How Much Are We Responsible for our Guest Posters?

by Jami Gold on September 13, 2012

in Writing Stuff

Hand with dollar bills and text:

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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30 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

August McLaughlin September 13, 2012 at 7:13 am

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!

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Jami Gold September 13, 2012 at 9:00 am

Hi August,

Yes, I love having guest posts because I think they provide a real value to my readers. I’d hate to reach the conclusion that I shouldn’t be doing them at all. That’s why I struggled to find a happy medium where I could provide that value and yet remind my readers that they still need to do their own research on top of whatever I did prior to the post. It’s a tricky line, to be sure. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Madeline Sloane September 13, 2012 at 7:30 am

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.

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Jami Gold September 13, 2012 at 9:33 am

Hi Madeline,

Great tips for how to be a good guest poster! Love that attitude! :)

As far as a disclaimer being distracting, I can see that. But I want to differentiate here between a standard “the content of this post contains the opinions of the post’s author and does not necessarily reflect those of the blog author” disclaimer and the type of disclaimer I was advocating.

You’re absolutely right that the standard type of disclaimer shows that we’re not willing to stand behind the content of the post itself. And if we don’t support the content, why are we posting it to our personal blogs? (Industry-general blogs are different in that they’re often designed to present opposite opinions.)

However, the type of disclaimer I mentioned wasn’t about the content of the post itself, but rather the business practices of the author of the post. We–as blog owners–can’t know that. No amount of research can guarantee that this agent/publisher/service provider won’t screw people over at some point in time.

So I do vet my guest posters before inviting them, and I do work with them to find a topic valuable to my readers that I believe they’re qualified to write, and I do maintain the right to edit or refuse their finished post. All that means that I support the content of the post itself.

However, the business practices of my guests beyond that post, which my readers would encounter should they choose to engage with them directly, are beyond my control. That’s a “duh.” We all know that. :) My disclaimer is merely a reminder of that fact.

Also, my disclaimer points out that no matter how good a person or company is, what defines my “good” will be different from what defines your “good” because we’re looking at different aspects to match our different goals. So I want people to do their own research before entering into a business relationship with the guest. Again, this should be a “duh.” :)

Unfortunately though, this particular scammer I met has big name authors as clients. (One of these big name authors was a featured speaker at RWA’s conference in 2010–very big name.) I fear other authors have signed up with them without doing their own research because they figure the big name author must know what she’s doing. That’s sad. My disclaimer is a reminder to my readers not to do that. :)

Does that help explain the difference? I certainly don’t mean to imply that I don’t support the content of my guest posts, so thank you for the opportunity to clarify that distinction. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Carradee September 13, 2012 at 7:56 am

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. :)

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Jami Gold September 13, 2012 at 9:53 am

Hi Carradee,

Exactly! I can do all the research in the world that a post’s content is solid and that a guest seems good and legit, but we can be taken in by those who wish to deceive. (I’m also thinking here of the experience of many of my friends during the Terrell Mims plagiarism case.) So we can make mistakes despite our best efforts.

And I understand your reluctance, believe me. This past weekend, I was really feeling like I’d dodged a bullet. Even though I’d never invited them to guest post, the mere possibility that I could have freaked me out. :)

But then I think about all the wonderful content I wouldn’t have here for my readers (and myself!) if I wasn’t open to guest posts. Just last week, I received a great message from someone thanking me for hosting the Roz Morris post about back cover blurbs. :) So I try to find a safe line to walk despite the risk. Thanks for the comment!

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Dee Ann Waite September 13, 2012 at 8:29 am

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!

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Jami Gold September 13, 2012 at 10:00 am

Hi Dee Ann,

“Question: I would like to link this post on my blog. Would you mind?”

Please do! I appreciate the help in spreading the word about the dangerous things to watch out for with epublishing services companies. And please let me know if you have any questions about it. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Tami September 13, 2012 at 8:44 am

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.

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Jami Gold September 13, 2012 at 10:17 am

Hi Tami,

Yes, I agree that interviews tend to get less traffic unless that’s the model of our blog and that’s what readers expect when they visit. I think guest posts with real content are valuable to readers, however. And I make suggestions to my guest posters about topics they have experience in that I don’t. So their post adds value to my blog that I couldn’t do on my own. That’s a win-win for me. :)

But as you said, big (I call them “meaty”) posts like that are different from posts focused on promotion. I’m not interested in those. Content comes first. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Marcy Kennedy September 13, 2012 at 11:39 am

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 might not have been able to have otherwise.

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Jami Gold September 13, 2012 at 12:09 pm

Hi Marcy,

Yes, I can understand that “it would have been easier to do it myself” attitude. We run into that in situations far beyond guest posts. :) And that wasn’t an off-topic observation at all! Thanks for sharing your experience and for the comment!

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Sonia G Medeiros September 13, 2012 at 4:21 pm

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

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Jami Gold September 13, 2012 at 5:35 pm

Hi Sonia,

Yes, it definitely does stink. :( But there are many more in the writing world who are just as wonderful and helpful as they seem (sometimes even more so! :) ) Thanks for the comment!

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Tamara LeBlanc September 13, 2012 at 5:18 pm

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

Reply

Jami Gold September 13, 2012 at 5:38 pm

Hi Tamara,

Great tips on how to be a good guest blogger! And thanks for the feedback about the disclaimer. That middle ground was what I was going for. :)

My concerns about the general situation stem from a combination of me watching out for my brand and me watching out for my readers. Because without readers, I’d just be talking to myself. Again. ;) Thanks for the comment!

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Susan Sipal September 13, 2012 at 6:43 pm

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! :-)

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Jami Gold September 13, 2012 at 8:53 pm

Hi Susan,

Aww, thank you! :) That’s interesting about how you expect to be edited. I haven’t had one of my guest posts edited yet, but I’d be fine with it. When I guest somewhere, I figure they know their readers best, and I’d appreciate any of their work in helping me be my best. Thanks for the comment!

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Gene Lempp September 13, 2012 at 7:53 pm

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 :)

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Jami Gold September 13, 2012 at 8:56 pm

Hi Gene,

Oh, I know some people will always be willing to bend their values for a buck. I just live my life more Pollyanna-ish, so I never expect to actually meet them! LOL!

Yes, I updated that old trunk.ly post to point to Delicious, but I haven’t played around with any of it to see how it works. Thanks for the tip about its potential. :) And thanks for the comment!

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Donna L Martin September 14, 2012 at 9:32 am

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

Reply

Jami Gold September 14, 2012 at 9:38 am

Hi Donna,

Thanks for stopping by! I received my “You’re in!” email for the query submission window this morning, so my fingers are crossed for everyone. :) (For anyone wondered what the heck GUTGAA means, it’s a pitch contest with feedback, judges, and agents.) Thanks for the comment!

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William September 15, 2012 at 11:56 am

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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Jami Gold September 15, 2012 at 11:59 am

Hi William,

“I can’t help thinking that you worry too much:)”

LOL! That is no doubt true. Thanks for the comment and the biggest laugh of my day! :)

Reply

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