There’s a word that comes up a lot when we talk about content marketing: Intimidating.
It’s easy to get intimidated at the prospect of creating a high volume of really good content. And even more so if you don’t completely think of yourself as a writer.
Guess who wrote a book to help? It’s Copyblogger’s own Pamela Wilson. She wanted to share what she’s learned from her own journey, starting as a business owner who didn’t see herself as a writer. Today she consistently produces content that audiences love to read — while juggling the many other aspects of her role with Rainmaker Digital.
Today, Sonia Simone and Pamela Wilson take you through some of the lessons from Pamela’s new book, Master Content Marketing: A Simple Strategy to Cure the Blank-Page Blues and Attract a Profitable Audience.
In this 35-minute episode, Sonia and Pamela talk about:
How to make writing less stressful
Why it’s smart to choose the “lazy/efficient” approach to creating content
The structures that make it much, much easier to be creative
The professional doors that can open up when you learn to be an efficient content creator
Pamela’s seven-part “formula” for content production
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The Show Notes
This episode is brought to you by Acuity Scheduling.
Here’s where you can order the book: Master Content Marketing
I’m always happy to see your questions or your thoughts on Twitter @soniasimone (or of course you can drop a question right here in the comments!)
A New Book to Make Content Marketing Easier
Sonia Simone: This episode is brought to you by Acuity Scheduling. Acuity Scheduling makes scheduling meetings online easy. Clients can view your real-time availability, self-book appointments with you, fill out forms, and even pay you online. To learn more and get a free, 45-day trial, visit AcuityScheduling.com/Copyblogger. That’s AcuityScheduling.com/Copyblogger.
Hey there, it is so good to see you again. Welcome back to Copyblogger FM, the content marketing podcast. Copyblogger FM is about emerging content marketing trends, interesting disasters, and enduring best practices, along with the occasional rant. My name is Sonia Simone. I’m the Chief Content Officer for Rainmaker Digital, and I also like to hang out with the folks over at the Copyblogger blog. Remember that you can always get show notes for every episode of Copyblogger FM — that includes links and often it includes extra free resources and other kinds of goodies — by going to Copyblogger.FM. You’ll also get the complete show archives there.
I am here, once again, with Pamela Wilson. Pamela is our VP of Educational Content. She is my co-lead for the Authority community and for our Certified Content Marketer group, and because she is truly, ruthlessly productive, she has also written a book. Pamela, good talking with you again.
Pamela Wilson: I’m cracking up over the “ruthlessly productive.” I don’t know if I’ve ever been accused of that before.
Sonia Simone: I bet you have.
Pamela Wilson: That’s awesome. I don’t know if I ever told you this, that I’ve dreamed of writing a book for a long time. Actually, Big Brand System, my own site, started out as this idea that I wanted to write a book. Then I came across Copyblogger and I ended up writing a blog instead of a book. I created an online presence, which it turns out in retrospect, was a good way to do it. At the time I was just like, “I’m going to build an online presence and write my content online in a public forum where everyone can see it rather than putting it into a book.” It did end up being for the best, because I think I became a much better writer over those years. I hadn’t done much writing before, so if I had jumped right in and tried to write a book, I don’t know what I would have done.
Sonia Simone: I think that’s good. We always have this debate at Copyblogger. Brian Clark has not written a book, and all of his Internet famous people that we know are like, “Brian, why don’t you write a book?” He’s like, “Well, why? I have this amazing platform.” At the same time, books are different. Books reach a different audience. Let’s get into your book. Let us know what’s the title, what’s it about, and who’s it for?
Pamela Wilson: The title is — it’s kind of a mouthful. The title is Master Content Marketing: A Simple Strategy to Cure the Blank Page Blues and Attract a Profitable Audience. It is basically a book that I wrote for myself back in 2010. Like I said, I hadn’t done much writing and here I was — I had decided to build this online platform and I knew I wanted to use content marketing, I just did not even know where to start.
Like I said, I didn’t consider myself a writer at all. I was a visual person, I was a designer and marketing consultant. When I needed writing I would hire a writer. I would interview a copywriter or interview some kind of editorial content writer and bring them in on the project. But I always had this idea like, “Well, I don’t write. I just make the writing look good, but I don’t do any of the writing myself.”
Professional Doors That Can Open When You Learn to be an Efficient Content Creator
Pamela Wilson: Here I was, back in 2010, building this online platform, and it was basically built on my writing. I just had no idea how to get started. What I did — and I guess maybe this goes back to the ruthlessly productive accusation, but what I ended up doing was trying to figure out a process that I could repeat every time I sat down to write a piece of content. And I did. I developed this process. It worked pretty well. I was juggling a lot in my life at the time, and despite that, the process worked pretty well. It worked so well that I actually had time to go to someone like you, who was in charge of the Copyblogger blog at that time, and say, “I have a guest post and I’d like to send it to you.” I actually had enough time leftover to create extra content that helped me to expand my platform.
Sonia Simone: Yeah, if I’m right, other than me, you were the person who had written more guest posts for Copyblogger than any other guest writer.
Pamela Wilson: Yeah, I’ve never sat down and counted. Brian Clark has said that. I think we should just go ahead and take it as the gospel truth.
Sonia Simone: Yeah, if Brian said it, I believe it. That settles it.
Pamela Wilson: The reason for that, Sonia — I’ll just go ahead and remind you. The reason for that is something that you did. I submitted a post, and after you published it, I submitted another. And then you published that, and I submitted … I’m just like, “Well, this is a good thing. I’m just going to keep replacing the one that I sent in with a new post and maybe they’ll keep publishing.”
After doing that for a few months, you emailed me and said, “How would you like to write once a month?” I don’t know if you have any idea how exciting that was for me, because … Well, first of all, it felt incredibly validating that a site like Copyblogger thought that my writing was good enough to publish on their site. That was a piece of it.
But then, just to know that I was going to have access to this huge platform. I told friends and colleagues it felt like I was being invited to give a concert at Carnegie Hall once a month. It was a huge professional moment for me. You’re the reason I ended up having so many guest posts on Copyblogger, because you invited me to write once a month, and who could say no to that?
Sonia Simone: Well, the funny thing is, somebody asked me once — it might have been Chris Brogan who asked me, “How’d you get the Copyblogger gig?” Because, for those of you who don’t know, Brian Clark started Copyblogger all by himself. He worked on it all by himself for about two years. He wrote two posts a week. It was a one-person show. I showed up, started making myself useful, eventually became business partner, and eventually became a co-founder of the new company. He said, “Well, how did you get that gig?” I said, “I showed up, and I showed up with my best stuff all the time. I kept showing up.”
I think people underestimate how powerful that is, and that’s where process — if you can get your process nailed down, if you can get a methodology … Because, honestly, if you’re just like, “Well, I’m just going to feel like writing a great piece of content for my blog once a week, and I’m going to feel like writing another one for this other blog once a week,” you’re not. It’s not going to happen. It just won’t.
Pamela Wilson: Yeah.
Sonia Simone: You have to have some kind of … Virtually every — I would say in excess of 99 percent of the professional writers we know, the big names, the people you studied in college or whatever it is, the writers that you read on a regular basis, non-fiction, fiction, people who write in The New Yorker, whatever — they all have a process. They all have a process to get the pages written, otherwise it just doesn’t happen. It’s like, “Well, I just showed up.” It’s like, “No, there’s no ‘just.'”
Pamela Wilson: Yeah.
Sonia Simone: It’s not just.
Pamela Wilson: Right. I think there’s something about creative work in general that has this touch … I think in the popular imagination, people think that there’s some magical component to it.
Sonia Simone: Yep.
Pamela Wilson: That you have to have some mysterious talent that was conferred on you at your birth. You either have it or you don’t have it. Inspiration is also kind of magical according to the popular imagination. Inspiration just appears at your doorstep with no bidding whatsoever. I have been in a creative field my entire career, and it just doesn’t work that way.
Sonia Simone: Yeah.
Pamela Wilson: It just doesn’t work that way at all. But that’s really good news for everyone, because it means that that kind of inspiration and creativity is really available to all of us if we’re willing to show up and maybe apply some systems and processes which don’t seem very glamorous, but they work. They work, and they’ve worked consistently for creative people throughout their careers.
Sonia Simone: Yeah.
How to Make Writing Less Stressful
Pamela Wilson: That’s what I wanted to talk about in the book. I remember having this moment after I’d been writing for Copyblogger for maybe a year. Some of my posts had done very well, and I remember saying to someone, “I kind of feel like I cracked the code. I know how to put those posts together so that they work. People like them and they can get the information they need, and they’re relatively … ” “Relatively,” I’m drawing huge air quotes here because I spent many hours on them. But they’re relatively easy to put together and you have a process so that makes it flow much more easily.
Sonia Simone: Yeah, because you take out … There’s the work that you put in: you have to do your research, you have to craft the writing, you have to structure the post so it makes sense. Then there’s the, “What am I going to write about?” There’s all the creative angst. That’s I think the part that makes writing hard, and that’s the part that we can do without. When we say it’s making it easier, it’s not that you don’t have to do good work.
Pamela Wilson: I think it’s just that you’re not starting completely from scratch every time. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to put that blank page blues thing in the title, because I think that is what creates that feeling like, “I can’t do this. I’m just looking at a blank page and I don’t even know how to take step one.” Having some processes that you have come to rely on and that work for you very consistently just takes a lot of that stress away. You realize, “Okay, I know how to get started. I know how to take those first steps and start getting something down on paper that I can actually work with.”
Why It’s Smart to Choose the “Lazy/Efficient” Approach to Creating Content
Sonia Simone: It’s funny, because you have a whole section called the lazy, and then in parentheses, “efficient” approach to content creation. We’re talking about it makes it easier, and it’s not like it’s not work, it is work. But there is a whole layer of stress that can be pulled out when we can get a little more efficient.
Pamela Wilson: Yeah, totally. The lazy thing is kind of a joke, but the whole idea of putting processes and systems in place and having reliable content creation habits, is that after a while it starts to feel like, “Oh, well, this is a lot easier. It’s a lot more efficient.” Lazy is my way of saying, “This is the way to do it with less effort.”
Sonia Simone: Yeah.
Pamela Wilson: It’s not that it’s not work, but it’s less effort than when you’re first starting out, because you have reliable ways of getting things done. I talk about this in the book, some of that is just … It’s funny, I don’t see anyone talk about this, but we create our content in a physical environment. We’re sitting in a certain chair. we’re in a certain environment. Developing some awareness about where you work best.
You don’t always have the luxury of working in that physical location, but if you have a place where you know you physically work best, where you have everything at hand and you have the light that works for you … Some people like to work in a dark room with the door closed and the glow of their computer is the only light source. Then other people want to work in a lot of natural light. Just having some awareness about the way you work best so that you can put yourself in that physical environment to get your work done as much as you possibly can. I think that can make a big difference. Then, the other thing is knowing what time of day do you work best.
Sonia Simone: Yeah.
Pamela Wilson: I do my best writing in the morning when I’m fresh and when I’m freshly caffeinated. Some people like to work at night and they do their best work at night. Even just having that awareness, “What time of day can I count on getting my best work done?” And then trying to block that time of day out so that you can do some writing during your most productive time.
Sonia Simone: Yeah, that’s a huge element of it. We’re going to take a very quick break, maybe just a minute or so. When we come back we’re going to dive into Pamela’s seven-part formula, and I’ll put that a little bit in air quotes, but it’s really a seven-part structure for getting your content created efficiently and also getting content created that really is worth reading, watching, or listening to. We will be back after a very quick break.
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Hey there, awesome to see you back. Talking again with Pamela Wilson about her new book. It is really all about creating content from the point of view of somebody who might not necessarily consider themselves a writer. Some will, but a lot of people won’t, which I think can be really liberating. You can really create consistent, high-quality content even if writer is not on your list of words you use to identify yourself.
Pamela Wilson: I think we’ve all had to become writers.
Sonia Simone: Yeah.
Pamela Wilson: Anne Handley came out with Everybody Writes. It’s so true, everybody is needing to write more now than possibly ever before. It’s a fantastic skill to build, because it’s going to help you create content on a website and market your business with that content. It will help you write better emails and things like that as well.
Sonia Simone: Yeah, it’s a funny thing. So many people have all kinds of blogs about writing, but we all have to communicate with each other, and we all pretty much have to communicate with each other in writing. We do write emails, we do write social media posts, we do participate in groups on Facebook or LinkedIn. We are writing, but somehow when we get to the “Writing,” we get a little bit frozen up.
The Structure That Makes it Much, Much Easier to Be Creative
Let’s talk a little bit about … We talked about how having a structure makes things easier. I think it makes things easier by removing … I think it makes the starting friction a lot less. It overcomes that first inertia of, “What am I going to write about? What am I … ?” Just getting it rolling. Can we talk a little bit about some of the specifics? You have a seven-part structure for quality content. I don’t want to give them all away, because I think people should go get the book, but maybe …
Pamela Wilson: I don’t mind. Honestly, the value in the book is what I say and the guidance I provide about each of those seven steps. I don’t mind talking about the seven steps. It’s kind of a recipe, so I’d love to talk about that way of thinking about it.
Sonia Simone: Yeah.
Pamela Wilson: You cook a little bit, right, Sonia?
Sonia Simone: Yeah.
Pamela Wilson: I don’t know if we’ve ever talked about this. I remember hearing you talk about making pies, so I know you at least do some baking. You know how when you’re going to learn to make a new dish or a new desert, you have this recipe? Especially for food. Maybe not so much for deserts because the recipe has to be a little more precise. But when you’re cooking a meal and you’re learning something new, you have this recipe and you tend to follow it very closely the first few times that you use it, because you want to make sure that you include everything that needs to be there. You include it in the right proportion, you add it at the right time — all of that. That’s important because it helps you to get consistent results when you’re making something new.
That’s my approach to this. Because what happens with a recipe is, you use it very strictly and very carefully at first, but then over time you start to realize that there are places where you can riff on one thing. You can make some changes or you can add an ingredient at a different point in the process, or add a little bit more of it. That’s my approach to this.
It’s a seven-part formula, but it’s kind of like a recipe though. The idea is not that you follow this rigidly now and forever until the end of time with every piece of content that you create. The idea is that this is a recipe that will get you started. If you follow it, you’ll have a really strong and compelling piece of content. Later on, as you’ve created more content, you should be able to make your own modifications, and make this recipe your own. That’s the idea behind it. That’s the attitude I would love people to have about it.
Sonia Simone: Let’s talk about that. Let’s just run down what these elements are. These are ingredients that we talk about a lot on Copyblogger, that we talk about a lot in our podcasts. I don’t know that any of these is going to be a complete shock. I will tell you guys — I have read the book. It’s super useful. And every one of these sections has very detailed advice that you can really dig into.
There are checklists. A lot of times there are different options. We’re going to start with the headline. Anybody who knows Copyblogger knows we always start with the headline. There are actually options for different kinds of headlines and how to craft different ones. So there’s a lot of specifics that I think you’ll find valuable. Let’s talk about what is the general recipe from your book?
Pamela’s Seven Part Formula for Content Production
Pamela Wilson: Yeah. You’re right, none of this is anything new. If people have been reading Copyblogger and they know our work, this is nothing new. Maybe what I did differently is put it all together in one place, and, like you said, give advice about each section. Because people tend to get hung up on one part or another. Maybe they’re very comfortable writing subheads but they get lost when it’s time to write the call to action. There is specific advice for certain areas where you may be stumbling a little bit.
Number one: compelling headline. The compelling headline is important because that is really the invitation to read the piece of content. That is what people will click on, so it’s super important. And we talk about it a lot at Copyblogger. I don’t think you can ever talk too much about writing great headlines and what it takes. This week we had a with post from Stefanie Flaxman about the kinds of questions to ask yourself to generate really good headlines. So headlines are super important. That’s step one in the recipe.
The next step is the first sentence, which — I devoted a whole chapter to writing the first sentence of your piece of content, which probably seems a little bit like overkill. It’s a make or break moment in your content, because here’s someone who has clicked on your headline and they’re on your page. Their hand is probably still on their mouse or it’s still hovering over their track pad. They’re deciding, “Am I’m going stay or go? Am I going to read this or not?”
That first sentence is going to help to draw them in and draw them down into the rest of your content. I actually think it’s the next most important thing after your headline, and that’s why I devoted … It’s a short chapter, but it’s a whole chapter about your first sentence with some very specific tips about how to grab readers when they’re at that deciding point, draw them in, and keep them reading.
The next essential element — as I call it — is the introduction section. When you’re reading a piece of online content … When you’re looking, for example, at a blog homepage, the introduction section is typically the paragraph or two, or maybe three that come before the more tag. A more tag is a cut-off point where, typically on a blog it says, “Read more,” or “Keep reading,” something like that.
That introduction section, again, is really selling your piece of content. It’s getting people engaged enough that they want to continue on and commit to reading the whole piece of content. Again, it’s super important, and I wanted to take it as a separate section and give specific advice about making that section work. People may have read a piece of content and never perceived that the piece of content had these sections. But because they each have different jobs, I really wanted to give separate advice. Introduction section is number three.
The fourth essential element is the subheads. I’m still shocked that not every single piece of online content is taking advantage of subheads.
Sonia Simone: Yeah, me too.
Pamela Wilson: They’re such a great way to keep people reading. They’re like little signposts that let people know what the piece of content is about. They’re a way to re-engage people in your piece of content, to keep drawing them down a page. You and I have talked a lot — and you’ve written a lot — about the dual readership path, which is this idea that people sometimes look at your headline and they very briefly skim down the page and look at the subheads before they decide whether or not to read your content. Well-written subheads, again, it’s like a place where you’re selling your piece of content. They’re super important.
Sonia Simone: Well, the other thing I think subheads do for content that writers overlook or underestimate, is they keep the writer on track.
Pamela Wilson: Absolutely, yeah.
Sonia Simone: If you have to subhead your own work, then all of a sudden you realize that there’s a giant tangent in there that is very interesting and very worth reading — in another article. It is not serving this piece. I think the primary purpose is for the reader, to orient the reader, to keep the reader grounded and anchored in your content. But it also makes your content better, it makes your content more cohesive. It’s a strong tool. I have put subheads in emails. If I have to email somebody about something complex, I’ll start to subhead it. It’s actually an interesting way to think. Where you really make sure that everything that you’re contributing to the communication is on track. They’re overlooked, but they’re really good, they’re important.
Pamela Wilson: They’re super powerful. One of the things that I recommend in the book when I talk about an actual system for writing your content, is I recommend that those subheads get written very early in the process.
Sonia Simone: Yep.
Pamela Wilson: You can change them down the road, that’s fine. But if you write out your subheads, you will have a basic structure for how you’re going to develop your information or develop your argument within your piece of content. Back when we were in English class, they called this an outline. But I try to avoid calling it an outline because that word …
Sonia Simone: Nobody loves outlines, I know.
Pamela Wilson: No.
Sonia Simone: Yeah.
Pamela Wilson: I call it a backbone. It’s like the backbone of your posts, when you think through your subheads. That’s number four. The fifth of the seven essential elements is the main copy. The main copy is basically everything else. Everything that fits under your subheads. In the system that I recommend, I tell people that when it comes time to write this main copy, this may seem like the most daunting part of the process. But if you have written a good headline and you’ve got a strong, compelling introductory sentence and introduction section, and you’ve thought through your subheads, then your main copy — it’s not actually that much work. It’s not that bad.
It’s just filling in below those subheads. You already have a structure. You know what direction you need to go in, and it’s a matter of just getting it written. I recommend people write that main copy as fast as they possibly can, because you really just need to get a decent first draft and then you can go back and edit.
Then the sixth of the seven sections is the summary. Again, maybe it’s kind of an invisible section that people have not thought about. Usually in a really compelling piece of content, toward the end there are — it might be one sentence or it might be a paragraph or two, but it basically summarizes what you have talked about in the content.
It’s a great way to refer people back to the original idea, to show them the journey that they’ve been on, and just remind them. It’s a great way to reinforce what you’re trying to teach as well. It doesn’t have to be very long, but it gives people this sense of completion and satisfaction. It’s like, “Job well done. Look what you’ve learned today.” That’s the job of the summary.
Then the last section is the call to action. I think a lot of content marketers skip over this part because they’re like, “Well, it’s just a piece of content, I don’t need to ask people to do anything.” A call to action can be something as simple as, “Let me know what you think about this in the comments.” It doesn’t have to be, “Buy my product.” It could also be, “Subscribe for more information,” or “Subscribe so I can send you a PDF that has more detail on this topic,” something like that. You can ask for a bigger commitment, but you can also ask for a very small commitment. “If you enjoyed this post, click one of the social media buttons and share it with your friends.” It can be as simple as that. It is important to ask for something, to ask for some kind of action, even if it’s tiny.
Sonia Simone: There have been some really interesting things written about this. The environment today is not about, “I run and ad, you respond to the ad, you make a purchase, and we’re done.” It’s really about paths, and there are all these paths. There’s the path from Facebook to Twitter to your business, or Facebook to this page to that page and to the other page.
Yeah, the more we can move people around on the site — move people around and invite them to take a next step with us. It builds more trust, builds a better relationship, and it gives them more value if what you’re creating is good. It gives the audience more value so that they get more benefit from what you’re doing. It’s a great little practice. Again, a lot of people who maybe aren’t — marketer is not in their job title — might not think of it. But it’s really useful for anybody to do. Even if it’s not a blog that’s serving a marketing purpose, there’s still going to be something you want them to do next.
Pamela Wilson: You just want to keep the engagement high. By the end of your piece of content, if you’ve done this right, they will be engaged. You want to stay in contact with them. Sometimes people feel at the end of a piece of content like, “Oh my gosh, this was exactly what I needed. How do I stay in touch with this website?”
Sonia Simone: Right, exactly.
Pamela Wilson: You have to spell it out. You just have to give them the opportunity. I think people feel like, “Oh, I don’t want to keep selling. I don’t want to be all pushy.” But sometimes people want to stay in touch with you, so you have to make it very easy for them.
Sonia Simone: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, even if it’s, “Follow me on Twitter.” Something to let people keep the connection open when you’ve made a real impact. All right, well we could talk about this for a long time, but …
Pamela Wilson: I know, I could.
Sonia Simone: I think we should let people know how do people get their hands on the book?
Pamela Wilson: As we record this, I’m in the process of uploading the book to Amazon and all of that. So the book will be available as an eBook. It will be Kindle and iPad, so they can either get it on Amazon or in the iBooks store if they prefer to read it on an iPad. It’s also going to be in print. This was an exciting project for me because I have a print design background. Most of my career was in print design. I got a chance to make a real thing printed on dead trees again. I haven’t done that in a really long time, so it was fun to put those skills to work and create. It’s going to be a softcover book because I literally want people to see this as a reference that they keep on their desktop when they’re writing a piece of content.
Sonia Simone: Yeah.
Pamela Wilson: In the book I encourage them, “Fold the pages down, put sticky notes on them. I want you to bang this book up and use it. I really want you to use it.” It’s going to be softcover, a slightly larger format than the typical book, but with nice divider pages so that people can easily find what they’re looking for.
I worked with an illustrator who has done work for the Nickelodeon network to develop this character that evolves as the character moves through the book. That was a lot of fun. I tried to create something that was visually interesting along with being a good, informative guide to creating — to mastering content marketing.
Sonia Simone: Yeah, absolutely. That’s cool, that’s really cool. It is tremendously useful, it is packed with how-to’s, it’s a very action-focused book. I think you can tell that from how Pamela’s talking about it. I really do recommend it. I think you’ll get a lot out of it. And I think people at a lot of different stages of creating content will find it very useful just to keep everything sharp and high-quality, and keep yourself really productive. Pamela, thank you. It’s so much fun to talk with you about this. I know we’ve been talking about this book for a while now, so it’s very exciting that you’re finally right at the publication stage. That’s really cool.
Pamela Wilson: It’s been a long-term project. Compared to creating a piece of content, which happens within just a few hours, it’s been really interesting to develop something that has stretched out over so much time. It has been so much fun, I’ve really enjoyed it. And I can’t wait to get it into people’s hands so that it starts doing the work that I want it to do.
Sonia Simone: Yeah.
Pamela Wilson: Thanks for the opportunity to talk about it, I really appreciate it.
Sonia Simone: Very cool. All right, everybody, thank you so much for listening. I talked today with Pamela Wilson, and I’ll catch you next time.