Writing guest posts has a long list of benefits: You can make a little extra money, get links back to your website, have a byline to show to potential employers or clients, and gain a platform to share your voice and your opinions.
However, pitching stories and article ideas to editors is an art, and many writers do it wrong. Up until recently, I was one of them. I used to pride myself on the huge number of pitches I sent out each week, trying to get a guest post published on a website or a feature accepted for a print magazine.
But I’ve realized that churning out pitch after pitch is a bad idea. Despite the fact that I was constantly sending out pitches, I was landing only one article every few months, and most of them were for low-paying websites with a low domain rating or magazines that didn’t have a big circulation. These days, though, I get multiple articles accepted by quality publications each month.
When it comes to pitching guest posts, you’ll see much more success if you focus on quality instead of quantity, and here’s why.
When you’re sending out multiple pitches every day, you don’t have very much time to spend on each pitch—which means your ideas will be messy and/or recycled, and editors won’t accept them. A “messy” pitch contains a story idea that’s brief; it’s not fleshed out. Messy pitches also tend to be unoriginal. If you normally copy and paste your article pitches, that’s a red flag: They might be messy.
Two to three times a week, I give myself an hour to submit pitches to websites and magazines. I used to send as many pitches as possible during that hour, but now, I average two pitches in an hour. It feels counterproductive, but deep down, I know it’s not—in fact, giving myself more time helps me come up with original story ideas rather than regurgitating the same pitch over and over.
My story ideas often take time to come together. For instance, well over a year ago, I read an interesting article about a man who lives about two hours away from me in north Georgia. He was a former Disney artist and also helped design Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch. I immediately knew I wanted to write a piece on him—because how cool is that?
But instead of immediately sending a half-baked story idea to any editor I could think of, I bided my time. It was hard to wait, but a year later, I found a magazine that seemed like a good fit. Since I’d had so much time to let the story bump around in my head, it was more refined and fleshed out, and I was easily able to send the magazine a carefully written pitch. They accepted the piece. I finally got to interview this artist and visit the whimsical fairy garden he built—and I got paid nicely for it, too.
Mass-producing as many pitches as possible means each one will be, well, a bit of a mess. But if I allow myself more time to let each story idea bounce around in my head and become a fleshed-out article rather than just a topic or headline, I can make it into a pitch that’s much cleaner.
Cramming too many pitches into your schedule runs you down and dries you out—but freeing up your schedule gives you more creative energy for when you do pitch a guest post idea.
As a full-time freelance writer, my job requires creativity, but it also comes with strict deadlines. Sometimes, a time limit can make you more creative—but in other cases, creativity can’t be rushed.
An article from HatRabbits explains that the first idea people come up with is usually the logical one—the same idea everyone else thinks of first, too. “Eventually, you will find that what you settled for is not such a good idea after all,” the article reads. “To find ideas that are worthwhile, you’ll have to try a little harder. … Giving people too strict of a deadline will keep them from finding these unusual ideas.”
In order to come up with something truly creative, you need to give yourself time to dig deeper. But too much time can also be detrimental.
“If people are given lots of time to think, they will do exactly that. They will think … and think … and think. But we don’t want participants to merely think,” René de Ruijter from HatRabbits says. “We want as many ideas as possible. This goal is incompatible with a group of ceiling-staring ponderers.”
If you give yourself too much time, you’ll overthink. You’ll begin to second-guess your ideas. Someone else has already written this, you’ll think. Or, The editor won’t like this one. At that rate, you could cycle through dozens of good ideas but never recognize them.
When it comes to creativity, it’s best to slow down and allow yourself room to breathe. Don’t settle for the first idea you come up with. Instead, keep thinking!
If you do thrive under time limits, though, create a self-imposed time limit to come up with a certain number of story ideas; then set them aside to be edited and submitted later. In a way, quantity can actually lead to quality in creativity—quantity of ideas, that is. “Look at it this way: The more ideas you generate, the bigger the chances are that you will stumble upon a brilliant idea,” Ruijter says.
You might feel accomplished if you’ve pitched three publications in the same day, but if you rushed through each pitch, you’ll see rejection emails in your inbox. Quantity and productivity are not the same thing: Just because you’re churning out email after email or article after article, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re being productive. Productivity, an article by iSixSigma explains, is more than just speed.
“The key to increasing productivity is not about how fast we work. It is about how we get the work done; it is about the process,” explain the writers at iSixSigma.
Just because you add speed to a process does not mean the process will be more productive.
Productivity is often measured by results, and rushing through a task probably means your results won’t be optimal. Strive for efficiency, even if that looks like sending only one pitch in the time you’d normally send four or five.
After all, which would you rather do: Spend a few hours pitching 20 mediocre story ideas and have one accepted, or spend a few hours pitching four killer story ideas and have three accepted? For most people, the second scenario takes the cake—it’s far more efficient.
If you spend hours doing your best on one pitch, you’ll feel much prouder of the finished product when the editor accepts it.
About a year and a half ago, I was spending an afternoon pitching guest posts, and I pitched an idea to a well-known writing blog. The editor responded around dinnertime and said my original idea wasn’t right for them, but I was welcome to pitch another idea. The catch? The blog would remain open for submissions only until midnight that night.
Deep down, I didn’t believe it was worth it to turn my back on my to-do list of other publications and spend the rest of my evening writing another pitch for just one website. But, reluctantly, I did it anyway … and my second pitch ended up being accepted. I worked hard on that second pitch and felt satisfied and proud when it was accepted. And as an added bonus, when the article was posted, one of its readers offered me a freelance copywriting gig.
Pitching guest posts is a great way to help grow your business, but if you’re not careful, it can turn into a way to waste a whole lot of time. It’s been about six months since I refined my pitching process and began sending fewer pitches, but working on them harder. In those six months, I’ve had more guest posts and magazine articles accepted than I ever did before.
By sending a small number of good pitches instead of a large number of mediocre ones, you’ll be more productive, more creative, and more proud of yourself. Focus on quality, not quantity.
Hailey Hudson is a full-time freelance writer based out of Atlanta, Georgia. When she isn't working, she's coaching fastpitch softball, writing her latest YA novel, or snuggling with her beagle puppy, Sophie. Learn more at Hailey's website or by following her Instagram @haileyh412.