A few years ago, the number of books that taught editorial strategy and content planning for the web could be counted on one hand—and many of those focused only on writing and style, or on content-as-marketing-tactic. This winter, the full weight of our mini-industry’s labors has hit the bookshelf, and the shelf is on the verge of collapsing in happiness.
Two New CS Books, Both Alike in Dignity
Earlier this year, we got the second editions of two classics, Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach’s Content Strategy for the Web and Ginny Redish’s Letting Go of the Words—and Margot Bloomstein’s brand new Content Strategy at Work, which offers chapter after chapter of helpful real-world content strategy case studies. And now we have two additions to the field. The first is Karen McGrane’s Content Strategy for Mobile, which was published by A Book Apart in October, and the second is Sara Wachter-Boettcher’s Content Everywhere, out from Rosenfeld Media this week. Both books dig into structured content practices discussed on the very large scale in the tech communication and “intelligent content” fields, but within familiar web-industry contexts. Both are designed to help you figure out how to publish good content across platforms and devices without running your editorial team into the ground. Both are rightfully psyched about the brilliant cross-platform content strategy work going on at NPR.
So which one should you buy? Good question. It depends on who you are and what you’re trying to accomplish.
A Primer on the Future of Content Strategy
In Content Strategy for Mobile, Karen McGrane does something sneaky: she uses “mobile” as a lens through which to examine a huge range of publishing mistakes, challenges, and tactics. Then she flips it around and sets you up to use “mobile” as both rationale and cover for smart content strategy retooling within your organization. (The double-sneakiness of Karen’s angle is somewhat mitgated by the fact that she confesses it on the first page of the book, but it’s still a wonderful trick.) The book is an orientation in next-generation content publishing online, and although it’s quite short (about 150 small pages), it covers an enormous range of topics, including chapters on adaptive content, strategy and planning, writing and editing, information architecture, and workflow. It’s sharp, funny, and relentlessly practical, while staying high-level enough to be intelligible to executives and other people who aren’t actively making content every day. Think of it as the Matrix-style download of high-level everything about multiplatform publishing, with extra emphasis on mobile interfaces and some devastating debunking of mobile-related myths and assumptions.
Who should read it: Anyone who is involved in publishing content on the web or in apps of any kind, ever. Easy decision.
Where can I buy it? The A Book Apart website offers print and DRM-free ebook versions, both of which are gorgeous. (Anyone selling it on Amazon is a ridiculous overpriced reseller, so don’t bother with that.)
A Manual for Cross-Platform Execution
Content Everywhere is a content practitioner’s dream manual. Sara Wachter-Boettcher (last name rhymes with “doctor catcher”) has created an astonishingly detailed master class in the execution of cross-platform content, shored up with dozens of real-life examples, step-by-step walkthroughs, and mini-interviews with content strategists. The book goes all the way down, including detailed examinations of specific processes designed to bridge editorial needs and technical realities, without every losing sight of the human readers we make all this stuff for. It also includes sections on making the case for structured content within organizations, and chapters on adaptive content, content reuse, and findability. That might sound dry, but Wachter-Boettcher has pulled off the advanced maneuver of writing a detailed book about complex practices that manages to be both reassuring and soulful.
Who should read it: Writers, editors, content managers, content strategists, information architects, and CMS makers, for a start. If you’ve been hearing about structured content, but haven’t quite been able to get your head around what it is and why you should care, this is the book that will make it all clear, and even interesting.
For a long time, there were so many troubled projects and organizations that if you could do any kind of content strategy work reasonably well, you could find a position: editors could mostly edit, marketers could market, techcomm folks could manage documentation and techcomm strategy, and haters could do what they do best. There’s still a ton of work to go around, but now that “the web” no longer means “on a computer at a desk,” it’s getting harder and harder to do editorial work without understanding multiplatform publishing principles and practices (it’s also making less and less sense to work on technically sophisticated systems without attending closely to editorial processes and values, but that’s a story for another day). These two books, taken together, are an ideal path for people with strong editorial and writing skills—or a generalist web background—who want to engage the new world we’re publishing into.
If you work in or near content strategy and aren’t already immersed in multiplatform publishing, your chances of learning how to do it from masters in the field—without traveling long distances or attending expensive conferences—just got much, much better. Give yourself the holiday present of being awesome: buy both books, give yourself a handful of evenings to read them with a pen in hand, and hit 2013 ready to kick the ass of every complicated project you see.