All posts by gilmichelini

My Experience in the 2015 World Championship Of Public Speaking

In August 2015, I had the honor of participating in the Toastmasters International World Championship of Public Speaking at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada. This experience helped me become a better public speaker but more importantly, it allowed me to have two encounters with God that reaffirmed that He is interested in the things of our lives and will help us in doing that which brings Him greater glory.

This is my story.

Learning To Speak

I joined Toastmasters in 2010 to help me in giving presentations in support of the marketing of my book Daddy, Come & Get Me. The years of practicing speaking in front of groups, learning to eliminating filler words, and ensuring every speech has an opening, body, and closing paid off in greater confidence before audiences.

Toastmasters offers annual speech contests because humans excel when under the pressure of competition. As talk of the International Speaking Contest started in December 2014, I decided to give it a try as I had not yet competed in any contest. The speech I developed was entitled “Serendipity” where I told about an experience of self-discovery I had while writing my book.

Between January and April, I won the first four rounds and earned the right to represent my district (Indiana and Northern Kentucky) as one of the 96 competing in the semifinals at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada on August 13.

What Does Serendipity Mean

tm_serendipityThe contest rules allowed me to use “Serendipity” for the semifinal round; however, in the final round, the speech must be one I had never competed with before. My challenge between April and August was to write a speech that was as good as “Serendipity” that — if I advanced — I could use for the finals.

As I was looking for a speech topic in May, I thought it would be fun to have a speech that included an adventure movie trailer voice that starts with “In a world…”. With that as my starting point, I developed “Love Overcomes Fear,” the story about my relationship with my son-in-law in the time leading up to his marriage to my oldest daughter.

In doing some research on what it would take to become a World Champion, I started having doubts that “Serendipity” had enough humor in it to win the semifinals. While the speech is not required to be funny, for the last 20 years only speeches with humor have won. I tried re-working sections of the speech but the humor seemed forced.

In late June, I presented both speeches to some of the better speakers in my district. There were over 50 people in the room, and to a person, they agreed that while “Serendipity” had served me well to get to this point, it would not win the semifinals. They all enjoyed “Love Overcomes Fear” and suggested I use it for the semifinals.

How To Learn To Write With The Time You Have

When I was in 7th grade, my English teacher told me that I had potential as a writer. That was enough for me to set a goal that someday I would become a published author.

Twenty-eight years later I had still not published anything but the time was right to write in 2005. Fran and I had completed the adoption of our daughter from Guatemala, and I felt that was a story that needed to be told.

I started by converting the journal I kept during the adoption process into a first draft of my memoir. After getting feedback from a couple of people, atrocious was a kind description of that draft. While I had the desire to write, aside from what was required in school and my employment, I had never put in the effort to develop the skills needed to write.

The 7th grader in me was tired of waiting. He motivated me to start developing the necessary skills to write and publish.

Investing In What Satisfies

All skills can be learned but not all skills can be mastered. God gives us a certain combination of gifts allowing us to master a few skills, become competent in others, and a disaster in many. With the gift of discernment, God lets us know on which skills we should focus. With this awareness, we must then pay the price of practice to master the skill.

Early in my writing journey, God sent me a teacher who explained that each of us have the gift of 24 hours in a day. He called it the great equalizer because it was the same amount given to all no matter who we are. What makes the difference is how we spend the hours we are each given.

When I talked about “finding” time to become a writer, he told me that I would not because I had all the time that I was going to get. He encouraged me to stop spending my hours on low value things such as entertainment.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the average American man spends 3.71 hours a day watching TV. That was about right for me. Of my 8,736 hours given to me each year, I was spending 15% (1,350 hours) staring at television.

My teacher suggested that I could invest those hours in what I said was important to me, and that’s what I did. Starting in 2005, I gave up television and invested that time into learning how to write.

My teacher also suggested that while writing and writing and writing was a good way to become a better writer, I needed to invest time studying excellent teachers to guide me; otherwise, I would continue reinforcing bad behaviors.

At the Feet of the Masters

Below are those teachers who had the greatest influence on helping me learn to write.

Bill Roorbach’s book, Writing Life Stories is where I started. He is a writing teacher who put his memoir-writing class in book form, presenting information and giving exercises. Using his exercises, I was able to write a second draft that became the foundation of my book.

One of his exercises was to define the reasons why I am writing and—more importantly—why someone would invest their hours into reading what I wrote. That was a powerful and obvious concept that I had never considered: is the value I am providing worth the investment of my reader’s time?

Roorbach asks the reader to define their goal for writing. If it is to tell a story, is it a compelling story? Does it have all the attributes of a good story, of a hero’s journey? If it is to provide information, is the information accurate? If it is to make an argument, did you provide a persuasive argument?

One of the key points I learned from Roorbach is squeezing all the meaning out of each sentence. Here is an example: This makes it clearer.

Do you understand that sentence?

What is “This”?
What is “it”?
Define “clearer”
How can it “make”?



A great investment is spending time with William Zinsser and learning his lessons On Writing Well. This book amazed me in the first reading because everything prior to this that was “well written” I thought was dry and difficult to read (the classics that are required reading in school).

For those interested in writing a memoir, Zinsser also published Writing About Your Life: A Journey into the Past which I would highly recommend as well.


E.B. White, author of such classics as Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and The Trumpet of the Swanwas also a writing teacher. One of his students, William Strunk, took copious notes of White’s lectures where he presented a unique philosophy of writing style.

Working with White, Strunk put this writing style into a book all writers must have. One person told me she re-reads this book before starting work on each of her books (it’s only 87 pages).

According to the contributors of eHow.com, step 1 of becoming a better writer is to “Read or re-read THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE by Strunk & White. It is practically the Holy Grail of English grammar. Sure, it may seem a little stodgy at times, but the basics never lose their cool.”



American is one of the more difficult languages because it is a collection of words and rules from the world’s languages. Because of this, many of us struggle conveying meaning and emotion with written American.

British author Lynne Truss helped me understand the black art of punctuation in her book Eats, Shoots, and Leaves. The book has a fun approach to reminding yourself of the basics of punctuation.

She quotes another author who said, “Learning grammar in grade school in like learning sex in grade school: you now know the basics but have no practical experience to drawn from.”


From one of the most commercially successful American authors of our time, Stephen King tells his writer’s journey from the publication of Carrie until just after he was hit by a van in his book On Writing.

He also includes tips based on the method he uses when writing. The one that I found most useful was putting a draft manuscript away for at least six weeks and working on something else. At the end of the six weeks, you are reading your draft with new eyes.

I am not a fan of his fiction because I don’t care for horror but I gleaned MANY good tips from this book. After finishing this, I read his book Christine. Again, while I don’t care for the genre, it was an interesting read thinking about how he described his process of developing a story and the specifics of working on Christine.


Whether you are self-publishing or attempting to find an agent/publisher, writing a book proposal will help answer many questions you have not even asked yet.
How to Write a Book Proposal is based on Michael Larsen’s experience as an agent and an author.

The book walks you through his method to layout and format a proposal and query. His exercises force you to get alone with your big-old brain and a journal out the answers that will help you while writing the book (yes, do this before getting too far into writing the book). He asks many difficult questions an author needs to consider, no matter which publication method being used.

At first I struggled with the proposal until I realized that if I cannot write a book proposal, then I should not be writing a book to sell.

Additional Recommendations

  • READ and READ and READ to find a style you like. I read many other memoirs that are considered good (some of them were a struggle for me to finish). From each, I pulled a little technique and made it my own.
  • Write as often as you can. Since many experts suggest a daily writing habit, several years ago, I started going to bed when my youngest did (around 9pm) and got up at 3:15. This gives me almost 3 hours of undistributed time to write. When the rest of the family is watching TV at night, I am studying to develop my skills even more. Of course, this requires coordination and buy-in from your spouse.
  • Do not rush getting published. You’ve waited this long, another few months or a year of polishing your masterpiece is well worth the first impression.
  • Many suggest writer’s conferences… I have been to a few and wish I could have my money and time back for both. I get more from online communities and webinars, but that is my style.
  • Will you be as excited about this book three years from now as you are now? Experts say that first-time authors should expect to spend at least three years marketing our first book before it becomes a success. Yes, there are exceptions, but they are the exception.
  • Keep your goal in front of you as your measurement of success.

“There’s a word for a writer who never gives up…published.” ~ Joe Konrath

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gilGil Michelini’s mission is to help lay Catholic adults to learn why and how to live lives worthy of their calling using the wisdom of Vatican II. He is the author of Daddy, Come & Get Me, the story of his adoption of a daughter from Guatemala. Gil blogs at GilMichelini.com.

Integrity of Reviews

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As authors, we understand the value of rating and reviews not only for our own work but in selecting titles to read. With that in mind, I want to address an issue that Amazon is struggling with that concerns us: the integrity of reviews.

Reviews Are Important, But…

We all know that ratings and reviews affect the book sales. When readers want a book review, they turn to Amazon and Goodreads. Since 90% of readers rely of ratings and review to make purchasing decisions, it is no surprise that the New England Patriots of the publishing world have entered into practices that — while legal — calls into question the integrity of book reviews.

In December, 2012, the New York Times reported Amazon was becoming aware of fake reviews and deleting them. While many were causing the problem, the author that brought the issue to the forefront was Tim Ferriss with the release of his book The 4-Hour Chef. On opening day, his book had hundreds of 5 star reviews. Did Ferris cross an ethical line because none of these hundreds of people had anything to say negative about the book? No one gave it a 4 star? Since he extols having VAs (virtual assistants) in his first book The 4-Hour Workweek, many question if he hired VAs to write and publish only 5 star reviews.

Some authors have no problems with paying for 5 star reviews. Other demand only 5 star reviews from family and friends (both real and on social media). I struggle with both of these because I am one of the 90% who wants honest reviews.

The purpose of this article to lay out my case for honest Amazon review.

What The Stars Mean

The first question to look at is what do the stars mean. Amazon provides this guidance:

5 = I love it

4 = I like it

3 = It’s okay

2 = I don’t like it

1 = I hate it

Most likely, the words “love”, “like”, “okay”, and “hate” have different meanings to you than they do to me. I rarely give 5 stars because I reserve that for the best of the best. I don’t give 1 star review because if I hated, I won’t finish it; therefore, it’s not proper (in my way of thinking) to give it a review. The majority of my reviews are 2, 3, and 4 stars.

There are some people who never give 2 or 4. They either hate it, found it okay, or love it.

There are some that ignore 1 and 2, giving a 3 if they hated it and a 5 to anything they enjoyed.

There are also many who will use the rating system to express an opinion or viewpoint not directly related to the book.

Since there is no standard for the number of stars, we have to ask of what value they really are? Conventional thinking says that more is better but that is not always the way that Amazon’s super-secret rating algorithm functions.

Here is an example of Amazon’s star system failing to express the quality of a book. As of this writing, 50 Shades of Grey has 28,946 reviews at 3.5 stars. With those two values, it is easy to imagine a standard bell curve, skewed slightly to the right. That would be a normal result with the majority of reviewers rating the book between 4 and 2. But that is not what is going on. Here is the breakdown of ratings:

5 stars – 46% (13,416)

4 stars – 11% (3,248)

3 stars – 9% (2,680)

2 stars – 9% (2,412)

1 stars – 25% (7,122)

With nearly 29,000 reviews and 46% of them being 5 stars, we would expect this to be THE best-selling book on Amazon and the most read books in USA, especially with the film adaptation coming soon, but it’s not. As I write this, 50 Shades of Grey is at #8, and declining.

At #1 is Harper Lee’s new book that won’t be released until July. At #2 is Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography by Laura Ingalls Wilder with only 33 reviews at 4.4 stars. A book that has not even been published and another that has only 33 reviews are beating a book with 13,416 5 star reviews. Something does not seem right here.

If it’s not the ratings keeping 50 Shades of Grey in the top 20 — especially since 24,975 people found the Most Critical review helpful while only 761 found the Most Positive review helpful — then why is it at #8 and the highest selling Bible — the most sold book in the world — at #88?

It’s The Content, Stupid

To draw on a theme from Bill Clinton’s first campaign, it’s the content, stupid.

In 1960, young, first-time author Harper Lee amazed the world with To Kill a Mockingbird and she was rewarded with the Pulitzer Prize. Frank McCourt did the same thing in 1996 with Angela’s Ashes. Lee has not published anything in 64 years. Why are the pre-sales of her second book #1? Because her first one was so wonderful. McCourt’s second and third books were not nearly as good as the first one but they sold well because of the quality of his first one.

I have not (and will not) read 50 Shades of Grey but the reviews say that it is not well written but it has something that always sells: sex and controversy.

My advice to myself and to you: stop worrying about the stars and write good content. Write books worthy of who you are and give readers a reason to read your stuff.

You may ask, how can I sell my books if I don’t have lots-o-stars by the book name? That I can tell you in one word: marketing. Yes, it is a dirty word to many authors but if you want to sell books, you have to market. While reviews have some affect sales, the greater effect comes from marketing.

Well marketed books like The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman sell thousands of copies every year not because of Amazon ratings but because Chapman is constantly marketing the book and providing value to his readers and those he has helped.

How Not To Ask For Reviews

So what does this mean for authors? Getting as many reviews as possible on Amazon is an element of a book marketing campaign but it is only one element. There are many excellent resources on getting reviews so I am not going to cover that. Instead I going to focus on a ways NOT to get reviews.

Never ask for or demand a 5 star review. Never, ever.

Ask for honest reviews but never dictate to a potential reviewer what you will accept. By demanding a 5 star review you are saying that your work is so bad that you only want reviews that will make it look good. Let’s be honest, if you cannot handle less than 5 stars, you are not ready to publish.

Think what demanding a 5 star review does to those who want to help you succeed? You are demanding that they put their reputation on the line for the sake of a fragile ego.

Here is an extreme example: Pretend I have written a book on Thomas Aquinas and I am asking Dr. Taylor Marshall for a 5 star review. He is a well-known expert on Aquinas and having his endorsement if going to help me sell books. The problem for Marshall is that in the book I draw the conclusion that Aquinas was a drunkard who molested sheep and blackmailed others to write Summa.

If Marshall gave my book 5 stars what would that do to his reputation? He is the president of the New Saint Thomas Institute and an expert on Aquinas. His endorsement of my book could cost him the ability to provide for his family because no one would trust his opinion on Aquinas, or on anything else.

Of course I have not written a book like that, and from what I know about Marshall, he would never give 5 stars to such a piece of poop.

Friends, in the last 6 months I have been asked twice to put my reputation on the line and give 5 stars to something I thought was not worthy of that rating. I recently asked a fellow author to review my book. She told me no because she had a bad experience with another author who demanded a 5 star review from her.

This needs to stop, and it might as well begin with us. Let it be said of us that we:

  • Write the best possible content we can
  • Are becoming excellent in marketing what we write
  • Always ask for and gladly accept honest reviews

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gilGil Michelini’s mission is to help lay Catholic adults to learn why and how to live lives worthy of their calling using the wisdom of Vatican II. He is the author of Daddy, Come & Get Me, the story of his adoption of a daughter from Guatemala. Gil blogs at GilMichelini.com.