You follow successful bloggers on Instagram and dream of living that lifestyle yourself. How hard can it be to dash off a few guest posts a week in between traveling the world and taking lots of pictures of your dog because, hey, you don’t have to sit in a boring office all day? Soon your social media following will number in the high six figures and you won’t be able to keep up with all the sponsorship offers from your favorite brands.
In reality, successfully pitching a guest post has a lot more to do with research and tenacity than finding the perfect angle for your “it’s always 5:00 somewhere” selfie with your laptop and white wine glass as you blog from the Mediterranean Coast of Italy, sure to encounter George and Amal at any moment. You can celebrate once you see your byline in print, but in the meantime you’ll need to brace yourself for frustration and rejection.
Whether your motivation for pursuing freelance blogging is to become rich and famous, or to simply make money on the side while you raise kids, it’s important to check your ego at the door before you begin the pitching process. Understanding your audience means knowing it’s not about you. As an experienced freelance blogger and creative writer who has worked on the editorial side of three literary journals, I’ll share my perspective from both sides of the desk. Here are my five tips for successfully pitching a guest post, with examples and specific steps you can take now to achieve pitching success.
Match Your Experience Level to the Websites You Target
Aspiring fiction writers dream of publication in The New Yorker and new bloggers fantasize about seeing their byline on HuffPost. However, your chances of success will be higher if you match your experience level to the blogs you pitch. That is not to say you can’t send a homerun pitch on your first try, but it’s helpful to build a portfolio of clips first.
So if you’ve been at this blogging thing for a while, go ahead and pitch some of the big league names in your field, such as Babble for parenting or Fortune for business articles. If you’re a newbie trying to figure out where to start, look for new and less well-known sites that will be more willing to take a chance on a writer with few or no previous clips.
Here are a few suggestions for finding such sites:
Read the Calls For Submissions page on NewPages.com.
The target audience for this site is creative writers, but many of the magazines looking for work accept nonfiction pieces. And guess what? You, my freelance blogging friend, are a creative writer. I mean, unless you’re going to specialize in writing technical manuals, you can find a home for your personal essays and other articles in a literary magazine. NewPages gave me my first brushes with publication success when I was a newly minted Creative Writing MFA graduate. Even some of my undergraduate students have found leads through the site.
Subscribe to emails from the blogs and websites you enjoy.
Many sites try to offer “exclusive content” to their email subscribers and sometimes that means a first chance at a guest blogging opportunity. For example, The Sunlight Press, a literary journal I write book reviews and read submissions for, is currently seeking articles for an upcoming tech-themed issue. You won’t find that opportunity posted across the top of their homepage, but if you’re on the email list you would’ve read the announcement the day they posted it.
Look for guest blogging opportunities in your community.
Does your kids’ school have a website? What about the local florist shop? Just about every business does these days, and most of them understand the importance of posting original content. When you already have a personal connection, it’s easier to reach out and get a response. And most places would be glad to feature a guest blog post from someone connected to the organization. For example, my very first guest blog post appeared on the website of a counseling practice. The owner was a woman whose children I used to babysit, and she found me on LinkedIn after I changed my job title to Freelance Writer. Later, I successfully pitched a guest post to the addiction treatment center my brother had attended.
Participate in The BAFB Pitchfest!
Since you’re reading this article, I assume you follow Be A Freelance Blogger, which means you should be participating in Pitchfest. It’s both a great way to practice and get better at pitching, as well as an opportunity to publish a guest post on a well-respected site that will boost your authority as a freelance writer.
Pitch the Right Editor
Generally, the more established a website is, the harder it will be to find submission guidelines. Even if you do find them, you may be directed to send your work to a general email address like “email@example.com.” That means you’ll end up in the slush pile, aka the void. Again, I’m not saying that writers are never discovered from the slush pile, but starting out there definitely lowers your chances.
So before you follow instructions like the dutiful freelance blogger you are, do some sleuthing to try and find an actual person (but not any person) to pitch. You’re looking for the appropriate editor for the section/genre of the site you wish to be featured in. What does this entail? Sometimes it’s easy to find job titles and contact information on the “About Us” page. Sometimes you’ll need to search on LinkedIn or do a google search for the name of the site plus a phrase like “submission guidelines” or “nonfiction editor.” Overall, in my experience it’s not very difficult or time-consuming to find the right person. You just have to know to take that step in the first place.
For example, I recently listened to a podcast interview with the editor-in-chief of Working Mother. I hadn’t heard about this magazine/website before, and I thought it might be a great place to pitch since I myself am a working mother who occasionally writes about parenting and work/life balance. In my head I was already writing the opening of my pitch email, mentioning the podcast (which is itself about balancing work/life/family) and how much I’d enjoyed the interview. But before I sent anything, I wanted to find the right person to send it to. I assumed the editor in chief was probably not that person, since she oversees the entire magazine, not just specific sections. So here’s what I did:
Step One: Peruse the navigation menu.
The first thing I notice is the three main content categories: At Home, At Work, and Off Duty. When I send my message, I’ll choose one category to target and make sure my pitch is relevant. I’ll also look at recently published articles in the category of my choice to get a sense of what they like and avoid duplicating a topic they’ve already covered.
Step Two: Click on “About Us.”
Sometimes–as with this site–you’ll find what you’re looking for right away. The “About Us” page is also helpful for giving you a sense of the magazine’s mission and sensibility, which should also shape your pitch. When I follow the “which editors to contact” link, there is indeed a list of names, email addresses, and the topics each editor covers. There are also instructions for what and how to pitch (we’ll get into this in the next section).
Be Specific; Don’t Send a Generic Pitch to Multiple Blogs
Some websites require a completed article for submission and yes, that is time-consuming. But when you are only asked for a short pitch, there’s no excuse for laziness. Be specific and tailor your pitch to the editor and blog it’s intended for. Editors can smell a generic pitch from a mile away and these have the added benefit of being easy to trash. You see, editors are busy people. Yes, they want writers to send them wonderful pitches they can’t wait to publish. But they are also always looking for ways to save time, and emails that are easy to ignore and delete are a great time-saving strategy. So don’t make yourself ignorable.
Of course, there are no guarantees you’ll get a response regardless of how terrific your idea is. Many sites publish a disclaimer along the lines of “We receive too many unsolicited submissions to respond to each one personally. If you don’t hear back from us in _____, assume we’re not interested.” However, the more specific and relevant your pitch is, the better your chances that it will at least be considered. Mention why you’re interested in writing for this particular site and how your proposed article will help/appeal to their audience.
Not being generic also means following the site’s guidelines down to the tiniest detail. If they ask for a specific subject line, make that the subject of your email pitch. If they don’t want attachments, don’t send one. Following submission guidelines is your first chance to demonstrate your conscientiousness, an important trait in a freelance writer.
Know Your Audience (Hint: It’s Not Your Mother)
Share your qualifications for writing the post, such as your education, professional/personal experience, or previous published articles. Other than that, don’t make your pitch all about you. Knowing your audience is one of a writer’s most important jobs and here it’s not your mom. Editors don’t care about you just because you exist; they only care if your pitch is a good fit for their site.
Self-involved writing is one of the most common blunders I find as a submission reader for The Sunlight Press. Whether your pitch is for a personal essay about losing a relative to cancer, or a listicle of tips for how to get your toddler to sleep through the night, it’s got to have universal truths that will resonate with readers and/or actionable tips and strategies they can adopt in their own lives. If you just want to tell a story about what happened to you, save it for your friends and family.
Behave Well and Don’t Be a Puppy Dog
Most writers are at least a little insecure and crave affirmation of their talent, especially in the beginning. However, this is another impulse you should save for family and friends, not blog editors. Occasionally, an editor will turn down your pitch with encouragement to try again in the future. I cannot stress this enough: they really mean the future, as in at least a few weeks, if not months from now. Unless they specifically say, “do you have anything else to submit right now?” they probably don’t want to hear from you again right away. It’s tempting to let the encouragement go to your head and write back immediately with another pitch. Waiting a while before you pitch again shows that you’ve grown as a writer, perhaps accumulated new clips in the meantime, and you’ve developed a thoughtful follow-up pitch.
Other basic etiquette you should follow if you want an opportunity to write for the site again:
- Don’t follow up with an unanswered pitch more than once (and wait at least a week to do so).
- Honor the deadline; submit early if possible.
- Proofread your work before you hit ‘send.’
- Don’t try to insert paid links without disclosing them to the editor (most sites won’t let you do this anyway). This is an unethical practice known as “link buying” or “blackhat links.” You may receive emails from website owners asking what sites you write for and how much you’d charge to write a guest post about their company/service. It’s tempting, but if you get caught you’ll damage your reputation as an honest blogger. Not only are you deceiving your editor, you’re also deceiving everyone who reads your article and assumes all your links were independently chosen.
Go Out and Pitch With Confidence!
Now that you have some strategies for identifying promising sites, finding the appropriate editor, and writing a successful pitch, it’s time to get started. Build your momentum with a goal like sending out one pitch a day or five new pitches every Monday. Eventually you’ll connect with an interested editor and over time you’ll become a confident and practiced guest poster.
Have any of these tips worked for you? Did I leave anything out? Leave a comment with your guest post pitching experiences.