Perhaps you want to pull some authors together for an anthology. Or maybe you’ve been approached by a group of authors who would like you to take part in their anthology. Is being part of an anthology worth your time?
By definition, an anthology is a collection of works by various authors. Usually the works are of a similar type, so you might see an anthology of zombie novellas or short romances with football players as heroes. An anthology is not the same thing as a box set, which pulls together novels (mostly previously published) by various authors and offers them at a discounted price when bought as a bundle.
I’ve taken part in five historical romance anthologies and have plans to be part of two more in 2017. For the most part, I’ve found these projects to be fun and profitable. But there are a few points to consider before you commit your time and talent.
In general, authors work alone, so working with a group of authors can be a bit of an adjustment. In most anthologies, all the authors have a say in the theme of the anthology, possibly the plotting or setting, the cover, the descriptive copy, the sale price, and the promotion. That’s a lot of decisions for a group of people to make together, especially if they haven’t worked together before.
Choose your fellow authors wisely. If you don’t know one or more of the authors, try to find out about him or her before committing. Check out his or her social media, ask other authors about him or her, and read at least one of his or her published works. Make sure you feel comfortable with the authors you’re working with and the general working environment in the group. You don’t want a group where one person bulldozes everyone else’s idea and opinions or, conversely, where three of four people never respond to emails and don’t follow through.
Consider as well the readership of the authors you’re working with. Ideally, you want to work with authors whose readers are similar to yours. This is why you don’t see many anthologies where two contemporary romance authors pair up with two historical romance authors. Some romance readers are willing to read both sub-genres, but the numbers aren’t big enough to generate much profit. The best group of authors is one whose writing style is similar and who each have a strong base of readers that may overlap but is also distinct. When I participate in an anthology, I know some of the other authors’ readers have read me, but I’m looking for an introduction to those readers who are buying the anthology because they are familiar with one or more of my co-authors and may have never read or even heard of me.
Since you’ll most likely be splitting the profits of the anthology equally, keep the number of authors in the anthology small. Most anthologies feature four authors, each contributing a novella of between 20,000–30,000 words. The final product is the length of a substantial novel. The more authors involved, the less profit you’ll make. Too few authors and you may not attract enough new readers to cross-pollinate your readership, which should be a goal of any author participating in an anthology.
Once you have a group of authors committed to producing an anthology, you’ll want to establish a reliable and easy way to communicate. Many groups set up a yahoo group or a private Facebook page. This saves everyone the hassle of remembering to Reply All on an email. Creating a shared Dropbox folder or Google doc is also a good idea. This way the group can easily share manuscripts, images, and other documents.
If the authors you’re working with are anything like those I’ve worked with, everyone will be eager to chat about plot and character. Don’t let that go on too long without moving the discussion in the direction of logistics. I find it easiest to work backward, starting from the proposed publication date of the anthology. Then slot in all the due dates for the parts of the project necessary to make the publication of the anthology possible.
Here’s an example production schedule for an anthology with a planned release of October 15. The production schedule discussion probably began 6–9 months from the release date.
June 15: Draft begins
August 1: Draft due
September 1: Cover due
September 10: Last novella back from copyeditor
September 20: deadline to have novella proofread
September 21: Proofread stories to discrepancy readers
September 28: Files due from discrepancy readers
October 1: Files to formatter
October 8: Page proofs out
October 9–11 Last chance to make changes
October 12: Final file to uploader
October 13: Files Uploaded
October 15: On sale
This schedule can be easily modified to add steps (like pre-orders), take some out (not every anthology is interconnected and needs discrepancy readers), or give the authors more time for certain aspects of the process. Once you have a production schedule in place, group conversations can be easily directed. If you need to book your cover designer 6 months in advance, that might be the first thing you do even before all those conversations about plot, theme, and characters.
The example production schedule also highlights the different roles members of the group may place in the creation of the anthology. For example, the groups I work with usually have a facilitator (and that person, if you haven’t guessed, is usually me). The facilitator makes sure decisions are made and important conversation threads that have petered out are revived. Since most authors are juggling multiple projects, it’s easy to push one off to the side. The facilitator is responsible for making certain the anthology isn’t pushed to the side when decisions need to be made.
Another role is liaison with the cover designer. Usually one or two authors take on this role of coordinating with the cover designer. All the authors might be involved in choosing stock photos, but the liaison is the designer’s contact person for questions and cover mock-ups. The liaison goes back and forth between the anthology group and the designer with ideas and suggestions.
One tip is to make sure the group has a clear image of what they want from the designer before beginning the cover process. I’ve been in more than one anthology group that frustrated a designer with conflicting opinions.
Other roles include a person who manages copyeditors, proofreaders, and formatters. The uploading can be outsourced to an assistant or a member of the group can do it using her own dashboards on the various publishing platforms. If a member of the group uploads the anthology, he or she is usually responsible for managing the financial aspects of the anthology. There are no hard and fast rules. Your group can organize itself however works best for you.
Lastly, this isn’t on the production schedule I offered, but most groups want to publicize their anthologies. You might create a separate publicity schedule with a member of the group in charge of that area or you might divide the various tasks up and divide and conquer.
At the end of the process, you will hopefully produce an anthology you and the other authors are proud of and that readers enjoy. But there are other benefits. Most authors use the backmatter section of an anthology to highlight a book available for pre-order or push his or her backlist. So make sure to revisit the anthology yearly and update backmatter. Before the anthology is released, decide among yourselves when it’s acceptable for the members of the group to publish their pieces singly. Most groups I work with specify six months from the release date of the anthology. After that point, the authors are free to repackage their contribution and publish it as a standalone. I’m always careful to let readers know the offering was previously published. The idea is not to trick readers, but to catch readers who missed the anthology or whose attention is caught by the repackaging.
Another benefit of an anthology is to plug a hole in an author’s publishing schedule.
Increasingly, readers want content from authors. If you have a long break between novels, writing a novella for an anthology can be a quick way to give readers more content.
There are drawbacks to being part of an anthology as well. It’s not easy to work with a group. Authors have strong opinions, and arguments as well as tempers do flare. As with any group, there’s always the danger of one person doing all the work or one person doing no work or backing out unexpectedly. An anthology is a big project, and there are bound to be setbacks and unexpected problems. Try to remain professional and make sure you are part of the solution.
So if you’re still thinking about contributing to an anthology, go for it. Although I still enjoy working alone best, being a part of several anthologies has been tremendously rewarding. I’ve become friends with some wonderful authors and am a contributing author to five awesome books. For me, the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages.
© Shana Galen