The Complete Beginner’s Guide to Email Marketing for Writers

Note: This post contains affiliate links. If you choose to purchase the service through my link, I will receive a commission at no extra cost to you.

What is email marketing?

Email marketing is, in the most basic definition, using email to get people to purchase something from you. That could be hiring you as a writer, or an editor, or maybe purchasing one or more of your books.

Everyone complains that they get way too many emails every day, but email marketing is still the best way to reach your clients and fans.

If you’re selling writing services, you can use email marketing to build trust and authority while warming up new and potential clients to purchase your services.

If you just want to sell books, it’s a great way to get people interested in reading your work and purchasing from you.

The most important part of email marketing is that you’re already in their mailbox. That’s the proverbial “a foot in the door“. And unlike Facebook, Twitter, or other social media platforms, you don’t have to worry about that going away. Not that those networks are going anywhere soon, but…would you buy stock in MySpace right now? How about Friendster? Sometimes sites lose popularity or go out of business.

Your email list will never go out of business. Unless they unsubscribe or close their email account altogether, you will always have your foot in that door.

Why email marketing works for writers.

When someone visits your website, they’re not committing to anything. They’re just a passerby, seeing what there is to see. A tourist. They’re reading your content, and hopefully enjoying it, but they’re only a back button press away from never seeing your website ever again. That’s one decision, one click, less than one second that you could lose a potential fan.

This is something we want to avoid as much as possible. We want them to hire us or buy our books, and they won’t make a purchse until they trust us. They have to trust we will do a good job if they hire us. They have to trust that they will be entertained when they purchase our book. They won’t trust us until we’ve proven we know how to write well. For most people, that’s going to take more than just one visit to one page on your website. We want them coming back.

Email is the best way to get them to come back.

Once you’re in their inbox, there’s a lot of opportunities to get them to come back to your website and purchase your services or products.

If you’re looking to get clients to hire you, I recommend you provide content more on the educational side. This will build trust. I generally don’t recommend offering discounts, but if that’s something you want to do in your business, email is the way to get that information to repeat customers, or people who were just on the fence and want to give you a shot.

If you’re selling books, send them some free content. Teasers, short stories, or maybe some background info on the world or characters. You have an excellent opportunity here to provide content beyond the stories you’ve already created. Get your fans immersed in the worlds you have created.

Choosing an email newsletter provider.

There are a lot of different email marketing providers out there so it can be very intimidating to pick one when you first start taking a look at them all. This is particularly true when you don’t really know anything about email marketing.

You don’t want to just run with your regular email service, like gmail, and CC or BCC everyone. That’s going to cause a lot of headaches. Running a newsletter manually may also be not allowed by the email service provider. While we’re talking about it, it’s also a bad idea to use a gmail as a professional email. Get a website and get a firstname@yourwebsite.com email address.

My main piece of advice here is that you get what you pay for, most of the time.

For example, I used to use MailChimp. MailChimp is free, but I find it difficult to use and not user-friendly at all. For someone new to email marketing or digital marketing, you might find it even more difficult to figure out. I know this because it’s the first service I used.

Personally, I use and recommend ConvertKit. It’s not free, but it is an affordable investment if you take your writing business seriously.

ConvertKit is great because it’s super easy to use and has really great automation features. I’m a huge fan of automation becuase I don’t like to have to do things more than once. It’s also usefull for setting up automatic income.

Who doesn’t want to make money while they sleep? Smart email marketing with automation can get you there quicker than you may think.

One of my favorite features is Sequences, which I used to create a cool welcome email sequence that actually generates some revenue. With some tweaks, it’ll make even more revenue in the near future. You can check it out by signing up for my email list here:

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ConvertKit is my recommendation for any writer who takes their writing business seriously. Whether you’re looking to get hired to write, or you want to sell your books, this is the service I use and recommend.

I’ll even get you started by giving you the template I use for my initial welcome email.

Your welcome email.

The welcome email is the first email that someone receives after signing up. It’s extremely important because it’s where you get to make a good first-email-impression. Obviously, you’ve already made some sort of first-impression with the subscriber because they’ve already decided they trust you enough to give you their email address. Now, you need to make another first impression with your emails so that they don’t regret it and unsubscribe. Losing subscribers is no fun.

I’ve set up a template you can follow with explanations of each step:

  1. Start with welcoming them to the email list, and reminding them why they signed up. Sometimes people forget.
  2. If you offered some sort of bonus for signing up, like a free story, give them a link to download it.
  3. Tell them a little about yourself. Why you’re qualified to be sending them newsletters, who you’ve written for, and any features you’ve been in.
  4. What they can expect from future newsletters. Talk about what kind of content you send and how frequently (hint: you should be sending valuable content at least once a week).
  5. Tell them about other places they can follow you such as Facebook, Twitter, etc.
  6. Ask them a question. You’ll need to make sure whatever email service you’re using allows replies. If you’re teaching something through your blog and newsletter (which you should be), this is a good time to ask people what they’re struggling with so you can get ideas for new content to write (or, if it’s something you’ve already written, reply back to them with a link!).

Using that template will get you started with a good welcome email. You can always tweak it as time goes by.

Then, you need to set up your email service to send the welcome email automatically. I set my welcome email to come an hour after they sign up.

Setting up automations.

I have a firm belief that if you have to do something more than once, you should automate it. Luckily, your email newsletter service most likely offers some level of automation.

For example, ConvertKit has two different types of automation: the “Sequences” section and the “Automations” section.

I do find it a bit confusing that one is actually called “Automations” and the other is not, but both are forms of automation and you’ll see how in a minute.

Sequences are a series of emails that are automatically sent out at predetermined amounts of time. For example, my welcome sequence has multiple emails that are spread out with a few days in between them.

I’ve also used sequence to create free email courses. The first email goes out immediately after someone subscribes to receive the email course. After that, ConvertKit sends each lesson one day apart from the last email. In ConvertKit, email sequences can be set to be anywhere from hours, to days, to weeks apart. This is handy depending on what you need.

For one of my old email courses, one email asked a question where the user could select one of three options. If they didn’t select an option, they wouldn’t receive the next email. It was required to continue the course. I set up reminders at a week, a month, and six months if they didn’t click one of the options to continue the course.

The Automations section has a lot of features that I will someday write a whole blog post about itself. These features include tagging subscribers, integrating other platforms and services, and more. For the sake of this already pretty long post, I’m only going to discuss tagging subscribers because that’s something I have found great use for.

Tagging subscribers helps you identify which subscribers are interested in what aspects of your business and newsletter. For example, my website and newsletter generally cover two topics: building a writing business, and my personal cyberpunk writing. I also offer writing services, and in the future will offer ways to purchase my writing. In my welcome email, I ask the subscriber:

Do you want to receive news about:

  • Learning to build a writing business
  • My cyberpunk and other writing
  • Both!

And then I set a link on each one that takes them to a separate thank you page with more information about that subject. I use automation to tag which subscribers click on which.

When I’m sending out emails about building a writing business, I will segment those emails to only go to those who clicked on that option (“Both!” doesn’t get a link and is just the default; no need to tag those people). That way, subscribers aren’t getting emails that are irrelevant to their interests, and they’re less likely to unsubscribe in the future.

Getting people to sign up for your newsletter.

Here’s the hard part: getting people to sign up for your email list.

It’s a foot in the door of their private life. Email inboxes are sacred and aren’t just shared all willy-nilly by most people.

However, there are people out there with hundreds of thousands, even millions, of email subscribers. How do they get them? There’s a few techniques marketers use that are tried and true.

First: just ask.

It’s that simple. Open up your phone and flip through the contacts list. Anyone you know on there you think would be interested, ask them. Just shoot them a text that says something like:

“Hey, I’m starting a newsletter for my website where I share my fiction writing, and I thought you might be interested. Can I add you to the list?”

If they say no, thank them and don’t bug them about it. If they say yes, respond with something like:

“Awesome! Excited for you to see what I’ve been working on. What email is best for you?”

Repeat the process with Facebook friends, Twitter followers, and anywhere else you can think of. Anywhere that you have contacts who you think might be interested, just ask them. Don’t waste time on people you know wouldn’t be interested.

The next thing to do is to get all the people who are visiting your site to sign up.

Your email newsletter service should offer some easy copy and paste sign up forms that you can just drop into the code on your website. You’ve already seen an example of this with the ConvertKit one above. Lots of marketers recommend you have a signup in the side-bar (if you have one), one in the header (if you can do it without it obstructing the rest of your header), and one at the bottom of every blog post and page. I prefer to skip the header signup to keep everything a bit cleaner at the top. Instead, I’ll often put a signup higher up in the blog post, if it makes sense to (like in this post). I don’t try to cram one in somewhere that it doesn’t fit, either physically or contextually.

If you’re on WordPress and using ConvertKit, you can actually do this really easily with their WordPress plugin, which is exactly what I use.

You’ll need to go to WordPress and install and activate the ConvertKit plugin, then go to you ConvertKit account and get your API key and API Secret key.

Then, in WordPress under Settings, you’ll find the ConvertKit plugin. Go there and put in your two keys. Click “Save Changes” and it will refresh with a dropdown of your current forms. You can then select which one you want to be the default.

In WordPress, under Appearance, go to Widgets and you can drag and drop the ConvertKit widget into whatever sidebar you want it in.

To have it in the bottom of a post, you can select that option in each individual post, at the bottom of the page below the post text box. It will automatically have the form you set as default, but you can easily change it to another one, or none at all.

This also works with ConvertKit landing pages.

What to send in your brand new email newsletter.

You’ve followed all the instructions above. You signed up for ConvertKit. You set up a welcome email. You’ve even set up some tags to segment your list.

But what do you send?

Updates! Newsletters! Projects you’re working on!

Mostly, just things that are relevant to what you’re working on, that your subscribers would want to see. Keep in mind their preferred content you’ve tagged them to receive.

If you’re using your blog to teach people what you know, which you should be, then definitely send that information out in your emails as well.

One thing to make sure of is that you don’t constantly bombard your subscribers with advertisements of your writing services and/or books. That’s spam, and it’s bad.

Definitely do promote yourself, but don’t over-do it.

When to send out your newsletter.

You need to be sending out newsletters at least once a week. This keeps you on people’s minds and increases your chances of landing new sales.

Studies have shown that the more emails you send, the better your clickthrough rates. It’s important to make sure you don’t spam people, though. That’s a quick way to lose subscribers.

Marketers have been studying time of day and day of week to send out emails and it varies wildly.

CoSchedule compared 10 different studies and found that Tuesday is the best day to send email, and if you send two emails a week, Thursday is the best day for your second email. Wednesday was also a popular day.

As for time of day, they found that 10 A.M. and 11 A.M. are great, as well as anywhere between 8 P.M. and Midnight.

I usually send out my newsletter on Tuesdays, but the time is different each week.

Of course, this all depends on your audience. Your subscribers may operate at a different time. Being that your audience is mostly writers (if you’re teaching writing) and/or fans who read your writing, they could operate at non-normal business hours. But, another industry could have an audience who are mostly day-job people and thus open the most emails between the hours of 9 AM and 5 PM.

The best thing to do is to try different days and times to figure out what your audience prefers.

Legal Stuff.

In the USA, according to anti-spam laws called the CAN-SPAM Act, you have to have a valid physical mailing address in your email newsletters. This address doesn’t have to be your home or office. It can be a P.O. Box.

It does have to be an address attributed to you where you can be contacted. You can’t just pick a random gas station address of of Google Maps.

I recommend you don’t use your home address for safety reasons, unless you’ve already put your home address openly on the internet. Generally, that’s not a good idea at all, so if you can take that down and set up an office or P.O. Box, that’ll be a much safer way to do things.

But also, don’t use a fake address. One single email in violation of the CAN-SPAM Act can cost you as much as $16,000.

You also need to have an unsubscribe button in the email so that users can easily remove themselves from your list. There are lots of clever tricks some marketers use to confuse people who try to unsubscribe. The best policy is to make it easy. The people who want to unsubscribe aren’t your target audience, anyway, or else they wouldn’t want to unsubscribe.

You’re ready to get started!

That’s what you need to know to get started with email marketing your writing.

Get out there and start collecting newsletter subscribers!

Consistency is the most important part of your career.

People are going to forget about you. They’re going to forget about your games, your art, your programming, and you.

Pretty terrifying right? No one wants to hear that. Sorry for being so harsh, but you’re not doing anything to remind them who you are.

That’s why you need to be consistent. Consistency is the key to being successful in anything.

Let’s start at the top.

Note: there are a couple of affiliate links in this post. For more about that and how they work, check out the Resources page.

You need to be consistently making games.

My friend Sean McCabe says “show up every day.” Every day you should do at least one thing that works towards your game design and development.

That doesn’t mean you have to code every day, or draw every day.

Just one thing is all it takes. Show up every day and do at least one thing that’s going to get you closer to completion.

One thing every day that’s going to get you closer to your goals.

He says that doing this for two years will get you where you want to be. That’s such a short period of time if you really think about it.

Plus, you’ll be getting better at your game design and development each day as you work on it.

While you’re getting closer to completion, you’ll need to be working on marketing. Building your audience is what you should do, which is why the next three parts need to be consistent.

You need to be consistently showing your games.

Show people what you’re working on. Show your works in progress.

It doesn’t have to be anything crazy or intense. Maybe it’s a gif of an animation you made this week. Or you added in a cool game mechanic that you can show.

Heck, even just share a teaser of the story.

There’s so much in the process of gamedev that can be shared, and it drums up interest in your game.

Of course you can and should be sharing this stuff on your social media like Facebook, Twitter, etc, but you should also be sharing on your blog.

You need to be consistently posting on your blog.

If you don’t have a blog, make sure you’re signed up for the newsletter right now. Next week I’ll be posting a comprehensive guide (for free!) that will teach you step by step how to set up a blog for your gamedev.

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You need to be posting to your blog because it’s the one platform you control.

Remember MySpace? Who uses that anymore?

Don’t think it’s impossible that Twitter or Facebook could be next. I don’t even know anyone who really uses Tumblr anymore (of course I still post there but that’s another story).

But your blog, your website, that is something you can control. It will exist as long as you want it to. I use A2 hosting and their quick and easy 1 click WordPress installer.

There’s also a simple little thing you can do to keep people coming back to your blog for more. Aside from posting consistently, you need to be collecting emails from your visitors, and sending them a newsletter.

You need to be consistently sending out email newsletters.

My biggest regret is not starting collecting emails sooner.

I would have made way more sales on my previous games by now had I started collecting emails from the very beginning.

It’s just the best marketing you can do on a video game. Tell people about it.

Like I mentioned above, controlling your own platform is important. If Twitter disappears it will be very difficult to retain that audience and move them to whatever new platform you’re on.

I use ConvertKit because it’s easy and they have great functions for automation.

If you have their email, you’ll be able to take them wherever you go very easily.

Plus, people will see you all the time. You’ll be in their thoughts because you regularly send them valuable and interesting content.

That way, when you launch a game, they won’t see it as spam.

You ever sign up for an email list and forget about it? Then weeks or months later you get an email that’s like “Hey I just released my new game!”

Of course I usually check it out but it’s just like “ugh who is this person and why are they trying to get money from me?”

You need to share at least once a week.

They won’t forget about you this way. We think in weekly cycles. That’s why most TV shows put out new episodes at least weekly (during their season).

Of course, you can share more than just once a week if you want, but don’t overwhelm yourself.

Trust me, people will start to notice.

I’ve been inconsistent in the past and people have commented on it. I was totally embarrassed.

Consistency is totally hard but there are lots of ways you can prepare, like setting up an editorial calendar or automating your social media posting with a tool like CoSchedule (that’s a referral link, btw. If you sign up, they cut me a discount on my subscription at no extra cost to you).

An example of what not to do:

This is tricky and I need to preface this by saying that I am not trying to call out this gamedev publicly or anything. He’s wildly successful and I am confident that he will continue to be successful for various reasons, despite the things he’s doing “wrong” that I’m about to show you.

I do believe he would make a lot more money if he were to put more into marketing in the ways that I have suggested here (and will more in the future), but I also don’t get the impression he’s too worried about that. Please know that while I am saying what he’s doing here is “wrong”, I highly admire him and he’s one of the reasons I got into game design and development in the first place. It’s only “wrong” from a marketing standpoint.

But, as no-name indie dev, you don’t want to repeat what he’s doing here, because you need all the help you can get.

That said…look at this tweet:

Take a second to think about what you just learned and see if you can figure out what’s right and what’s wrong here.

Okay now that you’ve thought about it, I’ll list out a few things that were done right:

  • Really well written posts.
  • Lots of images in the posts.
  • Definitely content that will build up hype.
  • Pinned tweet…I wouldn’t have seen this otherwise.

But here’s what’s done wrong:

  • Not hosted on its own platform.
  • Telling people to bookmark and come back on their own accord.
  • No email list?
  • Posts aren’t really consistently posted. Definitely not weekly.

Again, at this point in his career I’m sure he’ll be fine and continue to be successful, and he absolutely deserves it.

But for an indie dev who’s not at that point, you need all the help you can get. That’s what I’m here for!

Make sure you’re signed up for the email list so that you can continue to learn more about video game design, development, marketing, and business.

Write About Things Even When People Won’t Shut Up About Them

this guy found a pikachu
this guy found a pikachu
This guy found a Pikachu.

Raise your left hand if you’re sick of hearing about Pokemon Go. Raise your right hand if you’re playing Pokemon Go. Clap your hands if you’re sick of hearing about Pokemon Go even though you’re playing it.

It seems like over half of the articles that have crossed my path this last week have been about Pokemon Go. That’s not including all the social media posts from my friends and family.

It’s really cool and really popular right now. It’s a game changer by being the first wildly successful augmented reality game. That said, we’re all sick of hearing about it.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write about it, too.

If you have an idea, you should be writing about it. Even if you’re sick of hearing about it, get out there and write about it.

This doesn’t just apply to Pokemon Go, but anything that is being talked about. Don’t worry if other people are talking about something too much. If you’re afraid you’re covering something that’s already been covered, don’t be.

You are so unique.

Even though there are over nine thousand articles about Pokemon Go to come out in the last week, no one else has your perspective. No one else has gone through your exact same experiences in the exact same order.

You are unique, and you have a voice.

Your voice brings a new outlook on the subject.

Write what you know.

As I’ve said before: write what you know. If you know something about Pokemon Go, share it.

At the most, you’ll get some work, or maybe a check out of the content. At the least, it’s something to put in your portfolio.

You could also run a case study on newsjacking. Whether you’re successful or unsuccessful with it, write about it. Write about why it was or was not successful, and learn from that.

And if it is a failure, the transparency in your failure will speak volumes.

Newsjacking isn’t all bad.

Some content marketers shudder at the word “newsjacking”. It’s not all bad, but it can be.

The proper way to handle newsjacking is to take a news event and write about it from your perspective, or how it applies to you or your industry.

  • If you do marketing as a profession, you could discuss how Pokemon Go is increasing profits of local businesses.
  • If you’re a fitness instructor, you could talk about how Pokemon Go is great for exercise.
  • If you’re a writer, you could talk about how other writers shouldn’t be afraid of writing about something even though it’s being talked about by what seems like every other website on the internet right now.

The bottom line is this: don’t ever feel like you can’t write about something because it’s already been written about before. Just write it!

Word Count Doesn’t Matter Online

Word Count Doesn’t Matter Online

Word Count Doesn’t Matter Online

I’ve been getting a question frequently: how long should my blog posts be? Is there a minimum word amount for blog posts? Maximum?

No. There isn’t. People will tell you otherwise, but I’m telling you there isn’t.

Side note: this only counts when online. Magazines and other print media will require specific word counts because of space. I’m not saying that you should ignore those word counts. In fact, those word counts are extremely important. The only time word count really doesn’t matter is when online.

If you charge a flat rate per word, you should stop doing that right now. Charge per piece. Not per word. I’ll talk more about that in a future post.

Blog post word count doesn’t matter, even for SEO.

In SEO (Search Engine Optimization), the rule of thumb is frequently changing on blog post length. It was 300 words. Then bumped up to 500 words. Then bumped up to 1000 words. I don’t keep up with it anymore, so I don’t even know where it is now.

It doesn’t matter.

Google and the other search engines are going to find your content if your content is good. They’ll rank it well if your content is good. Focus on creating valuable content for readers, and you won’t need to worry about those stupid SEO rules.

The thing about those SEO rules is that they had to be enforced because SEO’s were all posting as much trash as possible. It was all about more pages and more keyword optimization and stuffing and all that. Of course, they’re trying to get hundreds, if not thousands, of pages out every month, which is expensive, so they shoot for lowest word count possible to get them all out. There can’t be duplicate content, either, so each page needs to be written individually.

The problem with SEO is that it has always encouraged sketchy practices, work-arounds, and generally just trashy work for the sake of getting more rankings. SEO’s would sell companies that more rankings are important.

What’s important is getting the right traffic, not as much traffic as possible, and then turning that traffic into leads/conversions. Of course, that has been done with SEO by many companies, but I have found that all companies do much better when they focus less on SEO and more on content marketing.

Of course, I still write with SEO in mind, but I’m focused more on providing value to readers and website visitors, which ultimately turns them into customers and clients.

Get the point across in as many words as you need.

Here’s the thing about writing content that provides value: the word count doesn’t matter as long as you get the point across.

You need to provide the value the user is looking for.

If they found you on Google, because you’re ranking well, they’re looking for an answer to their question. Answer it. Don’t fluff the content with a bunch of BS in the beginning or end to reach the wordcount that some SEO recommended to you for every page.

A lot of stuff, especially “how to” guides, will come under whatever word count is recommended. I bet you can find a ton of them ranking well in Google that are under 500, 300, even 100 words.

They’re ranking well because they have been seen to provide value to visitors to the site. The people who read the content share it because it answered their question and they want the rest of the world to know the answer to their problems, too. People are nice like that. Sometimes.

If clients want a specific word count, obviously do it.

Some clients aren’t going to know this. Or they’ve heard it and they don’t understand. It’s not your job to educate them. It’s not worth your time to educate them. Those clients are going to ask for specific maximum and minimum word counts.

Sean McCabe would say those aren’t the clients you want. And, he’s right. But until you’ve switched over to Value Based Pricing model he teaches, and ditch scarcity mindset, you’ll be taking clients on that want specific word counts. And that’s okay. Take them and do their word counts. Get your pay. Save up for Value Based Pricing and get out of scarcity mindset. Or, even better, go get a day job and then only take on good clients.

This was supposed to be a short article to prove a point, but it ended up being well over 1500 words because there was so much to say.

How To Conduct A Great Interview

how to conduct a great interview

how to conduct a great interview

Part of writing creative non-fiction is that sometimes you need to interview someone. You might just need a few quotes for a post, or you may need an expert to explain an entire concept to you. No matter what you need to use the interview for, you can make it easier on yourself and the interviewee by knowing how to conduct a good interview.

Do your research.

This is one of the most important things you can do to prepare for a great interview. You need to do your research.

Imagine you show up at an event and you don’t know anything about the person you’re interviewing. How are you supposed to ask them questions?

You can’t just prepare your questions in advance because an answer to one question may prompt you to think of another question, and that’s great. You want to know as much about the subject as possible, be it the person themselves or something else that you’re interviewing the person about.

Do research before you head in so you’re able to think of smart, interesting questions on the fly when something is said that calls for more elaboration.

A lot of times they’ll also bring up something you might not have thought of, or found in your research. Having the research and knowledge you already have will help out in those situations, too. You’ll be able to prompt them to elaborate properly on a subject they’ve mentioned when you know enough around it to ask the right questions.

While you’re researching, look for past interviews. Research as many past interviews with this person, or about this subject as possible. Some of them will have questions you’ll want to use, but it’ll also tell you what questions haven’t been asked before. Try to find questions that have never been asked. Interviewees who have been through tens or hundreds of interviews will always be thankful for new and interesting questions they haven’t been asked before.

Make sure the interviewee is comfortable.

You don’t want to have an uncomfortable interviewee because they’ll be trying to get out of the interview as quickly as possible. You’re not the paparazzi. You’re a creative non-fiction writer.

Don’t be pushy, and don’t ask anything too personal unless it has been specifically agreed upon by the interviewee themselves that the questions are okay. If you don’t know if a question is okay, be on the safe side and don’t ask. Or, save it until the end if you think it’s really necessary to the piece you’re writing.

You’ll want to make sure the surroundings are comfortable as well. If you caught them in public or somewhere such as after a concert, make sure they’re not being surrounded by fans or signing autographs or in a really loud area where you’re going to have to yell your questions and listen close for the answers.

Open up with a joke or two, even if it’s before the questions. If you’re a fan of them, let them know. Tell them what your favorite thing they did was. Then jump into the interview.

You could also open up with some easy questions that give the interviewee a chance to talk themselves up. I don’t mean self promotion questions, but stuff like “how did you feel when you were asked to play this festival?” You don’t necessarily have to use these warm up questions in the final piece; the point is just to get the interviewee comfortable and talking. People like to talk about themselves, especially their achievements, so try to start there.

You don’t want your interviewee to be uncomfortable at all or else they won’t open up.

Open with something they definitely know about.

Let’s say you’re writing a piece on a music festival. You’ll probably end up talking to a lot of other concert attendees, but what if you get a chance to talk to a band? Don’t lead off with something like “Have you been to our town before?”

You don’t want to ask yes or no questions, but we’ll get to that later.

An alternative would be, “what do you think of our town?” That’s actually also a poor example of what you should ask. Don’t ask about things they could possibly have an “I don’t know” answer to.

You want to start off with something they know for sure. Ask them what other shows they’ve played lately. What it was like starting a band in their town. How do they feel when they’re up on stage in front of a festival worth of people? Get them talking about things they know and enjoy and they’ll open up a lot quicker.

Never ask yes or no questions.

All questions you ask need to be open-ended. If you absolutely have to ask a yes or no question, then you need to have a follow up open-ended question to get your real quote.

If you ask people yes or no questions, they often answer in yes or no. They won’t talk and you won’t get any good quotes. It’ll be a terribly boring interview.

Instead of, “have you been to our town before,” ask, “what did you think of our town?”

Don’t stick strictly to your pre-selected questions.

As mentioned before, sometimes an interviewee will say something you didn’t think about or completely didn’t know about. Or, maybe they just say something that you realize will open up a new, better angle for your piece. At that point, don’t worry about sticking to your pre-selected questions. Ask them more about that thing.

Just because you planned doesn’t mean you have to stick to the plan.

Learn to be a little improvisational with your interviews in this way so that you’re able to get all the best information you can. Your pieces will be far more interesting and educational.

Give them time to answer.

Sometimes people pause to think. That’s okay, and in fact encouraged. What they say next might be exactly what you need.

Wait until you’re sure someone has finished answering their question before you move on to the next one. Moments of silence will be okay.

Ask “looking back” style questions.

Another common interview question is the “looking back…” question. These are questions that prompt the interviewee to, well, look back upon the event.

“Looking back, would you have done anything differently if you know what you know now,” is a pretty easy one.

Be creative and come up with some unique ones. You are a creative writer, after all!

In the future, we’ll talk about how to come up with good interview questions. If you have any questions about writing creative non-fiction, shoot me an email by filling out the contact form. I’d love to help you out with anything you don’t understand.

Write What You Know – The Best Writing Advice I Ever Received

Write what you know.

Write what you know.

I hated working retail. I was a customer service representative at TJ Maxx for a year. Before that, I was a regular cashier. After that, I worked the jewelry counter. Things were great when we had a dream team of managers and employees, but managers got moved to other stores and new, terrible managers were moved in. So, people started quitting and the dream team fell apart. After that, it was all downhill.

I’ve written quite a bit about my experiences at TJ Maxx because they helped shape who I am today. It’s what I know. One story I haven’t told, was when I got the best piece of advice I’ve ever received: “write what you know.”

I was working the jewelry counter when a kind older woman needed assistance and started asking me questions about what school I went to (Palm Beach State College, PBCC at the time), and what I was studying (writing). She told me her husband was a writer and that she’d send him over to talk to me later.

When he came by we discussed what I had written that had been well received by others, and then he imparted this advice upon me: write what you know. And, keep writing. Keep writing what you know.

Since then, I have stuck to it and that’s helped me quite a bit with my success.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t go learn new things. In fact, learning new things means you will know more, which provides you with more to write about. There’s nothing wrong with doing research to make sure your writing is accurate. You shouldn’t only write what you know, but there are three situations where writing what you know will be particularly beneficial.

This particular article pertains to writing what you know in regards to creative non-fiction and journalism. The rules change when you’re writing fiction, and that will be discussed at another time in the future.

Write what you know when you’re first getting started.

When you first get started writing, you should write what you know. This doesn’t just mean when you start writing a piece, it means any time you start writing. Whether you’re starting a paper, a book, an article, or your entire career. Write what you know and get that part down.

If you’re just starting your career, you want to exhaust what you know so you can get to learning and writing about new things. It’s easy to get started writing when you’re writing about things you know about, and when you’ve written about every experience you’ve ever had, you’ll start looking for new things to write about.

That’s when things get good! You’ll practice writing on your experiences and improve your skills so that your newer, later on experiences can be better written.

Here’s the truth: a lot of things that have happened to you in your life might have impacted you a lot, but they don’t mean anything to others. You’ll learn which things to share what not to share through doing. It’s best to get this out in your early days because after that, when you’ve built up a following and need to continue to produce quality content, you’ll have already learned.

Of course, you don’t need to share every single experience you’ve ever had. Keep some stuff to yourself. Especially things you’re not comfortable sharing.

You don’t have to write about traumatic experiences and share them with the world. However, if you do, you may help some other people who are experiencing it. You may also help yourself by getting it out. Otherwise, it’s not necessary. If you need to keep something to yourself for your own mental health than that is what’s important.

It’s also good to get what you know out of the way when writing an individual piece. Get everything you know out first so that you can organize and figure out what’s missing. Then research and fill in the missing parts to fulfil the purpose of the piece.

This will help your productivity on writing immensely. You’ll get more out faster by getting everything you know out of your head before you sit down and start the arduous process of research.

Write what you know when you have “writer’s block.”

I don’t believe in writer’s block. I seriously don’t. I used to. I used to use it as an excuse to not write.

“I don’t have any inspiration right now.”

Or

“I don’t know what to write, so I just won’t. It’ll come to me later.”

Well, that’s bullshit. And you’re probably thinking “Garrett, you don’t know me. You don’t know how I work.”

Hey, if you’re making a living writing and enjoying every minute of it, but you sit around waiting for inspiration, awesome. If you’re not making a living from your writing yet, or stuck writing stuff you hate, but sit around waiting for inspiration, well I guess the results speak for themselves.

Dedicate time every day to write. I’ll actually post more about this later, but we’re going to briefly touch on it here so we can get back to the topic at hand.

Write every day, and when you sit down and think “I don’t know what to write about today”, write what you know.

If you want to take it a step further, plan out what you’re going to write the day before. Before you go to bed tonight, plan out an hour of writing tomorrow. Dedicate an hour of your day to writing. I prefer 0800-0900, right before I start my days work for clients. That way, when I’m done with client work for the day, I can either spend more time writing what I want, or relax a little, or do whatever I deem is important. My writing and my work have already been done.

Write what you know when you have writer’s block and you’ll never have writer’s block again.

Write what you know as teaching something.

Here’s the thing about teaching: you need to be teaching. You need to be teaching what you know. People on the internet are thirsty for knowledge. They’re thirsty for free knowledge, and they’re thirsty enough to pay for good knowledge, too.

You can make money writing about what you know.

Whatever it is you know, you need to sit down and write about it. If you know about flying kites, you need to write about flying kites. Write about kites in a weekly blog post. After a year, take those blog posts and reformat them into a book. Don’t just copy and paste each article into a chapter. You need to actually reformat them to make sense cohesively in book format.

That’s just one idea, you don’t have to do that, but it’s a way to build up a following, build up experience, and build up some cash. Who knows, you could end up getting client work or jobs from it.

A lot of my client work has come from me writing about things entirely unrelated to what the client work’s subject matter was. Sometimes people find your writing and just love it, so they hire you. Or they become a fan and continue reading your work for the rest of their lives.

What really attracts people is learning new things, so when you teach what you know, you’ll continue to learn about the subject as well as share that knowledge and grow a following.

Don’t always write what you know.

You shouldn’t write what you know if it’s boring. Let me rephrase that: you should still write it. You probably don’t want to post it anywhere or publish it if it’s boring.

So, here’s what you do: spice it up. It doesn’t have to be 100% fact (as long as you don’t present it as 100% fact). You should write what you know, but you don’t have to strictly write only what you know.

Write things you don’t know. Make stuff up to add interest.

For example, if you’re reminiscing on a certain situation but you don’t remember how the weather was that day, just make it up. It’s not imperative to the story. If it is, don’t make it up. You shouldn’t be making up things that are important part of the piece you’re working on.

But, if the weather isn’t necessary to tell the story, then “it was the hottest day of the year. A woman dropped a carton of eggs on the sidewalk and they were ready to eat before she bent over to pick them up,” will add detail and interest to the story.

Main Takeaways:

  • Write what you know when you’re first getting started on a piece or in your career.
  • Write what you know when you’re experiencing writers block or a lack of inspiration.
  • Write what you know when you’re teaching to gain a following.

Content Marketing Brings In Traffic – A Case Study

writing with seo in mind

Increase targeted traffic to your website by posting regular, optimized content focused on bringing value to the reader.

Web marketers have pretty much always lived by the rule “content is king,” but that rings true more than ever in 2016. As I wrote in this post, SEO is dying because writing regular content that is focused on providing value to the reader is going to automatically optimize your pages for search engines.

SEMRush found in 2017 that “having an exact match keyword in your on-page SEO elements is not crucial.”

You don’t need an SEO company. What you need is a writer who knows how to write content for marketing.

In fact, SEO only exists as a concept because of content. Content is king.

Content Marketing is all about using content to help people find you.

If your entire marketing funnel has various stages, they would be: Awareness, Interest, Desire, and Action. This is the AIDA model, which was created by E. St. Elmo Lewis in 1898. Coincidentally, people haven’t changed all that much and this still works today.

  • Awareness – the customer is aware of the existence of your brand.
  • Interest – the customer is actively expressing an interest in your brand.
  • Desire – the customer is aspiring to a particular product or service of your brand.
  • Action – the customer is taking the next step towards purchasing the chosen product or service of your brand.

Content marketing exists before the AIDA model even starts, and then continues through both Awareness and Interest stages.

The point of content marketing is to bring people to awareness, hold awareness, and develop interest.

Content marketing has so many benefits that people are ignoring these days. First of all, it builds your brand. All of the content will speak through your brands voice, creating a consistent experience for all visitors.

All of the content written for your site is also content that can be shared through all of your social media channels, reminding people of your existence and directing them to your website, where they can develop interest and desire, and ultimately take action.

But most of all, content marketing builds a long term audience that will continue to follow you as long as you continue to provide value to their lives. This is a flywheel effect for the rest of your marketing plan.

Your competitors are doing content marketing. If you are not, you can’t compete.

Let’s take a look at a client. This client hired me to write regular content for their website with the purpose of increasing brand awareness and traffic. All of my content aims to provide value to the reader first (through the content itself) and to the brand second (through a call to action at the end).

Each contract was three months long. I currently only offer contracts in three and six month intervals. I find that three months is how long it takes to see a difference, and six months is how long it takes to feel a difference.

content-marketing-case-study_rcvrrstrt_corrected
Graphic design is not my strength. Writing is.

Here you can see that content grows consistently over the nine months of posting regular content.

For the first three month contract, I focused on trial-and-error to get a feel for the industry and discover what value I could provide to website visitors. I posted daily content for five days out of the week, Monday through Friday.

For the second three month contract, I had figured out what content would bring in new customers, as well as bring the others back for repeat business. While the client was happy with the results by the end of this contract, I was not. I pitched a change of focus for the third three month contract.

In the third three month contract, I cut the content amount down from five posts per week, to three posts per week. This gave me the opportunity to focus more on providing valuable content without increasing the rate of the contract. As you can see, with content marketing the rule is “quality over quantity” and traffic began to grow even quicker.

The reason the content dips so drastically at the end is because this screenshot was taken at the beginning of June, so a full month’s worth of traffic had not happened yet.

This client had no SEO plan and was not buying ads, nor creating any other content that directed visitors to their website. All content growth was through my efforts, as well as their word-of-mouth marketing to friends and family. They also periodically shared the content I wrote on social media.

There’s more to content marketing than just blog posts.

While I only offer content writing services, you would benefit even more from also seeking out professionals who can create other media content.

The great thing about the content I write is that it can be repurposed elsewhere. When you hire me to write for you, you own the content. The content is yours to use wherever you like.

I recommend you connect with a professional who can take my written content and create video content for YouTube.

Another popular idea is to create a podcast based around the content I write for you.

Content marketing is right for your business.

Every business will benefit from content marketing, and the benefits are only exacerbated when working directly with other marketing campaigns.

If you’re interested in hiring me for content writing, please go to the Hire page.

“I always knew I wanted Garrett to write for my site, it was just a matter of finding the right project. Bringing a writer you hadn’t worked with before onto your site is always a risk, so it’s important to vet them and think about where their voice will fit on your site. Garrett was a consummate professional. He delivered his copy on time, it was well-written, accurate and polished, and he made any edits we asked for quickly and efficiently. It’s always a pleasure to work with writers who listen to feedback and use it to produce a better product.

It helped us launch flagship content for our website that ended up being a success, in part because of Garrett’s efforts. I really liked the research that Garrett did on the subjects we asked him to write about. Because he had done his homework, he was able to write with authority.

We got really good traffic on the pieces Garrett worked on, and the project ended up being a showcase for a redesign that was central to our overall plan for the site. I would definitely recommend Garrett’s services. Garrett’s ability to quickly understand and take ownership of an assignment means you get quality work without the hassle of having to check in constantly, or worse, deal with a blown deadline. Also a plus: Garrett is really skilled at promoting his work on social media and through careful search engine optimization.

I’d say that Garrett is a creative, experienced writer with a can-do attitude who will take a writing assignment from inception to completion with a minimum amount of hassle on your part. He’s always willing to go the extra mile to make sure you get the copy you need.” – Claes Bell, Bankrate.com

How To Write With SEO In Mind So You Get More Readers From Search Engines

writing with seo in mind

I often tell people that SEO is dead.

Like Gary Vaynerchuk says, “marketers ruin everything.”

And like my friend Scott Russell said, “you don’t need an SEO specialist. You need a writer that can convey your message clearly enough for a bot to get it.”

You’re going to learn to be that writer.

Wait, let’s backtrack a bit. I might need to explain SEO to you. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization.

Have you ever wondered what makes things appear in Google in the specific order they do?

When you Google search, or Bing, or whatever you use, there’s a method to the madness that is SERPs, or Search Engine Results Pages.

Go search for “David Lynch Quinoa Recipe” (that third word is pronounced “keen-wah”). For a lot of people, the first thing that comes up is an OpenCulture.com article. Cool.

For some people, you might get something else. If you’re logged into your account on whatever search engine you’re using, you probably have results custom tailored to you. If you’re not logged in, or if you’ve never searched the keyphrase before, then you’ll get the same results as anyone else in your shoes.

(Note: I added “&pw=0” to the link above, so if you clicked that, you will receive the results that show for logged-out users even if you’re logged in.)

These results are decided based on an algorithm that is a secret except for a few people who are working on it at the company.

For the sake of simplicity, let’s just stick with Google for the sample company and search engine. They all work the same, though have different algorithms to decide the ranking of websites.

Google has this super secret algorithm that a few people know, one of which is named Matt Cutts, and that algorithm reads a ton of different things around the web such as links, social signals, and basically whoever is talking about a website or article. Then it decides where, amongst all the rest of the related things on the web, it ranks in terms of usefulness for the user.

There was a time where we used to spam content networks with articles full of backlinks to artificially raise the ranking of websites so we could make more money. We gamed the system. I wouldn’t say it was wrong, but maybe I’m just biased because it kept food on my table for a few years. I definitely wouldn’t say it was right, either.

Now that you know how search engines work, we can discuss why SEO is dead.

The search engine algorithm is getting smarter and previously mentioned systems that used to game the algorithm are no longer working. On top of that, the search engines are learning to build SERPs that benefit the user more and more. There’s far less “SEO trash” showing up on page one than there was 5-10 years ago.

Of course, SEO’s (Search Engine Optimizers) are trying out new things to game the system more and more, and there will always be new things, but it’s definitely not like it was back in 2009, where all you had to do was slam content aggregators with backlinks.

Backlinks are links in an article that link back to your main content (or, as marketers call it, “the money site”) with the sole purpose of increasing ranking. Backlinks still help your ranking, however getting good backlinks is very difficult these days.

SEMRush found in 2017 that “having an exact match keyword in your on-page SEO elements is not crucial.”

People are using search engines less and remembering content more, for some inexplicable reason.

I don’t know how that works considering our brains are awful at storing information (great for processing it, though).

But here’s what’s going on: people are starting to remember sources more. A lot of people will go to a specific source to find information about a subject now.

For example, I am a big fan of the brand seanwes and the information they provide. I frequently search for things on their site rather than a broad Google search. To speed things up, I’ll still use Google, but search it with a “+seanwes” which makes sure it only searches for things on the internet that include the word seanwes in them.

Search engines are more tailored to the individual (at least, when the individual is logged on).

When you’re logged in to your Google account, it’s tracking the things you search and the pages you go to, and may or may not track what’s saved to your bookmarks (when using Chrome).

Then, when you search for things, your history plays into what results are provided to you. This has been, and will continue to get more and more custom tailored as times goes on.

And of course there’s social shares.

People are sharing things through social media, and a lot of people will use the search engines built into the social media to find the information they’re looking for.

An example of that is how a large portion of people no longer conduct Google searches for news. Instead, they go straight to Twitter to find out what’s going on. Twitter moves way faster than CNN or Fox and most internet savvy people know that.

SEO’s really not quite dead yet, but it’s getting there.

Next, we’re going to discuss how to actually write with SEO in mind, despite the fact that SEO is dying, because it’s still going to benefit you.

You will benefit from employing SEO techniques in your writing.

Despite the fact that SEO is dying thanks to smarter algorithms, tailored experiences, and the always increasing popularity of social media: it’s still worth knowing basic SEO practices and employing them in all of your online content.

Establish the purpose of the article.

The first thing you need to do when writing SEO friendly content is to figure out the main point of the article, blog post, or page.

The point of this blog post, for example, is to teach you how to write SEO friendly content so that you can get more hits on your webpages. More hits leads to more exposure leads to more money if you monetize properly.

Knowing how to write SEO friendly content can also get you a job or contracts because it’s an important skill to have when writing non-fiction for the web.

Conduct keyword research.

Now that you have established the purpose of your article, it’s time to figure out what people are searching for in regards to that. This is called keyword research and it’s a whole art in itself, but we’ll keep it simple here.

Just go to Google and start typing what you think people would search regarding your topic. Check out those autofill suggestions. Those are the kinds of things people are searching.

Hit enter, or grab one of those, and then scroll to the bottom of the first page. Look! more suggestions. Awesome.

Compare and contrast those with what you wrote first. You should get a good idea of what people are searching for regarding your topic, and especially what type of language they’re using (how they word their searches). You want to be mindful of all of these different suggestions when writing your content.

Your title needs to have this sort of language in it, as does the rest of your content. In fact, you want it to be as close to the front of your title as possible. However, you also need to make sure that the title and content make sense when read.

Write reader-friendly content.

“Reader-friendly content” means that it reads well, is relevant to the topic, and is useful. When people are searching stuff, it’s because they want to learn something. They need to know the thing. What is the thing? That’s whatever you wrote about.

You’re targeting their thirst for knowledge. Google will lead the horse to water, but you have to provide the water for them to drink it. And of course, as the saying goes, you can’t make them drink it. But we’re going to do our best by making sure our content is friggin’ awesome.

Write good content! Write what you would want to read.

Write the way you talk.

Imagine you’re sitting down with your best friend and they ask you about the thing. Explain it to them. Write it the way you explain it to them.

Okay, but what about the optimization part? Didn’t we look up those suggestions so that we would have better content optimized for the search engines? Yeah, throw it out. You’ve already learned it and subconsciously ingested it into your brain.

If you didn’t naturally use that language when writing your content, it’s probably because it feels unnatural to you. And if it feels unnatural to you, then it’s going to be unnatural to other people.

Before we write content for the search engines, we need to write content for the users.

Studies show that content written with the user first, rather than the search engine first, will rank better for longer. Content written for the search engines tends to turn off users, and the users stop reading, stop buying, and stop coming back to your site.

Like I said, SEO is dying.

There’s lots of other stuff you should know, at least according to SEO’s, such as keyword density and crap like that. Don’t worry about it. We’re writing for the user, not for the search engines.

One thing that used to be important was to make sure your keyphrase is in a subheader. If you’re writing for people, it might not fit naturally in, and injecting the keyphrase where it doesn’t flow is not good for the reader.

You shouldn’t be building your headers around what is SEO friendly. You should be building your headers around one thing: what are the key takeaways for the reader?

Another thing that used to be important was bolding the keyphrase. Again, it doesn’t always work out that injecting the keyphrase in somewhere and bolding it is going to help the reader any.

You shouldn’t be bolding things just to have the keyphrase bolded. You should be bolding key takeaways for the reader.

I know, this is titled “How To Write With SEO In Mind…” Listen, I’ve been working in SEO for a while, so I know how it all works. It’s not the way it used to be, and these old SEO guys are stuck in their old ways and wondering why I’m doing better than them.

Check out my case study on writing regular content and I’ll show you that my system for writing content is better and consistently improving every website I write for. (Coming soon)

SEO is dying because if you do everything right, your content will automatically be Optimized for Search Engines and you won’t have to worry or even think about it. Backlinks will come naturally, because you wrote good, useful content that people want to share.