Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Authors United ... the rise and rise of the group blog

By Candy Gourlay

According to the New York Times, blogging has had its moment - young people are turning to the social networks for their fix of news and community. Indeed, after years of mastering website Search Engine Optimization (while doing my day job as a web designer), my internet gurus are now suddenly spouting Social Media Optimization.

Interestingly though, SMO is all about creating quality content - SHAREABLE content - the stuff that everyone wants to forward to one another over Facebook and Twitter.  And though individuals may now prefer the ease of Facebook and Twitter over creating their own content, the blog continues to be a fantastic (and usually free) way by which authors can serve quality content to their demanding fans.

Group blogs have been around for some time - witness the hardworking, book reviewing Chicklish Blog, started by author Luisa Plaja ...

Chicklish was one of the first group blogs I followed. It must five or six years old now.

And of course the hugely successful ABBA (An Awfully Big Blog Adventure) set up by the Scattered Authors Society ...

An Awfully Big Blog Adventure 

Crime Central
Of late, there has been a real sharpening of focus amongst group blogs, as authors realize that they can band together to grow their readerships. Crime Central brings together crime-writing teen authors Anne Cassidy, Keren David, Andrew Lane, Anthony McGowan, Catherine Macphail, Gillian Philip, Linda Strachan and Malcolm Rose. Keren David, who also maintains her own blog, explains:
At a time when paranormal romance was swamping teen sections in bookshops, award-winning author Anne Cassidy had the idea of setting up a blog celebrating crime writing for teens. After all, crime dominates the adult bestseller lists, so why not highlight crime books for younger readers?
Since we launched in January we've run interviews, reviews, competitions and posts discussing everything from poisons to pickpocketing. Writers including Keith Gray, Malcolm Rose, Ellen Renner and Simon Cheshire have written guest posts. We hope to get lots of teen readers following the blog, and also librarians, booksellers, publicists and editors.

Inspired by blogs like Crime Central and the Chainsaw Gang - a coming together of horror writers not just blogging but organizing horror-themed events, a group of debuting teen authors got together to create The Edge. Says Dave Cousins, whose book Fifteen Days Without a Head is out next year:
There are so many author and book blogs out there, all doing similar things, we thought that by co-ordinating our efforts we might be able to create a focus point for readers and writers interested in edgy, dare I say 'issue' based, fiction – plus it's nice to be part of a gang. 
The Edge

The Edge blog has only been live for a month, so it's still early days for us. We hope to provide a focus for discussion by readers, writers, librarians, teachers, booksellers etc. and will be inviting guest bloggers. We are also planning to take The Edge on tour towards the end of the year, and want the blog to serve as contact and reference point for anybody interested in booking us for an event.
Members of The Edge include: Dave Cousins, Katie Dale, Keren David, Sara Grant, Miriam Halahmy, Savita Kalhan, Bryony Pearce and Paula Rawsthorne.
Jo Cotteril of Girls Heart Books

Last month witnessed the astonishing group blog launch of Girls Heart Books - the brainchild of Jo Cotterill of Sweet Hearts fame,  Susie Day ("Funny books for funny girls") and Keris Stainton (Jessie Heart NYC), Girls Heart Books.

Narrowly targetted at 8 to 13 year olds, it launched with no less than 31 author contributors ... a blog post a day from a different girly author!!!  Less than a month old and the blog posts are clocking up comments in stunning numbers!

I asked Jo what gave her the idea for this blog:
It struck me that there were many fans of this type of fiction 'out there' and that they would love to connect with their favourite authors.

Meeting people at an event is all very well, but you don't get much time with them and what if your favourite isn't coming anywhere near you? So an online blog is a great way to get readers and authors connecting. Secondly, it's a great way to 'share' our audiences - someone who's hooked on Cathy Hopkins' Mates, Dates series might not have come across Fiona Dunbar's Silk Sisters - or fans of Linda Chapman may not have realised she's got a new series out this year. Information like that is hard to come by if you're not sure where to look - this way, readers can 'discover' authors that are new to them.

Content-wise, we are looking to provide one blog post every single day (including weekends and holidays) and each author can write about anything they like, which means we should have a lot of variety!

We also have publishers lining up to give books away to our readers, so there will be lots of competitions! All content will be carefully targeted to our readers, who range from 8 to 14 years old, so parents can be reassured that their daughters won't be reading anything inappropriate.
The blog targets girls eight to 14. Will they come?
I hope so, but it's early days and that age group is hard to contact online because there are so many child protection issues. However, we are thinking of producing some promotional materials that could be send to school librarians so that they can check out the site with their pupils. And word of mouth helps, of course!
And pooling resources means Authors share the joy of blogging without the pain and the time suck!!!
Blogging and maintaining websites and keeping up with networking all takes TIME and blogs are only really successful if they are updated regularly. So the idea of getting authors together on one blog (so that they have less individual work to do and can 'big up' each others' books as well as their own) is pretty much a no-brainer. In some ways, it's rather surprising that it's taken so long for these group blogs to get off the ground.
Girls Heart Books Store

The blog is unique in the number of blogging authors it has attracted!
I have been quite astonished by the number of people who have wanted to join. At the beginning I thought it would be nice to have 31 authors so that we only had to blog once a month (surely not too time-consuming for anyone) but I wasn't convinced we'd have that number to start with.

By the time the blog went live, we not only had 31 confirmed contributors, we also had a waiting list of ten further authors! I have had to say no to people, which I don't like doing - and some of these authors are extremely successful - but I don't think a larger number is manageable at the moment. 
The fact is, authors aren't in competition. Because the more a reader reads, the more books he or she will devour.
I would love it if the readers of Cathy Cassidy, Louise Rennison, Karen McCombie, Jacqueline Wilson et al came to see Girls ♥ Books as their first port of call when looking for the latest news about girls' books ... Who knows, in the future maybe we could even have Girls ♥ Books events, in which the bloggers all turn up to do talks and sign books. I would love that!
Authors United. It's the wave of the future.


  1. It's too early to give you the link yet because we are not launching till 1st July but I am starting another such group blog - The History Girls.

    There are 26 of us so far and we all write historical fiction or fantasy history for YA, MG or adults. Watch this space!

    Mary Hoffman

  2. Wow that's fantastic! One thought ... what if you someday recruit a boy history writer!

  3. There is always the post of Honorary History Girl, I imagine.

  4. Interesting stuff!

    Then there is always Notes from the Slushpile: sort of a group blog, isn't it? With Candy, Maureen and I, plus assorted guest bloggers. We're on trend.

    I must admit I like the group blog concept, partly because it isn't just on one person to fly the flag - or do the writing, for that matter.


  5. So true and it's not the first time you've said it Candy - I remember you mentioning this a very long time ago and you've been proved right...though I still love to check in on authors personal insights - I do wonder if being part of a group means you take less risks with your subject matter?

  6. Is by invitation, Candy so we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

  7. Wonderful post! Thank you so much for mentioning Chicklish, and Girls Heart Books which I'm also involved with!

  8. Oops, I meant to post that from this account. Thank you from here, too!

  9. aha! it's tough having double identities, isn't it luisa?

  10. As someone who struggles sometimes with blogging even once a week, I can see the appeal of group blogs. Of course, part of the reason for these is the proliferation of individual writer blogs - it's become harder for both readers and writers to find consolidated sources of information.

    I still think personal blogs have their place for building a writer's profile, but they have to be very different or compelling to get people's attention. Of course, you might argue that those are the virtues that a new author needs to get noticed in any case.


  11. Very interesting, Candy. I love being part of a group blog - less stress, established interest and writing in great company.

  12. It's definitely the way of the future. And I'm very pleased to be on trend for once, Teri! Even though I'm a bit behind on my turn!

  13. I've noticed that some authors are members of several group blogs. it means you can target each of your audiences with really rich content specially created for them, rather than always writing with a broad brush. it makes for a better experience (and probably plays better on social media)

    @Nick I tend to blog only once a month on my own author blog - because of time constraints. But it's great to have somewhere to blog about events you've done, thank people and flag up stuff to come.

    My biggest problem is in stopping myself from blogging. It's a rather compulsive thing for me!

  14. What an excellent post, Candy! I found a few blogs on here that I didn't know about, and am now eagerly following. Which seems to be another benefit of group blogging - not only do you have to blog less frequently without the guilt setting in, but you'd also have a larger base of people willing to spread the word about the blog, which means more followers and more readers. This is such a great idea for author blogs, I hope more and more of these start springing up!


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