By Ann Gynn published November 29, 2021 Est Read Time: 13 min

17 New, Newly Updated, and Timeless Books Content Marketers Love

“What’s on your gift list this year?”

“They’re so hard to buy for. What would they find really useful?”

This time of year, those questions pop up frequently. To help you fill out your own wish list or decide on a gift for a team member or fellow content marketer, we’ve curated this recommended book list from the Content Marketing Institute community (including me).

The books on the list aren’t about content marketing only. They also cover creativity, thinking, influencers, writing, artificial intelligence, and personal branding – all topics that are sure to inspire, motivate, and teach marketers who are all about content.

What's on your gift list this year? @CMIContent curated this recommended #book list from the #CMWorld community via @AnnGynn. Click To Tweet

We’ve divided the list into two sections: six “new” books (published or updated in 2020 and 2021) and many timeless classics (published between 2013 and 2019).

Recommendations for new and newly updated books

AI for Marketers: An Introduction and Primer, third edition (2021), by Christopher Penn

Amazon description: In this expanded and improved third edition, marketers will learn even more examples and applications of AI as it applies to modern marketing. From attribution analysis to topic modeling to forecasting, learn how AI is already impacting the work you do and how it will change the fundamentals of marketing. You’ll also learn how to prepare your company or organization for AI, how to prepare your career for AI (and whose jobs are most at risk), and the many, many things AI cannot do – and probably won’t for some time.

Recommended by Hannah Szabo, “English teacher with marketing chops”: As we move into the fourth industrial revolution, marketers of all stripes will need to sharpen their data chops. This is a warm intro to the field of AI and machine learning – telling you what you need to know (and what you don’t!) to achieve success as a marketer in the digital economy.

Brand Bewitchery: How to Wield the Story Cycle System to Craft Spellbinding Stories for Your Brand (2020), by Park Howell

Amazon description: Brand Bewitchery is for leaders of purpose-driven brands who seek a proven system to clarify their brand story, amplify their impact, and simplify their life. The book guides readers through the Story Cycle System™ to craft their overarching brand narrative, a process that has grown business by as much as 600%.

Recommended by Chris Inman, director of photography, Chris Inman Productions: This book walks you through a process for building a great story about what your company can do for its clients. I love its “And, But, and Therefore” system of storytelling.

Content Inc.: Start a Content-First Business, Build a Massive Audience and Become Radically Successful (With Little to No Money), second edition (2021), by Joe Pulizzi

Amazon description: In these pages, Joe Pulizzi provides a lower-risk, more effective way to create a path to success by re-engineering the process that so often leads to failure: You’ll learn how to develop valuable content, build an audience around that content―and then create a product for that audience. Content Inc. walks you through the entire process.

Recommended by Brian Piper, director of content strategy and assessment, University of Rochester: Any content marketer thinking about becoming a content entrepreneur should put this on their must-read list.

Everyone Is an “Influencer”: Building a Brand by Engaging The People Who Matter Most (2021), by Kelly Keenan

Amazon description: Your brand’s story can’t be concocted by a marketing team or agency, bubbling into some witches’ brew. It must be uncovered by revealing your brand’s most inspiring aspects. The simple truth: If you build on a foundation of authenticity, you can find the people that think like you, value what you value, and are ready to join in the celebration of your story.

Unlock the code to recognizing and utilizing true Influencers to soar your organization to new heights. In an accessible voice laden with wit, Keenan teaches a proven and practiced method to develop your brand’s story: one that’s been working to create an army of influencers for over a decade.

Recommended by Ann Gynn, editorial consultant, Content Marketing Institute: I hate the word “influencer” because it’s taken on such a selfie-style connotation. But, in truth, many people influence what a brand is and can become. This book helps you get real about all that.

Find Your Red Thread: Make Your Big Ideas Irresistible (2021), by Tamsen Webster

Amazon description: You have a terrific idea. It’s so powerful that it could change a life, a market, or even the world. There’s just one problem: Others don’t see its power – yet. If you truly value the possibility of your idea, then you’re ready to find your Red Thread – the throughline that connects your idea to your audience’s hearts and minds. It’s the connection that makes the invisible link between your audience’s problem and your solution tangible – and actionable.

Recommended by Penny Gralewski, solutions marketing, Commvault: There are 37 sticky notes marking key ideas in my copy. This amazing guidebook helps seasoned and new marketers develop effective, relatable messaging. I’ve successfully used the framework for product marketing messaging and presentation story development. I’ve recommended this book to marketing teams, technical leaders, professional keynote speakers, plus my MBA marketing course professors and classmates.

You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters (2020), by Kate Murphy

Amazon description: In this always illuminating and often humorous deep dive, Kate Murphy explains why we’re not listening, what it’s doing to us, and how we can reverse the trend. She makes accessible the psychology, neuroscience, and sociology of listening while also introducing us to some of the best listeners out there (including a CIA agent, focus group moderator, bartender, radio producer, and top furniture salesman).

Recommended by Andrea Walters, editor, Workplace Conversations, AIM WA: Very transformative and practical to help us all be better at conversations.

Recommendations for timeless books

Break The Wheel: Question Best Practices, Hone Your Intuition, and Do Your Best Work (2018), by Jay Acunzo

Amazon description: Our world is flooded by advice, ideas, and experts, but we shouldn’t make decisions based on “best practices.” Instead, we should do what works best for us, building careers and companies with the sort of clarity that leads to exceptional work. Only, first, we need to escape the endless cycle of stale approaches and trendy tactics that holds us back. We need to Break the Wheel. In this quick-hitting, powerful book, keynote speaker and podcaster Jay Acunzo hands us a sledgehammer. With a diverse range of real-world stories, Break the Wheel offers a simple but powerful way to think for yourself when surrounded by conventional thinking. Along the way, Acunzo offers six fundamental questions to ask in any situation to start making the best possible decisions, regardless of the best practice. Stop relying on generic advice. With this book, say goodbye to average work and hello to doing your best.

Recommended by Adam P. Newton, SEO copywriter, Palmetto: Jay Acunzo stan here. I recommend Break the Wheel on a regular basis.

Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen (2017), by Donald Miller

Amazon description: The StoryBrand process is a proven solution to the struggle business leaders face when talking about their companies. Without a clear, distinct message, customers will not understand what you can do for them and are unwilling to engage, causing you to lose potential sales, opportunities for customer engagement, and much more. Donald Miller teaches marketers and business owners to use the seven universal elements of powerful stories to dramatically improve how they connect with customers and grow their businesses.

Recommended by Ali Orlando Wert, director, marketing strategy, SmartBug Media: A must-read to help content marketers align strong messaging and positioning with our content strategies. We’ll be discussing it in CMWorld Book Club in January.

Also recommended by Hannah Szabo, English teacher (“with marketing chops”): A digestible read that sets the tone for consistent content marketing.

Company of One: Why Staying Small is the Next Big Thing for Business (2019), by Paul Jarvis

Amazon description: Company of One is a refreshingly new approach centered on staying small and avoiding growth for any size business. It introduces this unique business strategy and explains how to make it work for you, including how to generate cash flow on an ongoing basis.

Recommended by Michelle Garrett, owner, Garrett Public Relations: I love Company of One because Paul talks about how working for yourself doesn’t mean you have to scale up and grow a company. You can actually stay small and be successful (and maybe more fulfilled/happier.)

Content Chemistry: The Illustrated Handbook for Content Marketing, fifth edition (2018), by Andy Crestodina

Amazon description: The result of thousands of conversations about web marketing with hundreds of companies, this handbook is a compilation of the most important and effective lessons and advice about the power of search engine optimization, social media, and email marketing.

Recommended by Brian Piper, director of content strategy and assessment, University of Rochester: Amazing for analytics/optimization.

Epic Content Marketing: How to Tell a Different Story, Break through the Clutter, and Win More Customers by Marketing Less (2013) by Joe Pulizzi

Amazon description: Publishing is the new marketing. How do you cut through the noise, commotion, and bad information that is right now cluttering up your customers’ digital space? Epic Content Marketing. Learn how to draw prospects and customers in by creating information and content they actually want to engage with.

Recommended by Brian Piper, director of content strategy and assessment, University of Rochester: I still go back to this book, which changed my entire career path and still has good tips.

Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content (2014), by Ann Handley

Amazon description: Everybody Writes is a go-to guide to attracting and retaining customers through stellar online communication, because in our content-driven world, every one of us is, in fact, a writer.

Recommended by Christopher S. Penn, co-founder and chief data scientist, Trustinsights.ai: Still great stuff.

Also recommended by Hannah Szabo, English teacher (“with marketing chops”): On Writing (by Stephen King) and Everybody Writes are foundational reads for content marketers. (Start here!)

Known: The Handbook for Building and Unleashing Your Personal Brand in a Digital Age (2017), by Mark W. Schaefer

Amazon description: In today’s world, there is a permanent advantage to becoming known in your field. Those who are known get the customers, the better jobs, and invitations to exclusive opportunities. But can anybody become known? In this path-finding book, author Mark Schaefer provides a step-by-step plan followed by the most successful people in diverse careers like banking, education, real estate, construction, fashion, and more. With amazing case studies, dozens of exercises, and inspiring stories, KNOWN is the first book of its kind, the bestselling book on personal branding that provides a path to personal business success in the digital age.

 Recommended by Kyle Akerman, web analyst and measurement marketer, Akerman Analytics: It is great if you are trying to build a personal brand.

Lost and Founder: A Painfully Honest Guide to the Startup World (2018), by Rand Fishkin

Amazon description: It’s not that things went badly for Rand Fishkin; they just weren’t quite so Zuckerberg-esque. His company, Moz, maker of marketing software, is now a $45 million/year business, and he’s one of the world’s leading experts on SEO. But his business and reputation took 15 years to grow, and his startup began not in a Harvard dorm room but as a mother-and-son family business that fell deeply into debt. Now Fishkin pulls back the curtain on tech startup mythology, exposing the ups and downs of startup life that most CEOs would rather keep secret.

Recommended by Michelle Garrett, owner, Garrett Public Relations: As someone who lived and worked in Silicon Valley, I appreciate his perspective of how conventional Silicon Valley wisdom can lead startups astray.

Meander, Spiral, Explode: Design and Pattern in Narrative (2019), by Jane Alison

Amazon description: A singular and brilliant elucidation of literary strategies, this book also brings high spirits and wit to its original conclusions. It is a liberating manifesto that says: Let’s leave the outdated modes behind and, in thinking of new modes, bring feeling back to experimentation. It will appeal to serious readers and writers alike.

Recommended by Adam P. Newton, SEO copywriter, Palmetto: I’m a big fan of this book for writers in general.

The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact (2017), by Chip and Dan Heath

Amazon description: While human lives are endlessly variable, our most memorable positive moments are dominated by four elements: elevation, insight, pride, and connection. If we embrace these elements, we can conjure more moments that matter. What if a teacher could design a lesson that he knew his students would remember 20 years later? What if a manager knew how to create an experience that would delight customers? This book delves into some fascinating mysteries of experience.

Recommended by Gaurav Gupta, founder and CEO, Chimes Radio Podcast Network: It applies to any businessperson, not marketing folks. It explains how we should aim to create peak moments, which leave a lasting impression on users.

Also recommended by Andrea Walters, editor, Workplace Conversations, AIM WA: Some very moving examples of moments that are life-changing.

Writing Without Bullshit: Boost Your Career by Saying What You Mean (2016), by Josh Bernoff

Amazon description: In this practical and witty book, you’ll learn to front-load your writing with pithy titles, subject lines, and opening sentences. You’ll acquire the courage and skill to purge weak and meaningless jargon, wimpy passive voice, and cowardly weasel words. And you’ll get used to writing directly to the reader to make every word count.

 Recommended by Cathy McPhillips, chief growth officer, Marketing Artificial Intelligence Institute: I read it earlier this year when it was discussed during CMWorld book club. I use learnings from that book all the time.

Book it

These titles can be ideal gifts for anyone looking to open a new chapter in 2022. Filled with creativity, inspiration, knowledge, and some practical tips, the books promise to lead to better communication, listening, and content marketing.

Have you read any of these? Did we miss any on your wish list? Let us know in the comments.

Join us for the CMWorld Book Club. Get all the information and sign up for the Slack group here.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Ann Gynn

Ann Gynn edits the CMI blog. Ann regularly combines words and strategy for B2B, B2C, and nonprofits, continuing to live up to her high school nickname, Editor Ann. Former college adjunct faculty, Ann also helps train professionals in content so they can do it themselves. Follow Ann on Twitter @anngynn or connect on LinkedIn.

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