– 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.