Saturday, June 13, 2015

So You Want to Write For, or Publish (or both) An Anthology?

Writers Tricks of the Trade is beginning to post some guest blogs. Don't be surprised if you also see some of these appear in the bi-monthly Writers Tricks of the Trade eZine so they can reach the most people. Today we are happy to share C. L. Swinney's post. Many of us have written short stories and he takes a good look at getting involved with anthologies.

C. L. Swinney

I splashed into the writing world like a chubby kid flopping off a high dive board. My first crime fiction novel landed on several Amazon best seller lists, as did the following two in the series. But I wanted more. I crossed lines into the true crime genre and my first novella became an Amazon number one best seller in five countries. During this time (it just happened), a passion for writing short-stories developed. With the modest success I’d had, I felt my work would be accepted with ease. Nope. I racked up tons of rejection letters. However, during this time, I learned quite a bit about anthologies. My recent first go at an anthology, Justice Shall Be Served, immediately landed on amazon best seller lists, and below you’ll see how I did it.
Small (think micro) presses and folks dabbling in the self-publishing world tend to publish anthologies.  Large houses will put an anthology out, but getting 10-15 large press authors to agree on things requires too many meetings and the stroking of too many egos to make sense.  There’s one other type of person who gets involved with anthologies, which includes myself--those who grow tired of getting rejected and decide to learn self-pub to get their work (and possibly others) published. Let’s start with the author who wants to publish an anthology.
The first step: Write well. I honestly believe good writing sells itself. However, if you want to take yourself seriously, and want others to do the same, you must use an editor. Your best friend’s aunt who used to be an English teacher is probably a very nice lady, but I’m talking about a professional editor. They see things you completely miss. Those errors literally determine whether or not your work gets published. The cost for most short stories (2000-6000) is about $35-75 dollars for editing.
The second step: Decide the flavor or theme of your anthology. My recently published anthology’s flavor involved a positive vibe and behind the scenes look into law enforcement. Recent media reports, all the anger, and the loss of life inspired me to do something positive. I collected stories (I emailed short story writers and advertised on social media for stories/writers) from around the United States from cops, military personnel, and correctional officers hoping to demonstrate we’re human and want to help people.
Other things to decide here are non-fiction or fiction? Size of stories (Generally 2000-6000 word stories)? How many stories will be included? Will the anthology be my stories only, or will others be included? If others are included, what is their “payment?” *The standard payment is a paperback copy of the finished product. Figure these out, and then move forward.
The third step: If you’re including your stories solely, your next step is to select stories for the project. You may consider sending a few to friends or critics and see what they think. You may not have many stories in your cache, so you’ll need to get writing if you’re going to fill an anthology.
When outlining the anthology, a certain flow should be attempted. That is, don’t start with a feel-good story, follow it up with death and destruction, and then go back to fluffy. Think about a story or novel in general. There’s an intro, things build up, there’s a climax, and a conclusion. The anthology should follow the same suit. Instead of outlining chapters, you’re outlining short stories that make sense.
If you’re including stories from others, it can be quite maddening. Folks say they want to participate, but it takes them months to finally send the story. Then you read it and it doesn’t fit or it’s rife with errors. Do you accept it and “fix” it? Or do you have to reject it? It’s a strange feeling when you’ve received rejection letters- a difficult feeling to handle- and now you have to issue one. However, if the story stinks or doesn’t work, you must pass on it. When you write the rejection letter, remember the feeling you get when you read the ones you get. I call mine, “No thank you letters.”
One tip here. Although I use an editor and I’m an established author with a decent following, I still made decisions to hedge the bet that my anthology would be successful. I included work from Sunny Frazier, a well-known award winning short story author, and tied in Jim and Jay Padar who’d published a similar successful anthology. In addition, I decided to donate all proceeds to the families of fallen heroes.
The fourth step: You have all your stories, they’re edited and in the order you’d like to see, and now it’s time to format. Formatting will drive you crazy. If you go into it knowing it’s difficult, you’ll have more patience. I used Amazon’s Createspace for the anthology publishing platform. If you’re computer savvy or you’ve self-published before, you’re likely familiar with formatting standards for Createspace. If you have some time on your hands, you can learn the nuts-and-bolts of Createspace in about a week. Each step of the process has help buttons and hundreds of “how to” articles for assistance. My suggestion is to use and download the Createspace template. Once downloaded, you can cut and paste your stories into their template.
When you’ve done that, you will upload your anthology into Createspace, the software will format it, and you will be able to see your product online through their viewer. You can scroll through each page to make sure it’s exactly what you want. In addition, the software will point out any and all issues, allow you to fix them, and then you can re-upload the corrected document. It sounds daunting, but it’s not. Really. It’s not. Time consuming, yes, but you can do this. Once you’re satisfied with the layout, and all the errors are worked out, you’re almost ready for print.
The fifth step: A cover is needed. Createspace has a cover generator, and if you have no

other options, you’ll need to use it to create a cover. It’s a user friendly bit of software and many books come out with covers created with this tool. However, I firmly believe you need to consult and hire a cover designer. Ten million books are available on Amazon right now. One thing readers consistently mention about why they purchase books is solid cover design. I use Katherine McCarthy at Aeternum Designs. She re-tooled all my covers and sales instantly increased. Her costs are competitive, and she’s professional and well respected.
Once you have your cover, you upload it into Createspace just like you did with your manuscript.
The sixth step: Once the cover and manuscript are done, you’ll have to consider many options available for your project. They are self-explanatory. The most crucial one is pricing. If you choose to go with paperback or Kindle (or both), you need to examine the market to set a price that makes sense. I know you’ve spent months on the project, and a lot of your stories are included, but setting a much higher price for your work versus what’s in the market will be counter-productive. And, if you happen to have errors in your work, and you “over charge,” reviews will pour in attacking this fact. My advice is to price your work right in the middle.
*A note here. We’ve been discussing publishing a paperback anthology. To complete the same process for a Kindle version, it’s exactly the same as above. The platform is called Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), also owned and operated by Amazon. If you use this platform first, and finish the process, you can easily print a paperback of the same project, meaning you won’t have to duplicate the bulk of the work. KDP has a button that directs you to “Print on Createspace.”

Best-selling crime fiction (Detective Bill Dix Series) and true crime (Robert Pickton: The Pig Farmer Killer) author C. L. Swinney has been a cop for almost fourteen years. Working in narcotics, homicide, and patrol has afforded him great insight into the profession. Recent highly publicized events around the country caused numerous emotions to swirl within Mr. Swinney, forcing him to act. Earlier this year, he struck out to gather a collection of short stories, non-fiction and fiction, from men and women currently (or retired) working in law enforcement, corrections, and the military to share with the general public. His goal was to educate, enlighten, and provide a behind-the-scenes look at these proud professions. No profession is perfect, and mistakes certainly have been made, but the majority of those serving this country or the public strive to do right and risk their lives daily to keep this country and complete strangers safe. C. L. Swinney donates the overwhelming majority of the proceeds from his novels to the families of fallen officers and military members. The remaining proceeds go toward his insatiable coffee urges.


  1. This was fun to write and I hope it will inspire people to take the leap. Thank you for this opportunity, I had a blast.

  2. I used Bryan Keller for the anthology cover. A military man made sense on this project ;-)

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