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September 13, 2012

How Much Are We Responsible for our Guest Posters?

Hand with dollar bills and text: "Are Guest Posts Like Advertisements?"

Most of us who blog think having guest posts is a “good” thing. We bring in others outside our expertise. We expose our blog to their followers. We get to take a break in our blogging schedule. Heck, I’ve written about the benefits of guest posts.

But there’s a hidden risk in allowing others onto our soapbox. We’ve made a reputation for ourselves with x level of quality and y amount of integrity. What if our guest poster doesn’t share our dedication to living up to those values?

I’ve had several guest posts here lately, so let me state upfront that nothing in this post should reflect on those I’ve hosted. This is purely a hypothetical situation for me—but one I recently learned was all too possible.

My Responsibility as a Blogger

I try to be a responsible blogger and keep my readers in mind with every post. I respect all of you, and I don’t want to mislead, misinform, or make mistakes. But no matter how much my perfectionist nature wishes for reality to be different, we all do make mistakes.

I’ve modified my opinions due to the conversation in the comments of my posts more than once. I recommended using the Twitter-link-saving site Trunk.ly, which is now defunct because Delicious bought them out. I admitted in my last post about small presses that I don’t know enough about them to recognize a good one.

I will never claim to know everything. Because I don’t.

Part of my commitment to integrity (and to avoid misleading all of you) is not mouthing off about things I don’t know. But remember that first benefit of guest posters I mentioned above?

Sometimes we bring in guest posters to speak about a subject we don’t know very well. And sometimes those guest posters are wrong. Or worse.

My Responsibility to My Readers When Guests Post

I don’t accept blind guest posts to this blog. Typically, I go to a person and ask for a guest post about a specific topic. This, for me, is the first step in ensuring all of you see quality posts every time you stop by.

But it’s possible for us to invite someone for a guest post who isn’t what they seem. Maybe they’re not as knowledgeable as they claim. Maybe we’re too uninformed to recognize that fact. Maybe they’re a scammer.

What? A scammer? No, we’d never have a scammer on our blogs!

Or would we? Not consciously to be sure. But we can’t know everything.

The Sneaky Ways Guest Posters Could Mislead Our Readers

Many bloggers have agents on their blogs for pitches, interviews, “what are you looking for” conversations. We know some agents are less than ethical. Some have withheld royalty money from their clients. Some have egregious clauses in their agency agreement. Some trigger conflict of interest concerns with their “self-publishing” arms.

Every one of those questionable agents has probably guest posted on a writing blog somewhere on the internet.

Some bloggers have publishers on their blogs for pitch sessions or industry posts. Here, I’ve hosted a pitch session for Entangled Publishing and an educational post about small publishers by someone once connected to Musa Publishing. Yet we know publishers have gone under and screwed their authors. Or some have horrible contracts. Or royalty rates.

Those problematic publishers probably have guest posts somewhere in the writing blogosphere too.

What about posts by those who provide services to writers, like editors, cover artists, book videos, epublishing, etc.? What if they turn out to be not such great people? What if they’re really trying to take advantage of writers?

My Close Encounter with a Scammer

As I mentioned above, I recently learned just how possible it is for a scammer to sneak past us. Last week I read one of Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s “The Business Rusch” posts. (If you’re not familiar with her blog, she shares great information about the ways writers need to be careful.) One post exposed the horrible cost of doing business with one “epublishing service” company.

This company “helps” authors epublish their books for a percentage of the royalties. However, they don’t have a contract for authors to sign. No… That would be too permanent.

This company instead outlines their terms—including the percentage they get to keep—under a nebulous “terms of service” page and other web pages on their site. Terms of Service?

Yeah, those things where we click “I accept” without ever reading it because we see them for everything from Microsoft Word to Twitter. Those things that companies can change whenever they want and we’d never notice. That’s their “contract.”

After reading the article, I Googled a unique sentence from their terms of service so I could learn the name of the company and avoid them. (In a later post, Kristine explains that she didn’t mention them by name because she discovered that almost every epublishing service company operates the same way. You’ve been warned.)

I found the company. I knew them.

They were at the Romance Writers of America National Conference just this past July. They weren’t invited guests or anything, but they were schmoozing up writers left and right, handing out business cards and swag. I talked to them over breakfast one morning. I have their cute little swag on my desk.

Their business model sounded good. They claim to help authors concentrate on their writing by getting their books formatted for epublishing, distributing to the retailers, handling social media, etc.

Self-publishers who aren’t business minded want services like that. It is a needed service. What if I’d invited them to guest post here to inform my readers about this option to “epublish without the headache”? What if they’d provided an in-depth, non-sales-y post filled with relevant content?

Where Does the Responsibility End?

I’ll be honest. The thought that I could have invited them here—unaware of their shady business practices—scares me to death. Guest posts are essentially an advertisement for the agent, publisher, or service provider.

No matter how non-sales-oriented their post is, their mere appearance on our blog increases their name recognition and spread of their message. At worst, their guest post can seem like an endorsement from us, as it builds off the integrity of our blog, our brand.

Should we have to research an agent’s agency agreement, or a publisher’s financial situation, or a service provider’s contract before allowing them to guest post? No, that’s not possible (especially given the secrecy of some of those documents), much less feasible.

We also don’t want to be too scared to mention the people or services that are working for us for fear that things will go downhill in the future. We want to share our successes with this agent, that publisher, this editor, and that writing program.

So how do we cover our butt protect the integrity of our brand and the rights of our readers while still sharing our experiences? Enter the disclaimer.

We Can Tell Our Readers We Trust Them

Some of you might have noticed that in my last guest post by Musa Publishing, I included the following:

“Please note that I haven’t researched Musa Publishing (they’re not open for submissions in my genre), so Susan’s background and mention of them should not be taken as my endorsement of them as a publisher. We all have to do our due diligence research specific to our publishing goals.”

That disclaimer-type statement isn’t a negative mark against Musa. Even if I had fully researched Musa Publishing and read through their contract and royalty information and loved what I saw, I probably still would have posted some type of disclaimer.

What makes a publisher look good to me is going to be different from what makes a publisher look good to someone else—because their goals will be different from mine. Some might put a priority on print versions and others will be looking for a certain royalty rate. There’s no one size fits all in publishing. *smile*

I want to do right by my readers. But I don’t know everything. Especially when it comes to knowing what would be right for them.

So how will I handle guest posts? I’ll tell you that my post featuring helpful content by this person or that service isn’t an endorsement of their business in general. And I’ll tell you that I don’t do endorsements, not because anything about the company is good or bad, but because we all need to do our own due diligence to find the publishing partners that are right for our goals.

Then I have to trust that you’ll make the decision that’s right for you. And not the decision that’s based simply on the fact that you saw them mentioned on my blog.

It sucks that scammers are out there, willing to take advantage of writers. It sucks that we have to question those who seem to be “helpful.” And it sucks that we, as bloggers, have to worry about accidentally seeming like we’ve endorsed these people simply because we accepted a guest post.

But it’s more important to me that I respect my readers and ensure that I’m not misleading, misinforming, or making mistakes. Even when it sucks. *smile*

Have you ever had a guest poster you later regretted? What did you regret about it? Did you change your guest post policy after that experience? Has this post changed your mind about how to handle guest posts? Have you seen guest posts by people you know to lack integrity? Have you heard of these epublishing services companies or their terms of service?

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What do you think?

31 Comments on "How Much Are We Responsible for our Guest Posters?"

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August McLaughlin

I utilize guest posts with extreme caution, if at all. I think there’s a place for them and great value, if we choose the writers wisely and, as you said, continually look out for our blog and its readers.

It does suck that scammers are out there. I think your practice of using disclaimers, and doing plenty of research, is wise. Great post!

Madeline Sloane

You’re right — researching someone before inviting them to post, even seeking recommendations would be a good rule of thumb.
And, asking to preview content isn’t unreasonable. Your site is your platform and it’s your responsibility to protect it. Anyone should understand that and not be insulted.
When I’m a guest, I have my article written well beforehand so the site owner can review it. If there’s a conflict, I’m happy to rewrite. Guest posts shouldn’t be about ego or marketing; it’s about sharing information that relevant to the reader.
Keeping a disclaimer on the posts isn’t a bad idea, but I think it’s distracting. If you can’t or won’t support your guests’ content, then don’t post it. If you need a disclaimer, put it in a sidebar widget.

Carradee

The disclaimer is a good idea, methinks. Because we can’t be 100% positive in perpetuity about someone we host, and it helps keep the oblivious from trying to hold us accountable for something that isn’t our fault.

But this is a good example of why I’m anal enough that I suspect I’d be reluctant to host a guest post even once I get a large enough readership to make it worth someone’s while. 🙂

Dee Ann Waite

Jami, thanks so much for such a great and educational post. As a writer who is soon to publish my first novel, I have been searching for someone just like this to help me e-publish my book. I’m so glad to have read this first. I found your blog by a link from Madeline Sloan, by the way.

Question: I would like to link this post on my blog. Would you mind? I will provide you the opportunity to see the post once it’s up, and if you don’t like it, I’ll take it down immediately. My blog site is http://deeannwaite.blogspot.com I think my followers would be so pleased to read this. Great post!

Tami

Wow, I hadn’t even thought of a lot of that.

I know as a blog reader, I’m less likely to read guest posts and interviews, so as a blog owner, I don’t have them much.

I think it would be safe and a good idea to host book-promoting visitors, but dangerous to post service- or business-promoting visitors.

Marcy Kennedy
I’ve been burned before by guest posters in terms of quality. I can remember one post in particular where I spent twice as long working with the author on rewrites as it would have taken me to write the post myself, and I still wasn’t 100% comfortable with it. I’ll admit, in that case and a couple of others, I ran the posts anyway. Those are decisions I’ve regretted, and I’m determined not to make that mistake again. The struggle for me in that situation lies in that I don’t want to hurt the person who took the time to create that post. The longer I blog, though, the more I realize that if I run those posts anyway, I’m hurting my readers. They give their time to me and place their trust in the consistency of what they’ll find on my site in terms of topics and quality. So I have to protect them first. Sorry if that was too far off-topic 🙂 I think you’ve found a good balance in terms of trying to be responsible when it comes to your guest posters. Really good con artists can deceive even the more observant and diligent of us, so doing our research and adding a disclaimer that we don’t endorse a particular company or individual’s services is the best we can do if we want to continue having guest posters. I personally like when bloggers bring in a quality guest poster because it gives me access to information I… Read more »
Sonia G Medeiros

It stinks that there are others who would use us this way and it does make sense to be prudent.

Tamara LeBlanc
Tamara LeBlanc

Hi Jami!
I don’t have a blog so I have no need of guests. I have, however, guest posted on other peoples blogs. I love doing it. I enjoy adding, in some small way, to another author’s point of view. That being said, I’m very careful not to over step my bounds. I remain politically correct and respectful. I’m not only speaking to my own peers, but my host blogger’s fans as well. I have a responsibility to teach…not preach.
That’s why I love reading your blog so much. You’re a teacher, and I learn something from your posts every time I log onto your website.
I really respected the disclaimer you added on tuesdays post. I didn’t see it as a slam against Musa at all. I saw it as jami gold being incredibly responsible.
Thanks for your wisdom, and the links.
Have a great evening!
Tamara

Susan Sipal

Jami, you are always so responsible and fair in everything you do, and I think that applies to your use of disclaimers and how you use them. I admire your sense of responsibility to other wriers and how you’re always seeking to help out.

Personally, I both like having guest posters on my blog and being a guest poster on others’. And I always EXPECT to be edited when I’m a guest blogger. I don’t see how a writers couldn’t — what people publish on their blog is just as important to them as what a publisher puts out under their name! 🙂

Gene Lempp

Unfortunately, nefarious behavior will always be present near any activity where money can be made. There is a fine line between legal and ethical that many groups and people use to legally grift those with money-making potential. Like tapping into a neighbors electric or cable.

Part of the business end of publishing, and if you just cringed I feel your pain but you really need to see this side of things as well, is being wise enough to research and verify every incoming influence. Or learn to listen politely for a moment or two, excuse yourself and walk away without a thought. Which works fine too.

I do remember trunk.ly. Loved it. Moved with them to Delicious and when combined with Pack.rati (might have the dot in the wrong place there) – it still works almost exactly like trunk.ly.

Great post, Jami – deep, thoughtful and well-presented 🙂

Donna L Martin

Greetings!

Great post! I’m hopping over from GUTGAA and visiting some blogs along the way. Nice to meet you…lovely blog! Good luck with GUTGAA…

Donna L Martin
http://www.donnalmartin.com
http://www.donasdays.blogspot.com

William

Jami,
I can’t help thinking that you worry too much:) Even if you had the worst guest blogger in the world post with you, people who know you would realize that you’d been scammed.
Your “brand” would be fine because it’s so intrinsically entangled with you.
But we appreciate your diligence anyway. You can’t protect everyone (although you can try).

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