Last week, I bought a book. It is the book adaptation of one of my favorite blogs, Lame Adventures. Yours truly – Madame Tightwad – couldn’t buy this book fast enough and would have forked over a bit more of my money had V asked me to, but she’s a good person and has priced her book very fairly. She lovingly referred to Lame Adventures: Unglamorous Tales From Manhattan as the “Manhattan Project” while it was in the works, and it details her exploits in the Big Apple.
I likely would not have purchased her book if it weren’t for a little thing called guest blogging. I first learned of V’s existence in October 2012 because she wrote a guest post on A Clown on Fire. I clicked over and have been hooked ever since. If we simplify the equation, her guest post equaled a new follower which equaled a book sale. Literal dollars. But big heart symbols too.
It got me thinking about the way effective guest blogging works. We may not all be selling something or even really care about hitting some set of arbitrary pageview goals, but as writers and bloggers, I think we can all agree that getting more return readers is something that we are interested in doing. Guest blogging is a potential way to do it and meet new friends, but so often I glaze over the instant someone puts up a post on their blogs written by someone else. There are two reasons for my indifference.
First, the host blogger often admits in a forward to the guest post that s/he is bogged down with life and that’s why s/he invited someone else to post that particular day. Basically, the guest blogger is a babysitter. Who respects the babysitter? Not me. That’s not to say you shouldn’t invite someone to guest post when you don’t have time to post yourself; just don’t advertise your absenteeism. Frame the guest blogger as someone to look forward to, not just an afterthought to your weeklong red wine binge.
Two, the guest post is often so self-promoting that it’s basically a commercial. Great, so Stanley Steamer is babysitting me. Good times in the blogosphere.
What makes a guest post work? I have a few ideas.
A good guest post seamlessly merges the style and content of the host blogger with the style and content of the guest blogger/writer. Readers are savvy and they can detect awkward from a mile away. If you ask someone to guest post on your blog, make sure it’s a logical pairing. Even though it was hilarious and awesome when Snoop Dogg made a guest appearance on the Martha Stewart show, the same cannot be said of blogging. If the pairing is too random, your readers and theirs likely won’t hang around until the end of the post. You shouldn’t be carbon copies of each other, but seek out someone whose experience and style fills in the gaps of your own writing.
A good guest post has been given some thought by the host blog. If you invite someone to a potluck, you usually provide general guidelines on what they should bring so you don’t end up with only 9,000 paper plates, 30 pounds of ice, and one dish of potato salad. So it is with guest blogging. When you invite someone to guest post, consider giving them a bit of a prompt if they’re having trouble coming up with something on their own. This is what makes Le Clown’s guest series “A Canadian Clown in Gunland” work. In each post, bloggers lead Le Clown on a tour of their city. This framework is specific yet general enough for the guest blogger to show off their skills to an audience that may not know them. The guest blogger’s style and personality shines through the prompt.
A good guest post is shiny and sparkly and represents the best work a blogger has to offer. I look back at some of the guest posts I’ve written in the past and I cringe because I clearly did not give them as much attention or time as I give to posts for The Waiting. Not only is this insulting to the host blogger who basically invited me into his or her own house, but I also wasn’t doing myself any favors by showing up with less than my A game. Each guest post you write has the potential to bring new followers in, not to mention strengthen your versatility as a writer. Get dressed up and shampoo your hair for once. You will likely want to promote your piece among your own readers. If they click over to your guest post, don’t serve them up some watered-down version of yourself.
Sound good? Want to write a guest post? Want to host a guest post? You know I have some opinions on going about doing that, too. Hang on as the insufferable know-it-allity continues.
Read some solid multi-author blogs and figure out why exactly they are working. Sometimes I hate it when I am looking for a set of instructions to do XYZ and that list includes something as boring and passive as reading. Gaaaaaah. But it’s true that by taking a step back and looking objectively at blogs that aren’t authored by one specific blogger (Kidz Showz and The Official How-To Blog, I’m looking in your direction), aspiring guest bloggers and host blogs can learn a lot about writing in a place that isn’t necessarily their own cozy corner of the Intertron. Multi-author blogs thrive on collaboration and the strength of their many moving parts. They have to have a strong sense of purpose and a clear objective to have any kind of resonance among the blogging community. Figure out what’s working for them and adapt it to your own situation. Even consider contributing to them if you think your work fits in.
Make sure you know the host blogger before you solicit a guest post to them. My friend Jells of I’ll Sleep When They’re Grown recently posted about random companies contacting her to guest post on her family blog. Anyone who is familiar with Jells knows that her writing is fantastic because it is almost exclusively about the everyday occurrences of her and her kids. Her writing breathes because she cares. Her distinctive style is what keeps me coming back. Why would she ever be in need of someone to write filler copy?
Although I know none of you would get all spammy like that (right? Riiiiiiight?), there’s still something to learn: be sure when you pitch an idea for a guest post to a blogger that it fits within the milieu of what they’re doing. Do a quick search to see if they have even run guest spots before. If they haven’t, think long and hard about asking them to host you. Sometimes it does hurt to ask.
Even if you write/host an outstanding piece, don’t expect to get a plethora of new active followers or sell eleventy billion copies of your book. If I have learned anything from the featured post circuit (coughcough humblebrag), it’s that one great blog post will not endear me to the hearts of all readers and writers the world over. The amount of blogs and bloggers is mind-numbing and even though you may get some new followers after hosting or writing a guest post, it is not likely that you will hear from all of them again. But that’s OK. Don’t discredit the subconscious: once someone sees your name and tucks it in the recesses of their mind, they are far more likely to remember you when they see the name of your blog floating around elsewhere. They may click over to you and get to know you better when they see you commenting elsewhere or when someone retweets you.
So, that’s what I think I know about guest blogging. What do you know? Please tell me in the comments.