Here are 10 lessons I learned from the best content creation books on the market.
Content creators never stop learning.
That’s who we are. And this is why I love this job.
So a few months ago, I decided to level up my content and buy some books that could help me improve my style and marketing strategies. For a content creator, these are the two skills to learn. And since learning was my purpose, I decided to use a technique that always worked during my university years — underlining.
So I searched for the best sellers, ordered them, took a pencil, and started to study. First, I read three books about improving my style. And then I read the top 2 best content creation books (according to Google, at least):
- Everybody Writes by Ann Handley
- Epic Content Marketing by Joe Pulizzi
Here are ten lessons I learned about content marketing from them.
Lessons from Everybody Writes
Everybody Writes is more similar to an ebook than a book. It seems like a collection of articles more than a book that follows a precise path with a starting point and a direction. And since the connection is not that strong, the topics seem superficial. But it is perfect for a beginner that needs a smattering of content creation and marketing.
If you are not used to this type of content, it will be painful to read in the beginning. But its structure comes in handy when reviewing specific rules because it is easier to find them.
So from Ann Handley, I learned:
1 — Embrace the ugly first draft.
The first thing Ann Handley teaches you is to embrace the first draft and not be scared of it.
As a content creator, you will often hate your first draft because of its poor style. And even if the content should be at least acceptable, the tone could seem flat or uninteresting.
But the job of a content creator is more similar to an editor than a writer. Think about video making, for example. When you start shooting, you have many disconnected records without any correlation. But once you edit them together, apply some color correction, and normalize the audio, the scenes will start fitting. And the overall result could be incredible.
The same happens for any other type of content. The first draft is always ugly. But once you edit, it can become something powerful.
2 — Swap place with your reader.
A problem of most beginner creators is that they don’t think about the audience when producing content. So their work either lacks a specific purpose or mixes different intents confusing the audience.
But if you learn to question yourself on the purpose of your audience and why they are consuming your content, it will be easier to focus on their needs. So ask yourself:
- What am I trying to say here?
- Why is my audience reading this part of the article (or any other type of content)?
- Did I tell my audience everything they needed to know to reach their goals?
3 — Humor is not bad.
For many years I thought humor is harmful if you want to build an audience. I was scared that nobody could understand it and that I wasn’t good enough to try.
But even if not everyone will understand your humor, this doesn’t mean you cannot give it a chance.
According to Handley, humor comes with rewriting. Therefore, work as a comedian and test each pun and joke. It doesn’t have to be perfect in your first draft — an idea is enough.
Later, through editing, you can add more humor by knowing where to direct your audience.
4 — Cross out the wrong words.
Before reading this book, I edited my drafts with software like Grammarly and Hemingway. And although they are a good starting point, you will hardly learn something about a style if you don’t try to edit your craft yourself.
So print your articles and cross out the wrong words, for example. Then move parts of your text with arrows, or rewrite them between lines. This way, you have visual feedback of what works and what doesn’t. And those upgrades stick in your mind for your other pieces.
5 — Set a goal based on the word count (not time).
Productivity is the worst enemy of content creators. And in such a competitive environment, if you are not productive, you get outclassed by your competitors. So one improvement every creator should apply is to set goals based on the amount of content instead of time.
If you write for an hour, you could produce 500 or 1000 words based on your efficiency. So even if you write one hour every day, it doesn’t give you realistic feedback on your productivity. But if you set a word count goal, you can schedule your work better around how much you can produce every day.
6 — Tell how you’ll change the world.
More than everybody writes I would say that everybody dreams. And if you want to have success with content creation, you should tell your audience how you want to change the world. Or it will never pay attention to what you have to say.
Think about a future you want your audience to achieve. And explain how you want to help reach it.
Highlight it on your site, content, and everywhere you can because you don’t know from where your audience will come. But when it does, you need to clarify any expectations.
Lessons from Epic Content Marketing
Epic Content Marketing analyzes the problems businesses face when approaching their audience through content. But it doesn’t prevent single creators from using the same rules and learning the strategies of this book.
Here, the founder of Content Marketing Institute collected every step you need to take to create an efficient strategy that attracts customers and transforms them into clients. And even if there are many lessons you can learn from Epic Content Marketing, I extracted the top four:
7 — Focus on subscriptions.
Joe Pulizzi has never been more straightforward: you need to focus on subscriptions.
Usually, you will publish your content under big platforms like YouTube, Facebook, or Medium. And even when you have a domain name and your site, you need a hosting plan for your content to stay online.
So what if one day one of these services closes? How do you plan to survive it?
According to Pulizzi and many other marketers, the best way is to focus on subscriptions. Because once you have the email of a potential customer, you have simple access to their inbox. And if you will ever need to publish your content on another platform, it will be easier to warn them.
8 — Build audience personas.
The best way to create content that gets views is to address it to someone. But if you don’t have anybody in mind, how could you ever do that?
Whether you create content for various audiences, or a specific niche, creating audience personas is the best way to target the exact people you want to reach. And you can do that by answering the following questions:
- Who is your target, and how does he (or she) live?
- What are its needs?
- And why should your target care about your content?
9 — Have a clear mission in mind.
“A mission statement is a company’s reason for existence,” says Pulizzi about the vision and the value your content should bring to the audience.
So even for Epic Content Marketing, having a clear vision for your audience is the only way to connect, participate in its purpose, and transform it into loyal clients.
In general, a proper mission contains:
- The audience target, or audience persona.
- What material the target will get from your content.
- The outcome they will achieve from following you.
10 — Build an editorial calendar.
You’ve seen me write about editorial calendars and content roadmaps before. So in case you didn’t believe me, I give you proof that even the founder of the Content Market Institute supports me. (I mean, he sustains this thesis. I wish he had supported me.)
Nowadays, an editorial calendar is essential for success. And if you want to become serious about content creation, you better start writing one. But what do you need to include?
Well, at least these four things:
- The topic of the content.
- The status. Whether it is only an idea, you are writing, editing, or already published it.
- A call to action (customized, of course).
- And the category.
This list is long in the book, but I don’t want to plagiarize Pulizzi’s work. I discussed, however, my editorial calendar in a recent article.
Everybody Writes and Epic Content Marketing (referral links) are the 2 content creation books you would never want to miss.
If you just began creating content and know nothing about it, the first one is the perfect introduction to the subject. It gives you efficient rules to follow to start writing your content, plus a list of practical content tools.
Yet, if you feel more secure about your content creation skills, you can skip the first one and buy the second. Epic Content Marketing addresses creators who already know how to make content but lack an efficient strategy to transform consumers into customers.
Whatever you choose, these 2 content creation books can teach you so many things. I only gave you ten lessons I learned from them, but you can extract hundreds.
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Cover photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash.