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24+ Must-Read Marketing Books (That Happen to be Written by Women)

To celebrate Women’s History Month, CMI shares our community’s  book recommendations every content marketer should read written or co-written by women.

Their input created this list of over two dozen books. I’ve grouped the recommendations into the following categories: content marketing, general marketing and business, and psychology and persuasion.

In the process making of this article, we gained an important perspective that resulted in a change to the CMI style guide. I’ll explain after the book list.

Content marketing books: Strategy, planning, tactics

Content Design (2017) by Sarah Richards

What Amazon says: Between 2010 and 2014, Sarah Richards and her team at the United Kingdom’s Government Digital Service did what many thought impossible: They took over 400 separate government websites and transformed them into a single site designed to effectively serve its users. In doing so, they defined a new discipline: content design. Content design focuses on what content best serves the users’ needs, whether it be the written word, infographics, visuals, videos, or charts.

Recommended by Trey Robinson, content architect, Modthink Marketing: “It is amazing – one of my favorite content-specific books.”

Also recommended by Clare Edwards, copywriter

The Content Fuel Framework: How to Generate Unlimited Story Ideas (For Marketers and Creators) (2020) by Melanie Deziel

What Amazon says: Trained journalist and award-winning content marketer Melanie Deziel shows you how to maximize your creativity by systematizing it. This simple framework catalyzes the brainstorming process, making idea generation effortless and nearly automatic. No more writer’s block. No more asking, “what should I post?” No more waiting for that “big idea” to show up in its own time. This system allows storytellers from any industry to produce fresh story ideas on demand, any time.

Recommended by Adrien Lemaire, content and PR manager, Ring Central: “Learn how to get more ideas for your content.”

Also recommended by Emily Phelps, speaker, marketer, and storyteller; and Cathy McPhillips, vice president of marketing, Content Marketing Institute: “So good and so prescriptive. A good time of year to be reading (or rereading) this.”

Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business (2012) by Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman

What Amazon says:  Blogs, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms are giving everyone a “voice,” including organizations and their customers. Content Rules equips you for online success as a one-stop source on the art and science of developing content that people care about. This coverage is interwoven with case studies.

Recommended by Erin Read, marketing manager, Polaris MEP: “It’s not new, just fabulous. I have used it to train new content marketers and to help clients generate and evolve story ideas. Especially useful are their examples of effective content marketing for ‘non-sexy’ industries.”

Also recommended by Elizabete Schramm Saukas, owner, Health Discourse

Content Strategy at Work: Real-World Stories to Strengthen Every Interactive Project (2012) by Margot Bloomstein

What Amazon says: Because even if content strategy isn’t your job, content’s probably your problem – and probably more than you think. So many ways, so much content … so where’s the problem? That is the problem. The solution is content strategy, and this book offers real-world examples and approaches you can adopt, no matter your role on the team.

Recommended by Marisa Peacock, founder and chief strategist, The Strategic Peacock

Content Strategy for the Web (2012) by Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach

What Amazon says: Better content means better business. Your content is a mess: the website redesigns didn’t help, and the new CMS just made things worse. Or, maybe your content is full of potential: You know new revenue and cost-savings opportunities exist, but you’re not sure where to start. How can you realize the value of content while planning for its long-term success? For organizations all over the world, this is the go-to content strategy handbook.

Recommended by Kilian Drewel, product marketer, Broad Horizon: “The book has aged well and still has some solid advice in it.” (Kilian had something similar to say about another book later in the list.)

Also recommended by Clare Edwards, copywriter

Content That Converts: How to Build a Profitable and Predictable B2B Content Marketing Strategy (2017) by Laura Hanly

What Amazon says: This book is for entrepreneurs and the leaders of B2B businesses who want to use content marketing to bring a predictable stream of qualified leads into their sales cycles and need a replicable system to make it happen. This book provides that system – a step-by-step process that can be executed in any business to generate qualified leads and more conversions with content marketing.

Recommended by Ashley Stryker, media director, The Law Offices of James E. Crawford Jr. and Associates

The Elements of  Content Strategy (2010) by Erin Kissane

What Amazon says: Content strategy is the web’s hottest new thing. But where did it come from? Why does it matter? And what does the content renaissance mean for you? This brief guide explores content strategy’s roots and quickly and expertly demonstrates not only how it’s done, but how you can do it well. A compelling read for both experienced content strategists and those making the transition from other fields.

Recommended by Marisa Peacock, founder and chief strategist, The Strategic Peacock

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

What Amazon says: 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 many, including:

India White, founder and marketing strategist, Port Tack: “I reread it recently and kept wondering how many pushups she can do now? Anyone else? (In addition to re-learning so many valuable lessons.)”

Adelina Karpenkova, content marketer, Joinative: Everybody Writes is for everyone who wants to write powerful text, no matter what kind of content you create and why you do it. After reading the book, you’ll better understand how to create texts that appeal to the reader.”

Rich Schwerin, senior content strategist, Autodesk: A gift of pragmatic content marketing fundamentals and wisdom, wrapped in just-what-I-needed-right-now hilarity.”

Jyotthsnaa A Sharma, senior account manager, Langoor: “It deals with the basics but those crucial things a content marketer has to know, especially a newbie.”

CJ Xia, vice president of marketing and sales, Boster Biological Technology: “It covers how to make your content marketing stand out across all major digital media channels. Whether you are looking for crafting catchy headings, making landing pages more attractive, creating good video content, or increasing conversions from marketing offers, this step-by-step guide would let you learn it all in minimal time. Moreover, the writer also mentions effective tools to get the job done.” 

Also recommended by Dennis Shiao, marketing consultant, and Monina Wagner, social media and community manager, Content Marketing Institute

Grammatically Correct: The Essential Guide to Spelling, Style, Usage, Grammar and Punctuation (2010) by Anne Stilman

What Amazon says: If its purpose is to convey facts, findings, or instructions, it needs to be read only once for its content to be clear. If its purpose is to entertain or to provoke thought, it makes readers want to come back for more. This guide covers four essential aspects of good writing: individual words, punctuation, syntax and structure, and style. Filled with self-test exercises and whimsical literary quotations, Grammatically Correct steers clear of academic stuffiness, focusing instead on practical strategies and intuitive explanations.

Recommended by Tim Hartnett, writer: “It wasn’t written with content marketers in mind, but it’s the best book on the nuances of grammar and usage out there.”

Practical Content Strategy & Marketing (2017) by Julia McCoy

What Amazon says:  It lays the “hows” of content marketing and strategy out, in a step-by-step approach, book form. Each section has written exercises built to solidify what you’re reading and learning – you’ll be able to fill these out with a pen.

Recommended by Fernando Labastida, CEO, Content Marketing Latam

So You Think You Can Write (2016) by Julia McCoy

What Amazon says: You’ll learn every skill it takes to write great copy for the web, from the absolute fundamentals of using storytelling in great online content all the way to knowing how to write for both search engines and people, what it takes to craft different forms of content on the web, and much more. A bonus chapter reveals how to market yourself and make income as an online copywriter in a modern world.

Recommended by Femi Oyelola, freelance B2B SaaS writer: “So You Think You Can Write? is a must-read for anyone getting into content marketing. The book walks you through different content types in content marketing and how to tell one apart from the other.”

Stop Boring Me! How to Create Kick-Ass Marketing Content, Products, and Ideas Through the Power of Improv (2016) by Kathy Klotz-Guest

What Amazon says: You cannot connect meaningfully with your audience if you bore them … And most business marketing stinks because it is transactional, superficial, and not human. The good news: It doesn’t have to be that way because everyone is creative. Your inner kid is smart because it knows how to play. What if you could create engaging marketing content and storytelling and generate kick-ass, fun, and relevant ideas for stories, articles, branding, social media campaigns, sales presentations, and even new products? Well, there is a fun way to do exactly that: by applying key concepts from the world of improvisation … to your marketing, sales, branding, and products page – or business stage.

Recommended by Emily Phelps, speaker, marketer, and storyteller

The Art of SEO: Mastering Search Engine Optimization (2015) by Eric Enge, Stephan Spencer, Jessie C. Stricchiola

What Amazon says: Three acknowledged experts in search engine optimization share guidelines and innovative techniques that will help you plan and execute a comprehensive SEO strategy. Novices will receive a thorough SEO education, while experienced SEO practitioners get an extensive reference to support ongoing engagements.

Recommended by Daisy Quaker, digital content marketer: “Every digital content marketer needs to understand SEO. Understanding does not just mean how to plug keywords into an article, but how search engines crawl and rank websites, search intent, and how different factors affect SEO. This book is big and meaty, but if you only read through a couple of chapters will give you a firm understanding of the basics, which never change.”

The Content Formula: Calculate the ROI of Content Marketing & Never Waste Money Again (2015) by Michael Brenner and Liz Bedor

What Amazon says: The Content Formula answers the biggest question currently on marketer’s minds: What is the ROI of content marketing? This book provides a step-by-step guide for marketers and is divided into three parts: how to build the business case for content marketing, how to find the budget to establish a new content marketing program, and how to measure content marketing success in business terms.

Recommended by Aqsa Tabassam, CMO, EvolveDash: “Before delving into the content space of marketing, this book reveals the whys and hows of this field. It also describes the nature of expense you are expected to invest in content marketing. According to the authors, the measurement of ROI establishes whether your content marketing strategy is helpful for business or not.”

The Content Strategy Toolkit: Methods, Guidelines, and Templates for Getting Content Right (2015) by Meghan Casey

What Amazon says: Armed with this book, you can confidently tackle difficult activities like telling your boss or client what’s wrong with their content, getting the budget to do content work, and aligning stakeholders on a common vision. (It) is like having your own personal consulting firm on retainer with a complete array of tools and tips for every challenge you’ll face.

Recommended by Clare Edwards, copywriter

Unflubbify Your Writing: Bite-Sized Lessons to Improve Your Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar (2021) by Sara Rosinsky

What Amazon says: Packed with fun examples, this book shows you how to keep spellings straight, avoid comma splices and grocer’s apostrophes, pluralize last names, understand when to use fewer instead of less, use i.e. and e.g. correctly, know when – and when not to – capitalize mom and dad. These little lessons are amusing, irreverent, memorable, and nothing like any English class you’ve ever attended. Before long, you’ll feel more confident in your writing and notice that you’re enjoying it more than ever.

Recommended by Sarah Greesonbach, founder, B2B Writing Institute: “Sometimes when you’re up to your eyes in content all day, you need a reminder that language is fun, frisky, and full of quirky, intriguing rules. Writers are smitten with those rules, not intimidated by them. We want to read about them in a book like Sara’s.”

Why You Need a Content Team and How to Build One (2018) by Rachel McConnell

What Amazon says: This book helps you to understand your content maturity and how to increase it. It explains the different content roles, including the nuances between them and the overlaps. It’ll help you recruit the right content experts – explaining what to look for and how to interview them – experts who’ll take your digital journeys to the next level and beyond.

Recommended by Clare Edwards, copywriter

Marketing and general business

Binge Marketing: The Best Scenario for Building Your Brand (2020) by Carlijn Postma

What Amazon says: How do you build a brand in a time of information overload where the media are so fragmented that you can barely get the attention of your audience? And how do you ensure that everyone tells the same story on all those channels? Carlijn Postma takes you to the place where content is the product and where people know how to attract and retain an audience: Hollywood. Binge Marketing is not another stuffy marketing book but a refreshing look at marketing in the 21st century. 

Recommended by Joakim Ditlev of Content Marketing DK and Ellen Langeveslsloo, content strategist: “A refreshing approach on content marketing.”

Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing (2015) by Robert Rose and Carla Johnson

What Amazon says: There is a new era of marketing upon us. The time of reach, frequency, and campaign-oriented approaches is over. And if businesses don’t evolve into this new era, they may find themselves on the wrong side of history. The authors synthesized five years of research with global brands into a set of “better practices” that weave together both the “why” and the “how” of navigating this new landscape.

Recommended by Fernando Labastida, CEO, Content Marketing Latam: “One of my all-time favorites.”

Fanocracy: Turning Fans into Customers and Customers into Fans (2020) by David Meerman Scott and Reiko Scott

What Amazon says: In this essential book, leading business growth strategist David Meerman Scott and fandom expert Reiko Scott explore the neuroscience of fandom and interview young entrepreneurs, veteran business owners, startup founders, nonprofits, and companies big and small to pinpoint which practices separate organizations that flourish from those stuck in stagnation. They lay out a road map for converting customers’ ardor into buying power, pulling one-of-a-kind examples from a wide range of organizations.

Recommended by Jeremy Bednarski, owner, Rockified Marketing; editorial lead, Salesforce: “How to turn fans into customers and customers into fans. Great examples and maybe my favorite new book this year.”

RE:Think Innovation: How the World’s Most Prolific Innovators Come Up with Great Ideas that Deliver Extraordinary Outcomes (2021) by Carla Johnson

What Amazon says: This book answers the question of how to tie individual competence with innovation techniques to direct corporate outcomes. It shows how to create a unified, idea-driven employee base that delivers more ideas in a shorter amount of time. Ultimately, this is the path that makes organizations genuinely nimble, passionate, innovative powerhouses that deliver extraordinary outcomes for sustained periods of time. (The Kindle version is available now; the print version comes out in June 2021.)

Recommended by Ann Gynn, editorial consultant, CMI: “I get tired of seeing or doing the same content marketing over and over. Going outside my typical arena and reading a book like Carla’s refreshes my brain. It inspires me to think differently about how I operate and how the systems I’m involved with could be done better.”

The Velveteen Rabbit (1922) by Margery Williams

What Amazon says: A timeless classic about the magic of boundless love that’s been treasured for generations! “Once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”

Recommended by Bethany Johnson, B2B content marketing writer: “I remembered (CMI chief strategy advisor) Robert Rose quoting this excerpt from this kids’ classic. The context was how it may temporarily cost (“hurt”) brands to be genuine.”

Psychology and persuasion

Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts (2018) by Brené Brown

What Amazon says: Leadership is not about titles, status, and wielding power. A leader is anyone who takes responsibility for recognizing the potential in people and ideas and has the courage to develop that potential. When we dare to lead, we don’t pretend to have the right answers; we stay curious and ask the right questions. We don’t see power as finite and hoard it; we know that power becomes infinite when we share it with others. We don’t avoid difficult conversations and situations; we lean into vulnerability when it’s necessary to do good work.

Recommended by Annemaria Nicholson, global marketing consultant, Salesforce: “How to be more vulnerable, open and courageous, even when it’s difficult.”

Illuminate: Ignite Change Through Speeches, Stories, Ceremonies, and Symbols (2016) by Nancy Duarte and Patti Sanchez

What Amazon says: The authors equip you with the same communication tools that great leaders like Steve Jobs, Howard Schultz, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. used to move people. They lay out a plan to help you lead people through the five stages of transformation using speeches, stories, ceremonies, and symbols. This visual and accessible communication guidebook will show you how Apple, Starbucks, IBM, charity: water, and others have mobilized people to embrace bold changes.

Recommended by Jon Pettman-Tideswell, licensing account/business development director, Executive Interviews: “A brilliant book about the power of storytelling to deliver change.”

Impossible to Ignore: Creating Memorable Content to Influence Decisions (2016) by Carmen Simon

What Amazon says: Many experts have offered techniques on how to improve your own memory, but not how to influence other people’s memory―and impact their decisions. Drawing on the latest research in neuroscience and cognitive psychology, Carmen Simon, Ph.D., reveals how to avoid the hazards of random recall and deliver just the right amount of content. No more redundant meetings, rambling emails, or anemic presentations. In Impossible to Ignore, she shows you how to execute a proven three-step plan for persuasion:

Recommended by Dennis Shiao, marketing consultant: “In content marketing, we talk a lot about planning, creating, and distributing content. We talk less about what impact our content drove, including whether people even remember it. Dr. Simon details the neuroscience behind how to influence people’s memory. It’s something content marketers – in fact, all marketers – can benefit from. I think I need to reread it. The concept of the book is one reason I named my marketing consultancy Attention Retention.”

Professional Troublemaker: The Fear-Fighting Manual (2021) by Luvvie Ajayi Jones

What Amazon says: Luvvie Ajayi Jones is known for her trademark wit, warmth, and perpetual truth-telling. But even she’s been challenged by the enemy of progress known as fear. She was once afraid to call herself a writer and nearly skipped out on doing a TED talk that changed her life because of imposter syndrome. As she shares in Professional Troublemaker, she’s not alone.

 Recommended by Stephanie Stahl, general manager, Content Marketing Institute: “Need help conquering fears of writing, presenting at a big event, pitching a radical new idea, challenging the status quo in your content marketing operations, speaking up when something isn’t right, writing a better bio that reveals your super powers? Luvvie’s new book will give you the courage to have a sharp tongue and a golden heart – the perfect combination for a professional troublemaker. This book isn’t about being a troll, a hater, or a contrarian. It’s about conquering fears and being honest and authentic. My advice – listen to the audible version because it is more powerful hearing Luvvie read the book.”

Webs of Influence (2017) by Nathalie Nahai

What Amazon says: In this second edition of Webs of InfluenceNathalie Nahai brings together the latest insights from the world of psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral economics to explain the underlying dynamics and motivations behind consumer behavior. This book will show you how to apply specific principles to improve your marketing, products, and websites, enabling you to engage with your customers in a more meaningful way.

Recommended by Steve Linney, marketer and founder, “Penny-drop moment around website psychology.”

Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins: How to Use Your Own Stories to Communicate with Power and Impact (2015) Annette Simmons

What Amazon says: Author and vibrant keynote speaker Annette Simmons teaches you how to narrate personal experiences as well as borrowed stories in a way that demonstrates authenticity, builds emotional connections, inspires perseverance, and stimulates the imagination. Whether you are leading a presentation, in a department meeting, or having lunch with a potential customer, you will learn how to relate a compelling story to the topic at hand and make an invaluable impact that could not be made otherwise.

Recommended by Emily Phelps, speaker, marketer, and storyteller

One more thing

Our last recommendation is not a book but a lesson in inclusive writing. When I asked for book ideas on Twitter, I referenced “female authors.” I received thoughtful feedback on the use of female vs. women (thanks, Dennis Shiao!). So I did some research.

Now, as a person in middle age who enjoys good grammar, I typically have followed AP Style, using “female” as the adjective and “woman” as the noun. But I’ve learned more about how those words are interpreted.

This 2019 piece by Mary Norris in the New Yorker delves into a conversation that happened at a panel she attended at ACES: The Society for Editing (formerly American Copy Editors Society.) TL;DR? Here’s the no. 1 reason to use “woman” instead of “female,” from a BuzzFeed article on the subject:

’Female’ is a scientific term that refers to the sex of a species that is capable of producing children. The term ‘woman’ refers specifically to human beings, while “female” could refer to any species.

Now that our editorial team has expanded our understanding of the terms, we’re updating our style guide and going with “woman” – adjective or noun.

Back to the books. Which books by women authors do you recommend to your fellow content marketers? Add them in the comments.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute