When my friends and I decided to put together a charity anthology about vampires with jobs, I had no intention of being the one in charge of it. So the most important lesson I’ve learned about anthologies is: don’t agree to be in one without knowing who the executive editor is (and that it isn’t you).
But assuming that mistake has already been made (or that you’re taking this on intentionally), what exactly does the job of executive editor for a charity anthology entail? Here are some things to consider, some of which I wish I’d known before I started.
Honestly, I still haven’t figured how I’m going to handle this. In the US, due to recent tax law changes, you may not be able to offset the income retailers are going to report to the IRS against the charitable donation you’ll be making even though they’re the same amount. This is because many of us don’t itemize anymore.
Even if you report your writing income via a business, sole proprietorships and LLCs aren’t allowed to make charitable contributions. Donations get reported on your personal taxes, where you may run into the issue described above, i.e. if you don’t itemize, you don’t get an income deduction.
I’m not a tax accountant, so don’t take this as definitive advice, but do consider the tax implications before making the decision to publish a charity anthology under your taxpayer ID.
You’re going to need authors, obviously, but there are tasks besides writing to be done. Can you or one of the other authors handle them? If not, will you be paying someone to do them, or can you find volunteers willing to support the cause?
Here are some questions to ask yourself before enlisting people to fill these roles:
- Cover design—will you need a full wrap? Do you want all the authors’ names on the cover? It’s a nice ego-stroke and may be worth it if you have big-name authors, but it makes for a cluttered cover
- Editing/proofing—which editing tasks fall to each individual author and which will be done at the anthology level? For Working Stiffs, we expected authors to deliver a fully edited document, but we did one last proofread of the entire collection, for which we used independent (volunteer) editors
- Formatting—do you need an epub or just a mobi? Will there be a paperback version?
- Marketing—who will coordinate author efforts so you don’t have a dozen people dumping promo into the same FB group or soliciting reviews from the same blog? Are there outlets willing to provide free promotion?
Before you approach authors, you’ll want to assemble the answers to the questions they’ll have. These are the basics of your anthology.
- Key dates: release date; dates drafts are due
- Will the anthology be wide or in KU?
- What rights are you asking for and for how long? A common practice with charity anthologies is for the book to be de-listed after 3 months and all rights reverted. Clearly communicate when, if ever, the anthology will be de-listed. If it won’t be de-listed entirely, where and in what formats will it remain?
- What is the theme? For example, Working Stiffs was a compilation of romances about vampires at work
- Specific requirements—e.g. a kink, a trope, or a setting that must be used
- Is this a shared world?
- Which pairings are allowed?
- Heat level—romance, erotica, or either?
- POV—are any POVs required or banned (e.g. 1st vs. 3rd, past vs. present)
- Word count—my advice (having learned the hard way) is to give the word count in terms of green, yellow, and red ranges, because people are going to push it. For example: “ideally 8 – 12K (green), but I’ll accept anything from 5 – 15K (yellow).” Then draw a hard line outside of that (red).
Plan ahead for diversity. Not believing our little anthology was any great honor to be in, we didn’t consider diversity as we built our panel. As it turns out, we did get some, but it was accidental, not intentional. We approached people we knew (and whose work we liked), and it was only when someone questioned us later that I realized we should’ve baked diversity in from the start.
You may feel, like we did, that you’re more asking for a favor than bestowing one, but I’ve seen people on social media wondering how to get invitations for anthologies, group promo events, FB parties, etc. We can be so insulated in our friend groups, feeling like they’re “just us” and nothing special, that we don’t realize there are people who’d love to get into those groups.
My anthology was supposed to take place in a shared world, but we were pretty lax about it. It turns out there are a million vampire legends and a million ways to spin them, so while we thought we had certain things nailed down (like what could kill a vampire), even those things were handled differently from book to book. For example, some of our vampires found sunlight vaguely unpleasant, while others would be shriveled to a crisp by it. Then there were things we forgot to specify completely, like how often a vampire needs to feed to survive. Some of our characters were drinking blood all through the day. Others could go without it seemingly forever.
If you’re gong to have a shared world, you’ll need a wiki with a lot of information in it, but more importantly, you’ll need to intercede at the beta reader level. That is, someone (probably you) has to read every story after the first draft and let the authors know where they’ve strayed while there’s time to fix it. I didn’t read most of the stories for Working Stiffs until we were at the final edits stage—far too late to ask for substantial changes.
We didn’t do this, but I’ve seen it done, and it works well. Consider having one person (maybe you) write a story that introduces the key world-building elements, then place that story first in the anthology. This will allow the other authors to tell their story without a lot of world building. It might also be nice to have a coda—a wrap-up story at the end that brings it all together.
How uniform do you expect these stories to be? There’s no right answer, but it’s a good question to ask yourself and to communicate before you get down to the editing & assembling tasks—both to the authors and to any editing professionals who’ll be helping.
- What version of English are you using? Do they all have to be the same or can the story match its setting/author?
- What characters and spacing will be used for em dashes, quotes, and ellipses? Does punctuation vary depending on the version of English, or are you going with local terminology and spelling but US punctuation?
- What stylebook will you be using? Will you be enforcing that during editing or does each author get to use their own preferences?
- Think about words like cum vs. come, blow job vs. blowjob, T-shirt vs. t-shirt. Most indies have preferences. Again, will you allow variation or enforce a standard?
If all of that sounds like a lot, remember that it’s also an option to have an anthology of completely unrelated stories, with each one edited according to its author’s preferences. Enforcing either shared world or stylebook choices isn’t required. These are just questions to ask yourself and information to communicate so that everyone is operating under the same set of expectations.
When it’s just me executing my own little project plan, everyone knows what’s going on. But with 12 co-authors and various other professionals involved, communication was key.
- How will you communicate? FB group? Email? For Working Stiffs, the original authors in the anthology were in a Slack group, which made communicating easy, but as we added outside authors, not all of them wanted to use Slack. And not all of them were on FB. That meant I had to communicate via a hodgepodge of techniques, including DMs. Plan better than I did
- Shared working folder: you’ll want a Google Docs folder to which everyone has access. This folder will contain things like your shared world wiki, your cover, any promo graphics, and the project plan
- Story details: somewhere you’ll want to keep track of each author’s pen name, story title, word count, current progress, and any important details you’ll need, like pairing (or what job their vampire has)
The closer you get to release day, the more you need to be reminding people what they should be doing. Remember that indie authors tend to be juggling a lot of balls. Their eye won’t always be on yours.
If you have a shared world, you’ll definitely want a first draft deadline so authors can rewrite anything that conflicts. But even without a shared world, there’s a reason to be monitoring progress that early in the process.
For Working Stiffs, only five out of the eight original authors had a final draft ready by the deadline. The other three admitted they wouldn’t be participating after all. That left us scrambling to pull in more authors and required us to extend the deadline to a date that was uncomfortably close to our release date. After that experience, I checked in a little more frequently,
Recruit more authors than you think you need. Our second wave of participants resulted in eight out of ten completions, so plan for twenty to forty percent drop-off. People are always going to have unexpected circumstances that result in their not being able to meet commitments, and when you’re talking about volunteer work, there’s less willingness to go hard to meet a deadline.
In addition to having authors withdraw, we lost a cover designer and had an editor who only had time to do about half the work she’d hoped to do. So plan for fallout and monitor progress.
In the end, I had a project plan with deadlines like this:
- First draft completed
- Story blurb due
- Final draft (edited) turned in
- Stories sent to proofreader
- Proofed stories returned to authors
- Tracked changes accepted or rejected
- Combined anthology sent to formatter
- Digital copy formatted
- Paper copy formatted
And All the Rest
If you’re an indie author, you know how to get a release out. You (or someone) will be doing all those normal tasks for this anthology. Writing a blurb, uploading the formatted copy, distributing ARCs, cover reveal, release day promo, etc.
Here are a few twists on these tasks you’ll want to consider. Spread these additional tasks out amongst the team as best you can. You don’t have to write every guest post or create every graphic.
- Blurb: your anthology will have an overall blurb, the one that’ll be listed on Amazon, and someone (you?) has to write that. In addition, each story might have its own blurb written by (hopefully) the author. These individual blurbs might appear just prior to the story in the finished copy or be used in promo. Some of the blogs that did our release day promo wanted blurbs for each story
- ARCs: who will be distributing them, how, and in what quantity? Be careful not to flood the market with ARC copies by allowing each author to distribute to their entire ARC list. We allowed 3 per author to be sent to superfans. Remember that anthologies tend to be long so readers might need more time
- Cover reveal: if the cover is meant to be a surprise, make sure the authors know when and where they’re allowed to share it
- Teaser graphics: we made a teaser graphic for each author using a quote from their story against a common background. That allowed each author to promote their own story and also to share about others
- Coordinated marketing: we had a spreadsheet of FB groups and blogs with authors assigned to them so we could cover everything without dropping the same promo into the same group 10 times in one day
- Story order: one of your jobs is to order the stories within the anthology. If you have starting and ending stories that set up and tie off your shared world, then you know where those go. Other than that, you might present stories in the order they were turned in or in alphabetical order by author name or title. I was dealing with a wide variation in story length and tone, so I decided to arrange our stories to strike a balance—one longer, one shorter; one lighter, one darker
- Media kit: I always do a media kit, and for the anthology it was a life saver. What’s a media kit? A single document with all the key marketing info: release date, title, genre, story list (author, title, maybe other key info), tag line, blurb, buy links, GR & BookBub links. Include an excerpt or two and the story blurbs, throw it in the shared folder, and you have a resource everyone can use for any purpose
For Profit Anthologies
Most of the above applies to an anthology that will be produced for profit as well, but you’ll have different tax & financial issues which you’ll definitely want to sort out before embarking.
Presumably you’ll be paying your design and editing professionals. Will you pay contributing authors extra if they perform one of these tasks? Are you paying yourself as executive editor? How much in total do you anticipate deducting from income before distributing profits? It’s best to communicate this clearly before there are disappointed or angry authors expecting bigger paychecks.
Wrapping It Up
If you’ve agreed to de-list the anthology after a certain amount of time, make sure that date is on your calendar (and watch for those KU roll-overs!). Before de-listing, you might want to consider some “last gasp” marketing efforts. Maybe try for a BookBub or just have all the authors post “ending soon” promos on their social media. Authors might need rights reversion letters in case Amazon challenges them—now or even years down the road. It’s not hard to do a basic shell letter and send it out so authors will have proof on hand if they ever need it.
Don’t forget to report out to the authors on the results and provide some proof that a donation was made. If the anthology had expenses, you’ll want to do a little spreadsheet that shows total intake, expenses deducted, and contribution made. Hopefully you’ve made a nice chunk of change and given all your authors some exposure. Good job, you.
A side note about finances and reporting: Our anthology did great, which was great! But I wasn’t prepared for the emotional impact of seeing what were, for me, big dollar amounts in my KDP reports that weren’t actually my sales. When your real intake is only 10% of the numbers being reported, it’s a little depressing. It’s normal that a book promoted by multiple authors will do better than a release that’s just yours, but be prepared to do some sad math.
I might not have intended to be the executive editor for Working Stiffs, but I’m not sorry I did it. It was a learning experience, I was working with a great group of authors, and our book supported a worthy cause. Because I habitually track my working time by project, I can tell you that I spent 50 hours coordinating this effort on top of the time I spent writing and editing my story, which was only 20 hours. So to circle back to my point at the beginning, make sure you know what you’re getting into before you get in too deep.