I'm incredibly lucky to be able to post this guest blog for everyone's edification. It's really worth reading.
How to be a gracious guest...blogger, that is
By Anne Mini of Author! Author!
I am something of a connoisseur of guest blogs. As the owner of a blog that appeals to aspiring writers all over the world, I constantly receive requests from authors of soon-to-be-released and just-released books, asking if they may post a guest blog on my site, use it as a stop on a virtual book tour, or if I will review their books for my readers.
And who can blame them? A guest gig on a well-traveled site can provide splendid, low-cost promotion for a book. Yet nine times out of ten, these requests for my kind assistance are phrased as though the requester were offering to do me a favor -- and I hate to be the one to break it to you, but every well-known blogger I know has similar stories to tell.
Essentially, guest bloggers are asking us to grant them free web space to promote their books -- and often expect us to throw in writing and reading time gratis as well -- and not always politely, either. As a result, many members of the blogging community have unfortunately become all too apt to roll their eyes at such requests, so landing a guest gig on a blog has been getting harder over time.
Trust me, you want to be the exception that makes the bloggers you approach wish all would-be guest bloggers were like you. A well-read blogger's pushing your book can help bring you, your book, and your website to the attention of thousands of new readers; it is very much in your interest that the blogger should like you.
How does a savvy author pull that off? By being considerate and not treating guest blogging as merely a publicity stunt. Approach a blogger in much the same way you would the manager of a bookstore you would like to push your books: as if you're trying to form a friendly long-term relationship with someone who can help your career not only now, but for years to come.
Polite guests welcome; all others, please take a number. Most of the time, authors who approach bloggers for site space apparently don't realize the gravity of the request. Not only are the vast majority of would-be guests very obviously unfamiliar with the subject matter and tone of the sites upon which they seek recognition, but they also frequently act surprised that most bloggers have quite firm standards for what they will and will not post on their sites, formatting restrictions, or even that a market-conscious blogger will expect them to provide an author photo, a jpeg of the book cover, and links to such basic information as the author's website and the Amazon page where blog readers may purchase their books.
Even though including this information is clearly in the guest blogger's interest to have in the post, a good 90% of the time, aspiring visitors will just say dismissively, "Oh, that's all on my website," expecting that the blogger will invest her own time in making their guest blogs look good. Or in making their books easy to buy.
Place yourself in the blogger's proverbial shoes for a moment: if a total stranger approached you with this attitude, would you immediately leap to volunteer an hour or two of your time to help promote his book for him?
From the blogger's perspective, hosting an inconsiderate guest blogger can entail quite a bit of work. And that's a serious problem, because while bloggers may wield quite a bit of influence over their readers, they seldom have many resources at their disposal. For the ones who don't have corporate sponsorship -- which is to say, virtually all of us -- blogging is a volunteer gig. This means, in practice, the blogger you're asking to feature your book probably isn't being paid for her time. Thus, it's not her job to help you, but her pleasure.
So when you ask for a favorable mention on the site, you're requesting a personal favor as much as a business one -- and as with any favor, it's the asker's job to make helping you as easy and pleasant for the blogger as possible.
Amazingly few authors looking for free publicity follow this basic rule of favor-asking when they approach bloggers; as much as it pains me to tell you this, most make it pretty plain to us that they resent having to rustle up alternate publicity at all. How does this attitude manifest, you ask? Mostly, in authors' acting as though the blog is just another paid advertising venue, assuming that the host blogger will donate the time to track down any necessary pictures, permissions, reviews, and/or links, edit guest post copy, and even figure out the best online bookstore to which to send readers who like the guest post to purchase the book.
But your host blogger does not work for your publisher's marketing department -- and certainly didn't create the current book market. If she's going to help you market your book, it's going to be out of the goodness of her heart.
Treat her accordingly.
Not to frighten you, but she's also in all probability doing it as a contribution to an online community of opinion-makers, people who have been known to talk to one another quite a bit. So an author who vents his resentment at the effort required to generate buzz tends to alienate not only the blogger at whom he's vented, but others as well.
What does a courteous approach to a blogger entail?
1) Do your homework. Familiarize yourself with the blog before you ask by reading at least a few weeks' worth of posts before you propose a guest blog. You're going to want to find out how long posts tend to be, whether this site habitually hosts guest bloggers, and the tone of the site -- and believe me, a blogger will be able to tell if you don't. Few types of rudeness annoy any writer more than realizing that a stranger has only pretended to read his work.
If you can find the time, try posting an intelligent comment or two in an ongoing discussion on the site you have targeted. Your garden-variety blogger is usually far, far happier to do a favor for a regular reader than for someone completely new to the site.
2) Figure out what you can offer the blog's readership. What are these readers' interests, and how may you amuse, entertain, or enlighten them? Many bloggers are delighted to bring their readers new insights, particularly if the guest blogger makes sharing those insights so convenient that posting them essentially equals a holiday from blogging for the host. (Hey, blogging every day, or anything close to it, is very time-consuming. Most of us like the occasional vacation.)
3) Find the blogger's contact information -- not just the comments function -- and send a polite request for attention. Send a courteous e-mail, introducing yourself and proposing that you contribute an essay on a specific topic of interest to her readers. (Generic requests tend not to be taken as seriously.) Pitch it as you would an article to a magazine.
Why not just post your request as a comment on the blog? Two reasons, both of which should concern you. First, the ethos of the blog community demands that comments remain posted for as long as the site remains up -- which means that regular readers of the blog will see your request. You'll have more credibility as an expert if they don't. Second, some self-promoters have a nasty habit of posting entire essays as comments on blogs, along with links back to their own sites. In the blogging community, this is regarded as a form of spamming; indulging in it will usually result in the perpetrator's being banned permanently from a site.
4) Ask the blogger what she would like you to send and in what format. You'd be amazed -- at least I hope you would -- at how many guest bloggers omit this simple piece of courtesy, even to the extent of neglecting to ask how long the post should be. When in doubt, adhere to the length standards the blogger is already using, but always ask first, just to be polite.
At minimum, you should offer to provide:
• A MS Word copy of your guest post. Saving your post in rich text format will allow the blogger the greatest formatting freedom. Text sent as PDF files can't be copied and pasted into most blogging programs, so the blogger would have to retype every word.
• A link to your website. Provide the full web address (e.g., http://www.annemini.com/), rather than MS Word's usual underlined link, so the blogger may copy and paste it as is into the blogging program.
• The link to the retailer where you would like readers to purchase your book. Virtually every guest blogger forgets to include this, for some self-hating reason, but blog readers are far more likely to buy a book if they need to click on only a single link to get to it. Don't make your host do an Amazon search for you.
• A jpeg of your book cover. Readers will remember your book better if they see the cover. If you don't have a jpeg -- again, not a PDF -- handy, ask your publisher's publicity department to e-mail one to you.
• A jpeg of your author photo. Blog readers like to see who is speaking to them.
• A BRIEF author bio. Many bloggers like to run these with guest posts, especially if the bio's tone matches the guest post. Try to keep it under half a page.
• A BRIEF description of your book. Many bloggers enjoys posting introductions to guest posts, so you'll want them to have this information at their itchy fingertips. Again, try to keep it under half a page.
• Promotional blurbs and/or links to reviews of your book. The blogger may not choose to include them, but wouldn't you like it if she did?
5) Follow the rules the blogger sets for you -- within the agreed-upon timeframe. Meeting deadlines is essential here, because the blogger is saving a chunk of time as the top post on her blog for you. If the blogger does not give you a specific deadline, propose a reasonable one yourself.
6) Set up a reciprocal link on your website. This is basic blogging courtesy: if a blogger established a link for her readers to reach your site with a single click, you should set up a link on yours to send readers to her blog. Besides, you want visitors to your site to know about those nifty guest posts you've been writing, don't you?
7) Remember to thank your host. Most bloggers never hear from their guests again, a poor strategy for generating a warm welcome for the happy day when one wants to blog about one's next book. You wouldn't leave a dinner party without a word of thanks to your host, would you?
8) Follow up. This, too, is a rarity, but it's just common sense for preserving your long-term welcome to a site. Be the considerate guest that the blogger will love to see showing up on her doorstep again and again.
How, you ask? For the first couple of weeks after your guest post goes up, check back regularly to see if readers have left any comments and respond to them. (Nicely, please.) Say complimentary things about the blog on other websites -- along with a link back to it, of course. Check in with the blogger in a couple of months, to see if she would like you to write another guest post. In short, make it as easy as possible for the blogger to continue to help you.
Yes, all of this is time-consuming. But wouldn't you rather have bloggers out there cheering for your success now and down the road, rather than regretting having been nice enough to help you?
Guest blogging dos and don'ts -- okay, mostly don'ts
The web has some odd prevailing norms and regulations; the blogosphere has quite a few of its own. Bloggers, too, often have strong personal preferences about what should and shouldn't appear on their sites. Reading a few weeks' worth of posts will usually give you a sense of what is acceptable, but here are a few tips to help you avoid the major pitfalls.
• DON'T use profanity of any sort in your guest post. Many schools, public libraries, and private homes establish pornography-blocking programs to protect children. If a blog is not already using the words and phrases these programs target, a guest's using one may result in long-term readers' not being able to gain access to the blog. Keeping it G-rated will maximize your potential audience, as well as your host's.
• DON'T use italics or boldface in your guest post. These embellishments get lost when a Word document is copied and pasted into many of the major blogging programs. In order to maintain them, the blogger will have to waste time bolding and italicizing.
• DON'T send text in PDF format. Most of the time, text in PDF format can't just be pasted into a blog as an image -- the text will be tiny.
• DON'T send photos or art in any format but jpeg. This is the standard format for blog pictures. Other formats, such as tiff, will not be readable in every web browser.
• DON'T expect the blogger to spell-check, grammar-check, or edit your post for you. Again, this is time-consuming for the blogger.
• DON'T just send an essay for publication without asking first -- and especially don't try, as some spam-minded self-publicists have begun to do of late, to post an essay as a comment on a blog. It's rude.
• DON'T use your guest post as a forum for acknowledgements or complaints. It's surprisingly common for the newly-published to gush in guest blogs about how wonderful their editors, agents, publicity departments, spouses, mothers, cats, etc. have been to them throughout the publication process -- and not just on blogs like mine that are aimed at aspiring writers. Self-published authors often fall into the opposite trap of using others' blogs to complain about the traditional publishing industry. Neither practice tends to be very interesting for blog readers, for precisely the same reason that the Academy Award organizers tell Oscar winners not to thank everyone they've ever known: praise of people of whom the reader has never heard can be hard to follow.
• DON'T say anything in your guest post that you wouldn't want your grandmother, neighbor, or agent to read. This is basic web sense: once something you write is posted online, you can't be sure who will excerpt it or where it will end up.
• DON'T use your guest post to pick fights. Yes, controversy can attract attention, but remember, any hornet's nest you stir up will be the blogger's responsibility to quell, not yours. You're a guest on this blog -- use your company manners.
• DON'T despair if nobody comments on your guest post. Lack of response on guest posts is actually quite common. Don't worry; it doesn't mean that no one read the post.
• DON'T blame your host if her readers don't like your guest post -- or if they do not buy your book right away. Your host doesn't have any control over how her readers will respond to your guest post. All she can do is give you the forum to reach them for yourself -- and if you seem ungrateful for that opportunity, even in retrospect, she may not be eager to repeat the experience when your next book comes out.
• DON'T assume that a blogger who has done you a favor once will necessarily be willing to become your constant cheerleader. Some authors are so thrilled to find people on the web who are nice to them that they keep asking for favor after favor. In the long term, this is a poor strategy, because even naturally generous people can get burned out.
• DO listen when the blogger tells you what she wants you to do. If your host has been kind enough to give you guidance, follow it to the letter. Most well-known bloggers harbor a horror story or two about the would-be guest poster who kept submitting version after identical version, despite the blogger's having given extensive feedback.
• DO be respectful to the blog's readership. Treat them with outright kindness -- they are potentially your future readers, too.
• DO keep trying -- and approaching new blogs. The web is constantly changing; that's part of its charm and strength. Just because the perfect blog for your readership doesn't exist today doesn't mean that it won't exist tomorrow. A brand-new blogger may well be more open to encouraging a new author than a better-established one.
Above all, keep in mind that good writing is always in demand on the web -- and that every blogger, even the most compulsively-posting one, enjoys a little vacation every once in a while. If you present and conduct yourself as a dependable guest blogger, who knows? You may be asked back again -- and again and again.