Today’s post is excerpted from Taking the Short Tack: Creating Income and Connecting with Readers Using Short Fiction by Matty Dalrymple (@mattydalrymple) and Mark Leslie Lefebvre (@MarkLeslie).
Anthologies—groupings of works from different authors—are one of the most powerful ways that a short fiction author can earn income and build reader connections. Because an anthology includes many authors, it can sell and connect to the fan bases of all those authors and ultimately be greater than the sum of its parts.
Anthologies are genre specific (e.g., noir, horror, romance) and/or theme specific (e.g., end of the world, vampires, Christmas). In the traditional publishing world, they are often curated and edited by a recognized name. They can feature original works, include a mixture of new and reprint stories, or be themed reprint anthologies.
Tesseracts, an annual science fiction-and fantasy-themed anthology that features Canadian writers, is an example of a traditionally published anthology. Mark served as editor for Tesseracts Sixteen and was a contributing author for Tesseracts Seventeen.
Before, During, and After, an anthology edited and published by J. Thorn and Zach Bohannan, includes Mark’s short story “Piss & Vinegar” and is an example of an independently-published anthology.
There are two different roles you may play in the construction of an anthology (or you may play both roles for a particular anthology).
We would all love to sit back and wait for requests to roll in to include a piece of our short fiction in an anthology, but it’s a select few authors who enjoy that position. However, don’t underestimate the opportunities created by networking; writers’ groups and conferences are great places to expand your contacts with fellow authors. Matty was invited to participate in the anthology Noir at a Bar: The Oxford Files through a writers’ group contact. Mark’s sale of a story to the Fiction River anthology series eventually led to him becoming a series editor for the ongoing projects.
You can also improve your likelihood of being invited to participate in an anthology by being a good citizen of the writing world; if you’ve helped out a fellow author, they’re more likely to think of you if they are curating an anthology, or if they know someone who is.
Once your piece of short fiction is chosen for an anthology, you have a responsibility to promote the anthology to your fans and followers in your email newsletter, on social media, and on any other platform you use to connect with your readers. Make sure your curator knows about your marketing efforts. If your curator knows that you are doing your bit to spread the word about the anthology, you increase your chances of having that curator choose your work for a future anthology.
For ultimate control over the anthology, consider acting as the curator. As the curator, you choose what work is included and from which authors, manage the cover design, and create marketing copy. You are responsible for communicating on an ongoing basis with the participating authors, providing them with the materials with which to promote the anthology (for example, images or text to use on social media or their websites), and incenting them to actively promote the work.
The role of curator also comes with the opportunity for increased income since the anthology curator generally gets a bigger share of the royalties than the participating authors to compensate him or her for this extra work.
Before deciding to take on this role, consider the time it will take (and, as always, weigh the benefits against other uses to which you might put this time, like writing). The time investment will be not just in the reading, editing, and publishing work, but in all of the additional tasks that come with overseeing an entirely new publication. Remember that unlike publishing a book that is solely your own work, you’ll be juggling a host of complex unknowns involving many other people, each with their own creative vision.
Should you choose to take on this role, here are some curatorial tips:
Determine the goal. We have categorized anthologies as an income creation strategy, but they also provide significant reader connection opportunities; consider which of these is primary because it will impact other decisions you make about your anthology.
Determine the number of participating authors. The more authors who are represented in an anthology, the more cross-promotional opportunities there are, and the more sales opportunities due to the large number of interested readers that the participating authors bring. However, a large number of authors also means that the proceeds will be split across a large number of people. Although there’s no formula to calculate the ideal number of authors to include, consider both the income creation and the reader connection goals of the anthology.
Determine the authors to approach. You may be tempted to stick to the safe path of inviting authors you know personally to participate in the anthology. However, unless at least one of those authors has an established following, you are limiting your income creation and reader connection opportunities. Consider approaching authors who are a bit ahead of you in their author careers, and consider giving them added incentive to participate, such as a higher percentage of the royalties. As always, weigh the potential benefit of enlisting a particular author to your anthology against the time needed to pursue those authors and the likelihood of them accepting your invitation. You could invest a couple of hours crafting an invitation to Stephen King to participate in your horror anthology (with, we predict, little chance of success) or spend those couple of hours approaching an established but not-currently-bestselling author (with a greater chance of success).
Communicate goals and ground rules. Share your goals for the anthology with the authors you approach to participate. They need to be able to assess whether their goals for their short fiction align with your goals for your anthology. Sharing your goals for the anthology will also ensure that the authors are willing to comply with the plan that needs to be executed to achieve those goals. For example, if your goal is to produce steady, if small, income over time, then it’s important that your participating authors are prepared to keep their piece of short fiction in the anthology for an extended period of time.
Matty once curated an anthology of first-in-series crime novels featuring female protagonists and was thrilled to enlist a well-known author in the genre. However, shortly after the anthology was published to all the major online retailers, that author’s publisher decided to make that novel exclusive to Amazon, and so that novel had to be pulled from the anthology and the entire anthology had to be unpublished. That disappointing outcome might have been avoided if Matty had been clearer about the requirement to have the work available non-exclusively for a specified period of time.
As curator, you’ll have to handle the production and publishing of the book, as well as the division of royalties from the anthology sales. Fortunately, there are a couple services to help you manage and organize this work efficiently.
StoryBundle is a service that creates ebook bundles that are available for a limited time; readers pay whatever they choose. The StoryBundle team collaborates with curators, generally writers and editors who are well-connected within the community from which stories will be solicited. For example, Dean Wesley Smith acted as a StoryBundle curator for an anthology with a “saving the world” theme, and contacted Mark asking if he had any appropriate works for the bundle.
If you’re not being approached by authors for a StoryBundle, you can also request that your work be considered for a bundle by e-mailing the StoryBundle team.
In 2019 for ebooks, StoryBundle was Mark’s largest income stream, exceeding even Amazon—this despite (or perhaps because of) StoryBundle’s philosophy that readers pay whatever they think the bundle is worth.
BundleRabbit allows you to upload short stories (as well as novels) to an online marketplace, from which independent curators (not BundleRabbit itself) can select for digital anthologies or bundles. Curators might go to the marketplace to identify a set of books that conform to a certain theme, as reflected in the story’s metadata, then request you as the author to approve your book to be included in that bundle. BundleRabbit offers the opportunity for anyone to curate a bundle.
Unlike StoryBundle, BundleRabbit bundles can be available for extended periods, and the longer the anthology is available, the longer it will continue to earn you and your anthology partners money with no additional work on your part. One of the things that can limit the money-making potential of a bundle is if one of the participating authors decides to withdraw from the bundle—for example, in order to go exclusive on Amazon. This means that the entire bundle will need to be unpublished.
Note from Jane: if you enjoyed this post, check out Matty and Mark’s book Taking the Short Tack: Creating Income and Connecting with Readers Using Short Fiction.