Question: How do I oversee a work that has essays from contributing authors?



Personal essay, poetry, and story collections can be great avenues for publishing short form writing. Whether you’re pulling together a collection of just your own writing, a collection of writing from various authors (also known as an anthology), or contributing to someone else’s collection, these compilations have many benefits.

For authors, being published in a collection can boost your writing credentials, improve your craft, and help build a readership for your other work. For readers, these collaborations provide exposure to a variety of content and voices that can be conveniently consumed.

If you are taking the lead on pulling together a collection of work from various authors, it’s important to follow these guidelines to make sure the final product is a high-quality, cohesive piece:


STEP 1: Decide on a central theme or message

Collections and anthologies are highly readable because the individual writings are usually brief, making them appealing to readers who want to quickly engage in a particular subject. The key is having a universal theme or message that will resonate with both readers and writers, and that ties the various pieces together.

Some common themes for nonfiction are:

• courage and perseverance
• coming of age
• relationships
• religious or spiritual
• regional association

Some common themes/genres for fiction are:

• horror or paranormal
• romance
• science fiction
• thriller, mystery, or suspense
• shared-world fantasy

A unifying theme will make the book feel cohesive and complete. Each contribution should stand on its own, but all should work together seamlessly. Even if you are publishing a collection of just your own work, it’s important to have a reason behind the pieces that are included.

Anthologies and collections are a great way to get your shorter pieces published. 

STEP 2: Determine the submission guidelines and compensation

When it’s time to communicate with writers about your proposed collection or anthology, you must be clear about the theme, word count minimum and maximum, deadlines, and any compensation details.

For an anthology to feel like a full-length book, you should aim for at least 40,000 – 50,000 words total. If you are requesting personal essays that are 1,500 to 2,000 words in length, for example, you will need to select between 25 and 30 contributors to fill a book.

It’s also important to determine compensation up front. Will you pay each selected contributor a flat fee, a small royalty, or, are all proceeds going to a charity? Maybe you’re not offering monetary compensation, but will provide a few free, published copies to each contributor to use for promotional purposes. For some writers, the opportunity to be published in a collection is enough compensation on its own, but it’s common for contributors to be paid a one-time, flat fee ranging from $25 up to several hundred dollars. Royalties can be very challenging to manage when numerous authors are involved.

STEP 3: Get the word out

The next step is to determine if you are you inviting only select writers in your network to participate, or if you are making the opportunity public with an open call for submissions. If communicating to just those in your network, you can use email, social media, or your website to promote the project.

If opening up the submission opportunity to writers outside of your network, you may also want to list it on sites such as NewPages, Submittable, and writing organization/association sites that are relevant.

Submittable can also be used to accept submissions and manage the process if you are expecting a large response or plan to do additional anthologies in the future.


STEP 4: Review submissions, make selections, and secure permissions

Once the submission window has closed, it’s time to review all of the proposed contributions. It’s important to consider which pieces best fit the theme, and to select a mix of both new and established authors. The established authors will help draw readers familiar with their other work, while the new authors will offer fresh voices.  

You do not automatically have permission to reprint another writer’s work – as the producer, he or she owns the copyright. You will want to create some type of contract or release form that authorizes you to publish the material. Do your research to see how other anthologies handle these rights. It’s always a good idea to consult with an attorney when creating contracts or release forms.


STEP 5: Determine the best structure or flow

After you finalize which submissions will be included in the collection, look for any pieces that should be grouped by sub-theme or other similarities. You may want to open the book with one of the stronger pieces by a more established author to hook readers. If there is an intense piece, maybe follow it up with something lighter. It’s important to finish strong as well, so end the book with a piece that feels like it rounds things out. Overall, the flow needs to create a nice, narrative arc that takes readers along on the journey.


STEP 6: Do not skip editing

You should request that all contributors self-edit before submitting their work. This will save you time and money, but does not replace the need for professional editing before publication. If you are not a professional editor yourself, you should strongly consider hiring one to make sure the final product is as polished as possible. Don’t forget to factor proper editing into your overall publishing costs and timeline.


STEP 7: Prepare to publish and market!

Collections and anthologies can be independently or traditionally published, and there are several factors to consider when determining which path is best for your book. The amount of control you have, associated costs, and release time frame differ greatly from option to option, so do your research.

When it comes to promoting and marketing the published collection, anthologies have a huge advantage because there is a whole group of authors that can contribute and collaborate on various initiatives. If you have established authors with a built-in readership or following, lean on them to start creating a buzz for the book. Make sure all contributors are on the same page about promoting it both online and in-person, and plan a launch release party with numerous authors present if you can.

Collections and anthologies are wonderful avenues for bringing like-minded writers together. Once you’ve created this web of talented folks, keep the momentum going with other collaborations. Continue supporting one another by championing each other’s work.