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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!