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Anthology Books: What Are They and How Can Writers Use Them?

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.


Does getting a book published by a recognized publishing house seem frightening, overwhelming or impossible? And though self-publishing has less cost and resistance, the effort may seem daunting. So how can a writer get a published book without going in either of these two routes? Anthology books!

What is an Anthology Book?

An anthology book is a collection of short fiction, poetry or nonfiction works (or excerpts) by a variety of authors. Typically the book is organized around a particular subject, theme, writing style or genre. For example, an anthology could be a collection of short stories by science fiction writers.

One of the most successful anthology book series has been the Chicken Soup for the Soul series by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen. Each book in the series is a collection of inspirational stories targeted for various markets such as pet lovers, cancer patients, nurses, new moms, runners, gardeners, the list is exhaustive

Usually, an anthology book is edited and/or published by someone of note (often a writer or recognized expert) in the subject area. One example from the business arena is Masters of Sales from networking gurus Ivan Misner and Don Morgan. Several authors (many of them top salespeople) contributed a chapter offering their sales tips.

Participation in an anthology can be by invitation for free, for pay (share of royalties or flat fee) or pay to participate, meaning that authors pay to be included in the book. In the business arena, paid anthologies are common since authors use the opportunity to promote themselves. Some projects also require authors to purchase a certain number of books either in addition to any fee or in lieu of a fee. With the emergence of ebooks, some publishers may offer an electronic version of the final book to authors to share or sell as they see fit. Unless a royalty sharing or flat fee pay scheme is used, the publisher will retain all income from future sales of the books through distribution channels.

Authors are provided with a list of guidelines for writing and submitting drafts for their segments of the book. The editor or publisher bears the costs of producing the book to include editing, graphic design, layout, proofing, publishing, printing, marketing, and distribution... and retains the right to reject any author's submission or participation in the project.

Why Would Writers Want to be in an Anthology?

Isn't it better for an author to have his or her own published book? Yes, being the lone author of a book always affords recognition and financial benefits. However, there are a number of reasons why writers, even published ones, might want to consider being part of an anthology:

  • Less Effort. Self-publishing or getting published by a regular publishing house can be quite a project! An anthology only requires authors to submit a segment and leave those details to the editor and publisher. This allows authors to concentrate on creating their best work.
  • In Good Company. Some anthologies gather together top authors and experts. So to be included with recognized writers can afford less famous writers the benefit of being considered as on par with them.
  • Today's Business Card. Being able to say, "I'm one of the authors of _____" can carry a lot of weight for writers who are seeking additional writing opportunities. The book becomes a great business card! It says that someone of note considered them and their work worthy to be included.
  • "I'm on Amazon." Google isn't the only place people look for writers and their work. Amazon is one of the Internet's premier search engines, especially for people who want to buy! Being searchable on Amazon has its advantages. NOTE: Make sure the anthology lists ALL authors when they make the book for sale on Amazon. If they don't plan to do that, then reconsider whether the project makes sense for you and your marketing objectives. As a side note, when you do become an author (of an anthology or your own book), get registered on Amazon's Author Central to provide more information, links to websites and blogs, social media and more.

Why Would an Author Ever Pay or Write for Free to Be in an Anthology Book?

For authors, paying to be part of an anthology work can be a wise marketing investment, whether that means paying a fee or contributing writing for free. A book can be an impressive calling card for attracting potential employers, clients, agents, speaking engagements and even more writing assignments.

As discussed earlier, being noted as being in the company of other recognized experts has value and can be a resume builder. Since all anthology authors will likely be promoting the book to their own networks, this can help get an author known in multiple new markets.

With content marketing (articles, blogs, reports, books, etc.) being the new marketing paradigm for many businesses online and offline, a book of this type can be an important part of these programs.

These benefits should be considered when evaluating costs to participate.

Tips for Successfully Participating in an Anthology Book

Balancing costs and expectations are key to successfully participating in an anthology book project. Keep these tips in mind:

  • Remember Who Controls the Show. The editor and publisher are running this book project, even for "pay to play" projects. Understand that their requirements are established to make the entire project successful, not individual authors. Don't be a prima donna! They can find other authors.
  • Caveat Emptor. Read the anthology agreement carefully! What future rights will you have to your entry? How and how much will you be compensated, if at all? What rights to your name and image does the editor or publisher have? Watch for projects that promise the anthology will be a best seller, and by association, you will be a best selling author. That is just hype. Often, the editor will be playing best seller games to artificially create that status.
  • Authors Must Market the Book, Too. While the publisher usually takes on the duties of marketing the final book, authors are also responsible for marketing the book to their own networks. Authors should purchase at least a small supply of copies make them for sale on their own websites, blogs and at events to help recoup the investment. This is particularly the case for projects where no royalty sharing or fee is paid to writers.
  • Participate in Projects that Make Sense. All anthology books are not created equal! Sure, it's impressive for an author to brag that he's a published author. But if the project is off topic, then the investment could be wasted. However, if an author is trying to break into a new market that's off the usual subjects, an anthology can be a stepping stone into the new territory. Also, realize that anthology books may not carry the same prestige as single-author or co-authored publications; they usually live or die on the reputation of the publisher/editor. So choose wisely.
  • Sampling Marketing Strategy. Truly, a chapter or segment in an anthology is a sample of an author's work. This gives readers a chance to get a taste of what the author and his work are all about. Make it so good they'll want more!
  • Don't "Republish" the Book! Some anthology editors give each author the entire eBook manuscript, allowing authors to sell the eBook on their own websites, because authors won't be getting a share of royalties. This is common for pay-to-participate business anthology books. Because these business authors are participating to promote themselves and their businesses, what they do instead is self publish the eBook on KDP/Amazon under their own names. This means there will be multiple entries for the exact same book on Amazon. You cannot imagine the mess this is! It detracts from the original anthology sales. These multiple entries look like counterfeit books. Some authors list all participating authors, others don't. And there's a myriad of copyright issues. Be a team player and promote the original anthology.

What About an Anthology of Your Own Work?

A question that pops up occasionally in author discussions is creating anthologies of an author's own poetry, short stories, flash fiction, essays, and other short works. That can be a good way to package and sell material that's less than book length.

Authors could self publish shorter works on Kindle Direct Publishing since he Kindle Store does have a category for short reads. However, that can be a difficult sell. As well, it multiplies your marketing effort and expense since you now have to market each piece separately. So packaging as an anthology makes sense.

Don't throw everything you've ever written into one anthology! Collect your work around a theme, subject, or time period (e.g., poems from an event, or stage of your life). This will help your book appeal to relevant audiences.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

Question: I might get published in an anthology soon. How can I use being published in astrology as a stepping stone for the future endeavors?

Answer: This is quite a loaded question!

The answer will really depend on what future publishing endeavors you plan to pursue. Is this anthology related to the audience you hope to reach in the future? If it is, is the anthology or its editor recognized by that audience? If yes to both, then contributing to it might be worth considering since it might be a badge of honor to be included.

But authors who contribute to anthologies can become disappointed or disenchanted when they realize that it isn't an automatic segue into something bigger. You have to do a significant amount of promotion of your chapter and the anthology yourself. An anthology promotes the group of authors or its editor, not you. This is of concern especially if the anthology is a pay-to-participate program.

Question: Is it ethical to contribute one of your own stories to a fiction anthology if you're the editor?

Answer: Well, if you are the editor and you are paying for the production and publishing of the book, you have to decide if your personal participation as a contributor would enhance or detract from the overall work.

In some markets, if editors participate as contributors, it will be seen as self-serving. I would guess that more literary markets might lean that way, but I don't have any hard data to back that up. And it would depend on whether the editor is also the producer and publisher. If the publisher hires an outside editor, the inclusion of the editor's contribution may be part of the compensation and perks offered for the editor's time and talent to edit the anthology.

In markets where nonfiction anthologies are done for business purposes, I have often seen the editors contribute a chapter. In this instance, the editor may also be the producer/publisher, and they want to get some marketing value out of their investment.

So there's no standard policy, and it really depends on the market and the project itself.

© 2013 Heidi Thorne


Robert Sacchi on May 25, 2017:

Thank you.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on May 25, 2017:

Robert, that is one of the true risks of projects like these. Anthology authors need to be extremely clear about their expectations for participation, especially with pay to play. Sadly, though, I suspect that many go in with too high of hopes. If I do a survey about it and get additional insight, I'll update the post. Thanks again for expanding the conversation on this publishing path!

Robert Sacchi on May 24, 2017:

You're welcome. My concern with direct or indirect pay to play is it's a good way to spend alot of money and get nothing in return. There are probably the successful ones who swear by self-publishing, anthology books, or whatever made them money. The ones who tried the method and got nowhere are rarely heard from. You're right it does seem a good survey question.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on May 24, 2017:

Hi Robert! Great question! I can't readily recall seeing anything on them. And in doing a cursory search on Google, I don't readily find any research. I'm guessing you're interested in their success. My observation is that they are great sales tools for speakers at in-person events. But I have to admit you've piqued my curiosity. I've done self publishing research and questioning authors about their experience may be a great question to add to a future survey. Thanks for your comment and have a great day!

Robert Sacchi on May 24, 2017:

It is an interesting option. Has there been any marketing research done on anthology books?

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on March 18, 2016:

Indeed, alancaster149! There's a plethora of inspiration in almost a millennium of history. Good luck with your 7th novel! Thanks for stopping by and have a great weekend!

Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on March 18, 2016:

Further to my original comment above, about multiple book signings, when I was first at Battle Abbey in 2014 for the re-enactment weekend (14th October 1066, Harold vs William) there were several authors aside from me who were asked to sign their books to put in the shop. I had just short of 200 - i.e. fifty of each title so far in the historical novel series at the time that I'm still working on (on No.7 currently). This year marks the 950th anniversary, think what's happened since then, that a group of authors could write on: Plantagenet, Tudor, Stuart etc.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on March 17, 2016:

Hi Lillian! Thank you so much for stopping by. Yes, I think it's worth considering both anthologies and solo publishing efforts, regardless of the profit potential. Agreed, anthologies are an amazing way to get started with publishing for newbies. Looking forward to seeing you, too!

Lillian D Bjorseth on March 17, 2016:

Heidi, well done as usual. I am both a self-published author and part of an anthology. Both are excellent marketing tools. Obviously, I make much more profit on the books I have done by myself . Anthologies, however, are a great first step for people to become published.

See you soon!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on July 01, 2015:

Hi Wavie! So glad you've gotten some experience by participating in writing anthologies. They can be great for helping to establish and expand your fan base. Let us know when you decide to venture out into publishing your own book. Thanks for joining the conversation and have a wonderful day!

Wavie on July 01, 2015:

Great article! I have participated in two anthologies this year and I'm working on more submissions at the moment. I haven't published my own book yet but these anthologies got me started!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on June 13, 2014:

Hi grand old lady! Yes, indeed, there are anthology books projects where people do pay to participate. I have a friend who has been very successful at working with new authors on projects like this. It's a great way for them to test the author waters. Glad you found it interesting. Have a great weekend!

Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on June 13, 2014:

It never occurred to me that people will actually pay to be part of an anthology book, and that they will help to publicize it. This is a wonderful idea and I will include this in my Pinterest account for my book projects folder. A million thanks to you:)

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 24, 2014:

Hello B. Leekley! Getting into an anthology book can be a great item to add to a writing resume. Thanks for reading and commenting!

Brian Leekley from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA on April 23, 2014:

Good advice. Thanks.

I've also known writers who got into a theme short story anthology via a contest.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on October 24, 2013:

Hello, alancaster149! That is an awesome suggestion to have each author sign a bunch of books! Something I'll definitely think about as my anthology project comes together next year. Thanks so much for adding your insight as always. Cheers!

Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on October 24, 2013:

One drawback I can see is that unless all the authors are together at a signing, one couldn't sign it on their own. Nor would it be fair to autograph hunters if they couldn't find all the authors together and increase the value of their purchase. One solution could be that each author signs a stack of the books before they go on sale.

When I was a museum steward at Lord's cricket ground we had an exhibition that compared cricket and baseball a few years ago called 'Swinging Away' staged on behalf of the Baseball Museum in the US. There was a book by American author Beth Hise that went on sale to coincide with the exhibition. Beth signed a whole stack of books ahead of sale, and we plugged them to the spectators at Test Matches at £10 a time. Nobody lost out.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on October 24, 2013:

Hi FlourishAnyway! I figured there would be some surprised folks out there. There are all kinds of paid and pay to play packages for these anthology books. Depends on the publisher, the market and so much more. Thank you so much for reading, commenting and sharing! Have a wonderful day!

FlourishAnyway from USA on October 24, 2013:

Heidi, I had no idea some authors actually pay to be included in a book. I assumed that if an author is in an anthology they are established on the topic or good enough to be included. You've really educated me on this one. I guess it makes sense, however, if you want to break into a new area. Not that I'd do it. Good hub! Voted up and more!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on October 23, 2013:

Howdy, billybuc! That's exciting to hear about your short story in an upcoming anthology. Let us know when it publishes. And, yes, as you and I both know, all of these efforts are not about writing; they're about marketing of writing.

I really appreciate you wandering over to the anthology project site to take a look. It's a whole new adventure! Just launched and starting to sign on authors.

Thank you so very much for your comments and support, as always!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on October 23, 2013:

I looked at the title and then I looked at your name and I had a hard time rectifying the discrepancy. LOL This isn't about marketing I thought and then the truth hit me....of course it's about marketing you fool! :)

As fate would have it I just finished a short story that will be in an anthology book around Christmastime. How weird is that? I think they are a great opportunity for writers to get their names out there. All part of the plan and platform my friend.

I would love to be a part of your anthology. I'll go take a look at the website you provided.

Thanks for the impetus and great information.