What Is It Like As A Writer To Shop An Article Around?
I recently had the experience of shopping an article around to several publications and if you’re a writer, or have ever wanted to get an article published in a mainstream publication, you might find it instructive.
The article was just published on VentureBeat, and is about a new online service called FeedPress, which is a FeedBurner replacement. I found FeedPress because I was looking for something to replace FeedBurner, and after I stumbled onto it I thought it was great and being that I’m always looking for articles for my gig as a contributor to Forbes, I contacted the founders and asked them if I could write an article about them. I finished the article about two months ago, and then the real work began.
I originally was going to publish the article on Forbes, but as I thought about the audience for this article I didn’t feel that Forbes was the best fit. The only people who would be interested in this type of article would be those who use WordPress, and no offense to Forbes readers, but I see Forbes readers as generally more “general business” minded as opposed to geek focused. In thinking of where I would expect to read the article I had written I thought about TechCrunch, Mashable, and PandoDaily.
I decided to start with TechCrunch, where I felt there was the best bit. Great. So how does one get an article into TechCrunch? I don’t know anyone who works there. I don’t know anyone who has gotten an article into TechCrunch, or at least if I know someone who does I’m ignorant of the fact. Plus I thought it would be kind of fun to try on my own and see what I could make happen. So I started where I start with everything when I’m clueless and asked Google. Google told me to read A Guide To Guest Columns On TechCrunch. I read the article. I rewrote my own article a bit to include TechCrunch links in it, figuring that might be looked upon more favorably than linking out to other sites when TC already had articles saying much the same thing. And then I submitted it along with this intro:
I’ve read http://techcrunch.com/
If it isn’t up to snuff, any feedback would be appreciated. Thanks!
That was on August 1st. I didn’t hear anything for a week, but I’m sure TechCrunch is getting hundreds of submissions every day so I sent a follow up as follows:
Hi, if you’re not going to publish this I would love any feedback you might have to guide me in future submissions. And if you’re not going to take it and there’s any way you can let me know that’d be great so I can submit it elsewhere.
I wasn’t necessarily expecting a response, mostly because I know how it goes when you get a lot of email. Things get pushed below the fold, you have to prioritize, and there simply isn’t enough time to respond to every email. While I waited for a response, I decided to do some research and see if there might be a better way to get through to TechCrunch. I did a search for articles on TechCrunch about Hong Kong, or mentioning Hong Kong, thinking that perhaps I could contact a writer in my area and get some advice from them. I found Victoria Ho, and decided to send her an email. Before doing that, I figured I would do a little research on her so I wasn’t completely clueless. I didn’t want to email her saying “I see you write for TechCrunch…” only to find out she’s no longer there and that this is on her LinkedIn profile and something I should have known. In a few minutes I found out that Vicki, as she apparently goes by, is in a band. I listened to a few of her band’s songs, and thought maybe I’d have a better chance of getting her attention and a response if I shared some music with her. I ended up sending this message:
Hi Vicki, we’ve never met but I’m looking for some advice and I’m hoping bribery and flattery will work as means of getting some if begging isn’t enough. As far as the flattery goes, I listened to a few tracks off your album and really liked House By A Hill and Post Recording Dreams. Now for the bribery. I thought you might enjoy some music from one of my favorite artists, Helen Stellar (attached). Yes, these are legit files, I just purchased them via Amazon.com (had to use a VPN to do it, apparently Amazon doesn’t support mp3 sales outside the US, argh).
As for the advice I’m looking for, I recently moved to Hong Kong from the US, and I also recently started writing as an unpaid contributor to Forbes (see http://www.forbes.com/
I didn’t get any response. Then I started to worry that perhaps I had gone too far and creeped her out or something. I could see her telling her friends “I got this email from this guy who’s a terrible writer and wants my advice on how to get his terrible article on TechCrunch, and apparently he’s been stalking me because he knows all about my band and he even sent me a bunch of music. Where do these creepy people come from?” Ok, I’m being a bit tongue in cheek, but that thought did enter my head. I decided not to follow up.
However, I did get a response from John Biggs at TechCrunch who was kind of enough to respond, and I don’t mean that sarcastically. Any response is better than being left in the dark and not even knowing if the article was received. But John didn’t mince words.
We are going to pass.
At the risk of pushing it, I decided to email John back. Not because I wanted to convince him to run the article, I know enough not to be pushy that way, but because this was my first-ever submission to TechCrunch and I wanted to know what I could have done better so I can improve my chances the next time around.
Thanks for letting me know John. If there is one thing I could do to improve the quality of my submissions in the future, what would it be?
Again, I didn’t necessarily expect a response, but hoped I would get one, and once again, John was kind enough to respond with brief and pointed criticism.
Make it less like an advertorial.
Got it. Too positive. It sounds like I’m an evangelist for the company. That’s what I assumed he meant, anyway. But now the thought entered my mind that perhaps if I made it less advertorial, perhaps TechCrunch would reconsider publishing it. So once again, I decided to email John back and hope he wouldn’t find me too much of a pest.
Would you consider publishing it if I rewrite it to be less advertorial, or are there other factors involved as well?
Not too bad, right? Hopefully not. Anyway, John gave me another bit of feedback.
we rarely run this sort of servicey stuff.
I wasn’t quite sure what he meant by “servicey stuff.” Did he mean they don’t run stories about services like FeedPress? That didn’t seem to make sense. TechCrunch runs stories about online services all the time. I didn’t and still don’t have a clue what else he could have meant, however. Maybe you do. I figured at this point I wouldn’t email him back. It was clear they weren’t going to run the story, and I didn’t want to be the super-annoying-guy-who-thinks-he’s-a-writer-and-asks-too-many-questions guy, if I hadn’t already passed that mark. It was time to move on. Mashable was next.
I sent more or less the same email to Mashable I had sent to TechCrunch. I modified links in my article that pointed to TechCrunch articles to point to Mashable articles instead, and sent it off.
Not my company. I just happened across them last month and thought it was an interesting and relevant story. This is the first time I’ve ever submitted something to Mashable, and if this isn’t up to snuff I’d appreciate any feedback you can give me. Thanks!
This was on August 13th. My entire exchange with John at TechCrunch had taken place on the 8th. Why the 5 day gap between emails? I don’t remember. I was probably busy with something, like moving into my first house in Hong Kong. Or maybe I just forgot. Sidenote: If you have contacted a writer and they’ve agreed to write an article about your company, it’s ok to follow up as long as you’re not pushy. I appreciate people following up with me, because often I’m very much interested in writing an article on them, but I get busy and it’s just not at the top of the list. A friendly “Just touching base, can I provide any more information?” email can be the little nudge I need and want. If I don’t want to write an article about you or your company, I’ll just tell you rather than ignoring you or promising I’ll write something even though I have no such intention.
By the 19th I had received no response from Mashable, so I sent a follow up, as I had done with TechCrunch.
Hi, I don’t want to be “that guy” that thinks this is the hottest article ever, but I did want to follow up and see if you are still considering publishing it.
I still got no response. I decided to move on and went to PandoDaily. On August 20th, I sent Sarah there much the same email I had sent to Mashable and TechCrunch, and then a follow up on the 23rd. But the response was similar to that I received from Mashable, which is to say none at all.
At this point I had exhausted my attempts with my top three publications for this article. I wasn’t offended or down or anything at this point. I know these guys have to sift through tons of submissions every day, and I didn’t have any illusions that they’d think my article was amazing and a must-publish. Of course I hoped one of them would run it, and if not I hoped to get some valuable feedback, but while my hopes were high my expectations were somewhat lower. But now what? I could always fall back and publish the article on Forbes where I have virtually complete control of what I post, but I still thought there were other pubs out there that would be a better fit and I needed to look around.
It hadn’t occurred to me to submit the article to VentureBeat because whenever I hear or think of the name I think of venture capital and there’s no VC angle for this article. But somehow I came across something on VentureBeat and then thought “Hey, they’ve got stuff like my article, and I think they’re audience is a bit geek, so why not?” VentureBeat has a slightly more formal process for submitting a guest post. I copied and pasted my article into their form and submitted it on August 26th. On the 27th I received this response from Mo Marshall:
I like the piece. I passed it along to a colleague for a second opinion, and here’s what he had to say:
It’s a good topic, but it seems too short and focused on one company. If they expand this a bit, it’d be good–
Do you think you’d be able to address those issues?
Success! Yes, I would have to rework the article, but I was making progress and was excited since VentureBeat is one of my favorite publications. Mo and I exchanged a few more short emails so I could make sure I understood what they wanted to see. Then I emailed the guys at FeedPress to get some more input, did some more research on my end, rewrite the article, and resubmitted it directly to Mo as he had asked. The last email I received was on September 7th when Mo asked me if I had any personal relationship with the company so they could insert a disclaimer if necessary. At that point I knew it was close to being published, and yesterday it went live. Phew.
Going through this process has made me appreciate writing for Forbes where I don’t have to pitch anything, I can publish whatever I want, whenever I want. Forbes gets a lot of flack for that, but it’s an interesting experiment and so far it appears to be successful. At the same time I appreciate publications that have tighter editorial controls and going through the process of pitching an article and getting rejected three times in a row only to finally get into VentureBeat was quite a bit of fun.
What feedback do you have for me? What would you have done differently?