Category Archives: Book Reviews

Grow Up, Harry Potter: Maturity in Literacy

Literacy refers to reading and writing, but is actually much more complex than it sounds. It requires use of cognitive processes such as critical thinking, various forms of memory and attention, problem solving, planning, and the ability to carry out a plan. Literacy is based on language ability; the more mature that base and the cognitive processes involved, the more that can be accomplished through reading and writing.

We are obviously not born mature readers and writers. Research has shown that the best predictor of early reading success is whether the child is exposed to literacy in the home. This can mean getting out books and talking about them, actually reading the stories, and being exposed to television programs that are literacy-rich. After that early period, genetics and practice play large roles in whether one will become a proficient reader.

Prevailing wisdom used to be that brain development was mostly complete much earlier than the age 25 or so that we now believe. More recent studies have shown that mature thought is not achieved until frontal lobe connections, or white matter pathways, are complete. This occurs sometime during young adulthood. The implications of research into neural development are very significant for literacy, writing in particular. Writing requires planning, reasoning, and seeing the connections between ideas, along with many other cognitive processes. These functions generally take place in various parts of the frontal lobes, whereas information is primarily stored elsewhere in the brain (I say “generally” and “primarily” because of the complexity of the human brain). This makes connections between the frontal lobes and the rest of the brain critical. Neuroimaging studies have revealed that those white matter pathways continue to develop through late adolescence and into early adulthood. Until then, the cognitive processes needed to be a mature, literate individual are relatively isolated from the information stored in other areas of the brain.

Writing can continue to improve throughout one’s life with practice in the writing process itself and in the use of critical thinking skills, as well as with increased knowledge. The more we learn, the more information that is stored in our brains and that our now-connected frontal lobes can access, process, manipulate, and use to create a novel written product.

–Dr. Sarah,

Keeping It Simple: Billy Graham’s Life & Sermons Inspire Purity and Simplicity in Religious Writings

I grew up on a farm in North Carolina, and my mom always reminded me of the simple beginnings that North Carolina native Billy Graham came from. His life and message can inspire and inform your writing. Graham’s simple message gives a helpful model for writing, thinking theologically, connecting to the biblical text, and living out the truths you hold dear. Check out the following.

1. Heart and integrity matter. Billy Graham is evidence that God can use those of humble state to do great things. This theme is found throughout the Bible, describing the type of person God uses. Look at David; his own father did not summon him to meet Samuel when asked to gather them to anoint one as the next king. Jesse may not have considered David to be kingly material, but God did. God saw through the ruddy exterior to David’s heart. David focused on his relationship with God, again and again, through mistakes and great moments alike. Your heart and integrity matter in your writing. It will enable you to write with authenticity and passion.

2. Keep it simple. Billy Graham focused on a simple gospel message in his evangelistic sermons and crusades. Every sermon had a clear presentation of the Christian gospel, founded upon the message of John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He sent His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have eternal life.” That message was the heart and soul of every evangelistic crusade, everywhere he went. There was no need to reinvent himself every so often. Sometimes the best writing avoids contrivances, complex language, and complicated research. Certainly not all writing can be simplified for a popular audience but don’t think that complex subjects always require complex presentation.

3. Don’t overlook the biblical text. Listen to any sermon that Billy Graham ever preached and count the number of times he said, “The Bible says … .” He didn’t begin many sentences with “I think” or “I feel” or “I believe.” In that regard, Billy Graham, like the Reformers before him, believed Sola Scriptura. He spoke it, lived it, and preached it. Jews and Christians have longed been called “people of the book” because of the importance placed upon the scriptures held dear. Theological thinking should always deal first with an examination of biblical text. Not to do so ignores a huge portion of the Christian community.

4. Don’t get sidetracked by tradition and popular opinion. Billy Graham was a student of the Bible and was not swayed by opinion polls or church traditions that didn’t match biblical content. I have seen this error too many times in my own Understanding the Bible classes. Undergraduates know what they have been taught about the Bible, what others think about it, especially how others have used it in outrageous and terrible ways to justify actions that were anything but godly, yet so rarely know what the Bible actually says. Many times we look specifically at famous stories from the Bible, such as Genesis 1-3 or Jesus’ birth accounts in Matthew and Luke. Students are looking for Eve to bite an apple or wise men to show up at the manger and are often surprised as much by what the Bible does not say. Popular portrayals and church traditions do not always match what a fresh read of the Bible will reveal. Set aside your preconceived notions and hermeneutic of the moment. Anchor your writing to the biblical text first before moving to tradition, then evaluate tradition in light of the biblical text.

5. It’s about God. Graham was not just armed with biblical authority (The Bible says …) but a clear systematic theology grounded in the God of the Bible. To Graham, the Bible is indeed a message of God’s love, God’s invitation, God’s searching for lost coins and lost sheep, waiting with open arms like the father of the prodigal. You did not find God, but God found you and offered an invitation to join Him and become an adopted son or daughter in His kingdom.  Those invitations at the end of his crusades were not marked by extreme use of emotion, drama, or sales pitches. Graham thought that a clear understanding of God, His love, and His sacrifice would move people to respond. His invitations reflected this thinking. He most often used the hymn Just As I Am for the time people were given to respond to the message, which reflects the invitation to respond to God just as you are. Writing that responds to others in their current life situations will similarly be on target every time.

6. Emphasize freedom. In that regard, Graham taught that the message of God brings freedom based on your identity in God and the salvation work of Jesus. Graham preached and lived and breathed this message. Seek knowledge and truth in the same way. God is pleased with those who do so, recognizing the search is pleasing, not just an end goal. Graham’s argument clearly taught that a relationship with God frees one from bondage. If your writing liberates, empowers, and transforms, that is the highest goal you can attain—to connect with readers in a way that changes their lives.

7. Personal purity strengthens a simple message. Bringing this discussion full circle, Graham’s life reflected what he thought, believed, and preached, bringing power to his message through living it out every day. I remember hearing about how Graham had rules about not riding elevators or having a meal with a woman alone other than his wife. His purpose was to avoid any appearance or possibility of anything inappropriate. He kept a close circle of friends who kept each other accountable. Likewise, his children and spouse testify of his godliness and life and its consistency with his message. Living out your passions brings life to your writing and will inspire others to share in your journey.

Review of Rework

Rework is written by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson,  the co-founders of 37 Signals, a great client and company management system. They define 37Signals as : “Frustration-free web-based apps for collaboration, sharing information, and making decisions.” I can testify to that being the case. Baldwin Book Publishing is currently being developed using the 37Signals suite of products. They’re efficient, streamlined, intuitive and brilliant platforms for managing employees, projects, and client interaction.

So it’s no wonder that their book is exactly the same: fast, efficient, insightful, easy to read, and brilliantly applicable to not just business but life itself.

Loaded with insights on every page, this book is highlight-proof: forget about using a pen or highlighter to mark up important lines or passages. Every line and every paragraph is worthy of highlighting. It’s that good.

Here’s just a few of their main points, all of which, as I said, can apply to life, as well as business:

  • Companies should focus on building an audience, not customers. Speak, write, blog, and tweet the truth about yourself. Spread the word. Share information that’s valuable and you’ll slowly build a loyal audience.
  • Out teach the competition. Teaching forms a bond of trust because people appreciate your knowledge and begin to appreciate your credibility and authority.
  • By the same token, share everything you know. Be open and generous with your expertise. Be like a chef who shares her recipes. Compose your company’s cookbook, so to speak, and give it away, free of charge.
  • Take people behind the scenes by being transparent and exposing the “secrets” of your success. Give people a backstage pass. People are curious about how things work. They want to know how and why people make decisions
  • Above all, communicate genuinely: talk like you really talk; write like you talk; and don’t put on a phony, not-yourself voice for the public. Be real and you’ll be rewarded for it.

Those are just a few snippets from this great book. There’s so much more about starting a business, launching your products or services, choosing employees, and making decisions. Every chapter is quick, entertaining, instructive, and inspiring.

Myers-Briggs for Writers: Why Knowing Personality Types Is Crucial for Your Writing

Personality inventories likes the Myers-Briggs are tools. They are not exhaustive, don’t typecast, and don’t limit your growth. In fact, many people identify their weaknesses and learn to compensate for them as a result of the inventory. They offer a glimpse into why you approach the world the way you do and can benefit you greatly in determining how you work with others. Check out this quick guide to the 8 personality types from the Myers-Briggs and some writing tips that are important for each one.

Favorite World: What gives you energy? Would you rather live more in the world of others, experiencing a burst of energy from other people? Or would you prefer to reside with your own thoughts, gaining energy through time alone to think and reflect?

Introverts get their energy from time spent in thought alone. I was surprised when I first inventoried as an introvert. I took it more like a bad diagnosis or personal offense. I considered myself an outgoing person and good speaker. Surely it had to be a mistake. After all, I took the inventory after a day full of student teaching in a local high school during my senior year of college. But the more times I took the inventory and continued to score as an introvert, I realized that introversion is not about friendliness or being outgoing but about where you receive your energy. Are you energized by time alone with your thoughts? Do people drain you? Then you are probably an introvert! The introverts in your audience will take time to read over each page, and maybe word, of your writing. They will take the time to respond, ask questions, and even argue with you (via e-mail of course). The more you write, the more you want introverts on your side!

Extroverts gain energy through time spent with others. They love to be around people, talk on the phone, and are the life of the party. They almost absorb energy from those around them. Extroverts love to read too but may not read as long. But you want to reach your extroverts. They are the ones who will be talking about your writing tomorrow at the water cooler! Give them something to talk about.

Information: People are either Sensing or Intuitive in the way they process information. They either take in information in a hands on way through their five senses, or they prefer to look for patterns and meanings that are greater than the here and now.

Sensing people experience the world through their primary senses and experience and live through those practical observations. They will notice if you change your magazine from glossy to matte because it “just doesn’t feel right!” They want concrete examples of things they can see, touch, smell, hear, and taste. Use descriptive words they place the reader inside your story. That’s the way to pull in those Sensing people in your audience. Give them a way to participate that is hands on. Inspire them to take action.

Intuitives see patterns and connections between the lines. They will think about ideas and meanings and find relationships in different areas of life. You want Intuitives reading your work to pick up on inconsistencies, gray areas, faulty thinking, or illogical conclusions. Let an Intuitive read your work before you turn it in to your editor. If you are writing a mystery, give them so many twists and turns that they try to see patterns and figure out where you are headed. They will love to figure it out!

Decisions: People are either Thinking or Sensing in how they make decisions and choices in life. Do you make decisions based on principles, values, and guidelines or do you think about the people and relationships that will be impacted by your decisions?

Feelers make decisions based on the people around them, taking into consideration their points of view and how decisions will impact them. Feeling is not indicative of emotion but making decisions based on personal relationships is. You will want feelers to read your work for inconsistencies based on motives and decisions that different characters make. Feelers may not like the ending of your book based on what happens to key people and relationships. But make a personal connection with your reader, and you will keep him forever.

Thinkers are able to look upon decisions with logic and consistency. They make great rule followers, thrive upon following principles in daily living, and make logical decisions. Thinkers also see cause and effect relationships and plan accordingly. Set your writing with clear principles of right and wrong. Challenge those principles in ways that are engaging to the reader.

Structure: People tend to be either Judging or Perceiving personalities, which describes someone’s basic approach to organizing and experiencing the world around them. Are you more structured and like to check things off your list or are you more flexible and spontaneous?

Perceivers are spur-of-the-moment, fun, and live-by-the-seat-of-your-pants-type people. They prefer to take in information and gather it to make decisions and often let the world come to them rather than to organize it and control it. Perceivers will tell you if your book is fun, exciting, and engaging. If you hook a Perceiver, then you have written a fascinating work. He may just go out and buy 10 copies to share with all of his friends!

Judging personalities are orderly, enjoying control of their world and responding to it in an orderly fashion. A reader who is Judging probably wants your book to be organized. He may read your book at the same time everyday. He will make a top ten list of the reasons why he likes your writing.

Use a variety of writing styles to draw in personalities. Don’t stereotype or pigeon hole your readers. Don’t write always from your personality type. The wider range of personalities you appeal to will only enhance your writing as well as your reader base. Have fun writing with personality!

Review of Poke the Box

Poke the Box by Seth Godin ( could just be the coolest, most inspirational little book this side of…let’s see…I can’t think of one as good except maybe Tribes, one of Godin’s earlier books. That’s saying something, since I’ve been a literature teacher since 75 (1975 for you youngsters). I’ve read a lot of books and heard about thousands more. Hands down, Godin is the man for manning up, going for it, and just doing it.

Not just about business or success or entrepreneurial enterprising—though those are the primary subjects—Poke is about taking life by the horns, about carpe diem (seizing the day), manhandling your fears and resistance, starting, innovating, taking charge, leading, demanding the most from yourself and others, and just plain getting the job done, whatever it is.

“All around you,” Godin pokes, “are platforms, opportunities, and entire organizations that will come to life once you are driven enough and brave enough to contribute the initiative they are missing.”

One of the main problems with the world that he sagely identifies—saging is what Godin does best—is that very few people take the initiative, poke the box, draw the map, start something!  “Almost no one says, ‘I start stuff.’…Where is the VP of starting?”

Putting his money where his mouth is, Godin has started many wonderful things, including, 12 books (that have become best sellers), and now The Domino Project ( Powered by Amazon, “The Domino Project is named after the domino effect—one powerful idea spreads down the line, pushing from person to person. The Project represents a fundamental shift in the way books (and digital media based on books) have always been published. Eventually consisting of a small cadre of stellar authors, this is a publishing house organized around a new distribution channel, one that wasn’t even a fantasy when most publishers began. We are reinventing what it means to be a publisher, and along the way, spreading ideas that we’re proud to spread.”

Very exciting stuff! As is this entire book—full of empowering, inspirational ideas, techniques, strategies, and encouragement for companies and people, large and small, ready or not. “You must make a difference or you squander the opportunity.”

Review of In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives

If you were to name the most successful, powerful, global, and all-pervasive companies in the world, Google has to be on a very short list. Maybe even at the top of the list.

What other company’s mission is no less than to list and assemble everything ever written into a searchable database stored in the cloud?

Google is at once rated the #1 most trustworthy and admirable company in the world, yet also feared for and suspected of gathering so much information about so many people that they make the IRS and FBI look like your local neighborhood gossip.

In this comprehensive and fascinating book, Steven Levy ( chronicles the yesterday and today, while speculating on the tomorrow of Google, from its1998 origins to the genesis of its current battle with Facebook (see the latest—as of 5/13/2011—developments here and on Levy’s own website).

Allowed unprecedented access inside the Googleplex, Levy conducted over “200 interviews with past and present Googlers, as well as a number of people who could shed light on its operations and practices.”

A highly-skilled and sure-footed writer, Levy tells the spellbinding tale of how Google’s founders–Larry Page and Sergey Brin—“revolutionized Internet search,” created “Googlenomics,” Gmail, and Google docs, and have done so with a conscience.

“Don’t be evil” is Google’s corporate slogan. Some may debate their fidelity to that slogan, but Levy’s book balances whatever economic and business concessions Google’s made with the overall verdict clearly in their favor: Google is, indeed, a company with a social conscience.

Detailing the history of how Google’s dealt with one riveting legal issue after another—“intellectual property challenges, defamation, invasion of privacy, and content regulations”—Levy’s impeccable and insightful investigative reporting makes it very clear that Google’s key players always tried their best to play fair, be honest, and come down on the side of openness and transparency. Even if it hurt themselves, as Google searches sometimes did. Google’s corporate policy of not censoring anything on the net—such as sensitive private information that a search turned up—stood firm even when its own CEO, Eric Schmidt, “had trouble dealing with [the] privacy” issue.

In what is surely one of history’s greatest understatements, Larry Page predicted early on in Google’s development, “There’s going to be large changes in the world because of all this stuff.”

If you Google, you’re being Googled. Take the word apart and you have: Go ogle. Hmmm. Everyone who Googles needs to read this truly eye-opening book.

Review of The Now Revolution

Want to make your online business “faster, smarter, and more social”? You should, unless, that is, you want to be left in the cyberdust, gasping for customers while e-commerce passes you by.

Consider The Now Revolution ( to be your manual to improving your website, business systems, client base, pitches, delivery, marketing, voice, image, publicity, reach…everything. I could go on and on about the brilliance, practicality, and efficacy of this book. Jay Baer & Amber Naslund know today’s e-commerce as well or better than anyone.

In improving my own business–as well as developing a new startup I’m launching in July–I’ve found this book to be an indispensible, inexhaustible resource. From emphasizing the need to be the Ritz-Carlton in your industry, to advising on how to create and enhance your corporate culture, to sharing invaluable strategies for taking full advantage of social media, their tips and methods are viral-worthy advice.

Do you need some guidance in organizing your social media strategy? It’s here, helping you with “the bigger picture perspective and keeping your finger on the pulse of what’s happening around you….”

Do you want to unify, inspire and rally your employees? Write a Cultural manifesto and “put it up on a web site as a living document that everyone can contribute to and refer to as a Rosetta stone…for decision making and planning.”

Do you need better customer service? Your customer service “lets you break out from the pack, solely by exceeding expectations through nimble, nuanced, timely, relevant response.”

Baer and Naslund are adept at exposing and proposing solutions for just about any and every possible weakness in your business.

“The playbook for…reexamining and retooling your company or organization to make real-time business work for you, rather than against you,” The Now Revolution is full of so many real and immediately doable action-steps, I’ve shipped a copy of it to all of my key employees around the country.

As a writer and editor, I also admire its crisp, clear writing and intuitive formatting. It’s a pleasure to read and a treasure map for any business to follow.

How to Write a Novel Book Review (Part 2): The Friction of Fiction

Try to Get It

It helps if a reviewer gets what a novel’s all about. I just experienced someone criticizing one of my novels, An Uprising of Angels, by saying, “This is pure fiction!” As if I’d committed a crime. And she hadn’t even read it.

She was basing her criticism on a press release of the novel. She was apparently expecting the book to be a piece of journalism, and it’s not. It’s a novel.

So I replied, “Yes and no. It’s real people, real life, real events interpreted, dramatized, and shaped into a story.” This reader is a very competent professional journalist, but apparently not enamored of literary fiction. When I admitted it’s fiction and explained some of its literary attributes, her entire tone and attitude changed. We ended up having a very nice email exchange.

Break It Down Into its Component Parts

The essence of analysis is just that: breaking something—a system, a contract, a problem, or a novel—into its component parts.

Here are some of the basic elements of a novel—each with my own quick take on why and how to analyze them:

• The Plot is what happens in the story. In some stories, the plot’s easy to follow. In others, it’s not. Neither approach is right or wrong. Remember, ambiguity is a virtue in fiction.
• The Characters are the people in the story. A useful way to look at the characters is from a psychological stance: What makes them tick? What motivates them? What do they want? What do they lack? Do you like them or not? Does that matter or not?
• Narrative Point of View: Who’s telling the story? The author or the characters? Close or distant? Inside or outside? Action or thinking? How would the story be different if it were told differently?
• The Conflict is the story’s problem or set of opposing forces. You don’t have a story without a conflict. It’s the friction of fiction—if the narrative doesn’t grate, it ain’t great. It’s gotta drive you nuts, enchant you, give you nightmares, or sweet dreams. If it has no emotional effect on you, either it’s no good or you don’t get it. (See section one.)
• The Themes are the “meanings,” morals, lessons, or “messages” we can infer from the story. How can we universalize the story, applying its plot and resolution, its characters’ growth, change, or stasis, to our lives? No theme, no novel. What the hell are you wasting my time for?
• The Setting is the time and place. The most important thing to notice is whether the story could have taken place in other times and places, or whether the setting of this story is the only possible setting for such a story to happen. Then, so what? Point being: where are you in relation to the story?
• Then there’s symbols, tone, style, and numerous other aspects to consider. Gotta do your homework if you’re writing about fiction.

Know What You’re Talking About

Okay, so you’ve gotten at least an M.A. in literature and you’re ready to read the novel carefully and compose a literary analysis (in the form of a book review) that does justice to the hard drive space and printer ink it’s using up.

Yes, that’s right: there’s a lot to learn to really write a good review of a novel. And you’re at a serious disadvantage without the formal education.

I could go on a long tangent here—and I will in another essay—but suffice to say, knowledge is power. That’s Bacon talking. As in Francis. And he was right.

So let’s assume you’ve done your homework.  Or if you haven’t, you want to try anyway. Fair enough? Fair enough.

Get a “Read” on the Novel

Regardless of your educational preparation and credentials, you have the right to write what you want to write. So, start, proceed, and finish strongly—by establishing your own “read” on the book. Find an angle and triangulate it: craft a thesis and nail it down with evidence from the novel to support it.

How best to do that?

• Read carefully, taking notes, paying attention to your own gut reactions.

• Trace those gut reactions. Do you feel tense, angry, indignant at any particular scene or line? STOP. Think. Dig deep. What in your life, in your past or present, may be affecting that emotion you’re feeling?

• There’s a funny line in the very funny movie called “Best in Show” when one character, reflecting quietly upon her life, says, “I’m waiting for another message from myself.” As you’re reading the story, is your “self” sending you any messages in the shape of emotional reactions to what you are reading?

• Formulate a tentative thesis statement and refer to specific scenes, lines, action, dialogue, plot points, descriptions—anything and everything from the story to hang your hat on.

Triangulation: Author/Text/Reader

In this empowered environment of Reader-response, the triangular dynamic of the author-text-reader clearly implies that we, the readers, play an equal role in the assignation of significance, or meaning.

After the author writes the story, the text then exists on its own—like a child who grew up and left home. The reader is the world the text entered, never to be the same again.

The Intentional Fallacy

The significance of a piece of writing is not entirely what the author intended. That way of thinking even has a name: it’s called the Intentional Fallacy. The author wrote the text and cut it loose, like a child cut loose from his parents. Therefore, the text stands on its own merit, a free agent, if you will.

Further, the author may not have even been fully aware of everything he was writing or suggesting in his text. We often say more or other than we intend to say. Thus, we, the readers, are full partners in determining the significance of a piece of writing, the text.

Look at it this way, the text means nothing by itself. Until it is read by an engaged, active intellect, it is just inanimate words on a page or computer screen. You, the reader, bring it to life. So, don’t be timid about inserting yourself into the text or insisting upon your meanings.

A Cautionary Word

Despite all of the preceding glowing advocacy for the Reader-Response approach and the triangular dynamic of signification, a cautionary aspect of these philosophies must be noted.

These empowering critical approaches assume a sane, fairly well-balanced, fairly well-informed intellect doing the reading, reacting, responding, and analyzing. In other words, some interpretations are better than others.

Simply because you see it in the text, does not necessarily mean that what you see in isolation or through the lens of your limited knowledge can be universally applied or defended.

Make sure you can support your views with solid textual evidence.

Focus Your Review with a Strong Thesis Statement

That said, don’t back down from a good idea or insight, just be sure there’s more than one “clue” in the text to support your point.

A good, solid academic and scholarly thesis—as well as a commercial or general book review–is a debatable inference about a narrow aspect of the subject—in this case, the novel you’re reviewing

So narrow your subject. The entire story is too much. You weren’t planning on writing a mere synopsis, were you? That’s not a review.

Even narrowing it down to a short summary and a psychological profile of the main character is still too much. A limited statement about the main character is better.

And make it debatable. For example, “In Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, the main character is an Englishman who learns many things in many foreign lands.” That’s a true, factual statement, and that’s why it’s not a good thesis. Why bother to write about a fact?

“In his travels, Gulliver learns that rationalism is overrated and humans must tap into their intuitive emotions in order to survive.” Now that’s a good thesis statement precisely because it is not a fact about the story. It’s an interpretation, an angle, an argument that needs to be supported.

Be a Proactive, Scholarly Book Reviewer

As you’re reading, be formulating tentative thesis statements, looking for evidence to support them. But also, note carefully if there is any evidence in the story that may refute your theses. You cannot ignore opposing arguments. That’s shoddy and dishonest scholarship.

It happens every day, in every business and walk of life, of course. People often ignore evidence, data, or arguments that refute or disprove their own sacred beliefs. Don’t they? But they’re not being honest with themselves or the world when they do. They certainly aren’t scholars. Which is what a good book reviewer really aspires to be: someone who knows a few things and who imparts them with total integrity.

So, try to be a true scholar. Get in the habit, if you aren’t already, of being intellectually honest, with yourself and others. Don’t fall in love with your opinions. Be ready to shed them fast, if and when you find evidence that they are faulty, incomplete, or misinformed.

If you embrace that notion of being a scholar, you’ll read better, analyze better, and write better. And readers of your reviews will quickly come to recognize the difference between you and the charlatans operating with smoke and mirrors, dazzle and flair—all style and no substance.

Review of Launch

In his innovative new book Launch, Michael Stelzner offers business owners and marketers some counterintuitive advice: forego traditional marketing messages in favor of valuable—and free—content. In fact, if you’re looking for marketing how-to’s, you’re going to have to wait until the final chapter of the book. Stelzner, the founder of—the number-one small business blog according to Technorati—calls this concept the “elevation principle,” and he argues it’s the best way to reach people who have grown deaf to the overabundance of marketing messages bombarding them on a daily basis. Stelzner offers step-by-step instructions based on his real-world experiences, as well as examples and analogies from daily life.

As a mom and a marketing professional, one analogy that resonated with me was when Stelzner compared marketing to busy customers to trying to brush a child’s hair: “There are two ways to get their hair brushed. Yelling, ‘Get your behind over here, right now!’ is one option. The other is to walk alongside them, brushing as they go on their merry way.” This brought back memories of working in direct mail years ago, dealing with low response rates as ads with hard sells were disposed of as “junk mail.” Stelzner reveals there is a better way. By offering real information that people actually want, you build trust and bring people to you—instead of ending up in the wastebasket.

Insights like these fill the book, making the message easy to apply to any business venture. Today I’m working with authors, and I encourage them to create blogs, share content, and contribute useful information in online communities, without pushing their books. Because, as Stelzner says, “by giving genuine gifts to your base and experts—without expecting anything in return—you’ll draw people to you in droves… and some will become loyal customers for life.”

–by Meredith Hale, Marketing Manager for Baldwin Book Publishing

Launch: The Elevation Principle for Business & Life

Michael Stelzner’s new book Launch: How to Quickly Propel Your Business Beyond the Competition has fired me up and helped me launch a couple of my own new ventures.

How? Because Mike’s been there, done that.

Mike’s Got Street Cred

I always like to know who’s doing the work. If I’m building a new house, who’s my contractor? As a baseball fan, I love to check out the players’ stats. And I never miss a new U2 or Newsboys CD because I know they always do good work.

In the case of a book, I like to know something about the author.

Mainly, is he an authority in his field?



In 2007, Mike authored a white paper entitled Writing White Papers that landed him universal acclaim and assignments writing white papers and consulting for over 100 corporations. His work launched his career into the stratosphere.

Not one to rest on his laurels, in 2009 Mike launched Social Media Examiner, which in less than 5 months was declared the #1 small business blog in the world by Technorati.

I read SME faithfully because its articles and resources are always a big help to me and my businesses.

So Mike writing a book about launching is like Ted Williams writing about hitting, F.L. Wright writing about architecture, or Picasso about painting. Mike knows launching.

A Book of Principles

The principles in Launch will give you and your ventures more

  • clarity and direction (what to do);
  • efficiency (how to do it better);
  • synergy (how the steps and ingredients can complement one another); and
  • joy (how putting other people’s needs before your own ends up making everyone happier—both others and you yourself).

How can this claim be true and why is it essential to your success?  Simple, really.

Being principled works—both in your business life and your personal life. Good, honest, generous, selfless principles make people successful and happy.

What a concept, right?

The Elevation Principle

Mike’s main marketing principle is counter-intuitive: don’t market and don’t sell. Instead, meet “the core desires of prospects and customers by helping them solve their basic problems at no cost.”

Talk about a principle.

His EP formula is Einsteinian elegant:  GC + OP – MM = G. That is, great content + other people – marketing messages = growth.


Makes such beautiful sense.

  • Write great stuff that people can use. Inform and teach them. Show them you know what you’re talking about. And give it to them for free.
  • Get other people involved. Welcome them into your world, your sphere of knowledge. Help them.  “If you lift people up, they’ll lift you up.”
  • Don’t sell! Don’t be pushy! Shift your emphasis from “What can we sell you?” to “How can we help you?”
  • That formula will result in growth. Not just for your business, but for you too—growth as a person of principles.

Consider Others Before Yourself

Mike never preaches in this book. Never stands on a soap box. That’s not his style, thankfully.

But the subtext, the really beautiful, inspiring, implied message is this: life’s really all about living for other people.

When you get yourself out of the center of the universe and realize that your main purpose—and most enriching and rewarding strategy— in life is to live for other people, those people benefit and so will you.

Because people usually reciprocate. Especially when they sense genuine good will coming from you.

Igniting the Elevation Principle

So how can this principle be activated and used to launch you and your business? Back to the EP:

  • Help people solve their problems. Write how-to guides. Show them what you know. Show them you’re there for them.
  • Don’t push, manipulate, or pressure people into buying what you’re selling.
  • Give gifts—freely and without any expectation of getting one back. What gift can you give? Your knowledge. Your time. Your friendship and good counsel.


What’s the payoff for paying it forward? Business, likely. Possibly lots of business. Because people like to do business with people who are low key, caring, giving, and knowledgeable.

Your bottom line—and your life—will benefit from following this principle of putting others first.

Not many people are like that. So you’ll be different—as a business and a human being.

“Helping people ensures your business will stand out from the competition.”


Mike Stelzner introduces Launch from Michael A. Stelzner on Vimeo.

Sound Business Sense

Mike’s wisdom about putting people first would be enough reason to read Launch. But there’s plenty more great advice about many subjects. Such as these practical, action steps to take to launch your business and yourself:

  • Crafting and measuring “SMART” goals
  • Implementing specific social media marketing strategies
  • Inspiring yourself by “looking outward”
  • Finding role models
  • Working with experts
  • Attracting  and engaging “firestarters”—people who can help launch you


The Primary & Nuclear Fuel: Great Content

The first part of the EP equation is GC (good content). Why does Mike place such great emphasis upon GC?

Because great content sells. Its persuasive. It explains what you know and shows what you can do. All at once.

And, as the great French poet Jean de La Fontaine said, “By the work one knows the workman.”

As a teacher of writing and literature for 38 years, I’ve read a lot of books, poems, articles, essays, dissertations—you name it. Mike’s work contains all the elements of good writing.

For just one example, his metaphoric motif (getting literary now!) of the launch and the rocket, its fuel and trajectory, are all poetically persuasive.  Poetry persuades. Its rhyme, rhythm, figurative language, and compression unconsciously convince us.  Mike’s a poet and he may not even know it!

Launch is a living demonstration of good content: it’s clear, crisp, fun and easy to read, and packed with rocket fuel to propel you.

All you have to do is ignite its principles and watch them rocket you up, up and away!


We Have Lift Off: Read Launch!

Once in a while the planets align perfectly: things are happening in your life that link up magically and wonderfully with outside forces or events.

That just happened for me. Launch just launched at the same time I’m launching a novel and a new startup business.

Could the timing have been any better for me? Nope.

And the timing is right for you, too. Because there’s no time like the present.

Launch is a winner: its solid gold principles and inspirational mission plan couldn’t make more sense or work any better.

So, Launch yourself now! Get on board and take your dreams for a ride straight to the stars!