Many years ago, 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 making my list and May 23, 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 copy editing business, it was my rejection from Copyblogger that shaped my subsequent guest posting success.
Ironically, it also led me to my current position: Rainmaker Digital’s Editor-in-Chief.
A lot can change in five years.
Rejection is not failure
I had been reading Copyblogger daily for two years before I submitted an unsolicited guest post via email to Sonia Simone.
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.
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 a learning opportunity.
I decided I wasn’t ready to write for Copyblogger. There was more work to be done before the stars would align.
What is your motivation for guest posting?
Even when it was in vogue to guest post for SEO purposes, I wasn’t interested in using guest posting simply to accumulate links to my website, Revision Fairy.
My objective was to expand my writing portfolio and develop a wider presence online that would introduce potential clients to my copy editing and proofreading services.
You know, what Brian Clark has been talking about on Copyblogger since 2006: content marketing.
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 say?
The size of the audience didn’t matter to me. Actually, I wasn’t even thinking about the term “audience.” I was thinking about people — people 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
To reinforce the point that my desire to guest post was not about getting links to Revision Fairy, I never even included links to my site within my posts.
Because my posts weren’t about me.
They were about understanding people’s needs and why they visited a certain site. My focus was on utilizing a guest post to help those people by putting the educational information they needed on a website they read.
How could I complement the information already on a site? What knowledge or experience did I have that would add a fresh perspective to subjects discussed on a blog?
In order for an article to be a good fit for a particular site, that site doesn’t necessarily need more of the same information that the site’s regular writers contribute. Instead, the site often needs or wants 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 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.
After balance, your next key asset is flexibility. A flexible mindset allowed me to think of other interesting outlets for my writing. I became excited about giving those sites high-quality content even if they weren’t the first choice I had in mind.
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:
- 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.
- Limit small talk. Let only the writing you craft display your worth. Professionalism and friendliness are important qualities when contacting editors, but they don’t make up for subpar content.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 pin it up 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 with aggressive words — 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 say, “That person was such a jerk to me! I really want to do him a favor now!”
In some cases, editors may request a rewrite if your topic has potential, but let them make that decision.
If 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 is 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
I like to take the “social” out of “social media.” This nonstandard attitude highlights an aspect of communication many people forget: listening.
How much do you actually listen in social situations and how often do you just wait to talk?
Although Twitter is my preferred social media platform, it’s a space where updates could be reduced to the phrase “I have an opinion about something!” People forget the value of listening.
On Twitter, a meaningless follow with the click of a button or witty @-replies can replace a genuine desire to learn through listening.
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 button on Twitter 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” will make him or her notice you?
Since I joined Twitter in 2007, I’ve only followed a select group of fewer than 50 people. The individuals on my current list are people who I want to learn from, and I am willing to dedicate time to listen to their writing.
For example, when I followed Brian Clark on Twitter years ago, I wanted to study the educational content he discussed, and I valued his opinion on topics that affected my online business.
Through this process of studying his timeline, I also gained insights about Brian’s taste in movies through a mix of Fight Club, The Big Lebowski, and Pulp Fiction references.
I collected information; I didn’t attempt to force a superficial friendship to serve my selfish ambitions.
So, unless it’s a “purposeful follow,” I wouldn’t suggest following me or any other editor.
I know I have severe opinions about how people use social media, and my view of the best way to use Twitter may be extreme, but I’m tryin’, Ringo …
Guest posting is a communication exercise
It’s a process and a practice. You must accept that you will make mistakes — 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.”
Flickr Creative Commons Image via Sarah Joy.