Originally published on Entrepreneur; reprinted here with permission.
This year I decided to try something completely new. I jumped face first into the world of independently driven web writing. In a short amount of time I’ve been able to develop and maintain numerous organic writing relationships. On top of that, I’ve learned a lot about the entire process. From emailing websites for the first time, to guest contributor applications, down to the writing undertaking itself.
Trust me, I’ve made my share of mistakes along the way. Which is why I believe that any new web-writer will benefit from these lessons I’ve learned.
Step one to a successful new writing endeavor is making sure that you genuinely care about the topic and websites you are exploring. Nothing makes your writing shine like pursuing an idea that is captivating to you personally.
It doesn’t hurt to ask…
It doesn’t hurt to ask; the worst they can say is… well, nothing.
Present your ideas to relevant websites, even if they seem to be a little out of your league. The more you try to get on authoritative websites, the better your odds. Once you’re in you’ve opened a gateway to successful writing. Have you written about this topic already? Is it a socially engaging idea? If you can envision your piece on a targeted website, just go for it! The worst response is no response. A definitive ‘no’ for one idea doesn’t close the doors on your writing to that website forever.
Use the correct tone in outreach emails and content
Keep the tone you use in mind when filling out guest contribution applications and sending emails. Think rationally about the ways you communicate with site owners/editors and let that transition into your writing. Read through articles already published to gain insight. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve benefited from simply mentioning or complimenting an article on a website I want to write for.
Focus on an email subject line that’s unique and attention grabbing
“Negotiating with a stranger can be intimidating even under the best of circumstances, and having this opponent be faceless and voiceless can add even more discomfort to this process. Previous research has demonstrated that people approach online negotiations with lower levels of trust than they approach face-to-face negotiations…Humor in general is associated with promoting positive feelings among strangers, and may even have a greater positive effect in a tense situation”
That being said, subject lines are the first thing that a person sees when you email them. Humorous and unique or odd (while appropriate) approaches reign supreme. Depending on how many emails a day that person receives, your subject line can be what sets you apart from a digital ‘stack’ of emails.
Ideals get rejected; that’s reality
Some of your ideas won’t mesh well with what a site wants. They will get turned down at some point, that’s a natural phase in growing as a writer. When an idea gets turned down, do your best to keep from getting frustrated. It’s definitely still worthwhile to suggest some other topic ideas. You’re already in communication with that person which is often times the most difficult part of getting published, so keep the communication flowing.
Follow up with people when you need to
Track your emails in a transparent manner using the email addon, MailTrack. If they’ve read your email dozens of times and haven’t responded, it might be a good idea to send them a follow up email in a week or so. MailTrack isn’t meant to be creepy, it just gives you the advantage of knowing when to appropriately follow up with someone.
Don’t abandon your content once it’s published
Check in on your articles after they are posted for at least two weeks. It’s during this time that you’re most likely to get engagements. Follow up to questions, check for social shares, and take an overall conversational tone in regards to your published works.
Organization will save you many headaches in the long run
There are a number of ways to defeat organizational stress. It’s an excellent idea to develop and maintain your own unique organizational documents. These docs can contain ideas you’ve brainstormed, contacts you’d like to pursue in the future, and at it’s core, your articles themselves.
Redundancy is your enemy
Red flags get raised when you make basic writing errors. Redundancy and run on sentences will not fly. Web content is usually meant to be clear and concise, so make it easy on your readers and editors.
Choose your words carefully!
WordPress is not optional (to an extent)
You will most likely encounter WordPress if you haven’t already. WordPress may be confusing at first, but obtaining this access is huge! Once you’re in, you can submit your articles directly and bypass a lot of emailing.
Provide some internal links in your piece
Take time to check through the target website’s existing published works. This will give you a better understanding of the tone and formatting they are looking for. If you are able to provide some internal links, this will make site owners and editors happy. Their goal is to keep readers engaged in their website for as long as possible. Avoid linking externally if there is an internal option.
Remember only provide links that are natural and benefit your piece and your reader. Remember to always cite your sources, that is the ideal use of an external link. The last thing you want is to for your piece to be plagiarized!
Anchor text is important
Be logical how you link. Avoid direct anchor texts such as ‘click here’ or ‘read more’ unless it’s completely ideal. You don’t want to appear generic. Additionally, don’t fill your piece with long-winded anchor text unless it absolutely makes sense. The last thing you want to see is a huge wall of distracting blue words in your piece.
Take advantage of Twitter
Sometimes finding contact information can be a challenge, especially when starting your writing efforts. If you can’t find a way to reach them, odds are they have either a personal twitter account of one for their website. Social applications are the most popular smartphone apps, so odds are in favor of them having a Twitter profile of some form.
Pick the correct featured image
This one can drive many editors up the wall. Be sure to always check the guest contribution guidelines and see if they require you to find a featured image. Honestly, it varies. Some sites will be very adamant about choosing the featured photos for articles themselves, and others will be persistent that you find one that’s not only captivating but also legally sharable. This post from Designskilz points you in the direction of 30 high quality free image websites.
Becoming a regular contributor is the golden ticket
Start small and gradually work your way up to bigger and better sites. Do you love writing about new technology and reviewing your favorite electronics? Establish some credibility within that niche and then shoot for the stars. Once you’ve written about a topic and have those articles under your belt, the odds of landing a spot on a reputable, big-name website increases substantially.
Provide a call to action
You set the bait and hooked the content so now it’s time to reel it all in. Conclusive calls to action are perfect and offer reader engagement through comments or social networking shares.
Are you an up-and-coming writer with your own success stories or advice? Share your experiences below and let’s all make progress as writers together!
Robert Parmer is a freelance writer and student of Boise State University. Outside of writing and reading adamantly he enjoys creating and recording music, caring for his pet cat, and commuting by bicycle whenever possible. His contact info includes: firstname.lastname@example.org | twitter: robparmer