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The Casual Observer: Anatomy of a Multi-Author Blog

A Guest Post by Kosmo from The Casual Observer.

I am the founder and editor-in-chief of The Casual Observer, a site that has the goal of bringing an eclectic mix of fresh content to its readers every day.  We currently have ten authors contributing on a regular basis, with a handful of others writing an occasional article.  In a blogosphere dominated by niche-oriented, single author blogs, what makes The Casual Observer tick?

Why Multiple Authors?

When I started the site, I had no intention of involving multiple authors.  While I always intended for the site to contain an eclectic mix of content, I originally anticipated that I would write all the content.  The site took a slow turn toward being team written when a friend of mine mentioned that he was taking a trip to the 2009 Masters golf tournament.  I liked the idea of allowing the readers to see what goes on at Augusta, so I asked him to write a guest article.  I liked it so much that I asked him to come on board and write a weekly sports column.  This was in spite of the fact that I am a sports fanatic.  I liked what Johnny brought to the table in terms of writing talent, and his sports interests varied enough from mine to be complementary.

Over the course of the last year, I have approached other authors (or had them approach me) to write on various topics.  This has allowed me to move closer to my goal of provide diversity of content similar to that of a newspaper or magazine rather than the niche content that most blogs contain.  I knew from the start that this would be an uphill climb for readership, but my own varied interests made this more fun than a niche site.

Another reason for having multiple authors is the ability to produce more frequent content.  From day one, I have wanted to publish a new article every day, allowing readers to find a new edition of The Casual Observer at their virtual front door, much as they found the printed newspaper at their physical door.  With a full time job and two kids under the age of 3, this would be extremely difficult if I was the sole author.

How it Works

Very quickly, I laid out a document detailing the relationship between The Casual Observer and authors.  The basics were that the authors were considered independent contractors rather than employees (an important distinction in US tax law), that they retained copyright to their works, and that they should refrain from content that could be construed as defamation of character.

At the same time, I created a profit sharing agreement.  The gist of the profit sharing agreement is that after overhead costs (such as hosting) are deducted, advertising revenue would be shared proportionally, based on the number of articles an author wrote.

Am I putting the cart ahead of the horse by having a profit sharing agreement before there are actual profits?  My thought process was that it was better to have an agreement in place up front than to try to hammer one out three years down the road.  It’s much easier to get an agreement on how to split potential future income than actual current income.

Bumps in the Road

Has the path been smoothly paved and lined with fresh flowers?  Not always.  There are some problems that go along with multiple author blogs.

First and foremost, the other authors will miss deadlines.  It is a foregone conclusion that life events will sometimes prevent an author from getting an article submitted.  An author may even go on hiatus for a while when their life gets busier than usual.  When this happens, I try to put myself in the author’s shoes.  A non-paying writing gig is going to take a backseat at times.  It’s important to be able to fill these content voids when necessary.

Much more disturbing is the potential for plagiarism.  I was actually forced to sever the relationship with a former writer when I found evidence of plagiarism.  I was reviewing the current submission when I had a sudden case of déjà vu.  Where had I read this before?  Ah,yes.  CNN.  Multiple paragraphs had simply been copied and pasted.  A quick review of previous articles quickly found that they too had been copied from other sources.  At that point, I realized that I was probably a bit naïve to have complete trust in the honestly of my writers.  I now have a policy of randomly checking articles for originality – even when the author is a close friend.  I hate doing this, but it’s necessary to protect myself from copyright infringement claims.

What’s next?

I have been very pleased with the way The Casual Observer has progressed.  We currently have nearly 500 articles in our repository – ranging from sports to fiction to Middle East politics.  While I don’t anticipate a surge in the number of authors, I remain on the lookout for writers who could provide fresh content that would further enhance the reader’s enjoyment of the site.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Amy Harrison says:

    I’m a big fan of one voice niche blogs, but I like the idea of regular guest writers, or as in this case something more akin to columnists. You still retain a regular focus of expertise on their subject, but keep the variety of different voices.

    Interesting peek behind the scenes!

  2. McLaughlin says:

    I just signed up on a different multiblogger site, http://bloggertone.com/
    I have not posted yet, but over the last week they had a contest that they ran with bizSugar.com to increase the amount of authors that they have. Not sure if having a bunch of new authors would make anything better for you, but if you want more you can follow the same idea that they did.

  3. I think you had a lot of foresight to come up with how the relationship between you and your writers would work, that is something I wouldn’t have thought about until somewhere down the road, like maybe the end of the year when I usually start thinking about income taxes. Good luck with your blog!

  4. You’ve got a really awesome setup. Definitely a multiple author blog is a very good option, depending on your niche. I’ve wanted to expand and get a multiple author blog for a while now, but for one the blogs, I just don’t know anyone who would be interested, and for my chess blog, much of the advice I simply don’t agree with.

    But I’m still looking hard. I occasionally get a good guest post offer, but most people who guest post do it for their own blogs, and aren’t able to work for two blogs at once. I’ve got some connections in both my niches, luckily, and I’ve still got plenty of people to ask. Really great post, and I’d love to hear Darren’s thoughts on multi-author blogs.

  5. Nathan says:

    I’m a regular guest author for few blogs, but I know beside additional link and traffic, I won’t get much of it. But it doesn’t matter as I like writing.

    On my own blogs, I prefer one voice – my own. I’m happy to have guest authors writing for me just as I’m writing guest posts for others, they get “paid” in author credit and links and that’s OK for them. I can’t really imagine a blog with multiple authors that write regular posts and share profits. It just seems wrong ;)

  6. Dave Higgs says:

    A great idea for sure.

    I agree with the idea of setting up a profit share before there is a profit – something I have done in every JV I have started – but I would try to make the profit split more quality than quantity split.

  7. Jeffrey says:

    Whenever I hear about people having other people write posts on their blog it gets me thinking about how much bigger and how much faster my blog would grow if I were to have more then one author. Myself!

    However, this seems really intriguing I’m going to stick to just myself on my blog for a while. Maybe in the future I will write for other people and allow other people to post articles on my blog as well.

    I am a huge southern California sports fan and I’m sure I would be able to write lots of great content about that. Actually I know I would. It would be nice to change things up every once in a while instead of just writing about relationship advice on my blog.

  8. Srinivas Rao says:

    I’ve contemplated the idea of regular guest contributors, but have opted against it. I think that multi author projects are going to have a big future. There’s many successful multi-author blogs out there and it’s good to see some best practices for how to do this. By their nature they are challenging, especially when the writers are unpaid. That being said, if you get an unpaid regular contribution opportunity at a blog that’s substantially bigger than yours, then it’s definitely a worthwhile effort.

  9. Adrienne says:

    I like blogs that have the occasional guest blogger. I expect multi author reading on news sites but I want to read one author on blogs.

    Determining pay before there are profits is smart that way the amount stays low.

  10. Nick says:

    Hi. I just launched my own multi-author blog, Im struggling a little to get authors though to be honest, and probably just realised why, the incentive isn’t good enough! I wasn’t actually going to pay them, I was looking for authors that were business owners, charity organisers or niche publishers in my local area that were looking to promote themselves, their business etc in exchange for content. I suppose greed sometimes gets the better of us, maybe a share of the revenues might just be the ticket. Thanks for that. I also dont know many multi-author blogs out there, so Im glad to see you on problogger, I’ll check your site out a bit more and sign up to your rss feed.

  11. I think it is good to have a multi-author blog because it helps gain perspectives and opinions from different people

  12. Kevin says:

    Multi-authors is a great way to spice up your blog with different voices and expertise on more than one area.

    I like your idea of randomly checking articles- it really hurts a blog’s search rankings when there is duplicated content.

  13. Wannabe says:

    I find reading different views on the same blog a ‘ blessing’

  14. This is very useful article for me, I actually have a multiple author blog, and I am trying to collect team authors at the mean time, I am still finding the future of FamousBloggers.net , of course authors all the time miss deadlines even if you don’t ask for too much, I mean one post per week! but because I didn’t go to the level of having them as employees or contracting with them yet probably there is no commitments from their side till now!

    I am calling it a volunteering effort, and win win cooperation!

    Thank you again for the very useful article!

  15. Peter says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience. It is very helpful to plan things out for me too.

  16. First of all, thanks to Darren for publishing my article on ProBlogger.

    Second, thanks for the comments and for the many visits to The Casual Observer today. Hopefully many of you will come back in the future.

    I’d like to extend an offer to the readers of ProBlogger. If you visit my store @ http://www.hyraxpublications.com/store/ , simple use the coupon code PROBLOG20 to save 20% of purchases (excluding writers’ tip jars). My recently launched 9 page guide to short story writing was already on sale – this discount knocks it down to 79 cents.

    OK, enough with the self promotion. I’d love to be able to respond to everyone in detail, but with a baby in the house, I’m not going to have the time. I’ll try to answer several, though, and I appreciate all of the comments, even ones that I don’t respond to.

    @ Daniel Johnston – Most of the time, I have simply sought out writers whom I felt had good thought to share with people. None of these people were “bloggers” per se.

    As for writers giving advice that you don’t agree with, I see some shades of gray with this. If it’s advice that is just flat out wrong (“Sacrifice your queen early and often”) that’s one thing. If it’s a debatable issue (“The best way to use the Ruy Lopez against the Berlin Defense”), that’s more acceptable. I have four political columnists on the site. Two are liberal and two are conservative. Obviously, I’m going to disagree with at least half of the political articles on the site. However, since I see myself as an editor, it’s OK to have my writers disagree with me.

    @ Nathan – So, then, Consumerist and such multi-author, profitable blogs are wrong? :)

    @ Hesham – I agree that one article per week (or, in the case of several of my writers, one article a month) doesn’t seem like much of a commitment. However, as the father or two young children, I can fully understand how “real-life” obligations can get in the way. Personally, I’m working on a novel that I’ve had to push to the back for a while until I have more free time.

    I’ll check in later tonight and again tomorrow and respond to more comments. Thanks for everyone’s input.

  17. Kosmo.,, Congrats on the guest blog buddy. I hope this is a big step in making your blog profitable.

  18. I have had a few guest bloggers over the last year.

    I got burnt on the duplicate content issue with one of them. Needless to say they no longer write for the site any longer.

    I’m always looking for passionate people that are looking to collaborate. Guest blogging is great for everyone involved.

    A mutli-author blog is a great idea with profit sharing from products or affiliate programs.

    Even another idea is to build up a blog with multiple people and then sell it with flippa and split the profits.

    Ian

  19. Multiple authors bring different opinions to a blog.

  20. Sometimes if can get a bit confusing when you’re accustomed to reading a one voice blog. You have to scroll up to see who wrote it. thanks for the info

  21. We also have a number of bloggers, and just recently had an incident with someone that we trusted very much regarding plagiarism. It was very disappointing to say the least, but the other website owner was very understanding when we apologized and took the content down. Now I am in a similar situation where I feel nervous about running copyscape on every contributor’s article that they include.

  22. I wouldn’t have thought about until somewhere down the road, like maybe the end of the year when I usually start thinking about income taxes.

  23. Leslie Bates says:

    Thus far, my cousin and I are the primary contributors for our 3-month-old Irrational Family humor blog. We welcome and have posted contributions from family, friends and new acquaintances (everyone has irrational and dysfunctional family and friends, after all). Congrats, Kosmo, on the article – sound advice from a seasoned blogger which is much appreciated. Thanks, too, for the opportunity to advertise on your site. I am scrambling to become more knowledgeable of this blogging world and am grateful for all of the “street smarts” and “lessons learned” folks have shared. Love your website, Darren – it’s a wealth of useful information – I look forward to getting the email each day.

  24. I am the co-founder of a multiple author music blog and the experience is wonderful. We actually have nine authors and most weeks end up with 10-12 articles.

    We do have a featured column every day, ranging from my Monday morning Blues column to a Sounds Of Joy column on Sunday.

    What is cool is that we have some readers who read every day, some a few days, and others just read it one day a week. The variety makes the experience exciting, and the traffic is growing by leaps and bounds.

  25. Mo says:

    I’m fascinated by your site, heading over there right now! I’ve often considered starting or participating in a multiple-author blog of sorts and this reminded me that I would love to do that some day.

  26. I tried to post this response yesterday, but Darren’s spam filter ate it (or at least threw it into the moderate queue) – probably because of the link to my store. So Ill re-post without the link. If you see a duplicate post from me, this is the reason.

    First of all, thanks to Darren for publishing my article on ProBlogger.

    Second, thanks for the comments and for the many visits to The Casual Observer today. Hopefully many of you will come back in the future.

    I’d like to extend an offer to the readers of ProBlogger. If you visit my store (see link in blue bar at top), simply use the coupon code PROBLOG20 to save 20% of purchases (excluding writers’ tip jars). My recently launched 9 page guide to short story writing was already on sale – this discount knocks it down to 79 cents.

    OK, enough with the self promotion. I’d love to be able to respond to everyone in detail, but with a baby in the house, I’m not going to have the time. I’ll try to answer several, though, and I appreciate all of the comments, even ones that I don’t respond to.

    @ Daniel Johnston – Most of the time, I have simply sought out writers whom I felt had good thought to share with people. None of these people were “bloggers” per se.

    As for writers giving advice that you don’t agree with, I see some shades of gray with this. If it’s advice that is just flat out wrong (“Sacrifice your queen early and often”) that’s one thing. If it’s a debatable issue (“The best way to use the Ruy Lopez against the Berlin Defense”), that’s more acceptable. I have four political columnists on the site. Two are liberal and two are conservative. Obviously, I’m going to disagree with at least half of the political articles on the site. However, since I see myself as an editor, it’s OK to have my writers disagree with me.

    @ Nathan – So, then, Consumerist and such multi-author, profitable blogs are wrong? :)

    @ Hesham – I agree that one article per week (or, in the case of several of my writers, one article a month) doesn’t seem like much of a commitment. However, as the father or two young children, I can fully understand how “real-life” obligations can get in the way. Personally, I’m working on a novel that I’ve had to push to the back for a while until I have more free time.

    @ Living With Balls and Leslie Bates – Thanks. I enjoy the relationships I’ve had with you. Leslie as a reader and advertister and LWB as a reader and onetime colloborator (an Olympics prediction content)

    @ Adsense Alternative – One thing I’ve done to make the author more obvious is to put their Gravatar at the top (in addition to their name) and a blurb about the author at the bottom.. If you’ve been around a while, you know what Kosmo looks like, and Goodman, etc. For people who don’t have a Gravatar, I’ve used the image of a lion I shot last summer (shot with my Samsung) and emblazoned the name over the top.

    This also makes it more apparent when I have forgotten to change the author to the other person. For some reason, I have accidentally left the author set to “Kosmo” on several of Johnny Goodman’s sports articles. I catch it really quick, though – when I pull up the article and see my face at the top instead of Johnny’s.

  27. Laura says:

    They say variety is the spice of life and I tend to agree with that statement. Probably why I enjoy blogs, forums and articles as well as writing them. I’m still toying around with starting my own blog. The idea of contributing to someone else’s blog I would love to try!

  28. Debra says:

    I found this article interesting. I didn’t actually know there were blogs with co-authors out there. Sounds intriguing to me, I’ll head over now and check it out.

    Some how the fiction idea got stuck in my mind after reading this, I must have a need to write a story in me somewhere. I’ll look for that too.

    Thanks for the post.

  29. @ Multilingual Mania – Luckily, I caught the plagiarism before it was reported to me. For operators of multi-author blogs who have the unpleasant experience of being confronted by an angry content owner, I’d suggest apologizing early and often. There’s not worse crime amongst writers. Well, maybe using “it’s” when you mean “its”.

    My quick and dirty method is to copy/paste a few mid-article sentences from the article search Google for that exact passage.

  30. I have recently added some guest contributors on my blog. I am taking this very slowly, as it can be complicated, as you shared. The folks I have invited are experts and respected in their fields and WE are helping each other build value and grow our brands. The more voices, ideas and diversity you can build for the readers and public, I believe the more interesting and collaborative you are perceived. Although I think I have a lot to say, a chorus is more powerfull than one voice. Thanks for the post.

  31. @ Debra – The world needs more fiction – give it a try! I really do think that my guide to short story writing can help people who are just starting out. It’s really geared toward beginners, and priced to be affordable for everyone. As mentioned earlier, if you use the coupon code PROBLOG20, you can get it for 79 cents. You might find a better bargain somewhere else – but if you do, let me know about it! :)

    (OK, the commercial ends and we resume the normal response to comments)

    @ Deborah Shane – Yes, it definitely is complicated. Not only the interactions with the writers, but the technical side of things as well. I integration writer-based content into several areas of the site. This means doing a fair amount of manual work when I set up each writer, as well as pleading with them to set up a Gravatar and trying to have them send articles on deadling.

    It’s worth it, though. Not only does it allow me to provide quality content for the readers of The Casual Observer, but it also gives me good stuff to read :)

  32. I suppose it can be a headache to co-ordinate the multiple authors, but it does seem to be a good move in the long term.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences with us.

  33. Nick says:

    QUESTION: I hear a few of you talking about plagiarism and the negative effect it will have on your google rankings/results. My site has a section on it that promotes local businesses, the information is taken directly from their sites, will this effect my sites visability???

  34. Really great post – I started seeking guest contributors for my marriage and relationship blog a few years ago and it’s been really nice to have different voices around how to best help couples in their marriages and relationships. It’s getting more difficult to get people to submit now – that’s the only downfall. So many others doing the same!

  35. Hi guys,

    Having multiple authors is a very good idea. Because you have a variety of articles to read. Which makes everything very interesting and exciting.

    Kind regards,

    Sam
    X

  36. I have just obtained my first contributor to the site, she is a sexy geek and is taking over the gadgets section, I am not paying her at the minute though, simply because I am not earning much from the site yet, I am focussing on the content quakity first.

    I think it is important to let people write for you, it adds diversity to your site and can encourage some excellent writers to showcase there work who are not technically minded enough to start there own blog.

    I also think that more blogs should encourage this, too much am I finding some of the larger blogs being cagey and not letting others in, blogging is about sharing and expression and letting other people write for you is part of that. I for one hope that one day to have a nice closely knit team of peopel writing for me, and I intent to make that dream a reality. Greta post.

  37. chandan says:

    Multi-author blog perform good than other blogs, due to their posting frequency, each author can share their different opinion blogs, I like the SEOmoz blog which is one multi-author blog, the blog provide information on the best SEO strategy.

  38. Aglolink says:

    Nice site, that’s really interesting blog for multi author.

  39. @ Nick – My concern was completely related to the fact that plagiarism is morally wrong. I’ve heard varying things about the effect of duplicate content on SEO. I’m definitely not an SEO expert, so I’ll refrain from going into detail.

    @ Adam – Try, try again. I’ve had guest posts a few other blogs (Lazy Man and Money, Life Laughs and Lemmings, 40 Tech, The World’s Strongest Librarian, The Digerati Life – and a couple more than will appear later this week).

    Has my first submission always been accepted? But I kept trying and eventually wrote something that was a good fit for the blog. If you can create quality content for the other blog, it’s really a win-win. They get free content, and you get exposure.

    I can’t imagine why a blog would turn away high-quality content that is properly focused toward their audience. Hopefully the other bloggers are giving you contructive feedback?

    btw, you might enjoy LivingWithBalls.com – seems like there is some overlap in focus.

  40. Kosmo, I have a question. When someone comes to you and proposes the write a guest article (or series of guest articles) for you. 1) What are you looking to get out of it, besides great content 2) What are you expecting to give back in return, in terms of promotion.

    I believe there is tremendous opportunity for synergies, but find some blog owners a bit stand off-ish when it comes to Guest posts.

    Mark

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  42. @ Mark – Mostly, I’m just looking to get great content. I guess I’m not sure what else I’d be looking for. If the writer can link to it from their own blog, or tweet the link, etc that’s great, but I’m mostly interested in quality content. It doesn’t even need to be laden with SEO keywords. For my purposes, “interesting story” > “SEO optimization”.

    In terms of what I give back in the way of promotion? I’ll happily include a mini-bio and a link to the author’s blog. Other than that, I don’t do anything particularly different than how I publicize my other posts – Twitter, NetworkedBlogs on Facebook, and linking to it via Comment-Luv enabled blogs. I don’t do much with Digg, Stumble, etc. Unfortunately, as an old guy (34) with a job, wife, kids, commute, etc, I can’t spend as much time promoting as I would like.

    As for the “standoffish” blogs, I’m assuming that they do accept some guest posts? Or do they NEVER accept guest posts? Some people just prefer to write all of their site’s content. For me, the practical impossibility opened the door to having others write for me.

    I’ve also been on your side of the fence many times. I’ve had guest posts on a half dozen blogs with wide-ranging topics. I plan to write an article about this on The Casual Observer this weekend. A key point it to keep trying. Few people have their first submission accepted.

  43. Jaszy says:

    I’ve been so busy with my multi-author blog that I’m just getting to reading all my blog subscriptions for the week…but I am so glad that I read this! Congrats Kosmo on the success of your blog.

    Personally I like to think of my blog as my little family of eco-enthusiasts. We support one another’s blogs via social networking and I support them with serious link juice as well.

    Like you, I had no intention of supporting a multi-author blog when I began but I like the idea of adding different voices to the conversation, of course our niche centers around green and conscious living so that may make it a bit easier to handle. Though at times it can be a bit much trying to keep track of everyone, but having an editorial calendar certainly helps.

    Enough of my rambling…thanks for sharing. I wish you continued success!

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