Back in October, myself and twenty-nine fellow bloggers self-published The Mother of All Meltdowns, an anthology featuring a collection of “worst moment ever” stories. I published the book under my label MommiFried Press, and was essentially the project manager–overseeing the process from start to finish. I’m a book marketing consultant, focused primarily on self-published authors, so I thought getting this book to market would be a walk in the park. Let me tell you, when working with multiple contributors–and in this case, a small army of them–the entire process is magnified by a thousand percent. What a challenge!
If you’re considering an anthology project or have already started the process of putting one together, self-publishing is the ideal platform. It lets you control the process, choose how and where you want your book to appear, and change things easily after the book has already been published. But it’s a lot of work. A ton of work, and not for those who have a hard time staying organized.
Here are my top tips for a successful multi-contributor anthology project:
Build a Network
In order to produce and publish an anthology, you need multiple contributors. Ideally, these should be people you trust or who have built a favorable reputation. I encourage you to build a strong network of contacts early on, so that when the time comes and you’re ready to put together an anthology, you already have a pool of people to reach out to. If you’re a blogger, you should be doing this anyway. For The Mother of All Meltdowns, I tapped into my network of closest blogging friends and those bloggers/writers that I have long admired. I knew these were women with integrity and I also knew they had incredible writing skills. It was a win-win!
Invite More People Than You Intend to Use
Sometimes people say they are interested and even commit to something, yet in the end, they don’t pull through for various reasons. That’s why I suggest inviting more contributors than you’ll need. I invited close to fifty bloggers when I first started reaching out to people. I heard back from forty, but in the end only thirty of us actually contributed to the book.
Set Flexible Deadlines
When working with multiple contributors, the worst thing you can do is set deadlines that are unrealistic or too rigid. Try to remain flexible by setting deadlines early and asking your various contributors if the different dates are doable. With Meltdowns, I had deadlines that were weeks out, so that everyone would have an opportunity to complete the tasks without having complete and total meltdowns (and without jeopardizing the quality of the finished book). Send periodic reminders and make sure to cheer everyone on between deadlines. As the project manager, lead editor, or whatever you are calling yourself, you are also the cheerleader and a little encouragement goes a long way.
Utilize an Integrated Project Management Platform
An integrated project management system that all contributors can access and update regularly is the most critical aspect of keeping a project like this running smoothly. I didn’t use one for Meltdowns (I used Google Docs), but will never make that mistake again. In my opinion, the best PM system out there is Insightly, an online CRM and project management system built for small businesses. The learning curve is minimal and the tools are easy-to-use, even for those not familiar with CRM software or related technologies. Insightly enables you to set tasks and milestones; keep track of all correspondence (email and otherwise); set email reminders; schedule events; maintain a project calendar; attach and share files; and more. Their system integrates nicely with other software and tools including Google/Chrome, Microsoft 365, Outlook, and Mailchimp.
Allow for Some Personal Style
Although you’ll need to decide on what style guidelines you intend to follow–will percent be spelled out or will you use the symbol (%), serial comma or not, and so on–it’s still a good idea to allow some space for personal styles and authentic voices. With Meltdowns, if a blogger typically phrased something a certain way on her blog, it was allowed in the book. If it doesn’t harm the overall quality of your book or affect ease of reading, don’t sweat it. I included an upfront disclosure letting readers know that some styles were a little off the beaten path. Here’s how I phrased it (direct from book):
Set Contributor Guidelines
When inviting people, send along clear contributor guidelines so they know what is expected before they commit to the project. Include deadlines, if possible, word count, style elements, how to submit and in what format, bio requirements, etc. I had all contributors use Microsoft Word, as that is the easiest file type to work with when getting ready to convert for the different platforms (Kindle/Mobi, Nook/ePub, PDF, etc.).
Have an Alternative Way to Communicate
Consider an alternative way for all contributors to communicate, other than long, endless email threads. Some integrated CRM/PM systems offer built-in chat rooms and the ability to post to forums, but many do not. For Meltdowns, we decided to set up a private Facebook group because this was the platform that most contributors frequented and were familiar with. It has worked out like a charm. Aside from book-related items, we use the group to share important events in our lives, articles of interest, to ask for help, brainstorm ideas, and so much more. It’s like a virtual bar at times!
Include Contributors in the Editorial Process
Individual authors should have a say in what their final piece looks like and how it reads. So make sure they see their edited story or other submission and that they sign-off on the changes. In addition, include them in the overall editorial process. Send them a copy of the final edited manuscript. Ask them to peer review and mark up with suggested changes and comments. No matter how many times a manuscript is edited, there will still be errors. Your contributors can help find some of the mistakes your copyeditor didn’t catch. As a side recommendation, don’t keep the copyediting in-house! This is one area where you’ll want to spend a few bucks to make sure that the final product is pristine (or close to).
Execute a Written Contract
Even if you are working with friends, family, or colleagues, you’ll still want all parties to sign a written contract that outlines the legal nuts and bolts. This protects all parties and solidifies the working relationship. A basic contributing author/publisher agreement should include what is required from both parties including the submission; how the submission will be used and where; licensing rights; what rights the author holds; payment terms; etc. Below is the contract we used for Meltdowns. Feel free to modify and use.
Pay Your Contributors
When I first reached out to those who expressed an interest in contributing to Meltdowns, I wrote the contract without any sort of compensation involved. In all honesty, I launched the project to help establish a foundation for those of us seeking to expand our publishing careers and generate awareness for our blogs. I never expected to make a million dollars off of this one little book. I later revised the contract to include a revenue sharing model, because it’s not fair to expect people–especially writers–to work for free. One person should not profit (no matter how little) off the work of many. Lesson learned. Our agreement is a little unconventional, but it works. Most contributors to an anthology receive a one-time payment for their submission, and that works, too. Go with what feels right.
The Mother of All Meltdowns has outsold most self-published books, and continues to do well in the market. We have had a blast visiting other blogs and are already planning a follow-up edition. Look for it next year!