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[Book Review] Ann Handley’s Not-To-Be-Missed Guide to Better Marketing Writing


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Source:  John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Ann Handley’s new book, Everybody Writes:  Your New and Improved Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2022), was released last month, just in time for astute marketers to add it to their wish list for the upcoming holidays.

Even better, you should just go ahead and buy Everybody Writes for yourself and use the holiday season to read and digest the many valuable insights the book contains. That way, you can start applying Ann’s principles to improve your writing at the beginning of the new year.

Ann Handley is well known and highly respected in the marketing community. She is the Chief Content Officer at MarketingProfs, a marketing training and education company, and a frequent speaker at marketing industry events. In short, Ann knows whereof she speaks (and writes).

Everybody Writes is a second edition; the first edition was published in 2014. But the new Everybody Writes is, well, new in many ways. Ann Handley says she went into preparing the updated edition thinking that it would take “maybe 10 minutes,” that she would, “Run the vacuum and puff the throw pillows and spritz some Febreze around the pages . . .”

Instead, the update took six months, and Ann says she “also built an addition on the back. Replaced the draftiest windows. Installed a bouncy house in the yard . . .”

Early in the book, Ann makes two points that provide the rationale for Everybody Writes. First, she argues that effective marketing requires good marketing content, and good marketing content requires good writing – regardless of the format the marketing content takes.

The proliferation of marketing channels and content formats, and the nearly ubiquitous embrace of content marketing have put extreme pressures on marketers to feed the content beast. Unfortunately, this incessant demand for content often results in the production of content that isn’t very good.

Ann describes this problem in unambiguous terms:  “We are a planet of publishers, yet many of us are polluting the pool with content rubbish. We are all creators, yet many of us are squandering the opportunity we have to communicate directly with those we care most about reaching.”

Ann’s second point is that writing is a craft that can be learned. Therefore, any marketer can improve his or her writing skills by “working the right muscles.” She writes, “You can learn to be a better writer – the same way you can learn algebra or Excel formulas or playing the ukulele. You need only a little knowledge, a lot of consistent effort, and good habits.”

What’s In the Book

Everybody Writes contains an introduction, 91 chapters and a section devoted to content tools. You read that right . . . 91 chapters. Ann chose to share her advice with readers in bite-sized portions. The shortest chapters don’t fill even one full page, and most are only two to four pages long.

This approach makes Everybody Writes extremely reader-friendly. You can read the book in small increments without losing your way.

Ann organized the 91 tapas-sized chapters in six thematic parts.

  • Part I contains Ann’s rules for how to write better and “hate writing less.”
  • Part II discusses some basic rules of grammar and usage.
  • Part III focuses on the importance and use of brand voice.
  • Part IV digs into the importance and value of brand stories.
  • Part V spells out Ann’s rules for effective and ethical publishing.
  • Part VI contains Ann’s suggestions for how to create 20 common types of marketing content.

Part VII of the book contains descriptions of several content tools that can help marketing writers produce better work more efficiently.

You can use Amazon’s “Look inside” function to view the complete table of contents of Everybody Writes.

My Favorite Parts

It should be evident by now that I’m a big fan of Everybody Writes. With this book, Ann Handley has created a resource that can help any marketer become a better writer. In addition, the book is easy to read, and Ann’s effervescent personality shows in every page.

Everybody Writes is packed with valuable insights and suggestions from cover to cover, but two specific parts of the book stand out for me.

Chapter 7 describes the Writing GPS, a 17-step process that Ann recommends marketers use when creating “longer” content pieces. As the name suggests, Ann says you should view your writing process as a kind of global positioning system that will get you where you need to go.

Ann explains that seven of the steps in the Writing GPS framework are the “required minimum” for writing content. These are steps that most content writers already use in some form. The other ten steps “add magic and adventure to a basic journey.” She writes, “We need a framework that goes beyond the basics so that you can see where a little extra effort or attention can make the magic happen.”

My other favorite part of Everybody Writes is the description of “content tools” that Ann provides at the end of the book. These tools include writing tools, editing tools and word finders among others. I was already familiar with some of these tools, but several were entirely new to me. I’ve already experimented with some of these new-to-me tools, and I can tell they will be extremely useful.

A Final Word

When I’m creating the early drafts of any significant piece of content, I prefer to write by hand in a comfortable chair with a dictionary, a thesaurus and a copy of The Elements of Style within easy reach. From now on, I’m adding Everybody Writes to my small library of arms-length writing aids.

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