Author Archives: John McDonald

Book Communities: a Powerful Tool for Author Discovery and Promotion

The rapid growth of the Internet has painfully disrupted the music and newspaper industries, but there’s ample evidence book publishing is going to come out a winner in their digital transformation. Why? We think it’s because they’ve got community on their side. We’ve seen successful book-focused communities on Ning since we opened up shop, and we’re seeing them grow like no other category. It seems to mirror the wider trends in book publishing.

More books by more people, less from corporations and trees

According to Publishers Weekly, starting in 2008 more books were self-published than those published traditionally. The following year, the number rose to 76% of books being produced by self-publishers or micro-niche publishers. The trends are easy to spot: Online retailers such as Amazon give authors global distribution. The Kindle and iPad are radically changing the way people read. Social platforms offer powerful new ways for authors to efficiently reach a huge audience and for readers to discover new authors. The trends become even more radical when you consider the rise of ebooks. An estimated 3 million books were published in the US in 2011 – up from only 300,000 in 2003!

More people turning to communities to read and be read

These seismic shifts in publishing and reading options have forced emerging authors and their publishers to dream up innovative ways to reach new readers and cultivate the loyalty of existing readers. Increasingly they’re using community platforms like Ning to introduce themselves to new readers, celebrate their biggest fans, and in some cases, extend the philosophy or mission espoused in their books. For readers, these communities are a fantastic way to discover emerging authors, meet favorite authors up close and personal, and in some networks, role play their favorite characters.


Places to discover your next good read

Many of the first online book communities created on Ning were a place for authors to collaborate with each other and introduce themselves to readers. These have frequently focused on a single genre of books. A great example is, “a place for readers and writers of crime fiction to meet”. Daniel Hatadi has grown this community to almost 4,000 highly engaged members since launching it in 2007. Another highly successful community is Book Blogs with an astounding 19,000 author and reader members. Razorbill Books, a young-adult fiction division of Penguin Canada, launched in 2011. It’s a space where readers can find out about anticipated titles before they launch and get up close and personal with acclaimed authors. It’s a unique venue for Razorbill’s authors to promote their books.

A space to cultivate a fan base

Book communities on Ning have also naturally evolved to be places where individual authors can reach their readers. Gena Showalter, a leading romance novel writer, launched community as her main website in 2010.  Since then, over 16,000 of her most loyal fans have joined the community to interact with Gena and each other on a daily basis. They find out the latest news about upcoming novels, watch video interviews of Gena and join groups of other readers with similar interests.

Some authors take an if-you-build-it-they-will-come approach to community. Kit Berry, the successful young-adult author of the Stonewylde Series, began by building a loyal following of over 1,000 readers with her “home-grown social network site” — which then led to a book deal with the Orion Publishing Group. (Read about her smart community approach on Futurebook.) Kit is an active participant in her community – blogging, responding to discussion posts, and posting photos and videos.

It won’t be surprising to hear that a number of publishers have built online communities for individual authors to attract and cultivate fans.  Little, Brown Books has grown the community to almost 5,000 fans of the series of novels written by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. Penguin Young Readers launched the community in 2010 and used it to build a loyal following for Richelle Mead of over 6,000 members.

Hachette Book Group has leveraged online communities to activate fans for several of their authors.  One of the most prominent is James Patterson. is an active community where over 51,000 fans of this mystery and thriller author can bond with each other and rave about the author. is an even bigger community of over 68,000 fans focusing on his science fiction Maximum Ride, Daniel X and Witch & Wizard series and novels.


Fans who show up to play

One of the most interesting (and powerful) trends with online author communities encompasses role-playing and fan fiction. Stephenie Meyer’s (managed by the Hachette Book Group) is a touchstone community that has spawned hundreds more communities. Many of the 500,000 members of join a team and act out the lives of their favorite characters from the Twilight series of books. Twilight Saga readers can join the independent or communities to act out their favorite characters. Too young for Twilight? Harry Potter fans can join one of the four Hogwarts houses and have fun with 42,000 other fans on Based on the massive success of these communities, it’s clear that a younger generation of readers sees books and reading as more than just reading books.


A broader mission

Online communities can be an even more powerful solution for authors when they use their writing as a springboard to a larger purpose.  Gabrielle Bernstein launched the Women’s Entrepreneurial Network just one year out of college and has been a motivational speaker since 2004. She self-published her first book, Add More ~ing to Your Life: A Hip Guide to Happiness, in 2010.  Her second book, Spirit Junkie: A Radical Road to Self-Love and Miracles, was published by Random House in 2011. At the same time her motivational books were achieving wide distribution, she built into a vibrant community over 21,000 strong where Gabrielle shares her philosophy and works with other women to mentor, inspire and connect with each other.

After successfully battling a rare and incurable form of cancer through nutrition, Kris Carr made a documentary about her journey and published a companion book, Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips. Her Crazy Sexy attitude expanded with more books, including Crazy Sexy Diet, targeted at anyone looking for a healthier lifestyle. She launched as a companion to her books. Over 37,000 readers and adherents interact with this “wellness warrior” — and each other — on a daily basis.

One of the latest examples of using writing as a springboard is,  a community launched by author Kristen Lamb. Kristen is the author of two best-selling books providing insights for authors to use social media to build a loyal fan base of readers. brings together creative professionals who are dedicated to supporting one another. Since launching only 2 months ago, this community has quickly grown to over 1,300 members — proof that “We Are Not Alone” is a powerful idea!

All told, that’s 16 popular communities on Ning that are serving more than 650,000 members — and that’s not nearly all of the book communities on Ning! We expect this trend of book lovers and bookmakers using Ning for community will continue to mirror ongoing trends. Book publishing isn’t just being disrupted but being remade into something that genuinely incorporates the enthusiasm we all have for our favorite books — by giving us a place to share it.

Introducing the Ning VIP Plan

like buttons Today, we’re rolling out a new Ning plan for customers who need extra special treatment: the Ning VIP plan.

Ning has become known as a flexible, powerful social platform. Within minutes, anyone can create an online community that’s completely custom. A wide range of individuals, organizations and companies depend on Ning to bring people together – right down to the smallest groups that may only have a few dozen members.

Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen Ning Creators take the platform to a whole new level. Many successful communities with big audiences are generating significant revenue. Others use Ning as a co-publishing platform to fuel social conversations for their brand and products. These customers are demanding more from Ning. They need to be confident that their network won’t go down. And, if something serious does happen, they need to know Ning will respond quickly, even at 3 a.m. on a Sunday morning. They need an account manager who understands their objectives, the progress they’ve made with their network and the challenges they face – someone who can provide a high level of service and advice. They also need deeper metrics to understand how members are interacting on their network and sharing content on the social web.  And, they need professional design services so they can launch a community that communicates their brand and values.

We frequently receive inquiries for this higher level of service and premium SLA (service level agreement) from prospective customers as well. Up until now, we haven’t offered a subscription plan or a dedicated team who can address these needs. In several cases, we’ve negotiated a special deal and tasked a number of internal support and engineering resources to deliver this special treatment. With others, the customer either purchased a Ning Pro subscription or we lost out on their business.

Today, I’m excited to announce the launch of the Ning VIP Plan:

  • Guaranteed uptime
  • Point-in-time recovery back-ups
  • 24/7 IT support for urgent issues
  • A dedicated account manager
  • Monthly social engagement reporting
  • Launch consultation and training
  • Professional design and development
  • 1 Terabyte of storage and 10 Terabytes per month of bandwidth

Due to the location and time zone of our VIP account managers, we can initially only deliver the VIP Plan to customers in the U.S., Canada and Germany. If you’re interested in the new Ning VIP plan, please give us a call at 1-866-992-0971 (U.S. and Canada) or 0800-101-4903 (Germany).

Make Money Online! Experts Only Need Apply. (That’s You)

Do a quick search on Google for “make money online”, and it’s easy to come to the conclusion that the only people making money on the Internet are selling dubious pyramid schemes, questionable stock tips, and pharmaceutical-grade, Canadian Viagra. Where are all the small businesspeople — the folks with a great idea, an entrepreneurial spirit, and the drive to succeed? How are they going about it? We’re happy to report that some of these people are succeeding quite well on Ning — by simply shaping a business model around their expertise.

As expected, we’ve seen a frenzy of entrepreneurial activity by Network Creators in the first three months since the optional Paid Access add-on was released. Many of the early success stories are of Network Creators using either Paid Groups or Paid Membership to monetize their expertise. Richard Robinson and Kay Petal were already offering local and video workshops for a fee. Paid Access enabled them to offer their expertise to a broader online audience in a rich, interactive way. Ariel Meadows Stallings has achieved great success in building the 20,000+ member Offbeat Bride Tribe community and was searching for new ways to generate income from the network. We want to share their stories so other entrepreneurs can get an idea of the possibilities that exists for monetizing a Ning Network.

Offbeat Bride Tribe

It all started with one fiercely independent bride who wanted to do things her own way. When it came time to get married, Ariel Meadow Stallings realized she didn’t want to blindly go through with all the trappings of a traditional wedding. Instead, she forged her own path and wrote about her experience in a book called Offbeat Bride. The blog she launched to promote the book grew to include daily updates of “wedding porn” — irresistible photos from real-life, offbeat weddings — along with advice and inspiration to over 200,000 readers. In late 2007, she created a private Ning Network for members of her rapidly growing Offbeat Bride Tribe who are actively planning their weddings. The network has since grown to over 20,000 members.

To provide even more personalized guidance to Tribe members, Ariel began offering Bridechilla, a six week course to “help you tackle your wedding planning with grace, sass and authenticity.” For $79.99 ($59.99 for early sign-ups), members join a private group where they receive weekly emails and worksheets, participate in discussions and join video chat sessions with the instructor, Kirsten.

Members raved about the first course, so Ariel scheduled a second. She’s generated $2,600 in revenue from these first entrepreneurial forays. “The Paid Access feature is making it super easy to facilitate the eCourse. We went from concept to execution in about one week, and set-up only took 10 minutes! With the built-in Paid Access features, setting up the paid group was as easy as entering my PayPal info, setting the membership rate, and clicking Publish. We made $1,000 in the first 48 hours, effectively covering our costs for both Ning Pro and the Ning Paid Access feature for the year.”

The Complete Artist

Richard Robinson has been a professional painter since 2001. His paintings are inspired by the natural beauty near his home town of Ruakaka in Northland, New Zealand. If you haven’t had the pleasure of visiting Ruakaka, you can experience it through his landscape paintings at his online gallery. Teaching is also important to Richard: “I’ve been teaching painting as long as I’ve been learning, and I enjoy helping others along the path as much as I enjoy learning from other artists.” For those lucky enough to visit, he hosts outdoor workshops. For the rest of us, he produces video lessons – and over 500,000 aspiring artists around the world have viewed them.

In late 2008, he launched The Complete Artist  network to share his painting blog posts and engage with aspiring artists. With the release of Paid Access in July, he began offering an online workshop on the network. For $20, members join a private group where they enroll in the monthly painting challenge, view or download a video demo, and then have their painting critiqued by Richard and others in the group. As a bonus, they also get a chance to win an original painting by Richard. In the one month since Richard began offering the workshop, 178 members have enrolled, and he’s grossed over $4,000 in additional revenue.

The Needle Felters Workshop

Kay Petal grew up in a small Alaskan town in a large, artistic family. She discovered needle felting by chance in 2007 while searching on the Internet for crafty things to do with old wool sweaters. As she describes it, “After my great discovery, I never really got back to my sweaters – needle felting sort of took over my life.” She quickly gained recognition for caricature art dolls. You can check photos and videos of these dolls online at Flickr and YouTube.

Her passion with needle felting extends to teaching others – helping them grasp the fundamentals and discover the magic she learned on that weekend in 2007. She teaches felting workshops locally, including volunteering her time at local schools, as well as through DVDs and online videos on her Feltalive website.

When Ning launched Paid Access in July, 2011, Kay decided to launch an online needle felting studio on Ning, The Needle Felters Workshop, and charge for membership. As Kay promotes it, “If you want to master the craft of sculptural needle felting, this is the place to be.” For a $49.95 fee, members get 12 months of access to video blogs in which Kay shares tips and new techniques, the complete library of Felt Alive video workshops, support forums to get help from Kay and other members, first-look at new Li’l Celebrity Dolls as they come to life in Kay’s studio, needle felting challenges, and forums to promote and market their work. In just 2 months since Kay launched her studio, she’s attracted more than 100 members and earned over $2,500 in revenue. She plans to end her introductory offer at the end of this month and increase the membership fee to $79.95.

What’s your expertise?

What are you an expert at? Can you leverage that expertise to teach others in an online setting? Let us know in the comments how you think you could take your expertise in a particular subject and turn it into a genuine, money-making enterprise.

Ready to get started with Paid Access and start generating revenue? Read all about it in our Help Center.

Phone Support for Ning Pro and Other Additions to Ning Customer Service

I’m excited to announce several major improvements to how we support you with questions and issues as you launch, grow and manage your communities on the Ning platform. Over the last six months, we’ve made significant investment in customer service. We’ve expanded our advocacy team by 200%, maintaining the same high standards for product knowledge, technical troubleshooting and customer service. As we expanded the team, we rolled out new levels of support for you:

  1. Phone support for all billing questions and issues, including cancellations. When we are dealing with your money and you have an issue, we understand that you need to resolve it immediately. Since we rolled out billing phone support in April, we’ve helped over 2,000 Ning Creators. If you have a billing-related question, call us 9 am – 5 pm Pacific time, Monday through Friday. You can find the billing phone number by signing in to – the same location where all of your account information is located (including downloadable invoices).
  2. Dedicated phone support for Ning Pro customers. We assembled an elite team of our advocates and rolled out this service in May. Since we launched that service, we’ve already heard from several hundred Ning Pro customers, and our team is really enjoying getting to know them and their Ning Networks on a more in-depth level. Pro phone support is available 9 am – 5 pm Pacific time, Monday through Friday. If you are a Ning Pro customer, you can find the phone number by going to your network Dashboard, clicking on the “Support” link at the bottom left, then clicking “Contact Support.” We look forward to hearing from you soon!
  3. Email support for Ning Mini customers. When we launched Ning Mini last summer, we offered Mini Ning Creators community-based support. Since then, we’ve heard loud and clear that this wasn’t enough for many of you – you need more responsive, higher-quality service.  The launch of billing-related phone support in April was a big improvement for your payment and subscription questions, and several weeks ago we launched Mini email support for all other questions and issues. Just go to your network Dashboard, click on the “Support” link at the bottom left, then click “Contact Support” to submit your request.
  4. Welcome calls for new customers. Beginning in January, we started calling customers who recently created a new network to offer tips and help with any questions or issues they might have. We don’t reach every new Ning Creator – we’re not reaching accounts without a valid phone number or those who aren’t home when we call — but we’ve gotten a great reception from new customers to whom we’ve spoken. We plan to continue to ramp-up new trial and new subscription coaching over the next few months. If your phone rings and you see “Ning” as the Caller ID, please pick up!

We will continue to expand and refine how we help each of you with your Ning Network. To help us focus on services that will most help you, please give us feedback. We’ve sent out four surveys over the last eight months to Ning Creators who have contacted our support team. Your feedback is incredibly valuable and helps us deliver even better service. So, if you get a survey, please answer it.

Thank you for building your community on Ning. We look forward to helping you out soon!

Ning Creators Network: a case study for building a thriving online customer community

From time to time, we like to share interesting Ning Network examples — and best practices that we’ve learned from them — on this blog. Today, I’d like to focus on the Ning Creators Network, a community for our customers, the people who build Ning Networks. By sharing our path to getting where Ning Creators Network is today, we hope to provide inspiration for other businesses trying to build online customer communities.


First, some quick stats about this vibrant community. At the time I write this post, Ning Creators Network has 18,867 members. Over the last year, these members have posted 12,601 discussion topics, which is the primary way members interact in the community. Members have also created 68 groups, with “Ning Networks En Espanol” being the largest and most active group at 553 members strong. Last week, members visited Ning Creators Network 27,866 times and created 367 new discussions topics. 237 new members joined.

This high member activity validates the value our customers find in participating on the Ning Creators Network. They can learn tips and tricks and best practices, ask advice, find out if others are experiencing similar issues or challenges, report problems, provide product feedback or suggestions, or simply bond with other creative, innovative people like themselves. Many of our customers spend significant time on Ning Creators Network contributing content, providing advice, and helping guide discussions. The health and vibrancy of the community is a testament to your efforts. Thank you!

Ning certainly benefits from this network in multiple ways: We’ve established strong relationships with many of our customers; we receive frequent, unsolicited product feedback, as well as directed feedback on upcoming and recently released features; it has taught us valuable best practices that we’ve formalized and published for all of our customers; it’s a critical channel to communicate company plans and get instantaneous feedback; and customers even give us real-time alerts about platform issues.


As many of our Ning Creators know, building a vibrant community takes careful planning, high commitment, and close collaboration with members. Our first attempt at a customer-focused Ning Network (2007 – 2009) didn’t work out the way we wanted it to, so we shut it down. We hadn’t achieved our goal of creating an interesting, safe, and productive place for customers to have conversations about how to build, grow, and manage Ning Networks. We learned from the experience, solicited a lot of customer feedback, and launched Ning Creators in late 2009.

Here are a few key things we did differently the second time around:

  • Lock in company commitment. A full-time community manager, Eric Suesz, puts his heart and soul into Ning Creators Network 24/7, and a second community manager, Garnor Morantes, backs him up. We encourage all employees to actively participate, particularly our product managers and advocates. Everyone on our exec team monitors the network on a daily basis. I often get late-night email from our CEO pointing to customer posts.
  • Set the right tone and culture from the start. We recruited the help of eight Ning Creator Guides and launched in private to give us time to add initial discussions and blogs that set the right constructive tone. After public launch, the Guides helped us actively moderate early participation. They were also the most prolific contributors early on. We held biweekly conference calls for the first three months to get feedback and advice from them and plan adjustments to the network.
  • Establish clear guidelines and consistently enforce them. We’ve refined our community guidelines over time. They are simple and intuitive. We message members early when they start to violate them. And we occasionally ban members if they continue this behavior.
  • By the customers, for the customers. Ning Creators Network is first and foremost a place for our customers to interact with and help each other. Ninety-nine percent of the discussion topics are posted by customers. Superstar customers like Jen, ThunderX, Kris, the PnL team and many others spend hours each day helping to provide advice and answer questions.
  • Feed a virtuous communication cycle. The more you communicate with your customers, the more they want to communicate with you. Ning Creators Network activity reached record highs over the last two weeks because we’ve had a lot to talk about recently: a public product roadmap, a new Known Issues page, the new Ning Design Studio, and the Like button beta (among others!). We strive to communicate frequently and program content for Ning Creators Network in multiple ways. We believe it strengthens customer satisfaction over time.


Alas, it’s not all sunshine and flowers. We continue to face challenges as Ning Creators Network grows:

  • How do we prevent individual customer support posts from crowding out customer-to-customer collaboration? Although we offer email support to Ning Plus and Pro customers, they often find they’ll get a quicker response by posting on Ning Creators Network. A quick scan of discussion topics on the Main Page right now shows 50% are individual issues. How do we both provide responsive support and facilitate collaboration?
  • How do we surface valuable older content? As we continue to grow, the sheer volume of new discussions quickly pushes older threads off the Main Page and out of sight of members. Many of these buried threads include valuable, thoughtful insights.
  • How do we continue to make new members feel at home? With over 18,000 members and 12,000 discussion topics, it’s easy for new members to feel overwhelmed and intimidated to start a new discussion or jump into an existing one.

I would love to get your feedback, ideas or advice! Share your thoughts by adding your comments below.

Your Members and

As we previously blogged and described in the plan details, your Ning Network now has a custom network ID. Based on input from our Network Creators, we are planning to end cross-network Ning authentication via a Ning ID very soon. This is part of our broader plan to give you more control over your Ning Network design and member experience. As a first step, today we dropped “Ning ID” from the sign-up experience on your Ning Network. This means that when members join, they won’t see the “We use a Ning ID for authentication” text. This won’t impact how your current members sign-in to your Ning Network. Their sign-in email address and password will remain the same.

One impact of this change is that only Network Creators are now able to sign-in to . If your members or Administrators try to sign-in to this page, they will be asked to create a new account. You may want to instruct your members and Administrators to always sign-in directly to your Ning Network.

Expanding on Ning Mini: a Few New Details Added by Request

We’re getting closer to the launch of our new pricing plans on July 20th, and I’d like to take a few minutes to provide Network Creators with several additional details about the transition process for those of you who are interested in purchasing the Ning Mini plan.

We’ve heard a lot of feedback from Network Creators over the last two months. A number of you who are planning on choosing the Ning Mini plan expressed concern about what will happen to your customized CSS and Text Boxes, as well as what you should do if your membership level is currently above the 150 Ning Mini limit. We’ve been listening diligently, and based on your feedback have made a few adjustments to the Ning Mini plan that I think many of you will be happy to hear:

  • If you currently have between 151 and 400 members, you will still be able to choose the Ning Mini plan. However, you won’t be able to approve additional members until your membership level drops below 150. Your Members page will show the most recent 150 members. Note, if you have more than 400 members, you won’t be able to purchase Ning Mini. You will need to reduce your Ning Network to 400 members before selecting Ning Mini.
  • If you have customized your current network with CSS, JavaScript, or by making changes to the Language Editor, these changes will remain in place. However, since the Advanced Appearance Box, Analytics Box, and the Language Editor won’t be available to Ning Mini subscribers, you won’t be able to make further edits. You will be able to erase the CSS or JavaScript, or you can simply revert to the defaults built-in to the Language Editor, if you so choose.
  • Similarly, if you currently have more than three Text Boxes or one RSS feed on your Main Page, these will remain in place. However, you won’t be able to make edits until you have reduced the number of Main Page Text Boxes to three or RSS feeds to one.
  • Finally, we’d like Ning Mini subscribers to have the ability to install Ning Apps like our recently well-received revenue-generating apps. To help out on that front, Ning Mini subscribers will be able to install up to two Ning Apps.

Stay tuned to the Announcement Page for updates, and let us know if we can help you choose the right plan. You can email us with your questions about the plans at

Mythbusters: Three Things We Aren’t Doing on May 4

Since announcing that we are now focusing 100 percent of the company on enhancing the features and services we offer to paying Network Creators and plan to phase out our free service, we’ve received a lot of feedback from Network Creators. We’ve heard from free and paid, business and nonprofit, educators and artists. We’ve been interacting on Creators, reading your comments on the Ning Blog and taking in your tweets. And, we’ve been listening to all of your ideas, suggestions and concerns.

We’ll share all of the details of our new offering with you, including features and price points, on May 4. However, I know there’s been some confusion and a number of rumors circulating about what we will announce and then roll-out in early summer. I wanted to take a minute to let you know three of the things we aren’t planning on doing on May 4.

  1. Rumor: “Ning will shut down networks who don’t begin paying for premium services by May 4.”  FALSE. You will have at least 10 weeks to evaluate the new pricing structure and make a decision to move to the new paid service. We’ll be announcing the details of our new pricing structure on May 4. We plan to roll-out the new pricing structure in early summer and then give you a transition period to sign-up for the new offering.
  2. Rumor: “Only very large networks will be able to afford the new fees.” FALSE. I am confident that many of you, particularly those of you already paying for premium services, will be pleasantly surprised by our new pricing structure. Our goal is to set the pricing at a level which will make Ning an attractive solution for both larger and smaller Ning Networks.
  3. Rumor: “This change means teachers and non-profits won’t be able to continue to use Ning.” FALSE. As Jason mentioned in his blog post last week, it’s our goal to have a set of product and pricing options that will make sense for all Ning Networks — even those that have limited budgets. Specifically, we know how many non-profit organizations and educators use Ning, and we plan on offering an option that will make it possible and attractive for them to stay on the Ning Platform.

Hopefully this will ease your concerns (if you have any) and help get you excited about what’s coming up. I’m looking forward to revealing more on May 4 and answering all of your questions then.