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10,000 Hours in 10 Minutes: Angela Mackintosh on Writing for the Web

Angela Mackintosh

Angela Mackintosh

10,000 hours is a hefty chunk of time, but that’s what it takes to be an expert in almost anything. We sent those 10,000 hours to the gym, and the results are a svelte 10 minutes of savory advice.

Angela Mackintosh, founder and CEO of WOW! Women on Writing, has put in her 10,000 hours of effort (and then some!) toward successfully writing for the web, among many other things. We’re lucky enough to have a portion of her time, and I’d say the results are noteworthy.

Thanks so much for sharing with us, Angela. And away we go!

Iʼve got a computer, I think about stuff, I can write (my mom told me so). As long as Iʼm the Little Engine that Could, is it really nothing but a matter of time before the world notices?

Dear Little Engine that Could: If your content is mind-blowingly different than anyone else’s out there or something that everyone wants to know, it’s quite possible that the Write it and They Will Come method will work for you, as long as you keep chugging away.

But are you really that patient? It would be better to find your tribe and share your content with them—whether it’s on social networks, Google+, bookmark sites, feed syndication, direct e-mail, etc.

I find that a combination of these methods works depending on the content and audience. I know it’s hard to toot your own horn, but do what feels comfortable to you and always keep relevancy and etiquette in mind when sharing. For instance, don’t comment on someone’s blog just to share a link back to yours, comment to build a friendship.

The Little Engine that Could is already taking notes!  Many of us begin writing about the things we know–things weʼre passionate about. But not everyone is passionate about how to bake a cake or make soap. Is it selling out to switch gears and write about topics that readers want to share with their friends?

Cake baking and soap making sound right up my alley! As long as I can eat the cake and use the soap to wash my presumably sticky face afterwards. (Laughs) I think every writer should have her own set of standards and do what’s right for her.

I know some writers who write for content mills and are perfectly happy with researching new topics and writing about what they don’t know, while other writers scoff at them altogether because of the low pay scale and insist that carving a niche is the only way to go.

Personally, I think writing about what you don’t know isn’t selling out; it’s stretching your brain. As long as it’s something you want to research—and if you’re writing for pay, factor in that research time—I don’t see a problem with it. Remember to also consider your writing happiness in whatever you decide to do. Writing is the passion, no matter the topic.

Writing is definitely a passion. I think most of us can heartily agree with that.  Is there a list of ingredients for what makes strong, sharable content?

I recently read a study on what makes content shareable, and I tried to find the link to it so I could reference it in this answer, but I had no luck. But what it basically said was this: We like to share what touches us emotionally—whether it’s good or bad—because we want to connect with others over the experience.

We share things that we find so funny it helps us escape from the daily grind and hope it will do the same for others as well. We share things that reinforce our values or worldview because we want to connect with like-minded people—plus, it’s a lot nicer than being preachy.

We share things that make our jaw drop because they are so unbelievable. We share things that make us ponder the big questions in life. We share the weird, bizarre, and embarrassing things that are difficult to watch, like a train wreck where you can’t look away—things that can be labeled a guilty pleasure.

It appears that what we crave is the human experience and the things that we choose to share are part of that, to connect with people, like it’s always been since the beginning of time, but now we have an easier way to do that.

Besides writing something that is interesting enough to share, the content needs to be nicely formatted, visually pleasing, and easily shareable. The author needs to be trustworthy and the information should be accurate.

So maybe the Internet isn’t quite as impersonal as it seems, if we do still crave that human touch. Many writers, myself included, surround themselves with friends who are also writers or otherwise in the industry. How far can we expect our message to travel if weʼre only marketing to our peers?

Don’t writers read? I’d say we read more than anyone else! I know what you mean though; many of my book-marketing friends joke that they’re only marketing to other book marketers. That’s when you need to branch out and get creative!

For instance, a writer friend worked for years on her novel about a mother and her missing child and when it came time to market it she realized that the majority of her network consisted of other writers. You know how it is while writing—you connect with other writers and critique groups to polish your work, and in her case, self-publishing groups as well since she planned to self publish.

So she looked at the themes in her novel and although it’s fiction, she found topics that she could speak about and groups she could target as an audience, other than the obvious book blogs.

First, she decided to give a portion of the proceeds from sales to a nonprofit that helped reunite missing children with their families. She found that her book appealed to a mass audience of mothers but also appealed to smaller audience of mystery lovers and bakers, since the protagonist was also a baker. The story appealed to couples going through divorce as well, and so on.

She targeted blogs that fit with the various themes in her book and exchanged e-copies for an honest review and/or an interview. She held giveaways for her book and a basket of baked goods, which she publicized on social networks and sweepstakes directories. She shared recipes on Pinterest. She spoke at local groups and made herself available for book clubs. She also made sure she had a home base—a website to refer back to besides Amazon—and an e-mail subscription list to keep in touch with her audience.

You can get just as creative for articles as you do for books. I like to use expert resources in an article to back up the points made. Then you not only have your tribe to market to but you encourage your experts to share with their tribes as well.

I’ve even heard of writers taking it as far as giving incentives for sharing their articles—if we get 1,000 shares, x is donated to charity. It’s better than advertising! If your message is really important then I see this type of incentive as a win-win.

Ok, that is really interesting. Marketing just made my head spin, in a good way! Most writers have exciting moments when a blog post skyrockets or a respected or influential person takes notice. How can we capitalize on those beginnings of success instead of letting them die back down for lack of direction?

Good question! If an influential person takes notice by commenting on your blog post, you should make sure you follow up. Maybe you can collaborate with her in another way, or at the very least, visit her blog on the regular and comment to keep building on the relationship.

I’ve heard one way to get an influential person’s attention is to directly post about something they’ve written. Take his advice on marketing, for example, and put it to the test and write about it, mentioning that you are specifically following his technique. Make sure you have a long-term goal and a good reason why you want this person’s attention. Maybe you’re aligning yourself as an authority in a niche similar to this person.

If your post goes viral, enjoy the ride. Most people never know exactly why it happens. Take a look at the comments and see what other questions beg to be answered, what other discussions could be useful, and try to keep the momentum without driving the topic into the ground.

Use the opportunity to maybe make some advertising revenue through page views or funnel visitors into subscribers, if those are your goals. Have a Read Similar Articles type link underneath your post to promote analogous content.

Last question: Whatʼs some of the worst advice youʼve heard given to writers? Some of the best?

“You should write about . . . ” (When someone tells you what you should write about, it’s almost always something you have no interest in writing.)

“Put your butt in the chair and start writing.” (It all comes down to this, doesn’t it?)

Butt in chair (BIC). We could all use a little more of that! Thank you so much for finding the time in your busy schedule to share your expertise with our readers, Angela.

Now let’s get to work!

You can find Angela and learn from her team at WOW! Women on Writing, Facebook, Twitter, and The Muffin.

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