A few weeks ago I received a familiar email – someone was interested in writing a guest post on our blog. They said they loved reading our blog, and included hyperlinks to previous writing samples. Pressed for time, I wrote back without checking their writing first:

“Thanks for reaching out. If you would like to write for our blog, please propose 2-3 relevant article topics you would be prepared to write. If they sound like a good fit, I will select one.”

I didn’t give it a second thought. In fact, I forgot about it. So I was surprised to receive their reply, two weeks later, obediently proposing these three topics:

“Hi Muriel!

I apologize for the late reply! Would you be interested in an article about:

– How to Layer Rugs

– 6 Gorgeous Mid-Century Modern Living Rooms

– Inspiration: Decorating with Air Plants

If you have any alternate topic ideas we would be happy to write about that instead.  We are excited for the opportunity to possibly be featured on your website!”

Considering we cover user-generated content, marketing and social media, I thought this was pretty hilarious. Less hilarious was when the emailer pinged me three days later to make sure I had seen his suggested topics, and wanting to know if I could publish them.

My reply was brief – “Sorry, I don’t think this is a good fit.”

A waste of my time, and his.

Why Guest Blog?

Guest blogging has become an important piece of the content marketing arsenal. Writing a guest blog is a great way to expand your reach – to get fresh eyes on your content, to communicate with a new audience. It allows companies that don’t have a large readership on a blog of their own, to reach a large audience anyway. And for writers looking to build their portfolios, nailing your guest blog pitch is critical.

I’ve served as the editor for two different blogs in the past two years – both in very different spaces from each other – one about urban planning and sustainability, and the other about marketing and tech. But the guest blog pitches I received at each are surprisingly similar – and what makes a pitch effective doesn’t change from blog to blog.

Frankly, I’ve become less and less inclined to work with guest bloggers. Free, high quality writing is tantalizing, but working with new writers (who sometimes aren’t really writers) is like rolling the dice. Sometimes you get fantastic contributors, but it’s often more work than it’s worth. But once in a while I get a really good pitch that I can’t turn down. It’s all about how you write your email, and its not that hard to do well. 

1. Propose specific topics

This one is the most common mistake. Much like a job interview, it may be tempting to say, “I’ll do anything! What do you need? I can do whatever you want, just tell me!” But in both interviews and guest blog pitches, this is a mistake. One of the hardest parts about consistently creating content is figuring out which topics to write. Why would I assign one of my topics to a stranger?

Suggesting topics makes the editor’s job a lot easier – they can more quickly evaluate if it is a good fit, and that makes them much more likely to accept a proposed submission.

It also shows that you know what the blog is about. Proposing How to Layer Rugs to a marketing blog will obviously not get you anywhere. Your proposed topics should fit with the blog’s content, which brings us to #2…

2. Read the blog. Really, actually read the blog. At least a little.

I can usually tell when someone pitches me whether they know what our blog is about or not. Don’t tell me what you know about and ask me to fit it in to our topics – show me how your expertise fits in with what we’re writing about! You can only do that if you’ve read the blog you’re trying to write for. Make note of their topics and writing style, so that if your pitch is accepted, you already know how to go about writing the piece.

 3. Your most important writing sample is your email

When I’m evaluating a potential guest blogger, I don’t want to read a college essay. I just want to know that they can write. 1-3 links to previously published content is a great way to assure the editor that you know what you’re doing. Attached writing samples are less valuable than published links, but will do in a pinch.

In reality, the most important writing sample is the one I’m guaranteed to read- your email. Keep it simple and crisp and proofread it before you send. If the language in your email is awkward, convoluted, or incorrect, I probably won’t check out your other writing samples.

4. Show your expertise

If you don’t have published writing samples, then give the editor some other reason to publish you. What do you know about? What are your credentials? If you’ve got ‘em, flaunt ‘em.

5. Writing a post in advance is ok – just don’t publish it elsewhere.

If you’re looking to propose a pre-written piece, make sure it fits with the tone and length of the blog as well as topic. Don’t publish your piece elsewhere, and make sure the blog knows you are offering them original, unpublished content. Some blogs will publish content that has already been published elsewhere, but you will greatly increase your chances of acceptance if you don’t publish it yourself.

Finally, remember that every piece of advice you’ve ever heard about a cover letter or job application applies in your guest blogging proposal – do your research, and write to a specific person whenever possible. “Dear Blog Manager” will not get you nearly as far.