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.

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What Counts as Writing

What Counts as WritingI feel that in the online writing world, there is a lot of pressure to constantly practice writing.

Many people post about how many words they write a day, what they wrote about, and what progress is like on their latest venture. But not every writer is ready to be an author, and not every writer has time to practice traditional writing every day.

The standards can be set pretty high amongst bloggers for writing, and that can be a bit overwhelming for some. Especially for those who already have full-time jobs, kids, pets, etc. Are they less devoted to writing? No, of course not. Not all of us have the luxury of writing whenever we feel like it, or of spending hours and hours at it a day.

But just because they aren’t working on manuscripts doesn’t mean that they aren’t producing anything. Writing encompasses so many various trades and skills that even thinking about it can help you to improve your content. So, for those who struggle to find time, what else counts as writing?

  • Texting. Yes, I believe that texting is a form of writing. It teaches you about the new communication trends that are emerging due to mobile usage. It helps you to understand new dialogue possibilities and practices.
  • Conversations. Dialogue is a key part of creating strong stories. Just speaking to other people and observing how they interact can help to improve dialogue in your work.
  • Reading. Of course, reading is one of the biggest components of writing well. If you read anything, from news articles to a quick blog or social media post, it’s better than nothing at all.
  • People watching. How do you create interesting and diverse characters? By watching other people and taking pieces of the ones that intrigue you. Writing is in part made up of what we know, and so, the more we know, the more that we can write.
  • Writing what you don’t want to. So you want to write comedy, but you are stuck writing about insurance all day. Writing is writing, my friend. And words are words. Every click of the keyboard is shaping and molding your skills, whether you know it or not.
  • TV and video games. TV and video games are virtually books that have come to life. My thoughts are that they are useful in exercising your descriptive writing abilities as well as relationships, characters, story arcs, and more.

Writing isn’t just about putting pen to paper and writing about what you want to. Stories take work. They take time. Even writing 10,000 words a day won’t guarantee that you are a good writer, or that your work will make it. When you don’t have the time to write what you want to, don’t feel guilty.

Just try to learn from the vast number of experiences taking place around you. Relate them to your work, and use the world as your classroom. By doing so, you can create a very rich writing experience both for yourself, and your readers.

What do you do when you don’t have time to focus on writing stories? Do you ever feel guilty for not writing enough? Do you ever feel pressure to write more?

I’ll be on Facebook until next time.

Can Good TV Help Your Writing?

6855051531_5aab68eb90_zI think that the short answer is yes. How many of have heard that too much TV will rot your brain? I suppose it will, depending on what you watch. Your mind is a lot like your body, if you put junk into it, junk comes out. You need to feed your mind, just as you need to feed your body. Sure, you can survive on junk food, but you won’t be healthy.

I binge on TV. We’ll find a show that looks good, give an episode or two a try, and then binge watch the rest if we enjoyed them. Not all at once, but we’ll devour that season or series pretty quickly. In our house, we usually watch shows that contain intellectual, historical, or educational value. These shows generally promote healthy debate and conversation after the fact as well. We’ll spend time discussing an unexpected twist, or researching the history behind a certain event or character. We’ll talk about feasibility, technicality, and accuracy in almost any show that we watch. It sounds boring, doesn’t it? But the shows that we watch are actually quite interesting and dramatic for the most part, and I love a good discussion.

Some of our favourites include: The Borgias, The Tudors, Deadwood, Rome, Vikings, and Lost. Of course, we like some normal shows too, but for the most part, we aren’t into junk TV. If you haven’t figured it out already, we really like Micheal Hirst. (Just a note: those shows all contain violence, sexuality, and so on. Don’t take it as a recommendation if that’s not your thing).

The shows mentioned above help me to think about the way that I write. They help to show me clever dialogue, fictional settings, character relationships, historical accuracy, and imagination. They help me to visualize plots and people and places. I look at good shows and think “how would one write that?”. How would you describe something in writing that took up half a second on screen? Of course, it would take longer, but looking at how good writing shapes TV shows can help you to cut back on your detail and your descriptions. It can help you to determine what is important and what is not.

For example, say you are weaving a cliffhanger through the story that will leave the reader at the end of the book with that “WHAT JUST HAPPENED?!” face. It’s hard to decide how much the reader will need throughout the story to actually understand the ending. If you don’t give enough, they’ll just be left feeling really, really confused. Too much and they will be saying “Duh”. In TV shows that have this, you can actually see it happen, allowing you to gauge how much you need to write in hints, how small they should be, and how often.

Look at GoT, for once we have a brilliant show based on brilliant books. Amazing, eh? If you have read the books, think about how similar, and at the same time, how different the book and show are from each other. Both have gleaned a crazy amount of success, and both are appreciated in their own right. But both of them are based on the same thing. Sometimes, I like aspects of the show better, other times I am much more enthralled with the books. The TV series shows me how things could have been done differently, and how some things could even have been left out or changed.

What do you think? TV or no TV? Are you like me in that you see writing everywhere? Any good books that were turned into good shows or movies?

Promote Yourself—A Poor Writer’s Guide to Online Marketing

facebook_twitter-640x480There are a lot of bumps with being a self-published or an independently published author. The ones that I have worked with or known from blogs and friendships have always had to face some sort of difficulty, whether it be in terms of finance, time management, or becoming overwhelmed with the whole monstrous job of making a book happen.

Aside from those, a lot of authors face difficulty with promoting themselves. They’re all on a budget, a lot of them work full-time jobs and have families, and a lot of them aren’t sure where to start with marketing. There are tons of cheap, easy, and fairly quick ways to promote yourself, whether you are established or not. Publishers will even look at these things when considering your book and a potential marketing plan. It’s a bonus when sending in your manuscript to have an established fanbase because it means that the marketing team doesn’t have to start from scratch.

The first thing I recommend is a blog. That’s probably pretty obvious to most of you since you all have one already, but just having one isn’t enough. You need to post regularly, interact with other bloggers, and keep your audience interested by posting relevant content. Too much self-promotion and you will overload your followers by seeming too desperate. Too little and you will find that your audience strays from your project. Find a happy medium and tell your followers about the new, exciting, and big information. Blog tours are also a great idea once you are published.

Social media is also a big one. This includes Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+, etc. By the time I am done writing this post, there will probably be 5 new platforms about to launch. Pick the ones that best suit you and your work. Post regularly, but try to make one or two posts from outside sources to match each one about your own news. You don’t want your fans or followers to be interested in your book alone, you want them to be interested in you as a writer.

Contests don’t get enough love. If you are looking to increase awareness, your Facebook page likes, the number of followers on your Twitter account, or even just traffic to your site, contests are the way to go. When I run contests for clients, I post them not only on social media, but on national contest websites such as Red Flag Deals. You can run contests for a low price or even free, depending on the platform you want to use, and you can add a feature that makes the entrant have to “like” or “follow” prior to filling out the entry form. Not only will you gain traffic and increase your numbers, there’s a good chance that you will also have at least a few people buy your book because they are interested in it.

The last one that I will recommend today is the good old fashioned newsletter. Whether you send it straight from your own gmail/hotmail account, it’s still a great way to keep your fans in the know. They’re free, easy, and get to the audience that hasn’t felt the need to create a social media account. They’re a nice way to keep in touch with your fans and create an easy way to post all of your news for the month at once. You should write a little about your life as well, because it will reinforce that you are an individual that can relate to your audience.

Which ones do you use for yourself? Are there any others that I haven’t included that you want to mention?

PS: HAPPY LONG WEEKEND!

Reading to Write

663092_26111643You’ll often hear that in order to write, you need to read. Many prominent authors stick by it and advise aspiring writers to make a practice of always having a piece of literature on the go. It’s good advice, as long as you know that if you are reading to write, you need to look at the writing that you are reading differently. Here’s how I do it:

-Accept and note the areas that you have trouble with, whether they include dialogue, structure, characterization, setting, etc. Know and embrace the fact that you have room to improve.

-Pick a story or a book (or a few!) that really made an impression on you in terms of style, tone, and connection. It should be something that you don’t mind reading again, and that you would give a glowing review.

-Read the story slowly. Take your time. Figure out how that story works and how you could use those tools to better your own. If you have trouble with dialogue, compare the dialogue in the book to yours to see where you are having problems. Note how the writer avoided those problems.

-Now look for things that you would change or improve in the book you have picked. Would you have written a certain scene or character differently? Would you have added more detail, or less description? Would you have chosen a different, easier to pronounce, name?

-Remember that your tone, style, and story are unique. Your voice needs to be different than every other author out there. Your story needs to be your own. Don’t worry about why your writing isn’t at that level yet, worry about how you can get it there.

-Don’t base your solutions on only one book. Reads hundreds, thousands. Read articles, blog posts, newspapers, signs, billboards, short stories, flash fiction, etc. Read everything, and let it all influence you to be a stronger, more confident writer.

Obviously, you don’t want to steal from other authors. If you make your story too much like an existing one, it’s not really yours. What you should take from reading to write is how to fix the problems that you have with your own writing. Figure out where your shortfalls are and learn how other authors have overcome or avoided them.

Although many of us see books and writing as an art form, it is also like a complicated piece of machinery. Just like all of the parts of a machine need to work together, so do all of the elements in your writing. Maintain it, improve it, and never believe that you have reached the top because there isn’t one. You can always get better, you can always improve, and you can always learn from what others have done, are doing, and will do.

How do you read to write? Do you practice it consciously? Who is your most loved author in terms of style, structure, and/or tone?