apps and the person we turn to when we need fresh music recommendations. Everyone wants to hang out with her. We want what she’s got.

The types of things your team will post:

  • Behind-the-scenes and in-the-know details
  • Artist or guest speaker sneak peeks
  • Breaking industry news

The emotion you’re going for:

  • Excitement, novelty

Newport Folk Festival is the oldest and most well-known folk festival in the U.S. The brand’s social media presence taps into its deep connections with folk superstars new and old.

Character #2: The Trusted Advisor

When you need advice, you know that this person has done his research, weighed the pros and cons, and possesses innate wisdom. He’s your “expert” friend, and you trust him implicitly.

As a brand, this persona is a thought leader of its genre. If you’re a rock music festival, you’re the rock music festival. Or if you’re a yoga and mindfulness brand, you know how to prove your mettle.

The types of things you’ll post:

  • Insight on a theme, not just about your event or product
  • Friendly advice from well-known personalities
  • “Did you know?” tips

The emotion you’re going for:

  • Confidence

The 3% Conference shares career inspiration, articles with expert guidance, and job opportunities on their Twitter page, which has nearly 20,000 followers.

Character #3: The Feel-Good Friend

Sometimes, we just want to hang out with someone goofy and low-pressure. This is our friend who sees the humor in every situation and is always up for fun just for the sake of it. If this is your persona, your posts will run the gamut from whimsical to humorous, and will typically use bright colors and short, quippy text.

The types of things you’ll post:

  • Colorful images
  • Whimsical captions
  • Funny GIFs
  • Cool memes
  • Inspirational quotes

The emotion you’re going for:

  • Happiness

National pop-up, The Museum of Ice Cream, consistently uses bright, ice-cream-worthy colors and whimsical themes in its social media posts. 

Character #4: The Tempter

The tempter knows the best bars and most picturesque hiking locations. Whether a foodie, a travel inspirer, or a fashionista, his posts always make you want to splurge on something.

The types of things you’ll post:

  • Gorgeous, high-quality shots of refreshments and libations
  • Images and video of attendees enjoying themselves
  • First looks at new vendors

The emotion you’re going for:

  • Desire

 

Eat Drink SF’s social media pages are visual feasts, showcasing the best of San Francisco eats year round — not just when the annual festival approaches. 

Character #5: The Innovator

Your innovator friend is often a tech visionary or an artist. Whatever medium they belong to, one thing is always for sure—they do things their own way.

As a social media persona, the Innovator finds new ways to post and share content. Posts are eye-catching, with a certain spark that makes you want to know more.

The types of things you’ll post:

  • Images and video from new angles
  • Videos capturing unusual situations
  • Think pieces and articles

The emotion you’re going for:

  • Curiosity

San Francisco Ballet is a legendary ballet company, and its social media presence is equally creative. Shots like this are made up of individual posts chopped into sections, then pieced back together in the profile like a visual puzzle.

See, we knew you would understand! So, as a writer, what will your online persona be? Often writers make fabulous “trusted advisors” on their particular topic. However, you could certainly use any of these characters as a voice for your social media brand.

At Certa Publishing we are constantly amazed by the creativity of our writers. But what if the creative marketing juices just aren’t flowing? We’re here for you! Contact us today to learn more about our marketing services, including full-service social media management.

Fix these 3 mistakes to instantly improve your writing

Have you ever really wanted to read a piece of writing, only to get so weary that you give up within the first few paragraphs? What causes that weariness in the reader? K.M. Weiland argues that “choppy prose” is to blame and we think she makes an excellent point in her article Most Common Writing Mistakes: Choppy Prose, which we have excerpted here:

A lean, lyrical style is an art form all its own. Just ask Ernest Hemingway and Cormac McCarthy. But authors need to be aware of the difference between lean prose and choppy prose—and learn to avoid the latter.

Reading choppy prose is like driving on a washboard road. It might be ever so slightly exciting at first, but it quickly becomes irritating and exhausting. The constant jarring of incomplete thoughts and abrupt punctuation prevents readers from sinking into a story. You may be striving for simplicity, but sometimes that very lack of sophistication in sentence structure can end up confusing readers.

Three Causes of Choppy Prose

The root of choppy prose is almost always poor sentence construction. At the root of these bad constructions, we often find three culprits:

1. Run-ons

A run-on sentence is one in which two or more independent clauses are joined without proper conjunction (“and,” “but,” “or,” etc.) or punctuation (semi-colon). The result is a sentence that runs on and on. This might seem like it would produce an effect opposite to choppiness, but, in fact, its breathlessness hurries readers along and mutilates what might otherwise be an effective construction.

FOR EXAMPLE:

Ariel arrived at the train station only two minutes late, she ran down the platform, she screamed at the train to stop, she had to get on!

2. Fragments

A sentence fragment is the opposite of a run-on: an incomplete clause, lacking either subject (noun) or predicate (verb). The abruptness of the missing half creates a jerky style that can make the author look uneducated and create confusion for readers.

FOR EXAMPLE:

Ariel gave up and stopped short. Cried. So unfair. Now, what would happen to her? Doomed, of course. She sat down on her suitcase. Because she had no more strength left in her legs. Maybe the next train? Or when someone took pity on her.

3. Semi-colons

The semi-colon is one of the most elegant of all punctuation marks. But it’s also one of the easiest to misuse. Authors can unintentionally use semi-colons to chop their prose to bits. Most of the time, this happens when one of the clauses the semi-colon is dividing fails to be independent (in essence, becoming a fragment).

FOR EXAMPLE:

A kind man in a fedora stopped beside Ariel; to see if he could help. She sniffed; looked up. This was her lucky day after all; or maybe just miraculous.

How to Fix Your Choppy Prose

Once you’ve identified what’s hacking up your prose, the remedy is simple enough: ruthlessly excise the offenders! Separate your run-ons into correct clauses or sentences of their own, smooth out your fragments with proper punctuation, and either remove the semi-colons or build independent clauses on either side of them.

FOR EXAMPLE:

Ariel arrived at the train station only two minutes late. She ran down the platform and screamed at the train to stop. She had to get on! Finally, she gave up and stopped short. Tears welled. This was so unfair. Now, what would happen to her? She was doomed, of course. The strength melted out of her legs, and she sat down on her suitcase. Maybe the next train would leave soon? Or perhaps someone would take pity on her. A kind man in a fedora stopped beside her and asked if he could help. She sniffed and looked up. Maybe this was her lucky day after all—or maybe it was a miracle?

The prose here is still pretty lean, but now it also flows more intuitively and clarifies the scene for readers rather than confusing them with nebulous half sentences. Cleaning up your choppy prose is as easy as that!

If you find your manuscript rife with run-ons, fragments and semicolons, today would be a perfect time to implement these fixes in your own writing. However, if you find yourself in need of a professional editor, we invite you to contact Certa Publishing so that we can put our editing services to work for you.