You’ve heard it before: Writing and publishing a quality book can help establish you as an expert, boost your visibility, and open the door to more opportunities such as speaking gigs and interviews. But when you’re already running your own business, who has time to write a book?
Enter the anthology. An anthology is a collection of short pieces, usually written by other people than the “editor” (author) of the collection itself.
Anthologies can be a great way to save time while still publishing a book that achieves those aforementioned benefits. But if you want to avoid investing time, energy, and money in a book that doesn’t get you any closer to your goals, read on!
Know Your Goals for the Book
Every project should start with some consideration of the goals for the book. If you don’t know what outcomes you’d like to see, you won’t be able to make the best choices at the outset.
So, what do you hope to achieve by publishing your book? Yes, you’d probably like to earn some money from sales, but a book can be so much more. Are you creating something you hope will sell well and become seriously income-generating? Is this a way to build relationships with certain key figures in your industry? Are you trying to boost your own platform for more leads? Will you use the book as a calling card?
Most nonfiction authors are probably considering either a collection of memoir-style essays meant to inspire and entertain, or a collection of straightforward articles or interviews meant to inspire and instruct. Think carefully which will support your goals, not just which seems easier or more fun.
I once consulted with a woman whose peer group had talked her into doing an anthology to promote herself as a speaker and life coach. OK, great idea, right? Many of us have heard those simultaneously thrilling and anxiety-producing words, “You should write a book!”
The problem was this woman assembled a collection full of stories from random people in her life. She did have a theme of “overcoming,” and all the contributors were women (her ideal client type), so the book had cohesion and was on target with her niche. But none of the contributors were her own clients, nor did they work with coaches or use a similar process to overcome their situations. So, ultimately, it was a nice book, but it did nothing to highlight the woman’s expertise or experience.
A book like that isn’t going to do much to attract clients and speaking opportunities for you compared to one where the stories are all from people who worked with you and got results.
Choose Your Topic or Theme
Once you know what you want to achieve from the book’s publication, your next step is to start thinking about the “glue” that will hold your collection together. You want to choose a clear and interesting theme—theme, as well as any recognizable names of contributors, is what typically sells an anthology to a reader. Think about the famous Chicken Soup series: Every book has its own theme that is clear from the moment you spot it. They’re all titled something like Chicken Soup for the Divorced Woman’s Soul, or Chicken Soup for the College Graduate.
A strong or trendy theme—something that really stands out as different—will be useful if income is your main goal. Really look at the market and make sure you’re offering something fresh, a collection with a strong hook and an angle that lends itself well to publicity.
If you have other goals for the book, such as using it to generate new leads or speaking opportunities, your theme can be a little less sensational. Instead, you want to aim for something that speaks very clearly to a need your ideal clients have and/or a solution your business provides. Readers gravitate to the Chicken Soup books for comfort (as the series title implies). What will attract readers to yours?
Work with Great Contributors
Your contributors are essentially delivering the “meat and potatoes” of your book for you, so you want to ensure that:
- their credentials or “level” of visibility matches your needs
- they get what you’re trying to do and have a story or article topic that’s on point
- they are strong writers capable of delivering solid, near-publishable pieces
Recognizable names and authors with large followings can help you attract readers. This is especially important if you intend to pitch your book to publishers. But your book doesn’t have to be a collection of celebrities to succeed. Just make sure you’re choosing contributors based on the value of their contribution and not simply inviting all your friends to participate.
It also isn’t necessary that every contributor be a professional writer—in fact, it’s unlikely that will be the case. Most important is that they have at least a good basic skill level (HINT: check out their blogs or their own books and ask if they wrote it themselves vs. outsourcing) and are clear on what you’re looking for. You should agree on the topic and angle and maybe even the finer points of the piece before you sign them up.
Your role as editor may involve some ghostwriting on your part to help extra busy or high-level contributors (or those who aren’t as able to deliver as you initially thought) get their pieces up to where you want them. Be sure your contributors are okay with this as a possibility by stating up front that the pieces will be edited and whether or not the authors will have a chance to review and approve your changes.
To be clear, an effective anthology that boosts your business doesn’t have to be made of stories from just your clients. Perhaps you’re a business automation expert. Could your book be made up of interviews with or articles from other business experts who offer services complementary to yours, like online business managers, coaches, web developers, and social media marketers? And could you bring it all together with a strong introduction from you that establishes the benefit of automating your business in such a way that these other experts essentially end up validating your point (and proving your expertise) through their own stories and advice? Again, always keep in mind your goals for the book and use that as a touchstone for your decision-making.
Leverage the “Mix Tape” Effect
Most of you reading this probably remember mix tapes, or at least mix CDs, the hard-copy precursor to the curated playlist. You can think of your organization of the disparate pieces of the collection in much the same way. Not everyone will read an anthology cover to cover, but many will, so how you compile the pieces should be very deliberate. And I don’t mean alphabetically.
This part is more about feel than a formula, so trust your instincts. Arrange and rearrange the pieces until it feels right to you. Think about the book like a journey for your reader. For example, are there emotional highs and lows to manage along the way? Pieces of advice that would make more sense if other pieces came first? Do you want your readers to be “building” a skillset or mindset as they read, and if so, how do the various pieces contribute to that?
Your most important job as editor of an anthology is not just in helping each author get their contribution up to par but really in how it all comes together. It’s like cooking without a recipe, and you’re the chef. Serve your readers up a gourmet meal they’ll be telling all their friends about, and you’ll have a book that effectively sells your services for you.
Compiling an anthology can be a rewarding experience that results not just in a great book you can use to promote your business, but also a network of people—maybe even other experts—who support what you do. So, while it is a serious undertaking that should be approached thoughtfully for best results, don’t forget to have some fun with it and enjoy!
Have you edited an anthology or published a piece in someone else’s? Share your experiences and tips below!
Ally will be discussing this topic during the weekly teleseminar series October 3.
Ally E. Machate is a bestselling book collaborator, award-winning editor, and expert publishing consultant. Leveraging a background in “Big Five” publishing, she and her team live to help make great books happen, whether that means showing a writer how to improve a manuscript, get an agent, or self-publish; coaching an entrepreneur through writing a book that will skyrocket her business platform to new levels; or consulting with an author to grow her platform and sell more books. Since 1999, she has supported authors on their publishing journey and takes pride in serving as their books’ best ally. Get free gifts and learn more at www.thewritersally.com and www.allymachate.com.
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Thanks for posting. The 2015 anthology I helped edit and publish increased visibility for the 22 contributing writers (including me) and established my bona fides as a freelance editor. The award-winning Kindle version has earned three times the cost of publishing and continues to sell a few copies each month. https://amzn.to/3ADiU6H