This week authors J. Thorn and Crys Cain discuss the process of being involved in an anthology and why it can be useful for your author career.


Crys: Hello and welcome to The Author Life Podcast. I’m Crys Cain with my co-host, J Thorn.

J: Hey, Crys.

Crys: We don’t have any personal updates for you until next month because we’re batch recording. But we do have a fun question: how can anthologies help my career and be useful to my career?

And this question is interesting to me because while I attended the world building workshops that you and Zack do I had full intentions of writing short stories. Life, of course, continued to be insane and I didn’t. But one of them that I attended, which was the Witches of Salem, the anthology that you guys put together with that one has just recently come out.

And this is something you guys have been doing for how many years?

J: Four, five, something like that.

Crys: Yeah. A while.

J: Four years. Yeah.

Crys: And I think you helped with a bunch of anthologies before you and Zach ever became a duo.

J: Yeah. They weren’t short story anthologies, they were multi-author box sets, but same principle.

Crys: Oh yeah. So maybe we can cover what slight differences exist between those two as we get into this. And I’ve organized some kind of anthology box set stuff as well. I think I have one story in one somewhere under a secret pen name that’s dead.

So how can anthologies be useful to authors’ careers?

J: It depends. I think it depends on the genre, and I think it depends on the kind of anthology that you’re talking about. Generally speaking in my experience, short story anthologies don’t really sell. Again, that’s genre dependent. I’m sure there are romance writers putting out anthologies who are making bank on it. But that’s not been my personal experience.

They’re more of a reader magnet type of thing. They’re great for giveaways. They’re great for promotions. They’re great for events or if you’re speaking. These are all really good things for an anthology. A few years ago, you used to be able to hit the major lists with an anthology. That’s not the case anymore, but I know some folks used anthologies to get on New York Times or USA Today lists.

In my opinion, I think the best thing about an anthology these days is the friendship and networking you have with the other authors. That’s really the only reason that I still do them. Zach and I create these anthologies after the events that we do, but I’m occasionally in other anthologies that I don’t organize. And that’s the primary reason is just the comradery, the friendship, having a shared purpose. But I really don’t have any sort of financial expectations around those.

Crys: I would add another benefit, and this is particularly for newer authors, is that it gives you an external deadline, teaches you to meet deadlines with something that’s very short and not super brain intensive, and teaches you a little bit of how working with an editor might be. And I believe for A Curse of the Spiral, you guys are doing something new because we have a couple of members in our community who are starting in their audio book narration journey, in that they are becoming narrators. And there’s a new learning experience there of author working with a narrator.

J: Yes. Yeah, that’s absolutely true.

Crys: It’s kind of like learning the publishing experience light.

J: it is. And usually there’s one person in charge, and if you’re new, you can learn a lot by volunteering. You can offer help and then you’ll learn, what does it take to get a cover? And what’s the editing process like? And how do I format this thing? And all of those things that you might not know about as a newer author, you can learn from someone who’s doing it. So it’s a great learning opportunity.

Crys: Yeah. Six years ago I think was one of the last anthologies I organized. This is about the only time I’ve seen an anthology make money. But the overall rule is romance can make money doing just about anything.

J: Yup.

Crys: And so I organized with my friend, they are super connector, so they had connections with big romance authors and they got everybody to commit. And then I did all of the organizational, background, making sure everything happened on time, contracts, payments, all that. And I think each of us walked away with two grand, it was great. For an anthology, that’s amazing.

 The reason that happened was that we had one really big author and a couple of like good-sized authors who had really strong fan bases who will buy literally anything that they put out. And those people are what made us the money. It wasn’t the anthology itself, it was that these big names participated. So keep that in mind as you are participating in anthologies, that it is about the experience, it is about the connections. It is a rarely about the money.

The other time that I’ve seen this happen, that we’re making money, again, it is led by big authors, but it tends to be for charity, which you do with all of your anthologies rather than try and sort out like bits and bobs of everybody gets six bucks or 20 bucks or whatever. Maybe more, I don’t know, I’m just low-balling. You pick a charity that everybody’s cool with and all the money goes to that charity.

There’s a big gay romance one that happens every year and they send thousands and thousands of dollars to a particular charity every year because they make it a big process. It’s a big deal, big name authors, little name authors, they make it huge, they put it out. And that’s about the only way that I’ve seen anthologies make money.

J: Yeah. There’s a bit of an asterisk, although the asterisk is there because this was 10 years ago, but 10 years ago I first established my reputation in the independent publishing world by doing multi-author box sets. Those were like anthologies, except with full novels, and doing that for post-apoc dystopian authors worked really well for me to establish myself.

Crys: Yeah. So the roundup here is if you’re participating in an anthology, most of the time you’re looking for experience and connections, not money. But those are going to be so valuable over the lifetime of your career, particularly, and I’m not saying this because extroverts are not included, but particularly for introverts who need a path to talking to other people, whereas extroverts will create paths, this is a wonderful way to create paths to talking to people.

J: Agreed.

Crys: My question for our listeners this week is: have you participated in an anthology and what was your experience?

Thank you so much for joining us this week. Once again, if you haven’t listened to last week’s podcast about taking the community free, I encourage you to check that out.

And If you would like to join this conversation in real time, we’d love for you to pop over and check out what The Author Life Community is all about.