Expert Training

With so many types of media available to citizens of the 21st century, anyone can appear to be an expert in anything. Access to the internet makes everyone smart.

Or at least appear to be smart.

Fifteen years ago I searched online for the acronym LOL because I wasn’t cool enough to know what it meant. Now I know.  It means “left out letters” for people in a hurry to communicate.

If you are going to write a book, extra pressure and added requirements not required of other content creators are placed on you.

You don’t need to be a world-renowned expert in economics to repost a Facebook entry or blog about current economic factors driving the markets or to comment on the latest global-trade situation.

But if you write a book about global trade, you need to be someone known for your knowledge of the field. The entry requirements are different for book authors.

Since the 20th-century media explosion when newspapers, radio, television and the internet gave us more communications options than we could ever imagine, book authors still need to be experts in what they write.

Books are important. They are almost always on big topics, asking someone to devote 8-10 hours or more of their time reading them. They better be significant to justify the price paid in time and money.

While I can find a free article online on how to get a motor-oil stain off my garage floor, it is in a book where I read about the history of the internal combustion engine. The former can be written by a person who found out how to use a two-liter bottle of Coca Cola and a Mentos mint to clean the floor. (Does that work?) But the latter needs to be written by an industry insider.

Often, when reviewing a proposal for a nonfiction work, I try to imagine an author interviewed on radio or TV. When introduced, I wonder if their credentials would leave a positive impression on the host and the listeners.

Sometimes the answer is no.

I’ve stated this before on this blog and in various workshops I’ve taught: One of the most frustrating aspects of Christian publishing is knowing the message of the Bible is understandable and accessible to any true follower of Christ, yet still requiring authors of books with Christian themes to have a broadly recognized and impressive set of credentials, both education and experience.

They need to be experts.

Why?

Competition. Publishers want the highest qualifications for their authors, so agents search for them as well.

Readers also decide where they will apply their money and reading time, and authors with credentials are considered before someone without them. I suspect many of us have looked at the author bio before buying a nonfiction book. As Steve Laube likes to say, “What right do they have to write this book?”

Books are important and written by experts.

The world of easy access to media—social media, blogging, YouTube videos and, of course, author-published books—gives the impression content-creators just need to post something or make it available to the world.

But access does not mean accuracy. As a matter of fact, universal access to the media creates a substantial potential for error to be spread.

Availability does not mean credibility.

Not every Christian book published by traditional or author-managed publishing is a perfect reflection of scriptural truth. But at least traditional publishers and many self-managed authors put the manuscript through multiple stages of review, looking for error, and not only the spelling, grammar and punctuation.

Still, you don’t write a book to become an expert in something; you write a book because you are an expert in something.

Finally, not every message needs to be held hostage in a book. Books are a slow and expensive (both time and money) way to get a message out to relatively few people compared to other media options.

Other media are much better for things that must be made available quickly to a wide audience.

But if you still want to write a book, be an expert in what you write. You’ll be asked to defend the content, and your responses need to come from a deep well.

 

14 Responses to Expert Training

  1. Shirlee Abbott October 2, 2018 at 4:53 am #

    I’m “asking someone to devote 8-10 hours or more of their time ” to my words. Without pay. They pay for the privilege.

    That puts it in perspective, Dan. Thank you.

  2. Damon J. Gray October 2, 2018 at 5:40 am #

    There is an uncomfortable incongruity between our acknowledgement that many of the disciples were “unlearned, ordinary men”(Acts 4:13) who turned the world upside down with the gospel message, yet we are reticent to give an ear or a read to one who cannot list a half-dozen credentialing letters after his or her last name.

    I understand the argument, but also note the inconsistency between our ideals and our demands.

  3. Sharon Kay Connell October 2, 2018 at 6:18 am #

    I’m assuming you’re talking about non-fiction books when you say you need to be an expert, Dan. Writing fiction does require a certain amount of research in order to make the story realistic to the reader, but certain not expertise in everything that’s mentioned in the tale.

    We writers, at least fiction writers, are constantly learning this craft. I don’t consider any author an expert. We should always be learning. Either by our research or by the changes in what readers want to read. I’m not even talking about the changes in grammar, which are very frustrating, if you ask me. There are also changes to what editors feel is the right way to express yourself. But I don’t feel that they are experts in their field either. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen errors in a book (and even my own “edited” manuscript) after it’s been edited and published.

    No, we are not “experts.” We are authors doing our best to get out a story, and hopefully have done our best to research all we need to make the book a good read.

    Regarding non-fiction, I would agree to a certain extent. Please don’t write about something that you are not well versed in yourself. Have enough experience in the subject to give “expert” advice.

  4. Kimberly Joy October 2, 2018 at 6:32 am #

    A person’s experience means more to me than the letters behind their name. If one writes a book on walking with God, I want to know how long they’ve walked with Him. If they write on grief, I want to know how their heart has been broken. I want to know that they’ve lived their message before writing it.

    • Tisha October 2, 2018 at 6:45 pm #

      Love this, Kimberly. In a sense, experience=credentials=education. Do you think all have weight in their own right?

  5. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser October 2, 2018 at 7:03 am #

    A lance corporal who has survived one firefight has more authority to write about combat than the most degreed and credentialled civilian professor of military science.

    For myself, I have no education in theology; I came to Christianity through the portal of Zen Buddhism, and am still viewed askance by many, as if I’m not quite theologically hygienic.

    But like the 19-year-old Marine clutching his M4 as the rosary it becomes, I’m holding to unspeakable pain and dread, and to boundless hope and trust, as I walk the twilight world of terminal cancer and faith.

    Here, the words of the experts fade against the roaring from the darkness, and they pale against the Real Light that keeps the monsters at bay.

    The terror is too great to be dispelled by Scripture, but Scripture tells the story that makes the faint footprints visible, of the One who walked this path before, showing that it can be done.

    I’m no expert. I’m just a writer who happens to be dying, and who happens to be a Christian.

    • Judith Robl October 2, 2018 at 2:29 pm #

      Andrew, you have hit the nail on the head.

      There is sometimes a world of difference between the credentialed and the competent. I will hold my own about grief and forgiveness in any venue because of my experience, not because of my education.

      Education may give you facts. Experience gives you wisdom, if you will take it.

      Praying that today is a better day for you, dear brother in Christ.

    • Jennifer Mugrage October 2, 2018 at 2:37 pm #

      “Here, the words of experts fade against the roaring from the darkness.”

      That is true. I have been there. I can’t stand parenting books to this day, just as I’ll bet you currently can’t stand Grief, Pain, or Cancer books.

  6. Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D October 2, 2018 at 10:05 am #

    Thanks for the insight, Dan. I’m an expert on the television show House, M.D., if anyone wants to know…. That and five dollars will buy you….not much.

  7. Jaime October 2, 2018 at 10:48 am #

    Great reminder! I learned this lesson when I began speaking and teaching – I’d better be able to defend every word that comes out of my mouth! Another popular writer/speaker teaches that before you present a topic, you should know everything about it, and all around it, intimately. We should know even more about our subject than we’re writing down or speaking on, to ensure we fully and deeply understand what it is we’re presenting.

  8. claire o'sullivan October 2, 2018 at 12:30 pm #

    Whoa, Dan! I am an expert!

    okay. In stupidity, trying to be in control of all things, sometimes volcanic, and backsliding (there are others not coming to mind right now, let me ask my husband and get back to you…).

    So I write about that in my fiction. But I write too how our Lord speaks to us through the Word and convicts our hearts through the Holy Spirit, and how the MC is impacted in each aspect of the walk we learn. Bible school and studying as a Berean helps, but I am no expert, there.

  9. Jennifer Mugrage October 2, 2018 at 2:39 pm #

    So … does this mean I should have included a bibliography with the proposal package for my novel? I have the bibliography, but don’t ever include it because no one asks.

  10. Rebekah Love Dorris October 2, 2018 at 2:42 pm #

    “Quit while you’re ahead” comes off harsh, but there’s mercy there. It’s true. As a reader I’m very picky. And I expect my readers to love me because I’m me? Hmm.

    This is exactly what makes me think I need to zone in on those already listening to me and lavish them with the message I’ve been given, rather than bemoan my smallish following or builds a platform with gimmicks. I am so sick of gimmicks.

    The greatest friendships happen on a small scale, and I believe the best teaching happens face to face. One on one. Not sure what that means for my writing, but Psalm 32:8 never fails.

  11. Tisha October 2, 2018 at 6:53 pm #

    Dan, I like that, we need to defend our words and they need to come from a deep well. I guess it’s like most everything else in life, we really need to make sure that what we do has a purpose and a reason behind it. And answering that So what? factor pretty much nails it or sends us back to the brainstorming board.

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