I write a lot, especially guest posts. On an average week, I’ll write and edit 6 to 10 articles. Surprisingly, that’s never changed. In every job I’ve ever had professionally, I’ve been producing internal blog posts, writing guest posts, and/or editing content from contributors, on a daily basis.
You can imagine that adds up quickly, and it has. While the official tally is not… official, it’s an estimate based on what I know I’ve done over the last 7 years.
Still, volume isn’t everything if you’re not getting anything from the experience. It’s also likely not impressive to anyone other than word nerds or content marketers like myself. The lessons I’ve learned, however, can be helpful and interesting to everyone and it just dawned on me recently to share those learnings with you, so let’s talk.
Lesson #1: Editors Are Just Like Me and You
When I first started guest posting, I was too afraid to reach out to big name publishers. Why? Honestly, I’m not sure—an assumption that they just wouldn’t respond? Looking back, I realize how many opportunities I likely missed. When you really think about it, the worst that can happen is they say no. The best that could happen is they welcome you with open arms as the great writer that you are.
When I realized that these editors were just like us (I mean, I AM an editor), everything changed and I started reaching out anyway. As a result, I’ve gotten writing opportunities with Virgin, Reader’s Digest and AARP just by reaching out and asking.
See my work:
- Forget the Lightbulb Moment: 5 Stories of Real Creative Success [Virgin]
- De-Clutter Right Now By Pairing Down These 10 Unnecessary Items [Reader’s Digest]
- 5 Low-Impact Exercises for Joint Pain [AARP]
Lesson #2: Editors like Communication
Editors are busy people—like really busy. Most are managing hundreds of contributors, paid and unpaid, and if you aren’t good about communication, you may never hear back. As an editor, I experience this personally and can assure you, communication on the part of the writer is critical.
For example, there’s a good chance the editor won’t respond to your first outreach email. Follow up 7 days later, and you’re much more likely to hear back. When reaching out to 10 people, I’d say I hear back from 0-2 from the first email, and then get responses from likely 2-3 more with follow up. (More about this in lesson #4.)
It’s even more important to communicate when you’re going to miss a deadline or due date. Many editors build that into their content calendars and being late puts them in a bind, as they scramble to fill your spot. If you want to write regularly, this is one of the most important factors in maintaining that relationship.
Lesson #3: Editors Like Consistency
Consistently providing great content will put you at the top of any contributor list. Editors like working with people who do great work because they can trust that when it gets to them, it will be an easy edit. I’ve had a lot of referrals, and editors passing my info to an editor taking their place, because quality is so important for me. For one publication, I’m working with my third editor since starting to contribute 2+ years ago.
To get better at editing your work, and improve your writing, read each article the way an editor word. Be critical, ask questions, and think of ways they might push you to add more here or tighten up your wording there.
If you’ve never worked with or been an editor before, this can be tough. Make it easier with one simple practice. At the end of each paragraph, ask yourself: What questions do I have? For example, when I’m editing, I often think:
- How do you know that?
- Do you have proof?
- What’s the data on that?
- Did someone reputable talk about this?
- Do you have an example?
For a line that reads, “because many small business owners experience burnout, it’s important to hire experts to take the load off,” my questions would be:
- How do we know many business owners experience burnout?
- How many? Is there data on this?
- Is there an expert quote we can pull in?
If that still feels out of your league, sign up below for a free editing session with me.
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Lesson #4: It’s All About Volume
The response numbers I shared above are likely shocking—only 1 to 4 responses for 10 emails sent? (And that’s even a little inflated.) This is why volume is key, but not if you’re reaching out to websites that aren’t related to what you want to write about. When you do that, which I see SO many guest authors doing, your success rate will be even lower. Honestly, when I get emails and the topics are way off, I just delete it.
However, when pitching appropriate topics, there are many reasons you may not hear back:
- They’re not interested.
- Your email gets lost in their inbox.
- Your email lands in spam.
- They’ve passed it on, but the next person didn’t reply to you.
- The associate guest posting with spam and ignore your email.
However, there are many editors who do know the value of guest posting, and will respond—even if it’s a no. just remember, guest posting operates as a snowball effect: it starts slow, and with enough outreach, you build momentum and responses start coming in. If you want to start a guest posting program, know that you have to be as patient as you are with every other organic marketing strategy.
Lesson #5: Research and Data Always Wins
You don’t know everything. Yet, you have access to data, quotes and research that you can source to bring legitimacy to your work. This is critical, even if you’re writing from an expert perspective. I’ll give you two examples:
- I was writing for ACE (American Council on Exercise) and the editor came back asking for some expert quotes to be included. I wrote back saying, “Well, as the personal trainer, I’m the expert—I didn’t think that was necessary.” I just searched my inbox for the editor’s response, and can’t seem to find it—but, I of course added that info in and learned and important lesson.
- Now, as I read other’s “expert” content, I realize how much I appreciate the extra data and insights. This article, from the founder of Co-Schedule, is an amazing example. I highly recommend reading it.
P.S. If you want to see my work for ACE, you can head to my ACE author profile.
Lesson #6: You Have to Get the Right Person
Don’t send article pitches to people who aren’t involved with content. When first starting, my assumption was that they‘d forward it to the right person. The lesson I’ve learned is: they won’t. In 9 out of 10 cases, the email gets deleted, and for good reason. People are busy, they don’t have time to “send your email to the right person.”
To avoid this issue, ask a qualifying question on your first outreach. If you know the site accepts guest posts, and they provide an email, then you’re good to send whatever they’re asking for. Otherwise, find the right person, then send your pitch.
Lesson #7: You’ll Balk at Writing From Last Year
Our writing improves from article to article. It’s amazing to look back on the work I did just last year because, if I could re-edit and re-submit it, I would—and I think that when looking at most articles. It’s not because they’re bad, it’s just that I’ve grown.
When you write for this many sites, you get a deluge of feedback; it may not feel like it’s changing your writing, but it is. Slowly, you develop these little voices in your head that remind you, “Don’t write it like that,” or “Avoid this type of wording,” or “Always use the simpler word whenever possible.” (That last one is odd, but it’s my editorial tip for you! My old co-workers from Active.com will get it.)
If you want to get better at writing, this is proof that you just need to do it, while working with an editor if possible. My writing changed drastically after working with one specific editor for nearly two years and her words are STILL in my head as I write 4+ years later.
Lesson #8: Your Brand Won’t Grow Automatically
This is an important one for businesses. Guest posting or writing a ton of content for other sites, is not going to automatically turn you into a social media mogul who everyone knows. While there are social benefits to guest posting, like being tagged when the publisher shares your post, it doesn’t automatically translate to a larger community or over-night brand.
While I do get emails from people who have read my content, usually a few times each month, I’m still working my a** off to build a social media audience (like every other business or entrepreneur), and my name is certainly not famous—not yet, at least.
That’s why it’s important to remember that it’s all cyclical. You can’t just write guest posts and expect everything to grow. Just like you can’t just post a lot on social media and expect to build a community. All of these organic content marketing pieces work together to build a brand, drive engagement, boost SEO, and increase traffic.
Lessons From Guest Posting
I’ve been guest posting since my first job in 2011 and seven years later, I can say I’ve learned a lot. I’ve also become a better writer, a more connected contributor, and someone editors enjoy working with.
Are you interested in reaching this place in your writing career? Do you want to get this piece of your organic content marketing up and running?
Let me help you!
Send me a message below and tell me what you’re looking for.