How not to pick your subject lines

Candice Landau   •   February 8, 2015

Your typos and my delete key are best friends

I‘m going to begin this article by saying that I want to publish your content on Bplans. I want to help market your work. I want you to become a regular contributor. I want great things by great people and that’s you, right?

The thing is…

I have a lot to do every day and when it’s nearing 5pm and I’ve finally managed to switch to sifting through the guest author inbox, I’m tired. I’ve been editing the whole day. I’ve been writing emails and articles. I’ve been in meetings. I’ve been interviewing people. I’ve been plotting content strategy. I’ve got 20 things on my mind that I know I need to add to Basecamp. And, I’m so sick of coffee that really, the only thing I want to do is go home and relax.

So, when I turn to the guest inbox, hoping for content that will reinvigorate me, you absolutely cannot give me any excuse to hit the delete key.

At present there are 7 things that trigger my hit-delete reflex:

  1. Typos
  2. Grammar and style mistakes
  3. Off-topic pitches
  4. Your request to pay us to link to your site
  5. Press releases and self-promotional marketing
  6. You want to share an infographic
  7. You are not a part of the story (AKA: boring content)

Whether you’re a freelance writer looking for work, or a job candidate seeking to stand out from the crowd, how you communicate online could mean the difference between a $0 bank balance and a night on the town.

Regardless of who you elect to pitch, these are the things you want to avoid doing and here’s why.

1. Typos

Typos indicate a general lack of “something”: care, knowledge or the ability to edit. They represent the you I can’t see. They’re the easiest things to avoid and the most common. They’re also the holy grail of spammers, people who cannot write and people who are careless. Yes, I’m well aware that more often that not they are accidental – I frequently make them – but they are still insight into your personality, and not in the most positive light.

That said, typos are more easily excused than other mistakes. I often let them slide if emails or articles are well-written, or contained within stylistically appealing content.

If you know you’re prone to making typos, make sure to at least write a great email. But, be warned, even the best content, with more than a couple of small typos, is probably going to get deleted.

2. Grammar and style mistakes

Not even the most interesting story can be saved if it is poorly written, at least not without a lot of hard work. This is why, when I receive an email with run-on sentences, with dangling or misplaced modifiers and with a whole lot of passive voice, I’m also that much more likely to hit delete.

Again, this comes back to time.

All I see when I see grammar mistakes are the number of hours I’m going to have to put into editing the content. Unless the author has written something stupendous – and if they have they’re generally pretty good writers – I really won’t accept these articles. In fact, if the pitch email is full of such errors, they’re out the door before the content has even been reviewed.

While some grammar mistakes are more annoying than others – like the use of “it’s” when “its” is the correct option – these are relatively easy fixes.

The things that aren’t include run-on sentences, overuse of the passive voice, poor sentence structure, inappropriate word choice and a style that simply sounds wrong to the ear.

As, Francis Flaherty, a New York Times editor says, “The sound of words and the rhythm of sentences are a language wholly apart from the dictionary. Make sure your story not only says what you mean but ‘sounds’ what you mean.”

This doesn’t just mean you need to select the words that are appropriate to the theme of the story but that these words need to sound right. Sometimes a more appropriate word just doesn’t fit. At this point you have to rely on your ear.

The only way to get better at figuring out how your writing sounds, is to read it aloud to yourself and to listen to the rhythm of the words. Do they sound smooth or clunky?

In your spare time read poetry, read good fiction, read good non-fiction. Listen to great speakers (TEDx Talks are a good start) and pay attention to writing that keeps you reading.

Oh and PS: You can break grammar rules only once you learn how to use them! Published writers do this all the time.

3. Off-topic pitches

This is a pretty easy one to address: read the freaking contributor guidelines, or at the very least have a look through the content we publish, or that other sites you’re considering publish. No, I’m not going to accept your article on 5 great new weightlifting exercises but, I may accept one on how to start a gym, or the top 5 exercises to do before you pitch an angel investor. Do the math.

4. Your request to pay for links

We don’t do weird spammy things that were okay in the 90s.

Including links to your site – randomly within our content – is one of those things. If you make this request, I will hit delete.

The only permissible links are links within your author bio and, if that freaks you out, you can request we “no follow” them.

I’m certain that in an anti black hat SEO world other companies are going to have the same policies. We’re all worried about being penalized by Google so if you think we’re okay with being paid to take the risk, you’re living in dream land. My advice to you: keep links out of the conversation.

5. Press releases and self-promotional marketing

Bplans is a free resource to help entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs start, fund and grow a business. Press releases are by their very nature self-promotional. They do not offer our audience of aspiring business gurus anything useful, unless it’s learning how to write a press release when they do start their business. Publish your press releases on your own website or approach a news outlet to see if they’ll be interested.

6. You want to submit an infographic

We are not an infographic directory and I don’t believe we ever said we were. Infographic directories are obvious. If you want to push your infographic out to one of those, go read this article. However if you want to write us a genuinely helpful article that just so happens to incorporate your highly relevant infographic, that’s fine.

7. You are not a part of the story

I have added this point as I have become increasingly frustrated by the amount of generic content being produced online today: lists, general how-to posts, rehashed guidance on X and Y. Who are the authors behind these pieces? What gives them the right to say these things beyond what they’ve put in their short bio blurb? Why should I care? How is this any different to a similar article I read on another site last week?

This is a surprisingly easy problem to fix and it’s actually a problem I think most people should enjoy fixing. It means, putting yourself into the story. It means showing the reader why this topic should matter to them because of how it has affected you, or at the very least, affected someone else. It means using the word I.

Without “you”, your writing is boring. It’s run-of-the-mill and it’s probably going to contribute to the next wave of what Google considers to be spam.

If you’re in the business of recommending content marketing, please don’t just tell people to start a blog or do content marketing. Tell them to share their story and to write about real things that matter to them. In short, screw SEO. You are far more likely to build an engaged and loyal audience if that audience feels they can connect with you as a person and the only way to do this online is to give of yourself.

You’re taking a risk and I’m taking a risk

When I hit delete, I know I’m taking a risk. However, it’s a calculated risk and it’s one borne of experience. Perhaps you really are a great writer. Maybe you just had an off day and maybe your email or your pitch is full of mistakes because you were excited, or in a rush, or late for work.

For the most part though, poorly written emails pave the way for badly written articles. If you want me to publish your content, you’ve got to prove you’re capable of writing well from the outset.

That said, if you really have taken the time to write a thoughtful email complete with relevant pitches, I’ll probably disregard one or two typos. Glaring grammar and style mistakes are harder to ignore.

Like you, I have a lot to do every day and if you can’t take the time to review your own emails or articles, I’m afraid I can’t take the time to type a response and request the full article or really, reply at all. So, do both of us a favor and write a great pitch!

Tips on pitching editors and magazines:

  • Personalize the freaking heck out of your email. Find someone to write to. Mention a specific article and why you liked it. So few people do this. It makes you stand out.
  • Don’t give away your life history. Be succinct. A couple of paragraphs ought to do it.
  • Keep your sentences short and paragraphs even shorter.
  • If you do a lot of outreach, create a couple of canned responses but don’t forget to tailor them each time you write. Us editors get pretty good, pretty fast at picking out a genuine email.
  • Engage with us on Twitter! Follow us and share our content. Start a conversation or mention why you liked something.
  • Give us a few pitches and explain, in 1 sentence, what each article will cover. Make sure the pitches are relevant. Seriously, this is important.
  • Just go ahead and attach an article.
  • Attach original content and tell us its original. That’s generally important for publishers.

Recommended books, tools and resources for writers

If you need to brush up on your writing skills, I recommend reading. Yes, in general. If you’re already doing that (you good person), there are 2 nonfiction books I suggest you add to your list:

I’ve also saved a number of writing books on my Goodreads bookshelf. Some I’ve started, some I’ve dipped in and out of over the years, and some I’ve read completely. Let me know if I’m missing any must reads.

Some of my favorite resources and tools:

This article was originally published by Candice Landau on LinkedIn.

By |2019-05-07T07:37:46+00:00April 30th, 2019|Creative|