Entrepreneurs are increasingly embracing ‘content marketing’ — seeking leads by creating blog posts, videos, podcasts, e-books, white papers and more. But in a world where 500 million tweets are sent each day, it’s challenging to attract customers’ attention. That’s why business professionals may want to take a few lessons from Steve Alten, who has published 16 books (15 thrillers and a comedy), has cracked the New York Times bestseller list four times and has sold millions of copies of his books. Alten’s giant shark thriller MEG is even being made into a major motion picture by Warner Bros.
I met Alten recently at the Readers Legacy Conference, where he was promoting his new thriller Vostok and I was speaking about my business book Stand Out. His key piece of advice for aspiring writers, including business bloggers, on how to be successful?
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Don’t follow the adage of “write what you know,” he says. “What’s more important to me is writing what people want to read and making yourself an expert on it. When I sit down to write a book, it begins with a concept: What if X were to happen? In the case of MEG, it was, What if a giant shark was still alive from ancient times?” For entrepreneurs writing business blogs or articles, he says, “What’s important is that you pick an aspect that you know people are going to be enticed to read, and you do the research necessary and put your own creative spin on it.”
For instance, you can use Alten’s technique to pick a forward-looking topic and imagine ways it’s likely to come true, like “5 Ways the Apple Watch Will Improve Your Productivity” or “How Mobile Apps Will Change the Way Every Sales Professional Does Business.” Most importantly, his strategy doesn’t allow us the excuse that we don’t have anything interesting to say or we don’t know enough about a topic. The only answer is to go out and research it. Says Alten, “Some people equate it to writer’s block when you’re trying to write something based on the limited knowledge you have in your own brain. That’s why you’re stuck: You don’t have enough information. But if you decide on a topic people would be interested in, when you do research it, it will seed other ideas and you won’t be stuck anymore.”
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Alten also emphasizes the importance of reading widely to gain new ideas and insights. “Ideas come from everywhere,” he says. He developed the idea for MEG after reading an article about the Mariana Trench. “Some other ideas have come from articles or things I’ve watched on TV. Even dreams have spurred different ideas; you never know where it’s going to come from.” Make sure you capture your ideas as soon as they arise, whether on your smartphone or a pad of paper, to ensure you don’t lose them.
Finally, because entrepreneurs are pressed for time and content creation can easily be pushed to the backburner, it’s important to create habits and rituals that encourage you to write. For Alten, that’s exercising and handling email first thing in the morning. “Sometime around 11 o’clock, I’ll begin editing the work I did the day before, and I’ll try to write between three to six pages a day.” Of course, that doesn’t always happen because, like any entrepreneur, Alten sometimes faces emergencies that arise. But having a clear goal helps him stay focused. Setting your own goals, such as writing one blog post a week, can help ensure you stay on track and create a body of work that gets you noticed.