If you’re anything like me, you probably thought that selling a book to a publisher was the hard part—after that, professionals would save you from yourself and do all the heavy lifting for you. I certainly expected that, and I was relieved, because I’ve slowly come to realize that my personal brand could be described as “amiable incompetence.” The idea that a bunch of promotion and publicity experts would take over the sordid work of promoting me and my work was comforting.
But it doesn’t really work like that. Even if you do have a team of folks suddenly assigned to the task of promoting you to the world, that doesn’t mean your work is done. In fact, if you’ve got a team of people helping promote your book you probably have more work to do, because all those chipper professionals will be working overtime to assign you chores.
In other words, even if your publisher is devoting resources to you, you’ll still need to roll up your sleeves and promote yourself and your book. One of the most common—and time-consuming—ways to do that is guest posting. If you’re not sure what guest posting entails or have no idea if you should pursue it as a promotional strategy, read on for an in-depth look at the concept.
Guest posting isn’t mysterious: It’s right there in the name. It’s writing a post designed to be published on someone else’s blog or platform. Sometimes this is directly promoting your book, sometimes it’s more of an oblique promotion where you write about something connected to your book.
Guest posts are sometimes arranged by your publisher, who typically will have relationships with influential bloggers and social media folks. Sometimes the owner of a blog or platform will reach out directly to you, either because they’re a fan or because they see some synergy between your work and their audience. And sometimes authors will research and identify blogs that are good fits for them in terms of audience, traffic, and subject matter.
When you are asked to write a guest post or you arrange to write one, you may be given a very free hand to write whatever you want, or you may work closely with the platform’s owner to develop a specific concept. However it goes down, it boils down to you writing a post that is published on a platform you don’t ordinarily have access to—and the goal is mutual benefit. The platform owner gets high quality content that expands their audience, so what do you get?
When my novel We Are Not Good People published, my publisher reached out and suggested I write a post for their affiliated blog Off the Shelf. I thought about it and came up with an angle that wasn’t blatant promotion—I had a real point to make about storytelling—that I could have some fun with. I wrote a post titled “These Magical Worlds Are Even Better Than “Harry Potter”.” The guest post did well and was picked up by The Huffington Post (back when the Huffington Post was huge) which was pretty great!
So, yes, to recap: I spent time and energy writing 1,000 (hilarious and smart) words, which was then published on two separate web platforms, and in exchange I received that most dreaded of compensations: Exposure.
Under normal circumstances, avoiding working for exposure is one of the basic tenets of the writing life, but the rules are a little different when it comes to guest posting. That’s because of two fundamental aspects: One, you’re in charge. This isn’t a case where you’re being exploited with invisible, largely imaginary “exposure” benefits. You get to choose if, when, and where you guest post in exchange for your words. And two, there are actual benefits to guest posting:
This is the big one. Ideally your guest posting activities should be directed at platforms that have audiences you currently don’t have access to. When you’re starting out, this category includes a lot of audiences, so your choices may be a bit broad. But even when you’re somewhat advanced in your career and have a sizeable audience yourself, there’s always a group of people you’ve been unable to reach. Having something you wrote be highlighted on a platform with an audience that’s unfamiliar with your work can instantly increase your brand awareness.
You can also use guest posting to diversify your audience. If you’re primarily a mystery writer, for example, folks who primarily read a different genre may be unaware of you and your work. A guest post at an appropriate blog that caters to those readers can, at the very least, introduce you to those readers. Depending on what you have to say, it might even convince them to seek out your books.
Guest posts typically don’t include a hard-sell pitch, but the whole point is to promote your book, so a modest link to a pre-order or sales platform is often allowed. That means that every guest post is a potential sales point for your book. Even if it’s not appropriate to include a gauche “BUY NOW” sort of link with your post it will still inspire at least a portion of the platform’s audience to look you up and potentially purchase your book.
Finally, a guest post can enhance your reputation and what the web experts call “authority.” When the platform that’s publishing your guest post has a larger audience—or a more focused audience—than you do, you’re borrowing some of its prestige for yourself. Simply because you’re published on the platform, people will make assumptions about you and your status. If you’re a non-fiction author, this can be a crucial way to convince people your work is worth reading. If you’re a fiction writer, this can be a great way to break through the noise—there may be thousands of books publishing this week, but only yours is being featured on this particular platform. This can work in the same way a review from a reputable source works—if people trust the platform, they extend that trust to you.
I’d also add that guest posting can be a lot of fun. It’s often a chance to be creative and a little self-indulgent. After all, you’re specifically being asked to promote yourself and talk about your work, so lean into that and enjoy yourself.
Okay, you’re convinced and you can’t wait to start turning out guest posts on your way to total world domination. So how do you do it?
First, you have to figure out where you could be a good fit for guest posting. If you’ve been pointed to a platform by your publisher or a publicist, that makes it easier. You can usually assume that the folks charged with marketing and selling your work have already determined that the platform is a good fit and worth your time.
If you’re on your own, however, you’ll need to identify the platforms that could work for you. This is generally a three step process:
You need to create a shortlist of platforms that a) match your niche or subject matter and b) have a large enough audience to make it all worthwhile. Start by asking people who would know—other authors, editors, agents, and bloggers in the field who can be expected to have some clue as to the big blogs, Substacks, and newsletters being published. Then, supplement those findings with some robust web searches—use keywords that match your own book’s marketing and/
Next, go through the list you’ve compiled and winnow out sites that aren’t guest post friendly. A simple way to do this is to search on the URL of the platform along with the phrases “write for us” or “guest posting” and other variations on the theme. If you can’t find any evidence that the platform welcomes and solicits guest posts, move it to a secondary list you can hit later if you come up dry otherwise.
Finally, you need to get some idea if the platform has enough traffic—and thus a large enough audience—to be worth your time. For traditional websites, you can use a site like Moz Site Explorer, which has a free account option that will give you basic info about a site, especially if you compare its numbers to a more famous site in the same category. Newsletters and Substacks are more difficult to gauge, however; you can sometimes discover some traffic data, but this only tells a portion of the story as there could be a huge email audience out there that you can’t see. Your best bet here is to augment your research with a review of social media—look for mentions of the newsletter, especially by influencers in the category.
What are good numbers? This varies considerably. An influential Substack might have under a hundred literal subscribers, but get thousands of web visits. A website that gets 1,000 unique visitors every day might be considered obscure in one category and a runaway success in another, smaller niche. That’s all to say that you might have to make an educated guess after all that work, but at least it will be educated.
Side note: Guest blogging networks. This is the 21st century and we’re somewhere between Web 2.0 and Web 3.0 (at which point I think we’re all sucked up into the Matrix, or something—it’s all a bit fuzzy), so of course there are guest blogging “networks” that suggest the entire process can be automated. Sites like The Hoth and Outreach Mama act as brokers that connect you with platforms that need guest posting material, but they’re not a great fit for authors. They’re mainly focused on businesses, not book promotion, making them a poor fit for your needs as a writer with a book and a brand to promote. If you work in a niche that’s business-oriented, this might be a winning strategy to identify guest posting targets, but in general these sorts of networks won’t work well for you.
Unless a publicist or other representative is handling this for you, your next move is to contact the person in charge of guest posts on the platforms you’ve identified and see if they’ve got a slot for you. There’s no point in putting more work into this if the platform is booked solid for the next six months.
Guest blogging, like everything else, is all about doing the work. If you’ve got a platform that fits your marketing strategy and is open to having you guest blog for them, it’s time to come up with an idea or two to pitch them. While you might find some platforms that aren’t too picky—and if you’ve been encouraged to guest post there by a publisher or publicist, you might be instructed to just write whatever you want—most want to see the value you’re bringing to the equation. In other words, they will want to see the hilarious, perceptive, traffic-driving concept you have for your guest post.
Your pitch doesn’t need to be complex or wordy, but it should be a unique idea on an appropriate topic. And it should be something that a reasonable person will believe their audience will enjoy—and click on. We’ll get into what you can write about later on.
You know where your guest post is going, and you know what you’re writing about. What’s next?
Once you’ve secured some invitations to guest post, you have some work to do. This includes actually writing out the pitch you agreed on, of course—but there’s more to it. Inspect your own blog and social media—if your guest post is successful, people are not only going to check out your books, they’re going to check out you. If your online presence is a ramshackle disaster, that will be their follow-up impression. Clean up your online spaces and freshen them up with new content. Yes, that means pulling double- or triple-duty in terms of creating content, but it’s much better than having a large number of potential new readers show up to a digital ghost town.
You’re also going to want to make sure you have accurate purchase links prominently displayed. Not everyone is going to click through to buy your book based on a single guest post—but if you entice them to check out the rest of your digital world, you want to ensure they always have the opportunity to do so with the least amount of friction possible.
You shouldn’t treat guest posts as drive-bys. In other words, stick around and stay involved in the comments to answer questions, provide extra info about your work, and have some fun.
This doesn’t mean get into arguments. Trolls are everywhere, and you may encounter some mean-spirited folks in a comments section. It’s best to ignore them and interact only with the folks who want genuine interactions, even if they are critical of an idea or push back on something you wrote. This is always a difficult line to toe, but staying involved is crucial as it can close the deal with folks who are initially uncertain about your work, but even more importantly it extends you “fifteen minutes” on that particular platform. You can have a post that sits on the front page for a day or two and then vanishes from everyone’s thoughts, or you could be there a week later, still fielding questions and converting people into fans. It’s your choice.
From you point of view, the whole point of guest posting is to gain audience and spread word about your work—but that doesn’t mean you should just passively sit back and wait for great things to happen. Flex your social media muscles and spread the word, like and share the guest platform’s promotion, and put some effort into making the venture a success for all involved.
So, you’ve identified your guest posting platform and made the connection, now all you have to do is write a great guest post. Easy! You’re a writer, after all. Writing things is kind of what you do.
But what should you write about? One of the most crucial aspects of a guest post—but one that is mysteriously overlooked in the hubbub of arranging the logistics—is the subject matter of your post. The specifics will depend on the kind of book you’ve written and the platform where you’re posting, of course, but there are some general guidelines you should adhere to:
Your subject should ideally link to your book in a firm way, while also fitting into the platform’s typical content. If you’ve chosen your guest posting platform carefully, this should be relatively easy because the platform itself should complement your book’s subject matter or genre. You could leverage the research you did for your book and write about something that ties into your story, or an aspect of the craft and publishing process if that fits. Whatever you choose to write about, make sure it relates to both sides of the equation in some way.
A guest post is an introduction to an audience that isn’t already familiar with your work, so your guest post should be representative. That means not employing an experimental style or writing in a tone that’s wildly different from your book or other work. If folks think your post is brilliant and then find the rest of your writing is totally different, it will be an off-putting moment.
Your guest post shouldn’t be a throw-away, it should offer your audience something of value. Think of the guest platform as an extension of your own blog or newsletter, and bring the same level of care to the article you write there as you do for your own content. Not only is this just common courtesy to your host, the whole point is to convert some potential readers. You absolutely should put your best work forward for their consideration.
Finally, don’t expect miracles. Guest posting—like almost all promotion—is a long game of small increments. Your guest post might be terrific, and perfectly positioned, but that doesn’t mean you’ll wake up the next day with a thousand new followers and a spike in sales. To make guest posting work for you, it needs to be a strategy and not a one-time effort. Instead of putting all of your promotional eggs in one guest posting basket, think more in terms of a long-term campaign at minimum, and make guest-posting a continuous effort at maximum. While it might seem like not much return on the investment of your time and creative energy, showing up in people’s feeds and on their favorite sites over and over again is much more effective than popping in exactly once and then never showing up again.
By being consistently open to guest posting opportunities, however, you’ll maximize your impact. While you can amp up your efforts when you have a specific project to promote (and fine-tune your pitches to support those projects), making guest posts a constant can yield a bigger return in the long run.
Guest posting can be fun and profitable, in the sense that it can drive sales, expand your audience, and forge network connections. While there are plenty of good sense reasons to pursue guest posting opportunities, don’t forget the most important thing: Have fun, and do so while writing interesting articles.
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