The Title of the Book Is the Hook

An important aspect of any book is the title itself. Lewis Smedes wrote a book about forgiveness in which he discusses some of the psychological, spiritual, and relational dynamics of being hurt and then moving towards healing and forgiveness.

He wanted to title the book, Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve, but the people at HarperCollins insisted on something catchier, something that might spark more interest on the popular level. So the publisher decided to name it Forgive and Forget, a title Smedes hated because as he says, “Forgiving has nothing to do with forgetting. In fact, sometimes the best forgiving happens because we remember.” The negotiated compromise kept the publisher’s preference, of course, and Smedes’s working title became the subtitle. This solution worked. It has sold more than a half million copies.

Of course, the book itself is excellent. It is interesting and helpful. It starts with a European folk tale about a husband and wife who are unhappy. The husband is devastated when he learns that his wife had an affair. But they manage to work through their unhappiness, come to forgiveness, and experience personal growth. Their end state is better, despite the affair.

The author keeps it interesting all through the book, with examples, information, and personal experiences of betrayal, pain, struggle, and triumph. Each anecdote in this nonfiction work reengages and pulls readers back to the author’s theme, showing how to more effectively handle our own struggles of hurting, hating, healing, and forgiving. Each page reveals a little more of the complexities and dynamics involved. Each issue is common to every one of us.

Good writers, therefore, understand that the open or lead is not the only place for a good hook. How about mid-chapter? Or at the end of a chapter? Or even the title itself?

Well Told Stories

Every life is a series of stories, and each person an endless repository of action, emotion, and relationship. One of the goals of literature is to capture that collection of raw material, and frame the narrative in such a way that those who read the finished product are invited to participate in a vicarious experience. If the stories are told well, readers can feel pain, joy, love, fear, or wonder. They are able to cry when a lover is betrayed, cringe when the hero of the story is under attack, or crawl under a blanket and hide to escape being discovered by the intruder.

I remember coming home from work one day and discovering my wife and children watching a scary movie on TV. All three of my kids were on the same sofa, huddling together under a blanket as the terrifying story unfolded before their eyes. The fear was real. They were experiencing the lives of the people on the screen.

That’s what happens when a good book is placed in front of your eyes, too. The reader can learn, grow, increase in wisdom, or even become a better friend or lover as a result. Sometimes, reading a selection can lead to anger, motivate to action, or inspire a deeper faith. Other times, you come away so afraid you want to lock the doors and shut out the world.

Each writer obviously has a unique personality and writing style, and every story has a different theme and mood. But good writing should warm your heart, provoke you to action, inspire you to travel to a place you’ve never been before, or entice you to want to read more. Some stories will cause you to question what you believe, and others will affirm what you already consider to be true. Perhaps you’ll find yourself sitting in your chair with a smile breaking across your face, or see yourself in one of the scenes.

This article is excerpted from the introduction to a book titled Reflections: An Anthology of Memoir and Short Story, which may be purchased on Amazon .

Draw Your Reader into the Story

Good writing captures the imagination of the readers, grabs and holds their attention, compelling them to keep reading. It creates interest, makes them care about the story, the people, the problem. Its impact is so deep they simply don’t have the option of putting down the book, the article, or the essay. They must keep reading. They have to find out what happens next. They want to know the outcome. They are hooked.

The same is true of any form of communication: television commercials, sitcoms, and movies; micro fiction, short stories, and novels; essays and narrative nonfiction; poetry and songs; speeches and sermons. When done well, it latches onto something inside the mind or the soul of the hearer, viewer, or reader.

This happened to me the first time I read Longfellow’s Evangeline. My wife had recommended it, so I picked it up at a used bookstore and sat down on the sofa to read on my day off. From the opening page, I was hooked.

THIS is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks, Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight, This is the forest primeval; but where are the hearts that beneath it Leaped like the roe, when he hears in the woodland the voice of the huntsman? List to a Tale of Love in Acadie, home of the happy.

Business communications consultant Milo Frank says “The attention span of the average individual is 30 seconds. Let me give you an example. Look around the room and concentrate on a lamp. You’ll find your mind goes to something else within 30 seconds. If the lamp could move or talk, or go on and off by itself, it would recapture your attention for another 30 seconds. But without motion or change, it cannot hold you.” This is why in his chapter titled “The Lead and the Ending,” William Zinsser writes:

The most importance sentence in any article is the first one. If it doesn’t induce the reader to proceed to the second sentence, your article is dead. And if the second sentence doesn’t induce him to continue to the third sentence, it’s equally dead. Of such a progression of sentences, each tugging the reader forward until he is hooked, a writer constructs that fateful unit, the “lead.”

If this is true, writers who want their stuff to be read will use a variety of means to hook and maintain the reader’s attention throughout the work, not only at the beginning. Because the mind can only focus for thirty seconds, every word, every sentence, and every paragraph has to effectively reengage your readers, reconnecting them to the story for another thirty seconds. There has to be movement, change, something of interest. Even in non-fiction.

Tug at the Soul

As a child, I loved stories. I still do! And I loved people who told good stories. My uncle was fabulous. My brother was into ghost stories.

But my sister bested them all, because not only did she tell wonderful stories, she then organized us, gave us our parts, created the scene, and showed us how to bring the story to life. I don’t know how many plays she created, directed, and had us perform. Her favorite names were Laura and Perry, so of course, she was always Laura and I was always Perry.

In the school library, I discovered more stories. My favorites were about animals. I must have read every book that featured horses and dogs—especially wolves. For some reason, these stories captured my imagination, took me to other places, and left me with a feeling of . . . a feeling of . . .

What if I was there? What if that happened to me? What would I do in that situation? The stories left me with the same feeling the people in the story had. And sometimes I experienced what the horse or the dog was feeling.

That’s what you want to do in your story. You have to find a way to reach into your readers’ emotion, tug at the soul, and carry them into the world you created. Do that, and you change people. Do that, and you’ll have a winner on your hands.

What Matters Most

I’m reading a novel that was published by one of the big New York publishing houses, and have discovered quite a few errors: incorrect word usage, typo, grammar, punctuation. I chuckled to myself, “You mean those big publishers are human too?”

And that’s exactly what it means. We’re all human, we all make mistakes, and that’s OK.

If you self-publish your book, only to find out that there are a few errors, it’s OK. You or your editor/formatter can make the corrections any time. That’s one of the benefits of self-publishing.

On the other hand, there are more important aspects of a book than perfect spelling, word choice, and grammar. Jeff Gerke, in the introduction to his book The Irresistible Novel, says what really matters is NOT that a book is without errors. The important thing is the story itself. Is it compelling? Does it grab you? Is the reader captivated and transported into the world of the story?

As an author, you need to free yourself from worrying about the technical elements during the writing process. Liberate yourself so you can focus on the story, the characters, the plot, the world you’re building. If you are successful with the story itself, it doesn’t matter if there are a few typos in the printed book. Because what readers are looking for is a fantastic book they can get lost in.

The novel I’m reading is really good. I can hardly wait to see what happens next. Even if there’s a mistake the editor missed.

Dream On!

It takes a lot of hard work to write a book. Most of us invest months or years, tons of research, and racking our brain to get it just right. Then after it’s done, you spend weeks and months rewriting, editing, and reworking what you already wrote. The old expression from Winston Churchill’s speech in 1940 applies to writers: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.” That definitely describes the writer’s life.

The expectation is that once the book is finally finished, the author’s work is done. However, there are two appropriate words in response to this concept: Dream On!

If your purpose is merely to write the book, then yes, you’re done. Fini! But if you actually want people to buy your book and read it, then there’s more to do, because whether your book is traditionally published or self-published, book selling these days increasingly relies on the efforts of the author. There’s no way to get around this fact.

Take best-selling novelist Louise Penny, for example. She writes great fiction, sells a lot of books, and has a loyal fan base. But she also puts a lot into her marketing efforts, too. Newsletter, speaking tour, book signings, website, Facebook, and more.

If you want to do well as a seller of books, not just a writer of books, you need a strategy too. There are lots of books about marketing methods for authors, and I recommend that you consider reading two or three. But here are a few ideas for you.

1. Create a “One Sheet” for your book. You might need to do an online search to find out what this is, but it’s essential. And once you have designed it, you can email it or print it off and send it as part of your marketing strategy.

2. Use social media to let people know about your book, using at least two platforms: Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitter, TikTok, YouTube, WeChat, Vero. There are new social media sites popping up all the time. Pick two or three, and use them to help people find out about you and your story.

3. Take advantage of a website that doubles as a blog. Every post should have a title, a category, and several tags. This is how people find you when searching for what they’re interested in. And being found is essential for authors. Your weekly blog post can be about a character, the plot, one of your themes, or even about you as the author. At times you should write about some of the research you did, or perhaps related issues that are important to you.

4. Enter your book into writing contests. It’s amazing the number of authors who got their start through a contest. By simply participating, you learn a lot and start to get some visibility. And if you win, you open yourself to greater notoriety and maybe even a publishing contract.

5. Provide a free pdf of your book to selected friends and family, and ask them to write an endorsement blurb or a review. Then, ask them to share their comments on their own social media. This has the potential of exponentially increasing the number of people who know about your book. They can also post the same write-up as an Amazon book review.

6. Visit local bookstores and libraries, offering to do a book reading or writing workshop. Ask if they are willing to carry your book. Many independent bookstores are glad to feature local authors.

7. Join a writers group. Not only can this help you improve your writing skills, but this increases your exposure to potential new readers, as well.

8. Write a monthly newsletter. This is an important way to build your platform, develop relationship with your readers, and keep people interested in what you write. Consider using a newsletter app such as TinyLetter, EmailOctopus, Benchmark, MailChimp, ActiveCampaign, or Constant Contact, to send emails and get signups with mobile apps. There are dozens of apps these days. Or, you can develop your own method using your email.

9. Advertise. This can be digital or in print magazines, and there’s a huge difference in what it costs. You can do Facebook ads yourself. Plus, there are a lot of firms who will do online advertising at a pretty reasonable cost.

10. Volunteer to speak at service clubs, libraries, bookstores, churches, businesses, conferences, schools or colleges, and other groups. Hey! You never know who might say yes to having a new author speak to their group in person.

11. Conduct a webinar, or plan a live Facebook session where you discuss your book.

12. Create some videos to post in YouTube or on your website.

This is just a sampling of what you can do to get the word out about your book and about you as an author. Many writers simply don’t want to be involved in marketing. They just want to write. I understand that. Believe me, I do!

But the realities are, well, realities. And without adequate marketing, your beautiful, well-written book will sit there on the shelf or in someone’s online catalogue and never make it into people’s homes, ebook readers, or eyes. And the potential income from book sales will never materialize.

Connecting the Dots

woman-1594711_1920 (2)I’ve noticed that women and men often have different ways of thinking and communicating. Sometimes my husband, who has years of practice listening to me and exploring how I think, doesn’t understand how I got from Point A to Point B in what I’m saying, whereas a female friend who has known me for only a fraction of that time sees the connections between my ideas immediately without my explaining them. By the way, my husband says he doesn’t have any problem understanding other men!

woman-1594711_1920 (4)Those shared connections between ideas may be hardwired in female and male brains or they may be learned through cultural interactions, but they definitely make communication easier.

When we write, we should assume that our readers don’t automatically understand how we think. Therefore, we must “translate” our thoughts and ideas into words they will understand, so they can conceptualize what it is we’re thinking.  We usually are clear in our own minds about how and why our ideas move from one thought to another, and that movement from point to point is logical to us, at least on a subconscious level. However, we can help our readers when we connect our ideas purposefully through transitions. These transitions often appear between paragraphs, but they can also be placed between sentences. In the previous sentence I used a simple connector by repeating a key word from the sentence before it: “these transitions.” The repeated key word keeps the readers on track and gives them a clue about the emphasis of the current sentence.

Besides repeating a key word or phrase, there are a slew of other transition options. You can choose words that communicate addition, comparison, contrast, time, purpose, place, result, summary, example, emphasis, etc. The idea behind transitions is to provide links between your ideas for the readers who can’t automatically know what you’re thinking.

Here’s a sampling of transitional words and phrases you could use to clarify the connections in your writing.

Transition Words

When I’m working with writers as their editor, I’ll often ask them, “Why does a particular idea/paragraph follow the one before it?” Once they’ve explained their thinking, I can help them find the transitional word, phrase, or sentence to make that movement from one idea to the next apparent to the reader. If an author’s reasons for ordering ideas are spelled out in the piece of writing, the reader can concentrate on the content of those ideas without having to play “translator” as well.

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Capture the Imagination

man-851319_1920Good writing captures the imagination of the reader, grabs and holds his attention, compels her to keep reading. It creates interest and makes her care about the story, the people, the problem, or theme. It affects him deeply, almost spiritually, as if the reader does not have the option of putting down the book, the article, or the essay. She must keep reading. He has to find out what happens next. She wants to know the outcome. He is hooked.

The same is true of any form of communication: television commercials, sitcoms, and movies; micro fiction, short stories, and novels; essays and narrative nonfiction; poetry and songs; speeches and sermons. When done well, it latches onto something inside the mind or the soul of the hearer, viewer, or reader.

This happened to me the first time I read Longfellow’s Evangeline. My wife had recommended it, so I picked it up at a used book store and sat down on the sofa to read on my day off. From the opening, I was hooked. The opening lines from the first page: THIS is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks, Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight (Longfellow, 95).

The story line, the language, the imagery, and the human pathos captivated me. I read the entire story that day, tears in my eyes several times. Being a guy who has always preferred nonfiction, that was the first time I was genuinely moved emotionally by a piece of fiction. I didn’t know how to process my own reaction.

Business communications consultant Milo Frank says, “The attention span of the average individual is 30 seconds. Let me give you an example. Look around the room and concentrate on a lamp. You’ll find your mind goes to something else within 30 seconds. If the lamp could move or talk, or go on and off by itself, it would recapture your attention for another 30 seconds. But without motion or change, it cannot hold you” (Frank, 15).

It is for this reason that William Zinsser writes in his chapter titled “The Lead and the Ending,” The most importance sentence in any article is the first one. If it doesn’t induce the reader to proceed to the second sentence, your article is dead. And if the second sentence doesn’t induce him to continue to the third sentence, it’s equally dead. Of such a progression of sentences, each tugging the reader forward until he is hooked, a writer constructs that fateful unit, the “lead” (Zinsser, 55).

If this is true, writers who want their stuff to be read will use a variety of means to hook and maintain the reader’s attention throughout the work, not just at the beginning. Because his mind can only focus for thirty seconds, every word, every sentence, and every paragraph has to reengage the reader, reconnecting him to the story for another half-minute. There has to be motion, change, something of interest. Even in non-fiction. Otherwise, the average reader will set aside your piece and find something more fascinating.

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So You Want to Sell Your Books?

In a recent post in the Nonfiction Authors Association, Stephanie Chandler discusses what it takes to actually sell your book once it is published. The truth is that some authors spend a lot of time writing the book, then assume that the hard work is over. NOT TRUE! You might want to take some time to read her article. You can find it at:

https://nonfictionauthorsassociation.com/how-many-books-can-you-expect-to-sell-the-truth-about-book-sales-and-the-keys-to-generating-income-from-publishing/

There are some steps you can take to increase your sales, however.

  1. Develop your Platform: Your platform is a combination of your friends and followers on social media, any organizations or clubs you are active in, and your mailing list. Basically, a platform is the way people know about you and find out about you and your books.
  2. Post about Your Book on Social Media: Now that you have a book in print, at least once a week, say something about it on your various online outlets.
  3. Create a Blog: When you write a blog you have an opportunity to create Tags and Categories that people can find when they search for your topics.
  4. Start Asking for Speaking Engagements. According to Stephanie Chandler, Being an author makes you an instant authority. Use your book to help you land speaking engagements, where you can sell books at the back of the room. Use it to impress potential consulting or coaching clients. Use it to show your credibility for teaching in-person or online classes. Another option: write more books. Each book you publish builds your “back list,” and those sales build on each other. Let your book be your credibility-builder, while you cultivate a loyal tribe and build a thriving business. When you do the work, book sales will follow, and so will other opportunities. But it takes time and persistence. Focus on the long-term effort involved, and how your book can make an impact on the world. This can be a fun and rewarding journey when you shift your perspective and set your expectations accordingly.
  5. Develop a Marketing Plan. You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars, but you do need to come up with a list of ways you can get the word out about you and your book. Let people know about what you do and what you write.
  6. Enter a Writing Contest: You never know what might result from doing this. If you win, people take notice of you. If you don’t win, you’ll learn and grow from the process and get better, maybe even make some friends and improve your networking.
  7. Most importantly, Don’t Give Up: Keep on writing, and continue growing as a writer. Consider joining a writers association or workshop. Read books about writing skills and the writing life. Do you remember who won the race between the Tortoise and the Hare?

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Brand New Business

Ladies & Gentlemen:

Paul & Linda Linzey are creating a new entity called P&L Publishing & Literary Services. Their goal is to help writers by offering outstanding formatting and editing services.

Whether you’re working on a novel, a nonfiction book, or an academic dissertation, Paul & Linda can help you put the finishing touches on your writing, so it is ready to publish.

It’s important to understand that more than 90% of all print books are published by Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), which is Amazon’s publishing firm. Since that’s where most authors are self publishing their books, that’s the platform we have chosen to format books for.

Simply stated, you send us your manuscript, and we’ll format it and upload into KDP for you. Done in about two days!

Linda was an editor for a major publisher for over five years, and then a university literature and writing professor, with a Ph.D. in British & American Literature. She also has a lot of experience in drama and oral interpretation, which lends itself to guiding and mentoring writers. She is an expert in story development, editing, writing style, and what it takes to communicate effectively. You can trust her expertise even when you’re planning to submit your book to an agent or a traditional publisher.

Paul has a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. He has authored two books, dozens of freelance articles, and served as an editor for two compilations. He has been a featured speaker at several writers conferences, and is trained and certified as a mentor.

They’ve put together a staff of trained, experienced, authors and mentors who are certified and available at low cost to provide a fantastic publishing experience.