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Ways leaders can capture readers' attention

Dec. 23, 2017 | by Ken Walker

Show, don’t tell: this was one of the first lessons I learned when I launched into the deep waters of freelance writing (and editing) years ago. Essentially, it means to not just say something is going on, but use vibrant, real-life examples of the activity.

For example, don’t just say it was cold when Jack left the house in the morning. Write how he turned up the collar of his coat against the icy wind, and stuffed his hands deep into his pockets.

Just because it’s an old lesson doesn’t mean it’s not a valuable one.

The reason I think it’s worth repeating is two authors I talked with recently. One is a friend who wants to re-release a small book of parenting guidelines he published in 1994. The other has a thesis that he says originated with a sermon he delivered many years ago. 

While I hope to help bring both of these messages to life, they have similar shortcomings. Each sounds like a dated Bible lecture instead of material with valuable, modern-day applications. 

It’s akin to preparing sermons as if you were speaking in 1987 instead of 2017. Talking about match-making services when most young adults use dating apps will brand you as out of touch. 

Reaching others

In the “old days,” you could start a book (or sermon) with a scriptural reference, since you could assume the reading audience had some familiarity with Scripture. Not only is that no longer true, but failing to draw some relevance to where people live now—not as you wish they did—may automatically lose readers.  

Here’s how author Kristin Fry started her forthcoming book on dating apps: “We all love happily-ever-afterstories. That’s why Disney movies and chick flicks are so popular. Despite our past experiences, current realities, and whether we are comfortable admitting it, I believe there is something inside all of us that hopes happily ever after will happen to us too.”

From the get-go, Fry lays the groundwork for what I (the content editor) found to be engaging, witty and relevant material, and yet also biblically-grounded. 

At its heart, Beyond the Swipe—which Kregel Publications will release Apr. 24—is about interpersonal relationships and how to approach them, using scriptural guidelines as the benchmark. Yet she does so in the context of dating apps, which Fry says are the way adults 18 to 39 make connections.

Had she started out with the kind of didactic, lecture-oriented style I often see from would-be authors, her book would offer little promise. But because of the way she approaches the subject, with anecdotes and contemporary illustrations, it has considerable potential.

Writing to the audience

Another reason I foresee success for Beyond the Swipe is focus: Fry is writing about women and to women. No doubt some men will read her book, but because she knows who she’s addressing she hits the target.

In my friend’s case, his parenting book has several shortcomings, including its lack of acknowledgement of the perils of modern-day parenting. I told him one of the first things he needs to do is acknowledge some of his failures and that he realizes it’s a much different world than when he parented. 

Once he’s established common ground, he can spell out the timeless wisdom that readers can find in the Bible. But if he starts out sounding like he’s writing to grandparents instead of young adults, his book stands little chance of finding an audience. 

I don’t mean to make any of this sound simple. But showing instead of telling, and knowing your intended audience, will result in a better book.

Photo source: istock

Ken Walker

An experienced freelance writer, co-author and book editor, Ken Walker edits blogs for several contributors to Church Central and has coached various bloggers for the site. A member of the Christian PEN (Proofreaders and Editors Network), he has co-authored, edited or contributed to more than 50 books. You can see samples of his work or ask about his services as a writing coach by going to or by e-mailing

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