Was Margaret Atwood Really a Content Marketer?

The Booker Prize–winning novelist isn’t a content marketer, but she could be. Margaret Atwood, the acclaimed Canadian writer, environmentalist and “Game of Thrones” fan, proved that quiet confidence is all that’s needed to engage an audience.

She had half a basketball arena paying silent attention to her unscripted talk as part of Guilford College’s Bryan Series of speakers in Greensboro, NC, in March.

She discussed how she mixed realism into her speculative fiction and how much she cares about the health of our oceans and glaciers. She didn’t talk about content marketing directly, but it was impossible for me not to draw out three points that she was showing, and telling, for myself and other professional communicators.

Nail the Opening

From the mid-1960s to the mid-’70s, Atwood was a lecturer and assistant professor of English at North American colleges and universities. Now 75, she teaches much less frequently, but when she does, she only teaches the writing of first chapters. “Despite your wonderful message and plangent piece of writing on page 50, if you can’t get the reader past page one, forget it,” she says.

I wager that every writer has tried to backpedal from this edict. “I need to set the scene, establish trust,” we might say. Nope. Digital users’ attention spans are short, and the content marketing space is crowded. Without a compelling start, your work won’t connect.

“Stone Mattress,” the title story from a fiction collection published in in 2014, shows that Atwood practices what she preaches. She begins the story with, “At the outset, Verna had not intended to kill anyone. What she had in mind was a vacation, pure and simple.”

Want to know who Verna killed? Read the whole story online in The New Yorker.

Remember That People Do Judge a Book By its Cover

Atwood didn’t put her point in such clichéd terms, but she shared with the audience that she personally rewrites the dust jacket copy of her books.

Rewrite may be a gentle term. I imagine a select-all swoosh of her mouse across the editorial intern’s copy, then her grey curls bounce a bit as she strikes the “delete” key.

But who can blame her? If nailing the opening is vitally important, nailing the promotion is more than vitally important. For content marketers, this means putting the same care into tweets, email subject lines, navigation bars and metadata as goes into the content that these signposts are leading your audience to.

Embrace Multiple Media Forms

The full bibliography of Atwood includes some 14 novels, more than a dozen books of poetry, 10 volumes of nonfiction or literary criticism, three television scripts, eight children’s books and a primer on using social media for authors titled “Your Online Presence.”

In terms of content strategy, Atwood has the talent to go one better than a comprehensive distribution plan for messages, such as her environmental advocacy. She engages different audiences — book club readers, poetry critics, families reading bedtime stories — with the literary form they’re most comfortable with.

One of the more amusing examples of Atwood’s multimedia reach is her recent essay in The Guardian anticipating Season 5 of “Game of Thrones.” The piece has been widely retweeted, bringing Atwood into a very passionate fandom.