A content audit is a process for creating an inventory of your published and unpublished content in print and/or digital formats. Your inventory becomes your library. Your library becomes the source for your marketing and publication strategies.
Why Is This Important?
When you know what content you have and how it is organized, your mind shifts from stumbling through your memory, searching for "what's the name of the file with..." to working efficiently "I know where and how to search for my source material."
After all, you never know when the editors at a prestigious journal such as The Felis Catus Literary Review will issue their call for submissions. When they do, you'll be ready to tap your content library for text, photos, video, maybe even an infographic to include in your authoritative piece, perhaps one entitled Stalking the Finicky Narrative: Polydactyl Cats from Herodotus to Hemingway.
You chuckle (I hope) but seriously, most writers, especially scholars, store their valuable content in physical and virtual file drawers. In darkness their content sits collecting dust mites, or dust bytes, instead of connecting with readers.
Often, I find that clients think of their book chapters as building blocks toward one conclusion rather than expandable Legos designed to invite multiple discussions. Milestone dates, quotes, images, statistics, and illustrations can be combined and repurposed as new projects that will generate more credibility, visibility and income.
Last June, at the Society of Scholarly Publishers meeting in Boston, I listened to editors and publishers talk about everything from content management and licensing to social analytics. All agreed that author education is the foundation and future of publishing.
The purpose of this blog post is to help you take the first step toward author education, which means thinking like a publisher in terms of content assets, distribution, and audience reach.
6 Easy Content Audit Tips
Tip #1: Cultivate Relationships with Librarians.
For good reason, there is a trend among publishers to hire librarians or recent graduates with an M.S. in Library Science as marketers. On average, people submit 3.5 billion Google searches every day. Whether or not you purchase a book from your local bookstore (shout out to Book Culture, NYC) or from Amazon, you probably tapped a few choice keywords into Google about the topic, the author, or reviews of the book before you made the purchase.
Put yourself in the reader's shoes. Why would he or she buy your book? Which search terms would someone use that would lead them to your book? Ask a librarian to run a few advanced searches on your possible titles and keywords related to your expertise.
The Internet is like a gigantic Lernaean Hydra. Think of your local librarian as Athena with her golden sword. She'll help you to slash through the multilayers of search and discovery for your content in order to set your keywords straight.
Tip #2: Organize Your Content by Type
In our digital world, readers discriminate among content types. Social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc., also discriminate among different content types by scoring them in terms of relevance and value. These scores determine the audience size and distribution of your content.
Create four main headings: text, images, audio, and video. No piece of content is too small. For instance, under Text, include inspirational quotes, book lists, checklists, factoids, statistics, etc. With images, separate illustrations, infographics, single photos and montages. Do the same for audio and video content.
When you distill your content and organize into its granular bits, you are building your own content library. This is similar to how a publisher indexes content for their own content management.
Tip #3. Review Your Current Organization
When you start to notice the myriad of places your content lives, it can feel overwhelming to consider a systematic process to organize and to manage it.
First, consider how you name your files.
At Stanford Libraries, they offer this simple handout on best practices for file naming. A consistent method for naming your files is the foundation of efficient content management.
The next step is to consider folders and their location. Do you keep individual folders for each project? Do these folders live on your laptop, thumb drive or in the cloud?
If you use a file cabinet, does its organization mirror how you organize files on your computer?
It is wise to have a physical back-up system for your work and to keep it current with electronic files. One never knows when a virus or a hack of some kind could wipe out all of your electronic files.
Tip #3. Synchronize Your Devices
Just as it is a good idea to have your digital files mirror your physical files, you will work more efficiently when you use the same applications across all of your devices and have them synced in real time.
Now, I am not suggesting that we join hands and hop together on the Elon Musk Neuralink bus, where he envisions integrating artificial intelligence with human consciousness in order to communicate our thoughts through "the cloud."
I am suggesting that you consider your working style and your primary device. For instance, if you do most of your writing on a laptop or desktop computer, it will be helpful to choose smart device applications that also have the functionality for a desktop or laptop, not all of them do. The trend among developers is to create applications for mobile only.
If your working style is mobile, your device is your office. Take advantage of free classes or online tutorials in order to master full integration of your applications.
Tip #4: Focus on Your Goal (and write it down)
According to Dr. Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at the Dominican University in California, you become 42% more likely to achieve your goals by writing them down on a regular basis. Yet another reason why I keep a simple daily business journal and advise my clients to do the same. What you put in writing becomes your reality.
And now the cool thing is that if you have organized your content by type and you know how to access it, you are ready to think in terms of marketing your work as a campaign directed toward your goal. For instance, if you want to be the cover feature on The Felis Catus Literary Review, create a social marketing plan that will support your pitch, where your objective is to facilitate conversations.
5. Take One Action Step (and then another)
Creating change starts with choosing a perspective. For example, you can stand in the perspective of "this is too much work," or "it won't make a difference," or "content is king," which happens to be the publisher's perspective. Next, consider a point from this post that resonates with you. How can you build on your present content foundation and advance the goal that you wrote down?
With one of your own projects, choose a starting point. As you organize the content for it, you'll begin to make decisions on how each content type should be labeled and organized.
Following our example of Stalking the Finicky Narrative, maybe you have a list of milestone dates in the life of Herodotus and his influence on recording history. As the Father of History, he's an excellent teacher regarding the practice of systematically organizing content.
You might turn his milestone dates into a visual timeline that can be shared and discussed.
On the other hand, maybe you took dozens of pictures or shot some video clips while doing research on Hemingway in Key West. Pair a few choice pictures with quotes by Hemingway, for example.
Tip #6: Be Consistent for Long-term Success
Writing is a competitive business and the publishing climate can be harsh. What I've shared with you is a process for building your skills and for learning how you might think strategically about your content--every day.
To give your content nine lives or more, put these tips into practice today!