This guest post is by Darya Pino, Ph.D of Summer Tomato.
Three months ago I started charging $10 to consider guest blog post submissions, and it changed my life. Not only did it clear out many of the most annoying emails in my inbox, it elevated the quality of posts I receive and reduced the time I spend editing them to levels I would never have dreamed possible.
When your blog reaches a certain size and level of popularity, you can expect to receive regular pitches from other bloggers, product people, book writers, and all sorts of random folks looking to contribute to your site in exchange for links back to theirs. Guest posts are a wonderful way for up-and-coming writers (or products) to get exposure, and for experienced bloggers to publish more diverse content.
But the problem is that everyone is playing the same game, and there are many more small blogs than there are successful ones. Another problem is that successful blogs get popular because they put out consistent, high-quality content, so anything contributed by a guest writer needs to meet those standards—otherwise, you’ll lose you audience. That puts pressure on the blog owner to be a fierce editor, which often results in more negative conversations than positive ones.
Tired of spending hours every week explaining to mediocre writers why my site isn’t a platform for selling lame calorie counting apps, or that “7 Vegetables You Should Know About” isn’t an interesting headline, I knew I needed to change my workflow.
I considered hiring an editor/assistant, but not being a big media blog, I couldn’t fit it in my budget. I also considered paying for higher quality writing—I write for several blogs that pay me for my work—but I didn’t want to encourage people to send even more pitches. I just wanted the pitches I do get to be better. So I nixed these options.
Finally I settled on requiring a $10 minimum donation to my Charity Water campaign to even consider a guest post. The donation does not guarantee the post will be published—it only guarantees I will read and consider it. I chose a charitable donation rather than a for-profit charge because I didn’t want to make it seem like I was charging for links or taking advantage of writers. The only purpose of the donation is to save me time and make sure that anyone who sends a pitch is a serious writer willing to put their money where their mouth is.
Charity Water has a fantastic online system that makes donations easy to track. I added my donation requirement to the top of my Guest Posting Guidelines (the most likely landing page for someone wanting to submit a guest post). I also created a canned response in Gmail explaining my policy, which I can easily send to anyone inquiring about guest posts.
The results were staggering. Email pitches instantly dropped in number dramatically. The amount of pitches I receive from self-promotional link seekers (the ones I always reject) fell from about 90% of pitches to about 20%, and none have opted to donate and have their post considered. Most importantly, the few who have taken me up on my offer have written fantastic posts that I was happy to edit for clarity and publish at Summer Tomato.
Even more amazing has been the responses to my new system. The self-promoters almost never respond to my canned response (win). The less experienced writers apologize for their inability to donate and leave me to my business (double win: these guys require the most back and forth emails and editing). And most remarkable of all, the ones who have stepped up and contributed have been overwhelmingly positive about my guidelines, saying things like “it looks like a great charity, I would have happily donated anyway” or “all sites should require this” (Charlie Sheen-style #winning).
The reality is good writers know when they have something valuable to contribute and have no problem stepping up to the plate. Weaker writers (the ones who send you drafts with ten exclamation points peppered throughout) know when they’re reaching out of their league, and risk-aversion prevents them from moving ahead with the submission.
Be careful, though: required donations are not for every blog. If you aren’t currently spending a lot of time responding to pitches or editing guest posts, charging isn’t necessary. Also, new bloggers can benefit from accepting guest posts and going through the experience of editing them. Know your audience before making any big changes to your blog policies.
All that being said, I don’t charge everyone who contributes to my site. If I invite someone to submit a post because I think they have something interesting to share, then the donation isn’t necessary. Likewise, I do not charge people for sharing their success stories or their farmers’ market updates (this is a weekly segment on my blog), because I don’t have the same problems with quality and insincerity that I get from raw pitches.
Required donations are an excellent deterrent to self-promoters seeking links from high-profile sites. They also save you tons of time by raising the quality and reducing the number of the pitches you have to read. Best of all, it feels great knowing all that time you saved helped build a well and give hundreds of people access to clean water.
Would you consider charging a fee for guest posts on your blog? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.
Darya is a scientist turned food blogger who shares healthy eating tips for food lovers at Summer Tomato. She is also a contributing writer at The Huffington Post, KQED Science, Edible SF and SF Weekly. Follow here on Twitter @summertomato.