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Review: At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon

I wanted to start this Friday’s review of Christian Fiction with first book in Jan Karon’s Mitford series, At Home in Mitford. The series is one of my favorites, as I mentioned in last week’s blog post. This week, we’re talking about what makes At Home in Mitford great.

The Characters

  • Father Tim: The main character of the Mitford series is Father Tim, an Episcopalian priest with a heart of gold and a stomach for a few too many sweets. He’s well rounded in more ways than one; he has a heart of gold that comes off as gruff under stress, and his affinity for sweets and concern for his parishioners’ feelings often leads him to neglect his own health. He is lovable and flawed. For someone in their sixties, Father Tim has a lot of growing left to do, and that makes for a fascinating book.
  • Cynthia: She draws cats and moles for her children’s books. She forgets to take the pink curlers out of her hair. She sits on the Gospel side of the Episcopalian church. Father Tim’s new neighbor is as interesting as she is a mess. Cynthia provides a lovely catalyst for Father Tim’s character development, but she also works through several deep issues of her own like divorce and barrenness.
  • Dooley: With whom do you foil a highly educated, very reserved, proper priest? You foil him with a red-haired, freckle-faced mountain boy with a penchant for fighting. Dooley is one of my favorite characters in all of literature. He has a deeply broken past for one so young, but he also runs around as an energetic promise of hope for the future. His story is a big part of my interest in adoption. Props to Mrs. Karon for discussing a complex topic in such a loving way.
  • Barnabus: A dog who responds to Scripture… can you get any more unique than that? (Side note: I tried this on my parents’ dog Teddy. I got mixed results. Chalk it up to little dog syndrome?) Any author who can so clearly articulate a dog’s personality should get major quality points, in my opinion.

The Setting

  • Mitford: Mrs. Karon created a town that might as well be a character in and of itself. The shops reflect their owners’ complex personalities with vivid, specific details. Consequently, it looks like a capsule of a perfect town, but its edges teem with the realities of life that often get swept under the rug. Thanks to Father Tim’s relationships with his parishioners, the readers get to see both the perfection and what it hides.

The Style

  • Humor: First, I love the ironic, sarcastic humor around Father Tim. Then, there’s Dooley’s hilarious childhood antics. Barnabus instigates some of the most outlandish predicaments that every dog owner will recognize as possible. All in all, this homey humor appeals to my desire to laugh at the ridiculousness of life and the characters we are all surrounded by.
  • Dialect: Despite hailing from Mississippi, Father Tim speaks with, and thus narrates with, a measured, educated dialect. In contrast, we meet Dooley, whose impoverished mountain relatives exacerbate his youthful grammar mistakes. The town residents’ individual dialects reflect their personal histories, which imparts a ton of information to the reader before the characters expressly discuss their backgrounds. I admire Mrs. Karon’s ability to dissect the tiniest differences in dialect. In addition, the text reads effortlessly.

If you are interested in reading At Home in Mitford, you can find the book for purchase here. I also purchased this audio version by using an Audible credit, and the narration reflected Father Tim’s essence well.

What do you think of these home-style reads? Do you prefer something fast-paced and hard-hitting? Let’s talk about it in the comments!

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Christian Fiction? Three Ways to Market Your Book of Faith

As we started discussing last week, there are multiple ways to write, publish, and market your book of Christian faith. We are going to focus on traditionally published fiction, as the rules for nonfiction and self-publishing are different in this instance. So, let’s dive in!

1. The Christian Fiction Genre

The Christian Fiction genre has separated itself from other traditional publishing genres in order to promote Christian values and beliefs. The content is intended to be appropriate for all ages. Though in theory these books extend the Gospel by teaching nonbelievers about Jesus, the books published at Christian publishing houses tend to be geared specifically towards conservative females of the Evangelical faith. Janette Oke’s novels from the 80s are perhaps the most enduring of the genre, and the genre has now spawned subgenres ranging from Karen Kingsbury’s contemporary novels to Beverly Lewis’ Amish romances.

In researching the genre, I learned that the CBA (formerly the Christian Booksellers Association and now in some sort of transition stage) determines what is acceptable for the Christian Fiction genre and what is not. The debate about the CBA’s control of Christian Fiction publishing has been going on for years – see this article from 2014 for a brief overview. Even traditionally published authors wish to see the quality of writing published by the Christian Fiction market improve, but they don’t see that happening when the current business model is still successful.

That’s where option number 2 comes in.

2. Explicitly Christian Books in the Secular Market

It is possible for books with explicitly Christian themes to be published under the secular banner of simply “Fiction.” While they may not be the most prominent books on the shelf, these authors have to fight ten times harder to compete in a saturated market, so the books tend to have higher quality writing and more complex themes than their Christian-classified counterparts. Because the CBA doesn’t determine what bookstores carrying simply “contemporary fiction” or “literary fiction” sell, these books can also delve into deep issues and toy with more than one perspective.

To be honest, these books tend to be the only adult fiction books I am passionate about. My favorites are the sweetly humorous Mitford series by Jan Karon, but I also love the slightly darker, literary-focused Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. The main characters in both are preachers, one Episcopalian and one Congregationalist. The books tastefully wrestle with issues like poverty, broken family relationships, and addictions. In Gilead, the preacher even pulls from atheist texts to show a well-rounded and deeply considered view of the world. All in all, there is much more freedom of content in the secular market, but the writing also must be top-notch to compete for a spot in publication against all other fictional creations.

That leads us to option number 3, a different take on the same genre.

3. Implicitly Christian Books in the Secular Market

These books perhaps have the richest literary history of all the genres. They pull from centuries of themes, conventions, and imagery to create texts with layered meaning. On the surface, these books have a storyline pleasurable in and of itself. However, a deeper reading unveils allusions to Christ’s miraculous work, His parabolic teachings, and His redemptive death. These texts are why we all got mad in high school and thought the teacher was just making it up. In fact, these authors do deep thought work to create richly complex stories that slow readers down and make them think, although the transaction does require a reader who is willing to put in the work.

The beauty of this type of writing is that it allows the spread of God’s word to people antagonist to Christianity. It can plant seeds of faith by promoting the Christian values of justice, benevolence, and love. The downfall comes in that many people may still miss the message. Without doing a lot of digging and coming to the text with a background knowledge of the Bible and perhaps even Protestant or Catholic theology, the main point of the message is hidden under less intense themes and the plot itself. In some ways, these books are magic – how else would Christian texts be taught in public schools these days as they are in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe? In others, they can be so convoluted or grotesque, like Flannery O’Connor’s short stories, that finding the Christian message can give the reader a headache.

There’s more to say for and against each of these genres. As with anything, each genre has shining stars and bad apples. Next week, we’ll start looking at the pros and cons of books published in each of these styles.

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Are Christian Fiction Books Worth Writing?

It’s a question I thought was obvious in high school. Why, of course I should write Christian Fiction books! The books would let me tell others about Jesus. The stories would provide an escape for those enduring suffering. The content would be appropriate for all ages from middle school girls to aging women. What could be wrong with the stack of pastel books with scrawling fonts that I brought home from the library every summer?

Then I started college. I walked up the steep, creaking floors of the English department and dropped my book bag next to the small metal desk. I took out my notebook, colored pens, and planner. And I overheard the most shocking thing.

The sophomores hated Christian Fiction. They didn’t just mildly dislike certain authors or maintain a respect for the genre but dislike reading it for themselves. They held a passionate distaste for the characters, plots, and writers. My brain was spinning, and I felt like a fool. I believed my life’s work was to write Christian Fiction, and here, at a Christian college, I heard more backlash on the genre than I had heard in my public high school back home.

It took several weeks before I got to reopen a Christian Fiction book and analyze what the other students were talking about. I was shocked to find that they were right. The plot was boring; the characters sniveled; the setting was so nondescript that the book could have taken place anywhere. What had happened to the great books of faith that got me through the hardest times of my life? Now, books where characters grappled with the question of good and evil ended with the character magically getting a dose of faith without an answer. That didn’t help me when I wasn’t sure I believed God’s promises were for me anymore.

I spent the rest of my college career debating if Christian Fiction books are worth writing. Both my capstone and thesis projects centered on the topic. I studied critics’ analyses, the rules of the genre, and commonalities in the stories. The issue of Christian genres became a topic very close to my heart.

In that spirit, I’m going to use my Friday blog posts to do a deep dive on the topic. Next week, we’ll discuss if books of faith must be written under the banner of Christian Fiction. What are your experiences with the Christian Fiction genre? Let’s talk about it in the comments!

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Review: "Follower to Fan Society"

2020 is nearly upon us! Much like everyone else, I’ve got some changes coming to the blog with the new year. Here’s a sneak peek of two major changes coming in less than a week!

  1. I’ve been debating about my niche, which is generally accepted as one of the most important aspects of a blog. As I debated, I looked back over my previous posts. A Letter to the Church on Anxiety and Depression seemed to strike a cord. So many people reached out to me about this post and shared stories of how their lives had been affected by the church’s misunderstanding of mental illness. I wanted to explore a different interpretation of mental illness for the church, so starting in January, I’m going to look at stories in the Bible that could reflect instances of mental illnesses and see how the Bible treats those stories in context.
  2. Books are also near and dear to my heart as an aspiring author, so on Fridays, we’ll be discussing the Christian Fiction genre. I wrote a little about my experience with the genre a few years ago in Why English Majors Can’t Read, and I think there is more to say about writing quality books that reflect Christian faith.

To finish up the self-help review series, we’re talking about Tyler J. McCall’s “Follower to Fan Society.” Instagram has been my favorite social media application for years, so I was very interested to hear Mr. McCall’s thoughts on expanding my social media engagement. Let’s dive into the last self-help review of 2019!

The Pros

  • Mr. McCall definitely knows his way around engagement. He had one of my favorite personalities of all the coaches I researched, and he wasn’t afraid to use it to make his potential clients feel connected. Mr. McCall practiced what he preached about being open and having a real identity to engage with the online community.
  • The free action guides and roadmaps look great and are very visually appealing.
  • Mr. McCall had some great insights on how community works now on Instagram, especially around hashtags. He noted how Instagram users shared on their personal accounts and applied that information to the business realm.
  • The membership Mr. McCall sold from the free webinar had a lot of content beyond simply posting to Instagram. For example, the Follower to Fan Society held masterclasses with leading entrepreneurs on business tactics, strategies, and legalities. This extra content added a lot of value to what would otherwise be a very simple program.

The Cons

  • Mr. McCall’s product is a yearly membership instead of a one-time purchase, which makes him much more expensive than most of the other coaches I researched. Because you are purchasing a subscription with his program, you lose access at the end of the year if you don’t renew your membership.
  • Membership to the Follower to Fan Society is only available to purchase at certain times of year. The Society is currently closed, so interested Instagramers have to go on a “waitlist,” which really just seems to be signing up for their promotional email list.
  • Mr. McCall had a great insight that Instagram users want to stay within the app, so they won’t leave their current stream of content to find your site through a link. While keeping people on Instagram’s site is a great idea, it’s hard to implement if you’re a small account. For instance, Instagram has a “swipe up” link in Stories to post content within the app, but Instagram requires you to have 10,000 followers before you can use the tool.

What I Tried

  • After listening to Mr. McCall’s webinar, I got braver about posting content on Instagram. I wasn’t as concerned with appearing perfectly polished and curated, so I let a little more of my real personality come through my posts.
  • Mr. McCall emphasized using Stories as the new way users were engaging with content creators on Instagram, so I started using the add-ons in Stories to encourage interaction. This was another aspect that didn’t work too well for very small accounts, but the tools would be very helpful for larger accounts. Regardless, the tools in Stories allow me to post more interactive content without having to take extra pictures or send people away from the app.

Initial Conclusion

Mr. McCall was super funny, very pleasant, and really engaging! (I mean, he made up the term “full time Comparidashian.”) While his program definitely fell on the expensive side because of the subscription aspect, he did have great information about Instagram and offered extra business content to members that rounded out the program. Mr. McCall’s strength is in his personality, so check out his Instagram to see if you click with his terminology before you consider spending money on his program.

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Review: "Click Funnel Design School"

It took almost two years after graduating from college for me to realize why I was struggling so much to find a job in a city where new communications positions cropped up daily. The Friday was cold and gray, so the three of us meeting at the church that afternoon were all bundled up in over-sized sweaters. We piled in to the church office to get some work done while the cleaning lady bustled about changing trash bags and sweeping the floors.

One of the girls was a graphic designer. She was applying for jobs and debating between a part-time job in the printing industry or holding out for a full-time position. I told her about the time I applied for a writing position with a business consulting company. I went through the entire interview process and really liked the company, only for the gentleman from HR to call me and say the team really liked me, but they were looking for someone with graphic design experience, and they hadn’t figured that out when they wrote the job description. You might want to look at communications jobs, I suggested to my friend. A lot of these companies seem to want graphic designers more than writers.

“These companies are looking for unicorns,” she said. “They want a good graphic designer AND a good writer, and they don’t realize that most people aren’t both.”

I shifted in the plastic chair and nodded. I could feel the imaginary lightbulb going off over my head. The reason I struggled so much finding a job was that everyone wanted a unicorn, and no one in the English department knew that was what the companies were looking for. Had I known, I might have used my college electives on graphic design courses instead of business and photography. As it was, I had great editing and tutoring experience, and the jobs available in town either paid very little or required a minimum of five year’s experience. So, when I found this ad on “design hacking” by Click Funnel Design School that required no graphic design or coding experience, I was hooked. This trick could be my break!

The Pros

  • I found the ad for the “design hacking” webinar about 10 minutes before it started. I jumped out of bed, ran downstairs, fired up my laptop, and grabbed a notebook. Thankfully, when the webinar started, it came through as a YouTube recording. This meant that when the cat started demanding his breakfast, I could stop the video without missing any information.
  • Ms. Jones had a really neat concept that seemed to actually work. The concepts seemed simple to implement once you learned how to use ClickFunnels and add in design elements.
  • Perhaps the best thing about Ms. Jones’ course is that building a solid portfolio and attracting clients is built into the course. I got the feeling that Ms. Jones really set her students up for success instead of passing on concepts and leaving it up to the student to figure out implementation.

The Cons

  • While the webinar was very detailed and engaging, Ms. Jones really didn’t give an actionable info in the free “training.” It really was just an introduction to her course and an overview of how the course worked.
  • The information in the course is also specific to Click Funnels and funnel-building software. This focus on Click Funnels limited how the person building the site could use it for their business. The site would really be for sales only and probably wouldn’t have much continued content or community outside of an email list, which again became more sales and promotion.
    • On a semi-side note, I personally dislike that ClickFunnel website domains are 80 miles long and have “clickfunnel” in them. They just don’t look as professional to me as a simple, clean domain.

What I Tried

  • When I upgraded my site to a business page, I changed my theme to “Natural,” and I loved it. It felt so earthy and peaceful to me. Over time, though, I started getting comments on how hard the gray font was to read, and I couldn’t find a place to change that. So, I gave in to the inevitable push for modern minimalism. Following Ms. Jones’ suggestions, I looked at major company’s websites and tried to follow their modern style with my website design.
  • While I didn’t learn any actionable graphic design tips from Ms. Jones’ webinar, I did get more analytical about design. I used her “hacking” idea and started looking at the logos and interfaces of more successful businesses as a source of style inspiration.

Initial Conclusion

Ms. Jones had a great personality and was really entertaining to listen to. I was so excited for this course and thought I had found a shortcut to graphic design, but it was so relegated to ClickFunnels that it really didn’t work for my needs. If you are an entrepreneur who doesn’t want to blog or offer a large variety of products, Click Funnels and Ms. Jones’ Click Funnel Design School could be a great resource for you. However, if you are looking to build community engagement and need two way interaction to grow your brand, this course is not for you. Instead, look at the designs of major, modern corporations and use that as your inspiration for building logos and websites with the resources available to you.

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Review: "She's Making an Impact/Pin 2 Purpose"

Somewhere between high school and college I got nearly addicted to Pinterest. I spent hours scrolling through pictures of puppies and elephants, reading about “healthy” recipes, and making a list of projects to knit or crochet at some point in my life. My brother actually requested I quit using Pinterest for food after my third or fourth tasteless attempt at following a Paleo, Keto, or “lightened up” version of a recipe (usually with significant ingredient alterations to accommodate the limited food storage in my college dorm.) Those adventures taught me the power of these two little spices named salt and pepper that I had always believed made food taste bad. Apparently, they were actually necessary for making food taste good.

When I saw the ads for Rachel Ngom’s upcoming webinar about gaining blogging traffic without having to pay for ads (irony noted,) I was intrigued. I had heard of people getting brand deals from Pinterest boards, but I never understood how on earth it happened. So, I signed up and waited to see how all those puppy pictures and beauty tutorials were going to make my blogging dreams come true.

The early days of interest in Pinterest

The Pros

  • Mrs. Ngom definitely convinced me of value of her program in that hour and ten minutes. She demonstrated a thorough knowledge of Pinterest marketing and online media. Based on the information she gave, I thought I could figure the “free advertising” out myself, but I knew it would take time to learn the Tailwind program and make connections. (More on that later.)
  • I genuinely enjoyed her presentation style. Mrs. Ngom was engaging, fast-paced, and genuinely respectful of time.
  • All of Mrs. Ngom’s ads, emails, and worksheets had consistent, pleasing branding. The bold salmon outlines clearly reflected her focus on female entrepreneurs. The branding remained consistent with her pins on Pinterest, so it was easy to remember where I had seen her work.
  • On the email marketing side, Mrs. Ngom sent out new material about once every 10 days. Her frequency is far less than most consultants, so I don’t mind staying on her email list to learn about new promotions and business techniques.

The Cons

  • In covering so much information, Mrs. Ngom hit a lot of high points and left the implementation to be learned. It was a good strategy, as it feeds into her consulting business, but it does detract from the value of the free webinar itself.
  • While Mrs. Ngom’s fast pace was highly engaging, she went too fast to follow the notes on her worksheets. To make it more confusing, the worksheets didn’t exactly match the content she was sharing, so it was often hard to keep up. I might have had more success transcribing my own notes from the webinar than trying to find where the information she gave fit on her outline.
  • While I loved the branding of the worksheets, there was too much shading to print them out. The bold swathes of color would have eaten up all of the ink that I was already running out of.

What I Tried

  • First and foremost, I started pinning my blog posts on Pinterest. I created a business account and spent more time organizing the pins than I had on my personal account.
  • Per Mrs. Ngom’s suggestions, I added text boxes over my featured image so people could tell what the linked blog post was about. I created a consistent style that I could use for all of my pins.
  • The webinar taught me that Pinterest was a search engine, so Mrs. Ngom’s tips introduced me to basic SEO. That knowledge was perhaps the most valuable thing I learned, as I was always terrified of the term SEO and thought optimizing articles required a degree in computer science. Mrs. Ngom made it easy to search for what people want to know by leveraging a tool built into the site itself – the search bar.
  • Mrs. Ngom focused on building what you own rather than relying on outside programs like Facebook or Youtube. So, I added an email list to my site by using Mailchimp, which will allow me to engage more directly with my followers than I could by fighting the Facebook and Instagram algorithms.
  • In researching Pinterest marketing, I learned that Tailwind, Mrs. Ngom’s tool of choice, has a free trial which would allow you to join 5 “tribes” or communities that share each other’s pins. In reading other blogger’s Pinterest strategies, most pin-bloggers use Tailwind or group boards to be successful. However, I also learned that you can get around the Tailwind tribes by manually engaging with group boards to exchange content.

Initial Conclusion

Mrs. Ngom’s Pin 2 Purpose class was the one course I would have purchased were I not resolute against purchasing. While I believed that I could figure the techniques out myself, I knew that having her tips and backing would certainly save time in building my blog. However, I have since found other people’s blog articles through Pinterest where people explained how they were successful using the same basic structure. The tips made the overarching techniques from Mrs. Ngom’s webinar more actionable without having to pay for Tailwind or the Pin 2 Purpose course, which made me glad that I saved my money. If you are a blogger interested in Pinterest marketing, I would research the free articles on Pinterest before deciding to pay for the Pin 2 Purpose course.

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Review: "Light & Airy Photography"

I’m wearing my comfy writer socks today. I should say I am wearing a pair of comfy writer socks, because my mom found me three or four pairs and surprised me with them throughout the past year. (She’s a good mom like that.)

Today’s review is of the company Light & Airy Photography. I took an introductory course to photography in college, but I never felt like I quite got the hang of taking artistic pictures. I picked up some helpful tips about cropping and placement, but I could tell my images did not match the quality of the communications majors in the class. (Of course, my family always knew that my brother got the photography genes. That talent skipped me, which was rather unfortunate for someone trying to diversify their writing qualifications.) When I found Light & Airy Photography’s 5 day email challenge on taking fabulous phone photos, I hoped their course could turn my poor little iPhone photos into magic.

The Pros

  • Days 1-4 have really good suggestions about the use of light, noticing the background, and adjusting the placement of the focal point to create clear, attractive photos. They also explain each suggestion in detail and show either before-and-after or compare-and-contrast photos so you can see what they mean.
  • While the photos all have a consistent feel and coloring, Caroline and Anna show how the principles they teach can be applied to a variety of environments and situations.
  • Day 5 had great step to step instructions on how to edit photos to get the light and airy feel they promote using Lightroom. While implementing the tips would definitely take some trial and error, the steps were clear, and they included screenshots so you could see exactly where they went for each step.
  • The email challenge is, of course, to promote a product, which in Light & Airy Photography’s case is a set of editing presets for Lightroom. However, their promotion is not flashy, pushy, or annoying.

The Cons

  • The cost of the Lightroom presets is very hard to find. I dug through the purchasing process up to putting in my credit card information before I could find the cost. As of today, the mobile presets (approximately 9 of them and two additional bonus packs) cost $47 before applying their holiday discount codes.
  • Some of the Light & Airy Photography tips go against what I learned in my college class. My professor focused a lot more on contrast and deep detail, while the Light & Airy Photography style almost blows out the highlights. However, their results are aesthetically appealing and consistent with current trends.
  • While the Light & Airy Photography style is very modern, the suggestions are not always easy to implement if you don’t live in a house full of whites and pale greys. They give suggestions for creating your own backdrops to get around that, but it does take concerted effort and rearranging.
  • The company sends out LOTS of promotional emails (at least one a day), but they do weave in other tips and promote the work of others in the Light & Airy community.

What I Tried

  • I followed the Light & Airy Photography suggestions to edit my sock picture. I did use Affinity Photo on my computer instead of Adobe Lightroom on my phone, (mainly because I wanted to play with my early Christmas present,) but I could generally translate the tips by comparing the colors and tones to the screenshots in the emails.
  •  When I am not editing my photos to be light and airy, the course still helped me understand how to use natural, even, and soft light in photos. I’m attempting to use lighter backgrounds, but our house was built in the mid-2000s and our furniture is newlywed-mish-mash-chic, so I sometimes struggle to get the background just right.

Initial Conclusion

If your work involves pictures in any way and you are not using stock photos, I highly recommend looking into the tips and presets that Light & Airy Photography has to share. They also have a really beautiful Instagram to follow if you enjoy looking at pretty pictures throughout your day.

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Review: Think Media

I blame, or thank, my college roommates for getting me to watch YouTube consistently. We didn’t want to pay for cable, but my suitemate had a GIANT tv given to her, and my roommate had an Amazon Fire stick, so we signed in to Netflix and YouTube and settled on the couch with our homework. My roommate got us hooked on Good Mythical Morning, which she watched every morning with her microwaved croissant, and I watched Jimmy Fallon reruns with my peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch.

Between my brother and my husband, I also got acquainted with several car channels. They weren’t my favorite to watch, but I started to pick up on recurring themes and styles that the most successful channels employed. Of course, with the stories of millionaire YouTube stars flooding in, the boys started studying how these channels made their money. So, we watched a couple hours of how-we-did-it talks and a great deal more hours of shows for “research.”

I have contemplated adding a YouTube component to my blogging efforts. There are a few common themes I noticed in studying self-help courses, but I don’t have enough content at this point to build up a consistent YouTube presence. However, other beginning entrepreneurs seem to have plenty of interest in the medium itself and in the success that older vloggers have had on the site. When I ran across Sean Cannell’s “Viral Video Checklist” on increasing subscribers and sales on YouTube, I figured I would sign up for the emails.

The Pros

  • Mr. Cannell provides quality content on how to leverage YouTube as a search engine, how to structure your videos to keep people engaged, and ideas for monetizing your channel outside of YouTube ads. I appreciated that he put so much detail in the free course and that he explored less traditional routes for monetization.
  • While the course came through email, it actually linked to several videos that you could watch and take notes on. Each video had an accompanying worksheet. The pages are helpful with lots of space to brainstorm and review the important points of each video well.
  • The follow up emails that Mr. Cannell sends after the initial week of promotion include quality information and articles. The emails also only come once or twice a week, making them far less annoying than other courses that send ads every day.

The Cons

  • In the first video, Mr. Cannell mentions that the year is 2017, so these free videos are not necessarily up to date. However, the techniques I learned in the videos are congruent with how the famous YouTube channels my family watches operate their sites, so I presume the techniques are still useful two years later.
  • The free videos are, of course, leading up to a pitch for the paid course sold in fourth video (but you could just skip watching it.) The paid course costs $697 or 5 payments of $147, so I recommend seriously contemplating how much you want to speed up your YouTube progress in comparison to the cost. The video says the course is a “limited time offer,” but it reopens periodically.

What I Tried

  • I don’t currently have a YouTube channel, so I couldn’t implement Mr. Cannell’s suggestions right away, but the videos did give me ideas for how to successfully add a visual component to my blog at a later time.

Initial Conclusion

Mr. Cannell’s checklist had lots of great ideas that were consistent with the style and techniques I see on the most popular, monetized sites that I watch on YouTube. If your medium of choice is YouTube, I recommend completing the checklist. However, the course costs a pretty chunk of change, so I personally would do as much analyzation of my competitor’s sites as I could before I used my credit card. That said, one of the groups I will be reviewing next week started their success with his course, so it may be worth completing if you are looking for rapid results and can rationalize the investment.

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Review: Pitch It Perfect

When I started researching self-help webinars, Julie Solomon’s Pitch It Perfect course was one of the first few I came across. I didn’t figure I would be hustling for affiliate marketing deals yet with only 30 some-odd Instagram followers, but she was bright and fun and popping up everywhere, so I figured I would give the masterclass a shot.

The first two things I noticed before the webinar were that a.) Mrs. Solomon brilliantly had a robot responding to all of her Facebook messages so she had a perfect response score (which I later learned was a common and sometimes misused tactic,) and that b.) regardless of what she knew about Instagram followers and pitching, the girl knew how to make a pretty workbook. It turned out to be one of the longer workbooks of the bunch I printed, but the prompts were easy to follow and had plenty of space for taking notes. I grabbed my colored pens, tried to shoo the cat away from my half-drunk glass of sweet tea, and settled in for the webinar.

The cat tried really, really hard to help…

The Pros

  • Mrs. Solomon has a really great personality. She has honed her voice and is confident in her public persona. Her honesty and excitement made it easy to stay engaged for the hour and twenty minutes that the webinar lasted.
  • Mrs. Solomon had great information and thoughts on successful pitching. The main premise had me smacking myself in the head and saying, “No, duh! Why didn’t I think of that before? I have a degree in English, for goodness sake! I could teach a class on audience!” All that to say, it was good of Mrs. Solomon to say it explicitly.
  • Throughout the webinar, Mrs. Solomon listed several actionable items that someone could complete and probably use for success without having to pay for her full course. She gave lots of examples and encouraged us to take pictures of the material she put on the screen.

The Cons

  • Mrs. Solomon helped me realize the point of free webinars. Regardless of whether the free webinar had great content or was a waste of time, it was all a sales pitch for their continued training course. And, of course, the paid training courses were never cheap. Mrs. Solomon’s paid course hit about middle of the road at a one-time price of $497 for life-time access to the content and Facebook group.
  • Mrs. Solomon did follow up with lots of emails, especially initially, but they were pleasant, entertaining, and full of hilarious Gifs, so I wasn’t really mad. The emails are relegated to sales and don’t provide much follow-up value, at least from what I have seen in the past month, but they are sparse enough that they don’t bother me. It would be easy enough to unsubscribe through the hyperlink at the bottom, too, if you preferred.

What I tried

  • The biggest change I made after watching the Pitch It Perfect webinar was to update my biographies to be service-focused. When she said it, this hit me like a no-brainer. Of COURSE people will respond better to content directed to them instead of babbling on about myself! It actually gave me the most clarity on what to write in a biography that I’ve ever had. I always hated coming up with four sentences about myself. “Umm, I write, I love my family, and I love fluffy little dogs named Teddy Bear.” Focusing on my audience’s interests and needs made it so much easier to tailor my biography to the strengths I could offer. It hasn’t made any dramatic changes to my follower count, but I do feel more confident in the way I introduce myself virtually.
  • If I ever venture into the influencer business model, I will absolutely refer back to the notes I took at this webinar. She gave a great step-by-step guide for what to include in a press kit, and she encouraged us to take pictures of the email examples she put on the screen for us to refer back to later. Even if I don’t become a great internet influencer (ha!), her tips will easily be transferred to the publishing and writing realm for article pitches and agent queries.

Initial Conclusion

If your business or creative dream involves “pitching” in any way, shape, or form, I would soak up all the free knowledge that Julie Solomon is willing to dish out. The Pitch It Perfect course really is geared towards influencers, so you may want to save your money on that one if your work doesn’t revolve around brands on your Instagram feed. (If it does, this could be a really great course for you.) She has several other courses at a variety of price points, so if she offers a course that really speaks to your need, she seems like a really knowledgable and interesting person to learn from.

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Review: “Don’t Keep Your Day Job”

I sat on our couch and scrolled through Upwork one more time. Nothing. No jobs that appealed to me, nothing that utilized my knowledge and skills, nothing that was going to start bringing me worthwhile income. I only had 18 more “credits,” which equated with about 4 more tries to get hired, before I had to pay to apply for jobs, and I was starting to feel hopeless. I would have looked up jobs in my little town, but I already knew that Hardee’s and Dollar General were the only ones hiring, and I didn’t look forward to living in fast food grease or storeroom dust.

So, I prayed. “Lord, I have no clue what to do!” I don’t know where it came from, but my blog came to mind. Alright, so I would focus on my blog. But what on earth would I write about? I was no health and fitness guru – I barely convince myself to do one 25 minute yoga video every morning, and my brother will inform you that creating new recipes is not one of my strong suits after he ate my creations every weekend for a year in college. I was no finance wizard – I spent AP Macroeconomics in the floor next to my dad’s computer so I could ask him what all these crazy terms like “supply side economics” meant. (I’m pretty sure that’s the only economic term I somewhat retained.) In other words, I was useless at all the commonly recognized “money-making” niches.

That’s where Facebook came in. Somewhere between another “RIP Fall” meme and a picture of someone’s overseas adventure, I saw a personality quiz by Cathy Heller at Don’t Keep Your Day Job. “What is your creative archetype?” At this point, I thought, what could it hurt? So I took the quiz, put in my email, and waited for the results.

“Investigator!” The email exclaimed. “You’d love nothing more than to get paid to research and dissect this subject all day long.

That was pretty true. As the Facebook ads started pouring in, I decided to do a little investigating, and I thought Mrs. Heller’s creative site was a good place to start.

The Pros

  • Perhaps most importantly when it comes to these courses and communities, Mrs. Heller is incredibly positive and encouraging. It is easy to engage with her sweet and optimistic style of writing. On top of that, she has a slew of fascinating podcasts that I look forward to consuming in the next few weeks.
  • The archetypes are a really neat way of looking at personality and interests as inspiration. It also helped me figure out the appropriate media outlets that would be best for the content I wanted to create.
  • Since the course is by email, it doesn’t take a lot of time to digest. If nothing else, the quiz is definitely worth trying for the fun of it! In addition to being a fun thought exercise, the follow up emails are engaging and give even more free content. In the third email I received, Mrs. Heller did promote her latest book, but she incorporated the promotion so well into the rest of the content and encouragement that it felt very natural.

The Cons

  • The quiz was a bit obvious, although I did cheat in a way by reading through the comments before taking the quiz. I could see the different archetypes fairly easily in each quiz answer, and even in the first question I could tell what my archetype would be.
  • The course doesn’t have much life-changing content in terms of actionable steps. For example, in the first email I received, one of the quiz questions (“Which action most appeals to you,”) became the implementation suggestion later (“Get sponsors for your blog, podcast, or YouTube channel / video series.”) However, if you are interested in podcasts, she sends you a really great “Podcast Checklist” to help you get started.
All the color-coded notes…
My heart is happy!

What I tried

  • This quiz sparked the idea for reviewing self-help courses with my blog, so I have to give Mrs. Heller a great big THANK YOU for that!
  • I’m still debating whether or not to add a podcast or Youtube element to my blog, and her Podcast Checklist will be super helpful if I do!

Initial conclusion

After reading through the emails and perusing the content on Don’t Keep Your Day Job‘s Facebook page, I recommend completing the quiz and digging through the content on the site. It may not dramatically change your business, but it could spark an idea when you are stuck. At the very least, the encouragement and optimism in the emails and posts are a great pick-me-up when you’re feeling discouraged.