The Power of Saying No

I have a tendency to be a people pleaser. I like to help others, and I especially enjoy doing things for writers: to encourage them, support them, provide feedback, buy their book, and read their writing.

Helping other writers is why I have my blog, Byline, and a weekly writing newsletter, Write On!. Both my blog and newsletter are ways of helping writers and doing so on a bigger scale. Helping people in these ways, that is one-to-many, may not be as personal as one-on-one, but it’s certainly more effective and multiplies my reach.

The Power of Saying NoBut aside from blogging and my newsletter, I don’t have much extra time to help people. This season has been especially busy, jam packed with writing. It seems I write, work, eat, and sleep. I often lose track of what day it is.

I’m certainly not complaining about having too many writing assignments and projects. It’s just that I’ve found myself saying “no” a lot more often. Even though this is necessary, I still feel a small pang of guilt each time I do.

When an email showed up a few days ago from an author asking if I would review her book, I wanted to say “yes.” Her request was respectful and not demanding as some are. She was humble, yet hopeful. But I knew I had to decline. I barely even had time to read her email, let alone her book.

I paused, took a deep breath, and said “no” as nicely as I could. It went something like this: “Your book sounds interesting, and I’d really like to review it, but I just don’t have the time. Sorry.”

A smidgen of guilt poked me in my gut. I paused and reread my words. I was nice, but firm. My words were not evasive or imply I might do so later. I had closed the door without slamming it shut. Then I hit send.

I felt good about my decision. There’s power in saying “no.” Declining secondary things allows me to better meet my current commitments; it also provides the space to say “yes” to something even better later on.

Do you ever struggle to say “no” even when you know you must? When has saying “no” provided the space to say “yes” to something even better? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Dealing with Critics and Reviews

Last week we talked about how to maximize the value of a critique, with the goal of carefully considering each person’s opinion. This, however, does not apply to critics and reviews.

Critics usually do not have the author’s best interest in mind, but instead their own. They write to call attention to themselves, their writing, and their mastery of words. They see discussing another person’s work as merely a vehicle to promote their own cleverness.

Even more suspect are social media reviews, where the apparent goal is often dogmatic, hurtful, or divisive proclamations – the louder the better. Too often, these reviewers seek not to inform others, as much as to call attention to themselves.

Given this, here are some thoughts about dealing with critics and reviews:

Ignore Them: My recommendation is don’t read reviews. Although tempting, there’s little to gain and much to lose. If we bask in their praise, don’t we have an equal obligation to consider their criticism? By reading them we’ll either be falsely puffed up or detrimentally pulled down.

Don’t Respond: If you do read reviews, resist the urge to react to negative comments. Responding merely gives reviewers credibility and emboldens them to be even more snarky. Things can quickly escalate out of control. By saying nothing, we may say the most.

Have Someone Screen Them: If you have a need to know what reviewers are saying, have someone else read them and summarize the key information you seek.

See Their Value: There’s a saying in marketing that the only thing worse than bad publicity is no publicity. Regardless of what’s written, accept each review as promotion for your book or writing. People may disagree with the reviewer and buy your book anyway. Or they may forget the review and remember only the title.

Reviews are part of writing; they have value but shouldn’t influence our self-esteem or future work.

Book Review: The Making of a Christian Bestseller

The Making of a Christian Bestseller: An Insider’s Guide to Christian Publishing

By Ann Byle (reviewed by Peter DeHaan)

The Making of a Christian Bestseller: An Insider’s Guide to Christian Publishing is a valuable handbook of practical advice for writers in the Christian book market. Additionally, most of the insights are equally applicable for the general book market as well.

The Making of a Christian Bestseller is the result of Ann Byle’s interviews with successful, published writers who share their stories: what they did right – and wrong, the hard lessons learned, the provisions from God, and their advice gained through personal experience. Each author’s account is self-contained in its own chapter, which are thematically arranged. The result is a pleasing progression of instruction and a helpful text on all things writing.

Regardless of the genre, The Making of a Christian Bestseller has a relevant chapter to address it. In total, 40 authors were consulted, which resulted in 40 concise chapters, smartly grouped into seven topics. As a bonus, each chapter starts with a quote from the author on the craft of writing and ends with a “best seller tip” summarizing key points. The book concludes with a valuable resource section and a helpful index for quick reference of key concepts and words.

Read The Making of a Christian Bestseller as a primer on Christian writing. Then use it as a personal handbook to refine your craft and advance your career. This book is a nice resource for every Christian author’s library.

[The Making of a Christian Bestseller: An Insider’s Guide to Christian Publishing, by Ann Byle. Published by FaithWalk Publishing, 2006, ISDN: 978-1-932902-57-0, 237 pages.]

Read more book reviews by Peter DeHaan

Book Review: V is for Vulnerable

V is for Vulnerable: Life Outside the Comfort Zone

By Seth Godin and illustrated by Hugh MacLeod (reviewed by Peter DeHaan)

Self-proclaimed as “an ABC for grownups,” Seth Godin’s book V is for Vulnerable may look like a kids picture book, but it’s really a creative package to encourage adults “to see the world differently.” In it, Godin shares simple truths to help readers stretch themselves, becoming more of who they were made to be.

In addition to learning that “V is for Vulnerable,” Seth teaches that “Effort isn’t the point, impact is,” and that “Heroes are people who take risks for the right reasons,” along with 23 other alphabetically ordered insights.

Creatively illustrated by Hugh MacLeod, a clever drawing reinforces each of Seth’s 26 points. These pictures serve to both enlighten and to entertain, adding substance and depth to Godin’s concise coaching.

Buy a copy of V is for Vulnerable: Life Outside the Comfort Zone for yourself and another one to give to a friend (that’s what I did). Read it today and then reread it each year to refresh its message. I know I will; it’s that important.

(The text of this book, sans pictures, is also included in Appendix 2 of Godin’s book The Icarus Deception.)

[V is for Vulnerable: Life Outside the Comfort Zone, by Seth Godin. Published by Penguin Group, 2012, ISDN 978-1-59184-610-9, 64 pages; $16.95]

Read more book reviews by Peter DeHaan

Book Review: How Do I Decide? Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing

How Do I Decide? Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing (A Field Guide for Authors)

By Rachelle Gardner (reviewed by Peter DeHaan)

In How Do I Decide? Rachelle Gardner gives an unbiased explanation of the pros and cons of self-publishing versus traditional publishing. She starts with a brief review of how publishing has changed in the past 15 years, followed by a summary of the basic tenets as publishing currently stands and then seguing into an exposé of the emerging self-publishing option.

As the chapters unfold, Rachelle shares the strengths and weaknesses of both publishing opportunities, connecting them with the personal strengths and weaknesses, the individual likes and dislikes of each writer who is weighing these options. In doing so, Gardner does not attempt to steer readers towards one conclusion over the other, but gives an open-minded presentation of each in a balanced manner.

After explaining both options, Rachelle unveils a detailed checklist to guide readers in selecting the publishing option that best matches their personality, experience, goals, and strengths. The book concludes with a valuable resource list that covers all aspects of book publishing.

Having followed this discussion for several years – and as someone who is simultaneously exploring both options – this concise book is the best resource I’ve seen. I highly recommend it as a starting point for any writer seeking publication, as well as published authors wishing to better navigate the rapidly changing path of book publication.

[How Do I Decide? Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing (A Field Guide for Authors), by Rachelle Gardner. Published by RL Gardner Publishing, 2012, ASIN: B00B4JRNN8, Kindle; $3.99]

Read more book reviews by Peter DeHaan

Book Review: The Shy Writer

The Shy Writer: An Introvert’s Guide to Writing Success

By C. Hope Clark (reviewed by Peter DeHaan)

Many writers are shy. C. Hope Clark understands this too well. At best, the effect of shyness serves as a roadblock for writers. At worst, it’s enough to cause some to cease writing altogether; the cost of confronting their shyness is simply too great.

For withdrawn writers who decide to push through, she offers two strategies: become less shy or figure a way to reconcile with it. Though her tips apply to both solutions, she gears her book to help writers accommodate their timidity. Along the way, Hope gives permission for shy writers to determine which areas they will make adjustments for and which they will avoid. Allowing reserved writers to choose which items they will press into and which ones they will skip is a viable plan.

For example, consider public speaking. Perhaps leading a small group can become acceptable, while standing behind a podium will never be, so saying “no” is okay. Or maybe serving on a panel is a reasonable alternative to a formal presentation. As with all her advice, she offers tips for dealing with these uncomfortable social situations

In the book’s twelve chapters, Hope effectively walks shy writers through the various issues they could encounter when confronting their introverted tendencies. Although The Shy Writer applies to males and females, her examples often center on the ladies.

Written in 2004, the truths about shyness remain unchanged. However, some of the recommended solutions are no longer applicable or require tweaking. Most of the out-of-date advice addresses the Internet, which has evolved greatly in the intervening years. Other outmoded suggestions relate to navigating the publishing industry, which has changed almost as much. Yet despite the dated references, the book contains a great deal of encouraging information for writers who are shy.

If you write and deem yourself shy, consider this book as required reading.

[The Shy Writer, by C. Hope Clark. Published by Funds for Writers. 2004; ISBN: 1-59113-583-4; 163 pages.]

Read more book reviews by Peter DeHaan

Book Review: Every Writer Needs a Tribe

Every Writer Needs a Tribe: A Practical Guide to Finding (and Writing For) Your Audience

By Jeff Goins (reviewed by Peter DeHaan)

Every Writer Needs a Tribe: A Practical Guide to Finding (and Writing For) Your AudienceEvery Writer Needs a Tribe is the essential book for all writers who desire for others to read their work. Merely writing a great book is not enough. A writer needs a platform, an audience, a tribe of followers who connect with the writer, understand his or her focus, and are predisposed to read the writer’s work.

Jeff Goins shares how to realize this objective. As promised, it is indeed “a practical guide to finding and writing for your audience.” This is not a theoretical pursuit, but a real world process that is achievable. Jeff explains how he built his tribe, instructing how other writers can do the same thing.

Every Writer Needs a Tribe is a short e-book. It is quick to read and packed full of useful instructions. Containing twenty-three concise chapters, it moves writers through a basic understanding of the need for a platform and the importance of a tribe. At times counter-intuitive, Jeff shares his experience in a straightforward manner that is easy to follow.

Along the way, Jeff shares practical advice about getting permission, building a list, focusing your writing, blogging, writing with purpose, and many more topics relevant to writers.

Every Writer Needs a Tribe is an essential tool for everyone who wants to be a writer and every writer who wants more readers.

[Every Writer Needs a Tribe: A Practical Guide to Finding (and Writing For) Your Audience, by Jeff Goins. Published by Sterling & Stone, 2012, ASIN: B0086X5Z80, Kindle.]

Read more book reviews by Peter DeHaan.

Book Review: Unleash the Writer Within

Unleash the Writer Within: The Essential Writers’ Companion

By Cecil Murphey (reviewed by Peter DeHaan)

Unleash the Writer Within is an introspective exposé of what it takes to be an effective writer. This book is not about the technical side of writing but instead the psychological aspects behind being a writer.

Penned by prolific and world-renowned author Cecil (Cec) Murphey, Unleash the Writer Within contains the personal insights of someone who truly knows the challenges of being a writer and has survived to talk about it. Cec uses personal stories to add substance to his observations, proving his words are not theory but real-world tested and readily applicable. His style is transparent and vulnerable, drawing readers in and connecting on a personal level.

Cecil begins with a forthright discussion on “Why do you write?” He doesn’t desire the safe answer or the expected response but, the real reason, the honest reason of why we write. In doing so, he exposes his inner self for the enlightenment of readers, thereby setting the tone for the rest of the book.

Along the way he addresses important topics such as our inner critic and finding our voice. He touches on dealing with writer’s block and knowing when to step out of our comfort zone, as well as the dangers of comparing ourselves to others, be they more accomplished than us or less so. He ends by saying, when you’ve done the best you can do, it’s time to let go; don’t hold on to it forever (but don’t release it too soon either).

Among the book’s back matter is a discerning list of 27 “Aphorisms for Writers,” one for each chapter of the book.

Just as the subtitle promises, Cecil Murphey’s Unleash the Writer Within is truly “the essential writers’ companion.” If you are a writer (or seek to write) this book is essential for you.

[Unleash the Writer Within: The Essential Writers’ Companion, by Cecil Murphey. Published by OakTara Publishers, 2011; ISBN 978-1-60290-307-4; 151 pages.]

Read more book reviews by Peter DeHaan

Why Do You Write?

In his book Unleash the Writer Within Cecil Murphey opens by asking the question, “Why do you write?”

What he’s not looking for is the safe answer, the politically correct response, a blast of bravado, or an eloquent, but meaningless marketing statement. He desires the real answer, the truth — and as writers we owe it to ourselves to be honest.

I could say I write to make a difference in the world. Although not untrue, it’s not my primary driving force. If my goal in writing was solely to make a difference, that would put a lot of pressure on me and quickly sap me of all joy for the craft.

To be completely open, I have two reasons why I write:

  1. I believe I have something worth sharing, and
  2. If I didn’t write, I think I would die — first figuratively and then literally.

Why do you write?

[Read my review of Unleash the Writer Within.] 

The Art of Writing Reviews

My last two posts shared my efforts at writing movie reviews and book reviews.

This begs the question of how to write an appropriate review. Unfortunately, there is no universally agreed upon set of rules. What one person advocates, another dismisses. What one reviewer says to never do, the next one does. Since the “experts” don’t agree and the reviewers are inconsistent, I’ve formulated my own guidelines as I’ve journeyed down this path:

  • Don’t spoil the ending; doing so is unprofessional and just plain mean.
  • Don’t be snarky — unless that’s really who you are and how you want to be known.
  • Don’t be overly critical or condemning; though it is appropriate to point out serious limitations or significant problems.
  • Don’t let your words become more important than your subject. If your writing overshadows the work you are reviewing, then you are no longer serving your audience, but arrogantly promoting yourself.
  • Remember that it’s not a school report or a formal abstract.
  • Using a quote, maybe two, is okay, but too many make your review sound like a homework assignment.
  • Give the “artists” (writers, actors, directors, etc.) the same respect and sensitivity you would desire if they were reviewing your work.
  • Let your voice be heard.
  • Above all, be honest, fair, and balanced. It’s wrong for a reviewer’s bias to cause the reader to skip a work they would have enjoyed or to invest in a shoddy work that was oversold.

Do you write reviews? What are your thoughts on my guidelines?