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I’m Taking the Plunge – I’m Writing a Book

WritingI’m planting a new church, we’re expecting our third child, and I’m still working on building a global community of Pastors. May as well write a book, too.

I was recently approached by an Editor with Passio, the newest imprint of Charisma House Publishing. My good friend, Artie Davis, has just completed writing on his first book, Craveable, with Passio as well as a few other authors I know. I identify strongly with Passio’s stated goal:

Aiming to reach contemporary-minded believers with books, e-books and other forms of media, the imprint will target readers who are passionate about their faith and missional living, covering topics such as revival, a deeper relationship with God and authentic faith.

I’ll be sharing more later about the title and content, but the thrust of the book will align with something very close to my heart – how believers can become influencers with the gospel in an age of rapidly developing social technologies. I want to encourage believers to embrace the technological and cultural shifts taking place around us – not in the sense of conforming to the culture, but in the sense of really living within it as salt and light.

Pray for me as I begin writing. This is a new adventure for me, and I want to make sure my mind, spirit, and family life stay healthy in the midst of embracing new opportunities. This should be fun!

6 Tips for Writing Blog Posts That Get Read

ForwardThe world is full of great leaders with great ideas who will remain somewhat unknown because they just don’t know how to package their ideas for market. Since this is the age of blogging in which everyone is in the publishing business, it’s imperative for anyone who wants to be a thought leader and influencer to know how to craft a basic blog post that grabs and moves readers.

As an editor, I filter through a ton of material each week in search of content I believe Pastors need to be healthier leaders. What I often find is great content that will probably never be digested because the mechanics of the post are off. So here are my editorial, insider, words-to-the-wise suggestions for aspiring bloggers…

Write a Killer Title

Don’t blow this. Be poetic with your subtitle, but craft a title that spells out exactly the benefit the reader is going to enjoy by reading the article. The only point of a blog post tile – I mean this – the ONLY point of the title, is to get the reader to read the first sentence of the post. I’ll write more about writing great titles soon, but start with writing titles that

  1. Address a need or problem.
  2. State some kind of goal.
  3. Give a clear preview of the content that follows.

And it never hurts to start your title with a numerical digit. Psychologically, it conveys a sense of value. So “8 Tips for Writing Blog Posts That Get Read” is better than “Writing Better Blog Posts.” But don’t go to seed on this or you’ll annoy your regular readers.

Write a Killer First Sentence

If the only point of the title is to get the reader to read the post’s first sentence, then guess what the point of the first sentence is? Yep. Get the reader through the first paragraph. When I started writing the post you’re reading, the second paragraph was originally my first, but it would never grab a reader. Instead, I’m trying, with my first sentence, to grab the attention of people who hope to package their great ideas better.

Write a Killer First Paragraph

If this feels redundant, you’re getting it. We’ll get to your great content in a moment, but our first goal is to get the reader into the post. We do that with a first paragraph that summarizes the reason why the reader should continue. A traditional thesis paragraph states what is coming in a dry, academic way, but a blog post is a bit more emotionally involved, commanding attention.

Eliminate Everything Unnecessary

There is no set length of a good post. Brian Clark writes long while Seth Godin gets to the point, but both know how to make every point and paragraph meaningful. Whether your post is 100 words or 1,000, pack it with value and chuck the fluff.

Break It Up – Make It Readable

Books require paragraphs, but blog posts require bullet points and subtitles, and sometimes graphics too. This is a basic rule of “web copy” that can’t be ignored.

Drive It Home and Tell the Reader What To Do Next

We can have plenty of readers, but no practical influence, if those readers don’t actually do anything as a result of interacting with our content. So always ask, as you’re wrapping up your post, what should the reader do next? It doesn’t have to be something monumental like “go save the world.” It can be as simple as:

  • Leave a comment.
  • Check out a product.
  • Share this post.
  • Go save the world… you get the point.

My hope in writing this post is that some of you who are reading will gain an understanding of how to better spread your ideas. You know some good stuff and you have a desire to share it, so share it well. Show me a headline I can’t not read. And while you’re at it – tell your friends about this post!

What did I miss? What would you add?

3 Luxuries That Should Be Essentials

Reading and ListeningThere are three luxuries I never feel I have enough time for – reading, writing, and creating. Why? Because they tend to follow the “have to’s” such as financial management, relationship management, task lists, and deadlines.

Have you ever said something like, “I don’t have time to read another book, write another blog post, or craft a new sermon… I have too much to get done.”? Somehow, we need to flip that on its head. How? I don’t have all the answers, but I think I have a few:

1. Read, write, and create early in the week, and early in the day, saving the to do list for later. W. A. Criswell always had excellent advice for young pastors, whom he would advise to “give your mornings to God and your afternoons to the ministry of the church.” He studied at home, in seclusion, each day from 6 to noon, then headed to the office, and still managed to lead a church of tens of thousands of Dallas residents with its many ministries and sub-organizations.

2. Think long term instead of short term. There is great short-term gain in getting a to do list accomplished and knocking out tasks. It’s called “productivity” for a reason – it produces results. But if, after months of intense productivity, we dry up spiritually and feed no one, what good have we really done?

3. Redefine “success” and “effectiveness.” We tend to define both in terms of output – the numerical measurement of the results of our work. But perhaps being effective and achieving success have as much to do with input as output – not merely the result of our work, but what we’ve invested into the improving of our work to begin with.

4. Start. Now. As I write this, I have a lengthy to do list filled with important tasks and assignments, but I’ve read a chapter of a new book helping me to understand tripolar spirituality more clearly, I’ve written most of this blog post, and I have yet to get my son off to school. Sometimes you just have to dig in and force the “luxuries” to become essentials – for the good of your soul, the organization you lead, and everyone else around you.

In other words, sometimes making the luxuries the essentials is a means of accomplishing the greater good. Imagine if we applied the same principle to devotional time, family time, and introspection time. Our whole world just might change for the better.

Photo by Joel Bedford.

The Basics of Blogging and Online Publishing

BloggingBlogging is such a weird word. We never used it until people started keeping “logs” on the “web” of their life called “weblog” and for some reason, we dropped the “we” and were left with the art of blogging. And in a sense, it has changed everything. How? Because now, everyone is a publisher.

Every business, every church, and every institution is now a publisher, and those who publish with the most gusto win. It’s the age where people with few connections and little resources can grow their voice in the marketplace in inexpensive and creative ways.

I’m writing this post for those who haven’t jumped in yet. I’d love to dialog about the latest developer’s beta version of WordPress or Google’s search algorithm, but my goal is instead to reach out to those who are on the verge of blogging and push you over the edge to take the dive. If you need to read no more, head over to WordPress or Tumblr and get started! If you’re still looking to rationalize your decision, read on…

Why Blog?

Still with me? Let me give you some reasons to jump in.

  1. Everybody is doing it. This is normally a stupid reason to do anything, but in this case, what I mean is that everybody is talking and conversing about everything, and your voice matters.
  2. It’s easy. There was a time when you needed to know html or write the code for your own blogging platform. Now, with a few clicks you can sign up and from your smartphone, you can blog.
  3. It’s cheap. In fact, it’s usually free, or costs peanuts, to get started.
  4. You can earn some income. Don’t plan on getting rich off of blogging. It’s been done before and will be done again, but don’t assume you’re going to be the next John Chow, who makes money online by telling people how to make money online. Most of the “six-figure bloggers” were in the game early, but you can still earn a bit of an income if you’re patient and consistent.
  5. You can expand your influence. Ideas change the world, and today, ideas are shaped by the conversation online.

In other words, this isn’t just for geeks and nerds anymore. It’s for you too (assuming you don’t fall into either of those categories).

What To Do

Convinced? With me? Good. Now what in the world are you going to blog about? What does “blogging” look like for you? You can make blogging a time of personal journaling, but I want to challenge you to think a little harder than that. Let’s re-define blogging as putting your passion into words for the world to experience.

Your passion.

If you are passionate about underwater basket-weaving, blog about it. If it’s vintage and retro living, go for it. If you’re all about the latest flip-flops coming out of the fashion scene, blog about it. The blogs I read are those written by people who are passionate, whose passion spills out in a contagious way.

In words.

Blogging can include video and other forms of media, and will more and more as time goes on. What I’m getting at is that blogging is the act of allowing your passion to escape your heart and find expression online in a form others can consume.

For the world to experience.

I talk a lot about the experience of reading blogs because I’m a design and communications nut. For me, content is highly important, but so is its aesthetic surroundings. I’m not drawn to mere words. I’m drawn to the experience of reading them in their creative context.

Blog On Topic

So blog about what you know, what you love, and what you can speak authoritatively about to the world. Stay focused. I blog about an array of subjects, but they are mostly related to each other. If I started blogging entirely about weedrat recipes, I’d lose my readers, no matter how good weedrat stew might be.

Network With Others

Writing is good, but reading is better. Speaking is great, but listening is even greater. Blogging isn’t simply the dissemination of information. Rather it’s the joining of an ongoing, developing conversation about a niche. The more people you help, connect with, and pour into, the more you and your blogging influence will ultimately benefit.

Read Great Blogs on Blogging

Don’t read them all – you’ll go nuts. There are too many of them. But some of my own favorites are:

  • WeBlogBetter.com (I started this one, but Kiesha Easley has taken it beyond my wildest dreams).
  • ProBlogger (A lot about earning money, but a lot about powerful networking too).
  • Copyblogger (A whole lot of longer posts about writing, communication, and marketing).
  • Fuel Your Blogging (I used to be the Editor, but Christopher is much better!).
  • Kikolani (She gathers together some of the best resources on the web).
  • Social Media Examiner (Not all about blogging, but the broader topic of social media, of which blogging is one part).
  • Chris Brogan (An expert who blogs his expertise rather freely).
  • Danny Brown (Few understand blogging activism like Danny).
  • Michael Hyatt (He understands blogging from the perspective of a respected publishing executive).
  • For Bloggers By Bloggers (A steady stream of great tips).
  • Blogussion (Another great site with great tips).
  • Hubspot offers another list of great blogs too.

Jump In!

Here’s my step-by-step guide to getting started with blogging in a half an hour or less. Understand that if you can get hosting, a domain, and a custom-designed WordPress theme, you’ll be better off in the long run. But this isn’t the long run. This is the moment of taking the plunge. So here’s my challenge:

  1. Sign up for an account at WordPress.com.
  2. Pick a nice theme that reflects the personality of your blog. You can change later, and even move your WordPress.com blog to a self-hosted platform. For now, pick something pretty.
  3. Create an “About” page where you tell the world whom you are and other ways to connect with you (link to your Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social profiles).
  4. Write a blog post. No, “This is your first blog post.” doesn’t count. Craft a catchy, attention-getting title and briefly pour your heart out.
  5. Post the hyperlink on Twitter, Facebook, and wherever else you hang out online. Don’t be shy. Do it!

Oh, and below, in the comments, tell me where you blog! What would you add to what I’ve said (for the soon-to-be newbie bloggers)?

Image credit: Kristina B

Content Marketing Is the Marketing That Matters

Content MarketingRemember when Bubba was running through the list of potential shrimp dishes with Forest? Marketing could be handled the same way. Let’s see, there’s email marketing, attention marketing, social media marketing, word-of-mouth marketing, print marketing, traditional marketing, new media marketing, permission marketing… and on and on we go. Which one matters most for we who are blogging for income? Ultimately, content marketing matters the most.

We need reliable hosting, a uniquely branded design and identity, and robust publishing features. We should be building a mailing list and distributing our content in all the right directions. But at the end of it all, we’re ultimately leading people back to a destination that ought to be worth their time. We’re always concerned with getting people to spend their money on something so that we can profit from our blogging efforts, but where our concern should really lie is with motivating readers to spend their time interacting with our content.

So building a great blog begins with producing great content. It continues as people read, consume, and share that great content, and it ends when decisions are influenced by that great content. The question remaining is, what kind of content is best for content marketing?

Great Content Grabs a Reader’s Interest

Effective content marketing starts with the title, and the style of your title will depend on the personality of your blog. I’m annoyed by article titles that use all lowercase letters (that’s why it’s called “Title Case” after all), but I recognize that one or two words in all lowercase letters sometimes fits the artsy and poetic nature of some blogs. More common perhaps is the approach of giving emphasis to keywords. A well-crafted article title ultimately says “HEY! I’m what you’re looking for! You need to read me!”

Great content entertains. That is not to say it doesn’t have a much deeper purpose, but it entertains in that it attracts and holds the attention of the reader.

Great Content Meets a Reader’s Need

Why is it that “how to” posts always skyrocket in popularity? Why are tutorial sites so successful? It’s because they position their content near the point of pain or need in the minds of their readers.

This is not true only of “how to” articles though. It’s also true of articles that encourage the discouraged, connect the disconnected, and inform the uninformed. It’s true of articles that report news people are eager to learn about and articles that honestly review products and services the reader is on the fence over purchasing.

Having solutions goes a long way when it comes to popularity.

Great Content Moves a Reader’s Will

I’m not referring to playing Jedi mind tricks on anyone or using shady marketing tactics. I’m simply saying that the content of a great blog post (as opposed to that of a great short story or novel) should be designed with the resulting action in mind. What should the reader do next? Great content not only answers that question, but spells it out and makes the action apparent and easy to take.

If you want the reader to comment, to share the article, to check out a related post, or even to look at a product for a potential purchase, you should use the content to move the reader’s will toward that decision.

Great Content Motivates a Reader to Share

It’s the social web. We have a thousand sharing options when it comes to content. We can distribute articles through RSS feeds, email lists, content aggregation services, social networks, and microblogs. The issue isn’t having the space in which to share great content, it’s having the content ready to share when the time comes.

I often find myself giving advice to organizations who are launching blogs or online publications for various purposes. Most of the questions tend to revolve around platforms, costs, and editorial calendars. But I always interject these basic thoughts that often get overlooked: Make it simple. Make it social. Make it sharable.

How would you complete my list? What else goes into the making of great content?

photo source


Your Guide to Great Copywriting and Content