The Benefits of Writing with a Focus Group: An Author Interview with Joanne Kraft

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work; If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” (Eccl. 4:9-10).


Joanne Kraft Author PhotoWriters who work the majority of their time in isolation can understand the value of community and relate to King Solomon’s words.

When writing a book, authors usually present their own ideas and support their information with Scripture and quotes from other books. However, some writers, like Joanne Kraft, have discovered the benefits of focus groups made up of people who fit their target audience.

Please help me welcome Joanne, as she shares how a focus group helped form her latest book, The Mean Mom’s Guide to Raising Great Kids.

Xochi: Congratulations on your newest release, Joanne. Please tell us a little bit about The Mean Moms Guide.

Joanne:  Thanks so much for having me! The Mean Mom’s Guide to Raising Great Kids is my newest nonfiction parenting book. It encourages marshmallow moms (softies) to stay the course and keep loving boundaries—especially when parenting is hard.


Xochi: What are the benefits of working with the focus group as you write a nonfiction book?

Joanne:  When I signed my contract for The Mean Mom’s Guide I knew I’d need help. With a title like “mean mom”, well, I wanted to have a lot of support from other moms. I used my social media to ask women if they’d be interested in joining “The Mean Mom Team.” I wanted to gather moms and hear what they had to say about things like technology, entitlement and how to maneuver sibling rivalry.


Xochi: What are the greatest challenges in working with focus groups?

Joanne: For me, the toughest part was older moms weren’t as well represented as the younger moms in my focus group. Since I drew my focus group from social media, the older generation of moms (moms of adult kids) weren’t as interested in a parenting book as younger moms were.


Final Cover The Mean Moms Guider_editedXochi: Please describe the process required by publishers when using focus groups.

Joanne: Each publishing house is different. You’d have to contact your editor and see what they say, or refer back to your contract for that information.


Xochi: What, if anything, are authors expected to do for the members of their focus groups?

Joanne: The number one thing? Communicate. I made sure these moms knew the private group they were joining was for The Mean Mom’s Guide. They knew when I asked questions that their answers were part of my research and anything they shared might be used in my book. I made that clear. When my galley copies arrived I went back to my focus group numerous times and shared each mom’s quotes and let them know which chapters they’d be in.


Xochi: Why should nonfiction writers consider working with focus groups?

Joanne: I never thought I must have a “focus group.” It was an organic process the Lord made into something better than I’d ever imagined. These women have encouraged me so much this year. I pray for these women and want their faith to grow deeper, just as I would if I was facilitating a ministry face-to-face in church.


Xochi: In what ways did having a focus group benefit your writing process?

Joanne: The better you know your target audience the better chance at providing a solid manuscript/written resource. If you struggle to know who your audience is or what they’re all about, then a focus group for your next project might be a great benefit.


Xochi: What happens to the group after you complete your manuscript?

Joanne: The Mean Mom Team became so engaged with one another over the past year that when my book came out it was natural to offer them the chance to be a part of my book launch team. I’m using my same group space on Facebook to run my book launch.

We’ve been together for over a year now. They’re helping me get the word out about my book through social media. I’m also reading through the book with them. On Saturdays we have “Prayer & Praise” where we pray for one another and rejoice in the blessings they’ve experienced, too.

When the launch is over I’ll go back to using it for ministry with these women.


Xochi: Are there any circumstances where focus groups would not be helpful?

Joanne: If you’re a writer who struggles with criticism a focus group may not be for you. When you open the door wide for lots of people (who aren’t writers) to tell you what they think, a focus group may not be a good choice.


Xochi: Please offer our nonfiction writers a final word of encouragement.

Joanne: Inspire Christian Writers was one of my very first steps toward publication. The value of being around writers weekly is immeasurable. If you’re in an Inspire group—keep going. If you’re not in a group yet—find one. If you’re frustrated over edits—keep writing. If you’re discouraged about rejections—ask Inspire friends for prayer. Whatever you do, don’t give up. If God can use me He can use anyone.


Xochi: Thank you for joining us, Joanne. I’m looking forward to buying The Mean Mom’s Guide to Raising Great Kids as a gift for all the moms I love.


To connect with Joanne, please visit her website, “like” her Facebook Author Page, follow her on Twitter, and subscribe to her blog. And when you’re buying your copy of The Mean Moms Guide, please don’t forget to buy a copy for another mom who needs encouragement through biblical wisdom presented with delightful humor.

Would you like to read an excerpt of The Mean Mom’s Guide? Sign up for Joanne’s monthly Newsletter and she’ll provide an excerpt!


Xochi DixonWith a heart for loving God, loving people, and nurturing spiritual growth, Xochi (so-she) E. Dixon encourages and equips women to experience the fragrance of God’s presence through prayerful study and application of His Holy Word at


7 Writing Tips from Cinderella to Make Your Writing Journey a More Magical Fairytale

Cinderella 2015

Once you’ve decided to write for ministry or profession, or simply out of an unquenchable love of words, you’ll discover it’s not always a fairy tale. The journey you are on is filled with obstacles, challenges that must be met with determination–and maybe a little sprinkling of glittery fairy dust.

Here are seven tips gleaned from the timeless story of Cinderella to guide you on your journey.

1. Embrace Hard Work

Cinderella toiled at her monotonous tasks every day. She didn’t let her circumstances get in the way of her joy, but kept at her chores with a song in her heart. Writing is lonely, tedious work with long hours of unrewarded effort. We can endure it, or we can embrace it. We can grumble or we can delight. It’s a daily choice. When we embrace the writing process, joy comes. It’s not reserved for someday when our book is finished, our blog takes off or our sales increase. Joy is with us for the journey.

2. Use What You Have

Her mother’s dress was faded and dated, not nearly elegant enough for the ball. She’d feel out of place and draw stares and ridicule if she wore it. But, it was the best she had. It would have to do. Cinderella embellished the dress using little treasures she’d gathered over time. She did her best to create a gown fit for the royal occasion. As writers, we take what we have—our stories, imagination, expertise or spiritual insights and shape them into words on a page. We craft them with the tools we’ve gathered on our writing journey to fit the needs of our readers. We must learn to believe—as Cinderella did—that our best efforts, humble as they are, will be enough.

3. Overcome Critique and Rejection

Cinderella’s evil stepmother and step-sisters tore her creation to shreds! Sometimes we show our writing to others and they shred it, too. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they really want to help us, but their help feels a lot like hurt. We trusted someone to give us constructive feedback only to be reduced to the grief of our junior high English class. We receive our shredded work with the same pain and humiliation we felt when our teacher handed back an essay with more red ink than black. Cinderella fled to the garden with her pain. She let the tears come. We may have tears too. Then we need to recommit to our purpose and believe again that anything is possible.

4. Bring on the Magic

Once Cinderella had done all she could and her critics had done their best to undo her efforts, Cinderella cried out for relief. She was comforted by her Fairy Godmother, who knew just what to do to remake her mess into a masterpiece. In the publishing world, these magic-makers are called Editors. Editors also know how to make our messes into masterpieces. When we’ve done all we can do to perfect our writing, it’s time to kick it up a notch by enlisting professional help. Trust those people who want to help make your dreams come true.

5. Follow the Rules, Know When to Break Them

Cinderella was forbidden by her evil stepmother to go to the ball. Had she not broken this rule, all would be lost! The prince, bound to pick a bride, would have settled for a politically advantageous marriage, rather than marrying his one true love. We need to know and follow the rules of our craft. We need to conform to the rules so our work is clear and readable. We also need to know when to follow our hearts, take our writing outside the lines and break any rules that hinder our artistry. Sometimes a well-placed sentence fragment creates the cadence and tone we want our words to convey. Sometimes even the lowly, unloved –ly adverb deserves a place in our project.

6. Meet Deadlines!

Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother gave her a firm deadline: leave by the last stroke of midnight. Her failure to pay attention to the clock was almost her undoing. She had to scamper from the ball at the last second as her fairy-tale world unraveled around her. Because she didn’t intentionally focus on meeting her deadline, she lost the support of those who were there to help her. Once the horses turned back into mice, they were no longer strong enough to carry her home. Of course, Cinderella was in love and practically floated home in her blissful state. We may not be blessed with euphoria to carry us past the consequences of missed deadlines.

7. Take Risks

Cinderella risked everything by asking the prince if he could accept a humble, honest country girl. We need to ask agents and editors if they’re willing to work with us, even in our humble circumstances. Maybe our platform isn’t as large as we want. Our WIP is never perfect enough for us. But at some point we have to type THE END and hit the send button. It takes courage. We risk rejection. But we can’t get a yes, if we don’t risk the no. Cinderella’s risk was well-rewarded. Ours will be too.

beth_thompsonElizabeth M. Thompson writes from her experiences as a Bible teacher, wife, mother and grief navigator. She enjoys speaking at writer’s conferences and women’s ministry events. Elizabeth serves on the Inspire Christian Writers Board. Her publication credits include articles published by Focus on the Family, Today’s Christian, and contributions to several compilations.

Joanne Kraft Launches The Mean Mom’s Guide to Raising Great Kids

Today is launch day for Joanne Kraft’s second book, The Mean Mom’s Guide to Raising Great Kids. We had loads of fun talking about the book and her writing passion. Here’s the interview of our time together.


Elizabeth M. Thompson writes from her experiences as a Bible teacher, wife, mother and grief navigator. She enjoys speaking at writer’s conferences and women’s ministry events. Elizabeth serves on the Inspire Christian Writers Board. Her publication credits include articles published by Focus on the Family, Today’s Christian, and contributions to several compilations.


7 Steps to Writing Great Book Reviews

Book reviews are intended to equip prospective book buyers with the information they need to make an informed decision about a particular book. A great book review not only describes the book, it skillfully evaluates and analyzes it. It assesses the goal or promise of a book and appraises how successful the book is at accomplishing the goal or fulfilling the promise. It’s also an expression of your opinion of the project—an opinion supported with evidence from the reviewed book.

Here are seven steps you can take to write a great book review:

Step 1: Before you read the book, evaluate the title, cover, back-cover copy or online summary. What do you expect from the book based on these items? What is the book’s promise to you? The author’s thesis or premise? Do you agree or disagree with the thesis of the book (nonfiction)? Are you intrigued by the story question (fiction)?

Step 2: Read the entire book before reviewing it. This may seem obvious, but I’ve read reviews of books, I’m sure the reviewer never bothered to read.

Step 3: As you read, highlight passages that strongly support the book’s premise. Also mark phrases that challenge, encourage, exhort, entertain or teach you. You can pull quotes to include in your review. If you’re reviewing fiction, highlight descriptions or dialogue that provide a taste of the author’s writing.

Step 4: Note the author’s voice, style. Who is the intended audience?

Step 5: Write a great hook for your review, setting the tone for your readers.

Step 6: Write your review, including the following:

    • How the book affected you.
    • Explain how the author achieved the effects.
    • Summarize the book.
    • Weigh in with your opinion. Why would you recommend (or not recommend) this book? Give specific examples to back up your opinion.
    • Compare/contrast this book with others in its category, if possible. (For instance, if you’ve read several books on this topic or in this genre.)
    • What if anything has the book left out?
    • What personal experiences have you had related to the subject or theme?

Step 7: After writing your review, carefully proofread it for inaccuracies, typos and errors. Be sure you have the correct title, author, publisher included.

For detailed steps to posting a review on, see Carol Peterson’s post.

If you’re part of a book’s launch, you can use the quotes gleaned in step #3 on social media to spur interest in the book. Your review is now ready to post to online bookseller sites. You may also submit it to periodicals that accept book reviews.

Becoming Known Part 2: Amazon Reviews

We love to wander the aisles of bookstores. But most book sales happen online over at One of the best tools writers have in marketing our books are Amazon reviews. Those reviews posted beneath the book’s information provide potential buyers with thoughts to help them decide whether to buy the book.

Writers (and their publisher) should be sending out review copies and asking for reviews from fellow writing colleagues, friends, family and people in the publishing world. Unfortunately not everyone knows how to post a review on Amazon. So when you ask for those reviews, provide your reviewers with a step-by-step of how to post reviews.

  1. Locate the book on Amazon. Click on the book title to bring up a new page. Or provide the Amazon URL to take your reader directly to your book page.
  2. Scroll to the bottom of the page to Customer Reviews.
  3. Click the “Write a customer review” button.
  4. Click on the number of stars you would give the book.
  5. Amazon should then ask you how you want to post. If you have posted reviews before, it will suggest the name you previously used. If you have never reviewed books, it will lead you to a screen to create your Amazon reviewer identity. Otherwise first name and last initials work fine or you can create something clever, like Book Addict or Reading Papa. The review name you create is linked to your Amazon account. So next time you post a review, it will remember you.
  6. If you are an author writing a review for another author, you will want to use your own name so that your name is seen in the book world as much as possible.
  7. Click in the write review box and type in your review. The review need not be lengthy or inspiring. It’s more important to be honest and encouraging to people who might be looking for just what the book offers.
  8. Enter a title for your review. It could be something as simple as “Great book” or “This book helped me…” Sometimes it’s easiest to write a review and then enter a title based on a phrase or key word in your review.
  9. After you’ve finished your review, click Preview your review. The screen will show what your review looks like. If it is OK, click Publish review. If you want to make changes, click the white edit button, make your changes, review it again and then hit publish review.
  10. You will receive notice in the email account linked to your Amazon account when your review goes live.


  • Do NOT say your daughter (mother/brother/grandson/best friend) wrote this book. People are looking for information on why the book is good, not why the author is loved.
  • Don’t argue with other reviews. They are entitled to an opinion. Starting an argument brings focus on the bad review.
  • If you don’t want to review the book’s specific content, can you review one aspect of the book? Perhaps you appreciated the writing, the author’s approachable tone, the story line, one of the characters, the setting or theme. Every good review helps an author find an audience.

If you have a book for sale on Amazon, encourage your readers to post reviews. If you don’t yet have a book for sale on Amazon, post reviews for other writers’ books. Sometimes practicing aspects of marketing by helping market other people’s books will make you more comfortable when it’s time to market your own work.

Plus, reciprocity and cross-promotion are one of the best and easiest way to get started in marketing and keep going for the long haul. If you are out helping other writers promote their books, they are more willing to write helpful reviews for your baby when it steps out into the world. With so many books to choose from, honest reviews are a service to others.