Six Truths About Anthologies

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by Barbara Florio Graham

I’m using the term “anthology” to cover all kinds of books you may contribute to, but you aren’t the primary writer or co-writer.

There are a couple of main categories these books fall into:

1. Contributions are solicited from the general public. The publisher pays a small amount (often just twenty cents a word), buys all rights, and then uses your contribution any way it likes, often in other books, magazines, and websites. You lose all control over where your work appears, and have no recourse if you’re not happy with the way your piece was edited or where it ends up years later. I call this the Chicken Soup model.

2. A variation of this is the contest that awards significant prizes to one or more winners, then pays a minimum to entrants who are selected to be included in the book. Stories can run from 1,000-2,500 words and payment is often just $100. But the possibility of being judged a winner of $1,000 or more is a great lure. Some of these contests accept reprints, which makes them a good bet. Still, profit goes to the publisher. See Summit Studios for an example.

A big problem with both of these examples is that they usually offer only a simple byline with no additional credit, not even your website or a mention of your book.

Another problem is that you often have to submit your work before you see the contract. It’s hard to refuse to sign a contract after your work has been accepted! Also, it can take up to a year to hear whether your story has been accepted, and several years before the book is published, so your work is in limbo all that time.

3. Contributing to someone else’s book: An individual obtains a contract from a major publisher to produce a book sharing his or her expertise. The individual then request friends, colleagues, and strangers to contribute advice and anecdotes to fill out the book. This gives the book a wider reach and more solid credibility. Contributing to a book like this doesn’t pay anything, but can be a great way to establish or increase your credibility in a specific area, and drive traffic to your website. If you can do this with little effort, drawing on your own expertise and experience, it’s certainly worthwhile. About two-thirds of the thirty-eight books I’ve contributed to fall into this category. Several of these books contain a bio section, where I’m listed with my expertise and website, and there’s an index where my name appears. Because of these things, the book is going to show up in a Google search.

4. An organization decides to put out a collection of their work. This may be prose, poetry, fiction, or non-fiction. Writers’ groups often do this, paying contributors nothing. This is great promotion for the organization, and a good way for a writer to accumulate some credits and/or to help out a group they support. By the time the group pays for editing, layout, and printing costs, there’s often little profit, but any money made goes to the organization. If the book is in support of a cause you want to help, or if you can contribute items you’ve already had published elsewhere, this can be a reasonable choice.

5. A group of writers joins forces to collaborate on a book. If they live in the same general area and write about a subject of local interest, this can work out very well. If one member of the group is able to design the cover and another handle production, they can self-publish and do quite well. But they have to be careful to do it right, obtain an ISBN and bar code, and be committed to handling local and regional marketing.

6. Prose to Go: Tales from a Private List broke all the rules when it comes to anthologies. There were eighteen contributors who lived in fourteen different locations, from the Northwest Territories to Prince Edward Island. Since this private list was created by me, I was one of three editors, but we lived in different parts of the country so all communication had to be via email. We were smart enough not to try to self-publish. We obtained a standard contract from a mid-size publisher with a good track record, which ensured that the book got on Amazon, is distributed by Ingram, and is available in Kindle, Kobo, Nook and other formats. Fourteen locations gave us the opportunity to promote widely. Publisher’s website: http://www.Bridgeross.com Description and reviews of the book at: http://www.SimonTeakettle.com/prosetogo.htm

If you kept the rights to work you have previously published, some of these anthology ideas may work for you. The best way to decide is to ask yourself some key questions.

How much effort is it for you to contribute to this anthology? If you can spend less than an hour sharing your expertise or ideas with someone and get a nice credit in the book, it’s well worth doing. If you can give a second life to a piece you’ve already published and get a credit line as well, it makes sense to take advantage of that opportunity. In these cases, however, read the contract carefully to make sure you’re only giving one-time rights.


Barbara Florio Graham is an author and publishing consultant. Her website, www.SimonTeakettle.com, contains a great deal of free information, as well as Simon Teakettle’s popular blog. This article first appeared in Freelance Writer’s Report.

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