Writers in the Storm

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December 11, 2013

One World, Many Authors...How Does It Work?

All of us at WITS do our best to bring you information about every aspect of today's publishing. Today's post delves into a unique project, and New York Times bestselling author, Deb Holland, is here to tell you all about it -- the good, the bad and the OMG!

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By Debra Holland

The idea of a multi-author anthology set in my bestselling Montana Sky series was born in the Spring of 2013. The prior year, I’d written a collection of short Christmas stories, Montana Sky Christmas, and loved the experience. I had more ideas for Christmas stories and knew I wanted to write a second collection.

The Problem: My deadlines for the year didn’t allow time to add a book of short stories.

One of my long-time favorite authors, Andre Norton, had several multi-author anthologies in her Witch World series. Authors or aspiring authors would write a story set in Andre’s world for the anthology. Other authors, like Mercedes Lackey, have done similar anthologies.

But, to my knowledge, no indie-pubbed romance authors had done it... Yet.

My Original Idea

  • Open my Sweetwater series to other authors to write in, using my characters as secondary characters in their stories.
  • Include a few of my stories, but have the majority of the book written by other authors.
  • Use a multi-author anthology as a promotional opportunity.
    ~ The stories would showcase each author’s writing.
    ~ Each author was allowed to link her anthology story to her own books or series.
    ~ All the anthology authors would be able to cross-promote and gain new readers.

Initial Steps

My very first step was to contact literary attorney Elaine English and have her draw up a contract for the authors in the anthology.

A Summary of How This Stage Went:

1. I compiled a list of Western or Western Romance authors who were friends of mine. One declined because she didn’t want to give up her rights to her story. Five said no due to deadlines. My biggest surprise was how many said yes.

2. The invite included some of the details about the contract.

  • It was a writer-for-hire situation
  • A flat fee of $500 for each story
  • I retained the rights to each story in the anthology.

Note: I figured it was only fair to pay the authors up front for the stories, since (once the book earned out) I would be benefiting from the royalties.

3. I chose a word count of 3000-12,000, and stipulated that the story must be heartwarming, although it did not have to be a romance.

4. The short story must be edited before submission to me.

5. Submission deadline of August 15th, 2013. Publication date -- September, 2013.

What Worked Great

Once the group of authors was signed, I started a private Facebook page so everyone could communicate and get to know each other.

Being together on Facebook made it easier to talk about story ideas and make sure each author’s character names were unique.

A few of the authors turned in their stories way before the deadline, and the rest were mostly on time.

We all expected to have the anthology published well in time for the holidays, yet my own deadlines were stressing me out. It was a huge help to obtain a pre-order button so the book would be for sale, yet I’d still have time to work on my part of it.

The other authors of the anthology have all been very good sports about the entire process, and have likely worked harder than they imagined they would.

The best part of the experience has been reading the other author’s stories—all very different and special. I loved seeing their creativity. They’ve also added some new characters and businesses to Sweetwater Springs.

All the authors have been supportive of me and of each other and I couldn’t have asked for a better group of ladies to work with. I’m very grateful to them.

The Stressful Parts

While I had a fun time reading the stories, some were not nearly the quality of writing I’d expected. It had never occurred to me that some of these authors hadn’t written short before, and that they’d be handicapped by writing in my world, not their own.

At that point, I had the sinking feeling of: Oh, no! What have I gotten myself into?

A Summary of How This Stage Went:

1. Although every one of the stories was copyedited and clean, many needed a lot of developmental editing. I did far more editing than I’d planned. Worst of all, I had to push back the September publishing deadline.

2. I did not provide was a character “bible,” which would have made things easier on the other authors. This meant I had to answer a lot of questions about my characters and my town, even as other deadlines loomed.

3. I was trying to finish Harvest of Dreams by its August 31 pre-order deadline and the story was fighting me all the way.

4. I wanted to contribute one story to start the book and one to end it but I ran into an unexpected writing block: I couldn't find the heart of my story.

I began to doubt my ability to pull this off, and worried I was going to let down the other ten authors. I’d cracked the editing whip and made them work so hard to polish their stories into jewels and yet I wasn’t contributing a similar caliber story.

5. Formatting was a major stumbling block.

I thought it would be a simple matter of cutting and pasting to combine all the stories. (NOT!) E. Ayers rescued me and ended up formatting the whole thing. E. put in hours on the formatting before I ever sent the anthology to the official formatter.

The downside? Whenever I had to add a story or bio, I had to send them to E. so I didn’t mess up the formatting

6. The week before Sweetwater Springs Christmas had to go to the formatter, I was still writing the ending story for the anthology. That week, I had crazy bedtimes.

400+ pages of hearwarming stories ~ $4.99 on Kindle
400+ pages of hearwarming stories ~ $4.99 on Kindle

BUT... I’d finally found the “heart” in my beginning and ending stories, and I adored the one I wrote for the middle of the book.

Somehow, all the work managed to get done.

7. The formatter returned the anthology with a few days to spare before the pre-order, and I breathed a sigh of relief when I uploaded the ebook to Amazon.

8. The formatter turned her attention to the print version and everyone, once again, read their story. Errors were fixed.

By the time we finished the book, it was all sort of a blur.

I anxiously waited for the first reviews to come in. Usually, my super fans read and review my books within 24-48 hours, so when I didn’t receive a review in that time period, I began worrying.

When the first review—a five star—was posted, I nearly cried with relief.

As of now, we have seven five star reviews. The anthology is currently on the Amazon Top 100 lists of Western Romance, Romance Inspirational, Fiction Holiday, and Short Stories.

What I've Learned for "The Next Time"

If I did a multi-author anthology for my Montana Sky series again, I’d do several things differently.

  • I’d allow a lot more time--perhaps a year--for the whole process.
  • I’d certainly work with this group of ladies again, both because they’re talented writers, good friends, and we’ve been through the learning curve together.
  • An anthology might be easier with fewer authors, so that’s something to keep in mind. Also with fewer authors, the word count per story could be greater.
  • I’d create a detailed “bible” of characters and places, including the childrens' ages for the year the anthology is set.
  • I’d have in the contract that the story would have to be both developmentally edited and copy edited.

Another possibility would be to put out a call for submissions and have authors submit stories with no guarantee of being accepted. I’d just take the top 6-10 best submissions.

Most of all, I’d go into the experience with a different mindset.

Knowing the difficulties and time requirements in advance consuming the anthology will allow me to plan accordingly, so I’ll be less stressed during the experience.

Have you ever worked on an anthology? What did you like or dislike about the experience? Do you have insights to add, or questions for Debra?

Let's give her a warm welcome down in the comments!

About Debra

DebraHollandNew York Times and USA Today bestselling author, Debra Holland wears several hats when it comes to writing.

As a psychotherapist, she writes nonfiction books. The Essential Guide to Grief and Grieving was her first nonfiction book. More nonfiction books about grieving, boundary setting with difficult people, and relationships, are forthcoming.

Debra also writes fiction--Historial Western Romance, Contemporary Romance, Fantasy Romance, and Science Fiction. Her Montana Sky series, sweet historical Western romances, is published by Amazon Montlake. The Gods' Dream Trilogy (fantasy romance) is available on Kindle.

Debra lives in Southern California and has one dogs and two cats. She's a second degree blackbelt and teaches martial arts. She also is a corporate crisis/grief counselor. You can join her newsletter subscription list or learn more about her at her website, http://www.drdebraholland.com/.

Facebook: http://facebook.com/debraholland.731
Twitter: @DrDebraHolland

24 comments on “One World, Many Authors...How Does It Work?”

  1. Thanks for all of the insight. I've contemplated spearheading a holiday anthology with other writers, but had no idea it would be so complicated. And how icky to deal with writer friends whose stories are not up to par with your expectations. Would you do it again?

    Much success to you and the other writers on this accomplishment!

  2. Thanks, Ella Quin and morrighansmuse for passing on the word about this blog. Deb Herbert, the circumstances would have to be right for me to do it again. I don't see it fitting in my schedule for a while, though.

  3. This is a wonderful book and was a great experience for me. I learned a lot from Debra and from her developmental editor and contributor to the anthology Linda Carroll-Bradd. I am so thankful that Debra allowed me to be a part of her wonderful world.

  4. Debra, thanks for sharing your journey with us! This is fascinating (and a TON of work). I think the questions will start coming out of the woodwork soon, but I have one.

    What did your newer authors say it did for their other books? I can see the promo-push aspect as being a valid point to do this.

    1. I think it's too early to tell what it's doing for the other authors. The book has only been out since November 18th. I know I've had my readers tell me that they are going to read the books of the new favorite authors they discovered from the anthology. I think it's also building name recognition for the authors.

  5. It was a unique and different experience for me to be a part of. I had fun and am enjoying all the stories.

  6. Debra, after all that work on the Christmas books, had I been you I would've been looking for the eggnog! But you clearly did a great job according to the reviews. Thanks for blogging and sharing your experience with us. It will probably save many us a lot of headaches down the line. 🙂

  7. Reblogged this on Rakes Rogues and Romance and commented:
    Because multi-author anthologies are so bug right now, I thought this article was timely. What's your opinion? do you all like them? And if you do, what format? Do you like a connected theme throughout the stories, or simply authors who have similar type heroes, heroines and or premises to put their books together?

  8. Thanks for passing this on, Nancy. I like connected anthologies if they are done well and the details match. Similar types is also fine with me. I'll pick one up because I like one or more authors, then if I discover new authors I like, it's a bonus.

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