What Is a Content Calendar? The Beginner’s Guide

Savannah Cordova explains  what is a content calendarToday’s post comes from Savannah Cordova. Savannah is a writer and content marketer with Reedsy, a platform that connects authors and publishers with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. In her spare time, Savannah enjoys reading contemporary fiction and writing short stories.

What Is a Content Calendar? The Beginner’s Guide

If you’re a writer looking to expand your audience, there are certain tips you’ll hear over and over again: Start a blog. Get on social media. Ask people to subscribe to your mailing list. They’re so oft-repeated because they work: when it comes to growing your audience, there’s simply no better tactic than building personal relationships.

But these tips are also useless if you don’t actually offer your readers any content. What’s the point of following a Twitter account that never tweets, or a blog that never updates? This might seem glaringly obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many people make a strong start on social media and other platforms, only to drop off the map within weeks.

Of course, continuously producing and posting high-quality content is harder than it looks (as any writer will know all too well). So how can you ensure that your platforms stay active and engaging across the board, while not burning yourself out?

The answer is a content calendar — which is exactly what this post is about! Let’s start with what a content calendar is, and the myriad benefits of having one.

What is a content calendar and why do you need one?

A content calendar is pretty much what it sounds like: a schedule of content to be posted on your preferred platforms at regular intervals. The goal is to provide a steady stream of material for your followers/fans to enjoy — which keeps both parties  “content” in an emotional sense as well! You won’t undergo last-minute stress about what to post, and they’ll know that they can rely on you for consistent and interesting content.

Besides maintaining your readers’ happiness and your own sanity, other practical benefits of content calendars include:

  1. Better collaboration. In a team environment, it’s incredibly helpful to have an all-inclusive document with everyone’s assignments and due dates. Each person knows exactly what they’re working on and when it should be completed, which increases accountability and efficiency. And if you want to look at a colleague’s work for reference or to edit, it’ll be easy to find! Even if you’re a one-person team at the moment, you may as well get into the habit. This ensures that you’ll be ready if you ever do need to collaborate with someone else in the future — not to mention you’ll be more accountable to the cold hard deadlines you set.
  2. More strategic scheduling. Sans content calendar, you can still turn out posts that your readers will enjoy, but it’ll be much harder to strategize your long-term goals for them. For example, if you have a book coming out soon, you’ll want your content to gradually lead up to the release so readers will be excited to buy it! This entails putting promos and teasers on your platforms for weeks, maybe months, in advance of your launch — which will be a lot more taxing if you don’t have a calendar to plan it. You may also want to focus on a specific topic or theme during a certain time period (for example, NaNoWriMo-related posts during November). Without a calendar to outline those posts and space them appropriately, you’ll end up scrabbling for content when you need it the most.
  3. Tracking your progress. Once you’ve been using a content calendar for awhile, it becomes a great tool not just for planning, but also for tracking your progress. Soon you’ll be able to look back on your calendar and clearly see the trajectory of your content and how it’s (hopefully) improved over time! Patterns will start to emerge as to what sort of content does especially well for you, so you can work on maximizing what works… and minimizing what doesn’t.

In other words, the question isn’t so much why should you have a content calendar, but why shouldn’t you? Considering all the benefits (and how easy they are to create, as you’ll see soon) it’s a no-brainer. Now, let’s go over what kind of info your content calendar should include.

What kind of info goes on a content calendar?

There are endless ways to organize a content calendar. Depending on your preferred platforms, posting frequency, and what level of detail you want, your final product might look totally different from the following example.

That said, to give you a more concrete idea, here’s what a week of our Reedsy content calendar might look like:

Reedsy content calendar

This is fairly minimalist as calendars go, but we have all the essential info, which covers:

  • Type of content. What sort of content do you want to focus on? You may want to incorporate blog posts (as we do), upcoming newsletters, webinars/presentations, and social media posts. That said, I wouldn’t recommend putting all of your tweets on your main content calendar, as this can overcrowd things a bit.
  • Prospective titles and/or links. Include as much or as little detail as you want here. Just a title (or even working title) can suffice, or you might want a brief summary of what each piece of content should involve and achieve. The latter can be especially helpful if you’re delegating to others!
  • The person assigned to create it. This is pretty self-explanatory, but absolutely necessary if you’re working in a team, so no one gets their wires crossed. Be sure to notify each person when you’ve assigned them something on the calendar.
  • Due dates. We don’t have individual due dates, but everyone is expected to get their assignments finished (or almost finished) by the end of the week. You may want to be more specific, especially if you’re on a tight schedule, e.g. posting something new every day — in that case, create a separate section for deadlines.
  • Notes/comments. Use this section to note all other important info (“Make sure to talk about X, Y, and Z in this post” and such). Also, when each assignment has been completed, the creator can mark it as “Done” with a link to the Google Doc or the published post.

You may also want to include the following extra elements in your calendar:

  • Themes for “clusters” for posts. As I mentioned, you’ll probably have weeks where you want your content to stick to a particular topic or lead up to a special event. And while you know exactly how these pieces of content relate to each other, the rest of your team might not — plus you might forget about your original intentions! This is why it can be useful to mention the theme of each “cluster” you envision on your calendar. (We’ll talk more about these clusters in the second post of our series.)
  • Keywords you’re targeting. Are you trying to improve your SEO? Use your content calendar to keep track of which keyword(s) should be in your blog posts. Again, this can be very helpful when looking back on your content down the line, to measure how successful you were.
  • Brainstorming section. If you want to keep a record not just of logistical details, but of how the sausage gets made, you can also have a section of brainstorming and progress notes. Be warned, however, that — as with recording every single one of your tweets — this may cause your calendar to become unwieldy.

Again, the information that goes on your content calendar is entirely up to you. If you like to keep things simple and clean, you could just have titles and due dates. Or maybe you’re the Michelangelo of organization and your content calendar is an elaborate work of art! Whatever works for you, go for it. And speaking of working for you…

What tools can you use to create a content calendar?

You’re probably already thinking about how best to build your content calendar — and again, the tool you use is completely up to you. But here are my personal recommendations depending on your circumstances:

  • If you work alone and can survive without relying on the Internet, use Microsoft Excel.
  • If you don’t have Excel and don’t want to pay for it, use OpenOffice or a similar open-source program.
  • If you work collaboratively and have easy access to the Internet, use Google Sheets. This is what we use at Reedsy — it’s pretty fast, intuitive, and great for teams.
  • If you prefer a more visual component to your calendar (i.e. you want it to actually look like a calendar), use Google Calendar or a calendar maker like Calendar Labs. Of course, you can always add a little color or special formatting to a spreadsheet calendar if you want it to “pop” more.

Indeed, you may have to play around with your tools, the info you include, and even which platforms you favor before you find the right balance. But once you’ve finally cracked the content calendar code, you’ll wonder how you ever went without one.

Stay tuned for the next post in our series, “How to Create Your Perfect Content Calendar.”

Connect with Reedsy at Twitter / Instagram

The Email List and Why You Should Develop One

building an email list

Developing your own email list is the smartest marketing move with the greatest return on investment (ROI) you can make. Why?

In 2017,

  • 3.7 billion people used email.
  • 269 billion business and consumer emails were sent and received per day — and that number is expected to continue to grow at an average annual rate of 4.4% over the next four years.
  • 65 percent of email users worldwide accessed email on their mobile devices.

(source: The Radicati Group, Inc., 2017)

In fact, sixty-six percent of online consumers made a purchase after receiving an email marketing message — which is more than social media and direct mail, according to the Data & Marketing Association.

And transactions from email are three times more profitable than those made on social media, reports the global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company.

Unlike the social media sites, you own your email list, and you don’t have to worry about whether your content will get censored.

What does an email list represent?

It represents:

Fans

These are people who already like what you’re doing and have given you express permission to contact them.

Potential buyers

Your fans already like what you are doing and are eager to know what you’ll next have to offer.

Potential promoters

Fans like being a part of what you do. Like anyone who says “That movie was awesome. You’ve got to go see it.”, they are just as eager to promote your products.

Don’t limit your thinking to book reviews. Fans like to be a part of what you do as you launch a product.

Publishers view your email list for what it is: a group of people primed to buy your book.

What does it take to start an email list?

The very basics are…

  1. Your own website
  2. An email service provider
  3. (optional, though highly recommended) A lead magnet (a free digital item) that readers can download in exchange for their email addresses. This freebie needs to relate to the topic of your website/blog.

I recommend you create your own lead magnet, but there are websites that offer PLR (Private Label Rights) content. The original author sells their rights to their content so that others can use it, put their name on it as the writer/creator. It can save time from creating your own content by using it all as is, or making edits to give it some of your own voice (thank you, Kim Steadman of Write More Write Now).

Some sites to investigate for PLR:  (does not constitute endorsement)

DailyFaithPLR.com
PLR.me
PLRofthemonth.club
TheHappyJournals.club
Freshplrpossibilities.com

What to look for in an email list service provider.

A wide array of providers compete for this business. Many offer a free option, which is helpful to those who are beginning and not bringing in enough money to cover the expense of a paid provider. Most providers base their prices on how many subscribers your list has.

I use Aweber, and highly recommend it; however, they do not offer a free option. I’ve recently seen MailerLite in action and would recommend it as well. It does have a free option. Aside from price, here are several things you want to examine:

  • Email automation (this is a must-have)
  • Ability to tag subscribers
  • Double opt-in upon subscribing (ensures you don’t have undeliverable addresses on your list)
  • Integration with other applications
  • Customer Support
  • Tutorials about using their service via webinars or in their help center
  • Templates for building your emails
  • Monthly email limits

Before deciding on a provider, compute your email needs.

You might look at MailerLite’s 12,000 emails/month under their free option and think, wow, 12,000. I’ll never send that many in a month.

Let’s crunch the numbers (yes, you can use a calculator).

Let’s pretend you email your list twice a week and your list is 100 people. That’s a total of 200 emails in one week.

Yes, 200. To you it seems like only two emails because that’s all you’re writing, but that same email is going to 100 people each time.

So how many times do you intend to email your list every month? Do you already have 1000 people who read your website/blog that will jump at the opportunity to subscribe once you offer it? If so, that means you could quickly reach your 12,000/month limit. You want a strong list, but know what you’ll pay your email provider once you go beyond the free option.

Often, the bigger question is what to write in those emails. Get Aweber’s free What to Write pdf that includes 45+ fill-in-the-blank email templates to help you get started.

Do you have a question about starting an email list? Leave it in the comments below.

Contains affiliate links.

Preparing for NaNoWriMo

preparing for NaNoWriMo

Why am I talking about preparing for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in September when it doesn’t take place until November?

Because now is the time to begin preparing, especially if you work a day job and fit your writing in late at night or in the predawn hours of your day or are haphazard in your writing time.

When I first heard about NaNoWriMo, I thought it was a writing contest where they’d give you an opening line and you had to write a story from that line. I couldn’t have been further from the reality.

NaNo is simply a month dedicated to getting your book written. A focused time to write that you can share with thousands of other writers.

But you’re aiming for 50,000 words, whether that completes your story or is only a portion of it. That means you must write 1,667 words per day for 30 days or 12,500 in a week to meet that word count.

Are you putting out that kind of word count now?

Are you dedicating at least one day a week to your writing?

If neither of the above apply, you’re going to have a hard time writing 50,000 words in November.

So, now is a good time for preparing for NaNoWriMo. At the least, you can make the determination that you’ll use that month to develop better writing habits for yourself.

The NaNo website offers a wide variety of helps, from writing tutorials to online groups you can join for connection to local groups and events. It’s not that you sit and chat at these local groups, it’s just that you have other people around you focused on writing, and that community helps you stay focused and feel less isolated.

Preparing for NaNoWriMo

If you want to get 50,000 words written in one month, you’ve got to start the month with your story planned. That is, unless you’ve already proven to yourself that you can write that many words in one month as a seat-of-the-pants writer. If not, then I suggest you plan your…

  • Theme
  • Plot
  • Setting
  • Characters
  • Characters’ Arcs
  • Top 10 scenes

This will allow you to do nothing but write when November arrives. You don’t want to sit staring at a blank screen because you don’t know your plot or the protagonist’s story goal or how the antagonist is going to hinder the protagonist.

If you write fantasy, this planning becomes even more critical because you’ve got to build your story world.

Plan Your Menu

Planning your participation now also allows you to also think about food—yes, that all important sustenance that will keep you writing (and your family happy).

I always encourage participants to prepare and freeze meals prior to November so you aren’t spending time cooking every day. (OK, I admit, I’m not crazy about cooking, so planning ahead helps me.)

Do you have a slow cooker? Use it! Can your spouse or teenagers in the house do the cooking one night or more?

For 10 ideas on how to prepare your meals and an easy lunchtime recipe, read my post “Grocery Shopping for NaNoWriMo.”

What Do I Win?

Do you get a prize at the end? No, but you can earn personal achievement badges along the way. Your biggest satisfaction comes in having 50,000 words, or more, of your book done.

Here is link that tells you all about NaNoWriMo and how it works. They even have a page called NaNo Prep (which began yesterday) that offers resources to plan your novel.

If you have some doubts about participating, read my post “Lessons from NaNoWriMo” to discover what I learned about myself and my writing, and how it might help you do the same.

Creating Unforgettable Characters, Part 5 Conflict

conflict between two menConflict.

In real life, most people try to avoid it, but a story without conflict is like a latte without coffee. In fact, if your story has no conflict, you haven’t got a story.

Let’s first look at conflict from a big picture view: external and internal.

External conflict comes from outside your character—the people, circumstances, or forces of nature your protagonist faces in reaching the story goal.

Internal conflict comes from within your character. Fears, lack of confidence, false beliefs, and more that hinder your character reaching the goal. Quite often, the internal struggle isn’t apparent to your character until later in the story.

The conflicts (external or internal) must be plausible and legitimate, not contrived. Think about [Read more…]

Creating Unforgettable Characters, Part 4 Body Language

body languageIf you close your eyes during a meeting, what message are you sending your colleagues? Is that message universal?

Body Language

While there are several facial expressions universal to the world, the interpretation of body language varies from culture to culture. Misinterpreted body language opens the door to miscommunication. For the fiction writer, this means the opportunity to advance the conflict between your protagonist and antagonist.

Do you consider yourself adept at deciphering body language? [Read more…]

Snag a Publisher!

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Get Published!

Looking for a publisher? Then be sure to get 5 Things Every Writer Needs to Do When Submitting a Manuscript (make sure you avoid these common mistakes). Sign up below for your free download.
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