Rant time!

I’ve spent the past couple of days slogging through my backlog of Guest Post and Reader Story submissions. Many of these are great. A few aren’t salvageable. The vast majority fall somewhere in between.

It’s rare that I’m able to take a submitted article and publish it at Get Rich Slowly without some sort of tweaking. Everyone makes mistakes — even me. In fact, I can only name four people off the top of my head who give me perfect stuff: Pop from Pop Economics, staff writer April Dykman, my pal Donna Freedman (who wrote last Sunday’s reader story), and Karawynn Long, who was also a staff writer candidate. (Karawynn’s prose and HTML are probably the best I’ve seen.)

Generally, I don’t mind editing posts to get them ready to publish here. It can be kind of fun. And I know that a lot of my edits are nit-picky things that reflect my own personal style more than anything else. (Like capitalizing Stuff, or changing lists into bulleted lists.)

Still, it can be frustrating to deal with submission after submission filled with grammar goobers, blatant spam, and rambling rants. After two days of increasing frustration with the editing process, I’ve decided to draft a set Get Rich Slowly guest-post guidelines. I can happily point to these whenever I reject something because I didn’t feel like editing it.

To maximize the chances that your Guest Post or Reader Story will appear at Get Rich Slowly:

  • Write in a “bloggy” style and format. This isn’t the Encyclopedia Britannica. Be conversational. Write like you’re writing to your sister or brother. You don’t have to be rude or hip, but don’t be stilted and formal either. And don’t submit one long, unbroken essay. Most people scan when they read blogs, so make your article as scannable as possible. Use headings to break posts into sections. Use numbered points or bullet points when you think it will help. Bold your important points. (But don’t go overboard. Too much bold is worse than none at all.) Suggest photo ideas. Anything you can do to break up the page will make it easier to read.
  • Be original. One of my pet peeves when dealing with reporters is that they always want “new and unique ways to save money”, etc. They want the unusual because the unusual sells. Well, personal finance doesn’t work that way. In fact, if it’s new and unusual, it’s probably a problem. But that doesn’t mean you should just re-hash the same old topics. There are only so many times I can post an article about how to save money at the grocery store. If you want your article about saving at the grocery store published at GRS, it’s going to have to be original; it can’t be yet another list of 20 tips like “shop the perimeter, clip coupons, buy in bulk”. Find a unique spin.
  • Tell a story. While I do publish news-y pieces from time to time (and should probably do more of that, actually), I think most readers want to hear stories. Don’t just write up an article describing the different types of life insurance; tell us how you use life insurance, or how your father had the wrong kind when he died. Don’t just give us ten tips on buying a used car, but explain which ones worked for you and which ones didn’t. Remember to emphasize the personal in personal finance.
  • Have a point. If you want to write about the recent changes to student loans, do it. But be darned sure you’re explaining why GRS readers should care. Simply summarizing the news isn’t enough. Instead, tell us why we should care about student-loan reform. What should we do with this information? If we can’t do something with your story, why even share it? Tell us how to use the news to get rich slowly!
  • Don’t be spammy. Yes, you can include some links back to your site. That’s a fair exchange for you giving me an article. But if the entire purpose of your post is to promote your product or to sneak in affiliate links to the latest Viagra substitute, I’m not going to publish it. Save us both trouble and don’t even bother sending it in. (And yes, I will add links to relevant GRS articles, sometimes even replacing your links — though I try not to do the latter very often.)
  • Cite your sources. If you make a claim, back it up. Don’t just say, “Debt is out of control in America!” Give us a link to a study or story to support your claim. Give us stats. (And make sure your stats don’t contradict each other; I edited an article today that had two different stats about how many vacation days Americans take.) Your article doesn’t have to be filled with numbers, but try not to make claims you can’t support.
  • Leave the politics at home. As most of you are aware, I try to keep GRS as agnostic as possible. Part of that is because I’m politically agnostic. (Republicans? Democrats? To-may-to, to-mah-to.) Sure, I have some strong opinions, but I try to keep those to myself. And I try to open GRS to other viewpoints. (Remember: If I didn’t write it, it’s not necessarily my opinion.) But unless the political slant is necessary to your article, I’m yanking it out. I don’t care how much you hate government employees or how great you think President Obama is — that’s not what this site is about. (For an example of me getting all political and stuff, take a look at Understanding the Federal Budget and The Truth About Taxes. Not really very political, is it?)
  • Proofread. And proofread again. I proofread most GRS articles five or six times (and even then there are plenty of mistakes that creep through). The more you proofread, the fewer stupid errors will creep through. Plus, you’ll get a feel for which sentences and phrases work, and which don’t. If I send an article back to you and tell you to polish the grammar, that’s a flag. If you re-read your piece and aren’t able to find the problems, then ask somebody you know (somebody who is a good writer) to look at it for you. I hate going back and forth because of grammar goobers.
  • Read your post aloud! This is an essential step. It is not optional. And don’t rush through your reading. Read your article as if you were reading it to your sweetheart or to a kid. As you read, note anything you stumble over. Watch for repeated phrases or words. (Intentional example of this sin: the two uses of “creep through” in the previous bullet.) Try to imagine you’re a stranger reading your story; does it make sense without further explanation? I read Your Money: The Missing Manual aloud several times. I still didn’t get things perfect, but doing this helped me catch a lot of stupid errors that otherwise would have made it to the final book.
  • Think like a reader. When you re-read your stuff, pretend you’re just learning about the topic and have no idea what it’s about. Does your article still make sense? What would a new reader want to know? You need to be careful that this doesn’t lead to over-explaining things (which is a trap), but with the web, you have shortcuts because you can link to other articles as supporting material for those who need it. Some writers just assume their readers know what they know, and this leads them to use a lot of jargon or leave out important bits of information. There’s never a reason to use jargon!
  • Be willing to take the heat. If you submit something that’s a little controversial or out of the ordinary — about religion or about hiring a personal chef, for example — expect to take some flak. This blog has a large, diverse audience, and readers aren’t afraid to share their viewpoints. If I come back to you and explicitly warn you that you’re likely to stir up a hornet’s nest, don’t be surprised if you get stung when the article is published. If you’re allergic to the bees (good grief, I’m stretching this metaphor), we can work together to remove the parts of your article likely to provoke them. But don’t whine to me later if I warned you in advance.

When you don’t do these things, I have to do them. But while you’re dealing with just one guest post, I’m dealing with dozens. As frustrating as it may be to work so hard with one article, imagine what it’s like to go through a stack of them. The easier you make things for me, the more likely your article is to appear on this site.

The other stuff is relatively inconsequential:

  • I don’t care if you submit your piece in MS Word or via a text file. (Though if you have a lot of links, I’d prefer not to get a Word document.) I write all of my posts in raw HTML in a text editor. That’s where your post is going to end up as I edit it. The only time I use MS Word is when people send me posts in that format, and I get them out of Word ASAP.
  • There aren’t any length requirements at GRS. Your story should be as long as it needs to be, but no longer. If it’s 100 words, that’s great. If it’s 1000 words, that’s fine too. (I just edited a reader story from Shara that’s almost 4000 words; that’s a bit long, I admit, so I’ll probably split it into two parts.)
  • Send submissions to grsguests (at) gmail.com. You can also send them to my personal address, if you have it. (That’s where replies will come from!)

Finally, remember that just because I reject your article doesn’t mean it’s bad. Sometimes articles aren’t right for Get Rich Slowly. Sometimes the tone is wrong. Sometimes the topic is wrong. And sometimes it’s just a gut feeling. Don’t take it personally.

Who cares?
About once or twice a year, I let a crummy guest post through the system. Every time I do, it’s a disaster. This has taught me that I can’t go soft just to be nice to a colleague or a friend — quality is quality. When I put up a weak guest post, it’s bad for everyone: I look bad, the readers get cranky, and the guest author feels like a heel. My goal is to make everyone happy, and the best way to do that is to make sure things are right from the start.

I know that some readers think guest posts are a way for me to be lazy, to take time off. That’s not the case. I put as much work (or more) into guest posts as I do into writing my own stuff. It’s just a different type of work. And I think the guest posts and reader stories are an important part of what makes Get Rich Slowly a great place to learn about money. Yes, this blog has been about my financial journey, but it’s also about your financial journey.

One last note: As anyone who has shared a guest article here knows, it can take days or weeks or months for me to acknowledge your submission. (I’m trying to get better, but I’m still slow.) After that, it can take days or weeks or months before I’m satisfied with a piece. Plus, I have a huge backlog, as I mentioned. (Well, I’m almost out of Reader Stories, but I’ll ask for more of those on Sunday.) As a result, it can take a l-o-n-g time from the time you first submit an article until the time it appears on the site. (I think it took more than a year for one article from Free Money Finance to be published here.) If you want to give me a back-to-school article, do it in April or June, not in September.

Okay. Rant over. Get out there and save some money!

Postscript: Brett from The Art of Manliness has been forced to institute similar measures lately. “It was hard at first because you want to be nice,” he tells me, “but there comes a point that you have to treat blogging like a business and that means saying no sometimes.” You can find his writing guidelines at this page (there’s a link to a PDF). In fact, I just stole a guideline from his list. I’ll update these guidelines as people have questions or bring up additional concerns.

Postscript to the postscript: I just figured out another way to help future guest authors. If you have a favorite guest post or reader story from the GRS archives, please list it in the comments. This should help other authors figure out what does and does not work around here.