The rise of blogs that accept freelance posts has led to the creation of a particular type of creature: the blog editor.
Much like a magazine or newspaper editor, a blog editor is responsible for choosing the content of the publication she manages, maintaining a style and generally ensuring that what gets published is worth reading. Blog editors are the gatekeepers you need to work with to get your posts published.
Blog editors are the people we freelance bloggers have to impress and win over. They’re the ones who decide what posts should be published and which bloggers get staff positions. That means you need to know what blog editors are looking for in each pitch they open, as well as how to impress them.
Start with the Guidelines
Take the time to actually check each site where you’d like to freelance for guidelines. Many blogs now lay out clear submission guidelines, which means that you’ll know exactly what an editor wants you to do in order to win them over. There’s almost never a good reason to deviate from the guidelines on a blog: many editors entirely ignore pitches that don’t follow the instructions.
It seems like a small thing, but many pitches aren’t even addressed to the right person. Editors with clear submission guidelines on their sites routinely get pitches addressed to people who have no connection with the site, pitches sent in through social media accounts (rather than the appropriate email address or form) or a whole slew of other mistakes.
While not all blogs that accept freelance submissions display their contributor guidelines on a page that you can see, most do — in fact, it’s often worth assuming that blogs that don’t bother with guidelines may not pay contributors, unless they expressly say otherwise somewhere on their sites.
Make sure that you’re clear on the differences between freelancing for a given site and submitting a guest post — many editors have different expectations for the two. Alexis Grant, who edits numerous blogs for her clients, is included in that category:
I expect guest posters to come to me with an idea — if you’re asking for my ideas on what you should write about, that’s more work for me, so I’d rather work with someone else. Freelance bloggers can also bring ideas to the table, but sometimes I’ll assign topics to them. In terms of content, if I’m paying someone, I have higher standards, and I expect the post to come to me ready to go, including all the components I’ve outlined in our guidelines (it includes a bio that’s two sentences rather than two paragraphs, a couple of relevant links to our site, etc.)
Without fail, make sure that your pitch meets the requirements of the submission guidelines.
Study the Publication
You don’t have to be the most devoted reader of any site you’re pitching, but you do want to make it clear that you know what will be a good fit for the blog. It looks particularly bad if you send in a pitch about an idea that was covered on the site just a few days ago.
In general, try to demonstrate that you’re familiar with the blog’s audience and its content — what special types of posts it runs, what posts tend to do well, and similar factors.
In your pitch, make a point of explaining why your idea is a good fit for the publication in question. Be specific. If you can tell an editor exactly what category a post fits in, she can tell at a glance if she’s got a spot in her editorial calendar.
Your research will pay off, especially if you take an active interest in a website for some time. Leaving comments on blog posts, connecting on social media and communicating with the people involved in the blog long before you’re ready to pitch can help your pitch get accepted. Grant explains,
If you send me a pitch and I recognize your name, you’ve already moved to the top of my list — unless I associate you with poor pitches and posts. So, like every job, this is about relationships. How can you get on an editor’s radar? Can you connect with them on Twitter? Have a friend who knows him introduce you?
Don’t merely read the blogs you want to write for. Analyze them, research who is already writing for them and get to know every detail of the site.
Show Your Own Abilities as a Writer
No editor really wants to be the first person to take a chance on someone who’s never written for a blog before. After all, there’s no guarantee that the writer will understand the basics of blogging, let alone be able to put an interesting post together. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you need professional clips to get started; the freelance blogging market is young enough that it’s still relatively easy to break into.
It does mean, however, that many editors will want to see that you’ve contributed guest posts to other sites or that you’re actively blogging on your own site. Your own blog can serve as a portfolio: it shows that you understand blog formats and styles. It also proves that you can string words together effectively and interestingly.
Your personal blog doesn’t have to be precisely on the same topic as the website you’d like to freelance for. However, you do want to be able to point to some writing that shows your familiarity with the overall topic.
Sean Hodge, the editor of FreelanceSwitch, points out,
It catches my attention when bloggers are active, when they’ve written for publications recently that I recognize, they have interesting material on their own site, they are engaged with their audience, are fully committed to their craft, and are clearly working hard to build their long term reputation.
Be sure to explicitly point to your published work in your pitch. Link to your own blog at the very least and, if you want to improve your chances, link directly to individual posts that are relevant to the pitch.
Be Interesting, No Matter What Else You Do
If you can’t pique an editor’s interest with your pitch, there’s no point writing a post. Hodge notes,
The majority of pitches we receive for FreelanceSwitch are clearly not usable and this is apparent almost immediately. They are off topic, proposals for generic collections of tips we’ve covered in the past, or other low quality offers.
In short, these pitches are uninteresting. Hodge explains that even some of the pitches that follow the guidelines posted on FreelanceSwitch just aren’t offering enough.
Good pitches are interesting. They have a hook that grabs you and will similarly grab our audience. Ideally, they are proposed by a freelancer that can demonstrate their experience, skill, and reputation. They are concise.
Don’t send out overly similar pitches to as many blog editors as you can find. There are many different ways to come off as a spammer when you’re pitching blog editors, and not crafting a pitch that really fits the editor and website you’re trying to reach is particularly bad.
Alexis Grant can spot a bad pitch in a matter of seconds:
I get a lot of spammy pitches — from content farms? not exactly sure where these people come from — so I’m always on high alert for those, and if it looks anything like a generic pitch, I delete automatically. I get so many pitches, I just don’t have time to look carefully at anything that’s not written specifically for whatever blog I’m managing — and that means addressing the pitch to me or the owner of the blog.
It’s tough, but you have to find a new and interesting angle for each pitch you send out. Look for ideas that are going to interest both the editor and the blog’s readers.
Don’t Bother the Editor While You’re Waiting [Most of the Time]
If you haven’t heard back on your pitch, it’s tempting to keep following up. But it’s best to give editors some space. If, after a month, you still haven’t heard anything, you can send a follow-up email, but that’s about it.
Hodge’s process takes some time. “We tend to get ten to thirty pitches a week, though it can vary. There are times it may be lower or higher.” Quite a few of those pitches are clearly wrong for the site right off the bat, but he still has to look at each one. FreelanceSwitch has automated some steps of the process:
We have a generic auto responder set up for all pitches submitted into our pitch form. It indicates if you do not hear back in seven days your pitch has been unsuccessful. No action is taken beyond that for unsuccessful pitches.
Once he’s narrowed down the stack, Hodge has to take action on them: “For those pitches that have potential, it takes a bit more time to consider the proposal, take a look at the writer’s site, and review some of their past work.”
Grant may flat-out delete pitches that are unusable:
If the pitch isn’t well done or personalized, I delete it. If I can tell the person really tried, I’ll respond with a Canned Response that says something like, ‘Thanks for thinking of us, but this isn’t quite right for our audience.’
It’s not always worth bringing a poorly-expressed good idea up to a usable state, but if it is, some editors will contact you, as Grant might. “If I really like the idea, sometimes I’ll help the author get the post where it needs to be to publish, but I can’t spend a ton of time reworking posts. If I did that for everyone, it would take ages,” she explains.
Unless you have a good reason to follow up faster with an editor, like a time-sensitive post idea, don’t bother them to get back to you.
Pitching Isn’t a One-Time Obligation
Over the years, I’ve worked for some of the biggest blog networks out there. Even as a staff blogger — someone who was guaranteed the opportunity to write a certain number of times each week — I still had to pitch my ideas on a regular basis. It’s fairly rare that an editor will give you free rein to write about any topic that you come up with.
Instead, you’ll be expected to pitch ideas on a regular basis. You’ll be able to bundle several pitches together, but you still have to get the OK on your ideas. That means that you need to keep a clear picture of what each blog editor you work with wants, even after you’ve gotten your first pitch in the door. You can wind up in the same position if you keep coming up with good ideas for a blog that doesn’t take on staff writers.
Keep notes on the editors you work with regularly. Even if you just set up a simple table or spreadsheet with their names, contact information and preferences, you’ll be better equipped to send out pitches that catch editors’ attention. You’ll be able to speed up the process, too.
Exactly what an editor is looking for can shift. The content published at FreelanceSwitch has evolved over the several years it has been in existence. Most recently, Hodge says that the site is publishing more in-depth content, especially tutorials.
And don’t be afraid to pitch an editor who has already ready turned you down. Hodge points out,
Keep in mind that if your pitch is not successful, it isn’t necessarily do to the quality of your pitch. Our needs for submissions from new authors go up and down every month. Even a quality pitch is not successful during times that we are booked solid. It doesn’t hurt to try again.
You’ve got the tools — not to mention the writing skills — to wow a blog editor. You just have to show them what you’ve got!