Free Webinar: Marketing 101 for Spiritual Writers

It’s summertime and the livin’ is easy, right? Perhaps some time for reflection? Or maybe a free webinar that discusses basic marketing elements for spiritual writers?

Join us for a free webinar that covers basic aspects of marketing for spiritual writers, along with an overview of Writing for Your Life writer support services. Topics covered include:

  • Why social media matters
  • Examples of the impact of social media
  • How marketing differs for spiritual writers
  • Social media channel recommendations
  • Writer support services

This free webinar gives those of you less familiar with webinar technology a chance to experience it for free.

The webinar takes place on Tuesday August 22 at 1 PM Eastern and can be viewed at any time within the following two weeks.

Register here

Rule #2: Answering and Insights

Here is Mark Schaefer’s second of the three rules for creating effective social media content, from his book “Known”:

 

Rule #2: Answering and Insights

 

A great way to begin your content journey is to start with an­swers and end with insights. Let’s unpack that idea.

If you’re in a niche without much competition, an easy way to begin creating content is to brainstorm every question you can dream of related to your sustainable interest, and then an­swer them through a blog, video, or podcast. This is an effec­tive way to dominate an uncontested niche and possibly attract search engine attention through “hygiene” content, which I ex­plain in the previous chapter.

Here’s a trick to get you going: Go to a website called An­swerThePublic.com. On this site, you enter keywords and it delivers questions people are typing into Google about that topic. Essentially, it’s a content idea generator!

Answering customer questions is a solid strategy for begin­ners, but it’s not ideal in every situation, especially in a more crowded content niche. In that situation, you need to focus on insights instead of just answers.

For example, I often write on the topic of marketing strat­egy. I consulted with AnswerThePublic.com and found that a popular topic for me would be “Why Social Media is Impor­tant.” I Googled this phrase and got 255 million results. That’s an incredibly saturated topic. If I were to write a blog post to answer that question, I would only be contributing to the noise!

For me to become known in that information-dense envi­ronment, I’d have to do something bold, like offer “hub” con­tent – case studies, opinion pieces, research insights, and strat­egies you won’t find anywhere else.

An advantage of hub content is that it’s more likely to keep readers (or viewers) on your site. With hygiene content, after people get an answer to their question, they leave your site and go back to their lives. Hub content is more likely to attract readers who will stay and look around to learn more. Here are three individuals becoming known by pushing be­yond the ordinary question/answer format:

  • Mimi Thorisson became a celebrity in the highly com­petitive world of food blogging by combining astonish­ing photography, art, and recipes in a blog called Man­ger (French for “to eat”). Her consistent and beautiful work has led to a television show, book, and speaking appearances.
  • On the site IQuantNY, statistician Ben Wellington tells stories of what public data means to citizens of New York. His blog provides fascinating revelations about the city’s budget, sewage, parks, and nightlife, among other topics. The popular blog has helped propel his career as an edu­cator and analyst.
  • Momastery is a mommy blog about “unleashing the sis­ter warrior.” Blogger Glennon Doyle Melton brings her extraordinary heart, humor, and bravery to her storytell­ing, which she has leveraged into best-selling books and a successful speaking career.

Answering questions is a great place to start, but consider adding bolder and more insightful types of content over time to grow your actionable audience.

 

 

Your Unique Stamp

Creativity can give to your spirituality the unique stamp that is your personality. This is the story that only you could write; it waited for you to be born and grow up and learn how to make sentences. Creativity is what makes one day different from the next. It lies in the concrete specifics of a situation or person; this is why we remember this film rather that that one. Creativity makes it possible for now two paintings or poems to be alike.

 

– from “The Soul Tells a Story: Engaging Creativity with Spirituality in the Writing Life” by Vinita Hampton Wright Loyola Press

Rule #1: Add Your Own Story

– from “Known” by Mark Schaefer

 

There are three fundamental rules of creating effective social media content that I feel are “can’t miss” prin­ciples. No matter what type of rich content you choose, keep these three rules in mind. Here is rule $1:

Rule #1: Add your own story

The world doesn’t need another post entitled “Common Twit­ter mistakes.” However, I would read posts with headlines that offer something original, like:

  • “Five things I want to destroy on Twitter”
  • “The five strangest tweets I’ve ever seen”
  • “How Twitter saved my marriage”
  • “The 20 stupidest things you can do on Twitter”

That last one? I actually wrote that post. It was my first “vi­ral” blog post because it was retweeted by Pee-wee Herman, who has 3 million Twitter followers. When he shared it with his audience, it drove so much traffic to my website that it shut down my server. My business temporarily melted from the Pee-wee Heat.

To stand out, you need to be original, and to be original, you must possess the courage to add your own narrative to the mix. There’s only one you. You have no competition. Never publish content that can be created by someone else.

The ultimate goal of your content is to build an emotion­al connection between you and your audience. Truly human content leads to awareness, awareness leads to trust, and trust leads to loyalty.

What are some characteristics of human content?

  • Vulnerable
  • Personal
  • Bold
  • Unguarded
  • Generous
  • Confident

 

A common issue is deciding how much “humanity” is best for your personal brand. Demonstrating honesty and openness doesn’t mean spilling your guts. To me, human content builds em­pathy and connection by offering a glimpse of your personality.

Here’s an example: A blogger from Sweden posted a photo of his office setup. He said, “Today, I thought I would show you where I work.” This unpretentious piece of content was simple, but it created intimacy by revealing something personal.

On the other end of the scale, there are many who have be­come known by sharing their lives in the open, like Jenni Pro­kopy. While working in the construction industry, Jenni start­ed a passion project on the side, a blog called “ChronicBabe” to help other women who live with chronic illness.

At the age of 25, Jenni was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. Soon after came diagnoses of asthma, anxiety, GERD, thyroid disease, and more. She struggled for years, taking test after test and trying an assortment of medications, diets and health pro­grams in an effort to control her symptoms.

Through ChronicBabe, Jenni reveals the travails of her daily life to teach other young women how to live with confidence, have a successful career, and nurture lifelong relationships.

Her personal brand has now become her full-time business. She’s known for her transparency and acceptance of imperfec­tion but has struggled at times to find a personal/public bal­ance, especially when she was going through a divorce. Was she revealing too much, or would she become irrelevant if she portrayed a picture of herself that was too curated? Ultimately, she discovered that when she had the courage to be vulnerable, her audience respected her and trusted her even more.

There is undeniable power in being present through your content. Your personal lessons can instruct and inspire. But you don’t need to feel guilty or phony because you don’t share everything. We all edit our public images to some extent, and that’s OK. You have a personal brand, but you’re not a brand like a Snickers bar ready to be plucked from a shelf. They aren’t the same thing.

I’m a private person, and I have to push myself to disclose aspects of my life in public. And yet, each time I open up a little, I’m greatly rewarded by reader feedback. I’ve become more open because my audience wants me to be. Rock star Pete Townshend once said, “I would have enjoyed keeping my private pain out of my work. But I was changed by my audi­ence who said your private pain, which you have unwittingly shown us in your songs, is also ours.”

You see, we create content. But content also creates us.

I use transparency in my writing to reinforce that we’re all equal in our human condition. We all suffer and stumble through life at times. I also reveal details of my life as indica­tors of my values. I think it’s fair for my audience to know what I stand for. Setting a boundary allows me to create human con­tent in a way that feels honest and comfortable.

Whatever decision you make, maintaining your personal brand shouldn’t feel like identity labor or like you’re putting on an act. Choose what to share, but don’t be a fake. In the process of becoming known, you get to decide what is part of your professional persona and what isn’t. You don’t have to follow someone else’s path or the expectations social media tends to set for us. And your audience – the right one, anyway – won’t judge you for your choices. They’ll cheer you all the way.

Finding Your “Place” as a Writer

Many people talk about finding your “voice” as a writer, and this is very important.  But what about finding your “place”? Think of this as your identity.

Marketing guru Mark Schaefer, in his book “Known: The Handbook for Building and Unleashing Your Personal Brand in the Digital Age”, describes your place as “a sustainable interest and something you want to be known for”.  He recommends that it:

    • Be aligned with your strengths
    • Provide purpose by benefitting others
    • Offer a distinctive topic
    • Is inexhaustibly fascinating to you

Here are 3 tools Mark recommends for you to help find your “place”:

  1. Finish the statement “Only I…” – what is it that only you can uniquely offer?
  2. Take the Gallup company’s Strength Finder Test
  3. Write your first 35 blog article headlines – kind of a test to see how broad and deep your expertise in the area is, and how much you are able to “stick with it”

Another approach comes from Jonathan Merritt*. He suggests picking 3 adjectives that describe who you are.  Jonathan writes at the intersection of faith and culture, and his 3 adjectives for himself are proactive, thoughtful, and brave.

How would you describe yourself? What is your “place”?

 

 

* From “How to Become a Power Blogger” – Princeton Seminary presentation, June 2016

Create a Transcendent Story

Spirituality can offer depth and direction to creative work. A well-written short story can be a real kick to read, but a well-written short story that dips into matters of the soul can be life changing. When you make a song or film whose foundation is some incredible theme such as liberation or dignity or the sacrifices made by love, that song or film offers something to the world that goes far beyond the words and images. When the characters in your novel or play are working through emotional issues, you can create a moving story; when they are working through spiritual issues, you can create a transcendent story.

 

– from “The Soul Tells a Story: Engaging Creativity with Spirituality in the Writing Life” by Vinita Hampton Wright Loyola Press

Can You Overwhelm Them with Content?

In his best-selling book “The Content Code” marketing guru Mark Schaefer points out:

Without the Content Code, the only sustainable content strategy has been to find an unsaturated niche and overwhelm the web with so much quality content that search engines discover only you. Effectively, you’re creating Content Shock by crowding out your competitors. The strategy is this simple:

  1. Find an unsaturated niche.
  2. Consistently produce a volume of quality, helpful material aimed at a relevant audience (or persona).
  3. Never stop producing content.

However, Mark continues by describing that in our age of information overload, finding an unsaturated niche has become harder, and will continue to get tougher.

 

How Important Is Your Platform?

– by Jana Burson

We are often asked: how important is my platform as an author?

The quick answer is that your platform is just as important as the quality of your content and concept, especially in the crowded world of book publishing today.

Most publishing houses take a three-pronged approach when reviewing proposals:

  1. strong and fresh concept
  2. stellar content and writing
  3. platform

If one of these three are weak or missing, it’s not likely that the proposal is going to make it through the process.

There was a time, even a decade ago, when an author’s platform didn’t carry as much weight as the quality of their concept and writing. This was before the power of social media, the change in the way people get news, and the rise of online shopping. Now publishing houses need to know there’s a proven way to reach the core buyer for an author’s message.

WHAT ARE WE TALKING ABOUT WHEN WE USE THE TERM PLATFORM?

Platform refers to your level of visibility or influence, expertise or authority on the subject matter, proof of engagement and your target audience. Editors and agents alike are looking for answers to these questions when reviewing the platform section of your proposal.

So often I hear writers say they are overwhelmed when it comes to their platform because they aren’t marketers by nature. The truth is, you don’t have to have a degree in marketing to put in the time and consistent effort to build and enhance your platform. You simply have to be true to your message and consistent in providing quality content for your followers/readers.

A WRITER SHOULD PUT AS MUCH CREATIVE EFFORT INTO DEVELOPING THEIR PLATFORM AS THEY DO IN THEIR WRITING, BECAUSE IT’S A NATURAL EXTENSION OF THEIR OVERALL MESSAGE.

Platform building is not the same for everyone and it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process that involves long-term strategic work and planning … much like writing!

The question is: are you willing to engage the process?

 

Sarah Arthur’s Top 10 Tips for Revising/Editing

A while ago a friend asked for tips on revising/editing. Here’s what I said, based on things I’ve done as a writer and editor over the past sixteen years:

(1) Pretend you’re an editor in Manhattan with no time to waste. Be ruthless, as if you just arrived at your desk after hideous traffic snarls and have exactly one hour to sip Starbucks before the next meeting in which you will crush some writer’s hopes. Dress the part if you have to.

(2) Read the article out loud to yourself in a British accent: you will immediately notice the bad grammar, not to mention all the places where it sounds dumber than necessary.

(3) Don’t let yourself listen to your favorite music except while revising.

(4) Reward yourself with chocolate after each finished paragraph or section.

(5) Print the darn thing (double-spaced) and mark it up with a colored pen–yes, even red pen, if it makes you sit up straight and start behaving like you can handle criticism (because nothing you do to yourself will be as unkind as what readers will do to you). For a book-length manuscript, save it as a pdf (double-spaced, two-sided) and email it to the printing center at your local office supply store for pickup later. This is a grownup business expense, people.

(6) For a book-length manuscript: format and save it as an e-pub file in Dropbox or Google Drive (or email it to yourself), then download and open it on your e-reader as if it’s a novel that someone actually published. Then sit in your comfiest chair, like you’ve just bought something by Bret Lott, and start reading. Would you like it? Would you keep reading? In this exquisitely short life, for which there are far fewer days than books to read, would you bother swiping to the next page?

(7) Cry.

(8) Throw things.

(9) Walk away. Count to ten–even ten days. It’s like parenting small children, actually. You could hurt this thing and yourself if you press on. Come back later, after your heart-rate goes back down and your breathing returns to normal.

(10) Recognize that you will never be done editing. At some point you have to say “Good enough,” wipe your hands, and treat yourself to a 1500-calorie dessert somewhere. Adult beverage not optional.

When Your Calling and the Market Collide – by John Backman

I am writing a book on self-denial.

Go ahead, laugh it up. I do. In Brian’s recent interview, Susan Salley of Abingdon Press asked us to consider why someone would pick up our book. Can you imagine someone picking up a book with self-denial in the title? Me neither.

And yet, in the depths of my deepest self, there’s a decided push to see the project through. The push has all the earmarks of—to use an unfashionable word—a calling.

This dilemma, I suspect, comes with the territory of spiritual writing. There’s what the market wants: what will sell, what readers will read, what will grow our platforms and our careers. And then there’s what God (the Universe, the One, Ultimate Reality, etc.) is asking us to do. Unless we meet the market, our writing goes nowhere; unless we follow the divine nudge, we go nowhere.

Can you do both? What happens when you can’t?

The obvious solution is to find the place where your calling and your market meet. That’s good advice on many fronts, and there are usually several ways to connect the two. Maybe, for instance, you recast your language for broader appeal without sacrificing the integrity of your message. Maybe you hone your definition of market.

With the self-denial book, I’ve had to do both. Since the title couldn’t include self-denial, I’m using the term giving your life away, which is actually more precise and maybe a shade more palatable. As to market, most readers will turn off at any whiff of self-denial, but you know who may not? Catholics. Self-denial, especially in service to others, is part of the Catholic tradition.

But this isn’t just about one book. The tension between calling and market can extend to every corner of our spiritual writing. Consider:

  • What if your calling lands you in a tiny market segment, writing books that a few people find life-changing but many others ignore?
  • What if your spiritual practice calls you to model a slower, more reflective way of life even as the blogosphere demands you post weekly? (It’s why contemplatives make lousy bloggers—well, this contemplative anyway.)
  • If your writing touches on current events, how do you fill your blog with deep spiritual insight into the news of the day when that insight can take weeks to develop?
  • What happens when your heart prompts you to write about wildly divergent topics, yet a clearer focus to your writing would strengthen your brand?
  • What if you must speak some hard truths into the world even though half your readership won’t appreciate it?

Here too there are workarounds. In terms of social media frequency, for instance, Brian has mentioned building an inventory of tweets and blog posts to maintain a regular publishing schedule. But sometimes the workarounds don’t quite work, and we are left with the tension.

The bright spot, perhaps, is that we spiritual folks are good at living in tension. We know that sometimes tension spawns insights we never would have expected. Those insights can eventually make our writing—and our lives—richer.

So maybe we use the workarounds, but don’t default to them too fast. Maybe we live with the tension until the tension yields something. What about you? Have you experienced the tension? How do you live with it, or into it?

 

 

About the Author

A spiritual director, contributor to Huffington Post Religion, and associate of an Episcopal monastery, John Backman writes and speaks about contemplative spirituality and its surprising relevance for today’s deepest issues. He authored Why Can’t We Talk? Christian Wisdom on Dialogue as a Habit of the Heart (SkyLight Paths) and his articles have appeared in numerous faith-based publications. He has presented at a range of conferences, including the Parliament of the World’s Religions.

 

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