Greetings readers and writers! On Wednesday, author, blogger and anthology compiler Dan Alatorre shared some of the rationale for creating anthologies with other writers.
Today, while I wrestle with my NaNoWriMo word counts, he’s back to share some more of the details of just how to work with a group of different people to create a sucessful anthology.
How To Put Together A Great Anthology, Part 2
I had everybody’s email addresses because they were sending the short stories to me for the contests, but to facilitate communication, I knew creating a private Facebook group would speed things up. Whenever somebody would post, everybody could get a notification immediately and could reply immediately. That is much faster and more efficient than a group email going back-and-forth; email chains quickly get out of control and out of sequence. In a private Facebook group, the comments stay organized.
That was a challenge because not everybody was on Facebook!
So for those who were not on Facebook, they were gently encouraged to join it. For those who were resistant to join, they missed out on a lot of education. More on that in a moment.
The idea of the anthology was to create a team. A team needs a leader, but the team is usually best led by somebody who listens to the team members. Because I had some experience in the different things we were about to do, and because they had all joined my writing contest, it made sense for me to lead the group.
But I encouraged everybody, whether they had experience or not, to leave comments about the process or ask any and all questions they had to the group. This is a big deal, because how I learned to do a lot of stuff was deciding to swallow my pride and embarrassment and ask my rookie questions publicly. I would go on author forms and I would ask even the most basic questions. I tried never to be afraid to admit what I didn’t know about, so that I could learn how to do it and improve that much faster.
Case in point, when I first started posting in a critique group, I didn’t know what a beat was or what a dialogue tag was. One very nice person said, “You should use a beat here.”
I emailed her and said, “What is a beat?” Because she was kind enough to tell me, I was able to learn that much faster – but it took me having the courage to admit I didn’t know what those things were, to ask for that help, and then of course to thank them profusely for helping me.
(You can usually spot quality writing that is rough; somebody who has great story ideas and has a great storytelling style, but who doesn’t know some of the finer things that make the manuscript a little more polished. So she helped me with that and then I was able to help her with other things.)
That type of synergy you get times 10 in a group anthology because different people bring different things to the table.
Somebody in England might have a good idea that works there but doesn’t work here, or they might have an a good idea that works in both. We would have 19 other people making a suggestion instead of me having to come up with all the answers. Most of the time, I had a good answer, but many times someone else came up with an answer – or had a better answer than mine.
People had tried different marketing things for books they had published. There was maybe 10 people who could give an opinion about which sites worked to market their book and which ones didn’t. That’s hugely helpful. That’s eliminating 90% of your mistakes right off the bat.
Additionally, with every decision we made, we aired it on the group site first, so everybody was aware. Everybody didn’t always agree, but at least there was a discussion and we usually went with the majority.
People got excited about the release of the book. People who had never been published before were about to become published. It was a big deal to them, and they were able to celebrate with 19 other people who knew the feeling but who also had blogs and Twitter accounts and Facebook pages, and who could interview each other and promote each other and share that excitement. Again, a multiplier effect.
Then the marketing starts, and of course then you have 20 blogs and 20 Facebook pages and 20 Twitter feeds and on and on. 20 sets of friends and family. 20 haircutters. All of that.
We went through lot of things – like picking a book cover – that we crowdsourced. We said, “Here’s an example, everybody post it on your Facebook page and see what your friends think.” This tends to ratchet up interest in the upcoming book. Same when we would format it. We would take a screenshot and show it to people in the group, and they would post that on their Facebook page. That times 19 other people is a lot of eyeballs being reminded that you have a book coming up, but the input on ideas forced the best ideas to be recognized.
As part of the package, we were going to publish an e-book, shortly after that we would publish the paperback, and shortly after that we would do an audiobook.
Using that same Facebook group, everyone was able to walk through all the stages of doing all of those things. The most fun was probably the audiobook, because most people don’t know how to get the book done on audiobook without spending a fortune. In this anthology, everything we did was done for free to the contributing authors. We did not do a lot of marketing as far as buying ads, but the marketing we did, I paid for. Remember, at $0.99 this thing was going to have to sell thousands and thousands of copies before its 27% royalties were going to generate a profit.
We had people donate their time and effort to do the formatting. We had people donate their time and effort to create a good-looking book cover, editing, proofreading, etc. So we avoided costs, which is the same as earning money. You have that money for marketing if you don’t spend it on the book cover, and in this case the book cover could be done quickly and easily inexpensively by a few team members, so it was well worth it.
Same with the formatting. Somebody else volunteered to do it and it turned out wonderful. Editing was done by me, since I’d read most of the stories for the contest anyway, and for proofreading we had sent each author’s story to two other people, to catch any mistakes, before sending the whole anthology to beta readers.
When it came time for the audiobook, I have done that numerous times, so I walked everybody through the process. How to post the listing for the book, how to get people to want to audition, how to listen to the auditions, how to select a narrator, and then finally how to quickly move through the narration process so you actually get an audiobook produced in a few weeks instead of six months.
By the way, many people post and wait six months to finally get an audition. With my books, we usually get our first interview within a few hours of posting the listing, and in our most recent case I think we had 12 auditions in the first 48 hours. We were able to select an enthusiastic narrator who was excited to work with 20 authors, realizing that was a chance to have quite a backlog of narration jobs lined up if she did a good job – which she did!
On to marketing!
When you have an e-book and then a paperback and then an audiobook, you have three different announcements of your book coming out. Yes, you can do it all at once, but if you split it up it gives your excuses to talk about it three times on your blog instead of just a one time.
Also you were showing potential readers you are willing to be available in whatever format they choose to enjoy your story, so even if you don’t ever sell a paperback, at least it’s there working for you and helping you get found. The same goes for an audiobook or an e-book. No reason not to be available in the format people want, especially if it’s not gonna cost you a lot (or any) of money.
Because we had the book available in lots of different formats, and because we had 20 different people all rowing in the same direction to make one book successful, we had 20 times the blogging power and 20 times the Facebook page effort. We did interviews with each other (which is basically a miniature blog tour.) We supported and encouraged each other.
But we did have one or two jerks.
Simply put, we had a few bad attitude folks who thought they were better than everybody else, and no I’m not talking about me. One of them actually went on to leave a bad review about the book they contributed to! So this person had shown themselves to be a jerk early on in the process, and their story really wasn’t that great, but I wanted to be nice to everybody. Lesson learned. In future anthologies, anybody who can’t get on board with the team gets escorted to the door – head first.
That is something that you are just gonna have to learn for yourself. People who are giving you headaches every day, that’s happening for a reason.
To me, it was more important to have 20 authors and more than 20 stories, than it was to get rid of the one stick in the mud. And to be honest, that’s still true. It’s better to have more authors helping than it is to have complete peace and harmony. Besides, you’re always going to have somebody who’s the least easy person to work with. Even if they’re all saints, one of them is gonna be a little less sainty than the others. Just know ahead of time, you don’t have to take any crap. Choose your philosophy and act accordingly.
Finally, what was the result?
The result was so much fun and so successful that I decided to do it every year. I think people are looking forward to the contest and the anthology each year. I look forward to volume three having upwards of 30 authors and maybe 50 stories. More is better.
At the same time, I’ve been working on another anthology! I was invited to join an anthology of New York Times best-selling authors and USA today bestselling authors for a murder mystery anthology.
I had never written a murder mystery before, but I was very interested in doing so, so I accepted the invitation. Each of us had to write a complete novel to be marketed as a set for $0.99. The whole goal was to make the USA today bestseller list or the New York Times bestseller list, and I just knew that working with that many other talented people, I would learn a lot.
In fact, what I learned was, most of the things I discovered creating my own anthology where correct. There were not any giant revelations in the “big” anthology, but those people had bigger newsletters and bigger reader bases, and they knew more about marking. I made friendships there just like I made friendships in my little short story anthology. But the biggest take away from everything was, working together as a team shows several things.
You’re not alone in the process.
You’re not alone in the writing and you’re not alone in the marketing.
You learn things from each other.
You can pick somebody up when their down and vice versa.
You get to share your ideas to a team and believe it or not, sometimes you’re not right with your idea and the team will hopefully tell you so.
We also learned about things like calling it scary versus calling it horror. Scary is relative. Different things scare different people. Spiders might scare Jenny, while something that goes bump in the night might scare me. However, scary is not a genre; horror is. Calling them scary stories in the subtitle was a mistake. Calling it a horror anthology takes that away.
This next thing is a small point, but it’s worth understanding. We made other mistakes that we were quick to catch and quick to fix. Each story started out with the title of the story, the link to the author’s website or Amazon page, the city and country in which the author lives (because some were UK and some were Canadian or Australian, and the spelling and punctuation is different for those countries, so we were trying to tell people hey it’s color not colour on purpose. It’s not a typo). By putting a message a the end of each story “Click here to read more by this author” some reviews said it felt like they were incomplete stories, designed to get you to go to the a book to read the rest of the story. That wasn’t the case, which shows you can’t always assume your reader is smart, but after a second early review mentioned it, we took those end links out anyway.
Also, we can only have so many names in the drop-down box on Amazon, but we were able to list all of them in the book description. That makes them almost as searchable on Amazon, but it also helps to be found on other search engines. It’s way cool to see your name in the book description.
There were lots of little things I learned between the first anthology and the second one, and I would list them all except the simple fact is, if you do this, you’ll discover your own unique problems – and you’re gonna probably come up with some really interesting solutions that I didn’t think of that probably work better than what we did.
Trust your team, and reach out when necessary.
Each author then creates an Amazon page and “claims” the anthology on their page. That was a bigger challenge for some than others, but everybody who really wanted to have that done was able to get it done. That’s also more ways for this book to be found, because when somebody goes to Allison Maruska’s site, the anthology is there. If they are reading The Fourth Descendant, they might want to check out her horror story in Dark Visions or The Box Under the Bed, and from that they discover a story by out Jenifer Ruff, go to Jenifer’s site, and buy Jenifer’s book. That kind of thing.
So it gets everyone a lot more exposure (and a lot more teamwork) but there was one more thing that came out of it – and this is not the most important thing, but it’s pretty important.
Many people who write books feel they are alone in the process.
When you create a private Facebook group to talk about your anthology with the other contributing authors, you really begin to feel like you’re part of a team – a group – and maybe even part of a family. Friendships grew out of that first anthology that exist a year later.
Writing need not be a solo effort.
The camaraderie created during the process, it’s a special thing. It’s fun and it’s dynamic. We’re still a team a year later. If you get a chance to participate in one of these anthologies, I highly recommend it.
Thanks for your thoughts, Dan, and thank YOU, readers and writers, for visiting!