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Why You Should Charge Money to Review Guest Post Submissions

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.

The problem

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.

The solution

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

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.

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Comments

  1. Tips says:

    Very informative post. You post show your story and give knowledge about blogging to the readers that i love to read your blog daily.

  2. Great idea but you need to make sure that you have the right amount of submissions before you start a campaign like this otherwise you might end up turning away some potentially good posts. If it works though I’ll give it a try :)

    • Gregory C. says:

      I agree, without a large enough following (and a large enough flow of requests for guest posts) setting a price too early on could be detrimental to people willing to post something of quality.

  3. Mike says:

    Good idea, you have to charge money to weed the bad submissions out, otherwise you will be reading emails all day! The emails we get is incredible!

  4. This is really cool! I really enjoyed this post.

    My blog is still in an exciting growing phase and with this has come an influx of guest post requests. I’ve only gotten a few that weren’t worth my time and I can see this charitable idea being extremely effective. It seems like s great way to help out a good cause and eliminate non value-added tasks.

    Thanks for sharing!

  5. Daniel says:

    Loved it when ya mentioned that the moo-lah goes to a charity fund. This makes perfect sense. At the end of the day, $10 is a pretty small amount when it goes to a good cause. :)

  6. This is a brilliant idea. As of late, the number of unsolicited link seekers asking to “guest post” on my site has increased tenfold. I get tired of responding to (essentially) the same query over and over and over. I have been using Canned Responses, but I never considered charging a fee. I am going to mull it over.

  7. Hi Darya,

    This is something different and I haven’t heard about people charging for guest post submissions. Well, it works for you; and its purpose is really the King. Not everyone could and should do it.

    But you have demonstrated nice #win situations. When it comes to relieving yourself from the headache of editing numerous guest posts and replying back and forth, this one is a brilliant idea. You make people accountable for what they are into.

    Thanks for sharing this different insight.

    Cheers,
    Jane.

  8. Del Williams says:

    I understand your reasoning, but on the other hand, I am not feeling it. Guest blogging is supposed to be a win-win, and in essence the writer is doing you a favor and you make them pay to do it. I don’t see where they win anything from it. Nice idea of the charity donation, but still has a ring of the paid readers fee scam which is still a big issue in the freelance writing world.

    Secondly, I think it speaks against your credibility. No REAL publication charges people to read their their stuff. Why not call this what it is a paid ad which serves you and your charity. People didn’t stop pitching because they did not want to work with you, they most likely stopped because they did not want to pay to be on your blog.

    • Darya says:

      I see your point Del, but in reality guest posting is only win-win if both blogs/writers are good. If you’re a very popular blog and the other writer is not, you are doing the guest writer a favor by giving them access to your large and highly engaged audience. The best pitches I get recognize this upfront. For instance, Darren is doing me a favor here by letting me speak to a whole new group of readers as well as giving me a high-quality link back to my site.

      Other publications don’t do this because they have huge staffs and make tons of money off advertising, etc. Single bloggers take a serious hit in time and work to review guest posts. Also, the model is used by large institutions such as universities. Universities charge for applications so that they’re sure the people applying have to think seriously about their chances for getting in, otherwise everyone is wasting their time.

    • Amy says:

      If the donation *guaranteed* that your post would be published, that might be a mark against credibility, but since it doesn’t, in my mind, that takes that off of the table.
      “Real” publications don’t charge people to submit their work, but they often do require you to go through an agent (which, of course, costs money). They also have paid staff whose job is to weed through the crap, so that the people in charge of creating content don’t need to see anything but the cream of the crop.
      It makes total sense to me. I can’t wait until I have this problem–I am so going to use this!

      • Leigh Ann says:

        Amy said that publications often require you to go through an agent. Not true. No magazine or website I’ve ever heard of requires agents. That happens in the book world. (Amy also said agents cost money. Again, not true–not for reputable agents, anyway.)

    • I have to agree with Del here. If you ask for a donation or charge to publish, that is one thing. But asking someone to pay just to review doesn’t seem like the best idea.

    • Leigh Ann says:

      I agree with Del. (See further comments below.)

  9. shano says:

    good idea but u hv to do all submissions before starting this campaign like this otherwise you might end up turning away some potentially good posts. If it works though I’ll give it a try :)

  10. Great article Darya..funny thing is I’m going to the same thing right now..i just started to have guest post in my blog..

  11. Guerrero Ink says:

    Interesting concept. I see an increasing need of “invested” participants on the web due to the massive amount of spam and other BS. I started offering a paid newsletter model in November and will slowly move over to a paid only format this year.

    Since my brand is tied to my name, I don’t get a lot of requests for guest posts but have invited a few newer bloggers to help and have accepted a few. Not the greatest but kind of a leg up in exchange for a link to their blog.

    I like that you picked a charity for your effort because I see too many writers being taken advantage of–and you have to start somewhere.

    For some of the submission issues, emails back and forth etc., I’ve also used canned responses but recently took the lead from Yaro Starak and created a support only site.

    The goal is to cut down on the email clutter and funnel people out so that only the serious contact support. Of course, my subscribers get direct access.

    So, thanks for sharing this and I am glad that it is working out for you!

  12. You added this feature to your blog in order to save you time and energy. I get it and if it is working for you then good. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea though.

    It’s a very creative idea and I would be certain that others will follow your lead.

  13. Anuradha says:

    Thanks Darya for the great insight. Well, my blog hasn’t reached this stage yet but whenever it does, I’m sure your advice would come handy.

  14. George says:

    That is a very interesting idea. I look for guest post opportunities (food an cooking) and if I had to drop $10 to submit I’d be damn sure to turn in A+ work. I like to think I would anyway, but this would make me think twice. It also sends a subtle message to potential posters, “this is a top quality site”.

    There is a book by a man named Robert Cialdini called “influence” and he touches on a concept like this. As an example of how people are influenced he cites a jewelry store that increased sales of jade pieces when they increased the price. The perceived value rose and people bought more jewelry. The perceived value of your guest posts goes up, and people want to “win” more, so they turn in higher quality submissions.

  15. Shelley Keller says:

    Brilliant. It’s like Captcha with a bigger purpose and heart. I think it’s a great way to weed out the ‘junk mail’ and guarantee level playing field.

    Kudos Darya!

  16. What a great position to be in. I only wish I had people sending me emails to post on my blog. How to be in your shoes some day =)

  17. Julio says:

    The only problem I see is that by charging the $10.00 donation FEE! that you might drive away people ( real content ) that might want to do a guest post on your site then leave without you seeing how good they write.

    • mario_monk says:

      If you receive 100s of crap submissions, it’s worth losing one or two good ones to save hours of work going through all the crappy ones.

  18. Castor says:

    Outstanding idea indeed but let’s face it, this really only applies to the top 1 or 2% of blogs out there.

    • Darya says:

      I think it applies to anyone who is very busy. My blog is definitely not in the top 2% (thx for assuming it is though ;), but this has helped me anyway by allowing me to spend more time on things that actually help my work.

      Also, think of this as free advice to smaller bloggers looking to build an audience, and not just a recommendation to successful bloggers for saving time. Don’t pitch a bigger blog until you’re able to contribute something excellent. It’s important to realize that every pitch you send is taking up someone’s time. Do your homework and make sure you submit an awesome article that you KNOW will perform well. The person you pitch will know this too, and will appreciate your extra effort. If you start with this mentality (even if the blog doesn’t require charitable donations) you are much more likely to find success through guest posting.

      • JC Deen says:

        Absolutely agree with your point on only pitching your best work. I’ve only published a handful of guest articles on my site and while I’ve had some good submissions, I’ve had some awful ones, too.

        And it wasn’t that the writer didn’t have good ideas, or great things to say – they just didn’t exemplify those ideas in the post they submitted to me.

        I love it when someone submits an article that I’ve been pondering for some time but haven’t had the time to write – obvious they’ve been reading a while and knew what I’d like to see/publish.

        you’re great, Darya! thanks for sharing this one.

        JC

  19. I can see the upside of this but if it became widespread I feel sorry for the new blogger trying to get a dozen or more guest posts published to promote their first product launch and having to pay $10 each time.

    • Felix says:

      $150 of well spent advertising (guest posts) for a products launch might not be the worst idea ever ;-)

      • Thats $150 more than a lot of people have, especially for their first product which lets face it don’t always go so well in the sales department.

  20. Jeff says:

    This seems like a very resonable idea to me.

  21. Tanya says:

    That’s good idea. 10$ can change your life. I wish you have a lot a money. Thank for blog.

  22. hi darren. thats’s a great idea which i can make use of, if i get to be a top blogger …. for now, i never ask anyone to do guest post/ review for me (yet). congrats on your being a very successful blogger .thanks and have a nice day

  23. Darya, thanks for sharing this nice idea.

  24. Andrea H says:

    Thanks for this post. I never considered guest posting or charging for it. I will think about this for the future.

  25. I took this approach recently, but I did guest posts free but only one link in the author byline. Any in content link becomes a sponsored posts and incurs an advertising fee. I was having a battle with others trying to grab links off other peoples guest posts instead of writing their own content, how lazy!

  26. SusanAnn says:

    This is an absolutely excellent idea in all actuality, well thought out as well considering you opted for a charity which would sit a whole lot better with those submitting articles. It has always been a well-known marketing fact that it takes money to make money when in the selling business, whether you are marketing yourself or a product… in other words, you must spend a little to succeed. A whole lot of time and effort and some money as well. Anything to make the job easier once you get there too!

    kudos *smile*

  27. Kathy says:

    Darya, I love this concept. I have a similar situation with my online art gallery. The number of requests for donations of artwork to worthy charities had become numerous. To make it win-win, I let bona fide charities buy the art at the wholesale price. That way, the artist gets to make a sale, the charity gets a piece of art for less money, and my gallery gets the satisfaction of helping a charity. I’m really intrigued to find that’s working for you on your blog. We have also had the same results: fewer inquiries, but more serious ones. Certainly makes things more efficient.

  28. I really like the creative solution that you’ve found to deal with this problem, and the results speak volumes. I’m impressed, and I’m looking forward to Firepole Marketing growing large enough to justify a similar policy. :)

  29. Steve says:

    This is one of those ideas that makes perfect sense logically. Saying that, it really doesn’t sit easily with me on any other level. Success in any field comes with responsibility and part of that responsibility is to give a leg up to others on the lower rungs.

    I am no saint but I regard the five hours or so a week that I devote to answering emails and giving pointers about my subject area as a privilege and certainly not as a chore. This work appears nowhere but it still provides value to me regardless.

    Call me a sentimentalist but charging someone to review a potential guest post somehow seems wrong on a gut level. Have we really reached the stage where if we cannot tie an exact dollar value to every working minute we are somehow failing?

  30. Miroslav says:

    Well i am not sure this is actual success, because there are many new talented writers, that can’t donate these $10 dollars, but can write top notch posts. Your idea with the donations is great, it’s nice to see that not everyone is doing this for money :)

    • Brezel says:

      Honestly, I think if someone is serious about it and sees the potential, he can fork out $10 in one way or another. It’s more symbolic to get rid of large scale standard requests sent with the same text to hundreds of blogs.

  31. Martyn says:

    Wow now this is interesting. You’re charging people to work for you. Very, very interesting.

    I was recently having a conversation with a friend where we speculated that in a few years it actually will go in the opposite direction – where contributors will actually get compensated for their labours. Instead of punishing the bad writers, that would in effect reward the good ones.

    I’m not criticizing you – it certainly seems to be working for you.

    But I know one thing. I spend hours and hours writing my guest posts. And if I had to pay bucks to get them on a site…I wouldn’t be happy.

    • Darya says:

      Just to be clear, this is to weed out crappy writers, not good ones. I’m happy to exchange a few emails with someone before they donate to assess the quality and feasibility of their idea to be sure they’re likely to get published and don’t waste their own time.

      Maybe it’s just a problem I have in the fitness industry that I get completely mediocre and insincere pitches that are clearly written for the sole purpose of generating links. I needed a way to get these people out of my life, and the best contributors really don’t seem to mind a small donation. I’m sure Darren understands in the “make money online” industry :)

    • Sherri says:

      I agree. I understand this is one way to cut down on unwanted mail but is it the best way? If I ran into this situation I wouldn’t go to the trouble to pitch an idea at the blogger who charges money, charity or not. There are many more friendly and collaborative bloggers out there I can work with.

      Another idea would be to use a canned response announcing that you are “Not receiving submissions at this time” and give yourself a break.

  32. I guess it’s a function of the popularity of the blog. I personally would never pay to be a guest blogger. The concept is offensive to me. Do you charge guests when you have them over for dinner?
    Riley

    • Darya says:

      Haha, I don’t charge friends or people I’ve invited to contribute, because I already know and respect their work (though they sometimes donate anyway). Nor do I charge the wonderful people who wish to share their farmers markets with my readers. It’s the strangers who clearly want something from me (my audience and PageRank) that are wasting my time. I feel no obligation toward them, and they in fact take my time away that I could be creating my own content for readers who actually care.

  33. Lynn says:

    I like this idea a lot, especially the idea about the contribution instead of paying you directly. Love this clever solution to an annoying, time-consuming issue. Thank you!

  34. Carol Tice says:

    Interesting idea. I have a different approach:

    I too am at the point where I have a steady stream of (often spammy) guest-post offers.

    To cull the wheat from the chaff, I created a writer’s guidelines post on my blog, where would-be guest posters need to audition their guest-post idea in the comments. This forms an educational comment thread for future posters, who can read it to get a good idea of the kind of topics I like from guesters.

    I find few of the spammier would-be guest posters are willing to do my ‘live’ audition process. They never bother me again, where people who know my blog audience and really want to guest will pitch me on the thread, and deliver posts I don’t have to spend more than 5-10 minutes editing.

    Problem solved!

    Think I have to agree with those above who’ve said the fee might screen out some good writers in Third World countries. I’ve had guest posters from all over the world who contributed wonderful stuff, and that might have posed a barrier to some of them.

    • Darya says:

      Great idea! You know, I’ve never had someone try to negotiate with me on the fee, but I’d be open to waiving it if someone honestly couldn’t afford it but has something valuable to contribute (I wouldn’t want to defeat the purpose of charitable donations). I don’t charge for my farmers market posts, which is what most of my international contributors apply for.

  35. Hmm, I am not sure if I charged it would drop my email pitches for guest posts as few even read my guest post page on what they need to do to qualify. They just automatically hit the site owner and by default email the admin and ask if they accept guest articles without reading anything. This in turn warrants a reply to tell them the requirements…etc.

    The concept of charging for guest posts is more like them being “sponsored” posts instead of guest articles, it definitely changes the nature of the relationship. I allow sponsored “guest articles” and unpaid ones on my site, usually if it is a fellow blogger no matter little or big I will let them do a guest post for free, if it is somebody pushing links or a product and it’s at least in a similar niche market then I will require it to be a sponsored guest article.

  36. I think it works because the money goes to charity. I also think that I’d add a clause that the $10 is a one-time thing. If you like the guest poster and want them to post again, then make the “reading” simply a hurdle they jump through to become part of your regular posters. I might pay $10 to be a guest once, but not on a regular basis! Thanks for explaining this for us! Great idea!

  37. Mark says:

    Excellent initiative – including the comments — for saving-lives-charities while giving us highly valuable posts.

    Despite wanting to drive out the spammers and low quality articles, the only ones who should pay — maybe more or at your discretion, depending the blog standing — are the ones that every time you publish.

    Maybe you can bill less to all other subscribers to your guest posting, if you can afford it.

    Nice choosing! Darren.

  38. Philip Rudy says:

    haha this post is awesome. Hopefully nobody reads it though. Hehe JK

  39. Dionne White says:

    Brilliant idea

    Don’t have anyone busting a pouffer valve to submit posts to my blog.

    But I have a couple of needlecraft patterns that I have created that are to be totally charity/donation products to support The Smith Family and local shelter for homeless teenagers. I just have to type them out and get them online.

    Anytime someone says keep the change at the till we put it in our Cancer Council donation box and bank it periodically
    Dionne

  40. Mark says:

    Also you can accept more highly charity donatives for posting — of course — quality articles. So other people can participate.

  41. Darya, like you I get a tonne of these sorts of requests and they drive me mad. I wouldn’t mind, but the vast majority of people who send me pitches, I’ve never heard of despite the “being an avid reader of your site”. What an awesome idea and a great link to a worthy charitable cause.

    Good for you.

    Matthew

  42. vikas says:

    Hey thanks for the tip. I was giving adsense revenue sharing to my guest posters but from now i’ll try to charge a small bit because my blogs is still not bigger than yours! :)

  43. Tom says:

    Hi, just before the line “That puts pressure on the blog owner to be a fierce editor…” in paragraph 3, there’s a typo. You should be Your. Normally I wouldn’t pick at something like this since I am always finding these kinds of errors in my site, but the point of the paragraph will be better made without a typo..

    Great site.

  44. I’ve heard this type of idea bounced around for email to reduce the amount of spam — a fee to send an email to me unless I’ve whitelisted you in which case you can email me for free.

    It really makes sense as a blog increases in popularity. If a writer wants to submit an article then they are taking time from the blog owner (or forcing them to hire someone). The writer is looking for exposure, publicity, backlinks and traffic. The blog owner is looking for quality information for their readers.

    A one time fee for potential writers to get their work reviewed is a good investment if the blog is popular and the fee isn’t too high. It eliminates the spammy writers who are just looking to get a backlink, allows the blog owner to spend more time working with legitimate writers (which helps both parties) and supports a deserving charity.

    This is a win for the blog owner, the readers, guest posters and charity.

  45. Fantastic article. and the insights in the comments above are priceless too!

    If someone can’t afford the $10 fee, it might be worth considering making the $10 waive-able:

    “we’ve been getting many low-quality guest posts. which take time to review… so we have instituted a $10 charity fee for post review, to separate the wheat from the chaff.

    if this is something you cannot afford (as $10 is a significant amount of money for some struggling yet talented writers), then send us a note with your email submission, saying that you have read these guidelines, and request a waiver of the $10 fee, with a few words about why this is the case….”

    (I was going to say refundable, but if the third party is a charity that that would be harder to implement… and this would also make for a great WordPress plugin… a “guest post qualifier app” of sorts!)

  46. Leigh Ann says:

    Not paying writers to write for you is bad enough. Charging them to submit is beyond the pale.

    As a magazine editor, I had to wade through submissions as well. That’s part of your responsibility when you’re in charge of a publishing outlet. The way to cut down how much bad writing you have to read is to have a solid submissions policy. Do not accept completed manuscripts if you don’t want to. Require mention of previous writing experience if you want. Say you will only review pitches on specific topics or by people with a certain amount of experience if you want. Then–above all–learn to scan and weed out quickly. Many editors read only a small percentage of pitches all the way through.

    In my opinion, charging writers to submit to a blog is against accepted journalistic standards and ethics. By charging for submissions, you may be weeding out some bad stuff, but I guarantee you, you’re weeding out people who know anything about the business of writing as well–in other words, the best writers.

  47. Leigh Ann says:

    By the way, paying writers would much increase the quality of submissions. Most professional writers do not submit to blogs that don’t pay.

  48. Baldrz says:

    How much do you pay for the articles you accept? More than $10?

  49. Mark says:

    A fixed payment to your guest subscription pool – that may sort out spammers. Then, payments for the publication of the selected post.

    There may be a range of payments for certain features — you establish — for the post. The better the post comply with that features the less payment — and always within a standard of quality.

    We cannot really hide the fact that the writers or bloggers seek exposure (or some sort of ads to them) when they do guest post. The payment of this small amount – for charity – ensure great quality writers in that blog. Giving all participants great prominence for that small amount of money.

  50. Mark says:

    I am sorry Leigh Ann if I was inconsiderate. ‘How I would feel if I suddenly had to pay to enter and read some blog’… but what it is suggested is for charities.

    If it spread for commercial purpose it will be because it is feasible and there are people who sponsor it — that is, something will happen like it or not.

    If that happens some people will have to change and adapt to that new environment, while other blogs, writers, will still take advantage from the existing model.

    The concept I was talking about may seem elitist — ‘the better writers’ sharing their ideas and promoting themselves in one prominent place — but it is for charities. But even other blogs and writers quality hierarchies would exist like now.