So You Want To Be A (Guest) Writer?

In my capacity as co-founder and CTO of Speek, where we are busy making free conference calls fast and easy, I do a significant amount of guest writing for major publications. I write this weekly column for Tech Cocktail (you can sign up to write for Tech Cocktail too) but I’ve also written articles for The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, Inc., Forbes, Fortune, and PandoDaily.

This writing holds immense value for Speek. Each article drives users to our product, helps with SEO, and solidifies us as subject matter experts to potential customers, partners, investors and/or acquirers, assuring that we are an important contributor to the ongoing conversation. This being the case, people often ask me how they can get started writing, too. Rather than simply sending them the link to Bukowski’s So You Want To Be A Writer (which is great advice, but a little unfair, I think: you should be able to write a guest article for a blog even if it’s not 100 percent true that “the sun inside you is burning your gut”), I hope this article can serve as a primer for the wannabe guest writers out there.

Here is my step-by-step guide to being a guest contributor:

Step 1: Write a summary or the entire piece

Most people will tell you to write a summary and pitch that rather than writing and editing your article in full only to have it rejected. I have a slightly different approach.

It’s not like we’re talking about a first edition of Bukowski’s “The Pleasures Of The Damned” (which, just in case you are the kind of wonderful person who is spontaneously generous to tech columnists, I think would make an amazing gift); you’re writing a 500-1000 word online article for chrissake.

Fortunately, at this point, I know that when I write something I can get it published, so I don’t pitch summaries. I just write and edit the entire piece and then pitch it. However, even if you have already formed relationships with some editors/publications, it does still help to have a blurb; it’s a courtesy to the editor so that he or she doesn’t have to read through the entire thing to decide if it’s a good fit.

Step 2: Have a good idea, and take a stand

The way I see it, the hardest part of writing is coming up with the idea. A good idea should be one that inspires you to write about it easily. This is subjective: write about something that inspires you personally (Wu-Tang Clan, for example). Once you have a thesis in mind, you want the rest to flow easily. You’ll be surprised how quickly you can deliver 500-1000 words on a topic that you are passionate about. This is all the more reason why I prefer to simply write the piece, edit it, and then pitch it.

And remember: good writing causes debate. Take a stand, and support it. Don’t be afraid to be controversial; debate is a great form of engagement. There’s nothing more boring than a writer who plays it safe. If you water it down and try to make everyone happy, then your article will likely just sit there untouched, limp and quivering like the jello mold with the weird fruit suspended in it at the company barbecue. Welcome haters: all engagement is a good thing.

Step 3: Prioritize your target publications

Once you’ve written your article, make a list of publications from top priority to lowest. I typically start with one or two “reaches”—publications at the top of the food chain that I know I have a lower chance of getting into. At the bottom should be publications which you are fairly confident of getting into should nothing else pan out (your grandma’s blog, maybe).

Pitch each publication one by one. Do not pitch any publications concurrently. Give each publication you’re pitching a day or so to get back to you. If you don’t hear back or if they decline, move on down your list.

The most common questions I get from people who want to write is who to contact at a given publication. Answer: you want to talk to editors, and reaching editors is easy. Simply check the “about us” or “team” or “masthead” area of the publication’s website. If possible, find someone with the title “contributing editor.” Many publications have someone explicitly in charge of guest writers or contributions. If you don’t see someone with this title try any/all of the editors—someone will likely point you in the right direction. Remember: the tone of your email is important. You should be enthusiastic (if you aren’t excited about your article why should anybody else be), but more importantly, you should be brief and respectful: nobody owes your article a read, and the more you act like you appreciate the editor’s time, the more likely you’ll be to get a positive (or any) response.

Many publications don’t list the email address of editors on their website, so you’ll need to leverage a little social engineering here. I try to guess email addresses, as most companies use either <firstname>.<lastname>@<website> OR <firstinitial><lastname>@<website>. I only email one editor at a time. If I am trying several variations of their potential email, I’ll only put one in the “To” field and the rest in the “BCC” field. You’ll likely get a few addresses that bounce, and you can figure out by your masterful powers of deduction which address was the right one from there.

Step 4: Once published, PIMP your work

Once you get published, share EVERYWHERE. Share your article and the subsequent link from your corporate and personal accounts on all social media platforms. I use the addthis chrome plugin to share my articles on Google+, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Reddit. I also share every article on Quibb, which is a fairly new app I love that allows you to see what other people in your network are reading. Not only will this approach get your article in front of the most eyeballs possible, but it is also a signal to the publication that you see yourself as a partner in promoting the work, and they are more likely to look upon your future submissions favorably.

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Written by:
Danny Boice is the CTO of Speek - a 500 Startups-funded startup that lets users do conference calls with a simple link ( rather than using phone numbers and PINs. A serial startup/technology entrepreneur and executive, Danny started his career as a software engineer working for startups like Network Solutions and in the 90′s. You can find Danny on Twitter @DannyBoice.
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