The World’s Greatest Book

I’m Dave Bricker,transparent-charMFA: author, editor, graphic designer, interactive developer, and design educator. I help writers turn well-crafted manuscripts into beautiful, high-quality books. My website offers straight talk for writers about producing and marketing excellent books, eBook technology, book design, typography, writing, literacy, and the publishing business.

Thank you for reading. Enjoy your publishing journey and get in touch if you want help making your book excellent.

—Dave Bricker

The Elements of Storytelling

The Four Elements of StorytellingWhether you’re a writer, a speaker, or a business professional, storytelling empowers you to connect successfully with readers, family members, colleagues, employees, and clients. This article explores the four elements of a good story: conflict, transformation, authenticity, and magic—and how you can use them to motivate and inspire.

Storytelling Element 1: Conflict

Stories are driven by conflict—challenges that must be overcome, obstacles that must be faced.

Cinderella’s jealous stepmother keeps her as a house slave to cook and clean. She is not allowed to attend the royal ball where the prince is to select a bride. Will she spend her life locked in a tower with only mice for friends?

When Peter Parker is bitten by a radioactive spider, he obtains superhuman strength and speed, and the ability to climb walls. Parker witnesses a robbery in progress but does nothing to stop it. Later, the same criminal kills his uncle. Burdened by guilt, Peter must reassess his principles and priorities.

ACME Corporation faces competition from knock-offs and cheap imports. If it can’t convince customers that its higher-priced, domestic product is superior, it will soon be out of business.

XYZ Company’s employees are demotivated by layoffs and cutbacks, even though these tough decisions have kept the company afloat. Workers think management doesn’t see the “big picture.” Morale is low. Productivity and profitability are in decline.

Conflict gives us a reason to turn the page; it’s the gravitas that pulls us into the story. We want to find out what happens. Continue reading →

The Truth About Christmas: A Holiday Parable by Dave Bricker

The Truth About Christmas by Dave Bricker

Jefferson Baugh despised Christmas. He hated the incessant month-long cacophony of pop-music-infused holiday carols that began the day after Thanksgiving and droned on through New Years. He loathed holiday sales and the annual cycle of rampant commercialism. He scoffed at animated Christmas shows featuring doe-eyed children who found their way home because they believed. And at fifteen years of age, gifts “from Santa” disgusted him. Christmas was phony, hypocritical, insincere, and absurd.

Jefferson ignored the half-dozen student presentations that preceded his own, thinking of them as so many stepping-stones on the path toward winter break—a respite from teachers, classrooms, homework, and morons wearing elf hats and reindeer antler hairbands that could not come too soon. A final “Feliz Navidad” slide ended Maria Perez’s agonizing presentation on Puerto Rican Holiday Traditions. The sprinkle of polite classroom applause faded. Miss Hamilton took a deep breath followed by an unintentionally audible sigh. “Mr. Baugh, what do you have to show us today?”

Jefferson approached the front of the class—not so slowly that he could be accused of stalling, but just slowly enough to inspire a note of tension in the room. His disheveled hair, carelessly tucked-in shirt, and the hole in the thigh of his well-worn jeans suggested that despite his many hours of research, Jefferson was not prepared to deliver his presentation.

But he was prepared—prepared to meet Christmas head-on. Miss Hamilton’s “holiday presentation” assignment offered the perfect opportunity to state his case against hollow traditions and “un-Christian practices”—not that he was at all religious—but Jefferson had armed himself with facts—inarguable, incontestable, undeniable facts. What self-respecting person would dare contradict conclusions derived from truth? Jefferson was confident of victory over the dark forces of ignorance. Continue reading →

Nonfiction Writing and the One-sided Sales Conversation

one-sided-salesBusiness, technology, and how-to books can be viewed as one-sided sales conversations. Though the author may hope to sell products or services, what’s usually being sold directly to the reader is an idea—a strategy or philosophy that can be used to achieve a benefit. And the author is not present when they make their pitch—hence the one-sided conversation. Before readers will invest time in consuming, understanding, and executing the book’s idea, they need to know that the author:

  • Understands their culture
  • Addresses their pain points and challenges


And that the author will produce specific benefits that:

  • Save time and money
  • Reduce stress
  • Make them feel better about themselves and their place in the world

Chapter 1: Is My Book for You?

Nonfiction authors often wish to establish thought leadership. They want to build communities and catalyze movements around their ideas. To do this, they need to put their books in the hands of relevant readers. Have you ever filled out an online form and downloaded a piece of software only to discover that the developer failed to mention it only runs on whatever platform you don’t use? Failure to qualify your user/reader results in nothing but unread books and ill will. In the first chapter (and on the back cover), make it clear who your ideal readers are and what result you intend to deliver for them. Who is your customer and what is your value proposition. Continue reading →

Want a Traditional Publishing Contract? Do Your Homework

traditional publishingThis article discusses the pros and cons of traditional publishing. Abandon your biases, study the business of publishing, and choose the publishing method that best suits you and your book.

Perhaps the biggest myth in publishing is that as a writer, you simply choose a path: self-publish or find an agent. You can certainly choose to self-publish, but traditional publishing is a bit more like running for public office—you have to get yourself elected. Don’t plan on writing a manuscript, sending it off to a few publishing agents, and finding yourself comparing offers a few weeks later—even if your book is fantastic.

Traditional publishing houses are remarkable businesses. Understand the demanding world they succeed in and you’ll have no choice but to admire what they do. Here’s a short list: Continue reading →

Thoughts on 21st Century Literacy

einstein-literacy21st Century Literacy: Introduction

The traditional concept of literacy was built on the assumption that the written word was confined to the printed page, but this is no longer the case. Text is accompanied by images, video, interactivity, and technology. “21st century literacy” requires the skills to not only read and write, but to consume and publish content across a range of media.

This standard for 21st century literacy is admittedly idealistic. The scope of the suggested literacy skills is too broad for any one person to master as it encompasses a range of left- and right-brained tasks and perspectives. The goal of this proposal is not to suggest that anyone who lacks ability in one or more of these areas is “illiterate.” Rather, the 21st century literate is someone who has studied a spectrum of communication challenges that require solutions rooted in written language, graphic design, interactive and motion graphics, code, and other relevant media. Students who learn what the solutions are need not learn how to implement them all. “Literacy” comes with an understanding of what skills are required to meet the challenges of communicating ideas and building communities around them. As such, when this article discusses the “skills required of the 21st century literate,” implied is that students learn to recognize what solutions and talents are required to solve a given problem—not that they should necessarily be capable of personally delivering work that requires teams of professionals in the “real” world. Continue reading →

EBook Production: How Did You Make Your EBook?

eBook-production-surveyThis survey aims to reveal trends in eBook production. How did you produce your last eBook and how much money did you spend? Did you do it yourself, submit your manuscript to a conversion service, or hire a freelancer? Are you happy with the results? Where are your eBooks available?

If you’ve published multiple books, base your responses on the most recent one.

Results will be made public. Subscribe at the bottom of the survey page to be notified when results are posted.

Thank you! Continue reading →

Essay Writing and The Art of the Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich

essay-writingThis article explores the simple art of essay writing and how its principles can be applied to most any kind of written work. Even if you never write an academic paper again, the techniques discussed here will help you write more focused and powerful prose. Time spent outlining your assertions and supporting principles makes faster work of the book creation process. Following the principles of essay writing ensures that readers can follow your plot, see the relevance of your examples, and understand your lessons and conclusions. If your goal is to teach or transform your reader in some way, essay structure helps break your book down into discrete and digestible blocks of information.

As an editor, one of the most common flaws I find in manuscripts, especially in nonfiction writing, is a failure to “keep the writing on the rails.” A section may start off talking about one topic, but one story leads to another until the subject drifts. Very often, at the end of a chapter or section, the writer fails to offer a conclusion that reminds the reader what the topic at hand is, and explains how the stories and examples support the chapter’s point. Good storytelling is always engaging, but it can be distracting. Remind readers what point you’re making often enough to keep them focused without getting lost in your anecdotes. Essay writing techniques help keep your writing and your readers focused.

I was fortunate to have been given a strong grounding in 5-paragraph essay writing in high school. One of my old teachers is still around, and I never fail to thank Mike Stokes when I see him at a reunion or a function at the school. Years later, when I taught thesis writing, I’d have my graduate students start with a simple exercise: Write the topic paragraph for an essay called “The Art of the Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich.” If you want to test yourself, take 5 minutes to try the exercise before reading on. Continue reading →

Join Me for a Free Business & Publishing Summit

Rose Sneeringer, The Book Nurturer, invited me to join her panel of experts in the publishing portion of her summit, “Creating Your Dream Business: How to Follow Your Calling, Fulfill Your Purpose, and Succeed at the Work You Love!” The publishing telesummit is part of a broad selection of entrepreneurial discussions designed to promote creative entrepreneurship. The online event begins on February 15, 2016.

Publishing offers great opportunities for writers who pursue it as a business, but those who pursue writing as an art are often frustrated with their business results. In the publishing summit, we discuss some of the important  challenges that face indie writers, how indie publishing is different from traditional publishing, common publishing pitfalls and mistakes, and how to adjust your expectations (or your writing and strategy) to achieve success.

YourDreamBizGeneralThe publishing telesummit covers such topics as:

  • Book publicity
  • Book and Cover design
  • Find the right editor
  • Take control of your publishing business
  • Should you hire a book publicist?
  • EBooks in the web browser
  • Making your own eBooks with WordPress

Sign up to attend the free publishing telesummit to hear my conversation with Rose and expert book publicist, Penny Sansevieri, along with publishing, marketing, and business advice from the rest of the panel of business and publishing professionals at


Publishing Advice – Practices & Principles

publishing-adviceThe following publishing advice is based on my own experiences and those of my clients. I hope you find it valuable and encouraging, even if it changes your expectations.

I’ve written and published 6 books, and I’m working on my seventh. I’ve guided many remarkable people through the process of telling their remarkable stories, and served as editor, typesetter, cover designer, web developer, and marketer. I love writing, publishing, and book design, but the least pleasant part of my work involves delivering “straight talk” that has popped many a shiny bubble. My experiences in publishing have been overwhelmingly positive, but I routinely hear from writers who have made expensive mistakes. Others are frustrated and stuck in the writing process. The good news is that with a bit of research, the right resources, and a few reality checks, problems can be avoided. You probably can’t do it yourself, and you probably can’t do it for free, but you can publish an excellent book and find the process rewarding.

Here are few snippets of writing, book design, and publishing advice:

Of course it sucks; that’s why it’s called a “rough” draft. Keep writing.

Many great books are terrible products. Many terrible books are great products. Write for the marketplace or write because you have something to say, but know where your book lies on the spectrum between art and business. Adjust your expectations accordingly.

Some writers struggle to generate ideas. “What will I write about?” Trying to have an idea is like trying to fall asleep. It doesn’t happen until you stop trying. But once you do fall asleep, a river of ideas flows through your head—characters, settings, conflicts, colors. Sit at your keyboard. Close your eyes. Take a deep, slow breath. Write something—anything. Don’t judge it. Don’t worry if it’s “good.” You don’t have to use it. Hold the pen for God. Just write something. You don’t even have to know consciously what it’s going to be. You may have to try this exercise several times before you “let go enough to flow.”

Given the low profit you make on an individual book and the quantity you have to sell to break even, it’s difficult to justify the costs of editors, typesetters, and cover designers. But given the time, care, contemplation, determination, and love that go into writing a book, it’s as difficult to justify presenting your book in any way that undermines the value and sincerity of the ideas it contains. Excellence is not always practical, but mediocrity contaminates everything it touches.

Continue reading →

The Singular They is Now Officially Correct

singular theyFind your favorite writer and give them this message: They no longer have to mire their writing down with awkward “his or her” and “he or she” and “he/she” usages. According to The Washington Post, the singular they/them has been adopted as officially correct English by over 200 linguists at the American Dialect Society. The Washington Post has already integrated the new rule into its style guide.

Traditionally, they and them have been plural, referring to groups of more than one person. When referring to one person of unknown gender, the generic masculine served well until feminists took issue with practice.

Find a teacher in the hall and give this gift to him. I'm sure he'll appreciate it.


Find a teacher in the hall and give this gift to him or her. I'm sure he or she will appreciate it.

Speed bumps? No. You know those tire shredders they have at car rental facilities that prevent drivers of stolen cars from driving out the entrances? What a quandary! Is eviscerating our sentences truly a sign of respect for women? Good prose is music. This is noise. Some settling of contents occurs during shipping and handling. Not good. Continue reading →