Anatomy of a Successful Guest Post Pitch — Idea to Assignment

Carol Tice

Young Asian freelance writer pitching baseballHave you dreamed of guest posting on a big, successful blog — but haven’t been able to make it happen?

I think that’s a common experience, based on the dozens of pitches I pass on every month, and the few I greenlight.

Recently, my storehouse of guest posts ran dry, and I decided to make an exception to my usual rule of only accepting guest posts from Freelance Writers Den members or grads of Jon Morrow’s Guest Blogging course.

I threw it wide open and started posting on Facebook and Twitter that I wanted guest post pitches, NOW. I also started nagging writers I’d already asked for posts to turn them in.

Then I posted a link to my writer’s guidelines and sat back to see what would happen.

How to blow a guest post offer

Despite this offer to take a post from any writer anywhere, I only ended up with one guest post that got approved.

Most of the offers went like this:

“Sure, I want to write for you! What topic would you like? I can write about anything!”

So. Here’s the deal. When you want to guest post, part of what you’re supposed to bring to the table is a post idea.

Not just an idea, but a headline.

When you give a generic response like the one above, I think you don’t really read my blog and don’t know my readers. You’re probably not a freelance writer or don’t have any success stories to share with my audience.

Also, if I have to think up the idea and write the headline all by myself, I might as well just keep going and write the post too, hmmm? The whole idea here is that you’re saving me time.

Especially since I am a paying market and I’m willing to pay $50 real American dollars for my post, I’m expecting you to bring me the whole package — a fresh idea that hasn’t been covered in the 500+ posts already on my blog, a strong headline, and a post outline so I can see where the post is going before I assign it.

The #1 thing that kills your guest post

The next big problem is that most headlines writers propose to me are total fails. Just going to be frank.

They often have no key words in them and/or you can’t even tell what you’d learn if you took the time to click and read them.

For instance, I recently got a pitch with the headline, “It Works If You Work It.”

What does? For whom? This sort of headline doesn’t get traffic for anybody.

Google doesn’t know what it’s about and can’t send any readers. Anyone who does stumble upon it on their own doesn’t click because they have no idea what it’s about.

You’ve got to learn to write headlines if you want to win at guest posting.

How to get in the ballpark

If writers have an idea that intrigues me, sometimes I will work with them to come up with the headline.

But you have to be resilient and willing to accept that I didn’t just bite on your first thought you threw out there.

Some writers run for the hills when I ask them to tell me their proposed headline…and then I tell them to make it better.

On this recent go-round, I only had one writer hang in with me, refine her headline, and get an assignment. As it happened, we were chatting on Twitter.

Here’s how the conversation went:

Screen Shot 2013-08-29 at 9.28.00 AM

First, I put it out there that I’m looking for guest posts.

And I get a nibble from Cinthia Ritchie with the germ of an idea.

I gently remind her that I approve posts based on a viable headline.

And she gives me a fairly decent one. But it’s missing something…

So I ask for it.

In that last comment above, Cinthia explains a bit more about her concept, so I get a better idea of how we might sculpt the headline.
Screen Shot 2013-08-29 at 9.28.19 AM

Then, I ask her to try again on the headline.

She is serious about this!

She reports she spent an hour studying my blog to learn about my headline style.

And she gives me a new headline. It’s not bad!

We’re getting there…but the new headline is too long. I have a rule that I don’t want my blog headlines to be more than two lines long.

I give it a tweak to shorten it…and an assignment is born.

This back and forth is typical for me when I assign guest posts. It usually takes a few tweaks before a guest post idea is ready to go. I want to buff it up until it delivers the most valuable information I can get for my readers.

Have you guest posted? Leave a comment and tell how you made it happen.



  1. Willi Morris

    Love ya Carol! The only way newcomers can find out if their topic has been covered is to scroll and scroll and scroll and then click “older posts” amd repeat. You gotta get a search button! This is also good for folks like me who want to go back and get info on a certain topic. Nobody wants to go back to 500 posts.

    For those who want more of Carol’s work but not sure if it has been covered, go to Google and place the keywords you are looking for, then It’s a good start.

    I hope to come up with a good idea for another post, Carol! Thanks for opening it back up again.

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Willi —

      That’s actually why I don’t have a Search bar…Google works just fine. You can put in Make a Living Writing and any topic and it works just as well. Also you can always click on a category in the sidebar that lines up with your topic to quickly see what else has been written on that.

      You can also see previous guest posts on this tag:

      • Willi Morris

        Ah, yes forgot about using tags. Just something to consider to make it easier for folks.

        • Carol Tice

          Willi, I use tags. The most popular ones are listed in the sidebar under “We talk about…” Feel free to use!

      • Jovell

        Ah, so that’s why you don’t have a search bar. That could be an idea for a post. I’m just so excited about this so I wanted you to know I’m currently in Jon Morrow’s class. I’ll send you another pitch soon. Especially when I’ve finished the course. I hope your guest posting doors are still open then. 🙂

        • Carol Tice

          Jovell, they’re always open to grads of Jon’s class. 😉

  2. Daryl

    Hey Carol!

    Darned if I didn’t see this opportunity earlier! Challenge accepted 🙂

    But to answer your question, I recently got a guest post published on a well known site by a very popular blogger (I don’t want to name the site in case it appears too “advertorial” but I’ll be happy to name them if you’re ok with it)

    I simply wrote up three possible headlines, with a simple 2-3 sentence explanation of each one. He told me to draft it up, I did, and within about a week and a half of first contact my guest post went live on his site!

    (PS – I 100% agree with Willi – I’d love to see a search button!)

    • Carol Tice

      Ooh, multipitch — you may know I’m a big fan of that technique, for query letters to magazines as well as pitching guest posts.

  3. Joseph Rathjen

    The post headline that drew the most attention on my blog (and led to an invitation to guest post and write for a social polling research site) was “California’s E-Cig Ban Has A Stale Smell!” It garnered 67 comments and was featured as an opinion piece on the polling site, which wasn’t bad considering my blog was only 2-months old. I find that short, snappy, headlines that tease the most work the best. Another one was “Weigh More – Pay More!” about airlines that charge more for overweight customers.

    A tempting headline is like handing the forbidden keys to someone for a locked treasure chest. It teases, titillates and makes it impossible for the reader to ignore it. Of course, that’s only the lure, but it snags your reader in; the rest of your post has to deliver what it promised.

    (P.S. Saw your post in Forbes this morning, Carol. Great article and VERY informative, from the headline to the very end. It actually gave me inspiration to write a post about the Twitter IPO on my own blog. You’re a good teacher!)

    • Carol Tice

      Thanks Joseph! Guessing it was “Twitter IPO vs Hilton IPO”? I loved that — they filed on the same day, and of course buzz and interest in the Twitter IPO is huge. I cover franchising (hotel chains do that, if you don’t know), so Hilton was on my beat, and I got to drag Twitter into my story by comparing the two. That gave it two different audiences — the hospitality/hotel/restaurant/franchise crowd, and then the social media/Twitter audience as well. And that = more readers!

      Stay tuned for an upcoming post on how I write headlines for my Forbes blog — going to take you through the process and all the iterations that go into a typical successful one.

      I can see why your first headline did well, but the second one doesn’t have any key words that tell us definitively what the post will be about. Think you’re lucky that one did well.

      But yes, a really strong headline can open a lot of doors and it doesn’t matter how short or long you’ve been blogging.

  4. Luana Spinetti

    Carol, that Twitter conversation just reminded me of the work we did when I sent you my guest post pitch in 2012. I loved your approach then, and I just love it now! 🙂 I’m looking forward to reading that post by Cinthia.

    ~ Luana

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Luana —

      Glad you learned from it…that’s really one of the reasons I wanted to start accepting guest posts. It’s an opportunity for me to help some new writers go through the editing process and start to understand how that works.

      • Luana Spinetti

        Oh, I did— and it actually helped me get unstuck. 🙂

        Thank you!

  5. Vicki

    Hi Carol,
    I am having a stunning time, just loving the interaction with great and generous bloggers like you, and am one of Jon’s students. I would love to accept your offer. Do I send you an email with my pitch? It will be my very first attempt at a guest blog!

    • Carol Tice

      Yep – shoot me an email. Already have about a half-dozen, so jump on in. 😉

  6. Rachel Saunderson

    Wow Carol! What a wonderful opportunity you offer here. I especially love the fact that this opportunity is open to all writers.

    You have to realize that by doing these things, you are setting an example to the rest of the blogging world that they just can’t ignore. They may moan and groan, but you are dragging them kicking and screaming into obeying the TiceWorld rules if they want to be considered successful bloggers. Well done!

    • Carol Tice

      TiceWorld…bwahahaha! Yes, my kingdom to command. If only real life could be controlled like my blog.

      I really opened it back up because after many months of rolling along successfully using only Den members and grads of Jon Morrow’s guest blogging…the well ran dry! I usually have 8-10 posts in the can and ran through them all.

      So time to let some more writers have a try at it.

      But I think my main contribution is suggesting the radical notion that guest posters should be paid. Hope that keeps catching on!

      • Rachel Saunderson

        Dear Queen Carol of TiceWorld (how do you like the sound of that?),

        May I inquire what the reasoning is behind usually only opening it up to Den members and Jon’s course graduates? Do you consider them the better writers or does the guess blogging become an extra benefit of joining your Freelancer’s Den?

        My main reason for asking is that lots of times when a writer’s course are being advertised (in American $), it is really expensive for writers in other countries to join. So these things only become available once we earn the big bucks and are already successful. It is the kind of loop foreign writers are caught in. We cannot afford the courses, so we learn as much as we can from free resources. Once the writers become really good and earn the big bucks, they may not need the course anymore. (I’m not at the big bucks yet). Only problem is that it takes us years to get there.

        Your humble subject,

        • Carol Tice

          Rachel – you can read all about why I limited it to those two groups here:

          While many other big blogs including Problogger and Kikolani decided to end guest posts or limit them to existing guests, I left mine open to about 3,000 writers. I really didn’t want to stop having guests, but had to fight the tidal wave of junk and guard against duplicate content which is apparently an epidemic in the guest-posting world. And I found most of my good posts came from writers in one of those two groups.

          Joining the Den is $25 for one month. Hopefully that’s within the reach of many writers…though I wouldn’t want anyone to join just so they could propose a guest post! Hardly an amount you have to “make it big” to have on hand. (And I count former members of either group in the pool that can pitch.)

          Maybe having the occasional open-pitch period helps me keep it a bit more democratic. I prefer to stick to my rules, but I was out of posts! So an opportunity has arisen. We’ll see who takes advantage…

  7. Lorraine Reguly


    I have to echo the sentiments expressed by some of your other readers. This is a great opportunity for writers to get noticed.

    That said, I have to remind you that you are also giving yourself an opportunity to discover new talent.

    Has this crossed your mind? Just curious!


    • Carol Tice

      Yeah — Well aware. That’s why I started doing it in the first place…but unfortunately there were a lot of problems to running a wide-open guest post offer.

      I’ve approved a couple posts today, so we’ll see what I think about the result.

      • Lorraine Reguly

        Good luck!

        Incidentally, I have written four guest posts. For the first three, I simply contacted the blog owner and spoke from the heart. I was pleased when they were accepted, since I had not had prior contact with the bloggers – not even via a comment on their blogs!

        The fourth post was pitched to a blogger whose blog I read faithfully. I almost always leave him a comment, too. When I pitched my idea, I also submitted my post (already written), along with an image for the post and a short bio. It was immediately accepted. I was thrilled. I still read and comment on his blog, too.

        A list of my guest posts and their links may be found on my blog’s ‘Hire Me’ page.

        I am thinking of contacting you with an idea I have rumbling around in my head for something you may need or find useful. Since you only link to your own content in your posts, I’m being very selective in my choices. You wouldn’t be paying me $50 for nothing!

        • Carol Tice

          I don’t know where you form the impression that I only link to my own posts in my posts. I do like to find a way to put a couple of internal links, but I also have many posts with no links, and often link out to relevant related items on other sites.

          Never linking out would be bad SEO strategy, and would also mean I was excluding valuable resources I might point people to.

          With guest posts, I allow 2 links out to your stuff, also.

          Feel free to pitch me…but don’t send me anything pre-written as I don’t read those.

          • Lorraine Reguly

            I think perhaps that I got the idea of internal linking from my own personal clicks. I actually started thinking about the SEO aspect of this, and even though I am not a technical person I realized that you must have outside links. I even found a few!

            I’ll send you an email with my idea.

          • Lorraine Reguly

            I sent you an email via your comcast address. Please let me know if you got it. Thanks.

          • Carol Tice

            Think I see it…I’ll be back to you sometime today!

  8. Jackson Anderson

    Hey Carol!
    That was a really great post and for someone like myself who is only just started, blog doesn’t even have any posts published yet haha ( got like 10 written to get me going while I build more content) it was really interesting to see the back and forth between you and Cinthia which led from an arguably “boring, generic, lackluster’ headline to something grabbing and just waiting to be clicked on.

    I think there is something within that process which will be easily transferrable to any post!

    Who knows maybe one day I can use that method to pitch you an idea!

    Either way, Thanks again for the great content, going to bookmark this article for future reference!

    All the best!

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Jackson — glad this helped you!

      But if you’ve got 10 blog posts written…press “publish.” 😉

  9. Alicia

    I accept guest posts on my own blog, and I really hate it when people say, “I’d love to contribute to your blog. Tell me what to write about.” It tells me two things:
    1. They didn’t read my guest posting guidelines, which clearly state that I want to see a title.
    2. They don’t actually read my blog. They just stumbled across it for a guest posting opportunity.

    Awesome post! I think more people need to read this.

    • Carol Tice

      Yeah, I feel ya on all that. Got another reachout today just like that despite just posting in detail what to do — “Hey, do you accept guest posts? I’m a college student and I love writing blog posts. I could write any kind of topic for you…” etc.

      I can tell they’re just trolling for links, which is funny because I actually pay, and they don’t even seem to know it. Try subscribing first, please!


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