Online writing is an Art and a Business. And Nicolas Cole wants me — and you — to be successful in it.
Awesome, sweet, and very welcome, to me at least. I’ve been working in online marketing, blogging and writing for about 9 years now. I’ve written hundreds of blogs, both on personal accounts as well as for customers and employers.
Sure, with this much practice I’ve had some successes and certainly helped people grow their business with my writing, but by no means have I ‘made it’, or ‘beaten the game’. Nicolas seems to have done just that. And I wanna learn.
From his Amazon author page: “Nicolas Cole is an author, viral writer & ghostwriter, and founder of Digital Press [a firm that among other things does ghostwriting for CEOs, venture capitalists, sports pros and world famous musicians].
He is best known for his conversational writing technique and has accumulated more than 100 million views to date.” 100 million views. Holy sh*t. If anyone can help you or me get to the next level of writing, I’m fairly convinced Nicolas can.
And if I wouldn’t have been convinced before picking up his book The Art and Business of Online Writing — after reading through it in just two days,
I sure am.
Practice in Public to get Better at your Craft — 30 for 30
Nicolas wants you and me to be successful in writing online.
So much so, that accompanying his book, he has created an online program called Ship 30 for 30, together with portfolio manager and former Princeton football player Dickie Bush.
Ship 30 for 30 is an online writing course that helps, inspires and drives aspiring writers to write and publish 30 short essays in 30 days. The end result of which being that you will have ingrained the habit of writing and publishing online. And then some.
According to the information I can find on 30 for 30 and according to ‘The Art of…’ Nicolas wants me to practice in public. Well here goes, Nick.
5 Takeaways from The Art and Business of Online Writing — How to Beat the Game of Capturing and Keeping Attention
1. Beat the Game
The first takeaway you get from the book is in the “Beat the Game” part of its title.
Nicolas — who comes from the world of online gaming and was once one of the top X players of WoW in the world — views online writing exactly as that: a game. A game you should be trying to hack, ethically. Figure out the rules, the logic, and how to win.
His logic is that whether you realize it or not, if you’re writing online, you’re vying for someone’s attention. And guess what, so are approximately 4 billion other humans. If you want to reach anyone through your online writing, or if you want to reach any kind of goal with your words other than to ‘simply have them out there’, you first need to realize this is like a game you’re playing. Your goal is figuring out how to maximize your chances of winning.
The next takeaway that flows from that, is what data you need to be tracking to know if you’re, well, on the right track. How else could you ever hope to win anything?
2. Get Discovered and Start Capturing Data: Write on Social Platforms
Do not begin writing on your own blog.
Don’t even start thinking about creating a blog. Instead, start writing on social media and social writing platforms, such as Medium or Wattpad if you’re a fiction writer. Unless if you want to write for just you and your mom.
What social media channels have that your own blog doesn’t, is an in-built audience. And discoverability. This is how you first get people to notice you.
Nicolas advises us to practice in public, and pay very close attention to what people want to hear from us about. What articles or posts get viewed? Which get liked, reacted to, or shared? These are all the points you need to earn to win the game. And the feedback that tells you if you’re headed in the right direction.
Now, what do you need to get people to notice your writing on social platforms? Headlines. Punchy, Attention-Grabbing, but not-Clickbaity Headlines. You want to be succesful, not a succesful *sshole.
3. A Proven Formula for Writing Awesome Headlines: What about, Who for, and PROMISE
According to Nicolas’ years of experience, over 100 million views and all of data analisys associated with it, there’s a pretty crisp and clear formula for a headline that makes it almost impossible for people not to want to read your stuff.
A “perfect” headline tells the reader quickly and clearly:
- What this story is about.
- Who this story is for.
- The PROMISE — the problem this story is going to help you solve and/or what results you’ll be getting*.
*This is where the non-*sshole and non-Clickbait aspect comes in: make sure you make due on your PROMISE as well as you possibly can, at all times.
And that’s basically it. Use keywords near the beginning of your title. Don’t give away the conclusion. Use as little words as possible, and of course create a few versions before you settle on your title.
Oh, and contrary to my preferred way of working up until now:
Write your headline first, and then write the article or story itself.
Because “If you can’t say exactly what you want to say in one sentence, chances are you won’t be able to say it in 500–2000 words, or more.”
Ok, so how do you create the perfect article starting from that headline?
4. Structuring the Perfect Post
1/3/1. Or 1/5/1. Or 1/1/2/1. Sorry, what?
In case you’re wondering, these are structures for paragraphs that Nicolas swears by, and the numbers correspond to the number of consecutive sentences you should write in each paragraph.
One-sentence paragraphs alternated with three- or five-sentence paragraphs help you create rhythm. As do short sentences in cadence with longer ones.
Your paragraphs should line up neatly to tell your story from beginning to end, in such a way that your story unfolds clearly from your Title and Introduction. Your introduction should preferably begin with one simple, strong sentence. Think about the outline for your post after your title and intro.
Then write. And try to unveil new information to your reader with every new sentence, wherever possible.
The overall structure for your entire post should always follow this basic guideline:
- X main points.
- Strong conclusion.
From a human psychology perspective, I would personally add that in most cases, 3 main points is the maximum you want to aim for.
Unless you’re making a listicle, or if you otherwise can’t avoid it.
People can generally fairly easily remember one main point and three supporting ideas. And share it with others. More than that is going to be a stretch for most humans, including your readers. If they can’t remember what you said, chances are they will be much less likely to come back, let alone to recommend you to a friend.
5. Content Strategy, Calls-to-Action and Actually Making Money: Take it Easy
In the final part of the book, Nicolas makes a point, and fairly strongly so.
When, after, and only when and after you’ve spent a considerable amount of time (6 to 12 months) writing online, practicing and honing your writing skills in public, paying attention to what people want to read about from you by analyzing your data, and creating an audience — only then should you start thinking about ways to start making money.
Only then is it potentially sensible to create your own blog, and try to move people from the social platforms they’re already on, to your new environment.
Only then does it start making sense to create pillar content, like collections of successful pieces around a certain topic (which might help you rank for certain search queries and be found organically).
Only then will it be useful and will you be skilled enough — and most of all understand your own value to your audience enough — to think about creating even more valuable content such as books and online courses, to sell to your customers.
If and when you then try to direct people to your stuff, do so within context and with a link within the flow of the text. Like I might do right here, to give you an example of how that’s done and at the same time subtly refer to my upcoming book on ‘How to Find and Live your Purpose, Communicate and Live it’ — which is my own specialization within the realm of Storytelling.
I bet you saw what I did there.
Now, all of the above is much less relevant if you want to go with the add model for content monetization. Oh, and you could always go with the subscription model; there is one social writing platform that Nicolas calls out in the book as one to watch for writers for the coming years, and that’s Substack. Google it, and watch it. Maybe even try it out.
My Two Cents: My Only Beef with Nicolas Cee, Dickie Bee and Gary Vee and Other Proponents of the More Content is Better Doctrine
I loved The Art and Business of Online Writing.
So much so that I not only felt compelled to write a review and summary, but also wanted to put some of its lessons into practice right away. Practice in public. Alternating one-sentence paragraphs with 5- or 3-sentence paragraphs. Revealing information at a higher pace, sentence upon sentence, than I am used to, by far. Check.
But. There is One problem I feel I have with the book. On a personal level and on the level of my personal view on society and the digital part of it.
Creating and publishing more content means more spins of the wheel, in the Digital Vegas that our online social landscape has become. It gives us much more chances to be discovered, to connect, and to help people. It increases chances, ideally, for all of us.
I get that.
But. If the Facebooks, Twitters, TikToks and so on are the casinos in this Digital Vegas, and if a lot of us are actually becoming “gambling addicts “— as I partially warn against in my last book on the psychological impact of digital innovation, and which from the data on mental health and overuse of digital tech seems to be at least a plausible point of view;
And if our social feeds are like the slot machines, and we as users are the players who keep pulling the next chance of a shot of winner-juice, and it’s pretty clear to all of us who would be the house in this Digital Vegas scenario;
…Then what is the role of us content creators?
Maybe we should think about our responsibilty a bit more. Maybe sometimes less can be more. Maybe, it pays off for everyone if we all write more, and publish more — but publish less than we write. Maybe, just maybe, having a small focus-group type of people who could vet and validate our ideas before we push them out into the world, could give us the best of both worlds:
An objective check to see which of all the ideas we could deep-dive in and share with the world and the best content reaching the most people possible.
And maybe then everyone gets a chance at winning. The only one that truly loses, in this scenario, would be The House.