We were thrilled to have author Ann Handley join us for this event as we discuss her new book, Everybody Writes 2.
Don’t (yet) have the book? Get it here.
From Amazon –
A hands-on field guide to consistently creating page-turning content that your audience loves. (And that delivers real results.)
In the newly revised and updated edition of Everybody Writes, marketer and author Ann Handley improves on her Wall Street Journal bestselling book that’s helped hundreds of thousands become better, more confident writers.
In this brand-new edition, she delivers all the practical, how-to advice and insight you need for the process and strategy of content creation, production, and publishing.
This new edition also includes:
- All-new examples, tools, resources
- Updated step-by-step writing framework
- Added and expanded chapters that reflect the evolution of content marketing (and evolution of Ann’s thinking about what works today)
- The same witty and practical how-to approach
- How to attract and retain customers with stellar online communication
- How to choose your words well, sparingly, and with honest empathy for your customers
- Best practices and ideas for crafting credible, trustworthy content
- “Things Marketers Write”: The fundamentals of 19 specific kinds of content that marketers like you write
- Inspiration. Confidence. Fun.
In this book, you’ll discover:
Content marketing has evolved. Yet writing matters more than ever.
In this new edition of Everybody Writes, you’ll find the strategies, techniques, tips, and tools you’ll need to refine, upgrade, and (most of all) inspire your own best content marketing.
Paula: We are so glad you’re here.
Ann: Yeah. Thanks for having me.
Paula: This is always you know, such an interesting group because they hate writing.
Ann: Love it.
Paula: And they need to love it and they need to at least become better at it. So, I know we’re going to have a lot more people reviewing this after the fact than actually coming because of good topic. But I’m so glad that you’re here and yeah. Thanks
Ann: Thanks for having me.
Paula: Absolutely. So just to kind of give you an idea of what we typically do. We love the book and, we’re going to talk about that a little bit. And I know you can only stay for half an hour, so we’d love to hear anything that you have to say. I’ve got a couple of questions that I’d like to ask you. I’m sure John does as well. Yeah. And Stella, we’ll let you go first since you have to leave, if you have any thought.
Stella: Well, I don’t really have any questions. My thought was as I shared earlier with Paula, I can’t believe reading a book about writing was so fun. Because usually you know writing boy, how boring can this guy?
Ann: Yeah, I know. That’s exactly what I tried to do, was to create a book about a subject that people find emotional difficult sometimes. But people have a complicated relationship with writing often. To make the book feel fun and fresh and accessible and empowering. I want to keep read the book and be like, heck yeah, I can do this. What am I like freaked out about?
Stella: Yeah. Very good. You accomplished that.
Ann: Yeah. That’s great. It’s awesome. It’s really nice to have us hear that.
Paula: Absolutely. I think if anybody dares to crack the covers, they’re going to keep reading? The hardest part is getting that cover open in front of something And then you know, I was chasing John around the house telling him things from the book and just giggling my butt off and…
Ann: Well, even the cover, that’s why we kept this on the cover. Because it’s like the idea is look at this guy. He’s just saying having a good time, he’s vibing. You know what I mean?
Ann: You can’t feel like he’s not saying that writing is hard. He is like, yes, you got this.
Paula: Absolutely. Well, to start off with, I just wanted to say one of the biggest things that I got from the book is I am excited about writing again. Come from a writing background. And then I got into marketing because that was kind of our way of making money with writing. And then we started doing video. We started doing websites, we started doing technical stuff. And it’s come back full circle to where writing is important again. And I’m not sure if that is because it’s come back in fashion because of AI. I don’t know if you have any thoughts about that or if you’ve seen kind of the historical value of writing go up, down, backwards and sideways as you’ve been doing this, but.
Ann: Yeah. Well my perspective is that it never really went out of style. It never really has fallen out of fashion. But in my mind, writing is the backbone of communication. Right. It’s what we do. And even as new tools and technologies and tactics have emerged in marketing online so things like social media video, like audio all of these things that have happened, very often, for example you could take the Zoom recording and put it on your website or pop it into a landing page and then drive people to the landing page through email or through your social channels. So all of that has a component of text and writing in it.
And so to me, it’s not about like video or writing, and it’s like, video is hot there for writing isn’t. It’s like, to me, it’s not that binary of a choice.
Instead it’s actually both. Both things together. And so that’s always been my point of view, but to your point about AI one of the things that I have absolutely loved about this sudden hype over generative AI tools and platforms is that, wait a minute, we’re suddenly paying attention to our voice. Are we? We’re suddenly thinking about writing. And yes, it’s through the lens of how do we accomplish it. More easily, more quickly sometimes with the help of these AI tools, but fundamentally, it’s a conversation about how important it is to write. So in that way, I like AI tools as a potential well tool for us to use, but I also love the way that it’s definitely catapulted writing to very much on our minds? So, yeah. I like that aspect of it a lot.
Paula: I love your analogy.
Stella: To laugh at AI and the mistakes that it’s making? And when it makes a mistake, it’s like front page news.
Ann: I know. We Love to mock the robots. It’s absolutely true.
Stella: Yeah. Exactly. [cross Talk]. That’s what I kind of think.
Ann: Yeah, it will get better. I mean, I think what we’re seeing now is such early stages, that it’s hard to like look at the mistakes and look at that random conversation with the New York Times reporter had with Bang how weird it got. Like, you can look at that and be like, whoa. But the way that I think about that is that these are early iterations of something that is potentially pretty powerful. So the challenge for all of us is like, how do we use it in a way that is going to benefit us? It’s not about robots taking our jobs. Instead it’s about how do we use them in a way that will help us be more creative and to create with greater emotion. And to up the quality of what we’re creating.
John: But you have to know how to write to use AI, at least [inaudible].
Ann: Yeah, exactly.
John: You know how to write and you asking it a question, you can’t refine it.
Ann: Right. You can’t refine it. And you can’t recognize whether it’s good or bad. It’s like that seems good. You know, I had a conversation yesterday with a marketing. She works inside marketing at a bigger company, and she was completely freaked out because she said that the… See you later.
Paula: Bye. Stella.
Ann: She was saying that the directive came down to basically, instead of using freelancers, why don’t we just use like chat GPT or some sort of generative AI tool. Ones that is out there. And she was like, what do I say? And I was like, you say no. You say, are you crazy? I mean, it’s like, this is not the direction we want to go and we don’t want to use it, especially not right now. To replace us, but instead to think about how do we use it in a way to help us at the research at the very beginning stages? So the way I talk about AI is I think it’s useful at the beginning stages and at the end stages and in the middle. It’s like that’s up to us. And to your point, John we have to at least be able to recognize good writing to use the tools effectively. Ideally, we know how to write too, but I think we at least need to know the elements of good writing.
Paula: Yes, absolutely. I loved the analogy that you used in the book where you are a gymnast and AI is the coach. You know, you may not be able to land a back handspring, but with a little bit of coaching, you can get there. And then you learn how to do it on your own. And it’s not real unless a human is doing it.
Ann: Right. Yeah. And I I like that aspect of AI tools because they will empower people who feel this sort of hesitancy around writing. And so, again, that’s another reason why I’m embracing them. And also it never works out well for people who just like flat out deny technology and they’re like, that we don’t have to pay attention to that. I mean, I think history proves that you know, when something this big comes along, you do have to play with it, be aware of it, pay attention to it. I do hope that it’ll empower people who feel like that they are what I call adult onset writers. Like people who feel uncomfortable with writing. You know, if you can use a tool to help you get past that and maybe refine your own writing a little bit, I think that it could work. ,
Paula: Yeah. I think it also refines the process of writing. You know, it reinforces that whole. There are three phases of producing a piece of writing and involving different people and tools at the different phases makes a lot of sense. So I love that too.
John: Yeah.Well, you guys are all talking just like we go through school, high school, college, and now we write. You got to start down at the bottom somewhere. With some basic tenants and practice before you can. Because otherwise you’ll get the adult onset and you’re not going to be able. [inaudible] A lot of work.
Paula: That’s for sure. Another thing I wanted to you know, this kind of specific to aviation marketing and B2B marketing in particular. And you mentioned this in the book with your B2B sea shanty, and lot of [inaudible]. I love that. Business to business and aviation in particular is just so traditional and so formal, and so afraid to have fun and experiment. And I think that’s kind of an advantage for people who break out of that and do something different. And I love the fact that your approach is basically, if you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right.
Ann: Yeah.That’s absolutely true. Yeah. In the bar is so low, really in so many traditional industries. Not just aviation, but I talk to companies all the time who are like, It’s like our stuff is so down here. And so, I think the bar is low. You just do some small things to stand out. And then build your confidence from there. I don’t like challenge companies who are traditional to do something absolutely nutty and crazy. It’s like even that B2B sea shanty that you share the story is that marketing process. My company does an event every year, and during one of our virtual programs we wrote a B2B sea shanty Right.
And so there once wasn’t a problem b2b? So it’s like it was a really fun moment to open up the event, but that is consistent with our brand. Like, it’s not totally out of left field for us. Because we are a little bit lighter and a little bit more fun and sort of funny. And so I’m not suggesting that people need to do that right out of the gate. But I think there’s some small things that you can do just start to have a show a little bit more personality, to be a little bit more enjoyable first. And then maybe get the confidence to push it a little bit further.
Paula: That makes total sense. I know Dan Kennedy says the cardinal sin marketing is to be boring.
Ann: Yeah. And we’re not boring people. Like none of us, well nobody in this room certainly, and I can’t imagine anybody listening to this down the road is boring either. Like you don’t go into marketing because you’re a boring person. So I think that we all have a creative inside of us, and I think it’s just enabling that creative just a teeny little bit. You know, one of the places that I always think about in terms of like a place to start applying some of that is in email. Because that’s an opportunity where you’re speaking directly to one person at one time within the email newsletter or within an email, like a direct response email.
And the reason why I go for email is because of that direct connection with the recipient, number one, and number 2, that makes it kind of inherently personal, because again, it is to one person at one time. And so is there a way that you can make the email from, you feel like it comes from an actual person instead of just a brand? And then the other reason why I really like using email as a testing ground for this is because it doesn’t live on the web somewhere. So it makes people like… It can be a little bit [inaudible]. Yeah. Right? And so it’s just an email, just try something in an email. And most organizations have email, like most of them are using email. Like, if I were to say to you, you should just try something with TikTok, people would be like, what? No, we don’t even have a TikTok. But most people do have email. And so just starting to play a little bit in there, I think can feel very empowering as well.
Paula: Absolutely. And small improvements can make a big difference. Like, you make your emails 10% better and you know, that’s a big deal to most companies if they can even make that small improvement.
Ann: Yeah. And email is consistently, I was just having a conversation this morning with somebody who was asking me about like, the future of marketing basically. And I give you an old school answer, which is email. Because even in a world of AI, we were just talking about, how do we use AI tools? I mean, one of the things that’s going to happen as a result of us using AI tools in marketing is that there’s probably going to be a whole lot of more mediocre content out there. And if we’re going to use AI tools in the best way, we want to signal that this could only come from us. And so email is one of those where I feel like we can do that effectively in part because the vehicle itself, it is inherently from one person at one time, like I said, but also because it’s a place where it is more personal or it could be more personal.
Paula: Right. That’s absolutely true. Speaking of formality one of the tenets in your introduction is about how writing changes because people change. And I think a lot of things have changed so much maybe over the last 5 years or so. Where we’ve gotten so much less formal in our interactions with each other and the way we dress and everything else, and things like that. Do you put any bumpers or guidelines especially because I know a lot of our folks are going to be saying. They still have that coming back to that urge to formality and things like that. And you mentioned emails a great way to break into being a little bit less formal. Do you think there is a low point or that you wouldn’t cross as far as informality or I guess low is not a good,
Ann: Yeah, I know what you mean. I think that every person and every brand needs to figure out where that line is for themselves. The place where I [cross talk], always sorry.
Paula: Just to figure out those guidelines and set some points.
Ann: Right. Exactly. And so like where is that line between like just silly and less formal. Like it’s a spectrum, right? I think everybody needs to figure out where they are on that continuum. The way that I measure it for myself or sort of my goal is always to be not inherently personal when I communicate. I should say, to have personality and not be personal. I guess is a better way to think about it. So I’m not overly personal when I communicate. Like, I’m not really talking to you about like my inner thoughts and my emotions and my life, because first of all, that’s not who I am and it’s not relevant to my audience. But I do want to make you feel that I’m speaking to you in an honest, open, accessible voice.
And so that’s the way that I think about it. And I think that line is going to be different for everybody. I mean, I would encourage anybody listening to this. Like, on behalf of your brand, figure out like what your brand voice is. Because once you understand your brand voice, once you’ve kind of identified it, and what I mean by that is like, how do you sound in the mind of a reader or a visitor to your website? Like, what are you conjuring up for them by the words you use? Not just the images, but the words that you’re using in the way you’re communicating. And that can start to inform some of this like, are we formal? Are we not formal? Are we silly? Are we not silly? Like it can start to construct some of those bumpers right on the content that you ultimately create. So I think it really does come out of brand voice, essentially. By the way, part of me hates to use that word brand voice. Because I feel like I probably just lost people. They were like God. She’s talking about something that sounds very literary but it’s not. It’s essentially just like I said, it’s the way you sound in the mind of your audience and like, full stop. That’s it.
Paula: Right. It’s like a 1950 soap commercial versus the Harmon Brothers? It’s somewhere between there is your voice.
Ann: Yes, exactly.
Paula: Wow. Cool. And John and I are always doing tug of war on this, whichever direction he is, depending on how you’re looking at this. Because I’m always pushing for less formal and he is always pushing for more formal. And we both, I think have valid points on that, but I’m always right. So it works out.
Paula: One thing I wanted to ask you, because great writers are always great readers, and I wanted to ask you, who are your favorite writers?
Ann: Man. I so many great writers that I love. I love David Sedaris. I think that he is often miscategorized as just a humor writer, but I think he reflects the human condition and humanity like so accurately, but yet in a funny and fun way. So I like David Sedaris quite a bit. I love [cross talk]
Paula: Makes so funny. Yeah. Sorry. [cross Talk] Yeah.
Ann: I’m talking over you. I’m sorry.
Paula: No that’s okay. My fault. I think we have a little bit of a delay. I was just saying, I think that’s what makes him funny. Is so accurate and such a good observer.
Ann: Yes. Absolutely. Yeah. I also love Evie White. A lot of people know him as the author of Charlotte’s Web, or Stuart Little. So they think of him as a children’s author, but he actually wrote a number of essays throughout his life. He was a contributor to the New Yorker as well as to Atlantic Monthly. He wrote The Elements of Style, which is until my book The Bible for Writers Everywhere. Would never put myself in his category.
Paula: I would I’m hoping my kids will be carrying this one around, or my grandkids.
Ann: Yeah. I love his work. I also love his children’s books too. I recently reread Charlotte’s Web. It’s like everybody thinks of it as like a kid’s book, and I guess it kind of is, but it’s like such a wonderful story just told in very spare prose. And it’s a really wonderful book to read as an adult. And by the way, it’s also a metaphor for marketing because the whole idea around Charlotte’s Web. You know this story of Charlotte’s Web, right. Do both of you know this story? So the whole idea around it is that Charlotte, the Spider is charged with marketing saving life.
Paula: Wilber’s life.
Ann: And she’s using writing on the web. So it’s just writing itself at this point.
Paula: Have no idea the of web, that’s so prescient. Right?
Ann: Yeah. It’s amazing. It’s just so great. There’s so much in it. I actually did a whole talk around it at one point a couple years ago when I realized it. Because there’s just a whole lot. Like she’s got her research team and Temple tool, the rat who runs down to the dump and brings back words. I don’t know if you can remember that detail, but that’s one of the details. Yeah, she’s got Fern who is the little girl who comes in, who saves Wilber’s life, has the influencer. I mean, there’s just a whole lot of stuff going on in there. There’s a PR component. I can go on about this for a while, but another one of my favorite authors. I also love Barbara King Solver. I just finished a novel she wrote called Flight Behavior which I really enjoyed. So I’m just a big big reader, and so I just have so many that I really love.
Paula: Right. Do you read Real Books or eBooks?
Ann: I read real books. I will listen to audio books sometimes, like if I’m out on a walk with my dog, but I tend to prefer, a paper, a physical book. It’s just like it’s tactile. I also like to see it on my shelf afterward. Like some friends over there. Yeah. So, I don’t even have any reader. It’s like I just don’t even use one, but I had one at one point. But imissed that. Like, the feel of the paper, the smell of it. I just like that aspect to it.
Paula: Right. Exactly. And I love the fact that in the book you talked about writing with a pen. It forces you to slow down and forces you to.
Ann: With a pen. Reading with a, yeah. I talked about that in the book just about how a lot of people use apps like Good Reads Yeah to their reading progress. And I like Good reads. I mean, I actually use it, but I think the kind of you know what that implies, a lot of times it sort of treats reading like an arms race. You’ve got to like, put in a number of books that you’re going to read this year, and then it’s like a march to get to like your 30 books.
Paula: Read books.
Ann: That you would read. Yeah. I know, I saw this recently like, not even kidding. A somebody that I’m connected with on Good Reads said she was going to read 70 books this year. I was like wow, that’s like a book and a half a week or something. I mean, that’s crazy.
Paula: Yeah, that’s like working on vacation it’s at least to me.
Ann: I don’t know. Why put that kind of pressure on yourself? So yeah, I read with a pen usually. That’s another reason why I like paper books. And I underscore things that I like or turn pages over. When I’m done with a book, it definitely looks like it’s used up it’s not pristine anymore. And that’s fine. And sometimes I’ll go back and I’ll reread those passages and which is why I like having them on my shelf. And then I’m like all right, yeah I forgot about that. That was great. So I don’t know.
Ann: It’s a way to experience a book that isn’t just like reading, right. It’s like physical. You’re literally in the book when you read with a pen.
Paula: I remember hearing about somebody who purchased a copy of Atlas Shrugged that was read by James Cleve. And he read it and took notes in it. And this book was like priceless because it had the thoughts of 2 fabulous people in this one book. You know it would just be amazing to see what somebody is thinking while they’re reading something else. Especially 2 people like that. But anyway.
Ann: That’s interesting. I never really thought about leaving it as a record for other people to see what I enjoyed about it. That’s kind of just a signal to myself, but that’s an interesting idea.
Paula: I’m sure James Cleve never thought that it would be sold at an auction or something, or found in a market or whatever. He probably just gave a bunch of books away and then it ended up in somebody’s hands.
Ann: I know that’ actually kind of special, isn’t it? I mean, especially like, I was just thinking about my kids someday day to like be able to have. That would be kind of nice. I hope they would think that was nice. Maybe they would be.
Paula: Exactly. More junk.
Ann: I think it would be cool. Let me put it this way. If I had somebody that weren’t my parents or my grandparents, had read a book and had written, I would like treasure that.
Paula: Yeah. Absolutely. I wish I had something like that from an ancestor or whatever, but anything.
Ann: I Know, cool. It’d be very cool. Yeah.
Paula: So you’re making heirlooms, think of it that way.
Ann: I know. I love that, about that. I love that idea. I mean, I’m already writing in it, right? So I might as well just add a little extra.
Paula: Yeah, there you go. I know we only have another couple of minutes. Is there anything you’d like to add? We’ll of course add links to the book and I am highly recommending it to anybody I talk to.
Ann: Yeah. No, I was just thinking about what you said at the beginning of this call that so many of us hate writing and like I was saying, I think a lot of us we have some kind of trauma that we’ve harbored since like childhood or since adolescence or college or whatever, where we felt like we were had to write things, we’re forced to write things. And I would just encourage anybody who’s still tuning into this too, just like try to forget about all that and try to retrain your brain to think about writing as something that is just about you and can be more fun and accessible. So one of the ways to do that, I think, is to develop some kind of daily writing habit, or ideally daily, but do what you can. Just get a notebook, doodle it in every morning, start to let your mind wander through some sort of journal or diary or something like that.
I was always a really terrible journalist, or journaler is a better word. I could never quite get it down until finally one day with like a switch went off and I realized, it’s not about like writing your feelings and like your thoughts. Maybe it’s just about recording stories, like things that happened the day before that triggered me in some way. That made me laugh, that surprised me. And so now that’s what I journal. So every morning I start my day by just jotting down a few things that happened to me the day before. Maybe just like a conversation that I overheard at the post office or maybe an interaction that I had while I was getting gas. I mean, it can be anything. And it’s never any good, but the thing is well, not frequently, but the thing is that it does like start to tune my ear toward things that happen that I can record down. That I can record. And like life comes at us fast and especially in our online world things are always on. And so just taking that step back, taking a moment, slowing down and just like starting the day just by writing just something, anything.
Paula: Yeah. And then those ideas kind of become your toolbox for later writing? Because you’ve got characters, you’ve got settings, you’ve got plots, you’ve got all kinds.
Ann: Sometimes yeah, sometimes I have used them like in newsletters. When I publish a newsletter every other Sunday. And I have used some of the stories in that, but sometimes not. Sometimes it’s just that practice of showing up. And so it’s helped me think about my writing differently, even as some who likes writing.
Paula: Absolutely. Well I really appreciate you coming and I really appreciate you sharing your wisdom with us beyond what’s in the book, which is priceless.
Ann: Yeah, thank you so much for the support and I really appreciate the shouts on LinkedIn and all that kind of stuff. So thank you so much for thinking of having me.
Paula: Absolutely. And I was not at all surprised that you ended up being the number one marketer. That was so cool. And the timing was perfect!
Ann: Yeah. Just for you guys.
Paula: Exactly. There you go. That was cool.
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