Few people are as knowledgeable as Step Smith when it comes to creating content. She runs Trends, The Hustle’s paid newsletter, co-hosts the “Shit You Don’t Learn in School” podcast, and runs communities around her books Doing Content Right and Doing Time Right.
Book isn’t the right word, though.
Doing Content Right (DCR) is more than that. The full package includes a quiz, exercises, videos, live sessions and a telegram community. On top of that, it’s constantly evolving. Steph’s goal is to keep it evergreen, which means updating the content from time to time. It’s a great reward for customers.
But how did that start?
A few years ago, she wrote a long blog post that ended up being too long. She got overwhelmed by the size and left it. When she rediscovered the draft a few months later, she wondered if it would be worth picking back up.
She tweeted about it to her then 6-to-7 thousand followers and asked if they’d be interested in paying $10 for it. She got a few positive replies and about three people saying they’d even pay more. (More about pricing later.)
Fast-forward two years, and she’s now sold over 4,000 copies of Doing Content Right and a bit shy of 1,000 copies of Doing Time Right.
The motivation to write Doing Content Right
Steph smith has been working remotely for years. And when working from home became the new reality for many, she noticed that there was something off about the content around remote work. The topics and the way companies talked about it were strange.
So she decided to start sharing her thoughts about remote work and related topics.
Later, she noticed the same problem with the information about creating content and writing a blog. Much of the available content wasn’t good. Some people intend well, but others just create a quick course knowing it could make them money.
Many experts aren’t experts. They just teach something based on things they’ve read about but not tried. It’s a big difference with Ali Abdaal, for example. He has a YouTube following roughly the size of Vancouver or Birmingham. This is the type of people with the right to teach you how to grow a YouTube following.
Since Steph had success with her blog, she was in an excellent position to write Doing Content Right. She knew what she was doing, and she knew she could create something better than what was available.
First, she wrote about content, distribution and monetisation strategies for blogs and newsletters. But when she started her podcast, she revisited the book. And she realised much of it applies to podcasts and YT channels too.
So now, there’s extra content about that in her book, but with less detail. One, because it’s not her domain of expertise and two, podcasts are much harder to track and grow.
In terms of content, Steph suggests focusing more on blogging than on newsletters. It’s a lot easier to distribute blog content. When marketing for a book, it makes sense to pursue both strategies.
Blogs are also important because SEO is underleveraged. In the long term, good SEO could drive passive traffic to your book’s website for many years to come.
Steph created several highlighted quotes in the book. These are differentiated from the rest of the text (cf. Medium). This makes it easy for people to share quotes from the book.
And there’s more, according to Steph, all the quotes shared from the book were the “pre-selected” ones.
More than one launch
The problem with many writers is that they believe their launch event makes or breaks their book.
The book should go through several launch events.
In Steph’s case, she started with a pre-sale. This gave her some momentum for the actual book launch. And because so many people were then reading it at once and sharing their testimonials, there became a second gulf of buyers about two weeks later.
Steph also launched the book on Product Hunt. It’s better to do this later when you already have a following who will support you and vote for your book. (Arvid and April are two other Coffee & Pens authors who successfully launched their books Zero to Sold and Obviously Awesome on Product Hunt.)
Other distribution tactics
Steph runs an affiliate programme for her books, so other people help her sell them. If you buy the book via one of my links, for example, I’ll get a share of her proceeds because I helped her sell it.
If she were selling this for a company or if she wanted to reach a bigger audience, she would use some additional tactics.
- Use paid ads. (See Rob Fitzpatrick)
- Optimise landing pages and A/B test them. (See Ravi Jayagopal)
- Create a larger affiliate programme.
- Write several SEO pieces.
Doing Content Right has a unique pricing strategy. So special it attracted attention to the book and got Steph many new Twitter followers.
Steph started pre-selling the book at $10. Since some people suggested it’s worth more, she added $5 with every 30 sales until conversion slowed down at $30.
She kept that price until launch and she stuck with it for a few more months. Then, she increased it to 50$ and later to $100.
In 2021, she took the price down again before Black Friday and leading up to Black Friday she slowly increased it again until arriving at $200.
Now, you may think that’s an outrageous price for a book? But is it just a book? And besides, there’s this psychological barrier to pricing. We put a value on certain categories of products. An app? 99 cents. Ebook? $9.99. But a course? Happy to pay thousands even if it’s the exact same things as the book.
So a better way to think about it is considering the value of your content. See this example:
“Are you starting a blog or newsletter?”
$9-answer: “Here’s my book.”
$200-answers: “What if I could save you 100 hours?”
Disclaimer: Steph has a full-time job which gives her financial stability. Therefore, she can experiment with the pricing and not focus too much on distribution.
Steph Smith’s writing tips
All skills are learnable. Sometimes you have a natural affinity for something but you aren’t born or not born a writer. Maybe you’ll learn less quickly than someone else, but you can still learn writing, maths or coding.
These skills are extremely learnable, actually. Step hated writing in school because she didn’t care about the topics and the specific way in which she was taught to write. But when she could write about her interests and leverage her writing, she learned to love it.
“When you have something to say about a topic, writing is much more enjoyable.”
If you’re at the point of sitting down to write, Steph doesn’t have much to tell you. Everyone has their own tools. And when you give your ideas time to mature and cross-reference, writing comes naturally.
Some pre-writing tips
Be an expert
You don’t have to be the best in the world, but you must have some sort of knowledge other people don’t have. You need a specific angle like a unique experience, a funnier voice or a contrarian view.
Don’t overthink the topic if you know it well. If you’re an expert, you should know what the gaps are.
Don’t just write because everyone else writes or because you feel you must do it. First ask yourself if you have something unique to say. Is anyone else talking about it in your way? Be different, for example, by building or writing in the open.
Focus on distribution
The time you spend on distribution should be roughly equivalent to the time spent writing—No 95-5 balance.
If you don’t put it out there, no one’s going to know about it. If you do it for a long time and no one notices, ultimately, you’re going to give up because there’s no feedback.
The best writers you know are great at distribution. That’s why you know them. There may be better writers out there, but you don’t know about them because they don’t distribute (well).
See Derek Siver’s ideas are just a multiplier of execution.
Let ideas rest. Validate them for a few days or weeks. They’ll be in your head while you read, have conversations, shower, etc.
Steph lets her ideas mature, so she’s very clear about what she wants to say.
This means writing isn’t just sitting down and writing from top to bottom in one or two sittings. For Steph, there are many sittings. Some long ones, and some short ones. Sometimes, she just drops in a quote.
Speaking of quotes: Why rewrite something if someone else could express better what you wanted to say.
See Writing is Thinking for more.
As mentioned before, Steph’s most recent endeavour is a podcast called “Shit You Don’t Learn in School”.
She started this with her partner Calvin Rosser as a passion project but since it got more traction than expected, they’re now actively trying to grow it.
However, growing a podcast isn’t easy. People experiment less with podcasts than with books or blogs. A podcast is like an “information best friend”, while a blog post is like someone you run into from time to time.
Moreover, the data around podcasts is obscure. And the shareability and distribution options are much more limited.
The benefit, though, is a deep relationship. People listen often and long.
So if you’re ready for two new friendly audio relationships, here are two podcasts for you to follow.