How to lure your audience – and keep them to the end

Remember the old fairy tale Hansel and Gretel? A boy leaves a trail of pebbles in the woods, promising his sister it’ll lead them back home.

Good communication works like that. An audience is lured by the promise of a destination. They want indicators that help them know where they are along the way. And they’re satisfied when they end up at the big ending.

Good communication is really about earning the trust of your audience – and then fulfilling that trust.

This principal applies to books. Readers want to be certain there is a clear path to a worthy destination. They want to know they can trust an author to take them where they want to go.

The key to building the trust of readers – and to keeping your promise – is the structure of your book. The structure conveys a trusted pathway that helps readers reach a worthy conclusion. Readers appreciate when you build in indicators that let them know where they are on the map.

Let’s take a look at a few ways our authors have developed strong structures. While the methods are different, they each follow through on the author’s promise.

Maps

Perhaps the most literal example is Reverend John Miller’s forthcoming book, Journey to Paradise. The cover of the book promises a bold destination: Readers will discover the deepest desires of their heart. Everything about his words and design implies that he and the reader will embark on a trek together.

2017-Journey-Mockup

As soon as the reader peeks inside the book jacket, Reverend Miller gives a glimpse of the journey ahead.

Inner jacket flap

And then in the first few pages, a two-page spread shows the complete map. Again and again, Reverend Miller is reassuring his readers that he knows where he’s taking them.

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Along the way, each chapter represents one stop on the trek. As readers are reminded where they are on the map, Reverend Miller is keeping his promise.

Pieces of a Whole

Another example of strong structure is Medicine at the Crossroads, a collection of newspaper articles by cardiologist Dr. Michael Attas. The purpose and promise of the book is to unify the three different parts of a broken healthcare system.

To illustrate unification, his cover design shows three shards of stained glass welded together into one picture.

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Inside the book, there are three sections that correspond to the three shards of glass. These are the different parts of the healthcare system that Dr. Attas promised to address in his book.

Although the book looks at many topics and viewpoints related to medicine, readers are provided a solid structure in which they can explore concepts without getting lost.

Timelines

A third example of structure is Contraflow, by Bill Herrington. Its promise is to tell a gripping eyewitness account of loss and leadership in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005.

The Table of Contents is organized according to the timeline of the events.

To create a sense of impending doom, some chapters serve as a countdown to the storm. And to emphasize the urgency of the situation, the digital time is updated throughout the chapters.

The Take-Away

Effective communication is about fulfilling a promise to your audience.

When it comes to your book, ask yourself, “Where do I want to take my readers?” Then consider, “What is the best pathway to lead readers there?”

Maps, pieces of a whole and timelines are only a few examples. There are many mechanisms you can use as “pebbles” to lead readers and bring clarity to your ideas.

Ultimately, when you and reader arrive at the conclusion, you’ll both be thankful for the journey.

EllaElla Ritchie is the founder of Stellar Communications Houston, a book publishing team that provides a peaceful process and pride in every product for nonfiction authors, business leaders and federal government agencies. For more information, connect with her on LinkedIn or check out the website.

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Five Business Communication Tips from “Donald Trump’s Contract with the American Voter”

Let me begin by saying that this isn’t a political article. The truth is I’m not a very political person.

But I am passionate about communication. That’s why I make it a habit to observe the techniques of the Presidents of the United States. No other position faces the monumental challenge of rallying the support of an entire nation. So when they do something that works, I pay attention. You might remember my 2016 post about Obama’s speechwriter that examined his use of emotion in stirring people to action.

Now let’s take a look at “Donald Trump’s Contract with the American Voter.” Political views aside, here are some noteworthy business communication tips that we can take from the publication.

Trump contract both pages

Identify your target audience.

Trump contract audience

The title lets readers know right away this contract is for “the American voter.” Identify your audience to help you stick to content that matters most to them – and to become instantly relevant to your ideal clients.

Be clear on your unique value proposition.

Trump contract uvp

Honesty, accountability, and change within 100 days – this is the overarching promise that Trump makes to American voters. Be upfront with your audience on where you’re heading, how you’ll get there, and what results they can expect. What statement are you willing to boldly promise in writing to your clients?

Organize material into bite-sized portions.

Trump contract organize

Subheadings and bulleted lists provide an instant face lift to content. That’s because they take the burden off the reader by serving as a mini-directory of topics. Now your readers can skim and jump to their favorite parts rather than sludge through a wall of words. By grouping your material, you’re also adding white space and eye appeal. Just be sure your readers understand your intent even when they skip parts of your material.

Make it personal.

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Trump’s signature and a space that invites “your” signature adds a personal touch indicating that this contract is between the President and you, a single voter.

Keep it simple.

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Because the material is so direct and weighty, the formatting is kept simple. The content is outlined in two pages using just a few colors, one image, a simple page border, and a website to learn more.

As you write and design your business materials, keep these five tips in mind for the most effective business communication!

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Ella Ritchie is the founder of Stellar Communications Houston, a business communications and book publishing team that brings clarity, quality, and integrity to nonfiction authors, business leaders, nonprofit organizations, and federal government agencies.  Connect with her on LinkedIn or Facebook, or check out the website for more information.

The dirty little secret about hiring an editor

secret girl on blue background. Red lips trendIt happens in almost every conversation with a client. And when it does, the moment is palpable.

A CEO burrows his brow in uncomfortable silence. A new business owner laughs weakly, shifting awkwardly in her chair. An author wipes away tears, apologizing for the unexpected emotions.

These were all real moments with clients. And although each reacted differently, their reason was the same.

They felt exposed.

You see, what people don’t know about working with an editor is that it’s a pretty intimate process. And if it’s done well, you’ll almost always be found out.

What I mean is that an editor – a good editor – is trained to find your gaps, your blind spots. And she’ll poke and prod those areas to make them better for you. She knows that the only way to make your good stuff better is to dig deeper than you – to dive in to the places where you aren’t so sure about yourself.

And a client – a good client – has the humility to respond, revealing what is beneath the surface. He might admit a flaw. He may confess a doubt. He’ll likely hear feedback. And he’ll certainly feel vulnerable.

No doubt, this process takes some guts. But here’s the thing: It’s worth it.

Your corporate brand, your personal story – they’re both about who you are and what you want to share with the world. Hiring an editor means that you want to share it with authenticity and meaning – and that you’re willing to experience some discomfort to get there.

And so, with a little prodding, the CEO realizes that he hasn’t articulated his vision to himself yet, much less to his people. The new business owner admits that she isn’t confident in her process yet, even on the eve of her website launch. The budding author acknowledges that a memory is painful to write about, but agrees to go there.

And your editor? She’s smiling gently inside, thinking, “Now we’re getting somewhere. . . .”

Ella7_croppedElla Hearrean Ritchie is the owner of Stellar Communications Houston, a business communications and book publishing team that delivers quality, integrity, and reliability to nonfiction authors, business leaders, nonprofit organizations, and federal government agencies.  Connect with her on LinkedIn or check out the website for more information.

Upgrade Your Genius

Photo courtesy of borntocompete.com
Photo courtesy of borntocompete.com

“Successful people simply practice successful habits.” – Brian Tracy

Successful business leaders are more than great visionaries. Their success is in their everyday habits — the small choices that build an empire over time.

One notable empire is the basketball career of Michael Jordan. Houston business coach Glenn Smith recently shared Jordan’s incredible story of successful habits with me.

“Michael Jordan without a doubt was one of the greatest basketball players in the history of the NBA,” he said. “But Jordan was not born a star basketball player. He was actually cut from his high school varsity team.

However, he didn’t let that stop him. He worked hard to play high school ball and even earn a shot at playing in college. He wasn’t recruited by the college he wanted to play for — North Carolina State — and he wasn’t drafted by the first two NBA teams that could have chosen him.

But Jordan never let any of this get in his way. At college, his coaches were taken aback by his willingness to work harder than anyone else. Even at the height of his success with the Chicago Bulls, his coach called him ‘a genius who constantly wants to upgrade his genius.'”

Michael Jordan’s story is a fantastic example of successful habits. Most notable is his daily investment of time and energy toward his vision in spite of obstacles and rejection.

Another notable habit was Jordan’s decision to resist distractions. Surely he was tempted at times to steer his attention toward other promising activities, people, or purposes, but he didn’t take the bait. Instead, he focused solely on doing one thing very well — “upgrading his genius.”

Like Jordan, successful business leaders define their vision and practice successful habits daily in spite of obstacles and rejections. But they also resist promising distractions. Even a worthy task, such as blogging, can prove to be an ineffective, distracting effort if a leader doesn’t have the time to maintain it properly. Business success includes tapping into resources and delegating tasks in order to remain focused on your primary genius.

What daily investments will you make — and what distractions will you delegate — to upgrade your genius this year?

Ella Hearrean of Stellar Communications is a Houston-based freelance editor and writer for business leaders, organizations, and publishers. Connect with her on LinkedIn or on her website.

One Lesson From Spanish to Make Your Writing Reader-Friendly

r-HARD-SPEAKING-SPANISH-large570I’ve observed one basic difference between the Spanish and English languages: The languages handle the order of their nouns and adjectives differently. And this one difference can be pivotal in writing effectively for an audience.

You see, the English language places adjectives before nouns. English speakers tell all about something before they tells what it is they are talking about. Take this sentence, for example: The skinny, white, male cat sat by the door. Listeners hear three descriptors — skinny, white, male — before they discover that the sentence is about a cat.

The Spanish language, on the other hand, places nouns before adjectives. Spanish speakers tell what they are talking about before they tell about it. The Spanish version of that sample sentence is translated literally as: The cat skinny, white, male sat by the door. Listeners are told that the sentence is about a cat before they hear the three descriptors.

Although I speak English, I’ve always been impressed with this difference that makes the Spanish language more friendly to its listeners. Spanish speakers give their listeners a heads up as to what they are talking about before diving into details.

So, what does this mean for writing?

When presenting information to readers, consider shifting your mindset to that of a Spanish speaker. In other words, look for opportunities to place your nouns before their descriptions to make your writing more reader-friendly. Your readers first want to know what you are talking about before wading through details.

Take a look at this sentence before and after one of my clients considered the order of his nouns and adjectives.

The largest contributor to infor­mation security related regulations is section 501 (b) of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act.

The largest contributor to regulations related to infor­mation security is section 501 (b) of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act.

In the second draft, the writer puts the focus on the word ‘regulations’ before telling more about it. The noun gives the reader something solid to which he can hold on before delving into details.

Look at one piece of your writing today. Where can you change the order of your nouns and adjectives to make your sentences more reader-friendly?

Ella Hearrean of Stellar Communications is a Houston-based freelance editor and writer for business leaders, publishers, and other writers. Connect with her on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/ellaritchie.

Three Kid-Friendly Wi-Fi Spots for Freelancers

mom-working-daughter-140310Ah, summer: three blissful months of sunshine, sprinklers, and snow cones.

Or, if you’re a freelance writer with children at home: three desperate months of intermittent work while one child screams from a headlock by his brother. Cue the circuit of summer camps and playdates.

In addition to community events, here are three favorite places that satisfy both me and my kids:

1. McDonald’s.

While my friends flock to Chick-fil-a, we head instead to McDonald’s. My kids eat pancakes and enjoy a large play area that includes two computers with video games and a television streaming cartoons.  Meanwhile, I sip $1 coffee and work with free Wi-Fi. The best part is that the kids, parents, and all entertainment are in one room. Call or scope out locations before you go, though, because not all locations have these features.

2. The library.

After picking out books, my kids scramble to sit by each other at a table of computers so they can play free online games together: pbskids.org, abcya.com, and funbrain.com top their list of favorites. The best part is that our library offers a weekly summer activity program during which parents are encouraged to stay in the lobby.

3. Inflatable places.

Monkey Joe’s is my go-to place when I need to meet a deadline. The kids happily eat pizza and jump with friends all day while I work with free Wi-Fi. The only downside is the cost: The entry fee and snack bar are a bit expensive, so I reserve this spot for a long day of work.

And there’s my signal to end this post — my children are tangled in a battle over a video game controller. Stay tuned for a blog post on how not to parent. In the meantime, what are the places around town that are preserving your sanity this summer?

Ella Hearrean of Stellar Communications is a Houston-based freelance editor and writer for business leaders, publishers, and other writers. Connect with her on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/ellaritchie.

Add Structure to Your Writing in Four Easy Steps

shopping-cart-tantrum-child_MAt the grocery store yesterday, a preschooler threw a tantrum that was quite impressive. Head back, mouth wide and wailing, he dropped to the floor in a lifeless heap.

His mom calmly surveyed the dead weight at her feet. She cupped her hands under her son’s arms, pulled him upright, and firmly instructed him to stand on his feet. And stand he did, though his whimpering trailed behind them as they moved to the next aisle.

Editing is a very similar experience.

Blogs, for instance, can look more like blobs. Great subject matter more often resembles a shapeless heap of words than a strong piece of writing.

The job of editors is like that of mothers. Our task is to pull up a piece of writing by the shoulders, brush it off, and make it stand up. Even the shortest blog post begs for structure that allows it to stand on its own.

How can you edit your blob into a strong piece of writing? Here is a process that I follow with my clients to transform their jumble of ideas into a structured piece:

1. Identify the few defining words or points you want to communicate.

Read these first few sentences of my client’s blog:

Do you know what enables you to dream? Is it solitude? Is it prayer? Is it the beach? Is it music? Whatever it is, embrace it more and dream more.

We narrowed the point of those first few sentences to the word dream.

2. Give each point a mini beginning, middle, and end.

My client surrounded his point about dreaming with supportive sentences. He began with the purpose of this point, followed with details, and then ended with a tiny conclusion drawing his sentences together:

The first step to creating the life you want is to identify what enables you to dream. Is it solitude? Is it prayer? Is it the beach? Is it music? It is different for everyone. Find out what enables you to dream and then embrace it more in order to dream more.

By leading his reader from an introductory thought to a concluding thought, he is helping his audience connects the dots of his thoughts.

3. Give each thought its space.

Since that first paragraph represented one point, my client then put a space between that and the next paragraph, which began:

The second step to creating the life you want is . . .

The space indicates to his readers that he’s moving to another thought. Spaces also make his page look less crowded and more appealing to the eye.

4. Reconsider your title.

After defining three key points and adding structure to each, my client realized his title no longer applied to his writing. He changed his title from Imagination and the Myth of Motivation to How to Create the Life You Want.

His new title is more effective and appealing to readers – because his structured material is now more effective and appealing!

When you follow this process to clarify, support, and give space to your ideas, your readers are more willing to follow you to the end of your thoughts. What other tips do you apply to add structure to your writing?

Ella Hearrean of Stellar Communications is a Houston-based freelance editor and writer for business leaders, publishers, and other writers. Connect with her at http://www.linkedin.com/in/ellaritchie.