Dear Bloggers: Advice For Would-Be Reviewers

 

Having had and been involved with several successful online businesses, I’m very familiar with the blogosphere’s role in promoting and reviewing such things. We get a lot of requests around all these businesses for reviews, features, requests for donations to things, offers to sample our products, any which way you can think of phrasing the getting of something without paying for it, we get them. Thing is, whilst, as I say, we know and love a good reviewer, we very rarely end up responding to anyone, because the requests are just so unhelpfully written, or missing vital information. And when you’re trying to get something for free on the basis that you’re going to review it on your excellent blog, if you can’t ask for it properly, it doesn’t give great hope for your blog being, well, worth our getting involved with.

But we get SO many poorly-phrased/organised requests, that I’m thinking, perhaps people just don’t know how to ask. Maybe we’re overly fussy and no-one else is bothered by these things…but I have a hunch that’s not the case. It’s not wizardry, it’s just that there are a few things you can do to up your chances of successfully receiving either goods or content. It’s not a hidden test – many a business is open to communication with bloggers (indeed, if they aren’t, their likely very considerable loss!), and the better the request, the better the response, the better the content you get, the better your blog is, the better the promotion for the business…everyone’s a winner and the internet just levelled up! Yay!

On with the list!

0. Before you begin.

Is your blog any good? If I click on a link to it, am I going to see something I would like my brand to be featured on? If it’s brand new, here’s a tip: start by reviewing things you already own/have bought. If your blog is less than a month old, or has less than twenty posts on it, or (like mine!) is riddled with lengthy gaps and downtimes, it’s not necessarily a good proposition for anyone. Build up your content first, then approach. Find your writing style, your review style, all that, before you begin sending out requests to people you don’t know.

Then the technical stuff. Does it look good? Is the layout functioning? Are you tagging posts appropriately, is your language appropriate to your audience, is your spelling/grammar/presentation of a quality you’re happy to represent yourself with? When you send the emails, what’s the latest post on your blog? Is it relevant and appealing to the people you’re asking to contribute?

Assuming all’s well here, and you’re moving forward to contacting, one more thing – could you introduce yourself elsewhere first? If your preferred store/brand/service has a Twitter and you’re genuinely interested to feature them, add them there first. Interact with them a bit, to show you’re a human, that you’re interested, and to make your name perhaps that bit more memorable. Twitter networking is quite undervalued in the blogosphere, I fear.

But sometimes a formal email/message is best, and gives you the space to put everything in that you need. So, here you go!

1. Decent subject line.

If you’re emailing directly, rather than filling out a contact form, always use a sensible subject line. “Review request from xyz blog”, “Interview request from Canadian magazine”, “Prize donation request from Galaxy Cat Unit”, that sort of thing – simple and to the point. Yes, that’s object first, but that’s the point. Say what you want, and yes, it might mean that the recipient trashes it without reading it because they’ve not got time, not interested, etc, etc, but that’s what they’re going to do anyway if they get a random email with a header like “Introducing Sparkleblog! The latest in incredible reviewing!” or “Want to reach 500,000 people tomorrow?” because that suggests you’re either spamming, or about to ask for not only free things, but money on top of it.

2. Address it properly.

Find the name of the press contact. If there’s no press contact, or if it’s a small business, say an Etsy shop, find the owner’s name. Look on their ‘about me’ page. Never, ever, start with Dear Sir/Madam. You’re not looking for a job. (If you are, that’s a different post 😉 It’s a business. There’ll be a name somewhere. The reason for this is not only that it’s more polite, but also that it shows you’re not just randomly cutting and pasting your request into every single contact page you can find. And, further, it shows that you’re actually interested in this business, about which you’ve bothered to find something out.

3. Do bother to find something out.

Show that you know what you’re asking for. If you want something to review, check that there can be something to review. Seriously, you’re asking a vintage clothing shop for a product to review? Sure, you can receive something and write about…what? The experience of receiving it? The vintage clothing, which isn’t necessarily made by the owner? How does this help anyone? It’s like when people leave reviews on Amazon products that talk about the Amazon service. Super not useful. If you’re asking to try something, make sure it’s something that can actually be tried. If it’s a service, make sure it’s a service that can be tried. If you’re not in a country the shop ships to, don’t ask for something to be sent to you.

4. Think about what you actually want.

Do you just want a free thing? Really like jewellery from Sophia’s Secret Store of Surprises but can’t afford it right now and so you’re asking in the hope of getting something free? That’s okay. That is genuinely okay. I fully believe it’s okay to exchange goods for promotion or services and if you’ve constructed an environment where you can make it worth Sophia’s while to send you a necklace, because you’re going to give her plenty of value in promotion/review, then go for it. But please, please, read #5. And don’t dress requests like this up; don’t be aggressively self-promoting to try and pretend that they’re not such things. It’s always obvious.

Are you looking for content for your blog? If your thing is that you review jewellery, and you’re lining up more jewellery to review, then this is fine and makes good sense. But there are other options, too. In terms of interesting content, an interview can be just as appealing to readers as a review. Whether it’s a few questions or an in-depth chat, asking to host an interview with a business owner can be just as productive for your blog, and if the shop/business isn’t suited to or able to go giving out freebies, then an interview may be the best thing for everyone. If you’d like to feature a brand that you love, or are curious about, approaching them with a request for content, rather than a free trial or a free product can be the best way to get a healthy response.

Don’t write any of this stuff yet. Just think about it. First:

5. State your case.

This is simple, but virtually never in people’s requests. You need to say who you are, where you’re based, who your audience is, and, most importantly, what your statistics are. The last bit is most important because you can’t just link to it. And, incidentally, DO link to things. Don’t worry about introducing everything about yourself – your blog has an “About” page somewhere, right? Link to that. And make sure it’s actually informative. So, having correctly address your email, you’re now writing something like, “My name’s Lucy. I’m in the UK, and I write a blog called Shiny She-Ra Saturdays linktomainblogpagehere. I post reviews of old She-Ra episodes every Saturday morning at 10am*, but I write about all kinds of other stuff in between. Here’s my ‘About’ page if you’d like to know more: linktoAboutShinySheRaSaturdayshere.”

Then it’s onto the numbers. These are important. You want, how long your blog has been active, how many followers it has, how many hits you get on an average post, that sort of thing. If you’ve got a big Twitter or Facebook following, mention that too. “Shiny She-Ra Saturdays has been going since 2011. I post on average three times a week – my review posts get around 1,500 hits, and my other entries average around 1000 hits. I have 213 followers on WordPress, and over a thousand followers on my personal Twitter.”

Note: it doesn’t matter if the numbers aren’t big. If the content is good, if your blog is good, if your photos or videos or podcasts are good, and the blog isn’t that old, then it’s fine if you’ve only got five subscribers so far, or if your audience don’t comment much. Just be honest about the extent of your reach, and leave it up to the business to decide if it wants to engage further.

Then leave it at that! You don’t want this to be too long. A paragraph at most.

6. Ask.

If you can be flexible here, as suggested in #4, then do. “I’d love to feature your brand/shop/product in some way. I’m best known for my unboxing videos on my YouTube channel (have you mentioned how many views your average video gets? Do it now!), and would be happy to do one of those for your subscription box. If that’s not possible at this time, then I’d love to include your views in a post I’m writing on the upcoming subscription box market in the UK.” Or suggest interviewing them about their business, their craft or industry.  Be flexible, be pleasant, be plausible. If they’re a very new or small business they may not be able to afford to randomly send things out to you, even if your prospects might look very good, so anything you can offer that they don’t have to pay for, that can be mutually beneficial, is a good thing.

So there we have it! Just a few tips for not being immediately deleted. It’s not much – to recap, say who you are, why you’re contacting, why you’re worth contacting back, and sign off nicely, whether it’s a DFTBA or Kind Regards, or Thanks in advance, or whatever.

And remember – there are also a lot of very good blogs out there that do this kind of thing whilst actually buying the product and acting as an absolutely regular customer. If you’re asking for something for nothing, you’ve strong competition. But if you think about it, present yourself well, and have a decent blog (or video page, or podcast series, whatever), then that doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to work with and perhaps receive things, or wisdoms, from brands or shops or people you love in return for doing something that you also hopefully love. Businesses need promotion, and a small, strong community of fifty people is sometimes a much, much better place to present your brand than a faceless, jumbly-written, spambot-filled page that regularly gets thousands of hits. This is a good time to blog, it’s a great time to have a small business – let’s work together here!

 

* I might need to start this blog if no-one else has

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Woman: Why Does It Always Feel Like I’m Being One Wrong?

I follow and am friends with a lot of very wise and interesting women, most of whom have lengthy and strong opinions on many of the issues that crop up, both on and offline, which tax, penalise and threaten women around the world in various ways. I concede that a lot of my understanding of many of these issues comes from their commentary, from secondhand understanding of these issues, and from reading heightened and removed discussion and debate of them.

This is partly because I don’t spend a great deal of time ‘in the real world’. I am fortunate enough to have not experienced many of the issues that allegedly affect ‘all women’, to the extent that, many a time, I’ve wondered what’s wrong with me, ‘as a woman’, that I’ve not been sexually harrassed – although that’s nearly another post than this. My strongest experience of sexism is really that mentioned in another post here (I’m Sorry You’re Upset, and Other Ways to Patronise a Colleague) and for this, I’m grateful.

I am one of those women that finds it very difficult to call themselves a feminist, but then, I don’t like to call myself anything if I can possibly avoid it. I don’t enjoy the wealth of labels attached to gender or sexuality, and I like the consistency of my existence to be within me, rather than with a load of badges I’ve chosen to wear. Indeed, the struggle I’ve had with terming myself ‘a writer’ has shown me, in a much more pleasant and curious way, how unsure I am about saying that I am anything at all.

To be a feminist, to me, implies action, activity. Motion towards fixing a specific issue. I am not fixing anything. I will talk about things, but I probably won’t fight about them if I don’t think I can change the mind of the person arguing with me. I don’t have the experiences or understanding to campaign for anything much without people telling me I don’t count, and I find the reception to the majority of campaigns virtually sets the clock back every time. People always bring up the suffragettes at this point in any dialogue about the rights of women, and yes, I do love my right to vote, but that’s one right, just one, in one hundred years. That doesn’t mean they aren’t relevant, but I don’t think Emmeline Pankhurst is a flag to wave to end every conversation about whether or not protest works, any more than I enjoy a placatary response to a fuss about the most peculiar state of affairs that was the lack of any women on UK currency.

It feels like there’s a pattern of fuss, now. And just that, too – fuss. Or, worse, ‘outrage’. Real issues being lost in a sea of Tweeted capslock and summarised in Guardian articles and by on-the-pulse bloggers, everyone vying for the most pointed thing. And all it looks like, more and more, to all the people that you desperately wish would listen is one great extended coffee morning, or dessert round of the dinner party, where ‘the women’ get together and make a fuss about something and look at their husbands and say, “See, darling?” and they say, “Yes yes, quite…” and go off to have a cigar in the drawing room.

Don’t mistake me here – I’m all for the comments, the articles, the conversation, and, as I said at the beginning, that’s how I get most of my education on these things…but when you look at the way that the critical mass is received by those it’s aimed at, it is so quickly reduced to insignificance, or pasted over with misunderstanding platitudes, that it’s no better than an angry scrawl of A4 taped to a lamppost in the rain. It doesn’t matter how well you wrote it – people appear to have already decided what they think, as soon as they read words like ‘feminist’, ‘women’s rights’ etc.

And it isn’t just the men dismissing women I mean, either. Women dismissing each other, women feeling completely lost when it comes to things like ‘fourth wave feminism’, women who don’t have a full grounding in the history of society in every country going being completely dismissed, women who’ve only just had the lightning bolt of “Instead of saying to the victim, you shouldn’t have worn that, why not say to the rapist, you shouldn’t have done that?” put forward to them floundering with the realisation that they, too, have been a huge part of the problem without even realising it, women who haven’t 100% decided if they’re women or not wondering where/if they fit in, or even care…

…the thing is, men don’t have to be all the same. Men don’t have to hold a single set of beliefs, or act in a set way because of their gender identification. They don’t have to explain when they get angry, and if they get angry in a reasonably literate way, people will probably listen to, and engage with them without shouting back or dismissing them because they haven’t ticked xyz boxes with their life/heritage/experiences.

Groups of women dismiss other groups of women with mass vehemence and unpleasantry, and are surprised when they receive the same treatment. Women who take a stand and suggest a solution, a plan of action, a campaign, are often villified by other women for not having done it right, for not solving everything for everyone at once, for not representing ‘women’ right.

Maybe we stop expecting all women to represent all other women. It’d be nice to look at each thing in itself, regardless of its originator, without profiling to the end of the world and back the woman who ‘dared’ to take a stand. It is shocking, disgusting, and all the terrible things that women who, by virtue of being female, attract the levels of abuse seen publicly over the last week, and it is excellent that the law was adhered to and, hopefully, has an effect, but the mass of noise around the outcome of this situation looks so very much like nothing learned, one step forwards, two back, talking about the process and not the problem, spending so long in outrage and being so frustrated that you can’t even work out where in this horribly tangled screw-up of society to start unpicking the problems. Women who’ve picked up a thread and tried to do something, with the sum total of their experiences and understanding, find themselves slated because it wasn’t the ‘right’ thing, because goodness, loud woman who thinks she’s all that, don’t you know that you should just shut up and stop making us all look bad, omg, remember that time you said this and this and you’re such a terrible woman, etc…

…the amount of time spent shouting and criticising and reporting on the shouting and criticism of women by other women, and the whole sorry lot of it being either gently patronised, completely disregarded, or out-and-out slammed by everyone else just doesn’t seem to move the conversation forwards, to expand understanding, or to get much done. Either we get half-arsed quick fixes that don’t do anything or come from enlightenment, or we tie that knotty mass of issues even tighter.

Worst of all, and, I think, the point I want to make, the pattern of issue-awareness-outrage-attempted solution-personal attacks-next issue feels so familiar, so regular, that it starts to look the same, to become too much, to be too easy to disregard because we saw it last week.

I don’t think this post is particularly eloquent or sensible, and I worry it doesn’t make a lot of the points I wanted to set out clear, but, I think, one of the things I want to say is that I don’t want the fear of not being the 100% Perfect Woman for all other women to stop me from at least trying to get some of my knotted mass of issues out of my head and into the world, because, when so much of what you see and read around you is about something that everyone thinks ought to also pertain to you ‘as a woman’, it’s difficult when you don’t understand it, don’t have a view on it, or can’t find the point of it. I realise I’ve started a lot here and worked through very little, but maybe I’ll make this a starting point and come back to it in future.

The thing I think I’ll end with is, I see nearly everyone’s point, and I wish equality was normal, but it isn’t, so where’s the beginning of the thread? Where’s the starting point where all women are the same? Is there one? And if there isn’t, can we all stop looking for it and try solving the issues we can solve, or give our own experiences to, without having to sign up for an agenda, or to represent everything and every woman?