10 Content Marketing Tips from Best-Selling Authors
Content Marketing is similar to fiction writing in some regards. Both are trying to tell a story and to evoke specific feelings for the reader. For content marketers, those feelings are often trust and interest. Fiction writers usually aim their writing at a much broader range of human emotion.
What do best-selling fiction authors have to teach us? What can we learn to make our content shine? Authors of fiction know how to capture their reader’s attention and keep them flipping those pages well into the early morning hours awaiting the satisfying ending. I have picked 10 tips from authors that can make a significant difference in your writing. For those of you that a looking for even more, and an excellent source of reference is, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King.
1. “Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter, it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.” ― Anton Chekhov
Be ruthless. If any text doesn’t add to the knowledge or understanding of your reader, cut it out of your content marketing.
2. “Read. Everything you can get your hands on. Read until words become your friends. Them when you need to find one, they will jump into your mind, waving their hands for you to pick them. And you can select whichever you like, just like a captain choosing a stickball team.” ― Karten Witemeyer
Across virtually every profession, people that want to get better at what they do study what the best in their field do and then do it. As a professional that is writing content marketing pieces, shouldn’t you do the same? Read various authors, content writers, fiction writers, biographers, historians. Learn what works and what doesn’t. Copy the best and leave the rest.
3. “Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very’.” — Mark Twain
The word “very” is used as an intensifier in the English language. It is an adverb that is supposed to strengthen a weaker word or phrase. Other words would work better. Use words that are more active or delete them. Which sentence sounds better to you.?
- There is very good light from the northern exposure of windows in the bedroom, or
- The morning light streaming in from the windows of the bedrooms northern exposure baths the room in the soft light artists prefer.
4. “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” – Albert Einstein
It is called business speak, corporate jargon, and other terms. However, using plain and simple words in the easiest and best way to get your point across. For content marketing, this is of critical importance.
“..the average adult reads at the 9th-grade level. This accounts for the fact that the popular blockbuster novels are written at the 7th-grade level. People like to read recreationally two grades below their actual reading skill. The average newspaper is written at the 11th-grade level, the tolerable limit for a 9th-grade reader.” Web Source: http://www.impact-information.com/impactinfo/literacy.htm
5. “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”: — Stephen King
Some of the powerful sentences ever written do not use adverbs. “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them…” Matthew 7:12 English Standard Version
In school, we were taught that many adverbs end with the suffix “ly”: angrily, sadly, profusely, etc… Since an adverb is used to strengthen a weak verb, consider using a stronger verb that is more precise. Instead of saying “he rides his bicycle quickly” say” he rode his bicycle as fast as the wind.
Never use adverbs with dialogue tags, “he said sharply” or “she answered quickly.” Using description, not adverbs, is a better way to convey emotions. According to many writers, dialogue tags are the province of amateurs.
6. “Never use the passive voice where you can use the active.” — George Orwell
“Politics and the English Language,” April 1946
When using active voice, the doer of an action is placed at the beginning of a sentence, so your reader knows who or what is taking an action. In passive voice, the doer is placed, or often only implied, at the end of the sentence. Politicians, not writers are partial to passive voice. Using the passive voice is not as clear as using the active voice and forces readers to figure out what is happening and by whom.
You can see the difference in these two sentences:
- Active – US authorities will remove restrictions on importing African elephant trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia. Web source: https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/elephant-trophy-import-ban-lifted/
- Passive – Restrictions will be removed on importing African elephant trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia.
There is a comment in the Bible I have always liked, “The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority.” Mark 1:22, New International Version. Be the authority, use active, powerful words to communicate in your content. It will make a difference.
7. “Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald
As a content writer, you want to bring out an emotional response from your content. However, you want that emotion to develop in your reader. Using an exclamation point, even in an e-mail, is inserting your passion, not allowing the reader to develop it on their own. Let the emotion be their idea.
8. “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” — Mark Twain
Editing is hard work. As I write this, I need to write a five-line product description for an upcoming trade show. Each line can be no more than 30 characters. Our company name and website are longer than that. Somehow I need to capture the entire concept of our product into 150 characters.
One way to cut down on the number of words used in content is by removing “glue words.” “Minimizing glue words may require re-writing, but sometimes you can simply delete extra words. For example, you can delete the words in bold below without changing the meaning.
I got off of the bus and met up with my friend.
She was outside of our favourite café, so we went on in and sat right down.
To save on time, we cut out the small talk and got straight down to the gossip.
We covered off a lot before calling the waiter over and dividing up the bill.
Before heading off home, we agreed that I would call her up next week.” Web Source: https://write.co.nz/delete-glue-words-to-unstick-your-sentences/
9. “Easy books contain lots of short paragraphs – including dialogue paragraphs which may only be a word or two long – and lots of white space.”— Stephen King
“There’s a feeling you get when you’re confronted by a seemingly endless wall of words, and it’s not a nice one. So do your readers a favor, and break up long paragraphs into short—even bite-sized—ones.
A paragraph can be just one sentence.
Even a fragment. Or one word.
Seeing an ample amount of white space will ensure a positive reaction from your readers, either conscious or unconscious. They will feel relieved and should keep reading. They can be as short as a single sentence.
Remember, you are competing for your reader’s attention. By making your content marketing more compelling, it is more likely to be read.
10. “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” — Jack London
Content writing has little to do with inspiration, but a lot to do with perspiration. Understand the techniques used by writers, master them, then sit down and pump out the content.