Ep 208 What makes a good children’s book? And meet content writing expert Kath Walters.

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In Episode 208 of So you want to be a writer: Discover what makes a good children’s book. We share with you a beginner’s guide to NaNoWriMo as well as tips for filling up your social media as a writer. You’ll also meet content writing expert Kath Walters.

Click play to listen to the podcast or find it on iTunes here. If you don’t use iTunes you can get the feed here, or listen to us on Stitcher radio.

Show Notes

podcast-artworkLinks 

Interview: What makes a great children’s book with the Team at KBR

A beginner’s guide to entering NaNoWriMo 2017

How to fill up your social media schedule

Writer in Residence

Kath Walters

As a business journalist, Kath Walters has reached an audience of more than 20 million people with an estimated 1.4 million words in my time, so she knows what it takes to produce high-quality, sticky content.

Over 16 years, she’s written for some of Australia’s leading business publications, including BRW, the Australian Financial Review, LeadingCompany, SmartCompany, Boss, Crikey and Business Spectator.

 

Follow Kath on Twitter

Visit Kath’s website

Your hosts

Allison Tait

Valerie Khoo / Australian Writers’ Centre

Connect with us on twitter

@altait

@valeriekhoo

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Interview Transcript 

Valerie

Thanks so much for joining us today, Kath.

Kath

Hi, how are you?

Valerie

Good. I’m good. And I’m a lot better now than I was a couple of years ago when you and I were both in Delhi, and we were on a bus to the Taj Mahal, and this is a bit gross, but I threw up 37 times.

Kath

Oh no!

Valerie

Yeah, it was that many.

Kath

I didn’t realise it was that bad, actually.

Valerie

But you were my saviour, and you gave me to take back to my hotel room, I think they were electrolytes or something. And it felt like you saved my life, and you were my angel.

Kath

I’m so glad I was there for you. I was amazed that I had anything that organised, but there you go. I have my moments.

Valerie

It was very impressive. But I am holding in my hand – I’m not meant to be talking about me being ill – but I am holding in my hand your book Sticky Content: mastering the delicate art of content marketing. Now you have many strings to your bow, which I’m going to uncover and unpack as we have our chat, but I just wanted to start with your book. Because content marketing has exploded. I’ve certainly seen it explode in the last couple of years in particular, and certainly building up to the explosion in the couple of years before that. But just for readers who haven’t read the book yet, tell us what it’s about.

Kath

Okay. So this book… I left traditional media after, I don’t know, a decade and a half, about four years ago. And I had just heard about content marketing and I thought, oh, this is cool. This is kind of a direction. And I began to blog about it every week. So this book is really a chronicle of my trying to work out this whole new field.

So I just started writing about what I thought was great about it, what I thought was terrible about how it was developing, what I saw its potential as, how I thought it should be done and could be done. And then I pulled together all those blogs into a book that I published, I think a couple of years ago now. The first book in Australia, I think, on the whole area of content marketing. Actually it was last year. So it now forms quite a reasonably coherent view on how to get a content marketing program up and running, really, and do it well.

Valerie

Okay. So first of all, can you define content marketing for our listeners?

Kath

Yes. Look, I’m not going to reinvent the wheel. I think the Content Marketing Institute of America, the US one, has quite a good definition. And its definition is along the lines of content that is created for the purposes of leading to sales. So there’s a direct relationship between the content and the sales process, but it’s not sales content. So it’s valuable content that we share with an audience with the long-term goal of commercial outcome, of commercial success.

Valerie

Yes. But when you’re saying it doesn’t lead to sales, it’s not advertising, it’s not copywriting in the sense of trying to persuade to buy overtly.

Kath

Absolutely. Well, I think when it’s done well it’s not. There’s plenty that’s… You know that horrible term, advertorial? That idea of half editorial, half advertising. I think that creeps into this a lot.

But my view of content marketing is that it’s about creating a community of interest in your ideas and your skills and area of expertise and your passions. And then from that community of interest you will draw people who want to go further with you, who want to develop, want to work on your programs and that sort of thing. But the first thing is to build that community of interest and that trust. And the way that it works best is to actually offer a lot of fantastic content to them, long, long before you ever necessarily meet them.

Valerie

And of course this has meant great opportunity for many freelance writers, or even non-freelance, for many writers out there, because people have embraced content marketing.

But I just want to backtrack a bit. Because, as you said, before you really pioneered niche-ing in studying content marketing, or observing the content marketing space, and specialising in it, you were a traditional journalist. So give us just a little bit of background, a potted history about your life as a journo until four and a half years ago, or when you decided to shift a bit?

Kath

I started writing for BRW in 1997, Business Review Weekly. Now defunct. Which is an indication of what’s happened to that whole area of media. But I began writing for them in 1997. I had the incredible fortune of writing then for them really for the next fourteen years, including some other publications and things get syndicated and that sort of thing. I was a business journalist. So I was writing first about small business, and then I really did marketing and accounting and technology, and all sorts of different areas. And god, it was fun. And the rich 200. And it was just a lot of fun. Very interesting. Always talking to amazingly interesting people. Following fortunes rising and falling. It was amazing.

But in about the last five years of that, I felt like I was kind of on borrowed time. I felt like I was galloping along and it was clear that the traditional media industry was in massive trouble. We were writing about it all the time in BRW. It’s a pity they didn’t take any notice. And so we knew, the rivers of gold, the money from advertising real estate, from advertising jobs, from advertising classifieds, it was going. It was being hived off to Seek and to RealEstate.com. And they just didn’t move fast enough. So traditional media was really struggling to reinvent its business model, and it still is.

So towards the end of that time, so after fourteen years, I actually stepped away and into an online journalism role with Private Media who do Smart Company and Crikey and that sort of thing. And I did a year with a new title they had called Leading Company, which was really great and innovative and everything, but didn’t survive. It went for a year, and then they rolled it into Smart Company.

But that year was fantastic. Because I got a huge, I just got utterly immersed in the world of online media. And really, it’s traditional media gone online. And so it was fantastic. I learned an absolute amazing amount. And it was two weeks before I left, I got a phone call from a guy called Fergus Stoddart up at Edge in Sydney, and he said you should write something about content marketing. And I said, what’s that? And that’s how it started.

Valerie

So you start exploring content marketing. But the point is you continued. So what was it about content marketing that captured your interest?

Kath

Well, I thought, this is fantastic. I saw it as a direction for journalism, in some ways. A very controversial view. Because, you know, people were saying, oh my god, you can’t mix up those two things. And I said, well, hang on. Haven’t we always been doing this? There’s always a commercial side to journalism.

Anyway, I wanted to explore that possibility. I saw it as a fantastic area to use journalistic skills. And I think it is best done when it’s done by journalists who really understand the idea of reader benefit. Delivering something the reader really needs. And when it maintains those principles from journalism of separating editorial from advertising.

So on my blog that I send out every week, there’s always a couple of little ads on the side saying, you know, would you like to join my program here? Or have my free writing hack-a-thon? Or download this free content? Or whatever. But it’s not mixed up into, I don’t try to say, this is my idea and if you like this idea, come and buy my stuff. It’s just a little bit more subtle and sensible than that. It respects people’s intelligence.

Valerie

Sure. So you start exploring – you say the word ‘exploring’ – content marketing. What did that actually look like? Were you reading about it? At what point did you think, I’ll try writing it, as well?

Kath

I quickly decided to write a blog. I just started, really. I did some training immediately in how to develop a consulting practice, and I started to go out and talk to people. I was just having coffees with people and saying, have you heard of content marketing? And they were like, no. So I was trying to explain it. I had some models, and that sort of stuff. It was early days. And listening to people’s responses.

But look, quite early on I got a content marketing gig with an architect firm called Hames Sharley. Among the first, I think, and certainly still one of the best who are doing content marketing. And they were really open to this idea. And so I got the opportunity to explore it from the practitioner’s point of view.

But I was also reading, I was subscribing to blogs, I was subscribing to Ann Handley, I was subscribing to the Content Marketing Institute. And even talking to ADMA. And I thought, look, there needs to be somebody in the Australian market who is a commentator as well as, you know, I was a practitioner, but I didn’t… I felt very able to be an independent commentator. I wasn’t an agency, I didn’t have a huge stake in the industry. And we needed somebody to be talking about whether or not it was working, and the direction it was going in. Because at various points, and still today, there’s a lot of misunderstanding and people get it wrong. Just really wrong.

Valerie

So at what point did you think, okay, I’m going to make a conscious effort to shift from journalism to providing content marketing services? Was it when Fergus suggested that? Or was it later after you had explored a bit?

Kath

To be honest, it was two weeks before I’d left that role, the online editing role, that Fergus suggested that story. So I didn’t even publish it in that publication. I did research it, and I published it in BRW, which was still going then. And that is the first story in this book. So that that story is written there.

And then I thought, okay, well I could start a practice in this. And I did. I started working in that area. So it was… It was a wild ride.

Valerie

Yeah. So with content marketing, when a business engages someone like yourself to write their content, they are of course trying to… And that might be in blogs and articles and various types of publications. Obviously, the point is to try and be informative and helpful or educational to their market. But it is, of course, different to journalism.

Now here’s the thing; when I started noticing your blog, and about when you were commentating, as you say, about content marketing, I remember that, because when you were at BRW I think you were covering at some point the accounting space?

Kath

Yes, I was.

Valerie

And I think that’s when you first came on my radar, because I’m a former accountant.

Kath

Okay.

Valerie

And I always thought, she’s this hardnosed dyed in the wool journo. And so I was really surprised when I started seeing you write about content marketing. Because I thought, wow, what a… It just seems so different. Because the other hardnosed dyed in the wool journos that I know are less open to something like content marketing.

So when you shifted and started writing, say, on behalf of businesses, was it difficult, or easy? Or did you have to consciously change the way you approach things? What was that like?

Kath

I would like to give Hames Sharley a lot of points. Because they didn’t really know anything about it and so they were prepared to be educated by me. And I got across a lot… They were willing to accept all these controversial ideas that I suggested to them, which were things like, yes, this program is going to cost you quite a lot of money, and no, you’re not going to have an immediate obvious payback from it. What it’s going to do is create a community of interest, a bank of knowledge that your prospective clients can find on your website. We’re going to be sending it out to all your current clients, keeping in touch with them, keeping that sense of nurturing them and that sort of stuff. But these were all very new concepts.

It wasn’t like sending out something saying, how about you buy some, Hames Sharley is fantastic, for example. Hames Sharley is an ace, and they are, they’re very good architects. But it wasn’t showcasing their work. It was talking about the problems that their audience had. And how to solve them.

So they were very, very good. And not pointing the finger at them in particular, or any of the other clients that I had, I had the Growth Faculty, also excellent clients. But there were moments when my journalist thing said, we write this, and their corporate thing said, no we don’t.

Valerie

Yes.

Kath

And I had to listen to their reasons. And so there were times when I had to say, okay, you’re calling the shots. But I really think that those clients let me be a journalist almost to the nth degree, but with some constraints. Just occasionally, I really ran into some area that was too… It was too risky for them to go there. But they were very experimental and they were fantastic.

But I did see that, I saw that it was going to get difficult to stay specifically in that area. After a couple of years, I stopped specifically actually writing for people, and then I started to train people in what I thought were the important elements of content creation.

Valerie

Why would you think it was going to be hard to stay in that area?

Kath

Because there’s a lot of pressure to compromise too much.

Valerie

Yes. It’s because you’re Kath.

Kath

It’s because I’m a Kath.

Valerie

It is.

Kath

I’m a little bit of a zealot. And sometimes it’s hard to hold the line. And I needed to feel that I could hold the line.

Valerie

Yeah. Sorry, didn’t mean to interrupt.

Kath

That’s okay. In a sense I was in a dual role. I was training them, and implementing them at the same time, implementing the program. I wanted to shift more to a training role where I could get my ideas out to a broader role, a broader audience, I mean. Have more impact. And that’s a key reason for writing the book. I wanted to have a broader impact.

Valerie

Yes. So are you training people in-house to produce their own content in that way?

Kath

I’m not so far, no. I tend to run public programs. I run a blog bootcamp. So one of my programs is a thing called a blog bootcamp, and what I do there is I help people to brainstorm a year’s worth of blog topics in four hours. So what happens is people start blogs and then they stop them because they run out of ideas. So I just simply have some really cool hacks that I have discovered in my travels. And by building up that bank of content, it tends to mean that people keep going. Because the underlying brand promise of content marketing is turning up regularly in an inbox every week or fortnight or whatever you choose to do. That tells your clients a lot before they even know you.

Valerie

So with this explosion in content marketing, how does a journalist or freelance writer who is used to writing for a publication like Fairfax or The Australian or whatever, if they want to do this, how do you think they need to change their approach to writing content if it’s a new thing for them?

Kath

That’s a really good question. And I’d love to do some training with journalists around this. Because I think it’s not, we have to do something we’re not that good at, which is we have to do a bit of training. We have to do a bit of not persuasion…

Look, it’s the same thing we did with our editors, it’s the same thing we did with the advertising department when they come along and said, you can’t write that because we just sold ads to that accounting firm. We have to make our case. But we just have to be more diplomatic about it. So we’re not used to having disagreements in a very agreeable way. We’re used to stamping our foot and just kind of going ahead and being a bit pig-headed. That’s all I think is required. We have to be willing to compromise. But we always have. We always have had to have points where we couldn’t go.

Valerie

Yes. That’s a great point. Now there are big businesses and small businesses now who are understanding the need for content marketing. What trends are you seeing in the world of big business versus the trends in small business? Do you think that they’re approaching it in different ways? Presumably they must be because smaller businesses just simply don’t have the budgets that big businesses do.

Kath

Absolutely. And if you think of ANZ BlueNotes, which I think is a fantastic example of content marketing done at the corporate level. They take a lot of risks and they have journalists in there who are high level. You know, Andrew Cornell and former Fin Review journalists and things like that. So they do a very nice job. Lovely.

But I think the beauty of content marketing is that as a sole, a person in my own practice, I never want to be a big business. I’m happy to be me, and a couple of other people is fine. I can put out a blog every week and build a list of people who are interested in my ideas. Just one story, 600 words, it’s fine. And it has a big powerful impact on people, when you generously share your ideas and knowledge with people. You understand their problems and you show you understand them, and you help them to solve them. Very powerful. It’s really not that hard.

The tricky thing is getting that content planned out. Getting the topics planned. That is where people struggle. And just again understanding the framework around it. Don’t try to sell within the blog. Just keep it separate, keep it nice. And explore an idea. People need a bit of help with the writing structure, but not that much.

Valerie

What are your suggestions for strategies to come up with enough content ideas, to come up with a new blog post every week, or whatever it is?

Kath

My key thing is, the place you need to start is your readers. So this is journalism 101. These are principles from journalism that we are taking out to help other people who have now become publishers and journalists in a way, or writers at least, bloggers.

So first of all, understand your readers. Go where they go. Read what they read. Do what they do. Understand them. And then just write about the problems they have and how you suggest they solve them. And so I do have some tricks and things. There are some sort of hacks that I use. One of them is just to look forward through the year – again, this won’t be a surprise to you, as a journalist – look forward through the year at what is coming up. So what are the events that are coming up? In content marketing, there is actually a thing called Content Marketing World, there’s a content marketing conference in Sydney. There’s one in Melbourne. So I can actually focus content around there. I can say this is coming, this is what they’re going to talk about. I can write about those topics.

Or, as I’ve done, I can interview the people they bring out. Joe Pulizzi, who came out from the Content Marketing Institute.

So the calendar itself, the calendar of events that your readers will be actually going to, that forms a great basis for the first thing. And you can just do simple reports. So it’s not such hard writing as… The reason blogging is difficult is because it’s opinion writing, and that, as you know, is one of the upper levels of journalism. It’s tricky. So start with reports, why not. Easy.

Valerie

Start with what, sorry?

Kath

Reports. Report writing. Just report on the conference. What was said. Put it down. Content. You could go to a conference and have the next six months of content. As you know.

Valerie

Yes, that’s true. So if somebody was not an experienced journalist and they wanted to, they liked this idea, content marketing, do what Kath did and write a 600-word blog post every week, do you have any suggestions to them on how should they structure that kind of blog post?

Kath

Here’s my simple formula. I’ve had to think about these things since leaving journalism. It’s something like this: you’ve got to put a proposition up. So it might be blogging is easy. Or blogging’s hard. That’s my proposition, whatever it is. And then I’ll say why I think it’s important, and why I think it’s important now. So blogging’s not that easy, but it’s really important that you understand this brand-new marketing strategy and how it can benefit you, and you better get into it now because if you don’t, somebody else is going to take your area of expertise. So that’s my little introduction.

Then I’ll make two or three points about it. So the reason why it’s not easy is this, and what you need to do is have some topics planned out. So two or three points. And then I would just really re-state the main point and benefit. And then that’s it. That is really, I mean, that is a good simple structure.

Valerie

Yeah, great.

Kath

If you start there… Because I always think every article, in a way, unless it’s a news story, is a proposition explored and then resolved. It’s a good idea in the points you’re making to canvas any kind of criticism. So I might say blogging’s hard. And then I’ll say, look, some people might say blogging’s easy, and this is why I think that’s not correct. This is who might say that. This is why it’s not true for you, this audience. Yeah. It’s a nice simple formula to start with.

Valerie

Yeah, it’s great. So where do you see the future of content marketing? And of course that’s a ridiculously broad statement. So, perhaps we can put it in context for writers in terms of the opportunities that might be available to them. Where do you see the future for them?

Kath

I would really suggest that you need a dual program. And one of them is you need to have a blogging problem, and you need to have an actual published book. I think you’ve published a book; it’s incredibly powerful. It establishes your authority in a way that blog posts even don’t. Even if you self-publish and hand it out, you do a reasonably nice job, you don’t even have to sell it, really. You give it to prospects. And it really establishes your authority.

And then from that book you can then continue to blog for the next couple of years. You can pick up ideas that you’ve written in the book. So this is a very comprehensive way of really positioning yourself as an authority and the unique elements of your approach.

Because I don’t think people sort of… Everything is commoditised. Everyone can do, you can find a content marketing expert everywhere. What you want to know is what’s different about Kath Walters? And that is really just to do with who I am, my personality, my background. My approach. So people buy approach more than actual skills these days. And it’s just such a great way to communicate your values, your approach, your personality. It’s really effective.

Valerie

So that approach of having a book and blogging regularly, that actually applies whether you are a writer or not. That applies to anyone who wants to be an authority in their space.

Kath

Absolutely.

Valerie

Whether that’s an authority in content marketing, or as an authority in back pain, or as an authority in boat building, or whatever. So I definitely agree with that as a fantastic approach if you want to build yourself up as an authority. What about, where do you see opportunities for freelance writers to get work in the world of content marketing in the future?

Kath

Fantastic. Look, for freelance writers we’ve probably got to do a little bit of mindset work. You need to do a bit of education. Because I’m not the journalist I was. I’m not. I’ve had to accept that I’m in a different field and that sort of stuff. So we’ve probably got a little bit of work to decide where you want to fit in, and what you’re prepared to do and what you’re not prepared to do, and that sort of stuff.

And then I think there’s so much opportunity now for writers. And the opportunities are to write. So you’re going to get backlinks if you’re writing journalism, and you’re going to do quite well if you’re writing content for somebody like BlueNotes. Very good. So you get a chance to do good quality work and it pays quite well.

So there’s the writing work. So there’s so much writing work now for journalists, if they’re willing to do. And then to be able to communicate what it is, the principles of good content. They have to be able to say that.

But train, train people! Everybody needs to know our skills now. Coach people. Mentor people. That’s what I do. I mentor them to write books. And people need to understand how to write now. They have to. Writing is everywhere, as Ann Handley, the American author says. Everybody writes. And so we have, suddenly, we are actually a group whose skills are needed by the rest. Either done for you, either bought and do the writing, or shown, show people how to do it. They don’t know. They don’t know what we know, and they need to know it. And we just have to learn how to unpack it a little bit. That’s what I’ve had to learn. And communicate it simply.

Valerie

Awesome. All right, so the future is bright then. But potentially in some non-traditional avenues.

Kath

Yeah. I mean, god, let’s hope we always have journalists. Traditional journalists.

Valerie

Yes, of course. And how about for Kath? What’s next for you?

Kath

I am really… I work one on one at the moment with people in my 90-day book program. So this is a 90-day program to write a 25,000 – 45,000 word book that people are really proud of. They’re proud to share with the world. I’m doing that one on one. I want to develop that into a one on one, but online, so I can open my market up a little bit to people around Australia, perhaps around the world. And then I’ll be doing, hopefully developing that into a more of a one-to-many. So able to then automate more of it and bring it more online and then grow it out that way. So yeah, hoping to take over the world if that’s possible, Valerie.

Valerie

Are you doing much writing these days?

Kath

Lots. I spend lots of time writing. I write my own work all the time. And I, in a way, I have had quite recently to really put my foot down and say, no. I don’t do the editing and stuff anymore. I used to do the editing for my… I work with partner editors, who are very, very good.

But yeah, I’m always writing. I’m helping people to write their work and showing them how to write, and showing them what makes a difference. Usually by doing it for them and then saying, well, this is what I’ve done. I think I’m almost having to consciously make myself stop, because it’s such a playground for me.

Valerie

Wonderful. And on that note, thank you so much for your time today, Kath.

Kath

Thank you very much. Lovely to talk to you again.

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