How to Turn Your Hobby Into Your Full-time Job

There are few things that can top being 100% fulfilled in your job. Hence, the reason why so many people are turning their hobbies into their businesses. Since the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020, more and more people have been looking for ways to turn their passions into profits, but how does one embark on such an endeavor? Here are some helpful considerations to get you started.

1. What is your end goal?

It’s always good to envision your end goal before embarking on a big business venture. At the end of the day, it is your prerogative for how far you want to take your business, such as deciding whether to keep it small or grow it substantially. If you’re a writer, for example, you may wish to build a steady following for your blog. Or you may wish to author a book — the dream will be unique to you.

2. Do proper market research

Thinkific notes that the next step to building a successful business is getting the idea right to where you can see a legitimate demand for your passion-turned-hobby-turned-business. Being on top of this crucial task will probably be the driving factor to push on with your idea if you can see it being successful. 

3. Decide on a business model

Decide on a business model for how you can monetize your hobby business. Your goal should be to make a profit, so you should be looking into ways to generate a consistent income through business models such as a Freemium business model, a subscription-based service, an e-commerce-based model, franchising, etc.

4. Test your idea

The next step in determining whether your business will be feasible is conducting a test run. Here, the idea is about seeing how much of an interest there is in your business through practical applications such as running a Google ad, for example, or gauging the public’s interest through a social media campaign.

5. Deciding on how much funding you’ll need

There is a lot that goes into deciding how much funding you’ll need for your business that includes getting a realistic picture of where your personal finances are at, specifically how much money you can contribute yourself to the company versus getting a loan. The other side of the coin is drawing up a financial plan to see how your business is running from a profit and loss point of view. This exercise will also include investigating your balance sheet and cash flow to get a good idea of when you will reach your break-even point to establish whether you can cover your costs.

6. Making your business run smoothly

There will be areas you can look at improving even at the start-up phase of your business to help your business run efficiently. Project management tools such as Trello can help keep team members in sync with one another regarding the completion of projects. A unique benefit of our Trello is that you can organize charts according to relevant color codes to ensure you and your team stay on top of your essential tasks. Zoho is another project management tool in that you can do a variety of functions, such as automating routine to-dos, managing company resources better, as well as collaborating with team members easily. 

You may also work with other professionals to help bring your business to life. Experts like accountants and virtual assistants are just a couple of examples. If you’re communicating with a graphic designer or web designer about design ideas and you  have a large PDF file with many images, you can utilize a free PDF editor tool to add text, notes, highlights, drawings, and more to PDFs. This allows you to easily specify any suggestions or changes you might need without having to send lengthy emails. You can find out more about using this handy tool by clicking this link.

Emeritus points out that marketing is also an important aspect as far as growing demand for your brand goes. Therefore, you might want to concentrate on designing a website and a strong social media presence to help get the word out to as many potential clients as possible.

Turning your hobby into a business is sure to be a roaring success if you know the steps you need to achieve growth, regardless of the industry you happen to pursue.

Jesse Clark is a traveler, so she’s no stranger to experiencing wanderlust and that strong desire to travel. She’s already had enough experiences to last a lifetime, but she’s not stopping anytime soon. Visit Jesse at

Build a Professional Development Plan Using These Goal Ideas

Professional development requires time and hard work. If you want to ensure that you’re meeting your goals, you’ll need to lay out a plan that details exactly how to assess and boost your skills, get the training you need, and land your dream job. Whether you want to go back to school, start your own business, or put in some time working for a company you admire, there are several things you’ll need to consider along the way.

Here are some to help you get started:

1. Consider going back to school

No matter what your professional goals are, it can be extremely helpful to continue your education and build upon the skills you already have. Going back to school is much easier these days than it used to be, especially with online programs that allow you to work from home on your own time. You can pursue a degree in accounting, business, management, or communications, all of which are great options for starting your own business. Go here to read more about the programs available online.

2. Start your own business with a great idea

Whether you want to earn your degree first or start building a business right away, there are lots of options for entrepreneurs with solid ideas. Write out a business plan and conduct in-depth research right away so you can identify your competitors and nail down your target audience. Look for funding opportunities, both in your area and online, and don’t forget about the legal details. Registering your business and figuring out your tax responsibilities are crucial steps; take a look at the rules for forming an LLC, a structure that will provide plenty of tax advantages while making it easier for you to run your business your way. Every state has its own rules for formation, but you can use a service to file the paperwork to ensure it’s done correctly, which will also save you money on the cost of a lawyer.

3. Network with other professionals

One great way to make progress where your professional development is concerned is to network with other professionals and entrepreneurs. Not only can this be beneficial if you’re planning to start your own business, it might lead to you finding a mentor who can help you define your goals and assess your strengths and weaknesses. Look for opportunities to mingle, such as conventions, grand openings, and conferences, and learn the science behind successful networking, which includes specific body language and communication skills

4. Document your progress

Your professional development plan should also include a way to document your progress, such as a journal or spreadsheet. Being able to see both your goals and exactly how you’ve met them is important because it provides motivation and allows you to see how far you’ve come as well as where to focus your energy. Think about a few different options for tracking your progress, such as bullet journaling or using an app, and choose the one that fits your needs best. Remember that the method for tracking your goals is just as important as the documentation itself since you’ll need to be able to easily maintain it. 

Creating goals for your professional development is crucial for your success, so take some time in the planning stages. Think about the right fit for you when it comes to starting a business–considering options such as creating a home-based company if you need flexibility–as well as going back to school, which can also be done from home if your time is limited.

Need professional SEO copy for your website? Take a look at the services offered by Ed, and get in touch via the contact form at the bottom of the home page.

Jesse Clark is a traveler, so she’s no stranger to experiencing wanderlust and that strong desire to travel. She’s already had enough experiences to last a lifetime, but she’s not stopping anytime soon. Visit Jesse at

How to Earn Money as a Freelance Writer During College

Working as a freelance writer can be a great way to cover your living expenses while you go to school or hunt for that dream job. The money you earn freelancing can help pay for textbooks, meals, and tuition without creating additional debt. 

As a college student, you likely have some solid writing skills that you can leverage to earn some money. Plus, freelance writing will give you all the flexibility you need to attend irregular class hours, study for big exams, and get homework done on time. 

With that in mind, here are some tips and resources to help you get your freelance writing business off the ground.

1. Learn How to Write for the Web

First, it’s important to understand that writing for the web differs from academic writing. If you’re used to writing university papers, you may want to take an online course that teaches the basics of writing for the web. Web content is typically more engaging, informal, and conversational. You want to avoid long paragraphs and break up your writing with headings whenever possible. SEO is also important to consider, especially if you’re advertising SEO services to your clients.

If you’re looking for ways to brush up your writing skills, LoveToKnow suggests taking online courses from websites like International Webmasters Association and Media Bistro. You can also find many free online courses, YouTube guides, and how-to articles if you’re just looking for some quick information.

2. Establish Your Business

Once you’ve honed your writing skills, it’s time to put your business together. Start by establishing your business as a formal entity so you can easily manage your business finances and tax records. Acquiring an EIN (also called a Tax ID number) will enable the IRS to identify your business. An EIN will also allow you to open a business bank account and hire employees if you wind up growing your writing business into an agency down the line.

Next, get set up with a number of digital tools to streamline the administrative side of your business. Often, these are the tasks that take the most time, and you don’t get paid for them! Take advantage of automation tools, project management apps, and bookkeeping software to improve your productivity. 

3. Find Your First Clients

Ready to find your first clients? Consider writing a few sample articles to show clients what kind of work you can do. Once you have a few published pieces, it will become even easier to land new gigs. Peak Freelance suggests creating content for fictional clients that are similar to those you want to target with your services. For example, if you want to write health and wellness content for fitness companies, create sample blog content or ad copy focused on this industry. 

There are many ways to find your first clients. Look on freelance job boards, talk to people in your network, build your personal brand on social media, attend networking events, and try cold-calling local businesses. The first few clients are the hardest. Once you get past this part, it only gets easier!

Starting your own freelance writing business could be a great way to pay your way through college. At the very least, the income you generate will help to reduce the financial strain that comes with college tuition. So start practicing your writing skills and get your business established today!

Jesse Clark is a traveler, so she’s no stranger to experiencing wanderlust and that strong desire to travel. She’s already had enough experiences to last a lifetime, but she’s not stopping anytime soon. Visit Jesse at

7 Easy Ways to Improve Your Writing Skills

Some aspects of writing require a lot of time and energy to master. To become a great writer, you need to think critically, organize ideas, and follow in the footsteps of other successful writers. The best time to improve your writing skills is now.

You are never too young or old to develop this essential skill. Even if you are not pursuing a profession in writing, excellent writing skills are essential in almost every profession. Even a policeman is required to write statements from time to time. Therefore, everyone who wants to prosper needs to develop his or her writing skills.

Benefits of good writing skills

Let’s face it. We can’t all become bestselling writers. But we can do our best to improve our writing skills. Some of the benefits of good writing skills include:

  • Having better vocabulary and increasing your chances of building your relationships
  • Easily developing analytical thinking methodologies to write pieces that captivate an audience
  • You can easily record your doubts and grievances without distracting thoughts
  • If you enjoy keeping journals or other personal materials, writing helps in keeping life events in perspective
  • It’s one of the best ways to keep your brain active and alert

How to Become a Better Writer

Now that you know the benefits of good writing skills, here are seven simple easy ways to improve your writing skills:

1. Avoid distractions

According to custom essay service, distractions are one of the biggest killers of productivity. The cat video that you are about to watch on YouTube will probably brighten your day. However, you need to be careful. The human brain takes an average of 17 minutes to focus on a task after a distraction. Losing focus while writing can seriously affect the quality of your work.

If you want to create high-quality content, you need to eliminate distractions in your environment. This means turning off notifications on your computer, putting your phone on silent, turning off the television, and informing your loved ones about your plans in advance to avoid interruptions. By eliminating distractions not only will you boost your productivity but the quality of your content will also improve.

2. Read

We all started developing our writing skills as readers. The majority of successful writers spend most of their time reading books from different genres. This is because reading is one of the best ways to get inspired and learn new phrases and vocabulary.

Apart from general reading, the best way to improve your writing skills is by reading educational books and articles that will help you learn more about writing guidelines and principles while also giving advice and teaching best practices.

3. Use outlines as much as you can

Before you start writing, you need to create an outline of what you want to write about. Think of outlines as your writing strategy. They need not be complex. All you need to come up with is a simple framework that acts as the foundation of your project. An outline helps you avoid getting confused and losing focus. Your outline should include the introduction, body, and conclusion.

4. Write

As the popular saying goes, practice makes perfect. This applies to different spheres in life including writing. If you want to improve your writing skills, you need to start writing every day. Doing this will help you develop your writing style and build confidence in writing. As you write, you are going to make a lot of mistakes. Learning from your mistakes and coming up with effective solutions will help you become a better writer.

5. Don’t fight writer’s block

All writers will be impacted by writer’s block at some point. You spend hours staring at the blinking cursor while trying to come up with a string of words that fit your ideas. When this happens to you, don’t try to fight it. Instead, take a break and do something interesting such as exercising, socializing, or taking a nap. Fighting writer’s block will make it harder for you to write. Take a break and come back later with a fresh mind full of brilliant ideas.

6. Meet other writers

Meeting other writers is one of the best ways to improve your writing skills. These writers give you feedback and criticisms. You also need connections to improve your writing skills. When you meet other writers, you will leave with more knowledge. And as the saying goes, knowledge is power.

7. Take an online course

Before you start practicing, you need to create a good foundation, and one of the best ways to create a good foundation is by taking online writing courses. Most of the online writing courses are free today. With these writing courses, you’ll get to learn more about writing.


It’s not difficult to develop and improve your writing skills today thanks to rapid technological advancements. You need to understand the essential writing concepts and practice to stand out. Interacting with brilliant writers will also help you take your writing to the next level.

Charles Svensson is a contributing writer at

Recommendations on Personal Finance from The Sensible Merchant

When I approached Ed Murray about writing a guest post for his site, I knew I wanted to intertwine both of our areas of expertise. His in writing and literature and mine in personal finance. I also knew it needed to be truly valuable if it were to grace the pages of his site. (For some reason, he rejected my first guest post, “How to Make Money the Old-Fashioned Way: Bank Robbery”.)

In fact, reading Ed’s articles and the books he has published inspired me to launch my own website this past summer, The Sensible Merchant, where I try to bridge the gap between personal finance and mental health, as well as the technology trends that are beneficial to both. I relied heavily on the tips and guidance that Ed has posted over the years to launch my site.

This idea of passing along knowledge to help others get to where you are is so inspiring to me. That’s why when I started seeing Ed’s posts about how to write better, how to read more, and how to avoid blogging mistakes, I knew that I wanted to join in on the project.

The fact that this type of content can be ad-supported or that referrals can help the authors financially means that there’s less incentive to paywall it and a greater chance for it to spread and help others. I believe that this information sharing engine propels itself upwards and contributes to the collective betterment of our society as a whole.

On to the reason for my post…

U.S. Data from “The National Financial Capability Study (NFCS) is a project of the FINRA Investor Education Foundation (FINRA Foundation).” 

Investing is simply making more money by using your existing money. But if you don’t have any money to invest to begin with, you’ll constantly be on the treadmill of living paycheck to paycheck, working well past your desired retirement age, and being unable to provide for your future self and your future family.

Worse, yet, is the fact that until you know how to prioritize saving, any number of emergencies may push you so deep into debt that your future prospects of accumulating wealth may be non-existent.

This is why personal finance education strikes me as universally necessary and especially applicable during a time in U.S. history that has seen wealth inequality growing at incredible rates. Many people don’t even know there is a financial freedom path they can begin to walk down, no matter their age or level of knowledge. The data below shows that this was an issue prior to the COVID-19 pandemic:

Source: The Federal Reserve: “Introducing the Distributional Financial Accounts of the United States”

The differences have only become more stark as the 2020 pandemic continues, where the poorest and most at-risk individuals have been completely left behind financially due to an exogenous event outside of their control.

I know there are myriad factors that contribute to this issue, and I try to explore them from time to time on my site, but I overwhelmingly believe that a little bit of education in personal finance a little bit earlier in life goes a long way. Personal finance education can and should be free, accessible, and practical at whatever income bracket you happen to find yourself in.

To that end, I want to pass along a few recommendations: 1) a website for beginners, 2) a book for experienced investors, and 3) a podcast for everyone.

Website Recommendation: Get Rich Slowly

Get Rich Slowly is one of the most accessible and practical personal finance sites out there. This website is responsible for me opening up my own Roth IRA back when I was in my early twenties. Giving me that motivation alone would be worth its weight in gold (or stocks in this case), but since then the site has evolved and become really streamlined for folks who are brand new to managing and growing their own finances.

The author, J.D. Roth, takes a holistic approach to money management and often points out how other areas of your life will factor into your finances. That’s why I love this site so much and try to capture similar ideals and topics on my own site.

For example, most people universally want to be rich, but how do you know when you’re rich? Is it a dollar amount? Is it the square footage of your home? Of course not. This article discusses the sweet spot between a fulfilling life and the amount in your bank account.

Book Recommendation: The Little Book of Market Myths

I’ve read a lot of books about psychology, history, and finance over the years, and this book does the best job of them all at debunking many of the common misconceptions that most people accept as truth about money and how to make more of it.

Ken Fisher and Lara Hoffmans use data, common sense, and simple terminology to give readers a view into the world as seen through one of the most successful investors of all times (Ken Fisher is the founder of Fisher Investments, a well-known financial advisory firm).

For example, most people think high-unemployment is bad for stocks. They want to wait until the economy is firing on all cylinders and everyone has a job until they invest their hard-earned money in a volatile stock market. But this is precisely the type of thinking that ensures you will enter the market too late to see the biggest returns. Ken spends an entire chapter discussing how unemployment, the private sector, and the stock market are related.

Podcast Recommendation: Animal Spirits

Maybe you like to consume your content on the go. In that case, I’d like to recommend my favorite financial podcast: Animal Spirits.

I was initially persuaded to listen to this podcast by a Certified Financial Planner. That means these are the investment advisors that your investment advisors listen to. But they don’t over complicate things. They stay current, non-political, and have excellent and witty banter on a range of topics.

Another reason this is my go-to finance podcast is that both of these guys author and update their own financial blogs regularly. I recommend that if you enjoy their show, you also subscribe to their newsletters:

Finally, and most importantly, they will tell you when they don’t know something or are working on a theory. In a world where everyone wants to be an expert, it’s refreshing to hear an actual expert admit when they’ve been wrong or don’t know the answer. This helps others (like me) learn from their mistakes. Full transparency is key to credibility and they earn it.

The Takeaway

While these recommendations are geared towards learning more about finances in general, the last recommendation I want to make is that you start viewing finances as being affected by the quality of your life, not the other way around. And the quality of your life is affected by the quality of your mind. This is why reading profusely is so important. This is why introspection is so important. It’s why I try to weave basic personal finance together with advocating for an awareness of our own mental health.

Not all dollars spent are spent equally. We can only pay attention to so many things throughout the day. By being extra aware of our values, and spending less on the frivolous or fleeting items that are marketed to us, we have more available to invest back into ourselves. The real value of money isn’t in getting a nicer car or going on a bigger vacation than last year. It’s in using it to acquire more time and then spending that time in more and more effective and fulfilling ways for yourself and those around you.

As founder and author of The Sensible Merchant, Kevin Hall researches the personal finance industry, the world of mental health, and technology trends to educate readers on these topics… albeit poorly. Visit The Sensible Merchant for more!

Why You (and Your Employer) Should Embrace Permanent Remote Work

Eleven days before Michigan recorded its first confirmed case of COVID-19, my daughter was born. My wife and I spent the first week adjusting to parenthood and welcoming friends and family into our home to meet her. The last thing on my mind was embracing permanent remote work.

By the end of that first week, the world began to change. People were talking about what was now being deemed a “pandemic.” States throughout the country were announcing new cases. By early the second week, after those first local cases were announced, it became evident that life was going to be changing drastically. The Friday morning before I was supposed to return to the office, I received a text from my boss telling me not to come in on Monday. With a newborn at home, she recognized I was in a vulnerable position. By that afternoon, my entire department had been asked to begin working remotely.

At the time, this new work-from-home lifestyle was scheduled for three weeks — until the schools in Michigan opened back up. But as the state of emergency continued to be extended, so too did our directions to stay home. It has now been over seven months of remote work with many more ahead.

Remote work now feels normal. For the first time in my professional career, I have agency over my work life. Unfortunately, this is due to a global pandemic that has taken the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and sickened millions more. But this pandemic has thrust the economy of knowledge workers a handful of years or more into the future.

Before I jump into the pros and cons of permanent remote work, it’s important to make a distinction between a remote workforce in pandemic mode vs. a remote workforce post-pandemic. By post-pandemic, I mean when kids are back in school and we receive more clarity on the current uncertainty of the future. Trying to manage a full workday while toddlers squirm around the house and kids ask for help with their virtual learning is far from ideal. Adding to this imperfect situation is the lack of outlets outside of work. Gyms closed, restaurants have shuttered, movie theaters were barred from opening.

None of this should detract from realizing the benefits we have just stumbled upon as a society.

Benefits of Workers Returning to the Office

Before I get into the benefits of permanent remote work, I thought it was important to note that there are certainly still benefits of having employees return to the office — and opponents of permanent remote work will be quick to point them out. Many of these articles that urge returning to pre-COVID work culture sound, to me, to be riddled with pessimism or a lack of trust in employees. Those types of people should not detract from the true benefits of returning to the office.

Despite the scores of benefits that remote work provides, I am not blinded to the reality of what we could be losing by making the permanent switch. Nearly every article I have read or person I have spoken with about the benefits of returning to the office points out the same thing: You miss the spontaneous social interactions, such as bumping into a coworker at the coffee station, that can help you network, build camaraderie or unexpectedly solve a problem.

Amanda Mull highlights this in her article “A Cubicle Never Looked So Good,” from the October 2020 issue of The Atlantic. It seemed to drive home the point that socialization with coworkers and with other industry professionals is difficult while working remotely. Though her article largely relies on personal anecdotes and testimonials from researchers rather than hard statistics, it is not unreasonable to see the truth behind her argument. Humans are social creatures, after all, and replacing face-to-face contact with emails, IMs, phone calls and video conferences is not quite the same level of interaction.

Since the factory model 40-hour work week took root in society, employees have been forced to incorporate their coworkers into some of the closest fabrics of their social circles. That is a natural phenomenon when you spend such a large portion of your time with the same people. This dynamic would surely change with permanent remote work, though I would argue that it would not necessarily be a negative change. Rather than coworkers making up a large portion of our social circles, we would have the agency to control our own social lives based on our passions. (Think neighbors, book clubs, churches, golf leagues, etc.)

Another dynamic that permanent remote work can make more difficult is the work-life balance. In a study conducted on its own employees working remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Microsoft found that workers were putting in, on average, an additional four hours per week compared to pre-pandemic data. There was also a shift in working time, with more employees spreading their hours out over the course of a day and into the evening and night, compared to a rigid 9-to-5 schedule.

This isn’t surprising — with the elimination of commute, some of those employees are putting the time savings back into their work. But the main concern with this shifting of working structure is ensuring that employees are still able to “turn off” their work and separate their work lives from their personal lives without leaving their homes.

All this said, I want to be clear that putting these benefits of returning to the office ahead of the numerous benefits of a permanent remote workforce is simply allowing loss aversion to supersede what is clearly progress toward a more sustainable, flexible and innovative new norm of permanent remote work.

Why Workers Should Embrace Permanent Remote Work

In late March 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic strengthened its grip on the United States and the world, Matt Mullenweg joined Sam Harris on his “Making Sense” podcast to discuss what they called “The New Future of Work.” Mullenweg, who founded Automattic — the company that owns — has what he calls a “fully distributed team.” He uses the term ‘distributed’ rather than ‘remote’, but it is in concept the same thing.

Automattic uses a distributed team rather than a factory work environment, which Mullenweg argues is ineffective for knowledge workers and lowers employee autonomy. He has broken down successful teams into three factors: Mastery, autonomy and purpose.

Mastery is being able to get your job done and continually grow. Purpose is the feeling that you are working for something bigger than a paycheck. Neither of these qualities require a permanent remote workforce to achieve. However, the third quality, autonomy, which is the freedom and agency to control your own work and environment, is nearly impossible to offer employees in a traditional office setting.

That is why establishing permanent remote work as a new norm is so important. Fostering a successful team, not only from a performance standpoint but also from a mental health view, is dependent upon it. According to the Microsoft study, stress and negative emotions are each down at least 10% since the onset of their switch to remote work, while self-efficacy is up more than 10%. In another study conducted in China over two years, employees working from home saw a 13% increase in production and a 50% higher retention rate.

At the core of the issue is the outdated factory model of work, a rigid schedule where workers who have nearly no agency over their work are judged almost entirely by their input. On Henry Ford’s assembly lines, for example, if you were not physically present to do your job, the job did not get completed. Mullenweg argues that instead of adhering to this norm, we should instead shift to a distributed work model that evaluates employees based on their output, regardless of what their work schedule looks like.

Using output as an evaluation method means adopting new KPIs. The goal is to remove the biases that exist in current in-person office cultures, so that employees are treated fairly based on merit. No longer should things like dressing well, punctuality and extroversion be used to set one employee apart from others. Instead, KPIs should focus on the actual work that was completed and how it helped the company to be successful.

The most successful companies understand all of this. They look at the data, weigh the benefits and have ultimately made the decision to support permanent remote work (this is what Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter have all done, and Amazon is close behind, offering remote work at least through June 2021).

Ultimately, there is a long list of benefits that permanent remote work offers. It includes increased productivity, higher employee retention, lower stress, improved mental health and financial savings. It eliminates commutes that waste both time and money, and add stress and pollution. Ideally, permanent remote work also offers employees the opportunity to structure their day to make themselves more successful and happier, leading to a better work-life balance.

One often overlooked benefit to permanent remote work, particularly in today’s social climate, is the improved inclusivity. Because companies would no longer be dependent on location during their hiring process, they could branch out to improve diversity. People from all geographic locations, cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds could be hired, rather than needlessly (and often unjustly) limiting the candidate pool.

It’s important, when understanding the benefits of permanent remote work, to also understand the direction of the economy. Since 2010, ‘gig economy workers’ have increased by 15%, according to ADP. In 2019, these gig workers made up 16% of the US workforce. Why is this the case? Well, people are increasingly turning to work that offers more flexibility and freedom while fostering their passions.

There is no reason traditional employment cannot offer the same things.

Why Employers Should Embrace a Permanent Remote Workforce

In his memoir The Ride of a Lifetime, former Disney CEO Robert Iger tells the story about sitting in an Apple conference room with Steve Jobs in 2005. They were making a pros and cons list about a potential Disney acquisition of Pixar. When the session was over, Iger felt discouraged by the sheer number of cons Jobs had scribbled on the white board. That’s when Jobs said, “A few solid pros are more powerful than dozens of cons.”

Though in the case of remote work I do not believe the cons outnumber the pros — in fact, I think it is undoubtedly and overwhelmingly the opposite — the point that Jobs made is clear. Shifting to a permanent remote workforce is about opening our minds to what the future of knowledge work can look like. For employers, it means an opportunity to reenvision how they are perceived both internally and externally (and save some serious cash, as one study estimated that employees working remotely even just 50% of the time would save companies upwards of $11,000 per year per employee).

According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, no societal institution is very well trusted by its employees and customers. These institutions include business, government, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and media. In fact, for the two factors of trust that are measured — ethics and competence — only business is seen as competent and only NGOs are seen as ethical. None are seen as both.

From the Edelman Trust Barometer.

Fixing this issue of trust will need to be addressed both inside and outside of organizations and industries, but we are at an unprecedented moment in history when employers have the ability to increase trust within their own ranks.

Loyalty for both employers and employees has been eroding for decades, and where we are currently in society it is nearly gone, according to Rick Wartzman in an interview with the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business.

But a permanent remote workforce could be just the antidote to this troubling trend. We already know that working remotely can improve employee productivity and happiness, but for employers it can also improve employee retention. Compared with onsite workers, remote workers are 13% more likely to stay in their job for the next five years, saving employers both time and money. For millenials, which make up the largest segment of the current labor force, 82% said they would have more company loyality if employers increased their flexibility.

Remote work is one of the biggest perks employers can provide to their employees. But it’s also difficult for some companies to be forward-thinking and courageous enough to make such broad scale changes.

Humans are more prone to loss aversion than acquiring equivalent gains, and companies are run by humans. It’s natural for employers to focus on what remote work would be taking away from their previous company structure or culture. However, as I have outlined above, the pros of making the switch to permanent remote work — at least for employees whose jobs allow it — far outweigh the cons.

(By the way, I wrote this article with the eight hours per week that I save by eliminating my daily commute.)

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How Busy People Can Find More Time to Read

A while back, I wrote about how to find writing time while living a busy life. There are thousands of reasons not to write, most of them genuine and some, well, not so much (all those Netflix binges and social media addictions). 

As a writer, you likely hear advice constantly about ways to become better. After all, don’t we all want to excel at the things for which we have great passion? One of the most common tips for writing well: read more.

But just like with trying to find more time to actually write, finding time to read more can be similarly daunting, if not flat-out difficult.

This is a challenge that has plagued me severely over the last year or so. Following great bouts of flying through books, I will then go weeks, if not months, wondering where the time has gone, missing the joy of reading that has somehow escaped my routines. But as the fall begins to set in and we start life over, as Fitzgerald said, I decided to reset my reading habits. I became hyper-aware of my procrastination, of all the things I spent time doing both before and after work that amounted to unnecessary waste. And then I picked up a book. Since then, I have knocked out three books in the last month, which, for me, is quite the feat (I had spent the last four months reading just two books).

With as busy of a schedule as most working professionals, how did I find the time to read? Here are some suggestions.

Finding time to read with a busy schedule

I want to begin by stressing the fact that this is not a cure-all. Each person has his or her own preferences, and each time management strategy fits into one person’s life a little differently than another’s. That said, I have found all of these tips, to one extent or another, beneficial.

1. Let’s take five

The biggest key to finding the time to read more is simply forming good habits. Like with anything in life, once good reading habits are created the time that would have previously been devoted to non-essential procrastination will instead be used to do the thing you’ve been kicking yourself for not doing. Even if just in short increments — a page here or a few pages there — the simple act of picking up a book and reading is the first step to forming that habit. Don’t worry about commitments. Five minutes is fine. Heck, even if you begin reaching for a book during commercials instead of your phone, you are well on your way.

Until it is routine, there will always be a reason to not read.

2. Life is mobile (and books should be too)

My adoption behaviors can be difficult to predict when it comes to new technology. At times, I want to be on the forefront, the first person in the office with a new device. At other times, my stubborn side surfaces and I resist for as long as I can.

For years, I resisted ebooks. I never owned a Nook or Kindle. A few years ago I got my first iPad, but I vowed it would just be a tool for me to make my writing mobile — not for reading.

Then I was introduced to my gateway ebook — a sale on one of my favorite novels, Philipp Meyer’s The Son. I had already purchased two physical copies of this book (one for me, one as a gift), but I couldn’t resist the $3.99 price tag. Justification for the purchase went something like this: in the extreme case when a physical book is not available, it would be nice to have one good ebook as a last resort.

What I found: I somewhat shamefully, somewhat pridefully enjoyed it. It quickly became more than just a convenience. Additionally, it helped me lose myself in the story. Normally a fairly quantitative reader — constantly calculating how much of a book I’ve read, seeing my bookmark and judging how much I have left — with this ebook I was able to simply read along and dispel those tendencies.

The truth is that ebooks can be exactly the medicine needed to create new reading habits. Now, I’m not saying they are preferable over physical books — in fact, the vast majority of the books I read are still paperbacks or the occasional hardcover. But we have some sort of device with us at nearly all times — a phone, a tablet, a computer. Why not use them to read more, when it’s convenient?

The major ereading platforms — Kindle, Nook, Apple Books — all have apps that can be loaded onto nearly any device. The list of excuses for not reading more is quickly shrinking.

3. Start small

If you have read any of my previous posts, you know I am a fan of short fiction and writers who write such books. Just some of the slim novels and novellas that sit on my bookshelf: Of Mice and Men by John SteinbeckOne of the Boys by Daniel MagarielThe River Swimmer by Jim Harrison and The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, just to name a few. There are many, many more.

And this is not even to mention my own books, one of which is a collection of nine short stories and another a set of one-hundred-page novellas.

This is all to say that not every book you read needs to be The Odyssey. It’s okay to read The Pearl. Knock out a couple short books over a reasonable time period and then work your way up to longer commitments, if you so choose.

4. It’s time for an audit

I’ll bet at the end of the day, lying in bed, if you truly examined your entire day you could find some wasted time. For most of us, there is plenty of it. Flipping through Instagram for more than a few minutes, turning on the TV for lack of anything better to do. I challenge you to conduct a self-audit on your time management. Identify the moments when you are wasting time — or, I should say, spending time on non-essential things — and then replace those activities with some leisurely reading, even if just a few pages or a chapter.

And I get it, sometimes reading can be tiring after a long day and you may just want to mindlessly watch a sitcom. It certainly happens to me. All I’m saying is you’d be surprised how much time you can find when you actually look for it.

5. Do it because you love it

If not being able to find time to read more causes you anxiety, there is always one option: Don’t read more. Remember, reading for pleasure is supposed to be, well, for pleasure. If it rather feels like one more item on an ever-growing to-do list, cross it off now. Reading, on the contrary, is supposed to serve as a respite to all the stresses that life throws at us.

Read because, simply, you love to read. Try new genres. Join a book club. Find online communities that share your same reading interests. If a book just hasn’t captured your attention, abandon it and find a new one (life is too short to spend time on books that we don’t enjoy). Make reading books the most fun thing you do each week, and you’ll be surprised how easy it becomes to find some extra time to squeeze in a few chapters.

6. Not all about books

The way we consume media is constantly changing, one form merging and blending with others. Though the focus of this post has been books, reading is the main goal.

Don’t have time to commit to a book? Try reading magazine articles. Not short, quick, online click-bait — that doesn’t count. But real, investigative, thoughtful articles. It’s not a book, but it may be the next best thing. I’ve used the Apple News+ platform, a convenient home for magazines — both because it syncs across all my devices and because it comes with nearly 300 different magazines, so I could read an article from The Atlantic and then Forbes and then Sports Illustrated and then Scientific American.

All of that said, if finding the time or energy to read continues to plague your day, give listening a shot — active listening, not just background music.

Many busy working professionals endure long daily commutes. Put on an audiobook or a podcast to help stimulate or relax your mind. With podcasts, however, I will say that they should be something reflective or educational. Much like with online articles, if you choose the bad podcasts instead of the thought-provoking ones, you are doing it wrong.

At the end of the day, finding more time to read needs to be a conscious decision. But rest assured, even for the busiest of us, it can be done.

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How to Prepare for National Novel Writing Month

Chris Baty and his friends wanted to write novels. In July 1999, they did something about it, creating the inaugural National Novel Writing Month. At first, it seemed like innocent fun — only 21 writers participated. But it was obvious to all involved that this event could garner broader appeal. In the second year, after being moved to November so as not to spend an entire month in the heart of the summer writing indoors, 140 people joined in the writing. 

Today, National Novel Writing Month has become a worldwide event that has seen hundreds of thousands of writers participate. However, each year as aspiring authors decide to participate, they find themselves asking how to prepare for National Novel Writing Month.

Though it may seem like there is still plenty of time before needing to prioritize the event, if you plan on participating (or are even just considering it) now is the time to prepare for National Novel Writing Month.

Here are the basic rules of the competition:

  • Writing starts at 12:00AM on November 1st and ends at 11:59PM on November 30th.
  • No one is allowed to start early.
  • Novels much reach a minimum of 50,000 words before the end of the month. These words can either be a complete novel or the first 50,000 words of a novel to be completed later.
  • Planning and extensive notes are permitted, but no material written before the November 1st start date can go into the body of the prose.
  • Participant novels can be any genre or language. According to the website’s FAQ, “If you believe you’re writing a novel, we believe you’re writing a novel too.”

Participation in the event is free, and anyone who reaches the 50,000-word mark by the end of November is declared a winner.

For some writers, 50,000 words may seem like an incredible milestone. For others, that may only get them halfway to a typical novel length. Regardless which type of author you are, it’s difficult to sit down at your computer for 30-straight days and crank out thousands of words without hitting slumps or hitches in the plot.

That’s why now — still less than a month to go — is the time to prepare for National Novel Writing Month. Take a couple weeks to prepare, make outlines, and wrap your head around your most interesting idea — one that you know can be developed into a full novel — and ready yourself mentally for a marathon of writing.

Writing a novel is a difficult process. It’s long and frustrating, and many times discouraging. But this event was created to encourage people to write — and it’s also meant to help writers support one another.

National Novel Writing Month isn’t just for amateur writer, either. New York Times Best Sellers have been written during the event, and some established authors — such as Rainbow Rowell — have participated even after having successfully published multiple books.

Whether you’ve participated in National Novel Writing Month before or not, I certainly hope you think about giving it a try this year — and I’ll see you in November, pen in hand.

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Why I Started Subscribing to Physical Magazines Again (And You Should Too)

If you told me a few years ago that in 2020 I would be subscribing to physical magazines again, I would have called you crazy. After all, by 2015 I had already ridded myself of my outrageous cable bill and went exclusively to streaming. When Apple released its News+ service, I was one of the first people to give it a try (more on that later).

Though I was always reluctant to succumb to ereading books, with other digital services I have typically been eager to try out the next new thing. Why, then, as we near 2021, am I resorting back to physical magazine subscriptions? That’s a puzzling move for a guy who always has a screen readily available.

But then that’s just it. I spend nearly my entire day in front of a screen. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, I found myself being sucked into my phone and iPad. As I absorbed as much information as I could from every news source, I relayed it to my wife. “The New York Times is now reporting…” I would start to say, and she finally had to tell me to log off.

Instead, she and I — like so many others — turned to streaming. We watched Netflix — as in, I think we watched all of Netflix — and Hulu and HBO. I was getting very little writing done, and I was doing almost no reading. The world was a very uncertain and unsettling place.

By the end of April, I had gotten back into the rhythm of writing, but I still wasn’t doing nearly enough reading. In May, when we (almost literally) ran out of shows to watch, we clicked off the TV. It was time to read.

My initial inclination was to turn to books, which I did. I have always kept a book on my bedside table. I reread a couple classics. I ordered some new books that had been lingering on my list for a while. But everywhere I looked, I was still surrounded by digital writing that was, well, not very good — and that was the majority of what I was consuming.

I had an urge to learn. I wanted to become a better writer. I wanted to become a better entrepreneur. I wanted to be more knowledgable about the country and the world, especially as we headed into election season. The first place I turned was Apple News+, knowing I could get digital access to some of the best magazines — everything from The New Yorker to Sports Illustrated to Psychology Today. But before I pulled the trigger on the $9.99/month price tag, I shopped around a little — and I’m glad I did.

I started to find physical magazine deals. Some were introductory deals directly through the magazine’s website, and many were through Amazon’s Magazine Subscription program. The best part of this program is each day or week or month, there is a new set of magazines that go on sale. It’s a great way to dip your toes in the water and see which subscriptions you like best (and for the ones you do not enjoy, turn the auto-renewal off with the click of a button).

So I began subscribing, knowing that I did not want to surpass the price of Apple News+. For my writing and literary interests, I subscribed to Poets & Writers and Writer’s Digest. For my entrepreneurial mind, I added Entrepreneur, Inc and Wired. For current events and analytical articles, I threw in The New Yorker, The Atlantic and Time. The number of issues and the length of the subscriptions varies, but on a monthly basis I am paying about what I would have paid for Apple News+. (If you catch them at the right time, many of these magazines will go on sale for $5 subscriptions.)

I’m not naive to the fact that many of these subscriptions will be far more expensive to renew than they are now, and I will likely have to cut out a few in the future. But so far, this experiment of subscribing to physical magazines again has been going very well. And here’s why.

Why I’m Subscribing to Physical Magazines Again

When I finally made the decision to start subscribing to physical magazines again, it came down to four main reasons or benefits.

1. Read More

I have always found that reading stimulates my curiosity more than any other medium. Podcasts and TV shows have their moments, but reading does it for me almost every time. My hope by subscribing to some new magazines was that my curiosity would be piqued and I would find myself reaching for the issues every spare moment I had.

I wasn’t wrong. I have enough of them now that I can keep some in my office, some in the living room and some in the bedroom. Rather than flipping on the TV or checking my phone, I am picking up a magazine and diving into a new article. And because I subscribed to such an assortment of magazines, I am able to read a little bit of everything, so that one topic never loses my interest.

2. Less Screen Time

It’s no secret that the amount of time we are spending in front of a screen is impacting our mental and physical health. When Apple released its “Screen Time” feature in 2018, it was a wake-up call. Since then, I have tried to make a conscious effort to limit the amount of time I stare at screens. But sometimes its unavoidable. So I did things like changing the backlight settings on my devices to make them easier on my eyes. However, there is no replacement for removing the screen altogether.

That was a huge part of my decision to subscribe to physical magazines instead of Apple News+. If, after spending all day on my computer and phone, I wanted to sit down in the living room and read on my iPad, that would have been an easy decision. But so far I have found it extremely fulfilling to step away from the screens and rest my eyes.

3. Support Better Writing

There is a trap that any writer on a digital platform can fall into. When the content is digital, there always seems to be this arbitrary and hurried deadline, as if knowing you can go back and edit your work at any moment makes it okay to prematurely publish. I have certainly fallen into it. With everything I write on this site and others, I do my best to craft quality content, but I have looked back more than a time or two and criticized myself for what was clearly rushed work.

But that is what I find all over the internet — rushed work. Or perhaps lazy work. Probably both. Everyone wants to be the first source to break the news or have a specific opinion. The content is also generally crafted toward gaining more clicks. With physical magazines, I have found a respite from that type of content.

The articles are typically longer and much more analytical. Most are engaging and intelligent, while making it clear that incredible thought and energy and time have gone into the writing process. That is the type of writing that I want to read, and that is the type of writing I want to support and keep alive.

4. Slow Life Down

While the pandemic, to a disastrous degree, slowed down the world, I still found myself being wound up by the visual stimulants that I surrounded myself with — from computer screens to iPads to phones to TVs. In the late evenings after my daughter goes to bed, there is usually this calm period where my wife and I turn on a few floor lamps and read in the living room. It’s dark outside and the lamps give us enough light to read but also keep the room soft enough to relax. Sometimes we will have quiet music playing in the background, but often it is just silent. That’s when I can read for pleasure. I can read to learn. I can read to slow down the crazy world we live in.

I suppose this scene could just as easily be cultivated with paperbacks instead of magazines, but the truth is that we rarely did this before I started subscribing to magazines. Other than in bed, I never made reading a priority. But once I had magazines on the table, I needed to carve out some additional reading time.

So now here I am with a pile of magazines on my desk. Actually, it’s three piles — one of issues I have read and will discard, one of issues I have read and want to either read again or pass on to someone else in my life, and the other of those I still need to read. Yes, physical magazines, the things people used to read in waiting rooms and on the John. Those are sitting beside me right now as I write this. And guess what? I am going to read every single one.

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5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Publishing Your Book

Making the decision to publish your manuscript is one of the most important you will make as a writer. It’s a choice that takes a very personal process — writing a book — and makes it very public.

As you move forward, remember the simple statement that writing is art, but publishing is a business. As an artist, your talents lie in creating engaging and entertaining prose, but you are about to enter a whole new world. This publishing world is about making money.

Sure, as a writer, you may look at it differently. Publishing is a way to get your art in front of readers. Take them on a journey. Let them explore the world you created. Captivate them with your storytelling. And you would be right to have that mindset. But the simple truth is that the world of publishing is here to make money. If publishing didn’t make money, it would no longer exist as an industry. Ready yourself for this new reality.

There are several pros and cons to publishing your book, which I will detail in the paragraphs below. I like to think that the pros far outweigh the cons, but in the end, this decision needs to be yours. You have spent months or years perfecting your manuscript. This is your work.

Are you ready to present it to the world?

1. Am I ready to introduce my writing to the world?

Think of this question not about the act of publishing, but about what it means to publish. It means that anyone in the world can now read your words. This is really a question about mental and emotional preparation. It is the decision to take an intimate project and disseminate it far and wide.

Thick skin is a requirement. While you will hope for praise, which will likely come from family and friends (at the very least for admiring your work ethic to actually write a book), you must be prepared to hear criticisms as well — that’s the nature of the industry.

Some of that criticism will be constructive — it will help improve your writing in the future. Some will be unproductive and, well, just plain mean. You can find more detailed advice about dealing with criticism of your book in another article I wrote.

If you feel you are mentally ready, here are some additional questions you’ll need to ask yourself before publishing.

2. Have I put enough time into editing?

Good editing is vital. A good editor is invaluable. I cannot emphasize this enough. As Stephen King said in his memoir On Writing, “To write it human, to edit is divine.”

The difference between a good book and a great book is the editorial quality. Even the best writers recognize the importance of good editing — just go read the acknowledgements in pretty much any book. It’s why movies have been made about editors, like Genius, the film made about Maxwell Perkins, the famed editor behind so many F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway novels. Too often are good editors left in the shadows.

The reality of publishing a book is that the editing process is the complete opposite from what we are used to publishing articles online. On a blog, you can edit as you go. Produce the MVP — minimum viable product. From there, you can edit as new information is discovered or changes need to be made to structure or grammar. But with books, republishing is a long, tedious and often expensive process. That’s not to mention the original copies are out in circulation forever.

Some writers self-edit their own work. That may make the most sense from a logistical and financial standpoint, but the quality will suffer. This is a mistake I made with my first book (before I wised up and republished). Learn from my mistake and take my best piece of advice: If you are going to invest anywhere in your book, hire a good editor.

3. Do I have or need an agent?

The debate about the want or a need for an agent is pretty straightforward: If your goal is to traditionally publish your book it is a necessity, and if you want to self-publish your book it is an option. Most of the major publishers will not review unsolicited manuscript submissions — unsolicited, of course, meaning those not represented by a literary agent.

For those writers who are seeking an agent, that process warrants an entire article of its own. But follow the publishing process as I have presented it in this article: Decide you want to publish and polish your manuscript, and then you can seek an agent to represent your work.

Once you have answered whether you need or want an agent, you can move on to the next step of the process, which goes hand-in-hand with the agent question.

4. What publishing route will I take?

OK, now let’s get to the meat of the publishing issue.

This is probably the biggest decision you have to make in the publishing process, and one that is not always entirely in your hands. If you want to go the traditional publishing route, you will need an agent. They will do the negotiating for you and try to land your book with an established publishing company. This process, which can sometimes take a while and isn’t always guaranteed to end with a contract, was the only option for publishing for most of history. You shopped your book around, and until a publishing company agreed to publish your book, it sat on the shelf collecting dust.

That is, until self-publishing came along. If you decide to self-publish your book, there are two things to know. The first is that, yes, your book will be published. You don’t have to wait on an agent or a publishing company to deem your manuscript worthy. This brings me to the second point: When self-publishing, you will be in control of the entire process, for better or worse.

Many writers like the autonomy that self-publishing offers. You find your editor. You control your cover artwork. You decide on the formatting. You set the sale price. You schedule the launch date. No one else will dictate any of these things. But, you must remember, that you are also the one footing the bill. Be prepared to act as your own independent publishing company — you cover all of the expenses of publishing, but if you can drum up enough interest in your book, you also see a much higher royalty rate.

Pros and Cons

There are pros and cons to each publishing route.

For traditional publishing, you forfeit much of the autonomy that self-publishing offers and you take a smaller percentage of the sale, but you are connected with a larger network of booksellers, have the clout of an established company behind your book and benefit from marketing support.

For self-publishing, you cannot beat the full creative control over every aspect of the book, and if the book sells you get a much bigger cut. But setting out on your own is challenging. Some bookstores won’t carry self-published books. Some literary awards won’t consider self-published books. You will have to pay all of the upfront costs, acting as a publisher, salesman and marketer.

You need to weigh these pros and cons and make the smartest, most feasible publishing decision for your book.

5. What do I need to do to promote my book?

You are a writer. You are likely not also a marketer. And even if you are a marketer, often it is more difficult to promote your own work than someone else’s. But part of the decision to publish your book requires the agreement with yourself to promote that book.

Promoting your book will vary based on the publishing route you choose. If you have chosen a traditional publisher, they should be providing you with plenty of marketing support. This would be disclosed and/or negotiated at the time you sign your contract. Even small publishing houses will offer a certain degree of marketing services for your book.

Book Promotion Advice

If you are self-publishing your book, just like with every other step of the process, you need to take off your writer hat and put on your marketing hat. One of the biggest mistakes I see with writers trying to self-promote their books is starting way too late. As someone who worked in the entertainment industry selling DVDs and Blu-rays into major retailers, I can tell you that the process of selling physical media goods starts many months before consumers are holding it in their hands.

Once you have a release date, back out at least a couple months. I would recommend beginning your marketing about three or four months ahead of time, if not longer. This is when you announce the publication date and seek advanced reader copy (ARC) reviews. Sometimes it can take a couple months just to get those reviews back.

A second mistake I often see is authors constantly pushing their books to their social media followers. Even to friends and family, no one wants to constantly be told “buy my book.” Instead, engage readers with quality blog posts and social media messages. Get creative. Setup a giveaway contest on your Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Offer email subscribers a “first look” at the book. If it’s in the budget, you can even look into some digital ads, like with Amazon or Google.

Work with local bookstores to schedule book signings. New authors may feel uncomfortable doing this, but the truth is that signings bring traffic to these bookstores and they often are happy to arrange them. They usually help you make sales as well.

When the release date approaches, and even in the days and weeks following, keep your name out there. Look for opportunities to guest post for a website that has your same target readership. Set up interviews with local media.

The truth is that no two book launches are the same — even if some publishing companies treat them as such. You should assess your budget, your genre, your target audience and your sales goals to craft a unique marketing plan for your book.

Elmore Leonard said, “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” You should heed this advice when promoting your book. If it sounds like you are just begging people to buy your book, find a new approach.

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How Meeting Colson Whitehead Changed My Writing Mindset

You know him now. He has a Pulitzer Prize. Two, actually. His books continue to find themselves on bestsellers lists, and one of them was selected to Oprah’s Book Club.

Back in the spring of 2013, I had never heard of Colson Whitehead. One afternoon I found myself in the small auditorium at the University of Michigan where novelist Peter Ho Davies taught my English course.

I was only weeks from graduating with a communications degree, too far down the road to add English as a second major, but with a passion for reading and writing. I knew squeezing in an extra class would be beneficial. While most of my fellow seniors were taking single-credit mini-courses about dinosaurs and film history, I was reading a novel per week, interrogating the role that time plays in various narrative structures.

For years I had spent my free time jotting story ideas on loose leaf paper or pecking away at my computer. Reading and writing were two completely separate ideas in my mind — while I had been writing stories since I was a young child, I hadn’t read my first book cover-to-cover for pleasure until the start of college. But then once I did, I was captivated.

Writing and reading became compulsions for me, and so I spent as much time doing both as I possibly could. Someday, I told myself, I would write a novel. But that dream felt like it resided in a faraway, intangible future as college graduation approached.

On this particular day, we were set to discuss the week’s reading, a book called Zone One, a literary-zombie hybrid novel written by an author named Colson Whitehead. A quiet student, I was social distancing (before it was cool) somewhere near the back of the room when Davies entered, escorting a Black man with exaggerated dreadlocks and a short-sleeve plaid button-down. I recognized him, not from years of fandom, but from my Internet searches for class. It was Whitehead.

He had come to Ann Arbor to do a reading of Zone One on campus. While he had time, he agreed to come speak with my class about his most recent book and his writing career. I cannot say for certain what I expected to hear from Whitehead; I barely knew of him at the time. But it was impossible to ignore how clearly intelligent and well-spoken he was. It didn’t take very long to learn why.

Leaning casually against the table next to the podium, he spoke a little about his background. We learned that he had grown up in New York City and attended Harvard. It showed. He did not downplay this privilege; rather, he embraced it for the opportunities it gave him to make a difference with his writing, something he has now indisputably done with his books The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys. To that point, Time Magazine deemed him “America’s Storyteller” on the cover of a July 2019 issue. 

Like many writers, he told about his early years trying to get discovered and his struggles. But then another incredible opportunity arrived in the form of a MacArthur Fellowship, often referred to as a “Genius Grant.” This allowed him not only to dedicate himself to writing full-time, but also provided him with the means to do it in the place he loved most and felt most inspired: New York City. 

There were so many questions I wanted to ask him. Namely, I wanted to know what every aspiring writer wants to ask of one who has found success: What advice can you share? One of my classmates beat me to it.

Whitehead told us that writing a novel was a grueling process, one that you would have to be crazy to attempt, even crazier to attempt it for a second time. Of course, Zone One was his fifth novel.

But then he offered some real advice. He explained that you needed to find your unique writing voice. His way of doing this, which he recommended, was to emulate your favorite authors. Write the way they wrote. That can teach you structure and flow and vocabulary. Most importantly, it will offer you insight into their writing voice. From there, you can work on developing your own style.

I thought about that for a while. It made perfect sense. I did that my entire life in sports, replicating Derek Jeter’s batting stance or Tracy McGrady’s jump shot. Of course that would work with writing, too.

That evening, I walked across campus to one of the museums, made my way into the basement and found a seat in the back of the dark and mostly flat auditorium. I listened to Whitehead speak to the full audience. He had charisma on stage. He had confidence. Most importantly, he had passion for his work.

When I got home, I went into my basement bedroom and thought more about what Whitehead had said. Then I took out a small journal and began writing what would become my first novel.

Crazy didn’t scare me.

Featured photo from Wikimedia Commons.

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6 Early Blogging Mistakes I Made as a Beginner (And How to Avoid Them)

Have you ever seen Midnight in Paris? The Ernest Hemingway character in that film would surely disagree with my approach to the blogging mistakes I made when first starting out and how to help others avoid these blogging mistakes.

In a late-night scene at a bar, Hemingway is sipping a drink while he talks with Owen Wilson’s character. Wilson asks Hemingway to evaluate his manuscript, to which Hemingway responds, “You don’t want the opinion of another writer,” and then, “Writers are competitive.”

This is where I disagree with this Hemingway character. Good writing can be a sea that lifts other good writing. In a time when people are consuming fewer books and reading headlines without diving into the entire article, the good writing that is still being produced needs to be spotlighted. Good writing causes people to want to read more, and reading more helps all of the other writers out there who wish to have their words read.

This is why I want to share the blogging mistakes I made when first starting my blog. I want to help other new or potential writers avoid these blogging mistakes so that their writing can be discovered. That’s good for all of us.

Blogging Mistake #1: Not Having a Mission Statement (to Establish Branding and Voice)

When I first launched my current website back in 2014, I didn’t know it was going to be a blog. I had recently published my first novel and thought it would be appropriate to have an author site for readers to reference.

I had been blogging for several years at that point on different websites, but I did not have the foresight to recognize that I would soon create a personal blog on my author site. That changed a couple years later when I decided, in an effort to further develop my writing skills and connect with the online writing community, I would begin blogging.

So what should I write about? My books? Personal interests? Various things related to my writing experience?

At the time, I had no clear direction for my blog. That was a mistake.

What You Should Do:

If you have made the decision to start a blog, it is important that you develop a clear mission statement. What are you going to write about? This is the foundational step to any blog, which should come before even a domain name is chosen. On which topics do you have expertise? What are you passionate about? What could you write about consistently for an extended period of time?

Blogging Mistake #2: Not Doing Domain Research (Before Launching My Website)

Many bloggers use their name (or pen name) as a domain — that’s what I am doing, and that’s what others, such as Jane Friedman, have done successfully. However, many also use a branded name — take The Creative Penn, for example, or Kindlepreneur.

Now, calling it a blogging mistake that I did not do more domain research before I launched my site is not to say that I made the wrong choice to use my name as a domain. In the end, I am happy with how it worked out. But it very well could have caused a problem if my blog had gone in a different direction.

For example, if I wanted to transform my blog into a writing collaborative where other writers could all publish new articles, then calling it would not have been the best name.

What You Should Do:

Have some vision before you start your blog. Think about what it will be initially, but also what you want it to look like years in the future. Will it just be you blogging? Will you invite other writers to contribute? Will you blog about your books or your life, or will you offer writing advice or discuss popular trends?

Of course, you won’t have the answers to all of your questions when you are just starting out. But do plenty of domain research before you begin. Go to Google Domains and start typing in names. See what’s taken and what is still available. Go to Alexa and search for a site that you want to emulate and see which sites Alexa flags as being similar.

One of the most difficult things to do, once you have already put in a ton of work to build up your domain authority, is to change it. Be sure you are getting this right from the start.

Blogging Mistake #3: Not Committing to a Content Calendar (for Posting Consistently)

You have probably heard the term “content is king.” It’s overused. But the reason it gets repeated over and over is because it is true. Occasionally bloggers or digital marketers who think they are being clever or innovative try to argue that times are changing, but they are not. Content is king.

But in the blogging world, I would add a caveat: Consistent content is king. When I started blogging, I brainstormed a list of posts that I could write, and then as I wrote them I published them. I was probably publishing about two per week. There wasn’t a ton of rhyme or reason to what I was writing, other than the fact that it was generally about my writing experience or books.

What happened? After a month or so, it became about one post per week. And then I skipped a week. And then I skipped several months.

What You Should Do:

My best advice for first starting a blog is to have at minimum 10 high-quality posts ready pre-publish at launch. From there, you should have another five or 10 scheduled to post in the near future.

The most important thing to remember when creating a content schedule is to make sure it is consistent and manageable. Do not commit to posting every day if you cannot sustain it. Heck, don’t commit to posting even once per week if you cannot sustain it. This is a problem many bloggers run into and it eventually leads to fewer and fewer posts until they stop altogether (this is what happened to me for a while).

The initial lot of posts should be used to help you get out in front of the schedule so that you can try to avoid putting yourself against hard deadlines. Deadlines cause stress. We all have enough of that already in our lives. It’s much more relaxing to complete a new post and schedule it for three weeks down the road. There is peace of mind knowing if life gets in the way (which it often does), your posting schedule will not be impacted.

The last advice I will offer when creating a content schedule is to ensure what you are writing is consistent with your brand and your mission. If you have a blog about outdoor recreation, don’t randomly post about tax preparation software (I wanted to use an extreme example). Know your voice, your audience and your site — and then create content accordingly.

Blogging Mistake #4: Not Exploring Guest Posting (to Build Domain Authority)

If you haven’t heard of backlinks, these are links on other websites that send users to your site. These are valuable in building domain authority, because when search engines see other websites linking to yours, they assume that your content is particularly helpful or valuable.

If you haven’t heard of domain authority, this is the weight of influence that search engines assign to a website. The more domain authority, the higher your articles and pages will rank in Google searches.

A great way to build these backlinks and create more domain authority is by guest posting on other blogs. This practice will generate website traffic for you from other websites, build domain authority and give you more brand exposure. For too long I neglected guest posting, instead (foolishly) deciding that I should focus only on posting on my own blog.

What You Should Do:

Learn from this blogging mistake. Every chance you can, seek to guest post on other blogs. Now, not all guest posting is created equal. The higher domain authority the guest blog has, the more helpful that guest posting opportunity will be for your site. So look for other sites in your niche and inquire about guest posting availability.

As you will see with my next blogging mistake, this is a long-term strategy that you will be thankful you started early — if you can sustain it.

Blogging Mistake #5: Not Taking SEO Seriously (for Driving Traffic)

As I mentioned earlier in this article, when I first decided to transform my website from simply an author site to a blog, I was posting pretty frequently. Over time, that frequency declined. In August 2017, I was posting twice per week. I saw initial surges in traffic. Blogging was working!

In September I continued the same posting frequency. But my traffic slowed. It was discouraging. So I slowed my productivity. From October 2017 until September 2019, I only posted on my personal blog three times — instead focusing on other writing projects.

What happened during that time? All that posting I had done back in the fall of 2017 started to actually work. Google began picking up some of the better posts, and by the fall of 2018 I was ranking on the first page of Google for multiple articles.

My site traffic from June 2018 to January 2019 went from a few hundred visitors to thousands, with almost no posting. Thanks to strong SEO, it looked like this:

Not taking the time to understand SEO was one blogging mistake. But I compounded that mistake by also not having the patience to allow SEO to do its thing and not having the persistence to maintain my posting frequency. I often think about what my site would look like today had I not made this blogging mistake.

What You Should Do:

Good SEO will help your website traffic to work like a 401K. Make the right investments, make steady contributions. Over time, it will continue to rise. Sure, there will be hiccups here and there, like when Google changes its algorithms, or perhaps seasonally depending on your niche. But long-term it should always be pointed upward. That’s the power of compounding interest.

You should invest in learning about SEO and how to effectively optimize your website and articles. But it takes patience. SEO does not work overnight. It might not even work in a few months. It can take six months or more to really start to work, but once it does the results are worth it.

Read books. Read online articles. Perhaps take a course or two. There are plenty of tools out there to help with SEO. Moz is one of the most popular tools out there, along with SEMrush. If you have a self-hosted site, I would also recommend looking into the Yoast SEO plugin. I got started with Yoast and it significantly improved my website’s SEO and my digital marketing knowledge.

Blogging Mistake #6: Not Prioritizing Web Design (for Brand Consistency)

Over the years, I have probably redesigned my website layout six or seven times. Part of that development was the industry evolving (and wanting to look up-to-date). Part of that was my skill in design improving. Part of that was the functionality of my website changing — going from strictly an author site to a blog and freelance site.

Some change is natural — no website design remains the exact same over a number of years. But too many changes can be problematic. Firstly, it is detrimental to productivity. Nothing swallows my time more than deciding a feature or layout needs to be changed. Entire days or weeks evaporate with zero new words being written.

Secondly, these changes can negatively impact your brand consistency. Let’s say you overhaul your design. Your site was white and had a centered header with very few images. You changed it to be black with a left-aligned header, added some large homepage images and switched to new fonts. Someone who has been to your site in the past and enjoyed your content may not recognize it now and perhaps even dismiss it.

When I first launched, I picked the first theme I thought would suffice and didn’t put much more thought into it. Until later, of course, when I realized that running a website was not just about being a writer, but about being a web designer as well.

What You Should Do:

Invest some time (and maybe money) into picking out and customizing the right website theme for you. Don’t settle for the first one. Don’t launch the site and then decide to take web design seriously.

Look at some other sites that you enjoy visiting. Notice the features you like best. Notice the ones you do not like so much. How is their header situated? What does the color scheme look like? The use of images? The menu format? The post format? The fonts?

You want your design to be functional, aesthetically pleasing and easy-to-use. Spend time getting it exactly how you want it. Do you want the featured image to be above or below the headline? Do you want a sidebar next to your articles, or do you want your posts to be centered on the screen with plenty of white space on either side?

This list undoubtedly consists of blogging mistakes made by someone new on the scene. But luckily for me I was able to recognize and remedy them to find success. When it comes to your blog, I want to make sure you can either avoid these mistakes altogether or correct them early.

Don’t listen to Hemingway. Writers are not competitive. We’re all in this together.

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Why Do We Celebrate Labor Day in the United States?

Like many stories about influential Americans long ago, the story about why we celebrate Labor Day starts with a poor upbringing and a will for change.

The man’s name was Peter J. McGuire, and long before he was a union leader in New York, he was an underprivileged son of Irish immigrants. Throughout his life, he faced and overcame adversity.

Once he’d moved into adulthood during the Technological Revolution, he establish a career as a carpenter, political activist and trade unionist. He fought for things like the eight-hour workday and fair working conditions. By the early months of 1882, he approached the Central Labor Union in New York about creating a day to celebrate the American worker. He had a vision for recognizing the people that built his homeland.

Merely months later, on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, New Yorkers gathered in the streets — rather than going to work — to celebrate their hard labor with a parade, culminating in a concert and picnic. It’s said that more than 10,000 workers took place in the celebration.

Cities across the nation took notice, and over the next several years others began to create their own unofficial holidays. What started as a great idea morphed into a movement.

By 1894, the federal government couldn’t help but acknowledge the acceptance of the celebration in cities and towns from coast to coast, and that’s when it officially established the national holiday as Labor Day.

In many ways, there’s no holiday that embodies the American spirit more than Labor Day. It’s a bold statement, I know, but think about it.

From its founding, America has been a land of grit, ambition and prosperity. Its people earned every inch of success awarded to them through hard work and determination. The work ethic began with the very first settlers, coming to a land of opportunity, as they saw it, and building cities and industry from scratch. Labor Day is an extension of that perseverance. It was meant to recognize and reward the toughness and work that went into building this country, and it continues to celebrate the hard-working men and women who drive us forward today.

Don’t look at it as just another holiday off the job — let it signify a well-deserved day off to honor all the work we’ve completed, and most importantly all the success to which that work has led.

Cheers, friends.

5 Indie Bookstores Worth Visiting

Whenever I travel to a new city and I hear they have an indie bookstore, I make it a point to visit. I’m sure many of you are the same way. It’s only natural. There’s something unique and special about indie bookstores — the passion from their booksellers, the creativity in their setups and the comforting environments they provide.

Here’s a disclaimer before I countdown the list: These are all indie bookstores that I have personally visited. I’m sure there are many, many, many throughout this land that are worth visiting (most are, aren’t they?) but I wanted to be confident in what I was writing. I put my personal stamp on this list.

1. McLean & Eakin Booksellers in Petoskey, Michigan

If you ever find yourself on the northern shores of Lake Michigan, in the town of Petoskey, make it a point to stop by McLean & Eakin. This humble bookstore is nestled on a downtown block (beside a coffeeshop, I should mention) and features two stories of books. Upon entering, there is a full bookshelf dedicated to Ernest Hemingway, who spent ample time in Petoskey in his younger years, and also one for books written by Michigan authors.

In 2012, it was named one of America’s 10 best bookstores, and in 2017 it celebrated 25 years of bookselling.

Each time I visit the area, I make it a point to stop by this bookstore. The staff is friendly, the selection is outstanding and there is something cozy about its atmosphere. I strongly suggest you add this to your list.

2. Northshire Bookstore in Saratoga Springs, New York

A few years ago I was on a work trip to Saratoga Springs and had a few hours to kill in town before the planned dinner, so I took a little walk and happened upon the Northshire Bookstore. Places like this are always pleasant to stumble upon. There’s always that fresh, new feeling and Northshire certainly didn’t disappoint. It was clean, well organized and offered an exceptional atmosphere.

This may be situated in the middle of horse racing country, but they sure do books well.

3. Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan

This is the indie bookstore that I would most closely call my hometown bookstore. My wife and I both went to the University of Michigan, and as it’s downtown Ann Arbor, we visit as often as we’re able to visit our old college town.

Literati is an exceptional bookstore and it is obvious that it is being run by true bibliophiles. The featured book tables are not the typical major publisher titles that you will find in a large chain like Barnes & Noble or Books-a-Million, but rather display a custom-selected assortment of books by people who have done their research and know what releases are truly the best. They also host a large number of readings by current and popular authors. Check out their website for a full calendar.

In 2019, Literati was named the Publishers Weekly Bookstore of the Year.

4. Battery Park Book Exchange in Asheville, North Carolina

Okay, this one isn’t as much a traditional bookstore as it is what I would call a “book environment.” My wife and I were visiting Asheville a couple summers ago and we were walking around downtown before dinner and saw that this bookstore was around the corner and decided to stop in.

What we found was an old fashioned atmosphere, with classic bookshelves and a collection of used books. The best way to explain the feel is historic.

On one side there was a bar that served adult beverages, and on the other was a coffee bar. Sitting in the leather furniture that was positioned in a square in the center of the space was a book club that looked to be having its weekly meeting. For any book lover, this was a great place to discover. If you’re ever in Asheville, stop in and have a glass of wine or a coffee.

5. Snowbound Books in Marquette, Mich.

Marquette is a heck of a long way north, sitting on the shores of Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, but if you are ever to find yourself there, put Snowbound Books on your list of places to visit. There’s a ton that this little town has to offer — amazing craft breweries, a university, a historic downtown and ore dock, and a park that juts out into the Great Lakes that is famous for cliff jumping.

But while all of those things are reasons to visit, any trip to Marquette should include stopping by Snowbound Books. You almost feel like you’re arriving at someone’s home when you step inside. The shelves run along the walls of the small rooms, and that’s how you browse — room by room, as if walking through a local home. There’s a comforting feel to the place, and it’s certainly on my list of bookstores to visit once more.

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How the 5-Paragraph Essay is Still Thriving (And We Didn’t Realize It)

You probably began using the five-paragraph essay when you were a child in school, just learning to organize your thoughts on paper. The premise is simple: Create an outline for an essay that has an introduction paragraph to state your thesis, three supporting paragraphs and a concluding paragraph.

You probably also thought that the writing form wouldn’t follow you into adult years — yet, here we are, and online the five-paragraph essay is more common and useful than ever.

Have you noticed? The most common articles online are typically “how-to guides” or listicles. How are they structured? An intro — sometimes a single paragraph, sometimes several — followed by a number of subheads (supporting points) and ending with some sort of wrap-up. Use this article as Exhibit A.

Over the years, academics have offered their fair share of criticism of the five-paragraph essay. Some have likened it to playing amateur sports, which is to say the structure is a good first step for students but should be expanded upon with age and experience. It is hard to disagree with that point — isn’t that the progression goal for any craft?

John Warner, who writes for Inside Higher Ed, went as far as to say “There may be no greater enemy to quality writing than the 5-paragraph essay,” which seems a bit extreme.

Others, like Shane Black, a graduate student at Wright State University, counter this argument with the simple question, “Why do we need to have such a harsh reaction to an organizational tool that is useful for our students?”

Indeed, Dennis Allen, who was a professor at West Virginia University for 35 years, believes that essays longer than five paragraphs are often just expanded versions of the five-paragraph form. In one article, he was quoted as saying, “In other words, the first five pages are the introduction with a thesis near the end, and you have two to five points, and it just expands out.”

There is certainly plenty of room to debate the usefulness of the five-paragraph essay in academia. However, I am far more interested in how the writing form continues to thrive in today’s accessible and growing world of online writing, a much more practical application of the tool.

1. Structure

One of the primary reasons so many instructors have adopted the five-paragraph essay is because of its structure. For as complicating as writing an essay can be, using this method makes it far easier.

Before any prose is written, the writer can get a clear picture of what the essay or article will look like. This makes it easier to develop the main argument of the piece and organize ideas to support it. After all, that’s why the five-paragraph essay was created in the first place.

A blank page can be intimidating to a writer. A page with a clear brainstorm and organizational structure is much less so. When the question of structure is removed from the equation, all that is left is to write a clear and succinct argument. Plainly, the focus is shifted to where it should be — the point of the article or essay, not the design.

Look at so many of the most popular blog posts on the Internet today. They are structured similarly to how this post is — an opening argument, some background info, supporting points (usually broken up with subheads) and a conclusion or wrap-up. I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

2. Simplicity

Not only is the five-paragraph essay helpful for writers structuring an article, but it also makes it much simpler for readers to follow along and understand the argument. At the end of the day, isn’t that why we write, to deliver information to our audience?

As students first learn this writing method, it makes it easy on the instructor to evaluate their work — are they able to offer a clear message? But one of the main reasons the five-paragraph essay structure is thriving in our world of digital writing is because it provides a simple formula not only for writers, but for readers as well.

We live extremely busy lives, and while we may enjoy reading a long piece of writing that is well-crafted from time to time, the vast majority of the time readers are seeking top-level information.

“Okay,” they may think to themselves, “You say the five-paragraph essay is thriving, but why?” And then they see that, well, it’s because of its structure, simplicity and its position as a starting point for writers to hone their skills.

Like all writers, I hope that every reader who stumbles upon my work wants to sit and read it in its entirety, word for word. But I am also realistic in understanding that people do not have the time to always do that. And so it’s my job to give them what they need to understand my argument clearly and quickly.

3. Starting Point

Professor Dennis Allen explained this point well in the previously-mentioned article. The five-paragraph essay does not need to remain a constant for a writer’s entire career. Rather, it can serve as a helpful starting point. Eventually, the writing can further develop.

The introduction, which presents the thesis or the primary argument, can be longer than a paragraph. It can be as long as you need it to be, really. From there, you can present supporting evidence — whether that’s a few points or twenty. It’s always good to wrap things up nicely for a reader in the end, summarizing the points you have made.

There are essay structures other than the five-paragraph essay. And I encourage all writers to explore those as well. But understanding the fundamentals of presenting an argument is crucial to being able to coherently explain your position, and the five-paragraph essay is the perfect place for writers to start before growing into their craft.

In my opinion, arguing about whether or not the five-paragraph essay is beneficial to writers is not constructive. Rather, I believe we should embrace it as a useful tool for developing valuable information for a wide audience.

Realistically, it is the most practical way to clearly convey an argument in the world of online writing. Take notice. So many of those blog posts you read are essentially just lists that follow the same general structure as the five-paragraph essay, this one included. It makes it easier on everyone — writers and readers alike.

Quite frankly, I don’t see it going away anytime soon.

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7 Best Short Books to Read in a Day

Most people agree that short stories are typically under 10,000 words — usually under 7,500 words. Novels are works of fiction longer than 40,000 words. But there is a type of short book that gets lost in between, somewhere in the range of 15,000 to 40,000 words, and is often overlooked. These short books are novellas, and they are the perfect way to spend quiet afternoons and can be read in a day.

Some people read faster than others, but the general consensus is that most adults read between 200 and 300 words per minute, meaning a short book of about 30,000 words should take about two hours to read.

One thing you may note about this list is the absence of books that were written recently. In fact, only one of the seven short books on this list was published after 1988. But this should not surprise anyone familiar with the publishing industry. Writing may be an art, but publishing is certainly a business. Short books simply do not make as much money per sale for the publishing houses.

I have always been a fan of short books. One of my favorite authors, Jim Harrison, made a career out of writing novellas, with successes such as Legends of the Fall and The River Swimmer — nearly a lost art these days. His work inspired me to write my own set of novellas, Somewhere More Than Free.

But below you will find neither Jim’s books nor my book. This is an unbiased list of the best short books to read in a day.

Best Short Books to Read in One Day

7. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

Anyone else forced to read The House on Mango Street when they were in eighth grade? At the time, I did not really know what to think of it. I had never heard of a vignette, and this short book of about 20,000 words took me much longer than a day to read.

Flash forward many years and Cisneros’s novella has become a staple of reading in American schools. Based on her own life experiences, she tells the story of a Mexican-American girl named Esperanza and the adversity she must overcome growing up in Chicago.

While not all schools have accepted this book, some calling for censorship, those that have surely are exposing students to one of the best short books in American history.

6. Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote

Ashamed as I am to admit it, I first heard of Breakfast at Tiffany’s from the movie, and of course the Deep Blue Something song. But as I became more bookish in my 20’s I discovered the Truman Capote novella and was intrigued. You always hear that the book is better than the movie, and while I had not yet seen the movie, I wanted to read the book first with the assumption that one day I would watch it.

This one did not disappoint. The story revolves around an unnamed narrator and his relationship with an intriguing young woman named Holly Golightly in New York City. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the novella is that Capote supposedly based Golightly off several young women that he knew, including Oona O’Neill, Gloria Vanderbilt and Marilyn Monroe.

Coming in around 26,000 words, Breakfast at Tiffany’s is certainly a book that is readable in a single sitting.

5. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

In classic Hemingway fashion, The Old Man and the Sea uses sparse language and is excellently paced. The book tells the story of a downtrodden fisherman who is looking for his next (and perhaps last) great catch.

For those well-read Hemingway fans out there, you know that most of what he wrote were fictionalized versions of true stories. That was the case with The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms and even For Whom the Bell Tolls. While The Old Man and the Sea is certainly not a true story, it acted as a metaphor for the aging author — the book was his last major publication.

Winning Hemingway the Nobel Prize, The Old Man and the Sea is a 27,000-word masterpiece that most readers could devour in an afternoon.

See Also: Ranking the Best Ernest Hemingway Books

See Also: Ernest Hemingway’s Childhood in Northern Michigan: Where Nick Adams Was Born

4. Home by Toni Morrison

I hold Toni Morrison in high regard as one of the greatest American authors of the 20th century. That said, Home is one of her shortest works, but isn’t any less impactful than some of her longer novels. Coming in around 35,000 words, this is definitely a novella you could read in a day — though, given its power, that may be a lot to handle in one sitting.

Home tells the story of Frank Money, a young Black veteran of the Korean War, as he tries to acclimate to a segregated American society in the mid-1950’s. Though some critics have denounced the book’s directness — rather than having the subtlety of some of her other books — Home nonetheless is one of Morrison’s grandest achievements.

3. Animal Farm by George Orwell

One of George Orwell’s most famous books, along with 1984, Animal Farm tells an allegory to the 1917 Russian Revolution. A group of farm animals, fed up with their human farmer and with ambitions to create a fair and equal society on the farm, stage a rebellion.

Given some of Orwell’s extreme political views, the book was met with controversy in some circles, but that should not detract from its place in the American literary canon. At 26,000 words, it’s a great short book to read in an afternoon.

2. The Stranger by Albert Camus

The first time I saw Albert Camus’s The Stranger on the shelf at Borders it caught my eye. The cover is striking. But even more captivating is the story itself. This slim novella of about 36,000 words packs a punch.

The title refers to the main character Meursault, who is often detached from emotion and honest to a fault. This dynamic makes his story fascinatingly short and contemplative.

Don’t simply take my recommendation. Nearly 700,000 ratings on Goodreads have given this short book a 3.98 rating. Written in the 1940’s, The Stranger has stood the increasingly ruthless test of time and endured.

1. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

This pick to top the list of best short books to read in a day should not surprise anyone who has read any of my previous book-ranking lists. John Steinbeck was a master of the novella, publishing several books over his career that were under 40,000 words. While perhaps not Steinbeck’s best book (you can get my opinion on that topic here), Of Mice and Men is undoubtedly an American classic and, I would argue, required reading for anyone who enjoys or writes novellas.

I first heard of this book in my freshman English class of high school. Did I enjoy it then? I thought it was okay, though I was admittedly disengaged and far from bookish at that time in my life. In adulthood, while writing fiction of my own, I decided to give it another try — and I am glad I did. Of Mice and Men is a swift book in its slim word count. At around 30,000 words, its impact is that of a full-length novel.

This is now on my short list of books that I read annually — partly because it’s a short book that I can read in a day, and partly because of its brilliance.

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Ranking the 5 Best John Steinbeck Books

Both brilliant and controversial, it’s hard to argue John Steinbeck’s place near the top of classic American literature. But of his most famous books, which is his crowning achievement?

When the Bills Arrive: Having a Baby During a Pandemic

My daughter’s birth was scheduled, which helped lessen the stress. For a few weeks, we knew there would soon come a day when we woke up, showered, got dressed and drove to the hospital to change our lives forever.

That morning itself was entirely familiar and entirely strange. I remember taking a few photos — one of our quiet living room, one while sitting in the glider chair in the nursery — that I now look back on with envy. Everything was quiet and still. Peaceful.

When we arrived at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, it was just my wife and me. The gentleman at the reception desk, as he checked us in, asked if either of us were sick. Then he asked if we had left the country recently or come into contact with anyone who had been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus. Thinking this question about the virus was a bit odd, we politely told him we had not.

On the delivery floor, we were greeted by another receptionist who asked the same questions. “I get it,” I said to my wife as we took a seat. “It’s a hospital so they have to ask those things.” On February 28th, we were still nearly two weeks from the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Michigan. To us, this was still a new virus that was spreading in foreign lands, not here in the US.

Two weeks later, I sat anxiously thinking about having to go back to work, about exposing myself — and my wife and daughter — to this disease. More than a dozen cases had now been confirmed in Michigan. Store shelves had been ransacked. Schools were being temporarily closed. That’s when I got a text from my boss telling me not to worry, that I could resume work remotely.

I was relieved. My worries began to subside.

A couple weeks later, the hospital bills started rolling in.

Our daughter is a miracle who arrived a couple weeks early. Had she made it to her due date, my wife would have been delivering as the world entered meltdown. Instead, everything went smoothly. Due to the caesarean delivery, we spent the first two nights in the hospital with our daughter before taking her home.

Within weeks, new coronavirus cases began emerging in Michigan. Hospitals quickly saw a surge in patients with the illness. By mid-March, hospitals began ceasing all “non-essential” procedures, such as elective knee and hip replacements, to focus on the COVID-19 pandemic and keep the community safe. These elective procedures, of course, are major money-makers. Hospitals depend on them to stay in the black.

I sat on the couch, holding my newborn daughter, watching all of this unfold. Our pantry was stocked. We had plenty of bottled water and toilet paper. All we could do was play it safe and stay put.

Not long after, I was on the phone with a friend who works for the University of Michigan. We were talking about the pandemic and its impact on the economy, and he mentioned that Michigan Medicine — how the university refers to its hospital system — was losing millions of dollars every day. That was a very real consequence of these shutdowns.

According to MLive, “The Michigan Health and Hospital Association estimated hospitals [were] losing more than $300 million a week” during the months of March and April. Revenue was cut in half at many hospitals. Entire systems, such as Trinity Health, were forced to layoff thousands of employees, even as hospitals were overrun with severe cases of a new and deadly virus.

It was an unprecedented moment in history that I witnessed from as far away as I could, like most, clinging to my family.

Before my daughter was born, we had already tallied quite a few bills from extra appointments to make sure she was safe. Then there are all the things you amass when expecting your first child — the crib and the stroller and car seat and all the other gadgets they have for kids these days. Fortunately we were blessed that so many friends and family came together to help with many of those expenses.

Having a baby is not cheap. Aside from all of the new things you need for that first year, it changes your life forever. Insurance goes up. Grocery bills increase. There’s college savings — a particularly terrifying thought as you try to pay off your own student loans.

In December 2019, Business Insider compiled the average costs of having a baby, breaking it down by state, type of birth (vaginal or c-section) and whether or not the mother has insurance. In the US, the average cost of having a baby is $10,808. In Michigan, the breakdown of average costs looks like this:

  • Vaginal birth with insurance: $6,545
  • C-section with insurance: $9,696
  • Vaginal birth without insurance: $11,211
  • C-section without insurance: $15,107

These costs reflect the total hospital bills, not necessarily what the patient pays out-of-pocket. Still, these are not small sums. Given these numbers, my wife and I expected our bill to resemble the $9,696 figure above.

Over the course of a couple months, bills trickled in. When we thought, finally, we had received them all, we totaled them up: $33,246.14.

Now, that $33,246.14 does not count all of the additional costs associated with our prenatal visits, which included several extra ultrasounds (for which the hospital billed thousands), and a few related postpartum visits. On the other hand, it is also not the total out-of-pocket cost — that was lower, thanks to our coverage.

Hospitals are businesses, and like any other businesses they are eager to recoup losses from during the worst of the pandemic. As a customer, they are asking me to help make that happen.

When the bills begin arriving, the worst action to take is simply writing the check. You should review each bill carefully, checking for inconsistencies and errors — or, more often, explanations.

For example, the hospital billed $2,852 for the nursery, even though our baby never left our room. But because it was offered and available, they said, they could bill for it.

The caesarean delivery and postpartum care was billed at $3,853, with the anesthesia billed at $1,792. That came in March. In April, we received another bill. On this one, we were billed for anesthesia again, this time for $1,743. There was also an operating room charge of $10,304. The room charge for my wife’s two-night stay was $4,622, and the recovery room charge — presumably the short time we spent back in triage before being wheeled to our room — was $1,963. This is not to mention a littering of laboratory, imaging services and pharmacy charges, all of which were nondescript.

As my wife was discharged, they made a follow-up appointment for her. Because of the caesarean delivery, they said they would send a nurse to our house while my wife recovers, rather than making her go into the office. It would cost $40 with insurance, they told us.

During this visit, which lasted about a half hour, the nurse almost exclusively focused on my wife. When we raised concerns that our baby might be having trouble gaining weight, she offered to weigh her, pulling out a tabletop scale.

Several weeks later, the bill arrived. The visit, which was coded as “Mom and Baby,” cost $245, and with our insurance we only had a $40 copay. But the following month, a second bill arrived. This was for a full $245 charge, coded as a second “Mom and Baby” visit from the same day.

The insurance company’s stance was that only one visit was covered under our plan, not two. The hospital’s stance was that the first $245 charge was for my wife, and the second was for the baby.

So we emailed. And we called. And we emailed. And we called. Eventually, we spoke with a representative who, very reasonably, understood the mistake in billing and said that she would have it removed. The next time we checked our account online, the second $245 charge had been removed with a “Patient satisfaction discount” code, a clever way to cover up an error.

Health insurance is expensive in this country. Having a baby is expensive in this country. On top of everything else, patients should not be tasked with scrutinizing every detail of these bills for fear of errors or complete falsehoods. We pay the insurers and hospitals enough to do that for us.

After reviewing all of our bills, my wife came across an article from Vice that highlighted women with similar experiences to ours — mothers being charged $1,000 for a 15-second doctor interaction, $4,800 for unused nursery care and $400 for generic pain relievers. It’s more than enough to start asking questions.

At the very least, is it too much to ask for more transparency in pricing? If hospitals couldn’t bill for some of these outrageous charges, then insurance companies wouldn’t have to pay them (or pass them on to us, the patients). This, then, begs the question, would healthcare costs drop low enough to be affordable for all?

We as a nation need to have this conversation. With that said, I realize that this is simply, likely, just a small part of a much larger issue regarding the health care industry in the United States. But it’s also a salient topic given the state of the country’s economy.

Please, parents-to-be, heed this advice. You are already having to wade through the new safety protocols that hospitals have implemented due to the COVID-19 pandemic, adapt to a transformed lifestyle and learn to care for a newborn. Do not allow yourselves to be taken advantage of financially.

When you receive your hospital bills, read them carefully. Ask for itemized copies, if you have not received them. Having a baby, particularly if it is your first, should be one of the happiest (and most exhausting) times of your life. You shouldn’t have to question, weeks or months later when the bills arrive, whether the hospital is exploiting your new family.

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Why Yellow Journalism Today is Rampant in the 21st Century

Though we may not notice it as frequently today in the 21st century, yellow journalism runs rampant. But what is yellow journalism and where did it all start?

In the mid-1890’s, there was a fierce newspaper battle raging between the New York World and the New York Journal. At the helm of each was a powerful man who ran the paper like a shark. For The World it was Joseph Pulitzer, and for The Journal it was William Randolph Hearst — undoubtedly two names you’ve heard before.

The two couldn’t have been more opposite. Pulitzer was a Hungarian immigrant who got his start at the very bottom of the industry in St. Louis, eventually climbing the ranks and running the St. Louis Post-Dispatch before purchasing The World. Hearst, on the other hand, came from extreme wealth and was given his first newspaper company, The San Francisco Examiner, by his wealthy father before purchasing The Journal to compete with Pulitzer.

Upon seizing The Journal, Hearst sold individual copies at half the price of his rival (one cent per issue, rather than two) in an effort to capture the largest circulation. Over the next several years, the two newspapermen implemented various competitive tactics aimed against the other, but maybe none has withstood the test of time more than the practice of what was called “yellow journalism.”

The term “yellow journalism” comes, literally, from the color of the ink, as sometimes yellow text would be printed on the front page of the paper. In an effort to generate attention from passersby, the strategy used sensationalism, large headlines and photos to attract readers.

In essence, it was nineteenth century clickbait.

It created a battle to produce the most eye-catching headlines, where the quality of reporting fell to the wayside and was replaced by fabricated stories that could generate impulse reading or gossip.

Sound familiar?

Nowadays, with the high competition for readers’ attention online, this is the world where we still live. The shift is nearly complete from physical newspapers to online-only sources, and with that comes the need to drive viewers to sites. The result is image-heavy content, or short video clips, or bold, outlandish headlines that the reader cannot resist clicking. Or, even, article after article of plain fake news.

The quality of reporting, and pure writing, is no longer a priority. After all, who is going to read the words if no one visits the site?

It’s easy to create a blog these days (me being Exhibit A). You can self-publish an ebook in 15 minutes (that is an exaggeration, but honestly not by much). There are social media platforms for anyone to say anything about any topic. The point here is that there is no shortage of content to absorb — and it is being produced by all. Amateurs have to compete with the professionals, the experts — but likewise the large media corporations are under pressure more than ever to fend off these pesky bloggers and generate unique visits to their sites.

Is any of this going to change anytime soon? Not likely. We live in an increasingly competitive world, and as long as the competition rages, media corporations — and any content producers, for that matter — will continue doing whatever’s necessary to gain clicks.

That’s why, not only is yellow journalism rampant in today’s digital world, but it’s here to stay.

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Should authors read book reviews left by readers?

Over the years I have read plenty of reviews left by readers. On Goodreads. On Amazon. On social media. On various websites. Some of them have been positive: “It’s the kind of story, the kind of author, which this reader can thoroughly recommend.” Others, far more sour: “Overall, I was not pleased.” Whether these reviews are just or warranted is not the question I am interested in tackling here. Rather, what I want to help answer is this: Should authors be reading reviews, good or bad, left by their readers?

Surely there is a pros and cons list that can be drawn here, because there are positives that authors can take from reading reviews, but there are certainly plenty of negatives as well.

Upfront, I should mention that book reviews can be particularly beneficial to authors. Reviews help promote books, make it more enticing for a bookstore to carry a book and help readers decide whether or not a book is really what they are looking for. Reviews typically give overviews of the plot as well as noting strengths or weaknesses of the book. They almost always include a recommendation as to whether the book is worth a reader’s time.

As I said, these book reviews can be very beneficial to authors (or detrimental). They can carry significant authority. But should authors read these book reviews of their own books?

Why Authors Should Read Reviews

Like any other profession, finding success as an author without the help of others is nearly impossible, despite writing being such a solitary craft. Editors and proofreaders help polish a piece of writing for publishing. Readers offer feedback about what works and what doesn’t, what engages and what bores.

With this point, we must differentiate between critics employed by major news outlets and the common reader. While some of the book reviews with the highest profile are from these paid critics, it can be beneficial for authors to read reviews from readers. These are the people who buy the books, the very reason we continue writing books. It’s important that their feedback, good and bad, continues to be heard. This feedback should be read in moderation, of course, but I would argue that writers falling out of touch with their readers can be entirely detrimental.

Why Authors Should NOT Read Reviews

By and large, the answer to the question “should authors read reviews of their books?” is a resounding no. As I mentioned previously, there are times where it can be okay for an author to read reviews, but this should be practiced in moderation. The vast majority of the time authors should not be reading reviews of their books. But why?

1. Unnecessary Distractions

Book reviews are much of the time simply unnecessary distractions to authors. They serve an important role for readers and publishers, but for authors they shift the focus from writing to falling into an emotional trap, whether happy or angry. As an author, your job is to write. Editors will edit. Marketers will promote your book. Publishers will sell it. Authors also have a very focused job. Do not let readers or critics divert your attention, particularly with negativity.

2. Always Going to be Bad Reviews

Let’s take Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone as an example. This book has more than 6.8 million reviews on Goodreads. The overwhelming majority are 4- and 5-star. However, there are still over 100,000 reviewers who gave it a 1-star rating. Do you think J.K. Rowling spends her time trying to appease those 1-star reviewers or instead focuses on the positive feedback from the other millions of fans?

People are not afraid to speak rudely on the internet (I know, shocking revelation, right?). So the reality is that bad reviews are unavoidable. You cannot please everyone. In fact, some people just live a contrarian lifestyle, purposefully rejecting whatever seems to gain popularity. For these people, do not allow their negativity to detract or distract from your work as a writer.

What if authors DO read a bad review?

At some point, all authors read a bad review of something they have written, whether purposefully or accidentally. My advice for those authors is to ignore them. Better said than done, right? You pore over your work, dedicating years to writing your books. When someone steps in and criticizes something so personal to you, it can be difficult to hear. I understand that. But that’s why it’s all the more important to ignore these bad reviews.

Never respond to bad reviews. Nothing good will come from that. Rather, spend your time listening to your fans and focusing on positivity. Change those negative reviews into positive reviews with the next book you write.

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4 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Writing About Real Historical Figures

Anyone interested in writing historical fiction inevitably asks themselves the same question to start: Is it okay to write about real historical figures in my book? The simple answer to this question, of course, is “usually.” I know, not as cut-and-dry as you were probably hoping. But rest assured that if you are determined to include real historical figures in your novel then you can certainly make it happen.

When doing this, there are some factors to keep in mind. I have spent the last four years brainstorming, researching and writing a historical fiction novel (and I’m still nowhere near done). On my own personal journey, I have learned that there are a series of important questions you must ask yourself along the way.

Below is a list of those questions that will come in handy when thinking about how to use real historical figures in your fiction. The answers I have gathered from years of my own research, talking with fellow novelists and listening to the advice of some of the best writers in the industry.

1. Is this person still alive?

This is easily the most important question you should ask yourself when writing about real historical figures. There is an assumption that “historical” means “deceased,” but that is not always the case.

If the historical figures you would like to include in your book are still living, the water becomes a little muddy, simply because things like defamation lawsuits and invasion of privacy issues could arise. Apparently living people have a problem with others using their name and likeness without their permission.

However, if the historical figures have already passed away, they are fair game to include in your historical fiction. These legal issues that apply to living people, well, only apply to living people. Writer’s Digest reaffirms this point in a post, stating that the estate of deceased famous people cannot sue for using their loved ones in historical fiction.

That said, if you are going to use a historical figure as the main character of a book, it may still be a good practice to contact his or her family to make them aware and perhaps even gain their blessing for your hard work.

2. Where does this person fit into the story?

If you have written a book before, you understand the massive amount of brainstorming that goes into it. When it comes to historical fiction, all that front-end brainstorming is only amplified.

Before beginning your research, you should have an idea of where this character fits into the story. Are they going to be the main character? An acquaintance to a fictional main character? Simply make an appearance in one scene and never be heard from again? Are all the characters in the book going to be historical, or are some (or most) going to be fictional?

It’s a good idea to iron out this game-plan before you begin. Not only will this make it easier to formulate your plot, but it will also help streamline your research. The type of research that goes into a book that is solely about real historical figures is far different from that of a book that sees historical figures only make cameos.

This isn’t to say that once you get to the research stage your brainstorm won’t be completely re-written (trust me, I’ve been there). You may think you have an idea for how the book will look, only to make an interesting discovery later in the process that flips the plot on its head. That’s okay. Brainstorms evolve; that’s in their nature. But having this foundational outline is key.

3. Have I done my research?

This is the hard part. But it’s also the most important part. Doing thorough research is what makes or breaks historical fiction. It’s what gives a book its authenticity. You could say “John went to the store,” or you could say “John went to J.L. Hudson’s, a majestic brick building towering over Woodward Avenue.” Both could be true, but the second description shows that you are aware of what Detroit was like in the mid-1900’s.

Gather resources from everywhere. Let’s say you want to write a story about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, similar to Stephen King’s 11/22/63. Where do you start your research? Well, it would probably be a good idea to read that King novel, along with watching the Hulu miniseries they made from it.

Your research should come from a wide variety or sources, both primary sources and secondary. If you are curious about the difference between the two, primary sources provide first-hand accounts of people, places, events and time periods, while secondary sources are built from research that others have conducted. So listening to JFK speeches would be primary research, while reading a book written by a historian would be secondary.

Be sure when you are conducting your own research you are being thorough. Track where your information comes from, that way you can quickly reference it again and attribute it correctly if the need arises. You should be reading books, watching videos, gathering newspaper articles, digging up old journals, looking at photographs and even talking directly with people who were involved or who are knowledgeable about the historical figure or event.

Along the way, I have found, as a best practice, to remain as organized as possible so that all of the information you gather can be easily used to strengthen your prose. The last thing you want is for all of your hard work to deter your writing process. When you are ready to write, the research should not get in the way.

4. Have I read enough historical fiction?

Being able to tell a great story without reading great stories is…well, let’s just call it extremely difficult. Before embarking on a task as tall as intertwining a captivating narrative with factual history, it’s a good idea to read some historical fiction books to see how other authors have done it.

Some writers do not like to read books within their genre while working on a new manuscript. This can be for several reasons — it can be distracting, disrupt the voices of your characters or unintentionally alter your own writing style. I understand that. So before you begin writing — while you are still in the research phase — pick up some novels that take place during the same time period as your book or that use the same historical figures or narrative structure.

Here are a few recommendations:

  • Crooked River Burning by Mark Winegardner — if you want to weave real historical figures (and events) into your fictional narrative
  • The Plot Against America by Philip Roth — if you want to incorporate real historical figures into an alternate past
  • The Paris Wife by Paula McLain — if you want your main character to be a real historical figure

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