Group projects, from short story or novella anthologies through to continuing series pose challenges as well as offering great rewards. This article presents key planning elements and how to approach a group project to make the experience work positively for contributors and broaden readership bases. From choosing the right partners to uploading final documents, thorough planning is the key. Laying down clear guidelines, setting realistic goals, and applying teaching principles has led to several varied and successful partnerships.
Anthologies are a wonderful way for readers to become acquainted with authors who are new to them and can be a great vehicle for growing your readership. Usually the stories are short or novella length and showcase the author’s preferred genre, or else they are written around a theme or season or topic, chosen and agreed to before work begins. Contributors can be a single author or a group drawn together by a person with good organizational skills.
I’ve been involved in several anthologies, with different groups for different purposes, all of which have been successful in achieving their aim. There are a number of aspects these anthologies have in common. In every case, they were well planned and thoroughly prepared, and ground rules were clearly laid down. Open and regular communication maintained the pace of each project, and all participants began with a clear understanding of timelines and expectations.
Before you decide to jump into an anthology and grab the nearest writer friend, here are several key points of preparation to consider.
- Purpose: What do you want to achieve with the anthology?
A clear, common purpose is essential. All writers want to gain exposure and grow their readership. Working with a group of authors can offer cross-fertilization by exposing your readers to new authors. Your reason for writing this anthology is likely to affect your price point. If, as emerging authors, your main aim is to gain new readers, you might choose perma-free. Established writers often choose a 99 cent option. I’ve used both and, as expected, the free option was more effective in reaching new readers.
- Length: Number of authors in the project X approximate length of each contribution.
Such collaborations typically use short story or novella length. Four authors each writing 12-15K stories gives a reader the equivalent of a 48-60K book and offer readers a taste of each writer’s style and voice. Consider whether you have space to include a teaser of another of your stories. At the very least, you should include social media links and a link to your website. If readers like your story, they will take the easy one-click path to find your other work. As soon as they have finished a story they love, this is prime time for directing their attention to your other works.
- Size and composition of group:
This really depends on how the members know each other. Have they met and interacted with you/others in the group? Do you have a common purpose? Do you want a mixture of styles? If you opt for a larger group, is one person prepared to ‘manage’ the admin side of things?
My first anthology was with fellow south-east Queensland writers, some of whom I had met at a previous writers’ conference and established online friendships. One sunny day in Brisbane, we met face-to-face for lunch and clicked. We were all at a similar stage in our writing journeys and were looking to grow our readership bases. A suggestion to write a Christmas themed anthology and put it up for free excited all four of us and we set to work. (*See #7 Planning)
As it turned out, our preferred genres guided that first anthology, which became a chronological series of Christmas stories. Our historical writer, Elizabeth Ellen Carter, chose Cornwall in the early C19th, Noelle Clark opted for a dual time frame of 1960’s and present day, Eva Scott wrote a contemporary story, and I decided this was a good time to challenge myself to write a short piece of sci-fi set in 2525 AD. I’d read this genre as a young woman, but asked another writer friend whose specialty is this genre to offer feedback on my story. This became our permanently free anthology, A Season to Remember.
Are you aiming for digital only or will there be a print run?
Do you want to make it exclusive to Amazon and access Kindle Unlimited, or do you want to make it as widely available as possible across a number of e-tailers? Do you have one person everyone can rely on to do the formatting and uploads? Will there be separate remuneration for that person, or will you share the tasks?
This can be formal or informal, but it is helpful to know exactly what the expectations for the group will be, as well as to set out each member’s responsibilities.
Eg. All involved agree to:
- share costs of professional services and promotional materials
- meet deadlines in a professional manner
The groups I’ve been in have used a professional cover designer. Consider how you will pay for these shared costs. Include this in the agreement.
There is also a benefit in setting up a Yahoo (or similar) group or a closed FB page where discussion can occur. My groups have used both successfully; the choice depends on the project and personal preferences. The ability to upload files to share, to include an Excel spreadsheet etc. is helpful.
Also consider how long the group project will be available as an anthology. Contributors may wish to self-publish their work at a later date and this aspect needs to be clear from the outset.
No matter how well you get on with the members of your group, some written form of agreement can assist the project to flow smoothly. At best, it is a handy reference to keep everyone on track. If disagreements do occur, a contract reminds the parties what the original expectations were and what their responsibilities are.
Keep it open and regular, honest and pleasant. Regular check ins can help, particularly if you have a less experienced member in the group. Knowing there are people who can assist with problems or who are willing to chat and offer reassurance or guidance reduces stress. It also keeps people on track with gentle reminders of where the process is ‘at’.
If there is interest in other forms of social media or if a member(s) has a special interest area such as Pinterest, Instagram and so on, make use of it. Pinning images to a common board is helpful if the stories or characters are connected in some way. The visual element assists continuity.
If there are characters/places in common, a spreadsheet with vital details uploaded to the group site gives everyone a checklist. Readers will pick up errors!
Every member should commit to promotion of the work. Consider whether you’ll do it on an ad hoc basis or if a roster works better for your group. One person could take charge of each social media area or an ‘all in’ approach can generate excitement.
Begin at the end!
Choose your publication date and work backwards from there.
Factor in time buffers. Inevitably, there will be an unavoidable delay somewhere along the way. Life happens but the writing process is much easier if you have built in flexibility.
So: the process needs to be organized, then reversed to work out your dates with regard to publication.
- Group creator invites members to join Project X, OR group is formed and discusses what they want to write, their goals etc.
- Schedule is created and tasks are assigned
- Individuals work on their stories
- Cover design, blurbs, early promotion
- Beta reading occurs
- Rewriting and editing. **It is worthwhile getting a professional edit at this stage. If this project is about gaining new readers, be aware that many poor reviews cite ‘needed editing’ as a reason why they won’t try any more of a particular author’s work. Don’t lose readers before you secure them!
- Press publish!
Once you have worked out your publication date, consider if you want to use preorders. Amazon requires the final copy to be uploaded a minimum of ten days prior to release. You need everyone to have proofread the final copy, (NOT just their own work) and enough time to fix errors. Trust me, there are always errors!
Born and raised in Toowoomba, Susanne Bellamy is an Australian author of contemporary and suspense romances set in exciting and often exotic locations, and rural romance set in Australia. She adores travel with her husband, both at home and overseas, and weaves stories around the settings and people she encounters.
Her heroes have to be pretty special to live up to her real life hero. He saved her life then married her.
Susanne is a member of the RWA and was a finalist in their 2011 Emerald Award. She placed third in the 2015 Pan Macmillan short story competition with Chez Romeo. Mentoring aspiring writers, and working as a freelance editor keeps her off the street! She loves connecting with readers and fellow writers.
You can find her at the following:
- Facebook https://www.facebook.com/susanne.bellamy.7
- Twitter https://twitter.com/SusanneBellamy
- Website http://www.susannebellamy.com/
- Pinterest http://www.pinterest.com/susannebellamy/
- Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/author/list/6869630.Susanne_Bellamy
‘Second Chance Cafe’ is a collection of four tales of romance and second chances by Susanne Bellamy, Elizabeth Ellen Carter, Noelle Clark and Abbie Jackson.
Susanne Bellamy’s The Wish List continues the author’s track record of rural romance set in Australia as well as contemporary and suspense romances set in exotic global locations. In the south-east Queensland city of Toowoomba, handsome accountant Jack Schulz sweeps into Julie Aster’s life. He is the answer to her dilemma and the embodiment of her wish list. Julie wants to save the animal shelter and Jack might have the answer but is he playing for love or profit? Bellamy weaves stories around the settings and people she encounters in her travels around the world. Her titles include ‘Engaging The Enemy’, ‘Winning the Heiress’ Heart’, ‘One Night in Sorrento’, ‘Sunny With A Chance Of Romance’ and ‘One Night in Tuscany’. Bellamy placed third in the 2015 Pan Macmillan short story competition with ‘Chez Romeo’.
A Season To Remember is an anthology of four short stories for Christmas by established romantic fiction authors Susanne Bellamy, Elizabeth Ellen Carter, Noelle Clark and Eva Scott. The tales are set in different periods, starting in the early 1800s and ending in the future of 2525.
A Touch of Christmas by Susanne Bellamy begins as Starship Bluefire settles into orbit around Earth and Captain Andra Veluthian anticipates meeting her favourite human, Colonel Nick Madigan. Have his efforts to save the planet succeeded? And if so, will she lose any chance to be with him? Knowing Andra’s fascination with all things Terran, Nick has planned a surprise for her. After all, it is Christmas, the season of giving. But when Earth’s leader and the Gravlarian captain spend time planet side, the temperature soars.