Thursday, April 27, 2017

ABC Post 26--Review of The Brick and Mortar Formula

This is the third and last in my series of reviews of books by siblings of friends.

The friend: Esta Miller Doutrich. Her mom and I knew each other, back in Canada, and were pregnant at the same time with Esta and Emily. But then in a happy twist of fate, Esta married Matt's friend Justin, and they live about six miles up the road, and now Esta and I are friends as adults.  Esta is funny, and smart, and wise. She is a nurse and gives me medical advice. And she reads a lot.

She appreciates all things tea.

Here's Emily and Esta, at Justin and Esta's wedding.

But this is actually about her sibling: Jon Miller, a tall bearded lumberjack type who lives in a camper with his sweet writer wife Janessa and travels about the country promoting smokeless fire pits.

[photo stolen from their blog]
The book: The Brick and Mortar Formula

Actually, this is more about people and ideas than a book review. But stay with me.

Before Jon and Janessa were guests in our home a few months ago, I was forewarned that Jon is like an eager puppy, tumbling with ideas. His specialty is marketing, and he has lots of ideas that you've never thought of for selling and promoting your product while saving time.

As we sipped tea after dinner--and while Jon and Janessa asked for more and assured me that if I went into business distributing Kenyan tea, they'd buy it--I asked Jon way too many questions about distributing my writing more efficiently.

I learned a lot.

For instance, did you know that you can go online and hire people to do almost every step of the self-publishing process except the actual writing? [Actually, you could probably hire that out too.] You can have someone design the cover, another to format the manuscript, another to edit. If you get someone in Asia to do this, you save a lot of money.

I told how Emily had painstakingly typed up Dad's handwritten pages for A Chirp From the Grass Roots.  That could have been hired out, Jon said. I would have scanned and emailed the pages; someone from India could have typed them for a small fee.

They recommend UpWork.

Jon also told me it's ok to skim a book and say you've read it. My Amish conscience will never let me do this, but what a thought!.  This brought us to the most profound idea.

It was not so much something I learned as something that finally slipped into place like an awkward Tetris shape.

I've spent years feeling guilty about this, but I find many nonfiction books boring. Especially self-help books. Even ones by famous authors. Especially if it's about the 8th book by this famous author and the publisher has quit editing in favor of pitching it out of the haymow and down to the hungry cows as quickly as possible.

I can't tell you how many times I've started reading the book that everyone else is raving over, and before I can get to the meat of it I have to wade through the introduction, the foreward, the acknowledgements, and the disclaimers.  Then the first chapter wanders through acres of weeds before we finally, maybe, get to what we're talking about, just a little bite of it.

We move on, from weeds to deep waters to tar pits, ever so slowly.

And a few chapters in I slap the book down in frustration and exclaim, "Gaaaahhhh! It's just WORDS WORDS WORDS!"

Jon told me that it isn't just me. "How many books from big publishers have you seen that have only 100 pages?" he said.

I thought about this. "Not very many."

"If a non-fiction book is primarily about one idea, it can almost always be said just as well in a very short, compact book. But publishers insist on a certain number of pages, so the authors pad it with all kinds of verbiage and filler.  Think about how many books out there are all about the same size--say 250 pages. We really need a movement where it's ok to say what you want to say in a short book, and be concise about it.  Publishers seem to think they won't sell, but I'm convinced there's a market for short books."

My heart said Amen to this message.

People. Think about it. What if there were a movement, especially among Christian self-help and inspirational authors and publishers, to present their message in the shortest possible venue that would effectively convey it?

I would read more of them, I'm sure.

A lot of writers who turned viral blog posts into whole books would shrink them back to blog posts, and we would all be relieved.

So, thanks to Jon, I am thinking of all the short happy books I could write. What freedom.

Jon followed his own advice and wrote The Brick and Mortar Formula. It's a marketing guide, and right off he shows you how to figure out if you have a product that would do better online, in large chain stores, or in small independent stores.

And it goes efficiently marching on from there.

So, if you invented a product and don't know how to market it, read Jon's book. He will show you how. Concisely.

Here's their blog, Unbound Nomads.

You can check out the other April Blogging Challenge posts if you like. Emily's are at The Girl in the Red Rubber Boots and Jenny's are at Here Shall the Wild-Bird Sing.


  1. I about jumped for joy in a grad school class when I saw the textbook was only like 75 pages. There's an entire line of them:

  2. I appreciate you used a picture of me when I was so young and well rested :D I have been influenced by Jon's opinions on clarity and efficiency in books and am glad you feel the same. I have been making an effort to read more short books this year and so far I have not felt like I am missing anything.

    1. I realized I don't have many pictures of you and Emily together. And you still look lovely, rested or not.

  3. I work for a publisher of theological and religious interest books here in Eugene. We publish hundreds and hundreds of short books. Many of them are less than 100 pages. While I like this idea theoretically, as the cover designer I hate trying to fit the author name and title on a teeny book spine! :)

    1. I guess I stand corrected. I'm going to have to look into these titles.

  4. Dorcas, you wrote, "Jon also told me it's ok to skim a book and say you've read it. My Amish conscience will never let me do this, but what a thought!" Well, me too. I understand your conscientiousness. But I had a bit of insight on that subject from a teacher-education professor at Portland State University years ago. This highly respected professor and expert in his field was teaching teachers how to teach children to read. During one class discussion, that very same concept that you mentioned came up, and the question was asked, "Does 'speed-reading' a book count as really having read the book?" The professor answered, "Yes. If you define reading as 'the getting of meaning out of a book, then yes, it does." That was so freeing for me, not to have to absorb every word when I had kazillions of pages to read in various courses! So skim away. As long as there is comprehension and "the getting of meaning", you can say you've read the book. Yes, it's a subjective judgment as to "how much" meaning you got, but it's an honest answer.

    1. Ruby, that is freeing and helpful. Thanks!

  5. A short book that I love is "Eat That Frog!" by Brian Tracy, on productivity/ motivation.

  6. I see your point, and many times I've wished for a simple and clear summary of something I've read or listened to.

    However, you could take this concept many directions. What about sermons? Do they need to be 30-45 minutes? I'll bet most of them could have their points conveyed simply in 5.

    Would a well-told 3-minute joke be as funny if you just boiled it down to a two-sentence setup and punchline? Would the climax of a song be as effective without the previous 2-minute buildup?

    I am no deep thinker, but it seems to me there needs to be some kind of emotional "setup" (or leading, or investment, cant' think of the right word) when it comes to conveying ideas in any of these formats. If the idea being communicated is set up properly, it makes a much bigger impact.

    If some sermon or teaching I heard really made an impact on me, I doubt the impression would be nearly as strong if it was just a simple bare-bones statement. A song doesn't have the same punch if you only start listening at the key change on the second chorus.

    All that to say that I agree, far too often the point gets buried and overwhelmed with the sheer bulk of the supporting content. Which is my tendency too, as you can probably tell in this comment. Like many other areas, finding the proper balance doesn't come naturally!

  7. Interesting questions here. I put storytelling in a whole different category than how-tos and such. A good story has to have a buildup and background. Most Smuckers don't agree with this, and will INTERRUPT my stories and BLURT OUT THE ENDING before I get there, which is just unbelievably horrible and rude.
    As you said, the key is proper balance. Many sermons I've heard would have more impact at half the length, yet setup and background and context is important to hear too.
    Elisabeth Elliot said, "Delete every word that has no real work to do."

  8. This helps a bunch! I'm going to try writing a book this summer and I've been worried about the length. I'm a "get to the point" kind of person and had no idea how I was going to make it long enough. It helps a lot to know that there are others who feel the same! Thanks!