8 Writing Lessons from Everybody Writes by Ann Handley

Content Marketing


As a marketer, you write—regardless of your specific role, or which company you work for.

I’m a writer right now, as I write this blog. I’m a writer when I create session descriptions for my presenters at conferences. I’m a writer when I communicate with my sales team. I was a writer when I created the slides for my webinar, 8 Biggest Mistakes Field Marketers Make. You get my point. All marketers are writers in some capacity.

So, when Ann Handley titled her book, Everybody Writes, she was SPOT ON. And I was intrigued. Sometimes it can take a while to motivate yourself to read a professional development book­—so my apologies for being a little late to the game with this report. But, the topic simply does not expire, so I hope you’ll still find value in the top 8 writing lessons I took away from Ann Handley’s Everybody Writes:

1. Writing Can Be Learned

I like to think that I’ve been a decent writer for most of my days. On the flip side, I’ve been drawn to dating those with less aptitude for the craft (to put it nicely). And it warms my heart to hear Ann say that this skill can be honed even without the “original gift.” The difference between good and bad is hard work—and trying extremely hard to improve.


2. Make The Beginning of Your Sentence MATTER

Drop the modifiers and qualifiers. Give your reader exactly what you want to say instead of coloring your sentence with phrases like:

– In my opinion…

– The purpose of this email is…

– I think that…

Be stronger and just say what you mean!

3. Reframe Your Writing Goals

Don’t set an arbitrary time metric for your dedicated writing. Instead, think about your goals around output (words). As Ann put it, “I’d rather produce 500 awesome words than 10,000 terrible ones.” Just like most things in marketing, it’s about quality, not quantity.

4. Don’t Be Lazy: Fact-check!

There is nothing more embarrassing for a writer than to have a simple misspelling of a company name or include a link that points to the wrong destination. Take the time to check that everything you’ve written is exactly how you intended it to be—FACTUAL. Avoid making these obvious mistakes. Like the one time I saw someone misspell their CEO’s name in a tweet…

5. Length Guidelines Exist for Most Content

Wondering how long your various pieces should be? This can vary based on your audience’s preferences but to get started, Ann includes a quick-and-dirty guide for 11 kinds of content:

  • Blogs (1,500 words)
  • Email subject lines (50 or fewer characters)
  • Website text line (12 words)
  • Paragraph (3-4 lines maximum)
  • YouTube video (3-3.5 minutes)
  • Podcast (22 minutes)
  • Title tag (55 characters)
  • Meta description (155 characters)
  • Facebook post (100-140 characters)
  • Tweet (120-130 characters)
  • Domain name (8 characters)

We shall see if I hit the coveted 1,500-word count on this blog!

6. Using “Free” Is Okay Again?

I put a question mark here because I’ll admit, I’m a little skeptical about this one. Ann points to our hesitation, as marketers, to use the word “free” because of the belief that it will 100% trigger a spam filter. But Ann quotes Carolyn Nye, writing in PracticalEcommerce, that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are now working with more advanced filtering techniques. But Nye cautions against the following (a list that I plan to print and post next to my computer):

  • Too much punctuation or capitalization in the same subject line
    • Examples:
      • Can you believe what we have to offer?!READ THIS:
      • Hot new deal for you!
  • Starting your subject line with $
    • Avoid things like:
      • $50 gift card for speaking with us
      • $100 discount inside
  • False promises in your subject lines

7. Personalization Is Powerful

Leveraging the power of your engagement platform, you can make your emails more personal than ever—with tokens, but also nurture and predictive content. One such reference is using the recipient’s first name in the subject line with an almost 3% lift in open rates.

8. Tools Exist To Help Record Your Thoughts 

You’re not always by a notebook or computer, but that shouldn’t stop you from capturing your great idea when it strikes. And so that’s why I think this lesson is really cool. I would love to blog on my commute to work instead of needing to be at my computer. Or maybe whenever the inspiration arose! I’ve jotted down a few tools to check out based on Ann’s recommendations—Dragon Naturally Speaking, Rev, and Speechpad.

Granted, these are just a few things that I highlighted to myself. There was a lot of other great tips, and practical examples in the text—so be sure to pick up a copy today! Ann is often on the road as well, so maybe you can be lucky enough to get your copy signed 🙂

Anyone else pick up any good tidbits from their reading of this book? Are there any other great books that help you with your writing? Write in the comments below to create our own little virtual book club!