Vendor mistakes when submitting to blogs: when is it worth my time to say "no"?

First I was like…and then I was all!
As you might imagine, we get a lot of submissions for Offbeat Bride. The site's editors (Megan, Catherine, and Chris Wolfgang), deal with a steady flow of beauty submitted via all the submission channels described on this page: wedding profile submission forms, our Flickr pool, Two Bright Lights, etc. There are a LOT of ways to submit content to Offbeat Bride, all of which have been set up to keep the at-times-overwhelming flow of content organized, and help to save everyone time — "everyone" including the submitter themselves!

Then, of course, there are the people who ignore the guidelines on the submission page and do their own thing. Here's just one recent example of many failed submissions that appeared in my inbox:

  • First thing to note: this submission was emailed directly to me, rather than going through the channels outlined on our submission page. As publisher, I don't process submissions — the editors of Offbeat Bride do that. By emailing me directly, this vendor failed to get the material into the right hands.
  • The email included an enormous .zip file of images attached, clogging up my inbox and bandwidth with a huge file I hadn't requested.
  • Worst, the content submitted was material that our submission page makes it clear we do not feature.

This was a fail on all counts: didn't follow our submission process, exercised bad email etiquette, and the final nail in the coffin: the content wasn't even appropriate for our site. (I wish I could say this is an uncommon occurrence, but it's not. This particular vendor is just the latest of many.)

The email came in on my smartphone while I was at the park with my family, and I immediately launched into a tirade about it to my husband.

"People can't follow instructions!" I hollered. "Our submission page makes everything pretty clear, and when someone blatantly chooses not to follow the guidelines, and then EVEN WORSE sends something that we say very clearly we don't feature!? It's just a mega FAIL."

"Are you going to write back?" my husband asked, ever patient with my work rants.

"Oh, that's the worst part," I said. "The submitter asked me for feedback! 'I'd love to know what you think!' they said — but that's a waste of my time. I'm not going to write back to just to tell them that they fucked up three different ways!"

My husband was of the opinion that when someone fails that hard, it's valuable feedback to let them know.

"But why would I waste my time AND their time basically saying 'No, you suck — and here's why?' It hurts their feelings, and wastes my time!"

"Uh, but you're spending time right now talking about it," my husband pointed out, which was a good point. I wrote the submitter back, gently explaining the ways in which the submission wasn't a fit for us content-wise, and urging them to read Offbeat Bride's submissions page for more information.

And now I'm spending even more time to ask you all:

  1. Oh don't even get me started on this issue. Vendors do. not. read. We were lucky on So You're EnGAYged if a vendor had taken the time to read each of our form fields; more often, they ignored them, as well as the big highlighted box that said what we will reject immediately. That being said, we iterated the form over the years, and a number of things helped:

    1. Decreasing the number of fields required. We were able to ask the minimal amount of information needed to review the applicant on the first form, and gather additional info needed after they were accepted. It did mean that there was one more back and forth email chain after acceptance, but it also meant that only the minimum number of required fields existed on first shot. People read more the less there was.

    2. If there are two or three main things you need people to see, make them big. Make them bright. Put them right at the top. Be explicit/blunt. We found that floating them to the right of the form or putting them underneath an intro paragraph didn't work. They had to be the FIRST thing that people saw when the arrived on the form page.

    3. Test wording. If there's a guideline that people always overlook, tweak the guideline until the wording is scannable and people start to abide by it. I went through five or six versions of our "your site must use inclusive language" phrasing until we found one that worked.

    4. Add section headers to your submission page to break it up. People will scan for "Rules" or "Guidelines" or "Don't Do This!!!", and headers will help. Also break up your form into sections with headers for each. It really helps people parse what's being asked of them.

    4 agree
    • In terms of replying – yep, do it. I saved form emails with our two most typical reasons why people weren't accepted, and would send them right away.

      1 agrees
      • A saved e-mail that only says that they did not follow the guidlines for submission and a link to the guidline page would work for any rule breaker. That way you don't have to list what they did wrong or even bother reading the whole e-mail and they would learn that "hey, I should read/think first."

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        • This is a great idea! Thanks.

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  2. I think they're just being a jerk for not reading it properly, and I don't think you should have to waste time responding to them. Maybe you should give Dre a job writing rejection e-mails, or when Tavi gets a bit older that could be his consequence when he does something bad. If you already have too much properly submitted content than then that's a fail on their part, and shouldn't be something that you have to deal with. I think.

    0 agree
    • Seriously… If you're doing them a favor/allowing them to do business with you, it's on them to conform to your guidelines. If they "don't have the time" (etc) to fulfill the (reasonable) requirements, it's their fault.

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  3. To answer the second question first: I doubt if there's anything you can do to make the submissions page clearer. If someone is sending you irrelevant material in gross violation of your submission guidelines, I'd bet chances are they sent the exact same email and .zip to a whole long list of websites that were in any way even remotely related to the theme of weddings. For all you know, they didn't even visit the website but may have just found your contact info on some list somewhere. The internet is a weird and wild place, and I've been fooled more than once into thinking a form letter was actually a personal correspondence.

    Which brings me to the first question: Most of the time, I don't bother writing back unless the emailer is clearly familiar with the website and their correspondence was at least somewhat tailored to be relevant or appropriate. On the other hand, sometimes I respond just for fun. My husband and I both write blogs on modern Paganism. The other day, he received an offer for a guest post from someone with a Catholic Online Dating website – so he wrote back to ask if she knew what his site was about and if she honestly thought she could write a piece that would be appropriate for it. And she sent him something! It wasn't very good (it was a pretty standard piece about how it turns out Harry Potter isn't evil)… but still, it was a learning experience for both of them. :)

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    • I agree that the submissions page couldn't be clearer- saying "We DO NOT accept xyz" at the top and bottom of the page is clear enough methinks.

      Also, I kinda want to read the Catholic Online Dating post… it sounds funny :D

      1 agrees
  4. Honestly there is no end to what people will NOT read. People submit things incorrectly even when it's something really important (like a job application cough cough) and it drives me crazy! I think your instructions are VERY clear, short of having an instructional video showing someone submitting correctly (which some people wouldn't watch, anyway), and you're perfectly entitled to say, "Nope, FAIL, try again."

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  5. I wonder if people are inclined to email you personally because they think that you will actually read your personal email, whereas form submissions will just be lost in the aether. Which is clearly the opposite of what actually goes on in the Empire, but I could see how someone would think that, based on form submissions on other websites. Maybe you could make it clearer that form submissions have the best chance of being approved/being seen by the proper person.

    It reminds me of advice someone might give a job-hunter – i.e. Contact the hiring manager directly instead of just emailing some general corporate HR address.

    That doesn't explain people who submit clearly inappropriate material, though… maybe they think that if you see their work personally, you will love it so much that you decide to break the rules just for them? :P

    1 agrees
  6. The page is very clear….my only thought would be to give it it's own "Submissions" tab across the top of the page. It is a little buried under the "About" tab.

    You might add one more last line to your submission page saying something like, "While we love the emails and photos we receive as random submission, moving forward, they will no longer be considered for posting and will be deleted without response."

    PS-LOVE the simple weddings theme this week. Bring that theme back often-at least once a year and maybe twice for a week. Those wedding are so real to me.

    2 agree
    • First: the submissions page not being easy to find is intentional. We already receive WAY more submissions than we can deal with, and making the tab more obvious would drown us.

      Second: setting expectations about what will happen if folks don't follow the procedures is a great idea. Adding to submission page now…

      1 agrees
      • I think a form response with a link to this particular blog entry to bluntly inform them of why you didn't appreciate their submission would be appropriate. You could also specify that vendors who do not follow the guidelines will not be allowed to submit again for six months (and even then probably only after a sincere apology).

        0 agree
      • I think a form response with a link to this particular blog entry to bluntly inform them of why you didn't appreciate their submission would be appropriate. You could also specify that vendors who do not follow the guidelines will not be allowed to submit again for six months (and even then probably only after a sincere apology).

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  7. My husband is really getting me to "like" the idea of a TEMPLATE response to some said emails like that. Be it feedback or someone emailing to inquire about a service.
    Maybe a template response could help ease the pain – but the above comments seem to be relevant and to the point. I actually liked the idea of "deleting" without even a response. You guys have a VERY detailed set in place, and quite frankly i'm SCARED to screw up and make yall mad. lol!!!!! But I know, maybe I'm an exception. Argh. :(

    Meh, to the submitters that are trying to go "around" the rules. :P

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  8. Thanks for all the great feedback, you guys. I've made a few improvements to the Submissions page and I think it's looking way better!

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  9. I would reply with a point-blank "We don't accept this kind of content." Bam. Easily template-able.

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  10. I don't know about Offbeat Bride (and I'm not a vendor), but I know that I appreciate a response email on Offbeat Home. The template response email lets me know that it was received and reviewed. It would be nice if you had the time to be more specific, like, "your tone is a bit negative", "the writing isn't that intriguing", or "we've done these types too often of late". However, I know that you don't have the time to do this for each submission and it could cause people to argue with you about their post. On the other hand, since I don't know what I needed to change about the posts I've submitted, I've just stopped submitting. So, I suppose there is always something.

    0 agree
    • Yeah, unfortunately getting into specifics opens the book to workshopping posts (ie, "Your tone is a bit negative, try reworking this or this"), are something that editors just don't have the time to do. Also, since we can't pay, it doesn't in any way feel appropriate to demand that writers rework their material for us.

      0 agree
  11. What should I do if I have a link to a good article I think readers would enjoy? Currently I'm trying to figure out if offbeat home or offbeat mama is even the better one to post it for. [It has to do with why women aren't crazy and society and others 'gaslighting' them into thinking they are- it is an interesting read from professional writer of the topic].

    Back to my first question- I do find a few good articles I have wanted to share, but I'm not sure where to share them. This is the 3rd article I have wanted to share and hope it too does not slip through the cracks of 'don't know, stopped looking'.

    0 agree
    • You can always contact a site's ediditor via that site's Contact page, which is linked from the "About" tab.

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      • I had a link I wanted to send into OBM and did just that – clicked through to 'contact us'. I do the majority of my surfing on my phone & tend to avoid web forms if I can, do when I saw Ariel's email on the contact page, I just sent an email straight to that.

        Now, I had probably one link & I'd opened with a line about how I really hoped Ariel didn't have to read all these submissions. Ariel was lovely enough to reply and say, well, I do if you email me directly! I guess this comment is sort of a mea culpa and a heads up – you might want to change that screen shot image on the OBM contact us page.

        1 agrees

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