I have compiled and published a few non-fiction anthologies over the years and they have all been successful, both from a research and publishing standpoint in the beginning, and a sales standpoint later. There is a right way and a wrong way to collect and publish a book of stories and/or chapters contributed by others. One way contributes to your professional image while the other can destroy it.
As with any book you plan to write, the first step, of course, is to research the target market for your proposed anthology, and to figure out how you can attract and serve that market. There are numerous articles and books available about how to do that so we’re going to move on to the logistical part of the process.
HOW MUCH TO PAY CONTRIBUTORS?
The worst mistake an anthology editor can make is to solicit stories for no pay. Not only is in insulting to writers (why should someone donate their time to something you’re going to profit from later?) but it a classic sign of an unprofessional (say cheap!) project. You should also offer every contributor a free copy of the print edition of your book. If you tell them they must buy a copy, you’re going to come across as a real cheapskate. If they helped to build it, they deserve to see it in their hands and they shouldn’t have to pay to make that happen.
How much should you pay your contributors? It really depends on the type of stories you’re soliciting. If you’re buying personal essays that require no research, and are easy to write, you can offer a lower amount. If the stories are only a couple hundred words and are based on the writer’s personal experience, they may be able to write and edit the piece in an hour or less. Offering them $20-$25 on acceptance plus a copy of the print edition when it is published would be acceptable.
I would recommend the same for fiction but the pay would need to be offered on a scale based on word count. Don’t offer only $20 for a 5,000-word story. How long would it take you to write and edit a 5,000-word story? How much money would you accept for that story, depending on the rights being purchased? You should offer your contributors nothing less than you yourself would accept. If you give away your writing for free, or if you work for peanuts, don’t insult other writers by suggesting they do the same. If you’re not sure, ask your contributors to quote their proposed rates based on the work you’re requesting.
For stories that require research or a particular expertise, you would need to offer more. Again, the amount may vary based on the type of story, the amount of research required and the profession or training of the writer. If you are hiring a doctor to write a chapter for your medical advice book, you would need to pay them a respectable amount based not only on the work they are doing, but also based on their title and knowledge. For example, a physician writing a chapter on Alzheimer’s for you would expect far more than a baker writing a chapter about cake decorating. Again, when in doubt, ask your contributors to quote you prices.
You should ALWAYS pay on acceptance. When a contributor sends in their story, read it, accept it (unless you must request changes), and pay for it within three business days. There’s no faster way to ruin your reputation than to make your contributors wait for payment. Their work is done. They deserve immediate payment. Period.
Do NOT solicit stories for an anthology if you don’t have money to pay for the stories up front. Also, never offer contributors anything other than cold, hard cash (or a check, or payment via Paypal). No “percentage of future royalties”, no “equity” in your new “publishing company”, etc. Pay them real money and pay them immediately. Happy contributors now lead to more book buyers later. Yes, your contributors will be telling people their stories appear in your book, so offer them respectable terms, pay them immediately, and keep them happy! If you don’t, they won’t be promoting you and your book online. They’ll be posting complaints about you online instead.
Never take more rights than you need. Doing so is greedy. In my anthologies, I only buy non-exclusive rights. That means I and the writer can use the story in any way we both want or need to. I can use it in my book, I can offer it as an excerpt on my website, I can use it for marketing purposes, etc. They can also use it in any way they want, including publishing it or reselling it. I don’t need anything more than non-exclusive rights so why would I ask for them? If I did need more rights for some reason (i.e. if a traditional publisher required it to land a contract with them), I would offer them more money for their contribution.
BEFORE YOU SOLICIT STORIES
Before you start soliciting stories, you need to create an email to send to writers who respond to your request for queries. In mine, I briefly explain what the book is about, describe the target audience, and detail what I’m looking for in stories. I also make a bulleted list that shows pay rate(s), word counts, final date for submission of stories, rights requested, and any other information that applies to the current project.
Next week, we’ll talk about the contributors’ contract and how and where to solicit queries. If you are not a subscriber, please subscribe to WritersWeekly.com (it’s free!) so you can be notified when next week’s issue is released.
About The Author
Angela Hoy is the publisher of WritersWeekly.com, and the co-owner of BookLocker.com (one of the original POD publishers that still gets books to market in less than a month), PubPreppers.com (print and ebook design for authors who truly want to self-publish), and Abuzz Press (the publishing co-op that charges no setup fees).
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