Everybody Writes – Book Interview

Heidi Cohen interviews Ann Handley

everybody-writes-3dQ: What’s your best piece of advice for readers looking to improve their marketing?

Slow down. In our fast-paced world, the tendency is to go fast and break things. That’s fine in some parts of the business world (like tech development).

But in content marketing, I’m an advocate for a slower, more deliberate approach. A slower approach is armor against burnout, dejection, and (ultimately) the erosion of confidence in the amazing power of a content program.

Why is this important? Because too much content marketing is still near-sighted. And brand-centric. And a bit uninspired and boring. I say this with love in my heart, but that’s the sad truth.

Many of us haven’t spent the necessary time developing three things: 1) A brand story. 2) A content marketing mission statement. And 3) A unique and recognizable tone of voice.

And then we haven’t taken the next step: To craft content that sustains not just the business. But also sustains ourselves as marketers.

Q: What was the inspiration for your book?

I couldn’t find what I wanted: A book that functions for marketers as part writing and story guide, part instructional manual on the ground rules of ethical publishing, and part personal training on muscle-building processes and habits.

Q: What is the key concept behind your book?

The key concept is essentially articulated in the title of Everybody Writes: In our social world: Everybody is a writer. Including you and me.

Why is that important? Because words matter. Your words (what you say) and style (how you say it) are your most cherished (and undervalued) assets.

The key to becoming a better writer isn’t in magic or innate gifts. Rather, the key to being a better writer is embracing some fundamentals, and getting a little inspiration and practical, accessible guidelines.

Here’s a handy Writing GPS I developed to light the path, too.


Q: What do you want readers to take away from your book?

Oops. I should’ve read through these questions before answering. Because I think I just answered #4 in #3, above.

Q: How do you describe yourself professionally?

Scene: An elevator. Two people stand awkwardly, facing forward. One is me. One is a stranger.
Me: “Hi.”
Stranger in elevator (looks at me via side eye): “Oh, hi.”
Short pause.
Me: “Aren’t you going to ask me what I do so I can give you the elevator pitch? Because… we’re in an elevator.”
Stranger in elevator: “Umm.” (Appears nervous.) “So what do you do?”
Me (with gusto): “I help marketers be more creative, inspired, and legit. Within the context of a larger organization, or on behalf of their own businesses.
“In a practical sense, that means I teach and call out great work, best practices, trends, and opportunities as I see them. I love great writing and I love seeing true craft in marketing.”
Stranger in elevator, on exit: “Uhh. MMkay… well, nice talking to you!”
Me: “Wait! What do you do….” (as door closes). “’K have a good night.”

Q: What are 1-3 books that inspired your work/career?

The Essential Don Murray: Lessons from America’s Great Writing Teacher
Few people know Don Murray, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and longtime writing teacher at the University of New Hampshire. His books are on par with anything any so-called name writer ever produced, and he greatly influenced how I think about writing (as less hard work than mysticism).

The New Rules of Marketing and PR
I wouldn’t be in marketing any longer if it wasn’t for David Meerman Scott. When I first read this book in 2007, it opened my eyes. It connected what I’ve always done (build audiences) to what marketers now need to do. It shifted my thinking and evolved the possibilities I saw in marketing.

Thank Cheezits. Otherwise I’d be playing the accordion in the subway.

Q: What is the biggest challenge that you’ve had to overcome?

I’m tempted to say I didn’t trust my own instincts enough. But I suppose most people have to learn that the hard way. (And those who are born ultra-confident in their decisions from the get-go probably turn out to be insufferable human beings.)

In other words, I’ve learned a lot from the mistake of not trusting myself (and other mistakes I’ve made). So not to get too philosophical, but would that still categorize them as true mistakes? Or are they now instead small turning points that have accumulated into a kind of wisdom?

I guess I’ll have to ponder that on my time… not yours.

Q: What’s something unusual or fun that most people don’t know about you?

I have an irrational fear of flying (but still I do it all the time).

I’m a terrible procrastinator (but still I get a lot done because I also have a strong work ethic).

I’m an introvert (but I play an extrovert easily, until suddenly I can’t and I need to go lie down on my bed for three days).

That I both loathe and love public speaking. Pretty much at the same time.

I am incredibly social and yet also fiercely private.

I value people and relationships above all but I am weirdly attached to my little dog, Abby.

tl;dr: I’m a walking paradox.

Aren’t so many of us? HIGH-FIVE!

Q: Is there a piece of content, a social media campaign or a marketing campaign that you worked on that you’re particularly proud of?

I agonize over anything I publish. So pick either of my books (contentrulesbook.com or everybodywrites.com). Or anything on my blog (Annhandley.com). Or anything that ran in Entrepreneur magazine or on MarketingProfs.com. Or, if you’re really ambitious, look up anything I’ve written over my entire career. (Some of that might be in microfiche. El oh el.)

I don’t publish anything I’m not proud of. Which means I publish less than most. Is that a bad thing?

(That’s a rhetorical question.)

(Actually it’s not entirely rhetorical. The answer is no.)

Q: Is there anything else that we haven’t covered that you’d like to share?

Is anyone still reading? If so, then I’d add a THANK YOU. I knew I liked you. Please connect with me on Twitter (@marketingprofs, @annhandley) or Facebook or Instagram (@annhandley). Or anywhere at all. And thank you, Heidi Cohen!

Contact information


  • Name: Ann Handley
  • Company: MarketingProfs
  • Blog: MarketingProfs.com, AnnHandley.com
  • Book(s): EverybodyWrites
  • Facebook: Ann.handley
  • Twitter: @marketingprofs or @annhandley
  • LinkedIn: Ann.handley
  • Google+: Ann.handley
  • Instagram: @annhandley

Thanks, Ann.

Happy Marketing,
Heidi Cohen

Heidi CohenHeidi Cohen is the President of Riverside Marketing Strategies.
You can find Heidi on Google+, Facebook and Twitter.

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