blogging, book promotion, Publisher's Advice, publishing, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

How to Publish a Quality Anthology… and Survive!

– by DW Brownlaw and PC Darkcliff

The cast of characters: P.C Darkcliff and DW Brownlaw, Indy writers and critique partners since 2018 – plus forty six other Indy Writer friends.

DWB: In April 2019, PC suggested the idea of publishing a collection of stories written by us and some of our writing community friends as a good way for us to ‘get our names out there’. We finally got DRAGON BONE SOUP published in mid-December. These reminiscences of what happened in between shows what we got right, what we got wrong, and what we learned from publishing arguably the best quality anthology of fantasy and light sci-fi stories.

PCD: In summary, the process involved the following steps:

> Setting up a group on Facebook.
> Coming up with rules and deadlines.
> Accepting stories and dealing with authors.
> Choosing the best stories and announcing the winners.
> Editing the stories.
> Doing author interviews to post on social media and at the back of the book.
> Formatting and publishing the anthology.

DWB: We found we had complementary strengths apart from being good editors. I was prepared to deal with administration, finance and design, while PC had the recognised name, contacts and experience with book formatting and publishing.

PCD: We started a Facebook group and invited a few friends. The idea was a small, selective group of about sixteen writers, with each contributing one story. But as the group was initially open, our friends invited their friends, who invited their friends… and overnight, the group had fifty members, all asking questions for which, at that time, we had no answers.

DWB: Rather than turn people away, we decided to invite submissions from the fifty and run a selection process. It took us weeks (mainly due to other commitments) to agree how to do that and get started. We spent the whole of July reading & discussing 30 submitted stories and whittling them down to the required 16. (To show you how fair this process was, I rejected my own story!)

PCD: Although we braced ourselves for a backlash from those who hadn’t made the cut, there have been no hard feelings or grudges. Thank you all for being so professional!

DWB: PC and I talked about what to do with the revenues from sales and neither of us felt comfortable about making money off our friends’ efforts. We agreed paying our authors would be a powerful incentive to attract the very best writing, but deciding how we would pay them wasn’t so easy. The ‘obvious’ solution was to pay them a share of the royalties, but we abandoned this when we realised we would have to administer the share-out for many years to come.

DWB: We opted for an up-front token payment… which reminds me of my biggest–and most expensive–mistake. I was advising a member of our Facebook group when I accidentally quoted the payment offered by top magazines, double the token amount that we’d previously promised. While it delighted our members, it certainly means I will never get my money back. Luckily, I never saw this as a money-making exercise.

PCD: Since each story had a title, byline, editor’s intro, and an author bio, formatting the anthology was a nightmare. What made it even more difficult was that each contributor sent their stories in different fonts and with different spacing and margins. Some of them even used tabs, which I had to remove manually. It made me understand why many professional editors impose very strict formatting rules on their contributors.

DWB: Surprisingly, one of the longest tasks concerned the cover art. We first tried asking for art submissions, but we slipped up in not specifying that we were looking for original work. Consequently, we got about 6 submissions (all from the same person) that we found existed elsewhere on the web, some being used for multiple books. Eventually, we opted to design our own cover and pay an artist to realise it. Andjela Vujić, PCD’s usual artist, liked our concept and I sent her a mock-up made from stock images slapped together in an art package. What we got back from her was breathtaking. Of course we wanted changes, but she was very obliging.

DWB: With all these delays, we finally published DRAGON BONE SOUP in mid December 2019, which was too late for catching the peak of the Christmas market. Despite this, we sold more copies than we anticipated and gained some five star reviews. We think the book will continue to sell modestly for years to come.

PCD: During the eight or so months of working on the anthology, I often wanted to kick myself for getting it started. But now when we’re done, all regrets have disappeared and I feel proud and happy.

DWB: They say you learn more by trying and making mistakes, and consequently we learned so much!

> To produce a quality anthology takes professionalism and planning. We just dove in and muddled through.
> Making & correcting mistakes is an effective way to learn anything, but the project took far longer as a consequence.
> Numbers count. Don’t expect to make money from any anthology, collection, magazine or journal until (a) you have a recognised name as a publisher, and (b) you have several on sale. Luckily, making money was never our intention, or that could have caused problems between us.
> Get involved deeply with the design of the cover; don’t leave it entirely to the artist. The cover is both the branding of your book and the first point of attracting your readers, so its design is critical. Most artists are happy to discuss your vision for the cover and give you exactly what you want. If you come across one who gives you the ‘hard sell’ (we had one), just walk away.

About Dragon Bone Soup:
Sixteen fantasy and light science fiction stories. The best indie writing talents from three continents invite you to peer into the dystopian future and enter their worlds of dragons, witches, spirits, elves, trolls, and magicians.The contributors are: Carmen Baca, Brandy Bonifas, David Bowmore, Steve Carr, P.C. Darkcliff, R.A. Goli, Shawn Klimek, Mark Kodama, Giuseppina Marino Leyland, Zhen Liu, Lynne Phillips, Sam M. Phillips, Daniel Craig Roche, Copper Rose, L.T. Waterson, and G. Allen Wilbanks.

Order your copy online here.


29 thoughts on “How to Publish a Quality Anthology… and Survive!

  1. Curtis, is this a close approximation of your experience, too?

    “The best indie writing talents from three continents…” That is an impressive claim. Not “among the best” or “some of the best”, but THE best.

    On the first day of fourth grade, my teacher, Mrs. Allen, stood at the front of the class and proclaimed, “Every year, all the other teachers look at my students and say, ‘Miriam, you must have been born under a lucky star. You always get the best students in the school.’ ” And, being kids, we believed we must be. But I doubt any of the other 1,500 kids at Stephen Foster Elementary did.

    Lol. Now my inner skeptic is torn between buying the anthology to make her own judgment and resisting the temptation for fear of disappointment.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You know, I thought the same thing. When I read that these were the best, I thought, “how can that be? I wasn’t even invited to participate!” That’s a joke, of course, but I do think it’s a bold statement.

      I know that when we were working on the first issue of SciFi Lampoon, I always (to my memory) stated “some of the best…” I think that I’ve you don’t, you open yourself up to some criticism—at least in the minds of readers.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Overall, an interesting behind-the-scenes article on the editorial/publishing process. The phrase “the best indie writing talents from three continents” bounced right off me as maximum-hype marketing-speak—I was neither offended nor enticed.

    Congrats to all involved! Sounds like sixteen talented writers gained an attractively packaged platform for their stories.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. dwbrownlaw says:

    ‘THE best Indie writing talents’ was indeed it our attempt at ad-copy. Please bear in mind that we first wrote this article for a different audience and it has been copied to this forum. Had we written it for you guys, after getting to know you, we’d probably have dialled it down a bit. Apologies to all with whom this phrase grated.

    Liked by 3 people

    • The cover is striking. Definitely attention-grabbing. Well done to all who worked on it.

      Lol! I appreciate your acknowledgement. Hyperbole certainly isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, is it? I wonder if there is a portion of the reading public that believes it, or do we all understand that you can’t take obviously hyped up ad-copy seriously? And if there isn’t, wouldn’t it be more effective to write honest ad-copy that assumes your target audience will understand and feel groked?

      Liked by 1 person

  4. dwbrownlaw says:

    Well actually I stand by this claim. In the writing communities I particuoate in, these ARE the best Indy writers from across the world. Is that honest enough for you? These other communities also know when to accept an apology and not kick someone who is already down.

    Yes, I am upset, and I probably shouldn’t write in this estate, but I am disappointed that this one phrase, written for a different forum (as I said and apologised for) upsets people here so much. I shall ask GD to take the article down forthwith.


    Liked by 2 people

    • No apology needed, DWBROWNLAW! Of course you are proud of your anthologized writers; we understand that. As I said, that particular phrase didn’t trouble me a bit; my reaction to it was neutral: “neither offended nor enticed”. I understood it to be marketing-speak, as you said, “intended for another audience.”

      I am concerned and confused, however, by your writing that the aforementioned marketing blurb “upsets people here so much.” Who are the “people here” who are “upset”? Sue? Is she not entitled to her opinion? And btw: seems to me Sue was gently chiding you, using a bit of humor to make her point.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Lol! I guess there’s some wisdom in the advice long-time authors often give less experienced writers to develop a thick skin and a healthy ego. And Capote’s comeback? “I’m always sad about Gore—very sad that he has to breathe every day.”

        Now that’s just mean. smh

        Liked by 3 people

      • David Foster Wallace on John Updike: “A penis with a thesaurus.”

        Truman Capote on Jack Kerouac: “That’s not writing; that’s typing.”

        Hemingway on Faulkner: “‘Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?”

        Liked by 3 people

    • I apologize for upsetting you so deeply. I didn’t realize you were down nor that I was kicking you. One of the ongoing discussions on this site is how to effectively market our work. I presented my questions as topics to delve into, not as rhetorical roundhouses. I anticipated hearing your considered opinion in response, as part of the respectful back-and-forth we so often practice here. My mistake. Again, I apologize.

      Liked by 5 people

      • dwbrownlaw says:

        Dear Sue. Thank you.

        And now it is my turn to apologise to you. This article was about the mistakes we made while still managing to produce a quality book (to our amazement). It seems another mistake I made was to dive into a totally new group and expect to understand its interests, practices and dynamics. Consequently, I didn’t understand your reply (still don’t, fully – “grok”?) and took it the wrong way. That I was dealing with it at 2am also did not help at all.

        I admit that I overreacted, leading to my next mistake : replying while still ‘feeling the passion’. I last made this particular mistake nearly thirty years ago and have regretted it ever since. I expect I shall likewise regret this repetition for what remains of my life.

        If you primarily, but also the group, will tolerate it I would like to ‘stick around’ and learn from your discussions on marketing. I’d be happy to describe what we tried for marketing Dragon Bone Soup, and thereby prove that I am not incapable of learning from constructive criticism.

        Liked by 6 people

        • Thank you, DW. I respect that you reconsidered and returned to give us another chance. I think I can safely speak for everyone here and say you are welcome to join us and contribute whenever you feel the urge. It’s a very welcoming group even though we don’t always agree. Of course, we have become one of those families that have never met — unless the rest of them are getting together behind my back. (Carl and GD would know to laugh at that — unless they really ARE getting together behind my back.) Lol.

          Grok (from Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land): to understand intuitively, profoundly or by empathy. I like to think of it as “getting it”. If I feel grokked (yeah, I think it should have had a double “k”), I feel like you get me.

          “I last made this particular mistake nearly thirty years ago and have regretted it ever since” sounds like a life-changing story you’re not sure you want to share. But whether or not you do, I hope you don’t waste any of what remains of your life regretting this repetition. Please. A passing misunderstanding. If it’s your first in 30 years, well done, you! How much happier each day of your future can be if you just take the lesson and move forward without kicking yourself along the way.

          So welcome to Writers Co-op, DW. I hope to have many interesting and valuable interactions with you. I’m sure I will learn much from your first hand experience.

          Liked by 6 people

        • @DWBROWNLAW: No worries, good sir! You’re part of the pack now, heh!

          Speaking as a writer who “writes on spec” and is currently in economic freefall, I can only express admiration and envy that you found a way to pay your contributing writers market rates for this out-of-left-field, passion project anthology. That is putting your money where your mouth–and heart–is. Salute!

          Liked by 3 people

          • dwbrownlaw says:

            Thanks Carl.
            What to do with the royalties became an issue of moral debate for us wanna-be publishers. We didn’t feel comfortable pocketing revenue that resulted from more effort than just our own. I started contacting various charities about setting up the finances such that the charity would own the book (& therefore the royalties) but with no response. At the same time, we floated the idea with the group of fifty interested writers, who had so far been engaged, encouraging and enthusiastic, … and the idea sank like a lead balloon. If memory serves, we had two lukewarm positive responses, one flatly negative (there’s always one), and deafening silence from the rest. It was important to us to maintain the group’s enthusiasm – we held the theory that excited members would be of more help in promoting the book. And that is when the idea of a token payment took shape. The rest you know from the article.

            Personally, I find it morally wrong for a publisher -company or individual- to accept stories and not share the revenues in some form with the contributors. Paying with ‘exposure’ is fine in theory but provides poor benefit in practice, and I suspect it is used callously in some instances. However, talking about this with two people who publish story collections as a business, they tell me they do plan to pay contributors soon / one day, when the finances allow. I know them well and I believe them, so this cheers me considerably.

            I am also disappointed that publishers do not provide feedback on rejected stories. Yes, I know why, and having now published an anthology myself, I do understand that it can be impractical to provide much detail. However, just a few words would be helpful (“heavy on exposition”, “unconvincing dialogue”,…). Anyway, I spent a few weeks communicating with the fourteen unsuccessful contributors and sending such feedback to the thirteen that wanted it (there’s always one). As you can imagine this proved a popular move, and not just with those receiving feedback (who were delighted); this further boosted our reputation (and hopefully helped later promotion).

            Liked by 5 people

            • Thanks for that information, DW. Yes, I too have always provided some brief feedback to those whose stories are rejected and as you say, it’s appreciated on the whole.
              Regarding charities, the Against Malaria Foundation have an easy donations page and I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t want the extra hassle of handling the royalties. Most authors have been happy with the procedure and I send an annual report of results. But you’re quite right that handing over their royalties probably diminishes the amount of promotion they do themselves, so one advantage of having multiple authors is lessened.
              I’ve also been published in an anthology myself where it was made clear that all proceeds would be put towards promotion such as Facebook ads. And the sales were much better as a result, so it could be argued that the greater exposure was reward enough.

              Liked by 3 people

  5. Sue asks if DW’s post is a close approximation of my own experience with anthologies. Yes, pretty much. We didn’t do author interviews, and my ineffectual use of Facebook meant that not much happened in that direction either. GD took care of the cover art by recruiting the excellent Ian Bristow, so that was one less task for me. We had a pretty good selection and editing process, I think, and the formatting, though a nightmare at first, got easier each time. I don’t worry about the different fonts but compile all the stories into a single document which I format all at once. Yes, tabs and doubles line breaks between paragraphs can be a headache, but the special commands in Word can generally handle them.
    We weren’t expecting to make much money and most authors agreed to give their royalties to the Against Malaria Foundation. I hope that those who preferred to keep them (a choice I entirely respect) weren’t too disappointed with the tiny amount they received, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were. For the current issue, I’ll stress that they shouldn’t get their hopes up for anything more than a cappuccino.
    Which brings me to marketing. I was going to reply to this post last night, then saw that DW might have been scared off for good. Thank you, DW, for reconsidering – I look forward to some fruitful exchanges!
    I’ve become convinced that the use of social media has only a very limited effect, and that ultimately some form of paid advertising is indispensable. I’m very slowly exploring this myself for my own books – it’ll be several months before I’m ready to use Facebook (or Amazon) ads but I’ll give it a go sometime this year. But an anthology is a harder sell than a novel, and what works for one (if indeed it does) might not work for the other. I’d be very curious to know what your own approach was, DW. I’m sure that by comparing our experiences, we can both benefit. Just one reason why I’m so glad your ‘goodbye’ wasn’t final, but just an ‘au revoir.’

    Liked by 5 people

  6. Thanks for weighing in, Curtis. It might be instructive if you and DW went into more detail about your separate approaches to asking contributing authors to consider donating profits to charity. Across the six (I think) anthologies you’ve published, how much have you been able to send to Against Malaria? And do you have any idea how much the campaign to give books to those who provided proof of a $20 donation to Against Malaria raised?

    I know the nascent SciFi Lampoon doesn’t yet pay its contributors, but can GD or Adam Stump provide any information about what they do with whatever proceeds magazine and ezine sales generate? It seems reasonable it would go toward future production costs, but that’s just my speculation. I don’t remember anything about it on the website.

    Liked by 3 people

    • @Sue Great question! Only the first issue of SciFi Lampoon has “hit the stands.” Ian K, the publisher, handles the finances. Our staff discussion about revenue amounted to little more than, “When we have revenue.” Ian did the cover art for issue 1 and editor Geoff Habinger & I have split the cost of the cover for issue 2. (Art from that proven artist, Ian Bristow.) Everyone working on the magazine wants the first real revenue to go to paying authors. But for now, as you say, it’s nascent 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

    • Five anthologies so far – three Book a Break and two RH. For the BaB, I didn’t give authors a choice – all went to Against Malaria Foundation – but for RH authors get the choice (I guess I’m less of a dictator as I age). Across the five, the AMF has received about 550 euros, so not much per issue, but that translates into about 800 nets, which makes a difference. Only three people signed up for the donation option, but given that only my newsletter subs got to hear about it, that’s not too surprising.

      Liked by 4 people

  7. mimispeike says:

    I’ll jump in here from another angle.

    There are different approaches to illustration. One is: make a pretty picture, that’s enough. The other: an illustration extends a story. A piece of art, lovely to look at can be its entire reason for being. An illustration, a cover illustration in particular, is a workhorse.

    I understand this cover is not connected to any particular story, it sets a tone. I still wonder: who is making a dragon-bone soup? Someone’s stolen the mama’s baby. (The bone is tiny.) The parent is peering through a window at the boil-in-progress. Is she watching in horror? I give my animal actors furrowed brows, grimaces. Comical? Maybe. But a gargantuan expressionless eye staring through a window is cartoonish, to me.

    You’ll sell me with emotion. If you see your dragon as not capable of feelings past primitive rage, show me a cook bent over his broth, oblivious to the danger at hand. That would capture my attention as well.

    I’ve looked at this image again and again, to see if I have a different reaction. I don’t.

    Liked by 2 people

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