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Jonathan Merritt’s Secret to Building Such a Mind-Bending, Wide-Ranging Readership

by Jonathan Merritt
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Most writers build a fanbase on one type of a reader.

A reader who is conservative or liberal. Republican or Democrat. Old or young. Male or female.

Yet Jonathan Merritt, whose work appears in outlets ranging from Fox News to CNN, and The Atlantic to Christianity Today, has managed to grow a readership that reaches across the political spectrum and generations.

The Write Brilliant Academy recently asked Jonathan to share his wisdom from his readership as well as from his new book: Learning to Speak God from Scratch Why Sacred Words are Vanishing — And How We Can Revive Them.

Jonathan Merritt

Write Brilliant Academy: How do you maintain such a wide audience of conservatives and liberals when neither agrees with you 100 percent? 

Merritt: A lot of people ask me this because most people don’t have such a wide ranging readership. I think its due to a number of influences. Firstly, people often say that my writing is “fair.” In other words, I’ve been known to critique people on the left and right. And I’ve been known to take both conservative and liberal positions, depending on the issue.

In addition to this, I have matured as a writer and have tried to write in such a way that acknowledges the opposing viewpoint and that avoids bombastic or sensational language. Sometimes I even change a declarative to an interrogative when the point is exceptionally contentious. Changing an in-you-face-statement to a rhetorical question is an amazing trick to help you avoid unnecessarily polarizing readers.

Write Brilliant Academy: You’ve been known to spark all kinds of debate and cover controversial topics online. How do you deal with critics? 

Merritt: In the past, I have to be honest and say I’ve dealt with them poorly. I got angry and defensive and debated anyone and everyone in public who came looking for a fight. These days, I make sure to mute every troll so that I’m not even tempted to engage those who just want to quarrel. I try to engage honest critics with more humility and I’ve issues probably half a dozen apologies when I realized I failed. I still haven’t perfect this, but I’m much improved.

Write Brilliant Academy: Even your title of your new book reaches across many of the polarizing topics to draw readers in. How did you develop the title and what can you teach us about developing great titles?

Merritt: Every title of every book I’ve worked on has changed multiple times–except this one. “Learning to Speak God from Scratch” came to me one day at the beginning of the process and I sensed God was in it. The title is strong in the two ways a title should be: It’s distinctive but also descriptive. The same is true about tagline, as we teach our Write Brilliant students. The topic is clearly communicated but it also piques the reader’s interest. The subtitle was more difficult and that was produced in collaboration with my editor. They came up with the first clause but I tweaked it to a stronger verb (“vanishing” instead of “declining”) and then I added another clause that felt hopeful. The final title and subtitle works perfectly, I think: “Learning to Speak God from Scratch: Why Sacred Words are Vanishing — And How We Can Revive Them.”

If you haven’t ordered a copy of Learning to Speak God from Scratch, we encourage you to pick up a copy today. You’ll not only learn about this important topic but also learn firsthand from a maestro with words.

Click here to order today.

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