Tips for Writing Better Guest Pieces

I have recently been editing a large number of guest pieces for my husband, Jeff Bearden, who is a youth motivational speaker and bullying expert, for whom we have recently had a large-scale public relations campaign. For the purposes of this post, I am going to use his topics as examples.

There are a few quick ways to improve the quality of your guest pieces, ensuring that they are published and that you are asked to write more articles for a publication in the future:

Pay attention to what the editor requests. Many times, an editor has a specific word count in mind. If they do not tell you what the word count is when they accept your pitch, ask. For a print publication, the word count they request is going to be shorter, because they have a limited amount of space; whereas an online publication may request a higher word count to either get more in-depth on a topic or to optimize their articles for search engines. When in doubt, 500 words is a good rule of thumb. If you have extraneous information, cut it.

Stay gender-neutral. If you are writing about a group of people, use “they”, “them”, and “their”, instead of “he”, “him”, and “his”, unless it is specifically a male or female issue. I noticed in editing my husband’s pieces that when he wrote about bullies, he tended to make them male, based on his own experiences growing up. The same applies when you are writing about cold-calling sales prospects. Unless you are marketing your product or service specifically to women, don’t write about when “he” picks up the phone to answer your call, rather, when “they” pick up the phone to answer your call.

Use subheads. If you are writing for the Internet, remember that most people want to read something that is easy to visually digest on tablet or phone. By using subheads to break up your article into bite-sized, readable pieces, the eye moves quickly and naturally through the piece. It also helps emphasize your main points and offers clear takeaways.

Keep your audience in mind. Remember to always write to suit the needs of a publication’s audience. For my husband, that meant writing articles suitable to parents for parenting outlets and articles suitable to teens for teen outlets. It would not make sense to urge parents to put a stop to bullying by speaking up and telling a parent. Conversely, it would not make sense to urge teens to push their school to adopt an anonymous bullying reporting form at the next PTA meeting.  Think about the publication you are going to write for. If you are writing for Entrepreneur, the issues that you write about and the perspective that you write from should be suitable for an entrepreneurial crowd, whether they are aspiring entrepreneurs, startup entrepreneurs, or have started a flourishing company. On the other hand, if you write for CEO Magazine, your article and tone should suit a C-level crowd and meet the needs of someone who is heading a major organization.

Even writers who are technically proficient by the standards of The Chicago Manual of Style often make these mistakes when they sit down to write their guest pieces. By making a few simple changes, you can increase the relevance of your guest pieces, increase how often they are shared on social media, and increase the number of people who want to take the next step, whether it is connecting with you on LinkedIn, buying your book, or calling you.

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