When it comes to running a multi-author blog, one of the biggest challenges is in the content: soliciting, editing and publishing it.
If you only publish one or two posts each week, you can afford to be sloppy with your systems, relying heavily on email to organize your editorial flow. But once you grow your site to the point where you’re publishing three posts each week, then a post a day, then multiple posts each day, you’ll need a better process.
Through our work growing large blogs like The Write Life and Brazen Careerist, my team and I have experimented to determine which systems and tools work best. This guide answers the questions we field often -- How do you find writers? Do you pay contributors? And how do you keep track of everything? -- as well as questions new editors don’t realize they should ask.
Whether you want to manage a blog for a large company or launch a solopreneur venture to create your own unique income, this four-phase tutorial will help you get there. We’ll focus on soliciting content, vetting pitches, editing posts and hitting publish. And if you have questions once we’ve gone through it all, I’m happy to answer in the comments.
Phase One: Solicit Content
The big challenge, especially when you first launch a multi-author blog, is getting enough quality submissions. While both the quality and quantity of contributions will increase over time, you can do a handful of things from the beginning to make filling your editorial calendar a little less stressful.
Step 1: Create Author Guidelines (And Make Them Specific)
Include details like what type of content you’re looking for, how writers should submit and how long they can expect to wait until their post runs on the blog. You might also add links to several posts that have performed well to serve as examples. (If you’re starting from scratch, you can always add those in later.)
In addition to communicating what you’re looking for, putting these guidelines together will force you to dig deep into what type of content you really want, what will perform best with your readers.
In our author guidelines for The Write Life, we also include a short checklist for writers before they submit, which means less work for us once we receive the post.
Here are a few examples of helpful guidelines for writers:
- Muck Rack
- Make a Living Writing
- Tuts+ Network
Bonus tip: You might also create a short link for your guidelines and customize it; for example, our Brazen guidelines live at http://bit.ly/brazenguide. That makes it easy for you to share with anyone who’s interested in writing for you, and for your writers to share with others.
Step 2: Decide Whether You’ll Pay for Posts or Ask Writers to Contribute for Free
Why do this after creating your author guidelines? Because whether you need to pay for content depends largely on what you want contributors to write about. The more specific the topic, the more likely you’ll need to pay to get your hands on it.
The fortunate truth for blog editors -- and unfortunate for experienced writers -- is that plenty of writers are willing to write for free. So long as you offer non-monetary perks (more on that soon), you’ll likely be able to populate your blog without opening your wallet.
Sometimes though, you’ll want to assign a post on a specific topic, which is why my team uses a hybrid free-paid model for most of the blogs we manage. Here’s how it works: Writers either earn money (we pay $50/post) or a link in their author bio back to the site of their choice. Several other well-known blogs, including, for example, Mashable, use or have used this model, too.
Why? Because most quality bloggers, when presented with the choice between a link and $100 or less (which, let’s face it, is what most blogs pay if they can afford to pay at all), go for the link. They value the back-link, visibility and website traffic more than the money. As a blog editor who likely has only a small budget to work with, this can work in your favor.
If you’re willing to pay for posts, make sure to add that to your contributor guidelines, as that will set your blog apart.
Step 3: Reach Out to Writers You Want to Contribute
Over time, you’ll begin to receive unsolicited contributions, but at the beginning, you’ll have to do a lot of legwork to find people to write for the blog.
If you don’t have a stable of writers from other projects to choose from, your best bet is to approach writers who have their own blog on the topic you’re covering. Not only will they already know how to write engaging blog posts, but they’ll also already have a following they’ll share the post with, which will do wonders to help you grow your blog. As an added bonus, if you reach out to bloggers who aren’t yet at the height of their blogging career, they’ll be eager for exposure and keen to write for you.
So how do you convince writers to say yes?
Compensation helps, but it’s not the end-all. In fact, for top-notch writers, even hundreds of dollars for a post won’t entice them because they can make more elsewhere. So regardless of whether you pay for posts, you want to make writing for your site appealing in other ways.
That starts with having an awesome site writers will be proud to contribute to and add to their portfolio. Then, of course, there’s the author bio with a link or two back to their site. Let writers know you’ll do everything in your power to get eyes on their work, including sharing it through your newsletter of subscribers, on your Facebook page with fans and with your Twitter followers (be sure to emphasis the size of each of these). If your site sees decent traffic, don’t be afraid to put that number out there, too.
Finally, look for opportunities to over-deliver, especially for unpaid writers. Maybe you tweet about the author’s latest ebook from your personal Twitter feed. Or introduce the writer via email to another blog editor who would love their work. The blogosphere is all about reciprocal favors, so be generous and that love will come back to you.
Step 4: Develop a Core Group of Contributors
You can do this from the get-go, or wait until you have a steady stream of posts coming in to see which authors you prefer to work with. Either way, move toward developing a core group of contributors as soon as possible.
Taking this approach will help your site from a branding perspective, because readers will begin to recognize the names of contributors they like reading and come back for more. But it also makes your job easier. Having a core group of contributors means you’ll spend less time reaching out to new writers, and the quality of the posts you receive will be higher. Over time, your writers will know what types of posts you prefer and learn all the little details around how to submit, which results in less work for you.
Once you’ve created that core group — and remember, it can change over time depending on the needs of you and your writers — add extra incentives just for those writers. Push their posts to the front of your editing queue and add them to a contributors page that’s featured on the blog. You might even create a (private) Facebook group where regular contributors can network with one another and share ideas. Telling the group about wins for individual writers or the blog as a whole via the Facebook group is also a great way to build loyalty.
Step 5: Over Time, Build a List of Quality Writers
In addition to your regular contributors, keep a running list of writers who contribute awesome posts on a one-time basis, and check in with them once in a while, asking whether they’d like to write again. This is also the list you’ll turn to when you want to assign a post on a specific topic.
As your list begins to grow, take it a step further and create your own database of writers. We started one on a whim so we could find writers when we need them, and it has grown into a gold mine of 500+ writers. You can add writers to it yourself, but we’ve found success with letting writers add themselves.
Here’s why that works: writers want to be included. They want to know about writing opportunities, and they’re happy to be part of any initiative that might help them learn about paid writing gigs. Win for them; win for us.
Growing this list has taken almost no effort on our part. We use a Google Form that makes it easy for writers to submit their information and equally easy for us to view their responses and search via keyword. When we want to communicate with the entire list — for example, let them know about a new blog we’re managing that we need writers for — we import their email addresses into MailChimp and send a quick newsletter. Writers rarely unsubscribe because they want to hear from us.
Phase Two: Vet Pitches
Now that you’ve convinced people to write for your blog, the real editorial work begins: sifting through the pile of pitches that hit your inbox.
Step 1: Don't Be Afraid to Kick the Garbage to the Curb
While we all aim for a high volume of pitches, you might be surprised to find yourself wading through an overwhelming number of irrelevant emails from PR companies and spammy SEO firms. Don’t feel like you have to respond to everyone. Instead, simply delete; it will save you loads of time.
Or, if you’re really smart, create Gmail filters for those unwanted emails so future messages from those senders go directly to spam.
Step 2: Set Your Quality Bar High
Set your expectations high from the beginning. Remember: every time you accept a post that’s not up to your standards, you have to spend time editing it. All that time adds up, so if you’re on the fence about a submission, just say no.
Don’t fall into the trap of accepting posts that don’t meet your quality standards because you feel bad for the writer or want to help them land a byline; it will come back to bite you.
If you receive a submission that’s almost where it needs to be, ask the writer to make specific changes before going at it with your editing pen. That one additional round of revisions will either make the post easier for you to edit, or make it clear to you that the post will never get to where it needs to be, so you can gently let the author know to find it another home.
Step 3: Love the Heck Out of Canned Responses
No doubt, you’ll find yourself responding to emails with the same notes again and again. To save yourself time and energy, lean heavily on Gmail’s Canned Responses. Here are a few examples of responses you’ll use often:
- The (gentle and respectful) rejection. Example: “Thanks so much for thinking of us, but this post isn’t quite right for our audience.”
- Point people toward your guidelines. Example: “We’d be happy to consider a guest post from you. Please follow our guidelines: http://tinyurl.com/example.”
Response to PR folks who pitch experts. Rather than straight-up deleting the email, let them know you don’t need sources but do need posts. Example: “Thanks for thinking of us, but we don’t look for sources, only guest posts.” Doesn’t hurt to tack on the guideline link there, too.
- Acceptance and next steps. Yes! The emails we all love responding to. Example: “What a great post; we’d be happy to run it on our blog. Please give us two weeks or so to edit it, then we’ll be back in touch with a publication date.”
Gmail’s stars and labels also come in handy for this part of the game. The bigger your blog grows, the more essential it is to be organized.
Phase 3: Edit Posts
Speaking of being organized, here’s where it really counts. If you don’t have your ducks in a row when it comes to editing contributions, posts will fall through the cracks. Worse, you’ll annoy your best asset: your writers.
If you’re only editing and publishing a few posts a week, letting them sit in your email inbox until they’re ready to go should work just fine. But once you get beyond the three-posts-a-week threshold and maybe even add additional editors to your team, you’ll desperately need a better system.
Step 1: Forget Microsoft Word
Word might be the best platform for tracking changes, but it’s absolutely dreadful for collaborating, mostly because you have to attach the document — the newest version of the document — to an email every time it switches hands.
That’s why you’ll want to create some other system for editing and collaborating with writers. Plenty of WordPress plug-ins (like Edit Flow, for example) and stand-alone platforms (like Editorially) will do the job, and lots of editors swear by them. There are a number of collaborative writing apps to consider working with.
Step 2: Experiment to Find a System that Works for You
The tools above, however, work best when you’re collaborating with a regular team of writers, lest you have to explain to every new contributor how to use it. For most of the blogs we manage, my team accepts more posts from guest contributors than recurring writers, so those tools feel cumbersome and are more trouble than they’re worth.
That’s why we’ve developed our own system that allows us to easily pass posts between writers and editors, without letting anything fall through the cracks. Our editing funnel is in Google Docs, and consists of a handful of folders that each represent one step in the process.
Here’s how this looks in Google Docs:
In this example, the assignment editor adds a post to the first step, the copy and content editor works her magic and moves it to the second step, then the intern or admin turns the post into a WordPress draft and moves it into the “done” folder. This is a simple version, but several of our editing funnels have additional steps, such as one where an SEO expert pops in to improve the headline.
Organizing your system in this way allows one editor to do all the steps or multiple editors to jump in as needed. If you give all editors access to the entire funnel from the beginning, you won’t have to share each individual document; everyone will gain access once the post is added to the funnel.
Remember this is just one way to organize the editing process. The right approach is to figure out what works best for you.
Phase 4: Hit Publish
Step 1: Use Free Tools for Scheduling
When it comes to managing your editorial calendar, you probably don’t need more than free tools like Google Calendar and, if you’re using WordPress, an Editorial Calendar plug-in. Both are easy to share with co-editors.
Here’s what our upcoming posts look like for Brazen in Editorial Calendar. Once you’ve got your schedule set, you can easily change status from “draft” to “scheduled” right from this screen.
Step 2: Promote Like Crazy
While promotion and growing a community around your blog is a topic for another post, we create a post-publication checklist for each blog we manage to help each post reach as many eyes as possible. For example, every time we publish a post on The Write Life, we:
- Share it on Facebook.
- Schedule several tweets via Hootsuite that include the @handle of the author.
- Create a quote image and share it on Pinterest (see examples here), and, a few days later, on Facebook.
- Include the post in our weekly newsletter.
- Email the author to let them know it went live, with the hopes that they’ll share it with their network.
- Add the author’s Google+ URL to their author profile to boost the post in search.
One Final Tip
Once you figure out the blog-management system that works best for you, write it down. Create a step-by-step process and include all the little details that make your blog run smoothly.
This will ensure that all your editors are on the same page (if you have multiple editors). It will also help you replicate the process for the next blog you manage.
What questions do you have about managing a multi-author blog?
Photo credit: Some rights reserved by OCHA Visual Information Unit.