Book Review: Everybody Writes by Ann Handley

Love it or loathe it, you’re a writer, too.

If you have a website, you’re a publisher. If you’re on social media, you’re a marketer. Thanks to the Internet, we all have the opportunity to engage our audiences with content, including our written words. That thought can be thrilling or chilling, depending on whether you like writing.

That’s the premise behind Ann Handley’s aptly titled Everybody Writes (Wiley 2014). She believes everyone can improve their writing—from professional writers to casual bloggers to the “I’d rather have a root canal than write anything” crowd. And she wants to empower everyone to write more effectively and have fun while they’re doing it.

Who is Ann Handley?

Handley knows her stuff. She’s chief content officer of MarketingProfs, which offers training, research and resources for marketers. Her first book, Content Rules (with C.C. Chapman, Wiley 2011), tackled content marketing via blogs, podcasts, videos, webinars and other media. Now, Handley zeroes in on the craft of writing.

Despite rumors to the contrary, good writing still matters! When Strunk and White first published The Elements of Style in 1959, they couldn’t have imagined writing for readers viewing text on their smartphones. Choosing the right words to reach an info-overloaded, mobile audience is a daily challenge for even the most seasoned writers.

Writers, fire up your keyboards

Good writing engages readers around their interests, concerns, questions and passions. It has a voice and tone that shows empathy for the audience. It makes the customer part of the story. But with devices getting smaller, space getting tighter and competition for consumer mindshare getting stiffer, how can businesses and organizations convey more with fewer words?

Handley has written a marketer’s guide to effective writing in the Digital Age. She dispels the notion that writing is a mystical gift bestowed upon a chosen few. “We are all capable of producing good writing,” she believes. “Or, at least, better writing.” She approaches the craft with humility and humor, acknowledging that writing can be both joyful and a frustration. Then, she tells how to make the process less painful and the writing more relevant and inspiring.

What we can learn from Handley

Everybody Writes offers practical tips for writing brief, clear, reader-centric copy. The book is divided into six sections: How to Write Better, Grammar and Usage, Story Rules, Publishing Rules, 13 Things Marketers Write and Content Tools. Handley suggests ways to pump up writing for webpages, social media, email newsletters and blogs. She covers topics near and dear to the writer’s heart, such as putting yourself in the reader’s shoes, wrestling with first drafts, writing headlines, finding content moments and writing within word- and character-count limits.

Handley observes that the Internet has given birth to a “planet of publishers.” That, as we’ve all seen, has created a sea of “content mediocrity”— text-heavy webpages that scroll on and on; irrelevant or outdated content; confusing, jargon-riddled copy; dead links, typos and grammatical errors that dash credibility. She challenges all of us to wage a war on mediocre content by developing some “muscle-building writing processes and habits.” We’re all in!

ABOUT Heidi LaFleche

Heidi launched her writing career as a newspaper and magazine journalist—most notably as a Boston correspondent for People magazine. She transitioned into marketing communications for business, helping clients find the right words to engage their audiences. Heidi is a Senior Editor for Wordsmithie, and also runs her own freelance writing business on the side. She writes within a range of industries including technology, healthcare, financial services, legal services, education and nonprofits. Her slogan: “Every business has a story. Let’s tell yours together.”