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Up your game with some ‘Platform’ inspiration

PlatformLast year my critique partner recommended that I check out the podcasts of author and speaker Michael Hyatt, the former CEO and chairman of Thomas Nelson, a well-known Christian publisher. I did, and I quickly realized why she was so impressed. When I came across Hyatt’s book Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World at an Ollie’s store recently, I grabbed copies for both of us, as I had a feeling the book would be helpful as we continue to build our writing platforms.

This book was an easy read, and I loved the short, snappy chapters. Hyatt works his way up from the basics (“Create a Compelling Product”) to the more practical everyday topics (“Write Posts Faster”), and on to more advanced topics that will be most useful for those who are already building a platform (“Embrace Twitter,” “Set Up A Facebook Fan Page”).

As you read this book, I recommend that you keep a notebook at hand because you’ll probably find yourself inspired to take notes about changes you wish to make to your own social media and/or marketing strategy. For instance, as a result of reading this book, I have already changed my Twitter handle from Tea_With Friends, the one I (halfheartedly) used as a tea blogger, to AngelaWMcRae, since that can be used for all of my Tweeting—and it’s my personal name that I actually want readers to remember.

Motivational speakers are a dime a dozen, but Hyatt has an especially winsome way with words. I found myself writing down some of the quotes from his book, things like, “Every point of contact is an opportunity to create a positive brand impression—if you are intentional.” Some of his recommendations are simply common sense principles I needed to be reminded of, but he also explores enough new territory to challenge me to up my game when it comes to marketing myself (something that can be hard for an introvert!). So no matter what you’re marketing with your writing—your books, your message, your products, yourself—this book will be a useful tool to challenge and encourage you on the journey.

10 things to love about books

booksIn honor of Saint Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d share 10 things I love about books!

1. Books keep me curious. The older I get and the more I learn, the more I find that I want to learn. Few things make me happier than finding a new book in the afternoon’s mail.

2. Books entertain me. Some days, though, I don’t care about learning something new or exploring a new field of study—I just want a cheap literary equivalent of “Calgon, take me away.” Books do that. Good ones do that and leave a mark on my mind and soul.

3. Books help me find my tribe. When I find someone who likes the same authors or the same types of books that I do, I know they’re in my tribe. And when a friend hates the same book I do, I’m really ready to high-five them!

4. Books smell nice. Do you smell your books? I do. I’m partial to the nice picture-heavy books with thick, glossy paper, like the new one I got that is the “companion,” as they say, to the “Victoria” series on PBS. I’d buy the perfume of that scent if they’d make it.

5. Books are still affordable. Sure, we can’t all create those maddeningly perfect coffee-table book displays in Architectural Digest, but if the wallet won’t quite stretch to Barnes and Noble, I’ll bet most of us can still swing a used paperback from the local thrift store. (Only in the last year or so did I learn about color coding and half-price books at Goodwill. What a deal!)

6. Books are quiet, nondemanding friends. I like to see mine lined up on the bookshelves, standing at attention like loyal little friends giving me a cheery hello when I want to visit but quiet as a mouse when I don’t. Nice.

7. Books are now accessible anywhere. Although I’d prefer not to read an entire book on my iPhone, I’m grateful that when I’m stuck somewhere without a book, I can access my Kindle library and start reading. A lovely perk of the digital age.

8. Books bring new (and old) worlds to life. Isn’t it amazing that thanks to the magic of books, we can travel into the future as well as the past? And all in the same day, if we so choose!

9. Books constantly surprise us. I’m currently reading The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel, a former newspaper legal editor and atheist who became a Christian. I’m still early into the book, but this sentence got me: “Ancient Greek and Hebrew didn’t even have a symbol for quotation marks.” Who knew!

10. Books, like the best comfort food, make us feel good. Had a stressful day at work? A good book will soon have you in a better mood. Filled with worry? A book can help take your mind off your troubles.

What do you love about books?

The recent decline in e-book sales

On Friday, Publishers Weekly had an article reporting that e-book sales were down 16 percent in 2016 compared to the previous year. Two of the main reasons listed for the decline were:

• An increase in e-book prices.

• The increasing use by book buyers of tablets and smartphones to read e-books and the decline in use of dedicated e-book readers. Apparently, those with dedicated readers have traditionally bought more e-books than those who read on other devices.

Both reasons made me examine my own book-buying and book-reading habits. The increase in e-book prices hit home because of something that happened last week. I learned of a new book called Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living. Since I make my living by writing and editing in a variety of areas, I was quite curious what this book would have to say. (And you can expect a review once I’ve read it!) The Kindle version cost $11.99 on Amazon, but the paperback book cost just $11.68. No way would I pay more for the e-book than the paperback book, and I have a feeling many budget-conscious readers feel the same way. E-book prices are going to have to remain competitive if e-book sellers want to turn a profit. (Interestingly, I checked my Amazon account to be sure I was accurate about the price I paid, and the paperback version of Scratch is now selling for $12.01, two cents more than the Kindle version.)

I also thought about how and where I read. I do read plenty of hardbook books and paperback books, but since I’ve been out of shelf space since about the late nineties, I’m much more inclined to purchase e-books these days. I have a Kindle, an iPad, and an iPhone, and I’ve read books—or at least portions of books—on all three devices. I haven’t read a complete book on my iPhone, but a few occasions of extreme boredom last year (you know, you end up waiting to meet someone and find you’re without any reading material whatsoever) sent me digging in my purse for something, anything, to read. It’s comforting to know that thanks to the Kindle app on the iPhone, my digital library is never far away. And just because e-book sales are down, I don’t imagine that means they’re going away anytime soon.

Do you read e-books or print books? Do you have a preference? Does price matter? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Where do you find good writing advice?

An article on Entrepreneur.com offered “10 Easy Solutions to Business Writing Problems.” I like list articles and I like writing articles, so this one was a must-read. Not surprisingly, much of the advice applies to business writing as well as other types of writing. For instance:

• Tip Number 1: “Use strong verbs.” Is there any type of writing in which it’s good to use weak verbs?

• Tip Number 4: “Steer clear of using many words ending in -ly.” Stephen King is often quoted as saying that he believes “the road to hell is paved with adverbs.” I strongly, heartily, unwaveringly agree. (Just kidding. “I agree” is all I need to say.)

• Tip Number 7: “Cut unnecessary words.” Entrepreneur.com suggests pretending you earn $1 for every word omitted. (If only that were true!)

Good writing advice is good writing advice, whether it’s advice on business writing, novel writing, or nonfiction writing. And while I don’t often think of business magazines when I consider places to look for good writing advice, I’ll take the good writing advice anywhere I find it!

Is writing good for your health?

A couple of years ago, Mic.com featured an article on the health benefits of writing and pointed to several studies that should hearten writers.

• In a New Zealand study, researchers found that “expressive writing” (describing thoughts and feelings) can help wounds—both internal and external—heal faster.

• A 1999 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that writing about stressful life experiences was medically beneficial to patients with mild to moderately severe asthma and rheumatoid arthritis.

• Dr. James Pennebaker, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, has found that short-term, focused writing can help everyone from the terminally ill to victims of violent crime. “When people are given the opportunity to write about emotional upheavals, they often experience improved health,” Pennebaker said in this web article. “They go to the doctor less. They have changes in immune function. If they are first-year college students, their grades tend to go up. People will tell us months afterward that it’s been a very beneficial experience for them.”

I imagine those of us who have long enjoyed “expressive writing” aren’t very surprised by these studies. I’ve kept a journal since I was in elementary school, and writing down my thoughts and feelings, simply processing life lessons on paper, has always been a stress-relieving activity for me. I like Flannery O’Connor’s old quote: “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” How encouraging to hear that such writing is a healthy habit as well!