Equipping Writers for Success
The Writing Life
The Writing Life
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by Brenda Warneka and Arlene Uslander
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The proliferation of inspirational anthologies in bookstores attests to the popularity that this genre has achieved in recent years. The Chicken Soup, Cup of Comfort, and Chocolate for a Woman's Soul series are only a few examples. These easy to pick up and put down collections fill a need in our fast-paced society for many people who only have time to enjoy a "quick read", but they are also favorites of many other readers.
The growing market for anthologies has opened up new opportunities for publishers, editors, and writers. The writers always receive compensation of one kind or another; if not money, at least recognition and building up of credentials.
Five years ago, we decided to put our experience as writers and editors to work on an anthology that turned out to be an exciting, but very challenging, endeavor. Challenging, because we had no specific guidelines to go by; we learned as we went. However, now, as the co-editors of an anthology published by iUniverse in December 2003, The Simple Touch of Fate, we would like to share with you what we have learned about compiling and editing such a collection.
Choosing a theme for your anthology
Choose a theme for your anthology by researching the anthologies already on the market. A logical starting point is your local library. Not only will this give you an opportunity to check out and read some anthologies, but you can review Books in Print for a comprehensive listing of anthologies that have been published to date. For a look at the latest anthologies, visit the large book stores in your area. And, of course, your most valuable tool may be the Internet: Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and major search engines, such as Google, Yahoo, and Ask Jeeves.
Once you are familiar with what is on the market, it is time to put your creative energies to work to come up with your theme. The three anthologies that we first mentioned above are intended in some way to give the reader renewed faith in humankind. The titles presage the theme inherent in the stories by evoking warm feelings of family and home -- the soothing smell and taste of chicken soup prepared by a loving mother, the sharing of a cup of hot tea with a dear friend, the feelings of well-being engendered by the rich taste of chocolate.
Perhaps you have a special interest or hobby that can be the focus of an anthology, such as history, sports, or travel. Our own anthology came about because one of the co-editors, Arlene, who is a professional editor, edited a manuscript that told the story of a young man whose life was saved due to his sister's premonition. This story made Arlene think about a fateful event where her own life was saved, and led to the idea of an anthology involving fate.
Going it alone or with a partner?
Decide whether you prefer to work on your anthology project by yourself, or with a partner. Maybe you are the type of person who likes to have total control and has the time to do all the necessary work on your own, such as calling for submissions, reviewing the stories you receive, contacting agents and publishers, and one of the most time-consuming tasks of all, editing and proofreading the stories you choose for your collection.
On the other hand, as we found out, it can be more emotionally satisfying to share the workload, the frustrations, and the successes with another person.
Unless you are a well-known author or have a track record, such as the Chicken Soup series or spin-offs, you will need to prepare at least a proposal and sample stories, and possibly a complete manuscript, to get the attention of an agent or publisher. Of course, if you are self-publishing, this is not an issue.
Who will write the stories?
Are you going to write the stories, edit the stories written by contributors, or a combination of both? For the most part, in The Simple Touch of Fate, we used stories by other writers, but we also wrote stories based upon our own experiences and "as told to" us.
We found the best way to solicit submissions is through writers' newsletters and web sites on the Internet. The newsletters allowed us to post our calls for submissions at a nominal, or even no, charge. We also actively pursued stories by word of mouth, and by following up on current news stories that had a fate theme, either to reprint them or to interview the principals, and then write our own stories. We interviewed Jacob Herbst from Israel, who missed American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston on 9/11, and Larry Hicks, who saved the life of NASCAR celebrity Jack Roush, and they were happy to cooperate with us in presenting their stories in our book.
E-mail addresses change, so be sure your contributors give you their home and work addresses and telephone numbers, and additionally, a back-up contact, in case you have problems finding them. Emphatically remind contributors to advise you if any of their contact information changes.
Provisions to include in the contract with the contributors
Among other things, you must decide what story rights you will ask for, and what payment you will offer to contributors. We are aware of payment by the best selling anthologies of as much as $300 or more; others run contests for stories; new anthologies may pay with a copy of the book and a bio, which is an accepted practice. Many fine writers are willing to allow a one-time use of their work simply because they are interested in the theme of the book. New writers may be seeking the writing credentials provided by having a story in print.
There may be other money-making opportunities for contributors even if the anthology is nonpaying; e.g., the sale of reprint rights, speaking engagements, or other writing assignments as a result of the exposure.
We required our contributors to represent in writing that their stories were true and that they had the right to offer them to us for publication without violating contract or copyright laws. We also required that they give us the right to edit their work and change the title. You should consult with an attorney about your contract once you have determined the basics to be included. He or she may have additional suggestions, such as adding a choice of state law and forum selection clause to the contract.
Many anthologies include some reprints of stories that have appeared elsewhere, as does ours. Be sure that you get permission from the owner of the copyright, in writing, to reprint the story, and that they understand exactly the use to which it will be put. Some of these sources require that the publisher (not the editor) seek permission for reprinting the item, and may require payment, sometimes based upon the number of books you publish.
Be aware that owners zealously guard their trademarks and copyrights. In our case, we contacted the trademark owner for permission to use the name of a well-known game in one of our stories. We were told that we could use it with certain changes to the story, which we decided not to make because these changes would have taken away from the effectiveness of the story. We solved the problem by having the author use a generic term instead of the trademark name for the game.
Different legal standards apply to invasion of privacy issues for private individuals as opposed to those in the public eye; and you need to be particularly wary when dealing with a private person, even though public personalities can still have their privacy invaded.
The Internet is a valuable source of information on these issues. However, if you cannot resolve them on your own, consult with an attorney.
If you are representing your stories as true, you must decide whether you will fact check the stories, or take the author's word for it. In our case, we did as much fact checking as we found to be reasonably possible, such as dates and places. We lost some stories in the process! The Internet is a valuable resource for fact finding, and also for editing. Reference librarians on the web answer difficult editorial questions free of charge.
Assembling an anthology is hard work, but it can also be very rewarding work. We had the good fate to receive stories from all over the world from people in various walks of life, as they told about their personal brushes with fate. And, we were fortunate to have become Internet friends with many of the contributors to our book. We are looking forward to a sequel.
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.
Arlene Uslander and Brenda Warneka are co-editors of The Simple Touch of Fate. Uslander is the author of 14 nonfiction books and is an award-winning journalist. Warneka is a practicing attorney who writes on legal topics, travel, and human interest. They each wrote several stories for the anthology.