How to Use an Anthology as a Powerful Marketing Tool

by | Apr 15, 2015

By Jason Kong

Author Hugh Howey had an idea. He decided to share it with his peers on KBoards, a community forum for Kindle-related topics.

Indie authors wanting to showcase their writing would contribute flash fiction, to be compiled into a single book. 101 writers submitted a story, and the resulting anthology was published in December of 2014. Stories on the Go generates exposure for the participating authors, and will continue to do so every time another reader gives the book a shot.

The concept of anthologies isn’t new, but it bears a closer look as a vehicle for discoverability. Standing out from the crowd is only going to get tougher, and marketing through collaboration remains a smart strategy.

Why not start an anthology to increase your visibility?

The first step

Appoint yourself as lead organizer.

Sure, it’s more work than just being a contributor. But consider the benefits:

  • The anthology actually happens – Otherwise, you’re depending on someone else to see it through.
  • You’re the primary decision-maker – This is critical since you want the book to serve a marketing function. You can ensure the end product reflects that vision.
  • Get additional credit for leading the effort – Having your name on the cover or inside the book as the key organizer sets you apart from everyone else, which may yield a similar benefit for your story within the anthology.
  • You get to directly work with the other authors – Developing these relationships may lead to other partnerships in the future.

Okay, so now that you’ve decided to embark on this project, what exactly do you need to know? Here are some pointers to help you out:

  1. Only consider authors with similar audiences to yours

    An anthology containing stories that appeal to a particular kind of reader creates a unified brand. People attracted to the book will more likely enjoy the fiction within, thus increasing the odds of becoming a fan. Likewise, folks drawn to the anthology because of any single writer will have a greater chance of finding someone else they like.

    This is a strategic marketing decision, intended to boost your success rate.

  2. Focus on short stories

    In theory, you could do an anthology containing fiction of any length. I would suggest you choose to keep the word count for each submission on the lower side.

    Why? If the authors you contact don’t already have a finished story to contribute, then they’re going to have to crank one out in order to join. And as you already know, writers are busy people. Don’t make it harder for them to commit.

    Shorter pieces means less work for you too, since you’re organizing the overall effort.

  3. Find the right balance of participants and your workload

    As long as the contributing authors share a similar audience to yours, you’ll generally want as many of them as possible. More stories will typically draw more attention, which is better from a promotional perspective.

    Of course, more participants also means more coordination at your end. Good project management skills will allow you to take on more, but you should be realistic about what you can handle, regardless. Don’t let oversized aspirations cause the book to go unpublished.

  4. Solicit authors more likely to participate, before approaching those less likely

    Once you have a list of possible candidates for the anthology, don’t contact them all at once.

    Instead, start with those most likely to say “yes,” such as writers you know personally. Once you have a group of authors that have committed, then check with everyone else. Because now you can list the names of people already on board, which may heighten the anthology’s appeal.

    It’s possible that this tactic won’t make a difference at all, but it’s an approach that has a significant upside and no real downside. So why not?

  5. Display links to the respective author platforms in an obvious way

    Let’s say a reader enjoyed one of the anthology stories, and wants to check out other stuff the author has written. Where should that link be located?

    The obvious place is at the end of story that author wrote. But consider making that link also available elsewhere, such as in its own separate section within the book. You could list all the contributing writers alphabetically with the respective link next to each name.

    Remember, the point of the anthology is not only to attract new readers, but to further engage those interested — which best occurs on an author’s home base. Having that link easily found is a key step to creating that bridge.

  6. Direct your traffic to a landing page

    Most writers will choose their main website url as the primary platform link included in the anthology.

    It’s an easy default option. But most home pages for author websites are geared for the general audience, attempting to welcome anyone with a passing interest. When you don’t know exactly what a person is looking for, you can lose her attention rather quickly.

    In this case, however, you do have additional knowledge: the person coming to your site arrived via a link from the anthology. So why not use that fact to create a better experience for your visitor? Why not design a dedicated page on your site just for this traffic?

    Now you can take the next logical step that makes sense for this specific audience, whether it’s sharing more about yourself or introducing your larger body of work. You can customize the message on this page to be more relevant and compelling.

    Other authors may use their website’s home page as their platform link, but that doesn’t mean you have to. Don’t waste the attention you’ve earned.

  7. Invest in the presentation

    How well the stories connect with readers may drive the anthology’s effectiveness as a marketing tool, but the book’s appearance drives the initial opportunity.

    Make sure you put enough resources into the:

    • Cover design
    • Book formatting
    • Manuscript editing

    Self-publishing doesn’t mean you literally handle all the critical tasks yourself. Seek professional help in the areas where you lack expertise.

  8. Make your book easily accessible and shareable

    A well-packaged collection of stories won’t give the proper marketing boost without exposure to the right people. Consider:

    • Making the book available in the most popular digital formats
    • Giving the anthology away for free
    • Uploading to different distribution platforms

    Keep finding ways to remove barriers preventing the connection between book and readers, and encourage your fellow authors to come with ideas too.

  9. Leverage the power of your marketing team

    Yes, you do have one.

    Not only that, but every member is as vested in the outcome as you are, each having contributed a story to the book.

    That’s right — the other authors that are part of the anthology form your marketing team. And while it’s a given each writer will promote the book to their respective followings, that’s just a small part of what’s possible.

    Coordinating your efforts can amplify the effects. Whether that means holding a launch party on a digital platform or generating an avalanche of reviews by asking for them at the same time, you’ll draw more attention by working in concert.

    Creativity matters, but so does good leadership. It’s up to you to get everyone moving together.

Over to you

What other suggestions can you add that would help use an anthology as a marketing tool? Let us know in the comments.

Jason KongJason Kong is a Contributing Writer for The Book Designer. He also runs Storyrally, an email-based subscription that helps fiction writers with their online marketing.

You can learn more about Jason here.

Photo: bigstockphoto.com. Amazon links contain my affiliate code.

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13 Comments

  1. mikel

    Trying to find an anthology published by Jason Kong, who wrote this blog post, so I can see how he does it. Nothing on Amazon. Where are his books?

    Reply
    • Jason Kong

      Mikel: You won’t find any. I help fiction writers, but I’m not a fiction writer myself.

      Reply
  2. Marquita Herald

    I considered organizing an anthology a year or so ago after receiving a pitch to pay to participate in one – for a hefty fee I might add. I spoke with a few authors in my niche and they were quite interested in theory. I accepted from the get-go the fact I would assume the lion’s share of the work organizing the whole thing and being the control freak that I am was okay with it – but stumbled when potential participants began asking how the royalties would be split. That would have been a nightmare I wasn’t willing to undertake, so outside of donating all of the royalties, do you have any examples of how others have handled profits from anthologies?

    Reply
    • Jason Kong

      Marquita: Are you asking about the logistics of getting each author his/her share of the royalties, or how to agree upon a non-even split of the profits?

      Reply
      • Marquita Herald

        Both I suppose, though the bigger issue is the split. When I initially broached the subject with my fellow authors I fully intended an even split, but when it became obvious that it was going to be me, myself and I doing the grunt work I had serious second thoughts. I have a business and marketing background so project management is not the issue, I just have no frame of reference to know where to begin to deal with the financial end of something like this.

        Reply
        • Jason Kong

          That’s a tough one. Suggesting a non-even distribution opens up all sorts of negotiation. You may be focused on the lack of contribution in putting the anthology together, but maybe another author may claim his greater fame translates to more attention for all participants, and thus deserves a larger share.

          As I mentioned in my article, there are advantages for driving the project. Perhaps you can have a separate credit on the cover or have your story come first inside. Maybe you can assign tasks or ask for certain people to contribute certain resources. And maybe, on balance, you won’t feel the need to ask for a non-even split.

          Unfortunately, I don’t have an example of anyone dealing with a situation like yours. I’m hoping someone from The Book Designer Community will jump in with some suggestions!

          Reply
          • Marquita Herald

            Thanks for your feedback. This type of project may well be worth it for some, but on balance I’m not seeing either the advantages nor return on investment. If anything you’ve helped me finally let go of the notion once and for all.

          • mikel

            Seriously, anthologies designed to promote books by contributing authors aren’t intended to produce a big royalty stream. The simple division of whatever royalties accrue is to split evenly among the contributors, including the person who manages the project. The real return on investment of time and money is reaching more potential readers. For a forthcoming anthology of ten authors with chapters excerpted from their books, EgretBooks.com will receive the royalties from Amazon and distribute quarterly via PayPal.

          • Carol Gyzander

            A group of my fellow writers and I have just produced an anthology for the purpose of getting our work noticed. We addressed the issue by planning to donate the profits to a charity, in our case a no-kill animal shelter.

            People came together to donate time for editing, proofreading, layout, cover design, publicity… we even have a book trailer, which you can see at http://www.punkwriters.com if you want to see our first efforts. This one is an anthology of various punk genre stories (cyberpunk, steampunk, dieslepunk, teslapunk) that are inspired by Shakespeare’s plays. Second volume is expected in December!

            Jason, you have some great suggestions in this article. I am definitely sharing it with my group!

  3. Ernie Zelinski

    Using an anthology as a marketing tool sounds good in theory. I have seen a few anthologies both in fiction and nonfiction but I am not convinced that an anthology is a great marketing tool.

    You use the example of “Stories on the Go” by Hugh Howey and fellow contributors. I went to the Amazon page and saw that it was being offered for free. That already turned me off since I like to pay for the books I acquire from other authors. At the same time, I hope that
    the readers of my books always want to pay a decent price for them. Then I see that the regular price of Howey’s ebook is 99 cents. I am not impressed. Furthermore, the sales rank is #4,743 in the Amazon free store, which impresses me even less. I am curious to know how many copies the ebook sold since its release. No print edition either
    — not a good sign!

    The type of anthology I would recommend that authors definitely stay away from is the nonfiction type where authors are asked to pay anywhere from $1,000 to $9,999 to be a part of. I know a woman who was conned into an anthology success book for which she paid several thousand dollars. She was given 200 copies of the book to sell on her website and was told being in this book would give her great credibility
    as a speaker and a seminar presenter. She was also told a variation of “the other authors that are part of the anthology form your marketing team.” There were around 20 other authors who paid to be in the success book. Here is the bottom line: This woman now never talks to me about the anthology success book simply because she made a mistake by putting big bucks into it. My well-educated guess is that the book has sold fewer than 500 copies through normal book channels. Plain and simple, if a book has sold fewer than 500 copies through normal book channels, there is virtually no word-of-mouth advertising happening. This means little or no marketing impact from an outlay of several thousand dollars.

    Having said whatever I have said so far, I have to admit that I actually agreed to contribute (for free) to two so-called nonfiction anthologies. The first was “65 Things to Do When You Retire” and the second was
    “65 Things to Do When You Retire: TRAVEL”. The only reason that I contributed to these two books without any compensation was that I was told that the profits would be donated to “nonprofit organizations dedicated to preventing and curing cancer.” Near as I can tell from tracking Amazon, B&N, and other sales rankings, the two books have sold around 20,000 to 25,000 copies in total so far. These numbers actually surprised me since I thought neither of the two books would sell all that well. I have no idea how much, if any, these two books helped in the marketing of my own books. Nonetheless, if the profits from the books were actually turned over to cancer research, this makes me feel great that I contributed. Not to mention that ex-President Jimmy Carter and well-known writer Gloria Steinem also contributed to the first one.

    Ernie J. Zelinski
    The Prosperity Guy
    “Helping Adventurous Souls Live Prosperous and Free”
    Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
    (Over 250,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
    and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working”
    (Over 280,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

    Reply
    • Greg Stranberg

      Ernie, do you ever leave blog comments without throwing in all the self-promotion? Speaking for myself, it gets amazingly old after awhile.

      Reply
      • Ernie Zelinski

        @Greg These quotations apply:

        “My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.”
        — Jane Austin

        “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.”
        — Albert Einstein

        To answer your question, yes. Check my comment on the Retire by 40 Blog made around the same time last night as my comment here:

        https://retireby40.org/learned-from-rb40-community/

        Reply
    • Jason Kong

      Ernie: You’re right that authors need to carefully consider the arrangement. Scams are everywhere. Don’t let wild expectations lead to questionable decisions.

      That being said, success can be measured in different ways. What if the anthology didn’t top the bestseller’s list but you still got new readers? What if you didn’t get an initial flood of new readers but a little over time? What if you got only a few new readers but connected with another author that led to a joint project?

      Each writer needs to choose the marketing strategies that make sense for him/her. My intent with these articles is help that process along.

      Reply

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