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Submitting an Unforgettable Guest Post: Tips from an Editor

by | Nov 4, 2013

Guest posting is a fantastic way to get your writing in front of new audiences, network with other bloggers and build your portfolio.

But apart from writing damn good content (which, of course, is a given), how do you navigate the process of pitching, writing, and follow-up in a way that will get you on an editor’s good side?

(And you want to be on their good side, not only to boost your chances of this initial post being accepted, but to increase your likelihood of being asked to post again.)

As Assistant Editor of Brazen Life and Managing Editor of Career Attraction, I’ve seen some fantastic submissions and interactions with guest posters, and I’ve also witnessed plenty of situations that made me want to staple myself in the eyeball:

  • A writer once pitched a fantastic topic, then sent me an email saying simply, “Hey, I changed the content. Here you go!” and attached a totally different, unacceptable post for no apparent reason.
  • I’ve received countless iterations of this mass email: “Dear [editor name here], I came across your [site name here] and want to offer you a unique, high-quality post totally FREE!! All I ask is a few links back to my site in return. Here is my post, please tell me when it will be published!”

While I know none of you would commit any of these grievous mistakes, there are some blunders I’ve noticed even quality writers committing, and I’d like to give you a heads up from the other side of the submission process. Consider it an inside scoop to give you the upper hand on the competition.

Pitching Your Post

DON’T write us until you’ve checked our writer’s guidelines

Most sites have a “write for us” page that tells you exactly what topics the site is looking for, what style of writing it prefers and how to submit your pitches. Look for it and review it carefully before sending us anything. Only if you don’t see one anywhere is a cold pitch acceptable.

If you get a lenient editor, they may be nice enough to respond to a cold pitch with, “Please check out our guidelines here and get back to me,” but even then, you’ve already lost points for not doing your homework. Editors are busy and receive tons of pitches every day. Ones that indicate a writer took no time to get to know the site he’s pitching are likely to be deleted.

We want writers whose killer posts will rocks our worlds. We tend to lose confidence in your ability to produce them when you don’t follow our basic guidelines.

DO keep it brief, to the point and specific

A line about how much you like our site is a nice gesture; sucking up for a whole paragraph is not. (Did I mention we’re busy people?)

Give a quick intro of who you are and what credentials make you awesome, then give us the pitch. And by “pitch,” I mean a catchy, well thought-out title followed by a few bullet points discussing what your post will cover.

Give us something to work with. “I want to write a post on resume tips” doesn’t tell us anything about what the post will discuss or how well you’ll handle it. “I want to write a post on ‘10 Resume Mistakes You Need to Stop Making Now,’ including X, Y and Z” is more like it.

DON’T pitch us without first checking our site for your topic

We don’t expect you to have our site memorized; in fact, we understand that many writers pitch us solely because our sites would be good exposure, not because they’re diehard readers. And that’s okay. But that doesn’t excuse you from checking to make sure you’re not pitching an idea that’s already been done.

Most blogs have a “search” function you can use to see if the topic you’ve thought up has been covered already (especially recently). If a site doesn’t, try Googling “[site name]” plus “[your topic idea]”.

Your best bet, even after this recon? Pitch us several potential topics so we can choose the one that best fits our site. You don’t know what posts we may have scheduled for upcoming weeks, so giving us options makes it easier for us to say “yes” rather than “no, thank you.”

DO show us what you’ve got

Not to be mean, but we don’t know most of you from Adam (or Eve). While you can list out the reasons why we should let you write for us, it’s much better to show us exactly what we can expect to get in a guest post from you.

Instead of saying “I’ve been featured on these sites,” provide us with links to your work. Try to select posts that share a similar topic area or style as our blog so we can really see you’ve got the chops. I can’t tell you how many pitches I’ve been on the fence about until I saw the writer’s examples to give me a better feel for their abilities.

Writing Your Post

DON’T make it all about you

While personal stories and anecdotes are a great way to connect with your audience and can really make your post stand out, readers are ultimately reading your post to learn what it can do for them.

So if you’re writing about a personal experience and what you learned from it, tweak your language so that you’re sharing your personal experience, then telling the readers what they can learn from it. Make sure you to use “you” as much as possible to make them feel invested in the piece. Instead of saying, “One problem most writers face is writer’s block” (which in itself is a horrible sentence), say, “If you’ve ever faced writer’s block (and what writer hasn’t?), you know exactly how frustrating it can be.”

Always bring it back to the reader and address them directly whenever possible.

DON’T neglect your headline

Most readers subscribe to dozens of blogs, and the one thing that’s most likely to grab their attention — whether they’re skimming their Twitter stream, RSS feed or inbox — is a headline that forces them to stop and think, “Okay, I’ve gotta know what this is about.” It’s also good for guest poster brownie points, because it demonstrates to the editor that you know how to write for the web and you’ve got your creativity hat on.

An added bonus for you as a writer is that crafting a strong headline can help you hone your focus as you’re writing the post itself. “10 Ways to Be More Productive” could lead to a decent enough post. “10 Ways to Kick Your Day’s Ass” will not only snag a reader’s attention, but will likely lead to a much stronger post that will keep that attention once they start reading.

DO write a kick-ass intro

You’ve hooked the reader with your headline, and that’s great, but you still need to convince them that your post is worth delving into. For a quick master class in intro writing, check out 11 Ways to Write an Irresistible Intro to Your Blog Post by Write to Done and How to Nail the Opening of Your Blog Post by Copyblogger.

DO keep an eye on formatting style

Even if your content is flawless, most blogs follow a stylesheet, which means an editor will have to tweak some of your formatting before they can publish your post. Anything you can do to save them extra work a) earns you brownie points out and b) demonstrates that you’re really dedicated to providing content catered to the site (which earns you more brownie points). Before writing, take a look at current posts on the site and mirror the way they’re laid out.

Does the site center their sub-headers or left-align them? Do they prefer to bold key phrases or italicize them? If they include hyperlinks to other posts on their site, pepper in a few for good measure. (BTW, adding liberal links to your own site probably won’t go over well, and they will likely be stripped from the post even if it’s accepted, so don’t bother.)

After You Submit

DO be patient with us

Some writer’s guidelines will say precisely how long you can expect to wait to hear back on your submission. Others won’t. Either way, bear in mind that we’re juggling many responsibilities, including submissions from our current roster of writers, so it will probably take a little time for us to review your post and respond to you.

If we don’t get back to you after a two weeks or so,  it’s okay to send a polite “Just checking that you received my post” email. (Starting it off with “I know you’re busy” is always a nice touch.) But don’t get message-happy.

No news is simply that… no news. It doesn’t mean we’ve deleted your email altogether. It doesn’t mean we hated your post so much we’re secretly stringing you along to see how much we can torment you. Give us a little time and, if you followed all the guidelines you were supposed to, we will get back to you, even if it’s only a “Sorry, but this isn’t the right fit for our site at this time.”

DON’T take revision requests personally

We’re not asking you to rewrite a section or flesh out an idea because we’re living out a Devil Wears Prada power fantasy. We want your post to be the best it can be, both for our site and for your sake as a writer. So please (please!) don’t take it personally if we tell you it needs some work.

We may be making suggestions that will make the post better suited for our site’s audience, or we may have spotted some things you need to work on in your writing. Either way, if we’re asking you to revise, it means we want to be able to use the post. Please understand that any notes we send you are a good sign.

DO be a good participant once your post is live

Too many writers see guest posts as free PR, working their butts off to seal the deal with their pitch but disappearing once their post goes live. The writers who really stand out in an editor’s mind (and are more likely to be asked to post again) are those who take an active role in the conversation around their post when it’s published. (Click to tweet this idea).

Subscribe to the comments and be sure to respond, ask questions and spur the conversation onward. Share the post with your audience on Facebook and Twitter.

Editors like writers who produce great content, but they love writers who also help spread the word about that content. Hit-and-run guest posters feel a bit insincere (and also demonstrate a lack of interest in the promotion of their own writing, which is sad). Go the extra step, and don’t let the relationship end once the “publish” button is clicked.

Do you regularly guest post for other blogs (or oversee guest post submissions for one)? What other tips would you add?