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8 Problems Editors Have With Your Content

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October was a record-breaking publishing month for our team, with more than 200 thought leadership articles published on reputable online sites. We’ve worked diligently to build relationships with hundreds of publication editors to secure bylines for our clients and ourselves each month. But through this process, we’ve also learned about rejection the hard way.

Your first impression on an editor is everything. She’s likely reviewing hundreds of submissions a week, and you need to dazzle her with your content so she’ll publish your current article — and want more from you in the future. There are countless reasons an editor will turn down an article submission, but you can bet these eight faux pas will doom your chances of getting published:

1. You promote your company.

This summer, we surveyed 153 editors from our list of publication relationships. Of those editors, 83 percent said non-promotional content performs best on their site. Promotional material is biased content that often reads more like a sales plug or a testimonial than educational material. 

Editors won’t publish your marketing messages; they want thought leadership content that pulls from your experiences and know-how to benefit their audience. Save the promotional language for your email campaigns when you send your published articles to leads.

2. You provide unoriginal insights.

If your article isn’t moving the conversation forward or providing unique insights, it will likely get the thumbs down. Thirty percent of the publication editors we surveyed said unique insider advice is the most important quality they look for in contributed content. 

Use your insider knowledge and experience to provide a fresh idea or angle your audience hasn’t heard before. Your in-depth industry knowledge and expertise will give your content the edge it needs to stand out. Take our client, James Monsees of Ploom, for example. His Fast Company article took a trending topic — Uber — and provided the audience with his unique twist on the subject of design.

3. The content isn’t professionally edited.

This one is pretty straightforward. If your article is speckled with grammatical mistakes or incoherent ideas, editors will quickly move on to the next submission. We’re lucky to have an internal team of editors who polish every article we create, but if you’re not a grammar guru, there are plenty of resources that can help you out. Editors are swamped with articles to review, so give them less work — and they’ll be more inclined to give yours the green light.

4. Your ideas are plagiarized.  

Not only does Google severely punish sites that host plagiarized material, but plagiarizing ideas can also tarnish your reputation. Don’t expect to hear back from an editor if you send plagiarized content.

Make plagiarism checks a critical step in the content creation process, especially before you click “publish” or send work to an editor to review. There are plenty of free and paid sites that will take care of this for you.

5. The site has published on a similar topic.

Don’t consider writing an article entitled “6 Interview Questions You Should Ask” unless you’re Donald Trump — it’s already been talked about! Always check to make sure a publication hasn’t recently written on the same topic you want to pitch. If you have a similar idea, make sure it furthers the conversation and takes a unique spin. Mention the original article in your pitch, and explain why the publication’s readers will care about your unexpected take on the idea. 

6. You ignore the publication guidelines.

Twenty-five percent of editors we surveyed said following guidelines was the most important quality in contributed content. Your article has to mesh seamlessly with the rest of the content hosted on the site, and setting publication guidelines is one way editors can ensure consistency.

Some publications, like The Wall Street Journal, post their writing guidelines on the site itself. If the guidelines aren’t available, send a pitch to the editor and ask for more specifics.

7. Your article doesn’t speak to the publication’s audience. 

You need to make sure your voice and tone are appropriate for the audience you’re targeting. Brazen Careerist, for example, has a starkly different tone than The Business Journals

Editors will often outline the tone your content should exude in their publication guidelines. If not, do your research beforehand by reading articles on the site. Ask the editor for a couple of examples of published articles that he or she felt nailed the voice of the site.

When writing your article, you also need to keep the exact readership in mind. You might have some marketing tips you’d like to share, but you need to be intentional about who you’re speaking to — agency professionals, CMOs, etc. — to make sure the tips align with the people the publication reaches.

8. The publication doesn’t accept content from vendors.

Some publications have a “no vendors” rule, so it’s important to know which ones do and don’t allow vendor authors. Anyone who sells a particular type of product could be considered a vendor.

Even if your article is in excellent shape, if you’re a vendor, there’s zero chance that publications with a strict “no vendor” rule, such as Forbes CMO, will publish your article. For sites that do allow vendors, be careful with how you craft your message, and make sure you don’t refer to the products you’re selling. Editors hate to discover that there’s an underlying agenda.

Editors are extremely busy; your article isn’t the only one in their overloaded inbox. Your content needs to follow all of the editors’ rules to stand out from the hundreds of submissions they receive each week. By starting with exclusive, non-promotional thought leadership content, you’ll be one big step closer to getting your voice heard.

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About Melanie Janisse

Figuring out the world of publications one article at a time. Let's connect @Melanie_Janisse.

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