Since I was young I’ve been a bit of an economics nerd, and despite Milton Friedman’s evil creation (income tax withholdings) I’ve forgiven him and learned from his writings. Strangely, Friedman taught me more about guest blogging than any marketing guru I’ve met.
Years ago I came across an interview of Friedman on C-SPAN Booknotes talking about F.A. Hayek’s “Road to Serfdom” the pertinent quote is
“They’ve [The New York Times] turned down many an op-ed piece from me which I’ve subsequently published in The Wall Street Journal or someplace else.”
You’ve read that right. Nobel Laureate, National Medal of Science & Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Milton Friedman had op-eds rejected. It wasn’t because his writing was bad or because he lacked the credibility. So when rejected, he submitted elsewhere.
This was eye opening because as someone with dyslexia I never thought of myself much of a writer. When my posts weren’t accepted, I’d assumed it was because my writing was bad. Many, perhaps most guest posts meet rejection because the quality is lacking. This isn’t always the case as Friedman clearly proves.
Like it or not, publications often have a narrative, and they don’t always want content that’s far outside of that purview. As Friedman put it
“They [The New York Times] have not been very favorable to these ideas [Austrian Economics] in the past.”
Since this isn’t a post about journalistic ethics, let’s just agree editors have the right to turn down any content for any reason. And let’s celebrate having more than one news source.
Quality aside, a surplus of content is another reason a publication will reject guest submissions. How many long-form in-depth reporting pieces on the same story does a news magazine need?
Applying Friedman’s philosophy to guest blogging
About a year ago I set out to write a post with a single goal; publish in TechCrunch. I spent 5 hours writing a base post that contained all my primary points, resources and some of the tone of voice and styling I wanted. Next, I read several posts with similar or the same topic on TechCrunch and adapted my style to match the format to fit the publication better. I had several people proofread and review the post.
After all that, I submitted to TechCrunch via a web form. A few days later, I got an email saying my submission was accepted. You can read my post 3 nearly free growth hacks now. I’d done it, on my First try! No direct contact with anyone at TechCrunch and I was published. I thought the next time would be easy too.
A few months later I wrote a post about user testing following the same process. I got expert feedback and had several people edit my ‘lysdexic blurn typos’ before I submitted. Two weeks later I got a rejection.
Keep trying after rejection
Even with the rejection, I felt the post was good; It wasn’t perfect. I used passive voice (As did George Orwell even when warning people not to use passive voice in the Politics and the English Language essay) and lacked a solid conclusion, but it was a strong starting point, and I didn’t know what to change. So I followed Friedman’s lead and submitted to another publication I love; VentureBeat. I got an email a few days later from the Op-ed editor Mo Marshall (who is a rockstar BTW).
She sent feedback; I tried to make the changes she asked for, and… turned what I felt was a good article into a piece of pretentious garbage. I’d completely lost my voice and because Marshall is a great editor; She went back to the first version and sent me half a dozen changes (including removal of my beloved passive voice), and the post ran as Stop overthinking UX and try the coffee shop test.
The changes weren’t major, but they were significant. And the rejection from TechCrunch resulted in another of my favorite industry news outlets running my article. Thank you, Milton!
A method to write & pitch guest posts
Because I’m dyslexic, writing is time-consuming and a bit painful. If no one is paying me and I’m not very passionate about a topic, it’s unlikely I’ll write an article. Currently, I don’t have any publications paying me regularly for content, so I write as the spirit moves about things I feel strongly. Yes, I often have the marketing goal of building authority, but that’s not the main reason I write.
When I care enough to write, I’ll create what I call a base post as described above. The base post contains my primary points, any solid one-liners I can think of, resource links as needed and when beneficial quotes from experts I know or someone from HARO.
Make a list of publications
If I don’t have an outlet in mind for what I’ve written, I research using Google News to find media outlets that may want my content. I then see if 1. They have a preferred contact method for unsolicited manuscripts or 2. If I know someone who can introduce me to an editor.
Once I have a list of three publications that could run my article; I determine where I’d most like to submit. I base preference on distribution, quality of editorial, email lists and social presence, if they pay writers, how much contact I can have with the editors if I like the website and too many subjective reasons to name.
Edit the article to the publication’s style
With the first target in mind, I edit the post to the publication’s style and tone of voice (if they have one). Some outlets are edgier than others. I also try to add links to other posts on that website within my submission.
Semi-final draft complete, I ask other humans for feedback. Spelling and grammar, story flow and sometimes significant changes for accuracy. Once I have an article I think is worth publishing. I’ll send a message to the publication using their preferred format for a pitch.
If I’m accepted, or an editor wants to work with me, fantastic! If not, I re-edit and submit to the Wall Street Je…err whatever my version would be in this context.
All I can do is write to the best of my ability and submit in the most relevant way possible. Not everything I write is worth publishing, but this method of writing, editing, and pitching is one that’s worked for me, a renowned economist and maybe you.
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