5 mistakes that will doom your article pitch


As the owner of a website that publishes blog posts and articles, I get emails just about daily from people wanting to publish on my site. It got so bad I set up a separate email address for it.

There’s nothing wrong with pitching an idea or an already-written article to someone for publication on their site. I’ve done it; I’m sure you have, too.

However, there are things that will get your email an automatic “no.” Seriously, I wonder if some of these people ever took a class on correspondence.

Let’s take a look at what not to do in an email pitch:

1. Fail to greet me by name

Rule 101 in writing a letter (or any correspondence): You always greet the person by name; not doing so is disrespectful. My name is not hard to find; it’s all over my website. If you found my email address on my website, you should also have seen my name there.

Here’s a variation: You get my name right, but your email asks whom you should talk to about a given matter. The About page lets you know that I am that person. In short, do a little research.

Real examples:

Advice: Take an extra few minutes to find out the person’s name you want to email.

2. Make it obvious you’ve copied and pasted your email

OK, I’ll admit it: I copy and paste from one email to another. Who hasn’t? However, it’s kind of obvious you’ve done it in your email when you have multiple fonts going on—let alone funky character and word spacing.

Why would I accept a post or pitch from someone who doesn’t bother to proof his or her own email?

Real examples:

Advice: Show some professionalism: Proof and spell-check your email before sending it.

[Related: Download the Marketer’s Guide to Digital Giveaways, Promotions, and Rewards.]

3. Assume I’ll pay you for your article

I do not believe in paying for guest posts. You don’t pay people to be guests at your house. If I’m paying you for your blog post, you are considered a contributor, not a guest. Don’t assume I pay for content by telling me that yours is free of charge.

I am aware there are bloggers/writers who sell their articles for a living. That’s fine; just please be tactful about it.

Real example:

Advice: If you’re unsure, ask whether the person you are approaching compensates (use that term; it’s nicer) for guests posts. Never assume.

4. Pitch me something that’s not relevant to my industry

If you pitch me something (as in the example below) that has nothing to do with my industry, I’ll think you’re an idiot and I’ll know you didn’t do your homework. Make sure what you are pitching is relevant to the person/business/industry you are approaching.

Advice: Do your homework to ensure you are contacting people in the right industry.

5. Send me testy emails when I don’t respond fast enough.

I hardly ever respond immediately to pitches, even legitimate ones. If it’s legit, I will research you and/or your company before responding. I’m just as busy as you and the next person, and I cannot respond immediately. The last thing you want to do is get snippy following up (see below).

Side note: Never buy links, unless you want Google to blacklist you.

Advice: Be patient.

I will say I have gotten some great pitches via email—they aren’t all bad. I will respond to legitimate inquiries, so if you are reading this and you are interested in submitting a guest post, please contact me. Just avoid making the mistakes listed above.

A version of this post first appeared on Mandy Edwards’ blog.



20 words and phrases that will doom your pitch

Evil forces lurk among us, threatening to destroy our way of life.

Only communicators stand between civilization and a new Dark Age. But your quest starts with a taboo: Never write the 20 words that will bring down a curse on you, your communications and all mankind.

Or, well, at least you will doom your pitches, press releases and internal emails, according to two scribes who have spent years reading ancient scrolls and overhyped press releases.

Michael Smart, principal for MichaelSMARTPR, said he and New York Times technology columnist David Pogue once drew up a list of “cursed words” and hype phrases that undermine your credibility.

Here are the words:

  • Landmark
  • Revolutionary
  • Groundbreaking
  • Breakthrough
  • Turnkey
  • Cutting-edge
  • Leading-edge
  • Best-of-breed
  • Awe-inspiring
  • Decadent
  • Sumptuous
  • Breathtaking
  • Extraordinary
  • World-renowned
  • World-class
  • Stunning
  • Beautiful
  • Dramatic

“Lots of journalists tell me, ‘I immediately delete releases as soon as I see one buzzword or any hype,” said Smart, who has successfully landed stories in TIME.com, The New York Times, and many other venues. “The kinder ones say, ‘I just don’t read those words; I skim over them. It’s like they’re not even there. They don’t impress me. They don’t do anything.”

Why not? Because reporters read these phrases 10, 20, even 100 times a day in press releases. These are the PR (and internal comms) equivalent of a guy sidling up to a woman at the bar and saying, “Hey, there, I’m the handsomest dude you’ll ever meet.”

Smart listed the banned words in a presentation last fall at Ragan’s “Breakthrough Strategies for Corporate Communicators” conference at the North Carolina headquarters of SAS, a business software firm. The video was just released on Ragan Training.

Yes, I know; your product truly is revolutionary. But that won’t impress anyone on the receiving end of the 1,000th email about some earth-shaking new product.

“The reporters not only ignore these, they hold them up as points of mockery,” Smart said. “And if it’s only going internally, I’d say, ‘Well, if the media thinks that, what do you think our audience thinks? Do you think they really buy into the fact that this is a landmark turnkey solution?”

During Smart’s presentation, Ragan Communications CEO Mark Ragan threw in another dark phrase to avoid: Solutions provider.

“I’m expecting McDonald’s to say that they’re the ‘lunchtime solutions provider,'” he said.

Smart allows that it must have been awesome to be the first person to think of the phrase cutting-edge. But within a month it meant nothing, he says, so communicators adopted leading-edge, which likewise became a cliché in no time.

How to avoid the “cursed words”? Use specifics. If something’s cutting-edge or revolutionary, specify what’s new about it, Smart said. What does it do? How fast is it?

Let nouns and verbs do the work of adjectives and adverbs, Smart said. Concrete images enliven your writing. He offered this comparison:

Johnson was hungry.

Johnson ordered a triple cheeseburger and a barbecue chicken sandwich.

Don’t send your poor press release to its doom. Avoid the curse. 

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