Have you ever thought of being part a formalised writer’s group with the intention of blogging or creating a website together, but haven’t known where to start or what to expect?
Instead of shining the spotlight on sole authors, I thought it might be interesting to focus a little on authors who share a formal blog or website. Over the coming months I will be chatting to other author groups about the mechanics and benefits of working with other authors towards a common goal. These groups will share their experiences and knowledge so that it might inspire some of you to give it a go.
For the first in this series, please welcome Rhyll Biest and Georgina Penney from the Naughty Ninjas!
Members of the Naughty Ninjas are: Andra Ashe, Sandra Antonelli, Sarah Belle, Cate Ellink, Roz Groves, Lily Malone, Georgina Penney, Rhyll Biest.
The group commenced in February 2014 and focuses on the Romance Genre with naughtiness on the side!
Hi Rhyll and Georgina – otherwise known as the founders of The Naughty Ninjas. Thanks for joining us to discuss formal author groups. Can you tell us a bit about the Naughty Ninjas?
We’re seven Australian romance writers and one mighty Australian romance reviewer, Roz Groves. Andra, Cate and Rhyll write erotic romance, Lily and Sandra write contemporary romance, Sarah writes Ro-magic Comedy, Georgina writes Chick lit (with strong romance overtones) and all of us have a robust sense of humour, whether we’re talking about love, life, writing, reading, romance or sex. Or merkins and tentacles.
What sort of activities do the Ninjas undertake?
Our website, social media, podcasts and newsletter combine direct and indirect marketing. We share practical information about writing and marketing, books we enjoyed, and information relevant to romance (e.g. author interviews). And then there’s the naughty stuff purely for entertainment, including recipes, opinion pieces, advice columns and nerdy facts. If one of us has a launch date, the ninjas go into overdrive with promotion. There has been threat of a nudie run to promote the raft of upcoming releases but that’s on hold until Cate Ellink can knit a merkin big enough to cover up the entirety of Georgina’s wobbly bits.
What inspired you to form the Naughty Ninjas? How long did the group take in its planning stages prior to going live with a website?
Seeing other successful group sites, frustration with individual promotion efforts, and attending a promotion workshop all provided inspiration.
We started with a small core group in September 2013 who nutted out brand, aims, design and content ideas and general operation principles via Skype meetings. That part didn’t take too long and mainly involved a lot of bawdy talk and laughter. It then took us a couple of months to develop the site and fill it with content before trialling it with a small audience before the official launch on Valentine’s Day this year.
What sort of issues do writers need to consider prior to forming a group- – IT, Intellectual Property, rules, expenses, etc.
If you’re looking to form a group like ours (with or without the merkins or tentacles) the key thing is going to be communication. Get all members to give you a realistic (not utopic) idea of the time they’ll have and the responsibilities they want and then halve that to allow for family dramas, book launches, bad hair days (or running out of coffee). That way you’ll start off on the right foot, with everyone having a manageable work load.
If you don’t have communication, you’re going to have trouble sorting out all the other tricksy bits and pieces when it comes to the following:
- Deciding who is going to develop and maintain the site? (You can get mixed results if everyone is uploading to the site regardless of their tech savvy.)
- Who owns the content, the site or each contributor?
- Who is going to pay for the site domain, images and giveaways/prizes? How are you going to decide membership and handle disagreements or disputes?
- How much time do you want to spend on the group and what’s the plan for sticking to that time limit?
- How are you going to measure and report the achievement of your goals (assuming you’ve set some in the first place)?
Oh, and we can’t forget the tone of the group. Make sure you’re all on the same page when it comes to content. We ninjas can be a little risqué and it was super-important to make sure everyone was okay with that from the get-go.
How do you manage to keep in contact with everyone, as well as coordinate writing activities and due dates?
We’re a geographically dispersed group, with members living in Brunei, Canberra, Melbourne, WA, NSW and Queensland, so online communication is our main method (and some of it is actually serious group-related stuff!). At the moment, we mainly use email and a fantastic project organization site called Freedcamp to co-ordinate website content. The smaller stuff is all taken care of through Twitter and Facebook with the odd blog visit. The podcast is done through Skype.
Most of us are hopefully going to meet up at the conference this year as well for a couple of drinks and shenanigans as well.
What benefits do you see in writers coming together in a formal group to write and market their work?
So many benefits!
- Other members can pick up the slack for each other when crisis or deadline looms for someone.
- Where one blog/website might draw between 100-300 visits each day (depending on how amaze-balls you are), a single multi-author site which is cross-linked to existing blog/website readerships can theoretically be drawing over a thousand visits a day. That makes it more attractive to advertisers, sponsors and readers.
- Fans of one author will come to the site, see who that author ‘hangs’ with and consider reading the books of other authors. I know that Wonkomance certainly worked that way for me (Rhyll). I’ve had that experience. A couple of readers have contacted me to say they found me through loving Sandra Antonelli and Lily Malone’s books (Georgina).
- Eight people instead of one are promoting the one site (through tweets, likes, etc).
- Eight people instead of one are creating the content for one site, so each person can spend less time on promotion. And we believe in recycling, so there’s no reason you can’t duplicate your own posts on your personal sites (blogs/websites) after they’ve appeared on the group site.
- Instead of one lonely little brain struggling to come up with ideas all on its ownsome, eight brains work together. Assuming each of us has an average IQ of 80 (is that the average?) our site now has an IQ of 640 (which means NASA will approach us with a job offer any day now). Also, we can bounce ideas off each other and have a few laughs while getting feedback and suggestions.
- With seven authors, that’s seven times whatever number of books each individual author has published to offer as giveaways or discounts on.
- With eight of us, each with their own contacts and networks, our reach (in terms of finding potential sponsors, interviewees, guests etc) is wider than the Russian mafia’s.
- Each of us writes in different styles and genres, so we’re able to bang on about a wider variety of things (which is more interesting for readers).
- Each of us brings their own particular skills, knowledge and interests to the group. Georgina is a podcast whizz, a dab website designer and builder, and has a feel for the overseas romance community. Rhyll is a keen editor, planner and schemer (she makes some third world dictators eyeing a small neighbouring country for annexation look sloppy). Lily understands the hell out of wine, marketing and self-pubbing, Sandra is our recipe, Twitter and coffee queen, Andra and Cate bring science and erotica to the table, Sarah and Roz share their reviewing expertise, ro-magic comedy and well-developed appreciation of Cthulhu and megalodon jokes.
- The best part is having other like-minded (i.e. fun) people to plan and speak with. Writing can be lonely, but promotion need not be. I think everyone’s energy starts to flag under the weight of promoting on their own. If your day involves working a full-time job (other than writing), meeting your family’s needs and trying to make sense of that manuscript you’re in the middle of writing, promotion can feel like many-tentacled beastie trying to drag you down. Having a group at your back to help you get the word out about your latest release and who’ll listen to you having a bit of a confidential rant, swear of happy moment is fantastic.
What have been your biggest hurdles to date?
They fall into two categories. The first is keeping track of the deadlines, who has submitted what, and what belongs to who, and where projects are at. Google Drive and Freedcamp are useful apps for sorting, backing up and tracking things. And time management. Luckily, if things go wrong, we tend to just giggle and snort at each other.
The second is managing our own crazy-keen ambition and understanding our limitations. For example, we started off with a pretty intense workload to get a decent amount of content on the site but now, six months down the track, we’ve realized that maintaining that workload isn’t necessary to get the traffic we want, so we’ve pulled things back a little and slowed down.
How many hours a month would you spend on the Naughty Ninjas? What types of tasks are involved?
When we started, lots! But things are much more streamlined now. Georgina spends about 18 to 20 hours a month all up taking care of formatting the podcast, the website and social media side of things (daily FB and Twitter posts) and Rhyll spends the equivalent on getting the newsletter out, scheduling, editing and all the vast minutiae of organising images for articles etc. On top of that there’s the time each Ninja takes to write their month’s articles/reviews, including any research, book reading etc. In Cate Ellink’s case, that involved knitting a merkin, sending it to Brunei and forever confounding the elderly gentleman at Customs.
We set everything up with a publishing calendar planned a month or two in advance, tied with a submission schedule designed to fill each planned item (recipe, review, interview) so if there are any problems in a given month, we’re covered.
Since we’ve got a light-fun based focus, we also try to theme things as much as possible. For example, if it’s national pedicure month, we’ll try to have several items about pedicures (and recipes with toenails).
A lot of brainstorming of ideas for promotion also goes on through Freedcamp. We also use Skype as well. Admittedly, the group Skype calls quickly degenerate into discussions of Cthulhu beanies and masturbation tents.
Is there anything you know now that you wish you’d known in the earliest days of the group?
Everything will take up double the time you expect it to, so have realistic expectations of both your and your group members’ capacity to get stuff done around life’s little (sometimes huge) hurdles.
What’s the difference between marketing yourself as a solo author and marketing a group of authors?
The main thing is having the knowledge that you’ve got a bunch of kickass ladies at your back when it comes to a book launch, a beta read, a celebration or a rant. We all come from different backgrounds so it’s great to have access to such a big pool of different skills and knowledge. And we all crack each other up. There’s nothing like a good laugh to dispel the blues after a bad day in the writing trenches.
Do you have any advice for writers who are interested in forming a group?
The main thing we’d say is don’t start a group with people who you probably wouldn’t be friends with socially. Get together a bunch of likeminded people who you know will be able to communicate well, who are comfortable with the content you want to post and the brand you want to promote. If those people make you laugh so hard that you snort tea (or coffee) through your nose, all the better!
Thanks so much for joining us today, Rhyll and Georgina, and for sharing your pearls of wisdom with us.
If you’d like to check out the Naughty Ninjas, you can do it via: