There’s wide agreement in the blogging world about the benefits of guest posts, both for the guest blogger and the blog owner. There seems to be less consensus, however, about the logical next question: If you use guest posts, should you edit them?
In a way, I’m asking a trick question. As I explain below, the moment you accept an article, you’ve already started to edit it. Not to finish the job would do a disservice both to your guest blogger and to yourself.
The real question, then, is just how much editing you should do. To judge by the quality of many guest posts I read, the answer too often seems to be: little or none. Publishing a guest post exactly as it comes to you might seem the easiest way to proceed, but it’s a false economy. By following the five editorial principles below, you can maximize the appeal and impact of guest posts while minimizing your effort.
Give fair warning. If you plan to use guest posts on your blog, you should publish submission guidelines. If nothing else, it’s a great way of signaling that you welcome contributions. But more importantly, by setting the ground rules and expectations clearly in advance, guidelines serve an important editorial function. When you let writers know what you need, they’ll do some of the editing for you.
It’s important, though, to keep the tone of your guidelines positive. The point isn’t to scare contributors off but to give them a helping hand. Good examples of clear but encouraging guidelines can be found on Copyblogger and ProBlogger; sound advice on how to write them is offered by One Stop Blog and Men with Pens.
If you only use guest posts on rare occasions, you don’t need published guidelines. But you should agree in advance with a guest blogger about how you will handle the copy, what publishing rights you are acquiring, and so on. The last thing you want is an unhappy guest blogger.
Choose wisely. Of all editorial activities, the most important is the decision whether to accept or reject a submission. When you publish a blog post, you are taking on legal and ethical responsibility for it. You don’t need to agree with your guest blogger’s point of view—in fact, it’s a good idea to look for a point of view that challenges yours. But you do need to make sure that it comports with the editorial mission of your blog.
Even if a guest post suits your mission, it may not warrant publication. If it seems too obvious, simply repeats other posts you’ve published, or will require too much work to make publishable, you may want to turn it down.
Above all, don’t agree to publish something before seeing it. Allow yourself leeway to turn something down once you’ve read it. It’s possible to reject a guest post gracefully and without creating hard feelings, but only if you haven’t already promised to use it.
Tidy up. At the very least, you must look for and fix typos and grammatical errors in guest posts. It’s one thing not to do this for your own writing: you have only yourself to blame. But you owe it to guest bloggers to show off their work in the best possible light by cleaning up obvious writing goofs. If your own grammar ain’t so hot, find a proofreader. There are plenty of good ones looking for work.
Avoid salvage operations. Once you’ve made the obvious fixes, you may see other changes that could improve the post. If they are relatively simple, you can suggest them to the author. But beware attempting too much reconstruction. I know from many years of rescuing submissions for B2B publications that with enough work you can make almost anything publishable. But the cost is high, and most of the time, you should avoid the effort. You’ll generally do better finding another author or writing your own post.
Ask for approval, not forgiveness. Editing is a collaborative art. No matter what changes you make to a guest post, whether it involves a single punctuation mark or a total makeover, you should allow your contributor to review the edited copy before publication. Most of the time, your contributors will be thankful for the fixes. But when they’re not, it’s better to find out before you click the “publish” button.
When you publish a guest post, you’re hoping to benefit yourself, your reader, and your contributor alike. A little thoughtful editing will help make sure you succeed.
Are you looking for a guest blogger? Or would you like to write for B2B Memes? Let me know.