Anthology AAR

I’ve been in two anthologies in the last 90 days. I don’t have any numbers on how they’ve sold yet, since I am not the publisher, merely a contributor. So it’s a little early to look at a full After-Action Review, but as I am both sick, and recovering from parental visit on top of recovering from a con last weekend, we’re going with what I can manage.

That, and I just finished another novel. I do not have the energy to get it formatted and sent out to beta readers yet, so Mad Genius Club Post it is. Onward!

The first anthology in February was a flash fiction anthology, PostCards From Mars, where each would-be contributor got a piece of art, and of those who wrote a story and turned it in, 20 were selected and published. Why 20? Because Amazon is not built to handle a story with more than 20 authors, and the system breaks in new and interesting ways if you have 21 or more.

…Indie is so good at testing the limits of the system! This one had to be formatted like a colouring book to even work. I’ve seen anthologies built around a central picture, and we’ve all seen anthologies built around a theme or phrase, but this is the first time I’d ever heard of someone coming up with something like this.

For something completely off the wall and experimental, with a handful of low midlist and a chunk of first-time authors, it did rather well. I know I saw kindle ranks in the 70K’s.

The second Anthology released almost 3 weeks ago, Twisted Tropes, was more traditional in that it had short stories instead of flash fiction, and it had a spread of midlist authors as well as some first-timers. It was indie and off the wall in that the theme was “twisted tropes”, and there was no unifying genre to make it easily marketable.

That hit roughly 6K in the kindle store, at it’s highest rank.

While this is a good method of tracking each of them, when you’re an author, the real question for an anthology (or magazine sale) is: “Did it do what I wanted it to?”

Selling shorts is a good way to do multiple things, and some of them even at the same time.

1.) It’s a great way to practice craft. For example, I’m weak on openings; mine aren’t very hooky. But there’s only one opening per novel, so I may only write one to three of those in a year. If I write shorts, I can practice that a whole lot more times in a year and be better at it by the time I finish and write the next novel.

2.) It’s a great way to play in other genres. If I wanted to write low fantasy, or noir mystery, I may not know the right tropes and reader cookies to make the readers in those genres happy. Writing some short stories first would let me test it out, and see if an editor thinks I’ve got it down enough to entertain the readers.

3.) It’s a great way to expand your audience and drive sales to your backlist (if it’s in the same genre as what you write). The ideal here is to write something so good that a reader who’s never heard of you goes “I want more of this!” and looks you up, then starts working their way through your backlist.

4.) It lets you play with an idea or setting you like that’s too thin to support a full novel. Hey, we all get these. If you can get it out of your head, and then make money on it, why not?*

5.) If you intend to go trad, if gives you practice on submission, tracking submissions, and on rejection. Even if you don’t intend to go trad, it lets you understand that part of the business, and start getting practice reading contracts and considering the implications of licensing or selling your intellectual property. (Personally, I’d never sell my copyright, but there are a few conditions where it does make sense. You’re not me, you might end up in one of those boundary conditions.)

This one is also good for building character, and bringing home that while writing may be art, publishing is a business. As I counseled a new author who was upset because his story had been rejected because of the colour of his skin, “They did you a favour. Do you think they would have treated you any better on rights reversions or royalties than they did on submissions? You now have the opportunity to learn that you shouldn’t do business with people who hate you.”

6.) It gives you the opportunity to practice marketing and audience targeting in between the books you really want to be paid well for.

7.) It gives Amazon’s algorithm’s (provided you claim the book on Author central) the boost of “releases product quickly / regularly”, which can give you more visibility when you release a book.

8.) And that’s not just the algorithm, because if you have people who like to read your stuff, they like it when you put more stuff out. (That’s why the algorithm is set that way in the first place.) Some readers think of them as palate cleansers between books. Not enough to fill them up, but enough to whet the appetite.

So, how did these two do?

The very experimental Postcards anthology did provide a boost to my backlist sales. Given that it was published 7 months after my last release, my sales had fallen to a pretty low baseline. While I didn’t suddenly have massive cash pouring in (hah!), it did double my income in backlist sales / KU reads for about three weeks. I’ll put that down to it expanding the audience: it was picked up by a lot of people who don’t normally read me. Twisted Tropes has had a much smaller boost to backlist sales – but it’s put out by JL Curtis, and he’s published two other stories by me in the Tales Around the Supper Table anthologies, so the audience already knows me and either reads me or knows I’m not to their taste.

The flash fiction forced me to work on craft hard, to make it an interesting, hooky story in 50 words. (I actually wrote a second one for the Steam Powered Postcards anthology, but because I included the title when I pasted it into the word counter, the story was edited down to 48 words instead of 50. Good practice on craft, even if I didn’t get in!

The short story in Twisted Tropes also let me work on openings, and hopefully the practice will pay off on the next book. If not, try again!

It made some of my readers happy, and if I can get this book I finished Thursday out to betas and back in time, it’ll be the third thing I’ve released this year and the second within 90 days. (It won’t be ready 30 days from the last release.)

These are all wins as far as I’m concerned. When you’re tallying up how something did, even in the business of publishing, money isn’t everything.

*Take this advice with a grain of salt, knowing I’ve failed spectacularly at judging when an idea is too thin for a novel. Between Two Graves was supposed to be a short for the Can’t Go Home Again anthology. 8 months late and 40,000 words over…

6 thoughts on “Anthology AAR

  1. Have to admit that the story about the Pistolero in Twisted Tropes first made me throw up a little in my mouth and then later pass coffee through my nose. Your short was just as entertaining though less violent.

    1. Tom’s was so wrong that at first you think that the author didn’t know what he was talking about. And then you realize that no, no, he does, and he’s going to hit every single “that ain’t right!” possible. “Tom, what’s going on, you know better” became “Auuugh.. you didn’t… you did! Augh! And then you… augh!” with helpless laughter.

      1. Thus confirming that “That boy ain’t right!” Which comes as no surprise to anyone who was at [REDACTED] or [REDACTED].

    1. I can’t! I really can’t!

      …what is it they say, judgement’s the first thing to go?

      Eh, that, or it takes a long time to develop wisdom. Good judgement comes from bad experiences, or something like that…

      This one’s going out to betas without the normal final readthrough because I can’t hold it all in my head; it’s too big.

  2. I didn’t see much of a boost from the anthologies I was in. BUT … I was already pretty well known in association with the other authors in the anthology, and a lot of the people who bought the anthologies had already bought my other work.

    For a newer writer, or one who is venturing into a new genre and only has a few books in that genre? Anthologies can have a lot of benefits.

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