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How do I write a winning book proposal? Essential elements to include in your nonfiction book proposal.

(A partial summary/ review of  How to Write a Book Proposal: The Insider’s Step-by-Step Guide to Proposals that Get You Published, by Jody Rein with Michael Larson).

So, you have a great idea for a nonfiction book.

You already have a substantial author platform.

You’ve spent time building your author portfolio.

You don’t mind that your book won’t be out in the next six months or even this year.

And you’ve decided you want to publish traditionally

You’ll need to make sure you spend plenty of time writing a winning book proposal to get that book deal.

This post outlines the main components you’ll want to include in your book proposal and is a somewhat summary/ review of this excellent book by Jody Rein and Michael Larson (a book that I always recommend to clients who are writing proposals).

***Do check the specifications of your intended publisher/ agent before you submit your proposal!***

I don’t go into the pros and cons of traditional versus self-publishing here (what’s right for one author won’t be right for everyone). Jane Friedman has a great post about traditional vs self-publishing if you want to learn more.

And, if you are planning to self-publish your book or later decide to self-publish, writing a proposal is a useful exercise to go through anyway. Not only will this work help you focus your book and make sure it will actually sell, it’ll make the process of writing and marketing your book way easier as you’ll already have a clear outline and marketing plan. In fact, you’ll be able to turn your proposal into a plan for self-publishing.

My colleagues and I were lucky in that our commissioning editor at Macmillan worked with us to produce our proposal for Reflective Writing for Nursing, Health and Social Work (the book is now published by Bloomsbury).

This relationship was based on a simple email outlining our clear idea and viable audience for the book.

Book cover: Macmillan Study skills
Reflective writing for nursing, health and social work, Elizabeth Tanguay, Peter Hanratty and Ben Martin
Book cover: Bloomsbury Study skills
Reflective writing for nursing, health and social work, Elizabeth Tanguay, Peter Hanratty and Ben Martin

Working with a commissioning editor may not be the typical route to publication for many nonfiction authors (different publishers have different approaches so always check). However, going through the process with an editor at a top-five publisher did give us top-notch training on how to structure and write a winning nonfiction book proposal.

Unlike for fiction, nonfiction books are sold based on a proposal (including at least one sample chapter) rather than the whole manuscript. So the good news is that you don’t need to write your entire book to submit a proposal.

So if you don’t need to write an entire book to submit a book proposal, what should you include?

And, as promised here are the fundamentals of a book proposal set out in Rein and Larson, 2017:

The three main parts of a book proposal:

  1. Marketing information (to reassure your publisher that your book is actually going to sell).
  2. An overview of your book (to give your publisher a clear idea of how the final product will look, including number of pages and any special features).
  3. Sample writing (to show your publisher that yes, you will actually be able to write your book and also give them a flavour of your writing style).

Specifically, you’ll want to include the following elements in your book proposal:

  1. ‘Pizzaz’* (this is a term that Rein and Larson use and I think it’s useful to describe that ‘something special’ about your book): Pizzaz is the wow factor to grab the reader’s attention (often known as a ‘hook’). This might be a mission statement, how your book is the first book to do xyz or to do xyz in a particular way or perhaps a fact or question. For example, RW was the first book to actually teach the writing of reflection that health students or professionals need for study or continuing professional development. This hook shows a clear benefit to the reader and showed the book had the promise of being a valuable ‘longtail’ book that would continue to sell many copies for years to come.
  2. Overview: This is a brief summary of your book, including your primary argument or thesis and your target audience. This may also be similar to the description used on the publisher’s website to sell the book. Here’s the RW overview from the publisher’s website:
    • “This book takes students step-by-step through the process of planning and writing a reflective essay, beginning with crucial guidance on planning and structure. It introduces different reflective frameworks and shows readers how to structure a piece of writing according to a particular framework. Chapters contain a wealth of activities and exercises which will help build students’ skills and confidence. Suitable for students of all health-related disciplines in which written assignments requiring reflective practice are required.”
  3. Book specifications: How long will the book be (word count)? How many pages? What size will will the book be? You can check out similar books to your book or an idea of specifications.
  4. Author bio: Brief professional information about you, including any relevant credentials (experience, qualifications, publications or speaking engagements). Why are you the right person to write this book? Have you written any articles or blog posts on your topic already? Have you taught, or do you teach in some capacity on this subject? What is your expert status in working on or researching this subject? You may include a link to a video here.
  5. Author platform: The audience or community you have built and engage with. Your platform can include membership of organisations and leadership positions relevant to the topic of your book. This section can also include traditional media appearances, social media platforms, mailing list numbers and awards you have won.
  6. Personal promotion*: This section explains to the publisher your detailed plan for promoting your book. Contrary to popular belief, apart from for top authors, there is very little budget set aside for book promotion. Much of the promotion activity for your book will be up to you. And, this is a good time to suggest that if you don’t want to promote your book, then you may want to rethink becoming an author! Your marketing and promotion plan could include podcasts you intend to speak on, any conferences or summits you will speak at, professional organisations whose members would be interested in your book, and your current platform (mailing list or Facebook group numbers can be useful here). Be as specific as you can here. How many people can you contact directly to sell your book? Are a you a member of any organisations that might buy the book in bulk or add the book to a suggested reading list? If so, how many members do these organisations have? How many listeners does your podcast have?
  7. Audience: Who is the main audience for your book? Is there a secondary audience? For RW the main audience was nursing, health and social work students, but secondary audiences include professionals using the book for support in their continuing professional development as well as university staff and lecturers who would recommend the book.
  8. Competitive/ market analysis or ‘comps’: This is a comparison of the proposed book to similar books currently on the market along with figures. What other books do your readers like to read? If you’re worried that your book has already been written, read this post.
  9. Table of contents: This is what it says on the tin! You may change you chapter headings when you come to write the book, but make sure your TOC gives a clear indication of what will be in each chapter and that there is a logical progression from one chapter to the next.
  10. Detailed outline: This more detailed outline should include chapter summaries.
  11. Sample chapter(s): Sample writing from the book that demonstrates your voice and the book’s content. Choose at least one of your best middle chapters here to give a clear flavour of the style and content of your book (the first chapter isn’t always representative and though you may decide to include this as well.
  12. Supplemental material*: This can be anything to back up your proposal that you wouldn’t include in the main proposal (e.g. articles or reviews of previous books).

Finally, ensure that your proposal is well-written and professionally presented. And of course, you need to make sure you don’t have any typos so it’s worth at the very least getting your proposal proofread!

*Optional elements.

I highly recommend this book for anyone writing a book proposal. Not only does it outline each of the elements above in great detail, it also answers the kinds of questions clients often have about language when putting together a book proposal (for example, should I use first or third person in my author bio?).

If you want a professional pair of eyes on your book proposal, I offer nonfiction book proposal editing.

Pop me a message below to get started. I look forward to hearing about your book idea!

References and further reading:

How to Write a Book Proposal: The Insider’s Step-by-Step Guide to Proposals that Get You Published. Jody Rein with Michael Larson. 5th edition, 2017.

Reedsy book proposal template (not as detailed as Rein and Larson’s book but still useful).

Start Here: How to Write a Book Proposal + Book Proposal Template, Jane Friedman’s (a useful post on writing a book proposal with strong and weak examples).

Should you self publish or traditionally publish, Jane Friedman

(Jane’s blog is excellent and such a useful resource for authors!)

If you decide to buy based on the links in this post, I may receive a small commission. I only recommend books that I think my readers will find useful.

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How to write (and publish) more. Seven tips to help you become a more prolific, confident and successful writer.

Do you ever feel like you’re putting in the hours with your writing project, but you’re not actually making any progress?

Do yourself find going back over to read what you wrote the day before, tweaking a comma here and there or moving some words around, but never actually getting the darn thing to a single reader?

Read on for seven tips to help you progress with your writing project so that you actually finish it (based on years of helping hundreds of graduate students).

Bike parked on a downhill in sunshine. A parking on a downhill document can help you get started the next time you sit down to write.
Make it easy to get started in your next writing session by ‘parking on a downhill’

1. Park on a downhill (the mountain biker me loves this one)

I woke up earlier than usual today and lay there in the dark listening for that sound that I knew was about to happen.

Yes, there it was – the glorious sound of beans being freshly ground in the coffee machine that I had set last night for 6:30 am.

‘But Lizzy, what does this have to do with writing?’ I hear you ask.

If I’m working on a piece of work that I won’t finish in one sitting, then I add to my ‘parking on a downhill’* Google doc. 

This file tells me exactly where I finished the previous session and what I’ll start writing next time. It saves me wasting hours reading through what I’ve already written.

It gives me that smug feeling I have when I’ve put the coffee timer on the night before.

Don’t you love your yesterday self sometimes?

2. Put writing on the calendar

In the first writing session I hold with graduate students at my university each October, I tell them that they need to see themselves as writers. This means putting writing on the calendar. 

Together in the class, we’ll pull out our diaries and plan out our writing sessions for the next week. Students start by scheduling whatever feels doable from where they are now (often starting from zero writing). So it might be 10 minutes, 15 minutes, or an hour a day. Then each day, they’ll add a minute (or 5). 

I always ask for commitment if they want to try the experiment (usually 100% commit), and say that we’ll report back in the next session (accountability is good too, but that’s a topic for another post).

Inevitably, in the next session, students tell me how it was hard getting started, but that once they actually sat down, they ended up writing for longer than they had thought they would and that they even (gasp!) enjoyed the process.

See this post for more reasons why putting writing on the calendar actually works. 

3. Practice ‘free writing’ and ‘deep writing’

Separate your writing time into ‘free writing’ and ‘deep writing’ practice. 

Working from an outline, use your free writing time to ‘brain dump’ ideas within each chapter or section and don’t stop to think about style or research a topic. That way, you won’t spend hours trying to get the perfect sentence and will see more progress in your work.

‘Deep writing practice’ is where you can work on honing your writing craft and shaping your text. 

Like a sculptor, you need to have the rough material there first before you can perfect your piece.

A diver underwater. 'Deep writing practice' will help you hone your craft.
Practice ‘free writing’ and ‘deep writing’

4. Celebrate the small wins

Create mini milestones and then celebrate them. How are you going to treat yourself when you write that first blog post/ first page of your book? Marking the mini milestones will keep you motivated and make it easier to turn up at the page the next day.

Some ways to celebrate the small wins:

  •  Mark your word count in a spreadsheet (yes, sticker chart style rewards are good too).
  • Go for a coffee with a friend (if you plan that in advance, it’ll push you to get your words done rather than check those phone alerts).
  • Take a bath/ go for a swim/ do something else that feels like you’re treating your body.
  • Order in a tasty meal. 
  • Text your writing accountability buddy/ spouse/ friend to share your ‘win’.

5. Practice getting your work out the door

You’re the first person I’ve ever shown my writing to

It isn’t uncommon for clients to say something like this the first time they come to me. They’ve been sitting on a draft of their book or various unpublished articles for years and have never actually shown anyone.

I totally get this. It took me ages as a business owner before I started to feel comfortable with this new kind of writing for different platforms. 

But the more I practice, the easier it gets.

So before you share your book, why not practice in other ways so publishing the book feels less scary? A guest post here and there and a few emails to an email list will do wonders for your confidence. Both have for me!

6. Get the right kind of feedback on your work

Oh yes, this one. Just yesterday, when I was talking to a class of PhD students about how much I enjoy and have benefitted from writing groups, someone said that they’d been stung by getting terrible feedback from someone in a writing group. So, how can you judge the ‘quality’ of the group? 

The truth is you can’t. I would never advocate giving your writing to random people for feedback. You have no idea whether the feedback will be useful or not. Instead give your writing to trusted colleagues, friends, writing partners or professionals. For me, writing groups are more about accountability than getting feedback. 

If you are planning to get feedback on your writing, make sure you ask for the feedback you want. 

On first drafts, ask for feedback about ideas and structure. On later drafts, ask feedback about style and transitions and on final drafts, ask for feedback on surface level errors (like typos and grammar errors).

For more about asking for the right kind of feedback on your work, check this post.

7. Allow incubation time

A lady sitting on a bridge. Get out and about to allow your ideas time to 'incubate'
Get out and about to allow your ideas time to ‘incubate’

Finally, take some time away from the page. Often, the best writing magic happens when we’re incubating our ideas. Go for a walk or a swim, take a shower, and get a good night’s sleep. Sooner or later your writing mind will reward you with a lightbulb moment.

So there are my top tips for writing more. Let me know which you are going to try!

*Credit for this tip goes to Joan Bolker, the author of the excellent (and pretty old) book ‘Writing your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day’. This is a gem of a book that I found when I was trying to finish an 80,000 word dissertation while juggling two under twos and working a full time job. The premise is not that you can actually write a decent dissertation in 15 minutes a day, but that you need to find a process that works for you.

3 responses to “How to write (and publish) more. Seven tips to help you become a more prolific, confident and successful writer.”

  1. Eliday Juma Avatar

    Great tips hear. I also do rough work first. Then the final copy

    1. Dr Lizzy Tanguay Avatar

      Thanks Eliday. Yes, doing the draft first and being sure to seperate the writing and editing process is also really important for me.

      1. Eliday Juma Avatar

        Absolutely!! And thanks for sharing.

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How to run a virtual writing group (and why I’m a convert to social writing).

Writing can be great when it’s going well, but often it’s lonely and it’s hard to get started.

After my first son was born, I was struggling to get any writing done for my PhD, what with the lack of sleep and the chaos of being a new parent. 

Then I discovered social writing. 

I’d get together a few times a week with a couple of mum friends I’d met at pregnancy yoga. 

Babies in tow, no matter how little we had slept the night before, we’d be there in our favourite local café at 10 am to write and juggle our (hopefully napping) babies.

Sometimes the writing got done, sometimes it didn’t, but as we wrote (and sometimes cried) together, I realised that for me there was something beautiful  about writing friendships and accountability.

Social writing groups have made me a more productive, more confident and happier writer. I’ve got writing done and out into the world, and I’ve made some lifelong friends along the way.

Read on to find out why social writing groups are so helpful and for some tips on running your own successful virtual writing group.

Writing Coach Dr Lizzy Tanguay standing in a cafe smiling holding notebooks.
Social Writing Groups have made me a happier writer

What is a social writing group?

I use the term ‘social writing groups’ to refer to writers who get together to connect and write, rather than to give feedback on each other’s writing. 

In my groups, we talk about what we are writing (as I find that speaking can give so much clarity to writing), but we don’t  offer feedback on the written work within writing group time.

(I’ve written before about the importance of getting the right kind of feedback on your writing, and writing groups are not always the best place to do this. In her post on Jane Friedman’s blog, Jenny Nash writes about the hidden dangers of writing groups including the fact that often no-one speaks the truth and no-one wants to hear it.)

Since discovering social writing, I’ve delved deeper into the practice to explore what works best, attending and hosting writing retreats and setting up writing groups for postgraduate research students at the university where I teach and later for other business owners.

Of course, since the start of the pandemic, a lot of the writing groups have moved online and this is the writing space I where I mostly find myself (for now, at least). 

Initially, I missed the companionship of sitting in the same physical space as other writers and being able to grab a coffee together during breaks. But there are extra benefits to working online that I wouldn’t have otherwise experienced.

 These include connecting with a group of diverse writers from across the world and being able to encourage and inspire each other.

At the moment I meet weekly with a 1:1 writing buddy who is part of a larger writing community I  belong to. 

Yes, I’m a writing coach but still I enjoy attending other peoples’ writing groups! I find it easier to get my writing head on if I’m not in facilitator mode.

The benefits of social writing

Writing groups are a lifeline for many writers and there’s a host of research to tell us why.

Belonging to a writing group works because: 

It gives you something to put on the calendar

This is a biggie for anyone with other people in their lives who tend to stop them writing – sometimes even unbeknownst to those people!

 Before I put writing on my calendar, my boss (or calander app!) could view any unblocked time as bookable. It was the same if someone asked me to meet for a coffee or to run an errand for them. And, now as a business owner and being my own boss, it’s even more important for me to protect my writing time!

Now that I have writing on my calendar, I can say ‘I can’t sorry – I’m busy’, without feeling like I’m making a lame excuse. Seeing other people on your screen can also put off those inconvenient and unimportant interruptions that sometimes happen as others will see you are in a meeting.

It gives you accountability

If I have promised someone that I’m going to show up for something and sit and write for 30 minutes to finish my blog post or write a pitch, there’s less of a chance that I’ll find myself 30 minutes later looking at someone’s holiday snaps on Facebook.

It’s the same as having a gym buddy. If I’ve arranged to meet my buddy at the step machine, there’s more chance that I’ll show up and actually do the steps.

It gives you routine and discipline

It’s easier to do something if it’s a habit. If I know I’m writing every Monday afternoon with my writing group, it takes away the decision-making process.

And James Clear notes in Atomic Habits, every decision is an emotional decision. Making hundreds of decisions every day is tiring and it’s easy to say no to the decisions that feel like they’ll take more effort.

Writing groups have helped me to create the habit of writing

So making writing a habit rather than a decision-to-be-made makes it more likely we’ll do it. Social writing has helped me do this, even on the days that I’m not meeting my writing groups the habit has become more entrenched and since starting social writing I’ve begun to see myself as a person who writes regularly.

It allows you to practice containment

Bums on seats people! Yes, it truly is amazing how much you can get done if you actually just sit in your chair and write for 25 minutes! In my group sessions we usually do 3 short writing bursts with time for chatting. Do that a few times a month and the word count starts to creep up

It helps you look forward to writing

If, like me, you enjoy meeting other writers and talking about the common problems we all have, then this can be highly motivating.

Tips for running a virtual writing group

If you’d like to run your own social writing group, here are some tips.

  1. Set clear expectations for the group and regular meeting times. It’s much easier to stick to the habit if you decide on a time that works for everyone (most times) upfront than switching the times every week.
  2. At the beginning of each session, set intentions and tell everyone how long each writing sprint will be. Check in between sprints to see how everyone is getting on. 
  3. With larger groups, consider breakout rooms to discuss goal setting and writing. While it can be motivating to have some discussion in the large group, this is best kept to a minimum so as not to cut in too much into the actual writing time, while still allowing people to experience real connection.
  4. Encourage people to move and stretch during writing breaks.
  5. Give a five-minute warning for when a sprint is going to finish, but let people know that if they are in the zone then they can put the group on mute and carry on writing.
  6. Consider having some prompts ready as not everyone has their own work to write and some will be looking for inspiration (this point is particularly relevant if you’re running a paid writing group). 

Hopefully this post has inspired you to give social writing a try or even to go back to that writing group you signed up for months ago but have never managed show up for!

What else would you like to know about setting up a writing group? Comment below and let me know!

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How to write a unique nonfiction book. Or, ‘Help! Someone has already written my book’

Have you ever read a fantastic book and thought ‘I wish I’d written that!’ or, ‘that was exactly what I was going to write about!’?

This is just a reminder that it’s ok to join the conversation that someone has already started!

With a background in telling research stories, I am pretty used to joining conversations.

Because no research is created in a vacuum. The whole point is to build on what’s gone before and make what are actually tiny steps in the progression of knowledge.

It’s the same with books.

Books on library shelf. No book is written in a vacuum. How to write a unique nonfiction book.
No book is written in a vacuum

So when aspiring authors come to me worried that their book has already been written, I’m confident that this isn’t the case.

Although sometimes it may feel like that when we start looking around to see where our book would sit on the shelf.

All authors will have a different angle, story, voice or experience.

And your book will be unique to you!

In fact, the more you can position your nonfiction book in the wider conversation, the better.

It only serves to make your argument stronger (and yes, you will have an argument). So it’s wonderful that other authors are writing about your topic!

Comparisonitis is a real problem for aspiring authors. But remember, all published authors were at the beginning of their journey once. We just need to be brave enough to join the conversation.

It was an absolute joy to dive into this topic with editor and nonfiction author Kris Emery when we chatted for my podcast.

Non-fiction editor Kris Emery on the podcast

We talked about what to do if you think your book has already been written, why conversational style isn’t the only way to write and the importance of citing your sources generously.

Kris also gives us a mini master class in hook writing.

Listen in and I’m sure you’ll learn as much as I did!

Comment below and let me know what you think and what else you’d like to hear about on the podcast!

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Should I publish a workbook for my coaching business?

Have you ever thought about publishing a workbook to create visibility and revenue in your coaching business?

I hadn’t. I love creating workbooks for my classes and programmes.

But I hadn’t thought about how I could adapt and leverage these workbooks to attract more customers and build revenue.

Kim Smith, of Unbelievable Freedom Books talked to my writing group last year about her publishing journey and the practicalities of publishing workbooks.

Publishing Workbooks. A conversation with author and publisher Kim Smith on the talk.write.done podcast.

One of my key takeaways:

do your best work, but if people are waiting for your message, it’s more important that you share it quickly.

Also, publishing a successful book doesn’t have to mean writing 50,000 words. Kim’s beautiful workbooks are around 5000-8000 words and add value for readers in a truly accessible way.

Check out Kim’s website: unbelievablefreedom.com to see her workbooks and courses.

Listen to the conversation on the podcast or read the transcript here.

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Ask these questions about your draft to get feedback that’s actually helpful (and how to receive feedback).

the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts

from Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott.

When my students and clients first hear about writer Anne Lamott’s concept of the ‘shitty first draft’, the sense of relief can be enormous.

Once we’ve written a first draft though, and taken it through various stages of self-editing, there will come a time to ask for some outside feedback.

In fact, one of the best ways to improve our writing craft can be to get feedback – whether that’s from a writing professional, an ideal reader or a kindly (perhaps long-suffering) family member.

But getting unhelpful or misguided feedback can also be one of the worst things we can do for our writing.

In this post, I want to focus on how best to take advantage of non-specialist feedback on your writing.

(By non-specialist, I mean someone who is not a specialist in your subject and someone who is probably not a trained or experienced writing professional.)

Maybe you’re a finance coach writing a book about pitfalls new investors should avoid. Rather than asking a fellow financial professional to look at the manuscript, why not ask someone who’s not even sure what a finance coach does?

Non-specialists might tell us if our text is engaging, if we have pitched the writing for a general audience, and whether we are asking the reader to fill in any gaps. Unlike writing professionals though, these readers may not be able to advise us on how to fix these issues. 

A word of caution here – it’s important to let the reader know the type of feedback you want.

An open book with a magnifying glass, a pen, and a pair of glasses.
Ask for the right kind of feedback on your draft

A writing professional (such as a writing coach or editor) will ask you about your stage in the writing process and where to focus the feedback.

They should also be able to guide you to the type of feedback that is most appropriate for your stage or lead you to someone else who can help.

But if you are working with someone who can give you insight as a non-specialist reader, they may not ask you what kind of feedback you want. 

It will be up to you to guide them to the bigger picture before the inner grammar police start hounding your delicate draft.

There’s nothing worse than asking for feedback on the first draft of your book and all you get back are comments about commas in the wrong place.

Ok, you really should give a clean draft to the reader to make their life easier, but you also need to let them know that it’s a draft. 

You can say something like ‘I’m still working on this but what do you think of the general idea?’

Is there anything else I need to include?

Types of feedback to ask for at different stages of the writing process and how to ask:

1. In the beginning, you’ll want feedback on ideas and content

Ask:

  • Did you see what you expected after reading the title and introduction?
  • Is there anything missing?
  • Is there anything there that you don’t think is relevant?

2. On later drafts, you’ll want feedback on organisation and impact

Ask:

  • Is everything in the right place? 
  • Does it follow logically? 
  • What action does this make you want to take, if any?
  •  What do you want to find out more about after reading this?
  • How does this piece make you feel? 

3. On final drafts, you’ll want feedback on surface errors

Ask:

  • Are there any obvious errors in grammar or spelling?
  •  Is there any part of this you needed to read twice to understand what I was saying?

Receiving feedback

But asking for feedback is only a part of using feedback to improve craft. You also need to know how best to receive feedback and what to do with it.

Be a critical apprentice 

After helping thousands of students write over the years, I’ve realised that when it comes to receiving feedback, there are three main types of writers.

The first is the defensive writer. This is the writer who has an explanation for EVERY piece of feedback or suggestion. ‘Oh, the reason I wrote it like this is because the readers already know about xyz.’ This is the writer who doesn’t really need to ask for feedback as they’re never going to take it onboard anyway.

A lady with fingers in her ears and yelling
Don’t be that kind of writer

If you’re a coach, maybe you’ve had some clients who are uncoachable, and you wonder why they even signed up for coaching. Don’t be that person when you’re asking for feedback.

The second writer takes every piece of feedback on board and changes the text so much that it no longer resembles their own voice. They’ll take on comments of every random reader in a well-meaning writing group to make their own work non-recognisable. They are also non-discerning about who they get feedback from and why.

The third writer is the critical apprentice. This is my favourite writer to work with. This is also the writer that I try to be. The critical apprentice will be grateful for feedback. However, they’ll consider suggestions carefully and decide whether they are helpful or not.

The critical apprentice knows that all feedback is not created equal. This writer realises that often there is no right or wrong but they value the different perspectives that others give them. They can take on board what is useful and leave the rest.

So, be the critical apprentice. Listen to the feedback, thank the reader, and then decide whether to use the feedback or not.

And above all, remember it’s your text and you get to call the shots. 

This is why, in my editing or writing coaching, I won’t change something for the writer without their knowledge – I will make suggestions and ask questions but the writer needs to have the final say.

So, ask different people for feedback, be clear about the feedback you want, and be a gracious but discerning recipient of feedback.

Want a second pair of eyes on a piece of writing before you get it out into the world? Message me below to let me know about your writing project!

Mentioned:

Lamott, A. (2020). Bird by Bird: Instructions on Writing and Life. United Kingdom: Canongate Books.

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How do I get over the fear of sharing my writing?(Or what if someone’s already written a book about my topic?)

As creators, we’ve all been there – the flash of inspiration that sets our hearts racing. 

For a moment, we can see everything that might happen if we follow through with this idea. The book, the articles, the new course we might create.

Then the nagging voice whispers in our ear. 

The critic.

Who are you to do this?

Or we outline our article and then do a quick Google search to see what else has been written about this.

Only to find someone much more intelligent/ experienced/ successful/ acclaimed than we could ever hope to be already has a Wall Street Journal bestseller on that very topic.

There will always be someone who has written a ‘bestseller’ about your topic!

And we shrink back to being the small, safe version of ourselves.

Consuming what others write when we really want to be the ones writing.

I was recently invited to give an employability talk to my old department at Swansea University.

I spoke about ‘my adventures as an applied linguist in the online business space’.

About how valuable that applied linguistics training has been to me in my business.

How tasks I see other business owners struggling with come relatively easily to someone with my background. 

Stuff like creating written content – emails, blog posts or sales pages. 

To me, it’s just a matter of learning to write in another genre. Just another form of communication.

Grappling with SEO and crafting engaging headlines. 

All things that won’t faze an applied linguist. 

Different services I’ve sold – writing workshops and coaching packages as well as my writing and editing services.

 All skills learned through my training as an applied linguist and from teaching for the past two decades.

I assure the applied linguistics students that they have transferable skills that people will pay them for.

But I also share that for me, the hardest part of being a business owner is putting myself out there.

Holding my hand up to say ‘I think I’ve got something that could help you. Do you want it?’

Because I don’t want to sell these students a lie that it’s all plain sailing.

Nervous lady holding a phone and biting nails
The fear of publishing our work is real

When I posted my first post on Instagram a year and a half ago, my palms were so sweaty I could barely operate my phone. By the time I had the first like, I didn’t have a single finger nail left.

Have you ever felt like this when you’ve offered a piece of your creative work to the world?

But while my writing is never perfect (newsflash – nobody’s is), just imagine I had never posted that first IG post and hadn’t been able to help my very first clients reach more of their clients.

I don’t get sweaty palms anymore or reach for the bucket when I post to social media. I do sometimes struggle to put my writing out in the world, send a pitch for a piece of writing, or even an email to my list.

But as an educator, I know that holding onto my ideas will never help anyone. 

I don’t think the doubts will ever entirely go away. For now, here are a few truths I’ll be reminding myself of as I continue to step out as a business owner and writer:

1. In order to get our best work out there, we have to keep creating and keep sharing.

Seth Godin, in The Practice, writes about how half of the work we ship will be below average, but if we don’t ship that work too, then we’ll never ship the brilliant work.

2. It’s ok to be a contributor, not a guru.

As writers, business owners and educators, we could all do with taping this mantra by Denise-Duffield Thomas to our mirrors. In fact, if you’re like most of my clients, then you are probably way more of an ‘expert’ than you think you are anyway!

3. Building a support network is essential – not just a nice to have.

This is about surrounding yourself with the people who will cheer you on in your creative endeavors. Whether it’s a coach, a business mastermind or a writing accountability buddy (I have all three), make sure you have those people to share your ideas and wins with. People who will be there to pull you up when things don’t go so well.

4. It’s not about the critics.

Have you ever noticed that the people who are most critical aren’t the ones out there doing their thing? They’re probably the ones sitting at home scrolling social. I recently rewatched a talk by Brené Brown on stepping out into the arena. It’s a great reminder that the critics (including the critic on our shoulder) aren’t the ones who count.

I invite you to join me in the arena. If you have any other recommendations on the topic of stepping out or sharing creative work then I’d love to hear.

Just comment below or drop me an email.

Featured

What are backlinks in SEO and how do I get them?

If you’re anything like me, you love to write, but perhaps the SEO side of things seem a bit more technical and mysterious. Marketer and SEO expert Nicki Sciberras shares some tips about getting more eyes on your website through using backlinks.

Nicki shared some great advice for getting started with SEO on the podcast back in Dec 2021, and I’m thrilled that she agreed to be my first guest poster on the blog!

Enjoy.

Guest post by SEO expert Nicki Sciberras

Scoring traffic to your website using SEO could be easier than you think; you just need to know the right steps to get there. I’m going to share with you one of the fastest ways to boost your rankings in search engines like Google, so you reach those top positions and grow your audience, sales and revenue in no time.

One of the best ways to boost your position in search engines is backlinking.

What are back links and how do I get them?
SEO expert Nicki Sciberras: ‘What are back links and how do I get them?’

Before I get into the nitty gritty let me give you a quick lesson on SEO in totality.

There are three pillars to master when it comes to implementing SEO and yes, one of those is backlinking.

Pillars of SEO

SEO is made up of three primary components. Each component must work together to optimise your ranking in search engines like Google.

Technical SEO

How your site is built and functions (crawlability, speed and responsiveness)

Content

The words, images, graphics, videos and content on your pages and posts and how they’re optimised

Backlinks from other sites to your website which increase your domain authority and help Google to boost your ranking.

seo checklist pdf
The Ultimate Beginners SEO Checklist for ranking in Google: PDF download

Today we will focus on building links. It’s a super simple way to signal to Google that you have a trustworthy authoritative site that they should rank higher in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). If other reputable sites trust you, then search engines like Google do too. Let me explain.

Starting from the top, I am going to get you all over backlinks so you can start ranking for your chosen keywords.

What are backlinks in SEO you ask? A backlink is a link from another website to your website. It signals to Google that your trustworthy. These links along with the citations of your site help you increase your domain authority (and are the only way to grow it). Increasing your domain authority helps boost your page rank for your chosen keywords and the higher the authority of your website, the better chance you have of ranking above your competitors for the same keywords.

What is domain authority?

Domain Authority (also known as Page Rank) is a score between 1 and 100 and was developed by SEO extraordinaire MOZ. Your score is determined by the quality and number of links to your site. The more links pointing to your site, particularly of higher quality (from sites with a higher domain authority), the higher your domain authority.

A brand-new site would have a Domain Authority of 1 or 2 given it has little to no backlinks

Websites like Facebook where almost all websites link back to it, have a Domain Authority close to 100. Again, numerous companies link to Facebook because they trust them which proves to Google that Facebook themselves are trustworthy and should be ranked higher.

Keyword analysis and domain authority

When selecting keywords to target in your copy, your selections need to be considered together with analysing the domain authority of competitor sites that rank in the current top positions for those keywords. Why? Because if all things are equal, sites with a higher domain authority will generally rank higher than those with lower scores for the same keywords.

Not all sites have been optimised well for SEO which means there is potential for you to outrank a higher authority site. It is just a little harder and you’ll need to be more strategic about your approach. With good keyword research and implementation, and well written copy, you’ll give yourself a better chance.

Remember, the higher the authority of the site linking to your site, the more authority will pass to you. A link from a high authority site is worth more than hundreds of links from low authority sites. A great place to score a high-quality link from is a news or media site.

Trust signals

As demonstrated, your domain authority and page rank are two measures of how trustworthy your site is to Google and determinants of where you rank. The more links from higher authority sites linking to you, the more trustworthy Google deems you to be and the more highly ranked your site will be.

Backlinking is extremely important when it comes to ranking in search engines. There is no point doing keyword research and getting your website technically sound if you aren’t going to get backlinks.

  • Links within your own site are called internal links.
  • Links from your sites to other sites are called external links.

I can assume your next question may be, how do I get backlinks?

Well, I’ve got you covered there too.

Before I get into it, I just wanted to take a minute to stress that you should aim to build backlinks naturally otherwise you will get penalised by search engines like Google. Also, be sure to spread the link juice across your webpages, not just your homepage when asking people to link to your website.

There are numerous tactics for getting backlinks. Here are six free and simple strategies that you can implement today without any paid SEO tools whatsoever.

What are backlinks in SEO?
What are back links in SEO?

Family and Friends

  • Do you have family or friends with a website or blog? Ask them to link to your website via a supplier list or guest blog on your business.

Affiliated Businesses

  • Do you work with complementary businesses that would be open to linking to you? For example, if you’re a copywriter, you could ask an SEO expert, a photographer or graphic designer to link to you as a partner.

Supplier Linking

  • If you sell other people’s products or services, you could ask them to link to you as a reseller or stockist.

Directories

  • There are numerous industry related directories that are worth getting added to. Avoid free directories without a strong verification process.
  • Look for reputable, well known directories and review sites eg. TripAdvisor or Yelp.
  • To run a search, Google ‘your industry + directories’ or ‘SEO friendly directories for  _______ industry’.
  • One last thing: make sure your contact details including your Name, Address and Phone Number (NAP) are the same across all directories.

Testimonials

  • Writing testimonials for other brands, ask them to add it to their site and create a link to your site. This is really simple and super effective.

Guest Blogs

  • Write an article for another website in your industry or niche and ask them to publish it on their website and link back to your website. This is the exact tactic I am using right now.

Remember: it’s critical to implement a backlink strategy to ensure all the hard you put into creating a technical sound site, finding good keywords and writing good content doesn’t go to waste. Which backlink tactic will you be starting with?

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Want to leverage SEO or Facebook Ads to generate low-cost leads and sales? Here are a few resources I put together to help you:

1. Download my Ultimate Beginners SEO Checklist                                                                   

 It’s a SEO checklist that will help you get ranking in the top positions of search engines like Google.

2. Download my 6 Must-Dos for Facebook Ads Success

It’s a practical workbook on the six actions you must take to achieve Facebook Ads success.

3. Have a question, shoot me a message

About the author

Nicki Sciberras worked in corporate advertising for 15 years, and now runs a full service marketing agency specialising in high converting tactics like SEO, Google and Facebook Ads.

Thanks so much Nicki for being my first guest poster! Such a useful post too. Do go and check out all the goodness on Nicki’s site and grab some of her free resources!

Featured

Writing online for a general audience without watering down your expertise – four tips you can use today.

If you’re anything like my client Julie, then you might find yourself asking this question:

‘I know a shedload about my topic, but my audience is starting from zero. I don’t want to water down my message. What do I do?’

Here are a few strategies that have helped me:

1) Include stories to exemplify concepts.

While I was living in Germany as a twenty-something student, I once asked for a helicopter in a DIY shop rather than for a screwdriver. The shopkeeper and another customer fell about laughing (as did I once I’d realised what was going on). I’ll never forget those two words (Hubschrauber and Schraubenzieher). This is a story I sometimes use to illustrate how making mistakes in language learning is a crucial part of the process.

A shop keeper in a German DIY shop after I asked him for a helicopter
Use stories to explain concepts

The stories you tell don’t always have to be pivotal moments in your life. They can also be short or humorous anecdotes about everyday experiences.

2) Start with ONE aspect of what you know.

In other words, don’t try to put 20 years of expertise into one blog post (I’ve seen it). Can you provide an introductory post and break down one idea into smaller parts and have several different posts?

Think about writing one post for beginners in your subject area, and perhaps another more advanced post.

For example, in this post, I’ve given an overview of writing for a general audience. I can then refer readers who want to know more about writing stories to another post on using a story framework based on casual conversation.

3) Use analogies to explain concepts, categories or arguments.

E.g. ‘You wouldn’t expect to run a marathon without ever doing any shorter runs, so why would you expect to write a perfect book straightaway? Use your blog, emails and articles as a safe training space for the big event.’

Marathon runners: Use your blog as a training ground for the marathon of book writing
Use your blog as a training ground for the marathon of book writing

4) Think about whether your reader wants, or needs to know the technical term. If yes, then explain it.

Remember—Google likes texts that are written for a reading age of 11-15.

So use short sentences and words where possible.

You’re not dumbing down – you’re meeting your reader where they are now and providing the scaffolding to get them where they need to be.

Provide the info on a need-to-know basis.

Above all, just take the pressure off and get writing!

And, if you have any unfortunate language learning stories, then comment below and let me know.

Featured

Successful writers know that it’s not about the critics

It can be frightening to publish our writing. Putting something out into the world can make us feel exposed. And we worry about what the critics are going to say.

Do you get a chill when you hit publish or send an email to your list?

Watch this talk from Brené Brown, expert on courage, vulnerability, shame and empathy, to understand why it’s not about winning, it’s not about losing, but it’s about showing up and being seen. It’s about stepping into the arena.

Brené Brown

We can’t ensure that the critics won’t be in the arena when we step out into the world*.

But we be sure there’ll be shame (I feel humiliated), scarcity (it’s not original), and comparison (she did it better).

We don’t need to stop caring what people think. But we do need to show up.

And we need to remember that the critics aren’t the ones who count.

Are you ready to step into the arena?

*Here’s the Theodore Roosevelt quote Brené references:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

― Theodore Roosevelt

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Let’s talk about pronouns (or should I use ‘I’, ‘we’ or ‘you’ in my writing?)

An acquaintance wrote an irate Facebook post recently, complaining about the ‘careless’ speech used by adults who ‘should know better’, citing words like nuffin for nothing or mumf for month.

I held back from pointing out the harm that can be done through judging accents or dialects, or from mentioning accommodation theory. Accommodation theory explains a tendency humans have to adjust their behaviour or language depending on the audience and is actually a pretty useful social skill.

Kids especially, can be very skilled at varying their language depending on context (as I realise whenever I fail to understand what my kids are talking about with their friends).

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

It’s also the reason I launch into a broad Pembrokeshire accent when I visit my home town.

Maybe you’ve experienced something similar.

Kids can be very skilled at adjusting their language to fit the situation

I’m a descriptivist linguist. That is, I look at what people say and write in context rather than what they ‘should’ say and write (for prescriptivists, think Henry Higgins or that grumpy grammarian who goes around with a red pen in hand, ready to pounce on rouge apostrophes).

Henry Higgins, fictional Professor of phonetics and Eliza Doolittle in the film My Fair Lady, adapted from George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalian .

I’m more interested in the effect that language has in the real world than on whether it’s ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. I like to know the ‘rules’ but I like to know when it’s good to break them too.

So how does all this help us with the question about which pronouns to choose when writing?

When I’m doing close text work with a client (as opposed to refining the content), we look at the effect that the writing, including the pronouns, has on the reader in context.

So as usual, there’s no right or wrong.

If it’s I, I, I, all the way through, will it be interesting for your reader?

It may well be—it’s dependent on the context. But often, if reflecting on an experience that has a teaching element, it might work to start with a personal story with I and then transition into they to talk about how how the issue has affected others or to talk about research on the topic (here’s the authority element) and then to we or you for the teaching focus.

The difference between we/ us and you

Sometimes too many yous can seem othering (look at me over here as the expert ready to teach you something).

Us and we on the other hand, can mean positioning yourself as a friend. I’m here, ready to come with you.

Let’s try that again.

Us and we on the other hand, can mean positioning ourselves as a friend. I’m here, ready to come with you.

See what I did there?

Sometimes, when we’re writing for a particular publication, we need to consider the house style.

Here’s what The Elephant Journal Style Guide has to say about this:

We try to refrain from publishing you-oriented articles in Elephant Journal …. This practice stems from the Buddhist principle of “experience it for yourself.”

https://www.elephantjournal.com/write/

The style guide then goes on to say how overusing ‘you’ can seem preachy or bossy.

Other publications may not mention pronoun use directly in their style guide, but it can be a useful exercise to check conventions.

So, as so often, it’s all in the context.

We need to think less about the right and wrong, and more about the effect that our writing will have on the reader.

If you’re not sure what effect your writing will have, try leaving it to ‘sit’ for 48 hours and then come back and read it aloud. Try noticing how you feel when you read others’ writing and pay attention to pronoun use.

But as ever, don’t overthink.

Above all, write, have fun writing and get your message out to the people who need to hear it!

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