Are You Listening to the Right Writer? By Catharine Bramkamp

Dropping the ballLet’s welcome back monthly columnist Catharine Bramkamp as she shares with us “Are You Listening to the Right Writer? ” Enjoy!


I came across a brochure advertising a writing seminar to be led by Cheryl Strand who will forever look like Reese Witherspoon in my head.

Strand is not a writer.  She did have a good story: according to her memoir she was a complete loser, lost her mother, hiked, then wrote about it.  MS Strand did the hiking, but I am pretty sure she did not do all her writing.  Her book was the product of a wealth of editors who worked over the story to give it form and cohesion.  The movie script took the story another step further, creating a film that was lovely, engaging and worth watching.

Good for you Cheryl Strand.  She has a best-selling book.  And now is headlining an expensive worship on the west coast.

This either pisses you off.
Or you bought a ticket.
Most of us buy the ticket.

We buy because these best-selling authors are presenting as knowing something we don’t.  Come to this event, buy into this workshop and learn her secret. (Remember the Secret?).

That’s not to say the speaker does not have talent, she does.  Some of the memoir writers did one thing very well:  write a blog about cooking, falling in love after eating and praying, hike.  That single activity was recognized by at least one other person who was in a position to throw a team of professionals at the project.  What that speaker, that best seller has is: a PR team, a social media team, a marketing team, a publishing team, an editorial team, designers, promotors and an agent to coordinate it all.

But all we see is the front person, the brand representative.  The talent.

All we see is one face, one book cover and one offer to learn more about she wrote her book all for the low price for $999 not including room and board.

This is the secret.
She knows no more about writing that you do.
This is the other secret.

Certainly memoir writers of this ilk, the ones to do something interesting in order to write about it, did manage to discover a project that resonated.  They did something that was scalable. (I saw Eat, Pray, Love wine at Cost-Plus).   They were brave enough to share their pain and experiences.  And we need that.  We want those stories, the triumph, the big win.  We often do want to share in that the final fist pump that manifests in a speaking gig in Carmel, or a workshop in Tuscany.

I absolutely respect the writers who use their platform well and there are many who use their book, that team project, as a launching point to help others. These men and women are okay writers but better advocates, like Piper Kerman, who used her book, Orange is the New Black as a way to launch her advocacy for prison reform.  That is impressive.   A book can launch a new career, help along a cause, or shine light on a shadowy wrong.

But being a great spokesperson doesn’t necessarily make you a great writer, nor does a best seller automatically qualify you as an authority on writing.  So rather than believe a famous person has something to say about writing, expect instead to learn about his or her cause. Attend a seminar because you want to learn more about French cooking, or traveling, or hiking.  But don’t confuse these very sincere people with actual writers.

If you want to learn more about writing, find a writer. Research their track record; how many books have they published?  How many articles?  Is the author a one-hit wonder or did she follow up that best seller with seven more?

Look for professionals who know how to do the work, not just respond to a team who help craft their book.

Look for the authorities.  Sign up for their writing seminars.

That.  Is the secret.



Catharine Bramkamp, author

Catharine Bramkamp is the co-producer of Newbie Writers Podcast that focuses on newer writers and their concerns. She is a successful writing coach, Chief Storytelling Officer, and author of a dozen books including the Real Estate Diva Mysteries series, and The Future Girls series. She holds two degrees in English, and is an adjunct university professor. After fracturing her wrist, she has figured out there is very little she is able to do with one hand tied behind her back.

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  • Saille says:

    Oh, this is my one major pet peeve in the writing community. There are hundreds, maybe even thousands of people who are selling the ‘Secret’ whatever that is. It is amazing the amount of wading you have to do in order to find people who actually do know what it is that they talking about.

    All to often we are offered magic bullets, and we want so desperately to believe that such a thing exists that we hand over our hard earned money, only to realize, well I hope we realize, that we’ve just been had.

    Even the places you think are safe to find good information, and ‘real’ people aren’t always safe. You have to be careful, and remember that there is no magic formula.

  • Thanks for your thoughts! If I can save even one author from paying to hear someone who doesn’t have the right credentials and who really can’t help them, then my work here is done.
    I appreciate your comments!

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