Your blog speaks with your voice – everybody knows that. Fair enough, since your blog exists primarily for you to share your ideas, your opinions and your unique knowledge.
Truth is, whether if you started your blog to share dog stories with the world or even your secret tutorials on how to sew beautiful artsy scarves, your readership can only benefit from having other voices complement yours.
Where's the good? — I can hear you complain — Wouldn't that denature your blog's very soul?
You wouldn't be alone — many successful bloggers decided either to disallow or to stop accepting guest posts over time, even big hits like Problogger and Kikolani. However, if you feel your audience's hunger for knowledge, fresh stories and tutorials grows to an extent that your work alone no longer suffices, that's a right time to open doors to guest writers.
And that's when you become an editor. Yes, a real editor, like those who run your favorite magazines and newsletters. When you have someone write for you, then you're the editor. No questions asked.
Wonder how being an editor really benefits you? Well– read further.
1. Learn How To Edit And Proofread To The Best Of Your Skills
Whether you know how to revise and proofread your work or you have to develop these skills from scratch, you can't rest assured your judgment will not always be perfect – editing and proofreading are competencies that need constant practice to stay effective. If you haven't developed a sharp eye for mistakes yet, this is the right time to start, as you will have to review your guest writers' work before you publish it. What counts, as Amy Einsohn says in her book The Copyeditor's Handbook, is that you will not introduce new errors or inadvertently change the author's meaning.
What you should look for:
- Spelling and grammar errors
- Use of capital letters, commas, semicolons, full stops
- Abbreviations and acronyms
- Phrase and period balance
- Inconsistencies and errors in quotes and citations
To know how to edit, you should also know what kind of stylebook you use regularly, whether you created your own or you use an existing one (AP Style, Chicago, etc.). That's what editors do: they check their writers' work on the basis of the stylebooks they comply with. DailyWritingTips.com lists 13 stylebooks you can use.
2. Learn To Take Responsibility For Another Writer's Work
When you write for your blog, you are only responsible for your own work and your accountability is limited to yourself. As you open your blog for guest post submissions and slide the editor's hat over your head, you accept to take responsibility for any communication with guest writers, their work and the deadlines you and them agree upon.
Don't let this scare you and hold you back from welcoming contributor's work — if you always cared for your content and you took blogging seriously from the start, the transition is going to be easy. Simply, for your blog to attract more readers from your guest writers' following and viceversa, you have to work together. Part of this work is content promotion across social media and other outlets.
What should you be responsible for?
- Your role in the collaboration – Remember that you are the blog owner and the editor, so you have the last word over quality and style assessment. By all means discuss any edits with writers, but don't let the dishonest guilt trick you into accepting poor quality work. At the same time, it's your responsibility to get the best out of your contributors by giving them useful advice to improve their work.
- Your ‘contract' to your guest writers – You have to take their work seriously, because it costs them sacrifice. At the same time, make sure they know what you expect from contributors and the minimum requirements for a fruitful collaboration.
- Follow up emails – Keep in touch with your contributors and ask them to update you on their progress. It could be useful to set up deadlines to keep both of you on track.
- Help your guest writers grow their professional (and online) reputation – Present your writers under a good light on your blog. The mere fact that you published their work speaks of the quality of their writing and ideas, but a mention in your posts or an intro to their guest post would add personality and show you care.
- Respect your writers' work – As Einsohn puts it in her book, “don't rewrite an author's sentence simply because it's not the sentence you would have written.” Don't pull your editor's hat too far.
Three words: responsibility, communication and professionalism. You can do it. Just believe in yourself and in your skills.
3. Assess Your Audience Level
To know what to accept from writers and what not requires that you to know your audience and how it reacts to your content. The eternal “Who am I writing this for?” question. Darren Rowse of Problogger.net says: “The more you know about your readers the better position you’ll be in to serve them with great content, to find new readers, to build community with them and to monetize your blog.”
Here is a list of questions to ask yourself:
- What kind of readers do you get? Think demographics, engagement level (social shares, comments, subscriptions) and reader's emails.
- What kind of article, tone, style and angle do your readers prefer? Social shares and overall engagement can tell you a lot about your readers' preferences and, ultimately, what they come to your blog for.
- Think seasonal – what kind of content does attract new readers to your blog on special occasions? Most bloggers offer special giveaways or publish special articles on Christmas, Easter and other festivities. What do your readers get from you on special occasions?
Jayson DeMers at Forbes has a neat list of 6 steps to researching your target audience that you can use.
4. Get A Reputation As A Blogger
Serious bloggers that accept guest posts don't accept just every post, because they care about the quality of their content. When you know your blog inside out, you know how to analyze your guest writers' work on the basis of:
- Article length (if submitted ‘on spec')
- Tone and style of the article
- Amount of research to support the arguments
- Topic angle, its ‘news factor' and how it relates to your other posts
- How attractive the piece can be both to your advertisers (if you have any) and to your readers
Tell your contributors to know your blog before they submit. Tell them to analyze it, to find out what kind of posts you publish and for whom. Last but not least, ask them to review your most recent posts to make sure they won't submit something too similar.
When you show to your writers that you have quality standards for submitted content, they learn to respect you for the blogger you are, but your readers will notice that as well, so get ready to be cited in other blog posts. You earned the privilege.
5. Sharpen Your (Writer's) Sight
You will know how to spot a good article at first glance. Joe Sugarman in his book The Adweek Copywriting Handbook says that a first sentence leads to another, and another, and so on, until you have read the complete copy. Indeed, it's easy to spot a good article: read its first five or six lines and see where it leads you — a good article will flow smoothly, spark your curiosity and inform you, but more than everything— it keeps you reading!
Learn to understand the nature of your work, how to best present a topic to your readers and eventually position yourself as an expert in your niche.
What to look for in a good article:
- Quality of the writing
- Citations, quotes, sources
- No plagiarism
- Voice and how it relates to your target audience
- Jargon, niche-specific terms
- Writer's reputation
- How the article fits into your schedule
Help other writers improve their work and you learn how to improve yours, too.
6. Learn To Be Professional
Being an editor means you work for the best interest of both your blog and your writers, so you need a whole set of professional skills that include:
- Reading, considering and responding to guest writers' proposals with an evaluation of their offer
- Picking only the proposals that will benefit your readers and match your blog's style and depth of topics
- Being ready to work with the writer if their piece is promising but needs some extra work.
A way to make it easier for yourself and your contributors is to write a set of Guidelines for Guest Writers (or Contributor's Guidelines) anybody can read at your blog and review before they submit their work or write you a proposal. For example, you may ask potential contributors to pitch you an idea along with credentials only after they established a relationship with you via emails, blog comments or social shares.
7. Know Your Blog Inside Out
This is especially true when you didn't give your pre-launch plan much thought. Or even when your blog died and you wanted to resurrect it. In any case, once you start to accept offers from guest writers, you get to think about your blog, what it means to you, what kind of message and voice you want it to convey and how you fared so far.
As you develop an analytical eye for the content you write and how it relates to your audience, you have better chance to select the guest posts that will boost your subscriber's count and your blog popularity. Remember, good editors make a magazine grow and prosper, because they know how to connect with readers at another level, selecting topics and news that will appeal most to their audience.
8. Learn How To Write To Engage Your Audience
As with #5, editing will you sharpen your sight, but this time about your work. Editing pushes you to take a lot of things into account you would normally overlook. In fact, usually editors are good writers because they know each side of the party — writers and readers.
Edit your contributors' work for a few months — you'll see the difference. Posts that would normally get you a handful of comments and social shares will see a spike in reader engagement.
9. Build Relationships
Guest writers are content creators like you. They might be bloggers, freelancers or just people with an idea, but they still share something with you: they voice out their thoughts in writing. And they can do it awfully well. There is a lot you can learn from each other, both professionally and in terms of human relationships.
Here are a few tips to help you build solid editor-writer relationships:
- Praise and criticize your contributors' work honestly and helpfully – Writers love editors' advice, whether it just touches small style issues or the overall dynamics of an article. Make it constructive, serious but kind; don't offend your writers' persona but help them grow on the basis of your own experience as a blogger. If they deserve a praise and a word of encouragement, by all means do so.
- Let them know if you liked their work enough to turn them into regular contributors – To be a regular contributor means they can send you new articles at any time. If you ever wrote a guest post, you would know how long it can take to hear back from the blog owner and whether your work will get accepted or not. If you trust some of your writers enough to know they're only going to submit quality work, giving them carte blanche can only benefit your blog in the long run (and help you develop some solid professional relationships).
- Let them know when you might need new contributions again – Writers love to get notified of new open guest posting slots, so if you let your old contributors know when you may need new posts, there isn't only a high chance you'll be getting a lot of submissions, but they might spread the word about your blog. Friendly blog owners get their reward!
- Send them e-cards – Usually writers do that to their editors — see what freelance writer Linda Formichelli says about that — but it works the other way round, too. E-cards won't cost you a dime, but writers will feel appreciated.
Keep the communication channel open. This is a way to expand your network you should not overlook.
A 10th Reason? Here You Go – Become A Successful Writer
Now you know what it takes to be an editor, so you understand other editors better. Have you ever considered writing for other blogs and magazines? You know what I mean — by now you:
- Know that editors look for articles that meet the needs of their magazine or blog readers, no fluff and no same ol' stories
- Realize that an editor's time is limited and the amount of dedication they can spare for each writer is short (and it's nothing personal, really)
- Understand that a writer's work must meet certain criteria and standards for style and quality in order to get published.
You mastered all of that thanks to the experience you matured as a blog owner who decided to accept guest posts for your own blog. Call it payback time. Find a magazine or a blog you like and get ready to pitch!
A Few Resources To Get Started As A Freelance Writer
- The New Freelance Writer’s Quick-and-Simple Guide to Getting Started by Carol Tice
- Getting Started in the Field of Freelance Writing by Allena Tapia
- Want to Start Freelance Writing? Here Are the First 5 Things You Need to Do by Linda Formichelli
- How to Become a Freelance Blog Writer by Leo Babauta
What to Read With Your Editor's Hat On
- The Copyeditor's Handbook by Amy Einsohn (ISBN 9780520271562)
- Writer's Digest Handbook of Magazine Writing (ISBN 9781582973340)
Credits for the images: Jeffrey Zeldman for the meeting photo, Shavar Ross.com for the chorus.