What do great guest posts and house guests have in common?
The best guest posts are clear, organized, and offer uplifting, actionable ideas. The best house guests smell nice, clean up after themselves, and know how to get along with everyone.
You want both of them around.
So what’s the trick to making sure your writing is as neat and engaging as the best house guest?
Guest Post Formatting. Yes, it’s a thing.
The Honest Truth
I’m going to be straight-up, evil honest here: I reject guest posts way too often. It’s because the submissions have great ideas, but sub-par writing. I can tell the writer is talented. I also know when she has pounded out a post on her smartphone and hit send, just as the kids are getting in the car at school pickup.
The great idea is there, but it’s lost in the noise of long paragraphs and unedited sentences.
I’m not judging; I’ve been there. I know how that little high feels when you get a post submitted before you head back to the kids. But I also know how frustrating it is to turn away post after post over formatting problems.
I’ll admit it: I’ve submitted plenty of ill-prepared posts.
And one or twice, it even worked. I got my work published.
But it didn’t leave a very satisfying taste in my mouth.
Guest Post Formatting Strategies
Here are six guest post formatting strategies you need to nail before you sit down to write, so don’t even think about hitting ‘send’ yet.
Don’t worry, I got your back.
Choose your publisher before writing your post.
Unless you have extensive knowledge in formal writing styles (as in you can churn out a professional newspaper column with your eyes closed), then you need to decide where you want to see your work published. Take your guest post idea and find its Happy Place. Is this a message you could picture reading on Mamalode? HuffPost? Forbes? Scary Mommy? Which audience can you help the most with this piece?
PRO TIP: If you’re serious about making money or publishing regularly, create a spreadsheet of sites and editorial preferences (download a copy of mine at the end of this post). Enter your research results, and you won’t have to do the same work twice.
Confirm your delivery will be on point.
The editor of Jane or XO is looking for a very different piece than the editor of The Washington Post. Is there a hidden message in your laugh-out-loud story? Think it through. What about the site itself? Is it right wing, left wing, no wing?
PRO TIP: If you’ve got a post with touchy language or topics, please visit the site you’re submitting to and look to find the same words you’re using on the site! My blog, liesaboutparenting.com, covers some pretty controversial topics that incite foul language, but we keep it pretty clean. Still, swear words fill my inbox on a daily basis. Delivery matters.
Choose your tones.
The tone is how the post feels, and helps to convey your message. I find there are two major parts: Feeling and Style. The feeling is literally how you feel reading it and style is how you approach the way your words are laid out on the page.
Is the feeling funny, light-hearted, serious, inspirational, warning, or practical?
Is the style conversational, essay, simple how-to, detailed how-to, persuasive, revealing, or something else?
Make a commitment to feeling and style at the beginning. And remember, never try to force funny!
Reading Level is super-duper important.
Too simple and readers will either be a) bored or b) assume you’re patronizing them.
Either way, too simple and your readers leave unless you’re writing a Wiki-How. Too high of a reading level and the audiences get lost, bored, or feels like you can’t connect with them. So, too difficult and your readers will leave, too. Ugh.
For general writing, aim to write at a 4th-6th-grade reading level, as this helps readers digest and retain the information you’re offering. If you’re an expert in your field, pretend like you’re writing to someone who’s just discovered your topic.
PRO TIP: You can check your work for free on HemingwayApp.com, just copy and paste your work and modify as needed.
Size matters 😉
It does, I swear. In this case, we’re talking about *ahem* length. 500 is the absolute minimum. 700 is a sweet spot. 1200 is a sigh-worthy informative post or story. A good rule of thumb is personal stories should stay in the 500-800 word range, and more informative posts can go longer, but check the site you’re submitting to for a better idea of what they want. 1500+ words need extra special care.
PRO TIP: Check how long the average post seems to be on the website.
P.S. See how I wrote that without using any foul language? I knew you’d get it! 🙂
How quickly do you move through the post? Are there lots of single sentences and white space, or longer paragraphs and detailed accounts? Does the pace match your submission site? Most blogs will take white space or dense paragraphs every time, but tastes vary.
PRO TIP: Check out the blog’s top posts from an artist’s point of view. Look at the big “picture” of text. Is there a lot of white space? How many images? Maybe numbers or lists at the end of every post?
Your message matters.
Help your message get across. Spend the time on guest post formatting and you’ll see increased acceptance rates and better reader interaction.
Who you want to write for is a decision you should make right after finding inspiration for a topic. Craft your message to resonate with readers on an individual site. Check your writing’s tone, message, length, pacing, and reading level. Save a copy of the Editorial Preferences Spreadsheet and continue to add any sites where you want your work published.
Remember, always put your work through an editing process before submitting. I use the free HemingwayApp and Grammarly Pro (affiliate link, since I would be a wordy mess without it and use it all the stinking time).
These immediate guest post formatting changes will make your message bigger, brighter, and published.
At the end of the day, make it easy for an editor or submission manager to say yes (or at least damn hard to say no) by formatting your guest posts.
Share your guest post formatting tips with us; we’d love to hear them!