If you’ve been reading this email newsletter for any length of time, you know my publishing approach is a mix of “crank n’ bank” and higher-quality content.
Crank ‘n bank means high volume publishing going after low competition keywords en masse.
Lots and lots and lots of content.
While I have measures in place to ensure the quality is decent, some of my content is merely decent bordering on mediocre.
BUT, some articles I publish are incredibly good. They’ve been updated many times. They rank for many, many keywords and in time haul in lots of traffic. They’re my near masterpieces.
It’s a balancing act.
In a perfect world every article I publish would go after high-value, high-volume keywords ranking #1 for all of them and be perfect in every way. And I’d be able to publish 500 of them daily. That’s not possible.
I’m constantly balancing my desire to scale and grow while maintaining quality.
We’re not the only industry that struggles with this balancing act
We’re kind of like musicians, novelists and film stars. Some will only produce the very best. Some prefer the volume strategy balancing some really, really high quality work with lesser in an effort to make more money. Some crank out work for the money.
Let’s compare Jonathan Franzen, James Patterson and John Grisham. All are best-selling novelists but they approach the business side of writing and selling novels very differently.
Jonathan Franzen takes years to write a novel. He crafts books. He’s all about writing literature; the very best. He’s won many awards.
James Patterson falls on the opposite end of the spectrum. He cranks multiple books out every year. They’re fairly cookie-cutter in format. It’s not literature, but it’s entertaining. He gives his audience what it wants.
John Grisham fall somewhere in between. He publishes one to two books each year. They’re all decent. I think his earlier work was better. I get the sense he’s dialed up the volume to make more money but overall I’m never disappointed reading his books.
Book sales and volume compared:
- Jonathan Franzen: 3,005,476 books sold (3 books)
- John Grisham: 300 million (28 books)
- James Patterson: 400 million (158 books).
As an aside, just for comparison, J.K. Rowling has sold 500 million books and that’s with only 6 books. I’d say that’s an exception; Harry Potter was a cultural phenomenon.
All of the above writers are successful but in different ways.
I liken my approach to John Grisham. A mix of excellent and decent for the most part. I’m not the highest volume publisher (not even close). But I crank out content regularly just like Grisham.
Similar comparisons can be made in music and film.
The “Franzen” blogger: Writes everything themselves. Cares most about quality. Output is slow and low but over time builds up a solid reputation within the niche.
The “Grisham” blogger: Writes some themselves but also hires writers to increase volume. The publisher is very hands on overseeing each article concerned that a certain quality standard is met but doesn’t expect every article to be a masterpiece. It needs to be good enough to satisfy the audience.
The “Patterson” blogger is a high, high volume blogger employing a large team of writers. Content is still decent; it meets search intent but it’s not exceptional. It does the job. The volume is what makes it a successful publishing biz.
What’s the point with all this?
The point is there is more than one way to approach this business. Just as authors, musicians and movie stars have different career strategies, so too do bloggers/publishers.
I’m definitely a middle-of-the-road, Grisham-style blogger. I enjoy being hands on. I enjoy writing content for my sites. But I also enjoy running it as a business and growing it as a publishing business.
I think there are apt comparisons when comparing their starts as well. Grisham’s first book (A Time to Kill) was a failure (but went on to be a huge success after he became successful). Patterson’s first book was rejected by 31 publishers.
Franzen’s success was slow in coming too. The Corrections, which was his breakthrough novel was his third book.
If you think writing a few hundred non-fiction articles takes a long time and is a lot of work, try writing a novel. I never bothered because I’m not a fiction writer, but I can imagine just how difficult and time-consuming it is… with absolutely no guarantee it’ll make a nickel.
When choosing an approach, you must be honest about your abilities
It’s all well and good for me to talk as if all of us can choose what type of blogger/publisher we become. The reality is most can’t be Franzens. Most people aren’t gifted writers. I’m not. I can try all I like but I’m not going to publish literary-level works in any niche.
That’s why I go the hybrid route. I do my best with some content. I have some very, very good writers who contribute excellent articles. But I know my limits and so I publish quite a bit of content all of which falls on various parts of the quality spectrum.
I also know my limits when it comes to creating a “manufacturing-style” publishing business. I’m not organized. I’m not very detailed. I’m not interested in creating the perfect high-volume publishing system. Most importantly, I’m not interested in directly employing dozens or hundreds of people. I’m not a good manager.
And so I work as best as I can accepting my strengths and limitations.
Mediocre content is still pretty good
When I talk about publishing lesser-quality, I’m not talking about 175 word nonsense. It’s still decent. It generally meets readers’ expectations (or attempts to).
Patterson’s books aren’t literature, but they are decent. In fact, his style and format is deliberate. He’s all about stripping out unnecessary words, sentences and paragraphs. His books read lightning fast. Short chapters. Real page turners.
Grisham’s style is more literary. The characters are fleshed out more. The plots are more nuanced and complex. His novels are almost always humorous. Grisham has a great sense of humor. But he also keeps the plot moving at a good clip.
Franzen luxuriates in language and character. There’s a plot but it meanders (intentionally). Every word is carefully considered.
My favorite writer of the above three is Grisham. I appreciate he publishes regularly. I buy them immediately. I typically drop whatever else I’m reading and read his latest. I guess it’s no surprise I take the Grisham approach to blogging.
Sometimes less than mediocre knocks it out of the park
I almost forgot to mention this. Sometimes, just like the Harry Potter phenomenon, major flukes can happen with content. One of my more successful articles ever published cost me $20 from a pretty low-quality content service. Moreover, when I placed the order, I let the writers choose the topics (I was green back then). Since November 2014, that $20 article has generated 349,657 sessions. At $30 ad rpm, that’s $10,470 for what was at best a mediocre article. I’ve since improved it just because it was a huge success quickly.
Here’s the traffic screenshot:
This is precisely why I publish a mix of quality at a certain volume level.
The reverse has happened as well. I’ve put my all into articles and ended up with crickets. Just because it’s great does not mean it’ll be a success.
Jon runs the place around here. He pontificates about launching and growing online publishing businesses, aka blogs that make a few bucks. His pride and joy is the email newsletter he publishes.
In all seriousness, Jon is the founder and owner of a digital media company that publishes a variety of web properties visited and beloved by millions of readers monthly. Fatstacks is where he shares a glimpse into his digital publishing business.