Columnist’s Note: In a little under 24 hours, I have to submit the final manuscript of my next book. My original deadline – January 1st – sailed past weeks ago, as did the one-week extension I awarded myself on the basis that no-one does any work in the first week of the year. This last deadline, though, is immovable: lawyers and editors and typesetters and proof-readers are standing by; the thing has to be printed at some point. I haven’t slept for days, my blood is an 80:20 Caffeine:Provigil blend and I can’t feel my fingers. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t have time to write this week’s column.
And yet, I still have a contract with TechCrunch – one that’s no less binding or legally enforceable than the one I have with my publisher. By hook or by crook, 1000 words have to appear in this space. I briefly considered outsourcing this week’s column to India – or maybe employing some Indians on H1Bs here; I gather that’s the future. But then I remembered that employing people costs money. Next I considered asking one of my journalist friends to take over for the week; but there’s always the danger that they’ll be better at the job than I am and I’ll find myself unemployed. Again. I needed a solution which a) fills space, b) is free and c) is unlikely to put me out of a job.
And that’s when it hit me – I should commission a Guest Post.
But I’m not going to give away my space on TechCrunch to just anyone: I need to make sure that they conform to the high standards demanded of a typical tech blog guest author. To that end, I’ve put together this useful list of hints for writing the perfect Guest Post…
- Tip One: Choose a topical issue
This is vital. Without a topical issue to hang from, all Guest Posts would to forced to use honest titles like “My marketing director told me to write this because it’s the only way our bullshit product will get on TechCrunch” or “I only wrote this to warrant an entry on CrunchBase”. The obvious topical issue this week is the launch of the iPad. Like new spin-offs of CSI, the world will never tire of new opinions on the iPad, even if yours brings absolutely nothing fresh or new to the genre. If you’re feeling bold though, why not try to link your customised iPhone cover startup to the recent death of JD Salinger? (hint: bunchofphoneys.com is still available)
- Tip Two: Ask yourself “do I actually know anything about this subject?”
If yes, go back to the drawing board. It is critical that you choose a subject that has absolutely no relation to your areas of expertise. For example: I am a former book publisher who now splits his time between writing books and blogging about technology. I also read maybe 75-100 books a year. Therefore, if I were to write a Guest Post comparing – say – the iPhone and the Kindle – readers would assume that I was allowing my prior knowledge to cloud my judgment on which device is better for enjoying books. They would smell bias. Much better that I opine on, say, the pet food industry or why Belgians make terrible lovers. I mean, they do, right? My wife/mother/kids told me.
- Tip Three: Work your issue into a snappy title
Let’s say you’ve decided to write about the iPad – because, let’s face it, you have. Next comes the important task of picking a title. Remember, a good title serves two important functions: 1) to attract comment trolls, and 2) to amuse Gabe Rivera from Techmeme. One tried and tested format is the “Why X will be the Y killer” construction, or the even more popular “Five tips for…” meme. The latter is especially recommended for authors who are working against a tight deadline: readers will tolerate any shit as long as it’s in a numbered list (the so-called ‘Mashable Rule’). Note: there is no need for the title to actually relate to the body of your Guest Post: the two are quite separate entities.
- Tip Four: Write any old crap
The trick here is to avoid looking or sounding like a real writer or a journalist. If your prose is too polished or your argument too well thought out, readers will assume you’re one of TC’s paid writers and will ignore your carefully written promotional bio. The trick is to make readers get one paragraph in and think “who the fuck is this idiot?” and then scroll down to find out. How can you telegraph your amateur status? I, personally, myself believe that the use of tautology is a good way to go. As is unnecessary repetition. Another approach is to completely ignore the most obvious flaw in your argument. For example, if you’re comparing the iPad unfavourably to the Kindle, it’s important to appear oblivious to the existence of e-ink. Instead point to the iPad’s superior video-handling abilities, or the fact that its name has a more balanced vowel-to-consonant ratio than the Kindle.
- Tip Five: End on a high-five, with a blatantly self-promotional bio
After all, you didn’t spend hours waiting for your PR company to finish ghost-writing your Guest Post, only to throw away your big chance to stroke your ego and make a few dollars at the end. Am I right?
Ok, then get to it!
If you think you’re up to the challenge of writing a guest post, please summarise your pitch on the inside cover of a copy of Paul Carr’s multi-Steve-wynning book – Bringing Nothing To The Party: True Confessions of a New Media Whore – and send to him via TechCrunch where, until this post goes live, he writes a weekly column.