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Hey, Nerd! Lose the Five Dollar Words
2023-09-28 Champions Weekly
Photo by Len Wilson
The master laughed at her.
“Oh, you think you’ve found something new?”
Student Samin Nosrat had almost finished culinary arts school when she stumbled upon the realization that cooking could be boiled down to a simple four-part mnemonic: Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat.
Her professor, master chef Christoper Lee, was not impressed. He told her, “We already all know that.”
As Nosrat later recalled, “What was so shocking in that moment was that I felt like I had come to this great realization. It wasn’t a great realization because they already knew it, but nobody had ever told me.”
Catch that last line: Nobody had ever told me.
Nosrat had stumbled onto something incredible and seemingly easy, but actually quite challenging: the ability to reduce complex theory to an easily digestible rubric.1 Nosrat’s book of the same name became a NYT bestseller, and she now has a Netflix series. (And Chef Lee doesn’t.)
As an amateur home chef, Nosrat has taught me to elevate my cooking through careful attention to the nuance of heat, fat, and salt. (I don’t have acid down yet.)
To be honest, I am preaching to the choir here because I have written twelve titles and still have not fully mastered this week’s bottom line.
This Week’s Bottom Line: If you want people to actually read your work, pay attention to its Readability.
Once, I had a big fight with my wife. My frustration had been building for years: why won’t she read my books? She had to know that writing was important to me. I’d written nine books by then, and she hadn’t read a single one! Didn’t she love me and support me?
I was really worked up inside. Finally, I exploded at her. “You never read my books!”
She calmly replied, “Well, they’re church nerd books.”
A long pause.
She was right. What more could I say? I tend to like “five dollar” words. Which forced a question: why do I write? For my own pleasure, or to communicate an idea?
About that same time I was managing the Leadership line at Abingdon Press, for the United Methodist Publishing House. I was slowly discovering the truth contained in a key statistic: leadership only constituted 13% of the Christin non-fiction market. The much bigger slice? What we call Christian Living, at 52%.
One day, I saw it in action: a pastor I consulted was considering an all-church study on the theme of justice. Did that pastor choose one of the dozens of Christian Leadership books that Abingdon Press had published in the last 20 years on justice? Nope. He chose the popular trade title, Same Kind as Different As Me. His congregation was already reading it. Its accessibility created wonderful entry points to a difficult topic.
Most pastors and other professionals with a graduate school education have been ruined by too much academic reading and writing. In church, we ministry leaders tend to write the equivalent of theological white papers. Once we adopt a 13th grade writing level on the Flesch Kincaid scale, we’ve lost people. The most readable material is 8th-9th grade level.2 It is trade friendly. (Click here to learn more about reading level and why it is important to pay attention to this scale as a writer.)
The best Christian living books are simply human. They address basic, human problems. Their solutions help us increase our faith. After all, according to Hebrews, faith is the only thing that has ever impressed Jesus—not the sophistication of our arguments or the advancement of minute slivers in a single research topic.
Takeaway: “Living” easily crosses into Leadership”. “Leadership” rarely crosses into “Living.” In other words, write a book that would engage a stranger on a bookshelf in another state—regular people, not your graduate school buddies. At Invite, we can supplement it with the professional stuff later.
2. Championing Invite
It’s not easy to shift from a professional audience to a trade audience. If you’ve been building a reputation among colleagues, today’s note is particularly challenging because it’s asking you to find a new audience. Be careful - you may not want to abandon your existing platform completely. One strategy is to proceed with the professional book first to establish credibility around a topic, then shift to the more trade-friendly title.
We adopted this publishing strategy with Brian Russell, Professor of Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary. Russell’s story is compelling—a real dark night of the soul. And we plan on telling it. First, though, we decided to do a title which was right down the strike zone of his platform. Astonished by the Word: Reading Scripture for Deep Transformation reinforces his credibility while at the same time introducing new ideas which will lead into his next, more personal and trade friendly work.
At Invite Press, we want to think long term with you. Rather than passively respond to a single book proposal, we’re eager to talk about your calling and mission in life, your brand, your long term plans, and all of the things you’re thinking about. Then, we can craft a multi-year, multi-title approach to maximize your thought leadership. Some of our strongest author relationships involve five or six potential book ideas.
What have you been thinking about lately?
Len Wilson, “Advice for Writers,” inviteresources.com, May 22, 2023. https://www.inviteresources.com/article-details/advice-for-writers.
Abhishek Upadhyay, “What is Readability Score & Why is it Important in Writing/Blogging”, linkedin.com, March 22, 2019. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/what-readability-score-why-important-writingblogging-upadhyay/