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Troy Lambert Posts

Why Lists Interest Blog Readers

Often, authors ask me what they should blog about. Recently, Nokolas Baron approached me about writing a guest post, and shares on this very subject.

Thanks for being here Nikolas. Take it away!

The Age of Information

In this day and age if you can’t impress someone within the first ten seconds, you’ve lost your chance. From the very first sentence, picture, or frame, you have to encourage the reader to keep reading, and come back for more. It’s hard to hold the attention people used to instant gratification. Blog readers want to be entertained the instant they reach the site. The abundance of lists with pictures and quizzes about which TV character you are has seriously downsized the time people are willing to spend reading.

The average blog reader skims at best, and what’s easier to skim than a list? Lists quench an essential need: quick information. They display information fast, and they get to the point without any fluff. They give the reader what they want upfront without having to wade through any unnecessary information. Lists capture attention immediately and hold it for a short time. Just perfect for the instant gratification generation.

Where Do You Spend Your Time?

When you happen upon someone’s blog, what grabs your attention? The design? The photos? The titles and text? Think about what you’re looking for when you read a blog. Do you have time to read a ton of paragraphs or do you only have a few minutes before you make dinner to relax and read a short list? Americans are turning into time magicians. They’re able to cram more into a day than ever before. Free time is limited with longer work weeks, play dates, and appointments. Blog readers crave lists because they have only a few seconds to glance at the page.

In addition to time being precious, readers enjoy lists. A short list allows them to feel a sense of completion, and provides them with valuable information they need. Lists provide a beginning, middle, and satisfying end to the reader’s experience. Lists present information quickly; just what the reader wants.

When you consider that reader’s time is valuable, proofreading and editing become crucial. Nobody will return to a blog, whether it contains lists or not, if it’s bogged down by errors. If you’re a blogger, always perform a grammar and spell check before you publish. I like to use Grammarly because it’s easy to use, fast, and helps me find my most common errors. Over time it’s helped me to cut down on editing time so that I can post quicker and present clean and error-free posts.

Is There Anything Else?

Lists aren’t the end all be all. There are plenty of blog readers who appreciate a well-written paragraph, a great short story, or a travel log. Not all of them need to have lists in every post to feel like they’ve read something useful. There are infographics and charts, photos and videos, and polls. Blog readers enjoy all sorts of formats.

Instant gratification lasts merely that, an instant. Blogs with only lists will only succeed for a short time and then have to adapt to a new style to remain relevant. Blogs that focus more on useful content will find it easier to gain readers and keep them.

By Nikolas Baron

Thanks Nikolas for sharing your thoughts.

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Bio:

Nikolas discovered his love for the written word in Elementary School, where he started spending his afternoons sprawled across the living room floor devouring one Marc Brown children’s novel after the other and writing short stories about daring pirate adventures. After acquiring some experience in various marketing, business development, and hiring roles at internet startups in a few different countries, he decided to re-unite his professional life with his childhood passions by joining Grammarly’s marketing team in San Francisco. He has the pleasure of being tasked with talking to writers, bloggers, teachers, and others about how they use Grammarly’s online proofreading application to improve their writing. His free time is spent biking, traveling, and reading.

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Guilty

 

A poem that encapsulates the Samuel Elijah Johnson series.  You can see a video version here. Enjoy! The audio version is below.

Confession_HiResTrapped.

Stained glass, iron bars. Wooden pews and metal cots.
Hymnals with cardboard covers and leather clad Gideon Bibles.
Words freed from both, one with sweet voices, one with shouts of fury and admonition.
Other books abound, filled with laws many claim come from only ten.
How is that possible?
Innocent until proven guilty?
Not in front of a judge.
Nor in front of a congregation filled with frowning souls
who, without sin, proceed to cast the first stone. And the second. And the third.
Is it possible to find redemption in either place?
A courtroom or a church?

Money. Power. Fame. Recognition.
All bring with them their own burden.
The clothes make the man, appearances both important and deceiving.
But if all are guilty, the Truth an elusive fallacy,
what is the point?
Are not the things pursued by others, those that promise to free,
yet that somehow enslave, of equal value? If the world is offered at the price of a small bow,
a mere acknowledgement of another’s power,
is that too great a price? What gain is the world, if one’s soul
is lost.
Oh, the temptation!

My fist opens. Stones drop from my fingers to the dusty ground.
I am not without sin.
The ones I trusted? The truth I found? It too was tainted.
How can we know? How can we be so sure
we are right, the rest of the world so wrong?
With so many without doubt, the same consumes me. Truth stands in
the shadows, mocking the lie of my life.
My arm was cocked back, my wrist ready to snap forward, throw
with incredible force the nugget of Truth I thought to be mine.
Aimed true, it would strike. Cause damage, raise to
my lips a smug smile.
Proof that I was right.
Except
I was wrong.
I offer this to you now, my confession.
I am guilty.

Audio Version:

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Don’t Let Me Get Me

Don’t let me get me
I’m my own worst enemy
It’s bad when you annoy yourself
So irritating
Don’t wanna be my friend no more
I wanna be somebody else 

-Pink

Amazon is not the problem with publishing any more that cars are the problem with accidents, shovels cause holes, or Google causes porn.  True, without cars there would be fewer accidents, without shovels, holes would likely be shallower and there would be fewer of them, and without Google, internet porn would be harder to find, and regular smut would still be found at 7-11 with a brown paper wrapper around the cover.

Amazon is just a retailer who provides tools. Authors use those tools. They use them for a variety of reasons, including accessibility, cost, and convenience. The model is good, the plan solid, if now seemingly a bit large and over-reaching. The reason authors abandoned the tools of traditional publishing, agents, and the old gatekeepers is they were broken.

If you have two rakes in your shed, once broken, and one that works, you grab the one that works. Eventually, you just throw the old one away if you don’t fix it, or salvage the handle for another garden tool. Either way, you don’t continue to use it.

There will be other tools after Amazon. They were first, they were fast, and they showed an unbending support for indie authors. So far the competition is (at the moment) just not able to keep up. At some point someone will, though, but that’s not the bad part.

The bad part is the most proficient gate keepers, the ones who ran the publishing world for years are the very best equipped to reform the industry. They have the brand names, the personnel, the tools. But they won’t. Because they are their own worst enemy. The giant ship, though it could be turned by a tiny rudder in the open sea, sits in port, unable or unwilling to move.

A ship is safe in port, for a while, but that’s not what ships are for. And those ships that move get the attention. The ones that sit still get turned into museums. So every time I hear an indie book store or an author rail against the evil big guy Amazon, I remember the words: “It is far more valuable to realize one fault in yourself, than one thousand in another.”

So whatever the future of publishing holds, wherever authors meet readers, whoever comes after Amazon, don’t let me get me. Let me focus on my job: writing more. Writing better books. Putting them out there. Marketing responsibly, and with a global view.

Whatever the faults of those around me, the only ones I can work on are my own.

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Learning from Reading

IASFFeb1988I don’t have a degree. Not a bachelors or a masters. No PhD. In fact, I don’t even have an associate degree. Yet I have held a number of job positions that “required” a college degree. I work as an editor, and I often teach. Many times those in the audience hold higher degrees than I do.

I’m an autodidact. One who is largely self-taught. This is not a sigh of my genius or a consequence of an extremely high IQ. I don’t claim, and am pretty sure I do not have either of those things. The most valuable thing I gained from being educated in a private school was the ability to research, and learn on my own. It all started with one small thing.

I loved to read. Not just one thing, everything I could get my hands on. I learned about places I had never been, subjects I had never heard of, and people I had never met. For a boy who grew up in Southeastern Idaho, poor, and without the advantage of world travel, the results were astounding.

Science fiction led me to do a research report my freshman year on anti-matter, something I thought a thing of fiction before I visited the local library. Astronomy caught my eye for a brief semester of college (it was really a girl, but then I digress).

Ribsy (Beverly Cleary) and Black Beauty led me to a love of animals. The Hardy Boys series made me a child detective, forever wanting to find and solve mysteries. Later, reading Asimov, Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke caused me to question many of the things resting at the core of my beliefs.

I could go on, and bore you for hours about the authors I read, the influence their stories had on me, the interest they sparked that caused me to dig deeper, want to learn more. The short story “Put Your Hands Together” by O. Niemand in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine (February 1988) changed my view of church in a few short pages. Every now and then, I read it again to remind myself of a lesson I should have learned the first time I heard it.

The point is, reading shaped my life. It sparked learning, and ignited a passion inside me for what I do today. I still read, a lot. I write almost as much. I learn new things every day.

Reading gave me something school just couldn’t. I studied, and received my education outside traditional means. I took the path less traveled, and that has made all the difference.

Read. Encourage your kids to read. I promise, it will change your life.

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Instead of Making me Better

For fans of my blog, an exclusive Samuel Elijah Johnson story from Sam’s time as a teenager.

Haven’t read Redemption yet? Subscribe to my newsletter for a free copy! Jump over to the Giveaway page here before June 15th to spread the word to your friends.

A Samuel Elijah Johnson Story

Run just as fast as I can

To the middle of nowhere

To the middle of my frustrated fears

And I swear you’re just like a pill

Instead of makin’ me better,

You keep makin’ me ill

-Pink

“I’m leaving.”

“Sam, you can’t.” The youth pastor blocked the door.

“I can, and I will.” Sam was larger than the man trying to stop him, but he also knew the pastor was a black belt. Still, what was he going to do? Drop him right here?

At the first church he remembered attending with his mother Mary, the pastor might have. Violence was often the answer there, seen as appropriate punishment for sin. After his father died, they stayed for a couple years, but his mother told him it was too painful for her to go back.

He didn’t believe her. He saw the looks. Watched the men ask her out. In a final confrontation, the High Priest grabbed her arm. Dragged her into a confessional booth, even though mom made it clear they were “definitely not Catholic.” He’d seen the tears when she exited. Even then, only seven, he knew something was horribly wrong.

This was church number three since then. Methodist, Lutheran, and finally Baptist. It seemed when his mother got comfortable, and Sam started to know at least a few kids by name, something would happen, and they would leave.

“Arrogant prick,” his mom declared their last Sunday at the Lutheran church. “Reverend thinks he knows his scripture so well. A man of little faith, that’s what he is.”

Their choices were rapidly narrowing in this small Idaho town. There were only so many churches, and the pastors talked to each other, at least to share information about single mothers and little boys who might be “trouble.”

Except the First Fundamental Baptists. Not only did they separate themselves from the world, but from other churches too, the ones who watered down the word of God and didn’t take every word literally. The Baptists frowned on divorce, so there were few single mothers, most widows due to the dangerous work at the nuclear plant nearby.

Sam hated the Baptists. Not a little. A lot.

Pastor Ken was another “arrogant prick” to use his mother’s words. Sam was in his office was because he dared say so.

“I’m going, one way or another,” he declared. “You can’t stop me.”

“I could, but I won’t,” the pastor replied.

“Don’t threaten me with that martial arts bullshit.”

“Think of your mother. You’ll disappoint her.”

Before he knew it, he had Pastor Ken up against the wall, his tie twisted in his fist. “You don’t talk about my mom, or even mention her. You have no right.”

“Easy,” the pastor said. “Let me down, and we’ll talk.”

“Fuck you.”

“What did you say?” A white face coloring with anger stared at him.

“I said fuck you. Fuck your church. I’m out of here.”

A moment later Sam found himself against a couch, his head ringing.

“You might be able to talk like that at home, but you don’t talk like that here.”

“Here?”

“In the house of the Lord. Show some respect.”

Sam stood, and looked around the office. “If this is the house of the Lord, I think he’s been off at a summer house for quite a while. I haven’t seen him around.”

“Get out,” the words were said quietly, but with menace. The pastor stood beside the now open door.

“Thanks,” Sam stated. “Just what I wanted.”

His mom would be disappointed. But it was time for him to be his own man, stop living in her shadow, and that of his dead father.

Head down, he stormed out. He didn’t see the first punch coming. It glanced off his well-muscled shoulder, developed during hours of working out his frustrations in the gym. The second came toward his face, but he blocked it.

Sam had never studied the martial arts, but he could scrap. A natural fighter. He looked up to discover he was surrounded.

“We heard what you said to Pastor Ken.” The speaker was a student who went to the basement dojo after school every day, and thought he was much tougher than he actually was.

“And?” Sam said, facing those around him. He’d never get them all, but he could cause some damage. If he got the first down, the rest might back off.

“We want you to apologize,” the kid stated.

“I won’t. And I won’t be back. So do yourselves a favor, and let me go.”

“Not a chance. You can’t act like a heathen and get away with it. Not without asking forgiveness.”

“So this is what Jesus would do?”

He didn’t wait for an answer. He dove for the knees of the kid to his left. As he struck his thighs in a tackle, he head butted his victim in the groin. He heard a rush of breath.

Sam felt a punch to his kidneys. Fuck this noise, the thought. His favorite exercise in the gym was squats, so he stood, still holding the kid around the knees and spun around.

He felt a thud.

“Ow, Jesus!” he heard, and grinned. Blasphemer. These guys were far from the perfect they pretended.

The body over his shoulder went limp.

“Look at him. You broke his nose Jimmy.”

One of the remaining trio turned and ran.

“Put him down. He’s gonna bleed to death.”

“Are we done?” Sam asked.

“Yeah, man, geez, just put him down.”

Sam let the kid’s legs go, and the body fell from his shoulder. A crack sounded as its head struck the sidewalk. Ignoring it, he walked away.

He looked back once, and saw them kneeling beside their friend. Blood pooled on the sidewalk. The kid’s eyes were open but glassy.

“Wake up! Wake up!” he heard yelling, the slap of hands on skin, and frantic calls for help. Facing ahead, he walked out of the parking lot, turned right, and walked away. A few minutes later, an ambulance passed, sirens wailing, headed back the way he’d come.

Sam barely looked up. He was counting his steps, taking deep breaths, a little sick to his stomach.

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Let’s Talk About Sex

One Night in Boise by Troy Lambert - 1800HROn Tuesday, my erotic thriller novella, One Night in Boise will be released on the world. And though I have been published many times, I’m uncharacteristically nervous. I mean, it’s not that big of a deal to talk about sex, right?

This has never happened before, I promise. No, not sex. I’ve never written in a genre where sex is, in fact must be, integral to the story. And because of the nature of the series it is a part of (the City Nights series by Tirgearr Publishing), romance must also play a big role. It turns out that as a suspense thriller writer, and a lover and practice of sex, it really wasn’t that hard.*

*If you have not spotted, and snorted laughter at the innuendos in the first two paragraphs, wait a bit longer. I’m not done yet.

I didn’t see this coming. The idea of the City Nights Series (of which I act as managing editor) and me writing a piece for it came as a challenge and an opportunity. I took on both, with no regrets. For me, the suspense thriller world comes naturally, and sex has always been a part of my stories. I just had to lengthen themes already present, and write them with more detail, while remaining respectful. Not only that, but I had to do research (groan and moan, but it was fun) into the genre and what was trending. I had to read what others were writing, and analyze it. Turns out, writing is just writing, and stories are just stories, no matter what the genre.

OneNightLocation, location, location. True for business. True for sex. True for damn near anything really. The City Nights series gave me, and gives you, the opportunity to travel the world. To visit every city in a sensual way like no other, and see it through new eyes. I dare you. Come along with us. Don’t be nervous. Let’s talk about sex.

Start with One Night in Boise. But you won’t want to stop there. We’ll be traveling the world. Come join us. You may be amazed what you find.

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Say Goodbye Author Stand

AuthorstandI remember when I posted my first article on AuthorStand, for a short story competition. It turned out the contest was more about who you knew more than anything else, and as a relative newbie to the fiction author realm, I didn’t do so well. It didn’t go viral, and I didn’t win.

But I learned some vital things about building platform, mu audience and I also saw some cool writing over the years. I didn’t use the service much recently, instead turned into a lurker. So when I saw the news about Joe Niewierski, the founder, selling out to Book Country I was crushed: Book Country is a subsidiary of Penguin Books. What now?

Let me say before I go further that Penguin, by purchasing Book Country and opening itself at least to considering self-publishing as a potential path to publication, or at the very least the talented pool of indie authors as a pond worth fishing in for new talent, does show some willingness to adapt. They still have horrible contracts, too low of royalties to authors especially for e-books, and two high of prices for what is the paperback of today. Still, knowing folks who work or have worked there, the company may wake in time to save itself, and join the emerging trends in the industry.

However, AuthorStand was one of the more independent ways to distribute ones work, and was filled with competitions and other opportunities to get real feedback and hone your writing craft. There’s no question that Penguin has talented scouts and editors, and opportunities may arise for authors to jump into the traditional pond if they so desire.

But what about those who wish to remain independent? Who are really what AuthorStand was all about? That remains to be seen, but with a parent company with an intrinsic interest in converting Indie authors to a more traditional publishing path to publication, the outlook is questionable at best.

RIP AuthorStand. Welcome Book Country. I just hope it stays a country of free and independent individuals rather than a corporate farm.

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Maintaining Independence

Most people start their own businesses because they want to be their own boss. We work more hours, take fewer breaks and usually fewer vacations, and are never truly off the clock. So why trade working 40 hours a week for someone else, and instead work 100 for yourself for exactly the same or sometimes less pay? Independence.

As an author, you are starting your own business, whether you like the idea or not, at least if you plan to sell your work. It does not matter your chosen path to publication. There are certain things no one will do for you. Since the Entrepreneurial Authors’ Un-conference last week in here in Boise I have fielded tons of questions about this, so let me (quickly) break down some differences for you.

Pay now, or Pay Later.  The simplest explanation of self-publishing vs. submitting to a publisher is pay now (self) or pay later (publisher in royalties). You are not only paying in money, but in time to source editors, formatters, cover designers, and distribution aggregators, if you wish to use one. Most publishers become your aggregator, and source your cover, editors, and handle formatting for publication. You pay them in royalties down the road. Sounds simple enough, right?

skullTraditional Publishing. If you have attended even one of my workshops, you have already heard me say traditional publishing, the typical agent/editor/Big 5 path is fraught with danger, in fact is probably death for your book. Advances are disappearing, or in some cases even when promised not paid (see the recent Harlequin books scandal), and that part of the industry is in steady decline. Why do I say that?

  • Low Royalties, especially on e-books. The percentages offered by the Big 5 on e-books reflects the percentage offered on paper books, but production costs for e-books are much lower. More on this another time.
  • Non-compete clauses. What do these mean? You are locked in to submitting to one publisher and one publisher only. In theory, as self-publishing amounts to starting your own publishing company, so you cannot self-publish either while under contract.
  • Marketing and brand building. Unless you are a huge success, or already have a name for yourself (and if you do, why do you need a big publishing house?), large publishers (or small, but we will get there) do not market for you, and while they offer some assistance, to not help you build your fan base. That is still your responsibility regardless of your path to publication.

Stray Ally by Troy Lambert - high resSmall Presses. Small presses, some digital first, some digital only, some digital and print offer advantages not found in traditional publishers. They offer higher royalties (usually, check this out before signing with anyone), have no non-compete clauses (see previous), so offer a better deal. They still source covers, editing, and formatting for you. (See the cover to the right, Tirgearr Publishing‘s cover for my novel Stray Ally)

You are still expected to do your own marketing and brand building. While having a publisher on your side can help, as they have their own brand, and a vested interest in seeing your book sell, they still cannot brand you and build your audience for you. Only you can do that, and you will be expected to.

True Independence. As soon as you sign a contract, even a good one, you lose some control of your work. You do not have the responsibility to find a cover designer, and although small presses often seek your input, you do not get final say over what your cover looks like. With a traditional press, you get even less.

RedemptionfinalDon’t like the way your book is formatted? You can protest to a certain level, but at the end of the day you have a contract and a deadline. And if you don’t like your editor, you may be able to switch (small press) but they likely have only a few choices (also on contract).

The only way to stay truly independent is to source everything yourself, and what you cannot do, such as edit your own work, pay someone to do. This is time consuming, costs money, and you will fail from time to time, relying on the wrong editor or the wrong formatter, or find the cover designer was not at all what you expected. Mistakes will happen. (My original cover for Redemption was a disaster. See the new one, designed by Natalie Mayfield Draney on the left)

 

But they will be yours. I both submit to small press, and self-publish, evaluating each project on its own goals, parameters, and my personal time and funding constraints.

Your path is yours to choose. Remember, once a contract is in place, you are no longer 100% independent. But neither are you 100% responsible for at least some of the outcomes. Weigh your options carefully, based on your goals and desires for your work.

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Stray Ally and Creation: Much Ado about Nothing

Notice, I did not say creationism. Let me start this round about scientific treatise this way: A neutron and proton are at home. Their dog, electron, is circling the yard. A quark walks up and knocks on the door. Proton: “Who is it?” Neutron looks out: “There’s nothing there.” But there is something, it’s just not visible.

In 2013 a group of scientists, quite smarter than I am gathered at the Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate held every year at the American Museum of Natural History (See video below) to discuss nothing. Nothing? That’s right. For two hours they argue, quite compellingly on both sides, about whether or not nothing actually exists.

This quickly leads to the origin of the universe, and the possibility of time travel. For scientifically minded authors interested in writing science fiction, it’s a treasure trove of ideas. There may even be a Troy Lambert suspense thriller sci-fi novel in the works at some point.

But it made me think about the making of something from nothing. Not in relation to the origin of the universe, and whether God initiated the process, some other intelligent design, or the interaction of the laws of physics on nothing that scientists describe as anything but nothing.

Stray Ally by Troy Lambert - high resRather, I thought of it in terms of language. How does an author create his stories? Where do his ideas come from? Nothing? It’s difficult scientifically to describe the origin of stories, or even language. Some say that creativity is only human, and that it comes from the heart, or the soul, something many claim the lower animals do not possess. However, when looking at man’s best friend, not even considered one of the more intelligent animals, the theory does not hold up.

My dog can be mischievous. You could say he is motivated by food, the need for praise, seeking approval, training but if you have owned a dog, you know these instincts don’t explain all of their behavior. You also know dogs use language. When you have owned a dog, you begin to understand what his barks, looks, and whines mean. He and you have established communication, and there are times when your dog is creative when you fail to understand what he is trying to communicate, or when he is home alone and bored.

But where does his language and his need to communicate come from? Nothing? What about the things he gets up because of boredom? Where do his “ideas” for those things come from?

Creativity is not an instinct. At times in human history, it has been the stuff that enabled the survival of the species, but since the beginning man has always expressed himself and communicated through art and language.

In Stray Ally, Sparky communicates, and uses his creativity to help Clarke solve problems (other dogs too). The principle is not far-fetched. It is one based on observations. Your dog is a creative genius, and he too can create communication and language from nothing. Is his tearing of the couch cushions actually art?

He may not be writing novels, or songs, or painting, at least not yet. But to say that we are the only creative beings is not only arrogant and crude, but it is wrong.

Your dog too, can create something seemingly from nothing. Scientist will tell you nothing is not nothing at all. We won’t explore the nothing the way they do. But creativity is not unique to us, the only uniqueness comes in the creation itself.

So go on. Transform your nothing into something. You too are a creator.

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Show me Your Weakness

We all like strong characters. Yet we don’t. You know what I mean. Well, maybe you won’t, but you will soon. I’ve actually posted about believability before, but this is a little different. Here are some examples.

Rocky Balboa. Determination. Drive. The incredible ability to take a punch, and with a cut below the eye, make a comeback. Determination puts him in the ring, often where he shouldn’t be. His weakness is his love of fighting. But that same love, and the desire to win, grants hi victory over bigger, faster, and better fighters.

John McClane. Die Hard. Die Harder. Die Hard with a Vengeance. You remember this guy? His weakness is his tragic relationships with his (ex) wife, daughter, and nearly everyone around him. He has one passion: getting the bad guy, even if he has to bend the law to do it. His strength is his determination. In every story, he gets his ass kicked, over and over. His relationships are stretched, always near the breaking point.

Every one he comes up against is strong too. He does not come up against weak men and easily overcome them. Instead he is victorious through iron will. We all want to identify with that and believe that if push came to shove, we would do the same. We identify with both his strengths and weaknesses.

Katniss Everdeen. Hunger Games? Don’t groan. Just hear me out. Her weakness is loyalty, from the very beginning. In the end, her loyalty also allows her to achieve final victory, but it costs her, and several times along the way (book and movie) we wonder if it will be her undoing. But it is also her strength (along with some sick archery skills).

All of these very different heroes have one common trait. They are not afraid to show us their weaknesses. They overcome those at least as strong as they are, most often stronger. Their weakness is also often a part of their strength. Even though they triumph, it is not without hardship.

So stop being afraid. Show us your flaws. In the end, they may be the very things that save you.

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