Blogging: Cold Emails

Blogging: Cold EmailsFirst, I must apologize for my absence. I took some time to myself this summer to do things that were not writing blog posts, and it was absolutely lovely. But let’s jump right in, shall we?

As a senior writer at my place of employment, I frequently receive inquiries from hopeful freelancers asking to write content for the company blog. Some of these want to drop links for companies they work for and others just want to see their work published on a blog that gets around 15k visitors per month. Either type is fine, as long as they meet our requirements.

The emails that I receive usually go something like this:

Hi Brittany. I was just looking over the _______ company blog and think that I could offer some great content for your readers! Let me know if you accept guest posts. Thanks!

Needless to say, emails like that don’t really do a lot for me. Now, since a lot of you are freelancers or at least freelance hopefuls, I want to use this post to 1) show you the right way to contact strangers, and 2) why you shouldn’t feel bad about sending cold emails.

Our basic requirements are as follows:

  • We’ll need to see 2-3 writing samples
  • You may not include affiliate (paid) links
  • The content must be 100% original (barring any direct quotes)
  • You have to suggest a couple of suitable topics
  • You remember that we are not internet or marketing stupid

Let’s break into the reasoning behind each requirement so that you can understand why each one is so important.

Samples help to show how skilled you are when it comes to writing. When selecting a sample to include, try to choose one that has a topic related to the business you are contacting. Always send at least 2, and no more than 5. Make sure that if they were published, the site they are hosted on is reputable, there are no spelling mistakes, and that any and all links work. It’s also best if the post is actually attributed to you and not someone else.

Affiliate links are not “the devil”, but if you’re writing content for a business, it’s underhanded and unprofessional to try to scrape a profit from their readers. Never include an affiliate link in an organic post  unless you have been given permission.

Original content is an absolute must. I don’t want to get dinged for duplicate content, and I also don’t want your recycled information. If you wrote a post for a business and it fell through and never went live, that’s one thing, but if your blog post was published elsewhere you had better think twice before asking me to give it to our readers.

Suitable topics are another must. Spend time reading any content that the business has on their site. Skim some of their blog posts and peruse a few of their articles. When you send your email, include 2 or 3 topic ideas that you really think will work for them. One of the worst things that you can do is to suggest a topic to me that would never fit with what we currently cover.

For example, I was recently contacted by a potential guest blogger who suggested, specifically, maintaining a pool. This was about a week ago and we’re on the verge of snow here in Canada. That topic is not timely, and it is far too specific for me to use since we cover much more general real estate content.

We’re writers and marketers, we know about the internet. We know that you want to get in some good backlinks, we know if you are actually talented when it comes to SEO, and we know when your writing skills are subpar. We aren’t dumb, we know the motivation behind your content is completely selfish, but so is our reason for accepting it—we like free content. So be honest and don’t bother trying to butter anyone up too obviously.

A Good Cold Email

That being said, I will judge you on your initial email, and it greatly affects my reply. If you frequently send out cold emails to businesses or individuals, I would suggest trying something like this:

Hi ________,

I’m a *insert writing profession* and came across your blog through *insert where you found them*. I thought that your post *insert interesting post name related to what you want to write for them* was very *insert an adjective or two of your choice*.

I am writing to ask if you accept guest post, and if so, what your guidelines might be. I have attached some writing samples in order to give you an overview of the topics I have covered in the past and my writing style.

I thought that a post about one of the following topics would be both a fit for your blog and beneficial to your readers:

*insert topic 1
*insert topic 2

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. I look forward to hearing from you.

*insert name (example: Johnny Awesomesauce)

Are Cold Emails Bad?

No. They aren’t bad. Although most businesses will be savvy to the fact that you are only contacting them to either get your name in print or promote a client, we appreciate when you at least make a good effort to be polite, clear, and thorough.

Sometimes you may not get a response at all, other times you may get a short and direct “No.” But once in awhile, you’ll come across someone who wants to give you a shot and who, even if they do say no, will tell you why. I try to be that person as often as I can because as a writer I know that we are expected to accept rejection without an explanation, and it can be very tiring.

So if you’re trying to break into the writing profession by sending out a few cold emails, good on you. Take note of the tips in this post and understand that no matter how good you are, you are going to hear the word “no” often. But sometimes, you’ll get a “yes”, and when you see your post go live to thousands of readers, it’ll all be worth it.

Do you send out cold emails? Do you look for guest posting opportunities often?

I post funny things on Facebook sometimes, so if you like funny things, pay my page a visit. If you do not like funny things, just avoid it.

How to Make a Professional Portfolio Without Work Experience

How to Make a Professional Portfolio Without Work ExperienceWe are all aware of the vicious circle that new grads and professionals face—employers want you to have work experience before they will hire you, but you can’t get a job without having experience in your chosen industry.

So, how are you supposed to get work as a writer if you can’t get experience anywhere?

It’s time to use one of those writerly tools that you have hidden away in your back pocket—your creativity. If you can’t find work to put in your portfolio, you’re just going to have to make some for yourself. Because the writing industry is booming with non-fiction postings right now, I’ll focus on how to build your portfolio as an online content creator.

To start, you’re going to have to do some writing that will showcase your skills, whether you’re getting paid for it or not. As someone who has been part of the hiring process for a number of writers, I can tell you that we like to see a variety of pieces, but prefer when at least one is tailored to our industry.

So if you can’t find paid or volunteer work, or what you have done isn’t necessarily relevant or appropriate for the jobs you are applying for, you need to start creating content specifically for your portfolio. That means writing for the sole purpose of having pieces to show potential employers.

Based on what I would want to see, potential topics include:

  • Tech content related to new products, services, news, and more. Pick something that you want to know more about so that at least you are learning something new while writing.
  • Real estate content about landlords, renters, the housing market, DIY projects, selling and buying tips, and first-time buyer and credit information. This is stuff you’re going to have to know at some point anyway, why not start now?
  • Small business and entrepreneurship posts about startups, employment, marketing, and anything in between. You’re basically doing that now if you are trying to start a freelance career, so write about your personal experiences.
  • Industry news and changes related to the places you are hoping to be hired at. Don’t be so specific that you can only use one piece per application, make your content general enough that you can show it to a variety of employers.
  • Writing and editing advice and tips. Show off your skills by working your way towards becoming an influencer in the industry. You can cover things like the technical aspects or talk more about creating a company voice and language.
  • Digital marketing trends. Generally, employers hiring writers now want them to know about SEO and other content-based technicalities. Write about how SEO works, how to use it best, and why it is important.

Aside from writing about these topics, make sure that you showcase your abilities in being a versatile writer. Switch up the type of posts that you are making by writing in a variety of ways, such as:

  • List posts
  • Case studies
  • How-tos
  • Short-form posts
  • Whitepapers
  • Sales focused content
  • SEO heavy pieces

And make sure that you follow best online writing practices with your content, whether you are sending it as a digital attachment or printing it out. That means that you need to make sure that you:

  • Have titles and headers.
  • Break up big chunks of content.
  • Follow best linking practices (specifically regarding anchor text).
  • Use bullet lists.
  • Avoid multiple fonts and overusing bold and italics.
  • Cite sources.
  • Never, ever plagiarize.

Although you aren’t going to be able to say that you wrote this content for a popular website or other online publication, your desire to showcase your skills shows both initiative and determination.

It also shows that, regardless of your lack of experience in the industry, you are fully capable of creating quality content, and that you really do know what you are doing.

Just make sure that you edit carefully and that your samples really are well done. To get an idea of what your dream employer wants in terms of content, spend some time looking around their blog to get a feel for their style and tone before you apply. That will help you to figure out which pieces are best to send them.

And don’t forget to switch up your style between pieces. It’s nice to see versatile writers who can go from sleek, enticing copy, to informational guides, to casual blog posts.

Once you feel that you have enough content, create a digital or printed portfolio, and show recruiters and hiring managers that you have what it takes.

Do you have a portfolio? Do you find it hard to get work as a writer?

I’m on Facebook if you want more.

This Is to Mother You: On Caring for a Toxic Parent in Her Greatest Time of Need

I often write about fiction and fantasy, but I stumbled across this post and fell for the words and the style so I thought I would share it with all of you.

It’s a beautiful piece, both technically and creatively. From the story arc to the word choice, it’s worth following until the end.

Have a read and share your thoughts below.

Longreads

Jane Demuth | Longreads | May 2016 | 11 minutes (2,632 words)

I don’t panic on the afternoon in August 2012 that my sister calls and tells me that our mother has gone insane and her boyfriend has rushed her to the ER. For the full four-week duration of her hospital stay, I don’t feel much of anything for her. Instead, driving to the hospital that first afternoon, I tell myself to keep my ears open in case she slips and says something important and true.

Three months before, she was diagnosed; two months before, she began treatment. Breast cancer, ductal carcinoma in situ, stage two, one sentinel lymph node affected, ER/PR/HER2 negative, BRCA gene double negative. I advised her on what to tell her doctor about her family history so Medicare would pay for the genetic test. She’s prescribed a lumpectomy followed by six months of chemo followed by…

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Stop Publishing Typos

 

book-731199_1920If I had a nickel for every time I heard a self-published author excuse their typos due to being unable to afford a professional editor, I would have at least $5.00 by now.

While a manuscript with one or two errors is passable, there’s no reason to send something out into the world that a grade school English teacher would cringe at. Seriously, enough with the half-finished manuscripts, people.

Not being able to afford an editor is no excuse to send a hack-job of a manuscript out into the world—doing so can have even bigger repercussions than just firing up the self-proclaimed grammar Nazis of the online world. Publishing content with multiple errors and mistakes hurts your personal brand and will almost definitely affect your success as a writer.

How? Think of it this way—you, as a writer, are like a business. Your words are what you use to market yourself, from your back cover copy to your query emails. Just like a business, you need to be aware of how you present yourself to the public, whether it’s just a small group of other authors, or you are self-publishing through Amazon. If you present yourself as an author who publishes half-finished content, that is exactly how you will be seen. Just as if a business were to sell damaged products at a discount. Sure, people would buy them, but that business would

If you present yourself as an author who publishes half-finished content, that is exactly how you will be seen.

You need to think of your readers as your potential employers, because in a way, that’s exactly what they are. You’d probably never intentionally submit a resume with a mistake in it, so why on earth would you do so with your story?

I can hear you asking how you are supposed to send out error-free content when you can’t afford to pay $75/hour for an editor. Start by doing the following:

  • Once your story is written, turn off your spell check and read through it on your own.You will see more errors when you aren’t being distracted by irrelevant suggestions from Word.
  • Use Grammarly. The free version is good enough to get you through the basics, and it is much more intelligent than your average word processor’s editor. I use the premium version at work and the free version at home.
  • Find someone to trade drafts with. There are other writers out there just like you, I promise. Find one you like and ask them to review your draft.
  • Refuse to settle for “good enough”. If you want to be recognized for your work on a bigger scale than your local writing group, put in the extra time. Self-editing sucks. We all know it. But do it anyway. Do it once, then do it again.
  • Take your time. Stop trying to pump out books as fast as you can. Write. Edit. Rewrite. Edit. Keep going until it’s better than you thought it could be. Then start to think about publishing. Quality, not quantity.

There are too many e-books out there that, unfortunately, aren’t worth the money that they are being sold for. If you want a strong personal brand as an author, and you want to sell more than 25 copies, you’re going to have to start thinking bigger than just a good idea. Do your best to produce something worth putting out there, and then do even better. The tips discussed can help you to make your manuscript more than just a beginning and an end.

A story is much more than its telling.

What do you think, are typos OK in  published stories? Are you focused on quality or quantity?

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#FlashFictionFriday: Scrofulous Mudd

What a lovely little piece of fiction to go along with a nice cup of tea!

Life in the Realm of Fantasy

The following bit of fluff and nonsense was prompted by the first line. Once I had that, the rest of the story sort of followed.


Scrofulous Mudd was a dirty old man.

By that I mean he was an elderly man who sorted through the leavings in ancient privies and wrote highly boring papers detailing the history of what he uncovered. He kept himself moderately clean, and took baths every Saturday unless an additional effort was required, such as for his mother’s funeral.

I suppose his fascination with filth began with his elegantly disease-ridden name. His was a difficult delivery, and when the elderly volunteer came around asking about the new baby’s name, Maude Mudd was still a little out of it. A scholar of Roman Literature, what she had actually said was “Rogellus.”

The volunteer, a retired nurse of infectious diseases, had misunderstood her mumbled words. Thus, Scrofulous, or Scroffy, as…

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5 Hard Truths About Being a Published Writer

It’s not an easy road, but it’s a worthwhile journey.

Do you have anything you would add to this?

Carrie Cuinn

You’ve dreamed of being a writer, getting published, and finally – you’ve succeeded. Someone has paid money for your words, and they’re out in the world for people to read! Or, maybe you haven’t yet sold a story or novel, or you’re still writing for free on blogs and hoping that’s going to get you noticed. Either way, you aspire to greatness with your ability to turn a phrase. Here’s five things you definitely need to know, but probably no one has told you:

  1. You’re still going to be rejected. No matter how many sales or awards or accolades you have, you will still not have them all. You’ll submit work that won’t be purchased. You’ll write beautiful prose that doesn’t get nominated for an award, or doesn’t win even if you make it onto the ballot. You’ll be left out of articles talking about the books to read this summer…

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The Thousand Lives of a Reader

book-1276778_1920 (2)“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.”
—George R. R. Martin

When I was much smaller than I am now, my family would often “lose” me because I would hide behind a chair in the sitting room with a book and read until I fell asleep. And while I don’t remember every single book that I read, I do remember, vividly, what I loved so much about them.

In a world full of brown carpets and white lace curtains, the colors, textures, and creatures that Dr. Suess introduced me set my mind on fire. I yearned to roam beaches with Sneetches, whether star-bellied or not. I almost tasted the river of chocolate and the blades of candy grass with Willy Wonka. I felt the talons of Farley Mowat’s Owl, Wol, gently pressing into my shoulder as my eyes traced the words that described him. When I read Jacques Martin’s books, I could smell the cool, heavy rain as it pattered on the forest leaves.

When the world told me to sit on a bus as it bounced along the pot-holed roads to drop me off, I was wielding a heavy iron blade with Aragorn. I was sitting in Gryffindor tower next to a fire with a pile of spellbooks stacked around me.

In the quiet summer afternoons when the world wanted to close the blinds and rest, I slipped into 1920’s Japan and learned what it felt like to sleep like a Geisha, with my head on a small, hard wooden brace instead of a pillow.

When the world turned dark, and I felt like the loneliest person alive, I wandered with Merlin and learned that there is an important difference between being alone, and being lonely, and I felt my fingertips tingle with a spell.

In my relatively short life, I have floated over the shoulder of a young Jewish girl during WW2. I watched as a country vet pulled a newborn calf into the world. I have felt the heat of a dragon’s fire on my skin. I have felt the damp of rain in my cloak and the cold edge of a blade against my ribs.

I have travelled around the world a thousand times, backwards and forwards through time. I have been to Middle Earth, and Westeros, and a hundred other worlds outside of our own. I have been a woman, a man, a child, a spirit, a beast, and a shadow. And all without leaving Canada.

Books have taken me on countless journeys to places I wouldn’t have even imagined. They have taught me what it is like to really, truly live in another’s shoes. They have pushed my mind beyond its limits and opened my eyes to truths and to lies. Because of them, I have lived a thousand lives, and will live a thousand more before I am done.


*As a Canadian, who lives in Alberta, I feel obligated to mention that should you wish to donate to the Red Cross to help evacuees from Fort McMurray who are fleeing from the devastating forest fires that have laid waste to many, many homes, and displaced so many families, you can do so here.

What Exactly is Poor Writing?

What Exactly is Poor Writing?Any of you who have editing experience can back me up when I say that it is a very tiring process, especially when the piece you are reviewing is poorly written. And while the perceived quality of writing is subjective, there are a few key indicators that it isn’t just you, that the writing itself is the problem.

Poor writing doesn’t necessarily mean bad spelling and questionable grammar. It can refer to the structure and style as well. When reviewing your work, or that of others, be sure to pay attention to the following things to see if the piece just doesn’t mesh with your preferred style, or if it really does need to be reworked.

Beginnings. Whether it’s a blog post, a short story, or a paragraph of copy, every piece of writing needs to have an opening line at the very least, if not an entire paragraph or even page. How that beginning is crafted can tell you a lot about someone’s writing skills. Weak beginnings cause readers to lose interest immediately, and they act as one of the most important parts of content.

Transitions. Transitions are when you go from one thought to another. They are what leads the reader from the end of one idea to the beginning of another smoothly so that there is a consistent flow to the writing. Poorly written transitions are jarring and they throw the reader out of the content, causing confusion and backtracking.

Syntax. Syntax is a tricky little beast. It’s more of an ingrained skill than one that you can pick up from studying. It’s the proper structure of sentences and words within them, and while it can sometimes be difficult to tell if someone is using proper syntax, there’s no denying when it is being misused. Poor syntax is confusing, jarring, and hard to read. I relate it to trying to swim through molasses.

Vocabulary. Repetition, lack of variety, and a penchant for either over-complicated or under-complicated word choices are all indications that the content isn’t ready for publication. While every writer has a style (that’s how Rowling was found out when she wrote The Casual Vacancy“), refusing to add a little spice to your content by means of a new word once in awhile can give off a feeling of laziness and amateurism.

Reading level. Reading level doesn’t just mean whether your content should be rated R or not. It means what grade level would be able to read the piece without difficulty. If the content is for a YA audience, then the language should match that. Just as there would be a difference between a blog post and an article for a scholarly journal. If the reading level doesn’t suit the audience, they will either lose interest because the content is too simple, or they will become frustrated because it is too hard to understand.

Punctuation. Surprisingly, punctuation can have a slot all of its own. When you see content that is written like this: “the wind HOWLED!! they couldn’t decide whether: to run or to stay in the cave?”, you know it’s not ready. Poor use of punctuation is a good way to see that the writer doesn’t have a grasp on the basics and that they need to do some more learning before they send anything else to someone for review.

Conclusions. Just like beginnings, there are conclusions to everything. Emails, lines of copy, short stories, research papers, and books. They all have endings, and while endings are never the same, and can be crafted from many different styles, how they are written can leave a reader feeling like they wasted their time.


Any one of these on its own can be a small issue that just needs some polishing, but when you combine a few of them into a single writing sample, it’s fairly easy to see that whatever you are reviewing requires some heavy edits.

The good news is that all of these things can be fixed with healthy doses of reading and writing. Often, I find that the best advice to give when handing back poor writing is to tell the writer to read more. Read pieces similar to what you are trying to create and pay attention to how they handled problem areas.

If you have issues with transitions, look at how other writers navigate through them. Pick up tricks and tools from other content before you take to the keyboard again so that you will already know how to fix your bad habits when they rear their heads.

What’s one of your worst writing habits? How did you fix it? Do you find that reading helps to make better writers?

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How to Be Taken Seriously as a Writer

We all want to be seen as professionals, but with every Tom, Dick, and Harry claiming to be a writer, it can be difficult to stand out.

Tips like these can help you to build your confidence and to write even better. Of course, as always, take the advice that makes sense for you, and leave the rest.

What would you add to this?

Kate M. Colby

writerSo writing is your creative calling, your life’s purpose, your ultimate joy. Congratulations! You’re part of (in my totally unbiased opinion) one of the best groups of people in the world. You know it, I know it — and yet, your friends and family don’t.

After all, what’s so special about being a writer? Literally billions of people on the planet write every day. It’s a basic life skill, one of the first we learn. And as a career? Psh! You might as well steal a cardboard box from behind your local grocery store and get comfy on the street.

Let’s get this out of the way: writing is a viable career and meaningful task. Whether you do it professionally or for pleasure, you deserve to be taken seriously and to receive the same respect that other professionals or dedicated hobbyists receive.

That being said, there are ways to…

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