November 27, 2014

7 Mistakes Guest Bloggers Make


UPDATE: It seems my break from guest posts is well-timed, as Problogger is predicting that Google may start penalizing blogs that allow guest posts later in 2013. The news has been rippling through the blogosphere for several weeks now. 

At best, guest posts offer readers a different perspective and the blogger-in-chief a breather from producing blog posts. At worst, they’re robotic dribble filled with spammy links. In the past several months, I’ve gotten so many guest post pitches in the latter camp that I’ve stopped accepting outside posts while I regroup and rethink the process (next week’s guest post is a notable exception). Apologies to those of you who’ve pitched me guest posts recently, but I suspect you don’t actually read this blog, and I feel a responsibility to those who do read it to maintain a certain level of professionalism and originality.

Here’s a list of mistakes I’ve seen again and again in guest post pitches. Some of these are applicable to freelancers pitching to magazines and websites, but hopefully none of you, my dear regular readers, are committing any of these faux pas.

  1. Not following directions. I have a page on my blog that clearly outlines my guest posting process, yet someone emails me asking if I accept guest posts at least once a day. When you’re pitching a website, magazine, or blog, take a moment to click around the site and see if they have a submissions page or a writer’s guidelines page. You’ll save yourself and your editor a lot of time and frustration. Then follow the instructions to the letter. For instance, my guidelines suggest sending a specific idea and formatting your email subject in a certain way. I don’t have time for a lengthy email exchange in which I ask a series about you and your idea (and I’m guessing editors at websites and magazines don’t either), so just tell me what you want to write about and why you’re qualified to write about it. Don’t expect me to brainstorm for you when I don’t even know you or your writing.
  2. Pitching off topic. If I had a dollar for every email pitching me a guest post about life insurance/pest control/luxury travel/online degrees/penile enhancements … well, you get the idea. A magazine for dog-lovers in Boise does not want your article about how to buy cheap printer ink, just as my blog does not need guest posts on any of the aforementioned topics. Know what your target publication covers and pitch an idea that fits that audience and their needs. Occasionally I’ll get a guest post that’s kinda sorta almost a fit for my blog but it misses the mark because it keeps referring to my readers as business-owners or entrepreneurs. Well, yes, freelancers are business-owners and entrepreneurs, but those aren’t the terms I’d typically use because freelancer is more specific. What terms does your target publication use?
  3. Relying on generalities. Of the guest post submissions that actually cover freelancing, many of them fall into the trap of generality (and yes, before I cracked down on guest posts, some of them appeared on this blog and still do because I’m too nice to delete them). They rehash the same  tired service topics and listicles we’ve seen on every other freelance writing blog. And often the advice is as generic as the topics themselves. Use anecdotes and examples to illustrate your tips (for instance, “I once had a client who ___, so I ____  and the result was ____ …”) and choose colorful language to keep readers engaged.
  4. Writing like a robot. Again, read the website/blog/magazine you’re pitching, then try to match the editorial voice of that publication. I welcome guest bloggers whose voice differs from mine, but too often, they don’t even have a voice. They’ll write sentences in passive voice with lots of flabby, over-blown language like “It is generally recommended that business owners typically choose to examine their business and management strategies several times a year in order to achieve the best outcomes.” Say what? For most service pieces, it’s fine to use “you” (or the implied you) and speak directly to the reader. And don’t use 15 words when you could get your point across in five.
  5. Resisting edits. When I publish a guest post, it reflects on the guest poster and on me. I reserve the right to edit posts (perhaps adding a snappier title or smoothing some transitions), but I try to make it a collaborative process and get the contributor’s OK on revisions. Some pull a Houdini and disappear, while others demand to know, diva-style, “how dare you edit my writing?” For those who typically contribute to content mills, revisions might be a foreign concept, but it makes both of us look better. If something is unclear to me, it’s likely to unclear to some of my readers. If something reads like broken English to me, I’m probably not the only one.
  6. Following up a zillion times a day. Sorry, but when I get an email that’s not even addressed to my name, I don’t always feel obligated to respond. Sometimes that results in a flurry of increasingly frustrated follow-up emails. That energy would be so much more productive if it were channeled into researching blogs instead of blindly pitching. Also, when you contribute to someone’s blog, you don’t get to dictate when your post appears. If you write something worth publishing, and I tell you, “thanks for this! I’ll get back to you on scheduling,” it does not give you license to demand that it run that week or ask multiple times a week when it will run. Checking in once a week is plenty. In the meantime, you might research other blogs or brainstorm other guest post ideas.
  7. Disappearing once the post appears. If you’ve written a really good guest post, it’s likely my readers will have comments or questions. Stick around and engage with them. Tweet your post. Thank your host. I’ve found that so few guest bloggers do this, but it really makes a good impression when they do. Likewise, if you’re writing for a magazine, don’t go AWOL once the article appears and you cash your check.

Your turn! For those of you who accept guest posts, have you run into these issues? Are there others you’ve noticed? Do tell!

Musings from the Blog Better Boston Conference

Blog Better Boston

I spent Saturday at the first (and hopefully annual) Blog Better Boston Conference. Boston’s a fantastic city and all, but I admit I have a bit of conference envy, since we don’t have big ones like BlogHer, South by Southwest, or ASJA. When I heard about a one-day blogging conference at Google’s Cambridge offices, I jumped on the early bird registration page (and good thing, because tickets sold out).

The conference was a whirlwind of networking, livetweeting (I had two browsers open, tweeting to two different accounts), note-taking, business card-exchanging, and chatting with over a hundred super-friendly and enthusiastic bloggers. It was heartening to see that you don’t always have to travel to New York or San Fran (or pay hundreds of dollars) for that kind of immersive experience. And several of the panelists came from out-of-state, including an editor from RealSimple.com.

Here are some of the themes that emerged from the panels and discussions with attendees.

  • You can’t do it all. The more ways there are to promote a blog or brand, the more overwhelmed we get. In addition to updating our blogs, now we have to stay active on Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook, and keep up with other blogs in Google Reader. Or do we? Several panelists stressed that not all social media platforms work for all bloggers, so it’s smart to focus on what works for you and ignore the rest. Lillie of Around the World “L” compared each social media platform to rooms at a party where you can’t be everywhere at once. And as far as Google Reader goes, it’s just not realistic to read every post from every blogger you know. In fact, I find it cathartic to periodically declare “RSS bankruptcy,” mark all as read, and start over from scratch.
  • Stay true to your voice and brand. This is especially important as bloggers start monetizing through affiliate links or partnerships with brands. Notice I said partnerships, not sponsorships, a distinction that the hilarious Nirasha of Mommy Niri was adamant about, because bloggers need to approach brands from a position of strength, not supplication. Niri also cautioned against pimping products for a brand. Instead, it should be about capturing the feelings behind a brand that you’re truly proud of and creating unique experiences for readers. I’m super-picky about affiliaties and brand partnerships because of journalistic ethics, but I’ve written about talent agencies working with bloggers for Portfolio.com and interviewed Jen Singer of Mama Said for a post about brand ambassadorships for Ebyline.
  • Community matters more than stats. Bloggers tend to obsess over stats: Twitter followers, Facebook likes, page views, click rates, and so on. But the real measure of how you’re doing is how engaged your community is, a point that was driven home by the panels on Monetizing a Blog and Traffic and Community. Companies with affiliate programs want bloggers with a loyal following of readers who will actually buy the items they recommend. And when it comes to creating community, offline events and conversations can be powerful ways to build community. As Renee of Eat.Live.Blog put it, “If you can’t find the community you’re looking for, create it.”
I hope to go back next year, and for those blog readers who are local, I’d certainly recommend Blog Better Boston. If you’re not in the area, maybe there’s a similar program in your neck of the woods? Either way, I’d love to know what you think of the ideas above. Leave a comment and let me know!

Guest Post: 10 Reasons for Writers to Blog Daily

BlogathonIf you work full-time as a freelance writer, it can be brutal to juggle paid assignments along with maintaining a personal blog.

If your blog isn’t a money maker, it’s easy to let a couple days – or weeks or months – slip by without adding new material. After all, why put the effort into something that’s not paying the bills when you could spend time working on something that does?

But there are plenty of reasons to post regularly, especially if you have any desire to turn what started as a hobby into paid work.

That’s where I was four years ago when I started blogging after a hiatus from writing to be a SAHM. Blogging was my way of getting up to speed on everything I’d missed. It paid off almost immediately. My blog, WordCount: Freelancing in the Digital Age, helped me reconnect with former colleagues who gave me assignments, and eventually landed me contract work as a paid blogger and freelance editor of a finance website – positions I never would have gotten otherwise.

There was a time not long after I’d started blogging when my enthusiasm waned, so I challenged myself to post every day during the month of May, and asked some writer friends to join me. That was the start of the WordCount Blogathon. Since then, hundreds of other writers and bloggers have joined me for the annual 31-day challenge.

If you’re thinking of starting a blog or have one you’d like to take to the next level, join us. The 2011 WordCount Blogathon starts on Sunday, May 1. It’s free to sign up and everyone who enters gets the participant badge that you see in this post. If you make it through all 31 days you’ll be entered in a raffle for hundreds of dollars in writing-related prizes that will be drawn during a Twitter chat on June 1 at 10 a.m. PST.

To make it easier on everyone, the blogathon includes a number of theme days, including a haiku poetry day and guest post exchange. You can see the calendar of events here. You can read more about the blogathon or sign up here.

Need more convincing? Here are other reasons for blogging every day:

  • To gain experience to look for paid blogging work.
  • To gain expertise in a subject you want to write about for paid markets.
  • To build traffic.
  • To establish yourself as an expert.
  • As part of building a personal brand.
  • To help promote a book, e-book, e-newsletter or other product or service you’re selling or hoping to sell.
  • To start a blog – or a second or third.
  • To improve your SEO skills.
  • To make money from advertising, affiliate programs or other blog-based enterprise.

See you at the Blogathon!

headshotMichelle V. Rafter is a Portland, Oregon, freelance business journalist and proprietor of WordCount: Freelancing in the Digital Age, which covers writing and the writing business. Reach her at wordcountfreelance AT gmail.com.

Interested in contributing a guest blog post of your own? Check out the guest blogger guidelines.

Freelance Writer’s Crossword Challenge – Win a Free Ebook!

UPDATE: Congrats to Mridu for being the first to complete the crossword and win the ebook giveaway! Please scroll to the bottom of this if you’re looking for answers.

No guest post today. Instead, I’ve created a little challenge for all you wordsmiths (hint: the answers also relate to writing, freelancing, publishing, and/or blogging). First person to correctly complete this crossword puzzle (scan it or just type out the answers) and email me wins a free copy of my newly updated ebook, The Urban Muse Guide to Online Writing Markets. As a consolation prize, I’ll also send a discount code to anyone who emails me with the correct answers by midnight EST on Sunday, February 20. Then on Monday, I’ll post the winner’s name and the correct answers!

ACROSS

3. Last name of an infamous Village Voice writer who was recently accused of fabrication
5. Another name for a writer who is not on staff
7. Term for when a publication takes back previously published statements
9. List containing names of editors and their job titles
11. Process by which online articles are tweaked for search engines
12. Another word for subheadline
14. Letter that writers send to editors they haven’t worked with before
16. Shows the writer how his or her article or book will appear (usually in print)
17. Blog made up of content stolen from other sources
18. Process by which a writer creates two unique articles on related topics, usually for different markets
19. New breed of online news sources with a specific geographic focus

Download a PDF of this crossword.

DOWN

1. Section of a magazine that typically contains short, newsy items
2. Never work without one!
4. Place where the writer’s name appears
6. Writers used to enclose these via snail mail
8. Message containing story ideas tailored to a publication’s needs
10. Last name of AOL’s newest content queen
13. Date by which an article must be filed
15. Describes online videos or articles that spread quickly via social media

Answers (with a few links thrown in for the sake of explanation):

ACROSS

3. Sgobbo
5. Contributor
7. Retraction
9. Masthead
11. SEO
12. Dek (hed also fits that space)
14. LOI, which stands for letter of introduction
16. Galley
17. Splog
18. Reslant
19. Hyperlocal

DOWN

1. FOB, which stands for front of book
2. Contract
4. Byline
6. SASE, which stands for self-address, stamped envelope
8. Query
10. Huffington
13. Deadline
15. Viral

Created with the help of CrosswordPuzzleGames.com