Despite never having managed a professional sports team, I imagine that writing an anthology is somewhat similar. There is a bit of cheering from the sidelines, calling periodic team meetings, and encouraging your contributors to provide you their best work possible.
First, let’s get the terminology down: A collection of stories versus an anthology. Some people use these terms interchangeably, however, in the publishing world, a “collection of stories” is described as a book of short stories written by one person and an “anthology” as a book of short stories written by several people. Knocked Up Abroad is an anthology featuring 23 different writers in 24 different countries.
On my long list of goals, getting knocked up and giving birth in 24 different countries is not something I would ever attempt so a collection of stories, it is not, according to a publisher.
Communicate clearly and regularly with your contributors
Be super clear with roles and responsibilities at the beginning of the project. Communicate a clear timeline, expectations, and what they will receive (payment, exposure, books, etc.) as contributors. Even if you are crystal clear, there may still be confusion or misunderstandings.
Send regular reminders and follow up with non-responders. If someone hasn’t responded within 48 hours, send a follow-up email. If someone is throwing up roadblocks, pick up the phone and call them or schedule a Skype session. So many issues are more easily clarified through voice than email.
Pad extra time into your deadlines
“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they fly by.” I am super strict when it comes to personal and professional deadlines for myself but I’m not working by myself when I’m editing an anthology. There are other people who have other life issues to consider. During the creation of Knocked Up Abroad, some of the contributors were pregnant and due before their chapter could be finished, some of them were in the midst of moving countries, and others just had really busy lives.
There will always be time constraints that are beyond your control and mistakes that will cost you both time and money as you learn the ropes. Build in some extra time and set realistic targets. If people can’t make your realistic deadlines, then let them go. Don’t hold up your entire project for one person. Remember, you’re the one driving the ship.
Editing an anthology is a full-time job
Some people think that being an editor/author of an anthology is relatively easy. You can sit back and collect other people’s stories, throw them into a book, hit the publish button, and rake in the royalties. Go ahead and laugh at those people (maybe even yourself) right now.
There is nothing easy about managing >20 people, balancing their time commitments with your book’s schedule, and persuading them to take time out of their busy days to generate high-quality writing for the sake of a bit of exposure and a few copies of the book.
No matter how marvelous your idea for an anthology, nobody will love the project more than you.
Contributors will spend a few hours writing their chapter, reviewing your feedback, and then give you a head nod on the final version. They go off and live their lives in between those brief moments in time.
Meanwhile, you are slavishly devoted to this book from the moment you wake up until the moment you fall asleep every night.
Each contributor has a relationship with one person—you. As the editor, you must cultivate a relationship, track progress, remind, and provide personalized input and feedback to every contributor. Knocked Up Abroad had 23 contributors (22 if I don’t count myself, and yes I’m counting my husband because we often got into contributor-editor disputes just like anyone else) and each interaction was time-consuming and required careful emotional attention in my role as editor.
Writing is intensely emotional and if your anthology contains personal stories, like Knocked Up Abroad has, the contributors may have strong reactions to your proposed edits.
Establishing a relationship with mutual respect and trust with your contributors is important. Some chapters will require a bit of tweaking to fit into the flow of the book overall. Remember, as the editor, you are the only one who is seeing the book as the sum of its parts.
Each contributor only knows the chapter they submitted. It is your job to stitch all of these disjointed stories together into a comprehensive book that is enjoyable to read.
There is artistic value in this editing process as you must step into your readers’ shoes and view your book from their perspective, all the while continuing to balance your contributors’ wishes for their artistic expression.
And royalties? I don’t want to burst anyone’s bubble, but if you think you’re going to get rich off of an anthology, you are grossly mistaken.
At one point, I added up all of my time and expenses and I calculated that I would need to sell 10,000 books in order to break even.
To break even!
Considering the average book sells 1,000 copies in an author’s lifetime, even a measly profit seems monumentally unlikely. If you want, I can send you the breakdown of the math behind this calculation, but it is super depressing.
Instead, I’ll leave you with this anecdote: Three guys decided to collaborate and write a book together on some business topic. They posted a question on a writing forum to ask about the best way to establish a legal entity for them to share their royalties. The top rated response was, “Buy your buddies a beer. There. Now you’re even.”
The money you’ll receive in royalties is nothing compared to the quantity of unpaid time you’ll have invested in the book, real expenses related to cover design and editing, and upfront costs like ordering books in bulk that you must recoup before you can even think of dividing up “profits.” Instead, identify other publishing milestones or goals for motivation.
Unless you’re J.K. Rowling, don’t expect anything regarding compensation and reward your contributors in non-monetary ways.
Reward your contributors
Chicken Soup for the Soul pays their contributors $100 per published submission. If you’ve read a Chicken Soup for the Soul anthology, you know that each book contains 101 stories on a certain topic or theme. The books aren’t stringently edited and the stories range from mildly interesting to fascinating. They are mass-produced, traditionally published, and your chapter is among 100 others. Is that great exposure? It depends on your publication goals as a writer. You are a paid writer with a book on the shelf that has your name in it. Sure, you have to purchase your own copy, but you’ve been published!
If you are self-publishing your anthology, you often don’t have a budget to pay someone even an insultingly small amount for their work (because we are poor!) but it doesn’t mean that you can’t reward them in other ways.
What is the value of beautiful prose that came from someone’s heart about a monumental moment in their life? Is it quantifiable? Is it priceless? Contributors will write for an anthology for a few reasons: to see their work published in a book, add a book to their resume, receive exposure for their writing careers or other projects, and because they love writing and want to share it widely with the world. In my experience, people enjoy being part of an amazing book with other extremely talented writers. Having a book that all of your contributors can proudly say they were a part of is a major accomplishment in my opinion.
It is standard for unpaid contributors to receive exposure, and one physical copy of the book.
Knocked Up Abroad contributors receive exposure and two copies of the book—am I twice as generous as the average anthology editor?
From my perspective, receiving one book to keep and one to share is a nice pay-it-forward mentality that I like to employ whenever possible. It’s the least I could do to show my appreciation for their hard work and I’d love it for more people to read the stories if the contributors want to pass along their extra copy.
Regardless if your contributors are paid or unpaid, be transparent at the beginning of their involvement so everyone is on the same page.
Develop a personal relationship with your contributors
If you are self-publishing, don’t be a faceless publishing entity to your contributors. Skype or FaceTime with them when discussing their chapters and interact with them on social media. Support their careers are writers and share their achievements.
Everyone’s successes are linked when you write an anthology. Any press for one contributor is positive press for everyone. Anthologies essentially build a strong network of writers if you connect them all together.
For Knocked Up Abroad, I featured the picture and short bio of a contributor on the Facebook page every Friday. This not only introduced the readers to the contributors but it also allowed the contributors to learn more about one another. Developing and strengthening these networks can be beneficial for everyone involved.
Put a lot of effort into threading the stories together.
This is harder than one might think. When you receive a stack of unrelated chapters, it is your job to order them in the best way for the reader’s enjoyment. There may be a perfect transition paragraph in the middle of one chapter that needs to be moved to the end of the chapter in order to enhance the flow of the chapters.
Identify any common themes or differences between chapters. Sometimes it is nice to have a change of pace, and you should strategically insert a chapter with a different voice. Perhaps the chapters naturally group themselves into similar sections.
Perhaps showing the contrasts between two chapters makes it more interesting to the reader. Whatever you do, don’t randomly order the chapters within your book. Chaos!
The reader may put your book down and never pick it up again if the stories are too disjointed. Readers enjoy stories where the characters experience struggle and triumph, hope and heartache. Ordering the chapters is of utmost importance. Read, reorder, read, reorder, read, reorder the chapters until you have a combination that receives positive reviews from your beta readers.
Anthologies are collaborative but not really.
It totally depends on the anthology, but if you are managing more than three people, you can’t make every decision by committee. If your anthology is a smaller group then you may be able to divvy up the roles and responsibilities a bit more equally. Collaboration and cooperation are necessary to create an anthology—we all explicitly understand that—but the day-to-day decisions must be executed by you as the editor if you have a large group of contributors.
Find honest beta readers.
The reactions from beta readers can often be more confusing than helpful. I knew the backstory of all of the contributors and helped some of the writers reshape their stories so I felt too close to the book to see it objectively. Finding a group of beta readers who are interested in your book and will provide you honest suggestions is really key.
My mother-in-law was the most influential beta reader as she had very strong opinions about the chapters and their order of appearance. I never knew this until the book was already published, but some readers have a strong (I mean, really strong) preferences for font type, spacing between letters and words, and spacing between lines.
One of my friends says she has a favorite publisher because they produce books that are pleasing to the eye to read. This type of input is really key when you are publishing a physical book. Ebooks don’t require the same level of attention to formatting as physical books do, but I suppose you can adjust spacing between paragraphs accordingly.
Seek the input of these super readers and find a format that meets their stringent approval.
Hire an editor/proofreader.
It is my opinion that every single book that is published should be reviewed by a third party editor. Doctors go to medical school, car mechanics receive licensed training, and books should be professionally edited. Yeah, I know that your title is Editor, but you’re too close to your creation. When you’ve read each chapter 15 times, your eyes are tired, and you’ll miss things. Besides, you are hardly an objective reviewer. Your book will be better with an objective set of eyes reviewing every page.
Set aside $2,000 to contract an editor. It’s the cost of doing business if you want an excellent book that is worthy of 5-star reviews.
Every published book (traditionally or self-published) should be edited by a third party. I hired a freelance editor to review my book and together we agreed to follow the Chicago Manual of Style and Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
As an anthology, you want to maintain the writing style and voice of each contributor while still making it a smooth and easy book to read. Not editing each contributor’s voice too heavily can be harder to achieve than you think, as we often tend to read books in our inner voice and make edits accordingly.
If your contributors have varied nationalities, you will have to decide which spelling you prefer—American or British English. Knocked Up Abroad had contributors from the US, Canada, UK, and Australia. It was a publication decision I made as an editor to proceed with American English and include temperatures in both degrees Fahrenheit and Celsius so that nobody was left wondering if the writer was describing something incredibly hot or cold. The book also has both English and Metric measurements to avoid reader confusion. Those types of additions were made after all of the chapters were received.
Regardless of the manual of style you select, apply whatever rules you have consistently across all chapters. In the end, you want your contributors to be proud of their work in the book so make thoughtful edits.
Don’t count on your contributors to market the anthology.
More contributors does not always equal more exposure. The reality is that some people aren’t really interested in talking about the book when it is finally published (and that’s totally fine), and it means that you can’t count on them to market the book.
Your contributors all have busy lives, and remember what I mentioned earlier? Nobody cares about this book more than you. It is your responsibility to continue the process for marketing the book. You may be lucky and have some contributors who offer up endless fonts of help and resources, however not everyone will want to be as involved.
It is important to have a marketing strategy that is not solely dependent on your contributors’ participation. Any extra marketing push from contributors should be seen as the cherry on top, not the entire sundae.
Celebrate every milestone.
My husband should have bought stock in Prosecco, because we popped the bubbly almost every week. Editing an anthology is lonely work. You’re working with a lot of people but it is often tedious, time-intensive drudgery in your home office (or kitchen table) by yourself. Celebrating every milestone will help you keep chugging along when you feel like giving up.
Received all final chapters? Celebrate! Successfully formatted your final manuscript into ebook and paperback formats? Celebrate! Uploaded your ebook manuscript to Amazon? Celebrate! Secured 10 pre-orders?
All of these seemingly small milestones required hours upon hours of work. There is no such thing as a small accomplishment when you are putting together an anthology. Reward yourself so you can enjoy the process. Nobody is standing behind you cheering you on while your eyes cross after staring at your computer’s screen for months, so be your own cheerleader and pop that bubbly!
Enjoy your own book.
You’re not doing this for the money, fame, or glory—that’s been firmly established—so enjoy the process. Have fun finding your contributors, connecting with people, and cultivating these stories. Clearly this is a topic you love, otherwise, you wouldn’t be writing the book, so really dive into the process.
I thoroughly enjoyed learning each step of the process from developing the book, creating the website, designing the brand (or making branding decisions, I didn’t design it really), and researching the many ways you can format, publish, and market your book. Be creative, have fun, and then do it all over again to capitalize on all of those lessons learned.
After reading about all of that hard work, are you ready to read the final product?