You might be wondering how a children’s book series relates to content marketing. After all, most of us stopped reading Magic Tree House books once our kids entered the Harry Potter/Twilight stage of reading maturity. If you’ll indulge me for a couple of minutes I think you’ll be as surprised as I was to see that an afternoon with my 10-year-old son mopping up adventure stories was full of parallels to content marketing best practices.
For those not familiar with the Magic Tree House it is a 48+ book series for young readers about Jack and Annie’s time traveling adventures in their backyard tree house. The authors just celebrated the 20th anniversary of their very first book. My son and I were lucky enough to visit with Mary Pope Osborne the brainchild behind the series at a local book store. The audience for the chat was more varied than you might expect. There were both lots of boys and girls and the children ranged from 4 – 10 years old.
There are few book series that pump out high volumes of material, but also span generations and gender of readers. Nancy Drew/Hardy boys, possibly Clifford, come to mind. I’m sure you can think of one or two others. But it is safe to say publishing so many stories that appeals to a wide range of children is quite the accomplishment.
When the children asked Ms. Osborne about her writing process my content marketing antenna when extremely active. Here are a few content marketing best practices that she reminded me to practice.
Plan for failure, don’t give up – When children read the Magic Tree House they are whisked away to an imaginary world that draws out their creativity and sense of adventure. After reading several of the stories the tree house itself seems like such a natural part of the story, one can’t imagine main characters Jack & Annie traveling any other way. If fact, Mrs. Osborne tells us that the Magic Tree House was her fourth attempt at telling a time-travelling children’s story. She jokingly reminds the kids that they never read the first three versions because they didn’t work. The same will be true for our own content marketing efforts. Not everything we publish will be well received, but the process of trying makes us better.
Editing is essential – Magic Tree House books go through 20-30 edit cycles before they are released for families to enjoy. Stories are never just right the first time. No, I don’t expect us to go back to the days when editors took weeks of reviews before we could publish a white paper. Nor do you need a 5 person committee to edit each blog post. But, good editing is an important part of the writing process and as marketers we shouldn’t forget to build it into our publishing calendars.
Ask your audience – My favorite part of the author chat was when Mrs. Osborne gave five new story ideas to the children and asked them to vote for their favorite one. Parent got to weigh in too – after all they pay for those books. She attributes this voting practice as a big part of the series success. If you want to have a LOT of your content read ask your audience what they want to learn about.
Write about your passions – When asked how the Magic Tree House idea was generated in the first place, Mrs. Osborne explains that the books combine all of her passions – history, travel and writing children’s books. Mrs. Osborne feels like she knows her characters, researches the historical time periods upon which she writes and often travels to the modern-day versions of the places she describes. We too must write about our passions. They may not be steep into magic adventures, but Content Marketing 101: If you don’t have passion for your product or service, no one else will either.
Expand your value – The Magic Tree House books are fiction. However, they aim to teach about a piece of our history, to explore problem solving techniques, and to inspire creativity. Because of this, several years ago Mrs. Osborne enrolled her sister to create non-fiction companions to many of her stories that explain the facts behind the fiction. Not only did Mrs. Osborne remind us that partnering for expertise is a great writing technique, but she found a creative way to expand the value of the stories/content that was being produced.
Always keep improving – After 20 years her very first story Dinosaurs Before Dark has certainly stood the test of time. But that doesn’t mean it was something that couldn’t be improved. Mrs. Osborne points out that even she’s “learned a few things after 20 years of writing the Magic Tree House series”. The anniversary edition has the same core story, but some refined language, color illustrations and just a bit more polish. For those of us writing content for marketing it’s easy to dismiss that white paper as “old” and move on to the next piece. Mrs. Osborne reminds us that good work can be updated and repurposed with just a little effort.
Thank you Magic Tree House for not only inspiring my son, but for motivating me to keep at the content marketing machine with creativity, focus and a view of the long-term.