10 Reasons Why Your Guest Post Pitches Got Rejected

Your guest post idea has been rejected!Whether you’re looking to grow your own blog or to get more visibility to attract paying blog clients, guest posting is one of the best ways to get it done.

Appearing on a popular blog gives you way more exposure to possible blog readers and paid-blogging opportunities, and generally makes you look more pro. Some guest posts even pay.

The trick is that guest posts for the top blogs are harder and harder to get. Some blogs have stopped taking them, while others are only use their hand-picked, invite-only guests.

There are plenty of blogs left that take guest posts, but it’s more competitive.

Your pitch has to be great

Unfortunately, most aren’t. I know because a few weeks back, I held an open-pitch week for guest posts here on the blog, which I announced on the Make a Living Writing Facebook page.

I usually only take pitches from members or grads of either Freelance Writers Den or Jon Morrow’s Guest Blogging course. But I was short of posts and thought I’d try this as an experiment.

Some good stuff happened out of it. I ended up assigning 10 posts.

But overall, it proved my rule — the vast majority of the pitches I got fell far short of the quality I’d post here on the blog.

There were 10 basic problems:

1. Dated cultural references

I got one about What Writers Can Learn About Freelance Writing From ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ and another about what writers can learn from American Idol.

I received two pitches along the lines of Everything I Needed to Know About Freelance Writing I Learned in Kindergarten.

Using pop-culture references can be a good way to hook readers into a post, but it works better if the references are fresh and current, not 30 years old or more, or going on season 13.

2. No headline (or outline)

Despite my spelling out in my writer’s guidelines that I assign from a headline and outline, I still got many pitches that were a disorganized ramble about their topic and included no headline.

One was simply a headline, with the note “That’s my pitch!” Um, I’m going to need a little bit more info than that.

3. Bad headline

You’d think regular readers here would know of my obsession with writing great headlines, but many still submitted weak headlines. One particularly baffling one was On Key Words and Finding Yourself. Hm?

If you’re already guest posting for a big blog, you might be able to get away with something as obscure as this, but it’s never going to work as a first pitch.

4. No bio

Many posts ended abruptly without giving me any clue about where the writer lived, their experience, or what sort of freelancing they do. There was no link to a writer website where I could learn more about their background.

When I can’t learn anything about the writer, that makes me a little nervous. I tend to pass. Even a single line along the lines of “I am a new freelance healthcare writer based in Houston” would help a lot.

5. Excluded readers

Big blogs succeed by making sure each post appeals to a broad spectrum of their readers. Yet I got pitches such as How Going Gluten-Free Helped Me as a Writer.

Since the majority of Americans are still munching away on bagels and think the gluten-free craze is mostly a hoax, this would probably turn off some writers and draw others into a debate about the whole gluten-free issue. Too off-topic.

Another pitch was How Older Writers Can Thrive Today, a concept that ignores at least half my readers! One writer used Tupperware as a cultural reference, a product many readers under 30 likely don’t know.

Try to give your pitch broad appeal for your best chance at getting the green light on a guest post.

6. No key words

One pitch I got was roughly Getting Organized: Doing the Critical, Prioritizing the Important, and Avoiding the Unnecessary.

Besides being too long, there are no key words in there for freelance writers or productivity. Guest posts always, always need key words for that audience. Otherwise, readers won’t ever find the post on Google searches, which is always an important avenue for attracting traffic. Big blogs know this well, and they’re not going to run a headline with no key words.

7. The usual tips — with no evidence

There were plentiful pitches that proposed basic how-to tips we’ve all heard before, without any indication the writer had experience to share on the topic. The key to successful guest posts around here is the case study — how your personal experience led to these tips.

Sometimes, the tips were dated, too, as with a post that promised one great productivity tip: “Only touch each piece of paper once.”

Given how much most of us work electronically at this point, this tip isn’t just old, I think it’s no longer helpful. Big “no thanks.”

8. I already published that

Since I had just published a guest post about how marathon training helped one writer, I got several more sports-related pitches. Two were about how running helps writers, and one was about archery.

Note: If a blog has just run a topic, it doesn’t mean they want lots more posts just like it. Try a different angle altogether.

9. Headline and outline don’t match

It’s important that a post fulfill the promise of the headline. Some pitches had fairly strong headlines, but the outline didn’t come through.

For instance, one pitch was 10 Fear-Busting Tips for Freelance Writers, which sounded viable. Overcoming fear is a perpetually useful topic for writers, sadly.

But the post outline was just straightforward marketing tips, with no information on how a writer would overcome fear in order to do these marketing activities. The outline didn’t provide what the headline promised, so the pitch didn’t work.

10. I can write that myself (and have)

The secret sauce to guest posts is that they need to bring fresh perspective – something the blog’s main author couldn’t write themselves.

Instead, I got may pitches on topics I often cover myself, such as productivity or using co-working spaces, or How X Unrelated Topic is Like Freelance Writing…but without any new information my blog readers haven’t yet seen.

What got approved?

By now, I’m sure you’re wondering — what ideas pleased this picky broad?

Here’s a sampling of the posts that got approved in open pitch week:

Tasty, eh? I can’t wait to see some of these appear on our regular Wednesday guest-post slot.

Looking at this lineup of headlines, the common theme I see is the unexpected. We don’t expect newspaper articles to pay well, or for introverts to enjoy marketing, or comedians to know article writing…so we need to read these posts to find out how that works! Think about making your headline contain something nonintuitive and packing your post with tips we haven’t seen before.

The big takeaway from my open-post week: Most bloggers don’t know how to pitch a good guest post.

That means if you learn how to pitch and write great guest posts, your blog can grab the spotlight while others continue to wonder how to get their blog noticed.

Have you guest posted? Leave us a link to your best guest post and tell us how you got the gig.

How to be a Well-Paid Freelance Blogger

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30 comments on “10 Reasons Why Your Guest Post Pitches Got Rejected
  1. Great post, Carol, thanks for writing it. One of my best posts came recently, on a favorite, nerdy subject of mine. It was said nerdiness/quirkiness, I think, which helped pique the author(KM Weiland)’s interest–she could tell the subject(Holmes, Dupin, Poe etc) was a passion of mine, and what I tried to do was translate that passion into actionable guidance for her readers. Also, the seemingly obvious but too often-neglected advice to read up on other guest posts on her site, review her guidelines, try to gauge interest areas of her readers and find something unique within that niche.

    Here’s the link. Thanks again!

    http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/2014/03/improve-your-writing.html

  2. Lee says:

    Its my own group that I have created and some people think it would be a great idea to get them into a book. As they are comical sometimes.

  3. Lee says:

    Can someone please let me know if I can take my comments and status from facebook and get them printed then self publish

  4. Holly says:

    I like the cultural reference bit. That’s awkward. Haha!
    Holly recently posted…Dependable. Enthusiastic. Versatile.My Profile

  5. This line really made me laugh. “By now, I’m sure you’re wondering — what ideas pleased this picky broad?”

    I don’t have any guest post experience to share yet, but I’m working on it. I love reading the comments and conversations as much as the articles too. I’m glad you got it working again.
    Peter D. Mallett recently posted…Really, There Are No SecretsMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Always trying to address the national laugh shortage whenever I can, Peter!

      And I’m with you — lately the reader conversations on my posts are as insightful, fun and interesting as the post. My readers rock!

  6. Karol K says:

    Hi Carol,

    Although I understand your point of view, there are some things that don’t add up here (at least for me). For instance, you said:

    “Another pitch was How Older Writers Can Thrive Today, a concept that ignores at least half my readers!”

    But then you said that you’ve approved this: “How Introverted Writers Can Do Painless Marketing”

    Doesn’t it kind of ignore at least a big part of your readers too (on the headline level)?
    Karol K recently posted…How to Learn SEO Online If You’re a Beginner (and an Online Business Owner)?My Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Karol —

      My sense is that most writers, if not introverted, are at least intimidated by doing marketing. Think that one is pretty broadly relevant here.

  7. Very interesting to see where some pitches fell short and it’s also quite clear to see with the headlines that got accepted what made them successful.

    They were obscure and there’s no way you won’t be clicking them to learn more about freelancing! I’m definitely keen to read the article approved, now what post!

    Thanks again for the amazing advice as always Carol!

    Have a great week!
    Jackson Anderson recently posted…October, The Month That WasMy Profile

  8. Shikha Jain says:

    I guest a lot of guest blogger requests with their already written articles that probably were written months ago. I always tend to ignore those requests assuming they are just like a spam bot. If I were to guest post on someone’s blog, I will think about the perfect post that would fit perfectly into their blog but still integrate into my passion. In other words, I would write a guest post of your blog as if it was my own blog because its not just that I would want to help you, it is also my name that is on that post and I want that post to be just as inspiring and good as posts on my own blog. 🙂 Great post again
    Shikha Jain recently posted…All About Nokia Lumia 1520My Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      You bring up a good point, Shikha — ALL popular blogs get hit frequently with requests to publish some pre-written post which is probably junk AND probably duplicate content. That’s why writers have to pitch me a headline and outline, which I then usually change, because I want to make sure I’m getting something fresh and unique.

      You need to stand out from that with a post that’s clearly tailored to that site.

  9. Steve Maurer says:

    Hi, Carol.

    As usual and expected, you’ve done an excellent job on how to land guest posts . . . and how NOT to! I got a kick out of the “outdated cultural references” being a white-haired writer myself (actually, becoming more of a no-hair writer, LOL). Got to catch myself from time to time on that one!

    Because of your training tips (and those of other mentors) I landed a gig writing two guest articles a month for a major Canadian content marketing service several months ago.

    Here are two of them that I wrote recently for Uberflip. They are geared toward content marketers, but any freelancer can use most of the ideas.

    Interestingly, they don’t get many comments on any of their articles (more “shares” than anything; but, since I promote them in other venues, they get better mileage there, especially on LinkedIn.

    Anyway, here the are:

    How to Define Your Readership –
    http://hub.uberflip.com/h/i/1404918-how-to-define-your-readership

    and

    How Agile is Your Content Marketing –
    http://hub.uberflip.com/h/i/1604484-how-agile-is-your-content-marketing

    The first uses a story to illustrate the point and the second references football. To be honest, I’m not a big football fan, but many of my readers are.

    Sometime you just need to write for them and not yourself, right?

    Thanks for all the great tips in my inbox!
    Steve Maurer – Maurer Copywriting
    Steve Maurer recently posted…When the Writer’s Block Just Won’t ComeMy Profile

  10. Mike says:

    Hi Carol,

    I had a post published on a very popular political website last year. I submitted it to them unsolicited and heard nothing. Then one day I saw a bunch of “congratulations!” in my inbox. They published it w/o notifying me or asking for an edit. It was flattering on the one hand and embarrassing on the other b/c it was very poorly formatted and more of a rant then a step-by-step argument. My guess is they found it somewhat humorous.

    Moral of the story? Don’t depend on the publication to edit for you.
    Mike recently posted…5 Things You’ll Need for the Best Halloween EverMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Definitely good thing to keep in mind!

      I also think submitting a very clean draft helps tip the scales toward a big blog’s deciding to publish your post.

  11. Tom Bentley says:

    Carol, the key is to dodge dated cultural references in favor of REALLY dated cultural references, which is probably why MarketingProfs went for my “Mark Twain’s 10-Sentence Course on Branding and Marketing (10,600 views). I’ve had some luck getting posts on Men with Pens, Firepole Marketing and Writer Unboxed, and am shooting for more.

    Your advice, as always, is clear, on target and helpful.
    Tom Bentley recently posted…Editing: the Big Gazoombah to the Ant’s AntennaeMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      You know, just as I put this up I think I saw this post about startup business tips from Mozart that I loved. Trying to find link but now I’m not seeing it darnit!

      Copyblogger is always doing this too, going WAY back to uncover insights about something from long-dead thought leaders.

      It’s a tough balance to hit — the reference has to bring something fresh. Sometimes going WAY back does that. But a TV show that’s been around for a decade…zzzz.

  12. Julie Luek says:

    I’ve written several guest posts and one of them landed me a regular contributing gig on the international writing site, She Writes. I try to use headlines and ideas that are unique to my experience. I have over 20 years working in higher education as a career counselor and have used that angle to write a couple posts on using the MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) to determine writing personality and preferences. As you mentioned, finding a hook that is unique to your experience and expertise always helps.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Thanks for sharing your story — there are really so many benefits that can come out of guest posting — new clients, ongoing writing gigs.

      And yeah — bring some fresh personal experience that this actually works! Everyone is sick of 10 Tips for how to do X type posts that share no actual details. Just “Do this, and don’t do that.” Without the context of personal experience (or expert interviews), the reader is left wondering where these tips came from and why they should follow them.

  13. My best guest post has not yet been published. It will be on a blog called Dear Blogger this week, along with the ebook I wrote (to be sold in Dear Blogger’s new store, which will also open this week), called 20 Blog Post Must-Haves.

    I got this gig by demonstrating my passion for blogging. My post ended up being an ebook, and I had to write another post.

    Oddly enough, I have just had a guest post published on another blogging blog called Mad Lemmings.

    The title of this post is “How to Help Readers ‘Get’ Your Blog Posts” and can be found via this link:

    http://madlemmings.com/2013/11/04/help-readers-understand-blog-posts/

    I got this gig because I offered the owner some assistance. He has never had a guest poster before, either! (Yes, that’s pride you hear in my voice!)

    Come to think of it, neither has Dear Blogger.

    Hm. I must be doing something right! 🙂

    Today’s guest post is about editing your blog posts. This is relevant to almost everyone here!

    Thanks, Carol, for letting us share our links and our stories! 🙂
    Lorraine Reguly recently posted…A Special Featured Friday, Featuring Author Donna Jean McDunn, and A BOOK GIVEAWAY!My Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Lorraine — that’s very interesting, that you were able to guest post for two blogs that weren’t DOING guest posts!

      Maybe points up another opportunity — to look for blogs that haven’t started guest posting yet and maybe the blogger is a little overwhelmed, and presenting them with the idea of it. If you’ve got a strong concept and headline for them, I’d think there are quite a few bloggers who’d be thrilled to have a free guest post.

      Some of these blogs may not have a lot of traffic — WM Freelance didn’t back when I guested for them, for instance — but could be a good place to practice guesting.

  14. Daryl says:

    As part of my guest post push, I contacted a number of bloggers with ideas for their blogs. One of the first to reply was Bamidele from Writers In Charge, and we quickly settled on a good topic for him and his readers! I think it really helped that I had been reading and commenting on his blog for some time prior to my pitch. If you want to have a look, here’s my guest post in all it’s glory!

    http://www.writersincharge.com/increase-freelance-writing-rates/

    (PS – I’m glad that it wasn’t anything we did!)
    Daryl recently posted…October Freelance Writing Income ReportMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      You know, the conversations in my blog comments have been such a blast lately…I felt like somebody cut off my leg when I saw there were no comments! It was like…whaaaa??? I was like Luke Skywalker: “That’s impossible!!!”

      I missed all of your great insights on here, blog readers!

      To your comment Daryl, that’s the first thing I tell people who want to guest for me: Subscribe. Read it a while. See what we’ve already done. Also, see which kind of posts get the most comments. That will help you see what the hot topics are. Look at the most popular posts.

      You know, when Jon Morrow wanted me to guest post for Copyblogger, I said, “What topics do they want?” And he steered me to a post they’d done where they asked their readers what they wanted to know, and I could read through the comments for ideas. Was a great exercise! And believe I did develop several of my posts ideas for them from that thread.

      You need to study your target. Or as my dad used to say about college, “It’s not about knowing the subject they’re teaching — it’s about knowing the professor.” You have a blog owner to please as a guest poster…figure out what they like in a guest post, and deliver it.

  15. Hi Carol –

    I’m so glad you posted this. I always see myself in your articles — hey that’s me, hey that’s me. 🙂

    That being said, I see guest posting as a real art. I know all the rules and the stuff but somehow when doing it, something gets off. It’s really a matter of tight and to the point (not something I’m very good at). I love what you say about headlines that are unexpected….making the reader really wonder and want to read it.

    It has to strike. A good idea…has to come and be real. It can’t be forced. Thanks for the clear post and guidelines.
    Miriam Hendeles recently posted…Real Lessons from “Grandmothering: Real Life in Real Families”My Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      I think it takes a lot of practice to get the hang of guest posting, Miriam.

      Though knowing the fundamentals from a pro like Jon Morrow can be a realshortcut. You’re coming to my free training with him Wednesday on how he earns $500+ from his ‘free’ guest posts, I hope? Still time to sign up:

      http://guestblogging.viprespond.com/GB500-tice-nov6?orid=6624

      Something a lot of readers may not know about me is that early on in this blog, I guest posted weekly for free for a year — about 60 free posts — for WM Freelance Writers Connection.

      That may seem crazy…but I wanted to learn about guest posting. How to fulfill another blog’s mission and write online for someone else. (I hadn’t met Jon yet, so I did everything the slow/hard way!)

      But I think that training ground really helped me to get a lot of paid guest blogging gigs later on. If you can ever find an ongoing guest posting gig, take it for a while. It’s a huge learning opportunity. Kind of a free guest-posting school. Or it was for me.

  16. You’ve got a good eye for talent, Carol. Your readers know this, but in case someone new shows up, Make A Living Writing is the real deal. What works for Carol will work.

    Not always the case with some experts. I visited a page promising web traffic and back links. The main post showed no comments. You’d think they’d follow their own advice?

    (btw, thanks for mentioning your comments were off when this was originally posted.)
    David Gillaspie recently posted…Boomerpdx Search Engine And DiscoverMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Thanks David! We actually work HARD on curating guest posts, and my standards keep going up for how much usefulness they need to deliver.

      Also, now that I have 500+ posts on here, of course, we’ve already covered a LOT of topics. It gets tougher all the time to bring something fresh! And I think you do that with your story. For the most part, your personal experience of exactly HOW you are finding more freelance income are what make great guest posts for this-here blog. 😉

  17. Carol,

    I’ve rejected guest posts for all of these reasons (usually if someone’s guest post doesn’t pass muster, their proposal makes at least two of these mistakes, often more). There’s an even more basic reason that results in an instant rejection though: if you *clearly* haven’t read my blog and pitch something far out of left field like “how to buy a security system” or “5 ways to save on life insurance.” I might write articles like that for my clients but I would never publish those topics on my freelance blog.

    Susan

    PS Here’s a guest post I wrote for FreelanceSwitch several years ago and was pretty proud of: http://freelanceswitch.com/clients/how-to-handle-clients The title I pitched was “5 Freelance Clients Who Just Aren’t That Into You” and it evolved during the editing process. This was when the book “He’s Just Not That Into You” was fairly popular and single women were using that phrase to rationalize why a date didn’t call back. So I used the dating metaphor and applied it to the often fickle nature of freelance clients.
    Susan Johnston recently posted…10 Commandments for Interview SourcesMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Susan! So glad someone can get my comments to work now. About had a heart attack when I came in a little late this morning and…zero comments. Somehow some box that has ALWAYS been checked for 500+ posts in a row got unchecked. It is ALWAYS something, like Roseanne Roseannadanna used to say.

      It’s so true — usually a pitch has more than one of these problems.

      I didn’t even talk about the junk pitches you get that aren’t in grammatical English: “I write about beauty or pets or home improvement for you, yes?”

      Obviously, those aren’t going anywhere!

      And you raise one point I think I had meant to include at one point — some writers I asked for a rewrite of their headline or idea, and they never got back to me. You have to be ready to evolve your idea with an editor. Nearly every post I assign, we go through a process of tweaking the topic and headline a bit before it gets the green light.

  18. Carol Tice says:

    Just want to say — apologies that comments were accidentally closed when this first posted! Thankfully we’ve got ’em working now. Can’t wait to hear your guest post stories…please feel free to post them here. No, it wasn’t anything you did. It’s us.

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