How Serious Writers Expand Their Audiences with Guest Blog Posts
Note: While we encourage you to explore guest posting to grow your audience, Copyblogger does not currently accept guest post submissions. But don’t worry, these pointers are useful for any publication.
In my first edition of the Copyblogger Weekly, I mentioned a running joke Sonia Simone and I have: that she rejected the first guest post I submitted to Copyblogger.
(If you’re not already subscribed to the Weekly, sign up here to get a short note from me straight to your inbox every Thursday.)
Today, I’m going to share that story to shed some light on the delicate nature of writer-editor relationships.
Let’s take it back to 2008 …
When I began developing my personal guest posting strategy, Copyblogger sat atop my “Where I Want to Guest Post” list.
Five years later, I achieved my goal.
So, how did I spend the time between May 2008 and May 2013, when my first blog post appeared on Copyblogger?
Rigorously practicing my writing, of course.
Although I had high hopes of guest posting for Copyblogger during the early stages of my online writing and editing business, it was my rejection from Copyblogger that shaped my subsequent guest posting success.
It also prepared me for becoming Copyblogger’s Editor-in-Chief in 2014.
Rejection isn’t failure
I had been reading Copyblogger daily for two years before I submitted an unsolicited guest post via email to Sonia.
Since I didn’t have any connections who could make an introduction, I opted for writing a brief and informative email with the completed post attached in a Microsoft Word document, as well as an html version in a plain text file.
It was a long shot, but I thought my post was creative. And the html, which included hyperlinks to other Copyblogger posts, could be easily transferred to WordPress. It was publish-ready, just the way editors like posts.
After two weeks without receiving a response to my all-in-one introduction and pitch email, I used the site’s contact form to follow up.
I’m horribly embarrassed to share the correspondence below, but the rejection helped my writing career grow more than if the post had been accepted for publication.
The editorial team never contacted me.
Failure isn’t even failure — it’s just … what’s happening
I didn’t persist and email anyone at Copyblogger again, but I didn’t give up either.
Without losing confidence in my writing ability, I accepted that my post wasn’t a good fit for the blog.
This is when my outlook shifted to viewing the experience as an opportunity.
I decided I wasn’t ready to write for Copyblogger. There was more work to be done before the stars would align.
Why guest post?
My objective was to expand my writing portfolio and develop a wider online presence that would introduce potential clients to my service business.
So after the rejection from Copyblogger, my next task was to find a better fit for the content I had written.
Who else could I contact? More importantly, what other audience would benefit from what I had to share?
My focus was on who could use the content I wanted to produce.
When this single factor drives your guest posting outreach, you’ll always find the best place to publish your post.
The secret to guest posting success
You’ll find that most high-quality sites don’t need more of the same information that the site’s regular writers contribute.
Instead, those sites often look for articles about related topics that demonstrate expertise.
In other words: original, useful content expressed through a unique writing voice.
But not too unique.
Guest posting success is about striking the right balance. Unique writing is only one part of the equation because websites have established editorial standards.
You become a guest in their editorial home, and you need to adapt your presentation accordingly to ensure your text and tone matches their typical publishing style.
At this point, I actually became enthused about writing for sites other than Copyblogger, even though they weren’t my first choice.
My first choice was just a starting place.
Five critical components to practice
If you’ve been creating content for your own site for a while, you may write quickly and effortlessly.
You may have mastered the techniques that allow you to publish on a regular schedule.
But when you publish on a site you don’t own, you’ve entered new territory.
Clear and effective correspondence with a site’s editor is a prerequisite, and your guest post often needs to look quite different from the posts you normally publish.
Here are five factors to incorporate into your guest posting strategy.
1. Think like an editor
When an editor decides to run a guest post, she’s vouching for that writer.
You want your writing to overcome any objections she may have about accepting your content.
And that has nothing to do with how nice you are to her in your email.
2. Limit small talk
Let your excellent writing speak for itself.
Have it display your worth.
Professionalism and friendliness are important qualities when contacting editors, but they don’t make up for subpar content.
3. Don’t mimic
Want to avoid submitting that subpar content I just mentioned?
Practice creating new discussions about classic topics, instead of regurgitating traditional advice.
It takes time and dedication to fine-tune both your writing and editing skills.
4. Become a resource
If your guest post conveys information that could have been written by any content creator, the site you submit it to will not likely appreciate it as a special article.
But when an editor can only get the content she needs from you, you become a treasured resource.
You might even get asked to write again.
5. Produce stand-alone articles
While hyperlinking to sources is useful, it’s often abused and the result is confusing, unfocused writing.
Consider writing your guest post like a print magazine article.
When a print article resonates with a reader, she’ll tear it out of the publication and put it on her refrigerator with a magnet. She doesn’t need to also attach 15 other articles to complete the text.
The entitlement pit of despair
Again, you can write for your own site all day, every day if you wish, but there’s no guarantee that one of your posts — even if you believe it’s the best content you’ve ever written — is going to be accepted for publication on someone else’s site.
The content has to be a match.
When you think like an editor, as suggested in tip number one above, you broaden your perspective and begin to understand the experience of editing a multi-author blog.
If you don’t think like an editor, rejection may offend you and inspire a sense of entitlement.
When you don’t trust and respect an editor’s decision, and follow up aggressively — restating your case to someone who has already taken time to review your initial request — you damage your reputation.
There’s a reason why you’ve never heard someone earnestly say:
“That person was out of line! But good thing they were, because I really want to do them a favor now!”
In some cases, editors may request a rewrite if your topic has potential, but let them make that decision.
When you become your own editor, you begin to naturally recognize on your own when a blog post is a good fit for a site — and when it’s not.
And when it’s not, it’s okay. The text may have great success as part of the content library on your own site.
Study; don’t follow
When you want to connect with an editor, research should be your first priority.
During your exploration of a person or publication, you’ll likely discover a slew of social media profiles.
But don’t casually hit the Follow or Connect buttons just yet.
If you already follow hundreds or thousands of people, what do you hope to achieve with this addition? Will you actually pay attention to that editor’s updates? Do you think the “follow” or “invitation to connect” will make him or her notice you?
Aim for social media engagement that helps you get to know someone’s online personality and organically grow a relationship with them over time.
Guest posting is a communication exercise
It’s a process and a practice.
You have to accept that you’ll make mistakes and sometimes you won’t get the results you want.
But part of the process and the practice is recognizing those mistakes, regrouping, and pushing forward another way.
The communication exercise is less about what you want and more about finding an outlet that fits your current circumstances.
There’s always a form of success waiting for you at your current level.
While you may want to guest post on your favorite website to benefit your business, the effectiveness of any post is always measured by the value it provides for others.
Pitch from this place of serving. When you do, you’ll recognize a variety of possible places to publish your writing.
And your accomplishment is not only publication. You will also gain communication experience and establish working relationships that can reap priceless rewards.
As one of my yoga instructors says, “The practice is the point.”