What the Heck is Content Marketing?

Paper and pencilI’m always talking with authors about marketing their books and growing their platforms. It’s a challenge for most writers, who are constantly trying to figure out the formula for gathering more fans (i.e. potential book-buyers).

While writers typically don’t love the idea of marketing their books, ironically they’re more suited to it than many other kinds of business people these days. (Click to Tweet this.) Why? Because today the #1 strategy for marketing in every kind of business is CONTENT MARKETING.

And what is this newfangled, businessy sounding term?

According to Content Marketing Institute:

Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action. 

In other words: WRITE STUFF.

And who better to write stuff than YOU? (Click to Tweet this.)

It’s funny, the rest of the advertising-marketing-business world is calling it “creating content” like it’s this brand-new thing they’ve invented. Um, it’s called “writing” and YOU do it every day.

Another way of putting it, also from CMI, is:

…content marketing is the art of communicating with your customers and prospects without selling.

The key words: communicating without selling.

So to become an expert at content marketing, here is what I want you to do:

Write and post stuff your readers will love.

By “stuff” I mean “content,” of course: blog posts, Facebook and Twitter posts, newsletter articles, images on Pinterest or Instagram, or videos on YouTube or Periscope. Anyone who is trying to build a following on social media needs to be posting content regularly—at least a couple of times a day. The tricky part is knowing what that content should be.

The key to identifying the kinds of content you should post is in knowing who you are as a writer, and who your audience (generally) is. This is easier for non-fiction writers, who can create an online persona that swirls around the themes of their books.

But even fiction writers can develop a brand and a style so that people have a strong idea of what to expect. You don’t want to be “that girl who is always posting about her books,” but rather, “the one who always has great articles that inspire me (or make me laugh… or educate me…)”

The idea is that when people are accustomed to receiving material from you that they deem valuable in some way—whether it’s informational, inspiring, thought-provoking, or entertaining—they will eventually reward you with their business (i.e. they’ll buy your books).

Fewer than 1 in 10 of your posts should include “selling” language. (Click to Tweet this.) The rest of your content flows from who your audience is, and the brand or online persona you’ve created.

Focus on your readers’ needs, not your own. (Click to Tweet this.)

Interestingly, you don’t even have to be the creator of all the content you share. To keep your social media presence dynamic, you’ll want to use “curated content,” a fancy word for “other people’s stuff.” Make sure you’re following people or organizations whose content tends to complement yours, so that when you see an appropriate post, you can easily share it with your followers.

Content marketing should be easier for YOU than for most businesses. After all, you’re already a writer. In fact, companies using content marketing typically report that their #1 challenge is “producing engaging content.” But you’re a writer, so this is right up your alley!

The key in content marketing is that you are engaging your audience. (Click to Tweet this.) You are in conversation with them through your interesting posts, and they’re coming to expect good things from you. So when you happen to share some news about your new book releasing, or your older book that’s on a promotional sale on Amazon, they’re willing to pay attention because you’re not continually bombarding them with marketing.

Of course, I’ve given you the highly simplified description of content marketing. It’s more than just writing great stuff—it’s writing great stuff as part of an overall marketing strategy based on your brand. But for now, let’s just start with the basics: write stuff your readers will love.

So: content marketing. A business-world term for what you already do everyday.

How are you already using content marketing? How do you think you might increase or improve that strategy in the future?

Image copyright: golfloiloi / 123RF Stock Photo


Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. […] Literary agent Rachelle Gardner had an excellent post on her blog entitled ‘What the heck is content marketing?’ […]

  2. Content Marketing for Writers | sasha a. palmer on September 10, 2015 at 6:33 AM

    […] Great how-to advice here. […]

  3. Lisa Van Engen on September 8, 2015 at 7:36 PM

    I blog less frequently too, but I often share something unique on my different social media platforms. Also, those free resources and good archiving of quality content goes a long way! Content that does the work for people is powerful too, like roundups, lists, and Pinterest boards. And free printables! 🙂

  4. Sue Donaldson on September 8, 2015 at 3:47 PM

    Thanks, Rachelle- helpful on many levels. Question: I felt like my subscribers were getting their email boxes “stuffed” when I blogged 4-5 x a week. I’m now at 1-3x and still wonder if it’s too much. Yet, I’ve heard from others and now you that more is better – to get my stuff out there. Your thoughts? Maybe I need to mix it up more methodically: fb, twitter, blog…
    thanks, sue http://www.welcomeheart.com

    • Rachelle Gardner on September 8, 2015 at 5:24 PM

      Yes, I think mixing it up is the answer. That way you’re not pushing so much content directly into people’s inboxes.

  5. Vince Rockston on September 8, 2015 at 3:08 AM

    I like that: “Write and post stuff your readers will love.”

    I also struggle with that issue and after listening to a webinar, I posted my understanding of Content Marketing. http://www.aquilaelba.info/content-marketing/