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A Book Apart

Read The Elements of Content Strategy book for free!

May 01, 2019

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Read The Elements of Content Strategy for free!

Read This Book for Free!

Just over eight years ago, we published the third title in our collection—a book that would change the content strategy landscape for years to come. Erin Kissane’s The Elements of Content Strategy stands the test of time in any format—print or digital—and now, we’re beyond delighted to make it available on the web. We’re celebrating the launch of the Elements book website, with a super wonderful Q&A with Erin.

Find out what inspired Erin to write this essential guide, what she sees as the most significant change in content strategy since the book first came out—and so much more.

And then head over to elements-of-content-strategy.abookapart.com to read the complete book online!


Author Erin Kissane headshot

ABA: What’s the first thing you do every morning to start your day on the right foot?

Erin Kissane: I don’t have an uplifting ritual as much as a dazed, grumpy stagger toward the coffee grinder, but my best days start out with my kid launching herself across the bedroom and landing on me while laugh-shrieking like a terrible elf.

ABA: What is your favorite thing about your workspace?

EK: Several thousand books within a few yards of my desk and a year-round view of greenery.

ABA: In your opinion, what should someone consider before starting out in web design / development?

EK: I try not to generalize, but I think digging into the foundations of your particular wedge of the field—antecedents, history, borders, ethics, that kind of thing—can set you up to build a sturdy, mature practice. Otherwise, I think it gets very easy to believe that your own necessarily limited experience is universally true or applicable, which is a brittle way to work and live.

ABA: Is there anyone you’re following the work of right now, that you’d recommend others pay attention to?

EK: Sara Hendren is such a powerhouse of incisive and creative thought about making things for everyone. I would strongly encourage anybody who makes things for people to get familiar with her work.

ABA: What does the tech industry need more of? Less of?

EK: More humility, less certainty. Less reflexive embrace of hyper-capitalism and false meritocracy and more black people.

ABA: In moments of self-doubt, how do you recharge and rally to keep going?

EK: I think self-doubt can be really helpful! Particularly if it encourages you to work on your skills, or to spend more time paying attention to the people you’re theoretically serving. But if self-doubt is keeping you quiet and afraid, building a small group of people you respect and trust to give you reality checks is a huge boost.

ABA: What is your go-to source of inspiration when you’re trying to get out of a creative rut?

EK: Sleep.

ABA: What characteristic do you most admire in other driven/creative people?

EK: I admire driven and creative people who consistently treat others well. If you both care about other people—colleagues, clients, end users, students—and give yourself permission to prioritize and express that care instead of considering it unprofessional or impractical, everything you touch will show it. It can be hard to fit that ethos into a lot of organizational cultures, but there are places that value it.

ABA: What’s the biggest sacrifice you’ve made to do the work you do?

EK: It has been the opposite of a sacrifice for me. Getting to work online and develop expertise doing something I like while collaborative with interesting people has been a huge privilege, and has also made my life so different than it would have been otherwise. I’ve been living with chronic, sometimes debilitating illness on and off since I was in high school, and being able to make a living on the web meant I could pay the bills even when I was really sick. I have been really, really lucky.

ABA: When did you know you first wanted to write this book? What was the ignition spark?

EK: I wrote Elements specifically because it felt like “content marketing” was eating the world and if someone didn’t sit down and bang out a sort of old-school handbook about EDITORIAL PRACTICE we were going to lose something that was genuinely useful. (It was really hard to try to keep it short and high level, and I wrote well over twice the final page count while I was drafting, but I still think a small handbook can be a really useful thing.)

ABA: What has been the most significant change in content strategy since the book first came out?

EK: I mean, Karen’s book came out. I think the main thing for content/editorial people is that if you weren’t taking mobile seriously in 2011, you could kind of skate on it, but now you’re just not professionally functional unless it’s at the center of your work. And also there’s the thing where many of us in capital-T Tech are helping destroy democracy and destabilize our societies in really dangerous ways.

ABA: Why was the topic of content strategy so important in 2011?

EK: Content strategy was important in 2011 because most content on the internet was a gigantic, user-hostile disaster. It still is, but in more insidious ways. Companies have grown out of a lot of the confusing structures and goofy presentation mistakes, but while those changes have made fundamentally helpful things better, they have also made fundamentally destructive things more effective. We’re soaking in dark patterns and deceptive surveillance practices, but, you know, it’s more user-friendly in a very surface way.

At the same time, most orgs that don’t reach the Facebook/Google/Amazon scale still have to deal with the basics: how to make content that works for actual people and then keep it working well over time. If you want to make something that is both good and either big or complicated on the internet, you have to get down underneath all the free-floating brand aspirations and deal with the reality of what users need and what organizations can actually keep up with over the long term. Then you can build something useful that actually gets better with time. Content strategy, editorial strategy, whatever you want to call it, is still the only way I know of to do that.


Check out the brand-new Elements book website today!