These days, anybody with an Internet connection can be a published author. Anyone can be a journalist. A reviewer. A salesman, a marketer. Never have we had so many voices speaking to us simultaneously. It’s the best thing that’s happened to the free press in decades, maybe centuries.
It’s also the worst.
When everybody has a voice, there are standards to follow and no gatekeepers to enforce them.
This leveling of the playing field has resulted in tremendous creativity. It's also led to a lot of “barfy” marketing content, as author Ann Handley puts it.
That’s why Handley has taken it upon herself to set the standards for content marketers. The result is Everybody Writes, a comprehensive, yet easy-to-breeze-through guide to writing the kinds of things people actually want to read. If the AP Stylebook is the journalist’s bible, this is the one written specifically for the content marketer. And it’s a lot more fun to read. Most of the “rules” are only a page or two, sometimes even less, which entices you to keep reading just to see what the next tip will be.
But you don’t have to have “content” or “marketing” in your title to benefit from this book.
Maybe you don’t churn out a dozen blogs a week, but you write sales proposals. You post on your company’s social media pages. You write emails. It’s all writing.
Here are just a few things anyone in business will gain from Everybody Writes.
Many of us still have the standard five-paragraph essay format ingrained in our minds. We think our writing isn’t “good” unless we follow an accepted structure, use big vocabulary words and write in no less than complete sentences at all times.
Ann’s here to spread the good news: There is no one way to write—just as there is no one way to parent a child or roast a turkey.
So often, the biggest challenge is just getting started. As the Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs and publisher of her own content at AnnHandley.com, Ann has been there many times.
She offers a practical roadmap, which includes:
For many of our clients in the B2B sector, this is a challenge. They’ve become so used to a certain “corporate” standard, which usually translates into writing that sounds like every other business in their industry.
It is possible to write with simplicity and show your personality even when you’re writing about sophisticated subjects. You don’t have to use so many corporate cliches. (Or any, if you can avoid them.) And you can use humor without diminishing your credibility.
It just takes a natural curiosity (sometimes an outsider’s perspective helps) and some practice.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of press releases and self-promotional blabber masquerading as blog articles. No one wants to read another announcement of a small product upgrade, a new hire or a self-gratifying award. A company that’s serious about content marketing needs to approach each post with the curiosity and cynicism of a good journalist.
Your readers are pressed for time. Their attention is something you should never take for granted, so you have to honestly ask yourself if what you’re putting in front of them is something not only worth reading, but worth sharing. Could you see them turning to their spouses or colleagues and telling them about what they just read? If not, you need to ask yourself whether it’s really news.
That’s one advantage of working with a marketing agency that has trained journalists on staff. They can take the time to talk to your customers to find out what they care about most. They’ll also bring a more objective perspective that helps you uncover the hidden stories within your company. That may involve visiting trade shows, seeking out unconventional sources for interviews and regularly following industry news.
Did you know there’s a writing app that will set a time limit for you and punish you with consequences like alarms and pop-up boxes if you stop typing for too long? I’ll admit I haven’t been brave enough to try a productivity tool like Write Or Die, but it’s certainly intriguing.
There are all kinds of other websites and applications designed to help you power through a blog post, edit your grammar and even generate ideas for your next piece.
Ann devotes a full 14 pages to tools that help you:
Stay focused (tools I could clearly use but have yet to explore)
Transcribe interviews (I use Rev.com almost daily)
Find stock photos that don’t look ridiculous (Creative Commons is a personal favorite)
No matter what your official role, you’re going to be writing at some point. This book will give you a fresh perspective on the writing you’re already doing and inspire you to do more.
Plus, it’s an indispensable tool to have handy the next time you can’t remember how many words are in an optimal email subject line (6-10), the ideal length for a headline (60 characters) and what you’re supposed to write on a landing page (see Rule 68.)
Whether this is all new to you or you’ve been at it for years, Everybody Writes is your go-to guide for writing well in the digital age.
(P.S. It’s also a great Christmas gift for anyone who works in marketing.)
For more tips on how to write compelling content and make your brand more human, check out our guide, Storytelling: How to Acquire Customers in Three Acts.