The Secret to Page Turning Non-Fiction Writing

I couldn’t take it anymore. It was driving me mad. Why were kids who chronically complained about their hatred of reading, devouring these books?

Twilight by Stephenie MeyerBeing the mission-minded gal I am, I decided to find out for myself. So I started reading the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer. She grabbed me in the first two sentences.

“I’d never given much thought to how I would die — though I’d had reason enough in the last few months — but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this.
I stared without breathing across the long room, into the dark eyes of the hunter, and he looked pleasantly back at me.”

Bam! She hooked me — and reeled me right in. A few short pages later, I knew Ms. Meyer’s secret to writing for people who rarely read.

Next, I decided to go back and study another series that played the Pied Piper’s flute to many a reader, young and mature, who previously stated their distaste for the written word. Sure enough, J.K. Rowling, of Harry Potter fame, used the same secret strategy as Stephenie Meyer. Both of their method’s are right out in the open, even though they’re hidden in mysterious passages. Rowling begins her first book with this intriguing statement.Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone

”Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”

Very different style from Meyer’s, but effective all the same. So what is this magical thread both authors weave so carefully into their books? And how can we emulate the process without plagiarizing their work or voices?

It’s easy. I’ve done it all the way through this post. Are you screaming at the screen yet? “Enough all ready, quit messing with my mind and tell me.”

Meyer and Rowling artfully created cliff-hangers in paragraph after paragraph, culminating in page-turning chapters. Some were so tiny they were nearly imperceptible, while others were breathtakingly obvious. There was no doubt, tapping into simple human curiosity accounted for the multitude of readers desperate for each new release these authors offered.

But both authors were also wise enough to provide the answers to the questions they created, while they simultaneously raised new inquisitive scenarios. They didn’t leave the reader hanging too long.

Unbroken by Laura HillenbrandAnd this made me realize, I can follow the same method while writing non-fiction. My style isn’t the same. My genre different. My content, theme, and messages often polar opposite to the fictional creations of Meyer and Rowling, but I can still use human curiosity to my advantage.

Who says you can’t build cliff-hangers into true tales and exposition? Look at Laura Hillenbrand’s masterful biography, Unbroken, now a major motion picture. She hooked me when the first scene opened with blazing bullets and circling sharks.

I realized, the best authors of any genre tap into the powerful force that makes inquiring minds want to know. When a book gets slow, the author has failed to make us wait, or has made us wait so long we give up and move onto something else that satisfies our curiosity.

Getting Through

Releasing, April, 2015 through Barbour Publishing

The answer to creating page turning non-fiction is to use the element of anticipation to your advantage. And like me, consider starting your own clandestine words list. I’ve kept one for over two years now, where every intriguing word I hear, read, or think about is added. I used many in my latest book, and plan to use even more as I continue to hone my craft as an author.

Here’s the thing: whisper, allude, hint, or disguise — the secret hides in the use of secrets. This is an author’s hidden weapon.

Are you curious to know what’s on my top-secret words list

Mastering the Essential Query Letter for Writers

Outlier's The Story of SuccessI finally read the book Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell. As I devoured the first few chapters, I thought about my quest as a professional writer. And my impatience in the early days. I wrote about it on my personal blog back in 2009.

But reading Gladwell’s research, I realized that even in 2009, I was well on my way to achieving my goals. I simply needed to take every necessary step.

According to studies cited in Outliers, it takes an average of 10,000 hours to master anything. I figure it took approximately five years of incessant practice, posts, and projects for me to near the 10,000 hour mark. Although I haven’t mastered the art, I’m certainly much better than I was six years ago.

And one of the most critical areas of improvement comes in my creation of query letters. Let’s face it, if you can’t write a strong query, you won’t arrest the attention of any agent, editor, or publisher. Early on, I spent a lot of time studying and honing the elements of this crucial piece.

1. Research

Writer's Digest Query Letter

Image Credit with Permission Writer’s Digest
http://www.writersdigestshop.com

  • Who specifically should you address your inquiry to? Name. Title.
  • Where should you send your query? Do they accept email only? Content as an attachment, or in the body of your email? Are they snail mail lovers? Do you have the correct address?
  • What are they looking for? Does your topic or slant match their needs? Have you formatted your submission according to their guidelines?
  • When are they accepting submissions, and do they have themes tied to calendars?
  • Why did you chose them? Did you read something that made you think you would connect? Are you familiar with their needs and believe your work can support them in their mission? If possible, find a common bond or at least prove you’ve studied what’s important to them.
  • How do they want queries packaged? Some prefer a simple one page letter, clearly stating your concept as it fits within their guidelines. If interested, they’ll ask for a proposal or manuscript later. Others request a proposal or manuscript at the same time you send the letter. Make sure you know what the person you are querying prefers.

2. Hook

No matter how well you’ve written your article or book content, without something to snatch the reader out of their doldrums on the average of the first seven seconds, your work will go no further. Ask that stirring question to make them think. Make a bold statement that flies in the face of an old cliché. Provide a heart-wrenching statistic, forcing them out of the skin of self. Make their belly shake with laughter.

3.  Double Check

Writer's DigestOnce you’ve written what you believe is a strong query letter, I suggest you run it through the Writer’s Digest Do’s and Don’ts of Writing a Query Letter. This brief but powerful list will show you how to write a query letter in the most effective way possible. Also have someone who knows something about professional writing read it.

A family member, or even a high school English teacher, are not going to provide the insights you need when it comes to publishing in the real world. As long as it’s a short, one-time read, many professional writers are willing to do this for someone else who’s starting out. We remember those days. Just respect their time, and if one writer can’t help, try someone else.

10,000 hours sounds like forever when you are starting out as a writer. But with patient and consistent practice, this important landmark will arrive faster than you think. Start small. Master the query letter first. Then one day, you’ll have the honor of mentoring someone else.

How many hours would you estimate you’ve invested in writing so far?

The Art in Writing

Strange and wonderful things happen when we keep our eyes peeled, our ears sharp, our hearts welcoming, and our minds creative. This year, I met someone who at first glance was not an obvious fit with my writing life. But first glances are often wrong.

Mary Young Zog the DogI am a Christian non-fiction author. The woman I met at a local women’s expo is a children’s book author. She launched as a self-publisher via Pucky Huddle Books — I have chosen the traditional route as my foundation. I’m a business coach, she married a rock star. Literally.

But we both live in the same tiny county.

Mary Young is married to Rusty Young of country rock group Poco fame. They still play for exclusive events, and tour around the country. But in their desire to escape the crazy life of frenzied fans and intense concert schedules, they built a beautiful cabin nestled about twenty minutes from where I live. On a serene hill overlooking the stunning Huzzah Creek, Rusty gets to relax with his music and Mary peacefully plays with her muse.

RC Woods What Lies BeneathDue to Mary’s prompting, she and I, along with local Indie author RC Woods, have pooled our talents. Recently, the Crawford County Author’s Group held our first event, called The Art in Writing. Three diverse but driven authors determined to learn from, promote, and support each other.

Until recently, in our small region, we each felt alone. Let’s face it, those of us who put pen to paper or fingers to a keyboard are a strange breed to normal folks — most people don’t get the weird ways our minds work. Or sometimes, the strange hours we keep.

When my brain fries, when my creative juices dry, when I’m too tired to think of new ways to market my books, a couple of hours with fellow writers revives my brainstorming abilities. The art in writing is not magical — it’s intentional. It’s not competitive — it’s cooperative. No matter how similarly or differently we write.

I have other author friends who equally stir my creative brew. They don’t live close, but because of twenty-first century technology, we can call, text, private message, Facetime, or Skype. We can schedule retreats with each other, (my favorite). We can compare marketing efforts, research, and new ideas.

Getting Through

Releasing, April, 2015 through Barbour Publishing

The WordServe Water Cooler is another way to stay in touch with those who get the crazy business of writing. Sharing and learning with folks like you keeps my energy up when it threatens to flag. I often write about difficult subjects, so I need an occasional boost.

No matter whether other writers live near or far, I’ve discovered I don’t do as well without them. For me, the real art in writing is community. A brother/sisterhood of folks who will pick you up when you feel down. An encouraging message, a timely quote, a pertinent fact, a social media shout-out, even insights to help you market like a rock star. The writing community is the magic behind my words.

What infuses the art in your writing?

Marketing Magic for Authors and Speakers

“Marketing is a contest for people’s attention.” — Seth Godin

In June, at the Advanced Speakers and Writers Association National Conference, I shared the stage with a panel of writing greats. We spoke to this Christian group of women on increasing speaking opportunities in order to sell more books — or as I like to call it, Marketing Magic for Authors and Speakers.

The room was filled, and the audience leaned forward in rapt attention from the opening sentence. Heads were down as they scribbled to keep up with the flow of information. Hands popped in the air like jack-in-the-boxes to ask questions. Three things in particular spurred their interest.

Marketing Magic for Authors and Speakers Top Three:

  • Creating a marketing calendar — Strategizing timelines for posting on social media
  • Thinking outside the marketing box — Re-slanting your message(s) to reach groups you’ve never thought to target
  • Telling your marketing story — Compelling your audience to buy through a heart-felt message

Marketing is Not Selling“Excellence is doing ordinary things extraordinarily well.” With this statement, John W. Gardner simplifies the problem many of us have with marketing.  We make more out of it than what it is. In reality, if we don’t overcomplicate it, marketing is simply doing something ordinary, sharing something we’re passionate about, with like-minded people. We just need to find the most effective way to reach them. And that won’t look the same for everyone — we aren’t cookie cutters of each other.

If you need to create some marketing magic for your books, or need to increase speaking opportunities to help you reach a wider audience, I invite you to contact me. Email anita@anitabrooks.com for the handout from the AWSA seminar, and I’ll be happy to share. Not only will you find bullet-point tips, timeline suggestions, and examples of Press Releases and Marketing Maps, but links to the following:tell them your story

  • American Library Association
  • A listing for every national association in the U.S.
  • Christian radio stations
  • Christian television stations
  • Mega-churches

If you’d like to learn more information on another exciting way to improve your marketing strategies, follow me at anitabrooks.comMy heart is to help fellow authors and speakers reach more people — but not in the traditional way. Together, we can create marketing magic, when we offer each other a helping hand.

What unique ways do you use to sell more books? Want to see an example of a brilliant marketing piece? Watch this YouTube video for one of the best I’ve ever seen.

Screenwriting for Fun and Energy

As this posts, I’m stretching my writing muscles. Doing something I’ve never attempted before. Writing a screenplay for a contest.

It’s not something I’d ever put thought into. After all, I’m a non-fiction author, although my work is story-rich. But I do have these fascinating plot thoughts that simply won’t go away. So what’s a writer to do with them?

According to a Hollywood screenwriter I met at a recent conference, “Enter a contest and have fun.”

Getting Through

Releasing, April, 2015 through Barbour Publishing

And the timing is right. I just finished writing a book I’m very passionate about called Getting Through What You Can’t Get Over, releasing through Barbour Publishing in April, 2015. I’m totally jazzed about Getting Through, but I’m also drained. It takes a lot to wade into soul-deep true stories of people who’ve experienced unwanted tragedy — many of them my own.

And as I prepare to work on my next non-fiction project, another soul-wrenching work speaking life into hurting people, I need a mental boost. So I’m challenging myself in an out-of-the-box way. I’m screenwriting for seven days in the 168 Film Project, Write of Passage contest.

But right before I started, something very interesting happened. And I wondered if God had hinted at all of this in the past, although I’d forgotten.

It was October, 2010, and I was in South Carolina on the cusp of discovering a life-changing secret about my identity. Though DNA tests wouldn’t confirm it for several days, I would soon learn my dad isn’t my biological father. At forty-six, the news blindsided me from left field.

On this particular day, I was getting ready to visit my dad (the only father I’d ever known), and as I neared his house, I thought my heart might explode from its pounding. I needed to catch my breath before I faced my fears.

It was Sunday evening, and I pulled into a plaza parking lot only two blocks from my dad’s house. The place was deserted, except for one vehicle.

Writing Screenplays

Stretching a Different Set of Muscles Can Energize

I glanced up and the license plate immediately caught my eye. I have no good explanation as to why, but I took a picture. I thought the personalized plate was curious, and remember wondering if God was telling me something. But at the time, I hadn’t even signed with my literary agent, much less sold a book.

Besides, I had bigger things on my mind, so I saved the digital photo in a file, and promptly forgot about it. Until recently.

A few weeks ago, I ran across the picture while looking for something else. Then I realized I was getting ready to enter my first screenwriting contest. And I wondered….

Does it mean anything? Probably not. Could God have hinted to me all those years ago? Possibly so. Is it fun to consider? Absolutely yes.

Whether anything comes from screenwriting or not, this is what I’ve realized. In order to infuse your writing with fresh wind, sometimes you need to do something totally off the wall, very different from what you’ve gotten used to. For a short time.

So I’m not working on a screenplay because I hope to invent the next Hollywood blockbuster, I’m screenwriting for fun and energy. That way, when this contest is over, I’ll have new fodder to make my next book even better than the ones before. And maybe that’s what God had in mind all along.

How do you stimulate your writing in creative new ways?

Anita Fresh Faith

It’s Never Too Late to Write

I started my writing career later than most. At least compared to many of my twenty-first century peers.

And I worried I’d waited too long.

Broodmoor Hotel, Colorado

It’s Never Too Late to Make a New Bed

Actually, I had a lot of strikes against me. I was sure I’d made my bed, and had no opportunity to make another. But I was wrong.

If it hadn’t been for a persistent push from God, I doubt I’d be writing to you now. But He continually convicted me through the Parable of the Talents, Matthew 25:14-30. You see, I was the wicked and lazy servant who’d buried her gift.

However, God truly is merciful — and encouraging. Over a period of a few years, He used five real-life examples to show me it’s never too late to write.

The first lived in Missouri, like I do. Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder Lane, two of the most inspirational writers I’ve ever studied, called Mansfield, Missouri home. Rose schooled her mother on how to formally pen those wonderful classic books, the Little House on the Prairie series.

But the most amazing part was learning Laura was sixty-five years old when the first best-selling manuscript went to her publisher.

Strolling through her grounds recently, I imagined her gnarled hands scratching out stories from memory onto pages of paper. She finished her final book at age seventy-six.

Another author who started late was Frank McCourt, also publishing in his mid-sixties. The wisdom of time and experience propelled Angela’s Ashes to the top of global readers’ favorite lists.

At forty-five, Raymond Chandler, (who I share a birth date and month with), finally broke into publishing success, after struggling from the time of his youth to make his professional mark.

In her fifties, Mary Wesley published a few children’s books without notice. However, in her seventies, she took the world by storm with her first novel, Jumping the Queue.

James Michener is a well-known name for those who know writing. But some don’t realize his fifty year Pulitzer-prize-winning career didn’t start until he was fifty, continuing until his death at age ninety. His last book published posthumously.

What's on Your Bucket List

What Does Your Bucket List Say?

No matter what encourages you, whether it’s real-life examples, spiritual promptings, or the example of a writer who did, though I feared I wouldn’t, let something spur you on. Age, location, past failures, naysayers, none of those things matter.

If you are willing to learn, to listen, to do the work, to learn some more, to listen some more, then work some more, you will see results. Maybe not at the caliber of some of the names listed here, but at the level you are supposed to achieve. This leads me to one more thought — actually it’s a question.

Many people tell me they believe in God. But I respond by asking this, “Do you believe God?” A simple change in sentence structure changes the meaning. In Proverbs 14:23 (NIV), it says, “All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.”

Maybe your sentence structure will help someone see a familiar statement in a new way. Maybe your profit will result in financial windfalls. But more likely, it will come through a life changed. A life you touch because you never gave up. Because like me, you chose to believe God and say, “It’s never too late to make a fresh start with fresh faith — while I write.”

What encourages you to write on?

 

The Surprising Secret to Juicing Up Your Writing

“Sitting at a computer is the place for taking a clunky sentence and smoothing it out, making it read better. I do some of my best writing in my head before I fall asleep for my afternoon nap. I recommend that!”

—Tony Hillerman, quoted in Tony Hillerman’s Landscape by Anne Hillerman

Business Coaching

What’s Making You Tired?

I don’t know about you, but it seems like I spend at least half of my writing time combating fatigue. Maybe it’s my crazy on-the-road schedule as a national speaker and business coach. It’s possible the myriad of personal problems, some huge, some small, drain my emotions and my body. It could be the anxiety I feel when juggling all of the fine details that go into a professional writing career. Social media — check. Blog — check. YouTube videos — check. Marketing my books — check. Pursue new speaking/coaching gigs — check.

As I view the list, it’s no wonder I’m wiped out. But knowing why I’m tired won’t change the fact that my books and articles won’t write themselves. No one but me can put my words on my pages — the messages I believe God started a burn in my heart to share and show.

But this brings me back to my original problem. What to do when I finally get time to write, but feel too tired to type a word?

The solution is so simple, I’m embarrassed to admit I overlooked it for the longest time. A time-proven technique for juicing up your writing. A secret to turning on the creativity, when your muse is turned off.

And here’s the secret. Take a short nap.

Hot Air BalloonsSounds crazy, right? But it works. One of the reasons I resisted was my fear I’d fall asleep and waste all of that precious time. However, I’ve found it doesn’t happen. Somewhere in the dozing phase, my mind starts whirring with ideas. So much so, after an average of twenty minutes, my inspirations wake me up. Napping has transformed my craft and my process.

I should have known. From the beginning of my writing career, I’ve committed and adhered to taking a weekly sabbath rest. One full day off. No writing. No marketing. No work. It’s one of my secret answers to the question I hear so often, “How do you get so much done?”

You see I learned this secret from the Best-Selling Author of all time. God took the first Sabbath, or shavat vayinafash in Hebrew. The term literally means God rested and got a new soul. And we’re meant to live in His image, so why wouldn’t we renew our souls through rest?

Gold Clock

Resting has a Supernatural Way of Restoring Time

I thought, if it works for a whole day, why wouldn’t a mini-sabbath work for part of one? So I tested the theory, and found a twenty-minute nap can infuse me with as much energy as taking a week’s vacation. Seriously. It’s like gaining an extra day.

Other highly successful authors swear by it. Now I do too.

I believe the quality of my writing has improved from the regular practice of napping, and/or resting in quiet meditation to allow my creative juices freedom to flow. Sabbath renews my soul, clears my mind of clutter, and revives my spirit.

So I challenge you — the next time your eyes droop as you face the keyboard, go against your instincts. Don’t push through. Don’t beat yourself up. Submit. Give your body the refreshing rest it’s crying out for, and feel the juicing begin. Not only will you feel better, but chances are your readers will benefit from your better books.

How do you deal with writer’s fatigue?