I have a secret for you, fellow library marketer. You have a superpower and you probably don’t even know you have it. But I’m here to reveal it to you. Embracing this superpower won’t cost extra money from your budget, doesn’t require extra staff, and will make your marketing efforts more successful.
The most powerful weapon in your marketing arsenal is your writing.
Now most library marketers don’t spend a lot of time writing. We might have a newsletter but let’s be honest, its mainly a list of programs and services. Frequent readers of this blog will know that I am an advocate of content marketing, which is more than a list of programs–it’s about telling stories. I take this position because libraries are losing the battle with our competitors. They are getting personal and we’re not. They’re finding ways to connect with customers and we’re not. We’re still relying on one paragraph, fact-based write-ups about new programs or new services. We can do better. We need to talk with our cardholders using real, honest to goodness, heartfelt, emotional words.
I know what you’re going to say. I’m not a writer! Yes, you are. Everyone is a writer. Writing real stories about real people is something everyone can do. In the coming weeks, I’ll share some tips for how to actually do the writing thing… how to find and gather stories, how to structure them, how to write headlines, and more.
You know why people think they can’t write? They feel like they need to be perfect. Stop trying to be perfect. Stop expecting what comes out of your fingers to be perfect the first time. Real life is messy and the best writing reflects that–it’s authentic and unpretentious. It’s not filled with jargon and facts. It’s emotional. If you’ve got emotions, then you can write!
Library marketers also think they can’t write because they’re scared of failing. Stop being afraid. Writing is just words. They can be changed, molded, and manipulated later. Librarians are fearless–let’s follow their lead and be fearless in our marketing!
Sit down and write. I’m writing the first draft of this blog post in one, long swoop. I just put down all my thoughts, even if they make no sense. I forget punctuation and capitalization. I misspell words. I can fix all that later. That’s what you need to do. Stop waiting. Get writing. Write stream of thought if you must. But get some words down.
Write as often as you can–even if it’s only one sentence. I keep ideas in notepads. I jot down sentences that pertain to something I have previously drafted. I write down sentences or thoughts that inspire me. I write every day, even if it’s only a few sentences. That’s how you keep the muscle active–you have to use it.
Write in advance and then walk away. I write some press releases months in advance. If you know that you have to write a release every year for a recurring program or event, sit down and write it months in advance and do it in a way that’s different from before. Write it crazy! Don’t be afraid. Save it and go back to it later. You’re insane, made-up version may contain some brilliant nugget that you can use in the real release, something that will grab the attention of the media–because remember, they’re an audience too and we have to grab their attention just like we do with cardholders!
Sometimes I leave my blog pieces and my Library Links stories for months at a time. At this moment, I have at least 12 blog posts that are half-written, unedited ramblings. Why? I let my ideas soak and marinate and form. Later, I can smooth them out and make them coherent. Sometimes I’m editing posts in short bursts for months at a time. I go back when the mood strikes me, when it feels right, or when I have a thought to add. This post, for instance, has been in draft form for about six months.
It’s okay to loosen up. Sometimes when I’m writing a speech or an article, I take my laptop home, have a drink, and then tear into the first draft. Why? It loosens my internal tongue. It helps me to think more freely and makes me feel more creative. I don’t have to do it every time but when I’m having a little trouble getting that first draft out of my fingers and onto the computer, an adult beverage will help. Sometimes removing myself from my office and finding a hidden corner in the stacks to write will do the trick. Maybe you have something else that loosens your tongue–ice cream, taking a walk, doing jumping jacks. Give yourself some creative space and the permission to write in an unconstrained way, and your writing improve.
Read as often as you can. Read everything you can. Read stuff you don’t like. Read stuff you love. Wander your stacks, pick a book at random, and read a couple of pages. Listen to stories on audio book and podcasts. Listen to news. Read magazines. The more you immerse yourself in words, the better your writing will be.
I think I’m an okay writer. I don’t get to write as much as I’d like but I do write this blog once a week and stories for our publication Library Links every three months, along with speeches and various other pieces throughout the year. I look at press releases as a form of writing and I push myself to go beyond what’s expected or normal in terms of the form and function of the release to write something that really connects with viewers. Writing is my chance to connect and give my cardholders something to think about that they’ll carry with them long after they leave my library. That’s invaluable. I want that for you too!
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