Getting featured on or writing at Forbes, Entrepreneur, Huffington Post, and other high-quality publications can be an extremely rewarding experience. Not only do these outlets have a massive readership comprised of go-getters, visionaries, and affluent individuals, but they are also excellent resources for those looking to establish their brand, boost their reputation, and grow their online presence.
The goal of securing features and guest posts on these publications is certainly a lofty one, after all, there are limited slots available and it’s a cutthroat race among those with the best pitch, timing, and network. But there are some things you can do right, and a lot of things you can do wrong when submitting your pitch — here’s how to avoid the most damaging mistakes, and maximize your success rate.
Mistake #1: You Are Pitching the Wrong Editor
Many publications, including Forbes, Entrepreneur, Wired, Inc., etc, all have separate editors for different sections. This means if you’re looking to publish something in the lifestyle section, you’ll need to pitch the correct editor for that section.
Unfortunately, not every editor is in communication with the right editor for you, and those that are might still not take the time to point you in the right direction if you’ve made a mistake. Although you may be forgiven for pitching the wrong editor at lower-tier publications, it just won’t do at Forbes or Entrepreneur.
To avoid this issue in the future, you can often find the editor of each section in the ‘about us’ or similar section of the publication. If this is out of date or incomplete, then Google and Twitter are your friends. Simply search for the publication name and section with the term “editor” and you will often find the person you are looking for, e.g. “Forbes lifestyle editor”.
For print media, you will be able to find the names of the section editors in the masthead — which is a section at the top of the page that shows the names of the editorial staff.
Mistake #2: Submitting Generic Content
Each publication has a different audience demographic, as well as a different tone of voice, style, and identity. Although you might be tempted to submit the same pitch or worse the exact same copy to multiple outlets to save time, doing so is unlikely to be successful unless the publications are extremely similar.
If you are pitching content to Forbes, you will want to stick to a punchy, authoritative style, full of quotes, relevant data, and business insights. Whereas for Entrepreneur, you will want to ensure your content features actionable information, unique perspectives, and a professional tone.
For other publications, do your homework to familiarize yourself with its usual audience before sending in your pitch in. Some publications (including Forbes) have been known to post their reader demographics publicly, but you should be able to get a general idea of the target reader by simply reading a few recent articles on the site.
Mistake #3: Wasting the Editors Time
At popular publications like Forbes, Entrepreneur, Fortune, Bloomberg, and the like, the editors are almost always completely inundated with pitches, emails, and queries at all times. As you might imagine, with a backlog of candidates close to a mile long, and likely very little time to attend to individual pitches, those that are short, sharp, and straight to the point are likely to fare best.
When reaching out to editors, you will need to curb the temptation to write a long-winded email explaining the “whys” and “hows” of your story, and instead keep everything succinct. A good rule of thumb: If the editor can’t read and process your pitch in one minute flat, it’s too long. Try to keep it to a few sentences, using your wits and guile to pose an attractive proposition in 60 seconds or less.
In your pitch, you’ll want to include the jist of your story and a bit about who you are and why they should publish it. You’ll get the chance to embellish your pitch further if or when the editor responds back positively.
Mistake #4: Your Story Isn’t Original
Editors are always looking for hot stories that will appeal to their readers or help the publication reach an entirely new audience. Because of this, editors and content managers are always testing out new content types and angles to help maximize their viewership and engagements.
Because of this, they may have already covered the story you intended to submit, or one of their competitors has already covered it to such depth that it’s not worth posting.
Fortunately, it’s not all doom and gloom. If you have a unique take, or insights not available anywhere else, then you will likely be able to write something that offers genuine value. Make sure to succinctly describe why your story is unique when making your pitch to avoid it going straight in the bin.
Mistake #5: There Are Undisclosed Conflicts of Interest
While most editors expect you to discuss content that you are deeply familiar with, they are not looking to help you promote a product or advertise anything in general. Because of this, it’s important to disclose any conflicts of interest when making your pitch, to ensure that the editor doesn’t think that you are up to no good.
Though unlikely, editors may do some background research before responding to you. If they find undisclosed conflicts of interest, at the very least you can expect a firm rejection — and you might get blacklisted at worse!
For Forbes, we believe you should always err on the side of caution and disclose anything relevant right out of the gate. Your honesty is more likely to work in your favor than against it.
Mistake #6: Your Copy Isn’t Up to Par
At Forbes, the editors are looking for masterfully written copy with a clear voice, story, and purpose, and perfect or near-perfect grammar. If it lacks these key qualities, then it’s highly unlikely to make the cut.
Depending on the editor you’ve pitched to, you may be facing a complete grammar nazi with no time for errors, or a more forgiving soul that will let simple mistakes slide. In any case, if your copy is full of glaring errors or is unnecessarily verbose, then expect a rejection.
If you’re not absolutely certain about the quality of your writing, it may be worth asking an expert to proofread your copy before sending it in, to give you the best chances of success. Remember, when pitching to an editor, your copy is your resume — make sure it’s on point.
Mistake #7: Your Story is Too Long/Short
This one’s simple. Don’t pitch content that is much longer or shorter than the regular format. If most articles on the publication are in the 800-1,000 word range, then that’s what you will need to target — pitching or sending in content significantly above or below this range is likely to result in rejection.
Forbes is generally relaxed on the length, so long as the content fits, whereas platforms like Inc and The Financial Times are generally in the 500-800 word range. Elsewhere, we recommend that you peruse the publication’s typical content to get a feel for the right length or check its guidelines and author information page for the official perspective.
We generally don’t advise sending in the complete copy in advance as it’s highly unlikely to be read.
Mistake #8: You Weren’t Specific Enough
One of the most common mistakes writers make when pitching to high authority publications is simply being too vague. When making your pitch, you want to be clear about exactly what you are going to write about and which topics you will cover — a simple bulleted list should suffice.
Take these two introductions for example, which would you pick?
“Hello X, I’m a three-time entrepreneur that would love to write something in your lifestyle or business columns?”
“Hello X, I’m a three-time entrepreneur with a wealth of experience in startups and incubators—I’d love to write a story for your site describing how and why millennials are being scouted out of college into tech startups and unicorns, and what this means for the future of entrepreneurship.”
As you can imagine, the second option makes the editor’s job as easy as possible by taking any guesswork out of the equation, making sure they understand the crux of the topic. After all, it’s unlikely that an editor working flat out is going to put in any research to help you refine your idea or suggest alternatives, so make sure you are specific from the outset.
Don’t be tempted to pitch a range of ideas either, lest you repeat mistake #3.
Mistake #9: Not Following Up
As we previously discussed, editors typically have to scroll through heaps of messages each day to separate the good from the bad. But they’re only human (mostly), so messages sometimes get accidentally deleted, forgotten about, or simply overlooked.
If you haven’t heard back from the editor within a few days — or a week tops — don’t hesitate to send them a short follow-up message to grab their attention. Try to reiterate the keys points of your previous proposal to make it easier for them to get up to speed.
Remember, persistence is an admirable trait, but don’t badger the editor with endless annoying followers. One or twice is more than enough to get the message across. If you still don’t get a response, it’s time to try a different publication.
Mistake #10: You’re Not Pitching Enough
Successfully pitching to high authority publications can be a numbers game — particularly if you haven’t already been featured on other prominent sites.
Because of this, sometimes the best advice is to simply play the field, firing out well-thought out pitches to all of the publications you want to write for on a regular basis (being careful not to spam).
Although it’s certainly possible for editors to come to you — if you’re an established leader in your field or through simple nepotism, waiting for this is unlikely to be the fastest way to get your story published. Instead, consider setting some time aside each week to send out pitches. Once you’ve gotten through the door at least once, you will then find that you’ll need to run less of a gauntlet the next time around as you develop rapport with the editor/s.
Here’s What to Do Instead
Now that you’ve got a firm grasp of what not to do, let’s examine what you should do to help boost your chances even further.
For one, there’s a strategy to successful pitching, and it can take some time to master it. You should expect to be rejected on your first few tries, and take any feedback the editors give you as to why you were rejected to formulate a stronger pitch next time.
If you have already produced excellent quality content on your own blog, be sure to include a link to it in your pitch. Editors want to see that you are capable and have the skills to put your pitch together into something impactful. You can include links to your author profile on other prominent publications, we recommend keeping this to a bare minimum to avoid being suspected of guest post farming or link-building.
These are the three golden rules you should follow when making your pitch:
- Be confident, not cocky — show off your strong points, and give the editor a reason to pick you out of the competition.
- Showcase your writing skills — editors are always looking for insightful, impactful content that can invoke action in the reader. Show the editor that you’re capable of doing just that by linking to similar pieces in your portfolio.
- Ask for pointers — if you receive a rejection response, ask for pointers on how to improve. Editors will often oblige and provide tailored advice that can be used on subsequent attempts.
- Bonus rule: Forge lasting relationships — once you have secured your first guest post or story, continue to cultivate your working relationship with the editor — it could pay dividends later and you may land yourself a regular position!
Now that you know what to do. It’s time to put your new-found knowledge to the test and start landing yourself posts at top tier media like Forbes.
Looking to skip the hassle? We can do it for you. We have already forged relationships with the editors of many of the largest, most sought-after publications, and can get you featured without any of the legwork. Find out more here.