It’s a Great Opportunity, Right?
A few weeks ago, I was asked this question by a friend:
I’ve been invited to ‘buy in’ to be an author of a chapter in a book. I’ve seen [insert name of well-known author] do this with other entrepreneurs and I wondered whether it was a good idea. What do you think?
She’s not the first person to ask me whether it’s a good idea to be a co-author in an anthology and, since I’ve managed a couple of these projects, I thought it might be helpful to give you some sensible questions to ask (and answer) so that you can make an informed decision about whether it’s right for you.
Your first reaction might be to feel flattered, honoured even, especially if it’s an opportunity to be part of a book branded by a well-known name.
But let’s dig a little deeper because this can be a tricky project to get right and, if it doesn’t work as well as promised, your effort might have been better spent on your own writing.
What is a Co-Authored Anthology?
An anthology is a collection of stories or, in this case, non-fiction essays that are collected together into a book. You’d expect them to be on a related topic — Women in Business, Social Media Tips, etc.
An anthology is different to being a co-author in a complete book where you might have two or three authors working together to produce one book, with each editing or reviewing each others’ work to bring a coherent project together.
In the anthology model, the chapters stand alone, they’re written by different authors, and there will be an editor or a publisher (the promoter) who will bring the work together and publish it.
Who Gets Paid, and How?
In the kind of anthology my friend asked about, individual authors were expected to pay to contribute. This is pretty typical — there’s a fee — sometimes quite a steep fee — to participate.
Anthologies like this in the business and personal development space are often self-published and there are very real costs involved for the editing, proof-reading, formatting, design, printing, etc, etc.
I don’t think it’s unreasonable that the contributors should share that cost, just as you’d expect to pay those costs for your own self-published book. Book royalties are usually small, tiny even, and it’s unlikely the publisher will be making much money out of book sales.
Not always of course, some authors (or as we should really call them, editors) make a career out of co-authoring books, or anthologies and publish dozens of them.
Still, the money’s not usually in the book, and you shouldn’t expect to be paid a royalty share. The promoter is relying on the co-operative nature of jointly authored content to bring something of greater value into the world.
However, these fees can vary tremendously and the costs can go well beyond actual hard costs. I’ve seen them range from $100 at the lower end right up to $5,000 at the upper. Quite a range, right?
So what might you expect for those extra zeroes?
Well, before we look at value for money, let’s have a look at why you might want to get involved at all (or why you wouldn’t.)
What Do You Get for Your Money?
The first promise is that you get to be a ‘published author’.
Sometimes, even, you’re promised that you’ll be ‘a bestselling author’.
And, sometimes, you’re promised a service beyond the publishing that might involve some kind of coaching to help you write your chapter, or some kind of collaborative marketing, or occasionally the promise of your name on the cover for an (optional) premium fee.
You usually also get a copy or two of the physical book, although with a cost price of $3-5 a book for your typical self-published paperback, that’s hardly worth mentioning.
“OK, so it sounds interesting,” you’re saying, “What do I do next?”
Three Levels of Relationship
If you’ve been approached about one of these, or you’ve occasioned upon a sales page advertising an opportunity to be a co-author in an anthology, you’ve probably raced ahead to the “how much does it cost?” question.
But let me ask, how much do you know about the people involved? Because it isn’t just you and the editor or the publisher of the book — there are more layers of relationships to understand before you say yes.
1. You and your priorities
What’s in it for you? Obviously this needs to be a fit for you, and what’s next in your business. There are always more things we could do and time is our most scarce resource. Use it wisely.
2. The other contributors
Who else is involved? You’ve probably thought about the publisher or the promoter, but don’t neglect important questions about the other contributing authors. You’re in it with them whether you know them or not. Get an understanding of whether they share similar values.
3. The promoter / editor / publisher
What’s the promoter’s track record? You need to make a judgement about what’s true and what’s hype. It’s easy to be sucked in by marketing promises so look at the questions below, understand what to ask and how to interpret the answers, and you’re more likely to get the results you want.
You, the other contributors, and the publisher: the three moving parts to making this a success. Now, let’s dig into the detail…
7 Questions To Ask Before You Say ‘Yes’
Ask (and answer) these questions and you should have everything you need to make a decision.
What to Ask Yourself…
1. How serious am I about publishing (now)?
Is a book a priority for you right now? Or did this opportunity just fall in front of you?
You’ll want to look carefully at what’s involved and weigh that against what else you might be doing. There’s an opportunity cost to everything we say ‘yes’ to, so make sure you’re serious and passionate about this project.
Ask yourself: is a book, even the chapter of a book, a priority for me right now?
2. Is it the collaboration, or the writing, that excites me?
This kind of co-authored anthology is an easy route to become a published author. It’s as easy to write one of these chapters as it is to write a blog post. You could do it in the next couple of hours.
Heck, you could probably contribute something you’ve already written! (depending on their terms.) Which means the only ‘cost’ is the fee and whatever marketing you agree to.
Either way, it’s not difficult and it gets you the moniker of ‘published author’ more easily than doing it on your own.
And it’s a massive confidence boost.
Contributing a chapter and getting something concrete in return — whether that’s a digital book or a print book is a fantastic feeling.
This really is the main benefit in my opinion.
However… and this is a big one: if you can write a chapter you can write a book.
Yes, seriously. The barriers to publishing are low and not knowing the ‘how’ shouldn’t hold you back from doing it yourself.
As for writing, if you can write 2,000 words for the chapter of a co-authored anthology, ask yourself this,
Can I write 20,000 words to create my own book?
I’ve seen kindle books as short as 12,000 words, so it’s not too much of a stretch to go from a chapter in someone else’s book to writing your own book.
Ask yourself: how hard is it to do this on my own?
3. Is the whole greater than the parts?
Even if a book is a collection, I still want it to be more than the sum of its parts. That’s why I think that books that are a collection of blog posts (the anthology model we’re talking about here) don’t offer the same experience to the reader as a book that takes them on a journey from beginning to end.
Of course, it can be an easy way to get a book done, and those bite-sized chunks are very accessible as a taster.
But a book can be a medium to develop a deeper experience. You can take your ideas, your process, your shared vision, and you can help your reader learn something new, change their behaviour, or think differently about something.
The bottom line with a collection of essays that are written in isolation from each other is that the opportunity to weave a message through the book is more limited than you, or any author, could do in your own book, or even in a collection pulled from your own writing.
Ask yourself: does the reader experience live up to my brand promise?
What to Ask About the Other Authors…
4. What do I know about the other authors?
You have no control over who gets chosen and, if it’s a book that people can buy into, then you don’t know what is being traded off to get a full complement of authors.
It’s also unlikely you’ll have any quality control over the content that goes into the book.
Let’s say it’s a book about social media and one of your co-authors who is writing about Facebook only has a couple of hundred fans. Are you going to be OK when it comes to promoting the book to your audience? (this was a real question that came up in conversation with my friend.)
And what do you know about the contributors? Do they share your values? Your standards? Do you even get the chance to get to know them, so you can find out the answer to that question?
When I get asked to speak or participate in telesummits, I like to know both who I’m talking to and who’s on the (virtual or real) stage with me.
On the other hand, if there’s a rigorous selection process and a professional editing process, then you can be more confident about the quality of the final book.
Ask yourself: who am I sharing a platform with?
What to Ask About the Publisher…
5. What quality standards can I expect?
It’s pretty simple to go and buy one of the books that this person’s done before.
Have a look at the print quality. How’s the formatting?
Is the book decently edited? Does the content flow? Are there a lot of typos? (don’t judge them too harshly for this — one or two are normal!)
Does the book have an eye-catching, professional cover design?
There are very real costs in putting any book together and, while there are ways to do this affordably, you want to make sure that your small contribution is being looked after.
I know one author who (naively, he told me), submitted his short piece only to find when the book came out there were 500 other short essays, none of them proof-read, and very poorly produced. He sighed as he told me, “I should have checked. It’s a lesson and I know not to do it again.”
It’s an easy check to do, so do it.
Ask yourself: am I happy with the quality of the final product?
6. Will it sell?
Sometimes the big pitch to encourage you to contribute to this kind of a book is about the combined power of the book marketing.
You’ll hear someone say,
We each have an email list of around 5,000, so with twenty authors, we can reach 100,000 people!
Well, in theory that’s true. But the reality is often different.
I’ve seen this again and again, I’ve edited two collections myself, and what happens is this: when it comes time to launch the effort you put in is lukewarm at best. Because you realise that you don’t actually know the other authors, and it feels like you’re promoting something that belongs to someone else, not to you.
It sounds selfish, I know, but it’s what happens.
Ask yourself: will I be as committed to marketing this book when it comes out as I am now?
7. What am I getting for my money?
You definitely get to be a ‘published author’ without much effort on your part.
The promoter will (or should) have publishing experience that you don’t and can get the book out without the learning curve you’d have to go through.
This is the no-brainer part!
Are you being promised that the book will be a bestseller?
Well, again, it’s easy enough to look at the track record of the publisher and ask him or her what that means.
Does it mean they’re confident they can sell a few hundred copies when the book launches, enough to get a #1 category ranking on Amazon?
Or are they promising something more?
Ask about the reach of the promoter and what’s their track record with previous books. If they’re a first-timer, relying on the combined reach and marketing of the contributing authors, be conservative with your expectations.
Even if you don’t care about being a bestseller, remember, knowledge simply helps you make the right decision for you.
If you’re being promised positioning and reach and all those things that come when you’re a published author, ask yourself, “Is that really true? Where is the balance of benefits?”
Financially you’re unlikely to see a return from the book, even the publisher (in most cases anyway) isn’t making money from book sales. So, are there any other benefits?
It might be enough for you to be published, to have ‘author’ on your About page. But, if you really want to build your business with a book, then do your own book.
These collaborative projects often serve as a way to introduce you to the services of the publisher so you can continue to work with him or her. This might be a service you need, but be aware that this is the game you’re in before you say yes.
Fame by Association — Real or B.S.?
But I get to be associated with [insert name of celebrity author]!
And yes, you do, if it’s that kind of a book. It definitely counts for something to be associated with a big name author. Sadly, we live in awe of the celebrity!
It’s All Marketing, Right?
Yes, of course, you get to put ‘author of…’ on your website, and that’s definitely the main benefit of contributing to an anthology like this.
But I suspect you won’t, in the long term, feel as proud of this book as the one you do on your own.
Ask yourself: what am I getting and is it worth the money? Will I feel proud?
Before You Make a Decision…
If being an author is a priority for you, then think long term.
Is this anthology something you will want to promote in three years time? Or five?
The Opportunity Cost
If it doesn’t take much time, or if you can send something you already wrote, maybe with a few tweaks, and if you find the fee affordable, then the benefits of doing this can be very appealing.
If it’s an expensive process, or if there’s a big commitment to writing or marketing, then stop, ask yourself where else you could be spending that time and money.
By questioning your own motives and finding out more about the other contributors and the publisher, you’ll be equipped to make a good decision — before you commit time and money!
I’ve seen enough of these anthologies to know that most people use them as a stepping stone to go on to write their own book.
If you want the comfort of a stepping stone, fantastic, go ahead.
If you want to move further faster, then maybe you’re ready to stand in your own spotlight, and write your own book?
This post was written by our editor and chief strategist, Cathy Presland. Cathy loves to teach writing and business development through her popular online classes and in-person Masterclasses. She takes on a small number of projects where she can co-create content with interesting people.
Do you know anyone who’s considering contributing to an anthology like this? Would it be helpful to forward these questions to them?