Do you give your best writing away for free?
When was the last time you wrote a blog post for another website?
How exactly can guest posting help you win readers and influence a wider audience with your ideas?
Over the past 12 months, I’ve written guest posts for 30 different blogs and websites like Copyblogger and Fast Company.
In this blog post, I'm going to explain why writing guest posts is an important activity for writers who want to spread their ideas further and build an audience for their work.
I’ll even sneak in a Charles Bukowski reference.
Then, I’ll explode eight of the most common myths about writing guest posts today.
Finally, I’ll give you a free swipe file to help you pitch a website with your idea today.
Why Should You Give Your Best Writing Away for Free?
Before I wrote my first guest post, I resented the idea of spending precious time and energy writing something and then giving this to someone else.
Surely I was better off writing posts and publishing them on my site?
I was dead wrong.
There are a couple of reasons.
Firstly, my personal blogging mentor Jon Morrow told me writing guest posts for large websites is the writer’s equivalent of opening for the Rolling Stones when you’re an up and coming band.
It’s the quickest way to grow your audience.
Here’s the thing:
If you perform your job as a guest writer some of this site’s audience will:
- Visit your website
- Join your email list
- Read your work and
- Become one of your readers
As Elna Cain explains on Blogging Wizard, it's a surefire way to get more eyes on your blog.
Writing guest posts gives you free access the quality editorial feedback that you need to improve as a writer.
The editors of larger websites are trained professionals, and they can help you unearth problems in your writing that you otherwise would have to pay a tutor lots of money for.
I don’t know about you but most new writers I know don’t have lots of money many to hire a personal and expensive editor.
This leaves one other option:
Writing guest posts.
If Charles Bukowski Gave His Best Stuff Away So Can You
Charles Bukowski was one of America’s most famous poets and novelists.
In his famous collection of Poetry The Pleasures of the Damned, Bukowski complained his heroes (Hemingway, Scott F. Fitzgerald) could find an audience for their work much easier in the 1920s than he could in the 1940s and 1950s:
It was much easier to be a genius in the twenties, there were only 3 or 4 literary magazines…. you could possibly meet Picasso for a glass of wine.
Then, Bukowski bemoaned the amount of publications he had to deal with (i.e. write for) to build his audience in 1951:
Now there are so many of us, hundreds of literary magazines, hundreds of presses, thousands of titles.
Bukowski would have just loved the millions of websites, blogs and publications today’s writers contend with.
If Bukowski can do it, so you can you.
Now, let’s explode eight of the most popular myths about writing guest posts.
1. It’s Your Editor’s Job to Write the Headline
The headline is the most important part of any article or blog post.
It's the first thing your readers see and if it’s written well, your headline will convince readers to click on a link to your article.
When you're pitching an editor, include a strong headline following the style of the blog in question.
Often this is enough to convince an editor to read your post.
You can write a strong headline by studying headlines of the five most popular blog posts on the site you’re pitching.
Alternatively, Brian Clark of Copyblogger recommends making your writing life easier by studying the covers of popular magazines like Cosmo, and then emulating what they do.
These headline writers are highly paid professional that you can learn from for free.
Here’s how this works:
- Type Cosmo into Google image search
- Write down 5-10 headlines
- Adapt each headline idea around your topic
Using this trick, I used the headline 7 Sex Myths Busted! and turned it into 8 Guest Post Myths Posted!
If you still need help writing great headlines, download Jon Morrow's free Headline Hacks.
2. One Idea Is Enough To Woo Your Editor
If you include one idea, your chances of getting published depend solely on merits of your single idea.
If you include two ideas, your editor has a dilemma.
If you include three ideas, your editor has options.
You don't need to go into great detail for each idea (and a time-strapped editor with a thousand emails to read won’t thank you for a 1,000-word email), but give your editor more than what they’re expecting.
3. You Can Take as Much Time as You Want to Write Your Post
I was a professional journalist for several years, and I can tell you professional writers look for deadlines and stick to them.
If your guest post is accepted, it’s good practice to either ask your editor for a deadline or submit a completed post within one to two weeks.
Worried you can’t do this?
Make life easier on yourself by writing a rough draft of your article before you pitch the editor in question.
This way you can rework your draft before submitting it.
But what if your post is rejected?
You can still rework the idea for another website or if that fails, you can use the post on your blog.
4. The Guest Posting Guidelines Are for Fools
The guest post guidelines differ from site to site, and wow betide the writer who ignores them.
They may ask you to do things like:
- Hit a target word count
- Include an image for your post
- Link to other articles or influencers in your post
- Write a linking post on your website
- Email an editor rather than the site owner (more on this in a moment)
One site I pitched hid a ‘password’ in the middle of their guest posting guidelines and asked that serious writers (i.e. the ones who read the guidelines) include this password in their initial email.
You can typically find the writing guidelines on the About page, the contact page or on another dedicated page on the site in question.
5. There’s No Need To Spend Time Building Relationships Before You Make Your Pitch
I sometimes comment on popular posts on the sites I want to write for multiple times before making a pitch.
Commenting on the popular and new blog posts will help you develop a relationship with the site owner or the editor in question.
I also share these posts multiple times using Twitter.
I do this because Twitter notifies the site owners that I shared their posts.
This notification makes it easier for me to build a relationship with the site in question (who doesn’t like their content being shared?) and then get a response to my pitch.
Another guest blogging tactic is to link to various posts on the target website on your own blog.
This tactic is more successful if you are targeting mid-level rather than top-level lots.
The former may not have that many links (and will notice yours) whereas the latter will have thousands.
6. It Doesn’t Matter What the Editor’s Name Is
In How to Win Friends and Influence People, ― Dale Carnegie writes:
Names are the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”
Most larger websites employ a full-time editor who manages content on behalf of the site owner.
As a writer, it’s your job to find out the name of this editor.
Whatever you do, don't start your email by saying ‘hi’ and then moving into your pitch.
This will make your email sound cold and impersonal.
The guest posting guidelines of most sites often include the names of the editors in question.
Alternatively if you’re stuck, address the site owner by name.
7. Didn’t Hear Back Immediately? Move On
The owners and editors of popular websites are busy people with even busier inboxes.
If they don't respond to your initial guest post pitch immediately, don't take it personally.
Instead, seven days after you make your pitch, send a follow-up email politely asking if they received your submission.
A week is long enough to avoid harassing the editor but not so long that they forget about you.
In the majority of cases, the editor will respond to the follow-up submission.
Four of five of my pitches received a response after I took this approach.
If they don’t, you can try again in one week or take your idea to another website.
The web is a big place.
8. Your Job is Over When Your Post Goes Live
Professional writers are always thinking about the next job; you should too.
After you write a guest post for a popular, website, thank everybody that shares or comments on your posts and respond to their comments.
If you have time, read the bios of those who share your posts on Twitter.
If these people have a relationship with a site that you want to write for, contact them immediately with a new guest post idea.
You will be fresh in their mind, and they will be receptive to your ideas for their site.
A few days after your post is published, send the editor a short email thanking them for the opportunity.
This way, you can keep the door open for future submissions.
Even if you decide not to write for them again, this will leave a positive impression with the editor.
Here’s the thing:
Leaving a positive impression is the hallmark of a professional writer.
Winning New Readers and Influencing Your Audience
Writing guest posts is a long-term game for forward-looking writers.
Yes, it takes some time to get started if you haven’t written a guest post before.
However, after you’ve written several guest posts, the editors of larger and more popular websites will become more receptive to your ideas because you have a body of work, which you can point to.
Plus you can use your old posts to build your credibility as a writer with your expanding audience on your blog.
To help you get started, I’ve put a swipe file containing several of my guest post pitches.
Now go give your best work away for free.
If anyone asks, tell them Charles Bukowski sent you.
If you need more info on guest posting, check out this list of 700+ sites to write for.
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