A few years ago I went to a MarketingProfs event and met someone who literally changed my life. It wasn’t Steve Jobs or Barack Obama or anyone my Mom ever heard of.
It was Ann Handley who was speaking on a panel about this up and coming thing called “content marketing.”
I fought my social anxiety, walked up to her, and introduced myself. I told her where I worked. And explained that I needed help and advice. I was struggling to help my organization to be more innovative – to agree to change from an outbound marketing approach to one that earned our audience’s attention.
Ann was as gracious and humble and helpful as anyone you could ever meet. (And smart and funny and a whole lot of other things but I’ll save my gushing!)
I slowly started to chart a course of change. One that included not just content marketing, but social media, and personal branding, and change management, and more…and the rest is history. So while Ann’s book has been out for some time, I finally sat down with her recently to dig into some background on the book.
Why did you write it?
I wrote Everybody Writes because I couldn’t find what I wanted—part writing guide, part handbook on the rules of good sportsmanship in content publishing, and all-around reliable desk companion for anyone creating or directing content on behalf of brands.
Other books on writing already exist.
You’re right. They do. Please phrase all questions in this Q&A as Qs.
Noted. So what’s different about this one?
Short answer: It’s designed for content marketers and business organizations – not novelists or essayists or journalists.
Ann Handley’s Tiny Writing House
Slightly long answer: Many writing books are really more aphorism than true advice. They’re entertaining to read and they can be a kind of rallying cry, but they aren’t very how-to or prescriptive. (Which is always my bias. I like (need?) things spelled out.)
Alternatively, much of what passes for writing advice gets too deep in the weeds of writing construction. Great if you’re looking to up your score on the SATs. Not so awesome if you just need some guidance on how not to sound like a total idiot when you craft this week’s customer mailing.
What’s harder to find is a book that functions for marketers as part writing and story guide, part instructional manual on the ground rules of ethical publishing, and part straight talk on some muscle-building writing processes and habits.
What’s also hard to find is a book that distills some helpful ideas about the craft of content simply and (I hope) memorably, framed for people like us.
What books inspired you?
So, so many. But there are two in particular.
My own go-to guide is Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style. I read it first in college, and I still re-read my copy every year – in part as a refresher, and in part for the sheer pleasure of “hearing” EB White’s voice again, if you know what I mean.
I never met the man, but still it feels to me like a visit with an old friend. Which sounds odd, maybe. But there you go.
Another favorite is The Essential Don Murray: Lessons from America’s Greatest Writing Teacher. Murray is a former UNH professor, writing teacher, and a columnist for the Boston Globe, back when I was just starting out. His books aren’t as well known as others – like Stephen King’s On Writing or Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. But I like the journalist’s sensibility that he brings to the table.
How is it different from Content Rules?
Read Content Rules if you’re trying to figure out how to create an inbound marketing strategy for your organization – where to start, how to create a content marketing program that actually drives business.
Read Everybody Writes when you’re solid with notion of content as a cornerstone of your marketing, and you’re ready to start implementing or upping your content game.
Also read it if you’re looking to improve what you say (and how you say it) across all your content assets – including emails, Twitter, Facebook, blogging, and so on.
Interesting, some seasoned writers have told me that they are getting a lot out of the book – which kind of surprised me. But at the same time, thrills me, of course. (Unless they are just flattering me? But what would be the point of that…?)
What are the key takeaways?
How much time do we have? 😉
The book is organized into six different parts – how to write (or how to hate writing less, for the “adult-onset” writers out there); some grammar rules framed for a marketing audience; storytelling guidelines; publishing rules; 13 things marketers write most frequently (like landing pages, home pages, emails, LinkedIn posts, Facebook posts, and 10 more things); and finally, content resources or tools to help you work smarter. I think you chimed in on that last section!
One thing you wanted people to think about?
Your words are your emissaries; they carry important messages to your customers.
My main goal with this book was to empower organizations to create ridiculously good content — and to get them a little excited about it! And to me, great content almost always has a story and writing component. So I want people to think of writing and their words not as boring drudgery… but as a way to differentiate themselves online.
Many of us have complicated relationships with writing – we self-identify as writers or non-writers. I want everyone who works in marketing to feel a little more competent and confident about creating content, and also to have a little fun.
Lofty goal? Maybe. A girl’s gotta dream, though.
What is one story you can share about the journey you took to write it (funny anecdote?)
I didn’t think the world needed another book on content marketing. And, as I say in Everybody Writes, I’m not sure I wanted to even write another book… because writing a book is like birthing a Volkswagen. It’s hard and you sweat a lot. And most of the work is done while crying.
But I couldn’t get this idea out of my head… as much as I tried to drown it, it kept bobbing to the surface again. So at some point I gave in – and decided to just write the book so I would quit annoying myself. And then once I had chosen to write it… I promptly retired to the couch where I spent the next month or two binge-watching Netflix. I am an excellent procrastinator when I have to do hard things. (See Volkswagen comment, above.)
Go here to buy Everybody Writes. Ann has also offered 2 free copies of the book to the best comments (determined by her!) below.