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How to Reach New Readers with Anthologies

Headshot of author Deb Vanasse

Deb Vanasse

Anthologies, which bundles work by many authors into a single volume, can provide a great showcase from which indie authors may reach new readers and share their existing fans with fellow writers. Alaskan author Deb Vanasse describes how she created a mixed genre sampler with her state as the unifying theme.

Author David Marusek and I read at the same time a post that mentioned book bundling, and we both had the same idea: let’s create a free bundled ebook, an anthology of samples that would allow readers to discover new books and authors—for free.

For years, big publishers have created anthologies featuring excerpts from the titles they’re promoting for the upcoming season, anthologies that they give away at major conventions. They’re also starting to distribute these as free e-books through NetGalley and elsewhere.

Case Study: Alaska Sampler 2014

Cover of Alaska SamplerDavid and I set out to create a similar product, a free collection representing the work of the best writers we knew, starting with those who have joined our independent author cooperative Running Fox Books.

Though the selections we chose are diverse, they all meet our quality standards, and focus in one way or another on Alaska, the common ground (literally and figuratively) between us. Alaska is high-interest topic among readers – nearly two million people visit our state each year – so we named our e-book simply Alaska Sampler 2014.

While we were creating an e-book, we didn’t want to slight the brick-and-mortar bookshops that sell our print books, so we offered booksellers throughout our state a chance to partner with us in exchange for annotated store listings embedded within the book and on the Running Fox website.

We scrambled to launch our Sampler to coincide with the beginning of Alaska’s tourist season, reasoning that visitors would be a big part of our market. The book performed exactly as we’d hoped. On launch day, our website (with a “freebie” page for readers to side-load the anthology onto their e-readers) generated ten times the traffic it had been averaging per week. Within a few hours of release, we’d hit #1, #2, and #5 in our Amazon categories. Amazon’s bots picked up on the activity and the e-book’s free status elsewhere. Twenty-four hours later, the book achieved “perma-free” status on Amazon.

And the benefits continue. Released at the beginning of summer, the Sampler has held at #1 in its primary category at the Kindle store, where it appears on the first page of search results for “Alaska.” Traffic at the Running Fox website remains up: 150% over last year.

After thousands of downloads in the first few months post-publication, the e-book is a continuing source of free marketing for our authors and our author co-op, working as a loss-leader as it entices readers to read and buy books written by our contributors:

  • “I’ll be looking up several of the authors in the Sampler to read more of their work,” notes one reader in a review
  • “Led to it by one favorite author, walking away with several new favorites,” says another
  • From a third: “Please publish one [anthology] every year or two.”

How to Create an Anthology

Given the success of the project, we intend to do exactly that. For those who are thinking of creating their own free “samplers” as a way of reaching readers, here’s our advice:

  •  Content For our initial collection, we approached ten authors whose work we knew met our standards, authors who either owned the digital rights to their work or would be able to get reprint permission from their publishers (one of the Big Five publishers actually granted it, calling the Sampler “a terrific project.”) The contributors also needed to be forward-thinking in their understanding of our purpose in offering the book for free: that by aggregating high-quality prose, we’d be getting cross-readership, plus the advantages of marketing together and sharing a loss-leader.
  • Legalities We procured signed agreements with all contributors, and we signed agreements with one another, with David as the production person and me as the editorial director.
  • Production David is a master at graphic design and ebook production, so he handled the cover and the manuscript conversion. I solicited contributions and went back and forth with contributors on editing and proofing. Then David proofed the entire book, and we did a short beta launch during which our authors re-proofed before our official launch. I’ve handled the distribution and promotion end of the project.
  • Availability I created a “freebie” page on the Running Fox website so that readers could easily access links for downloading the book in all formats. We made the book free with vendors wherever we could (Kobo, Instafreebie) and listed it for 99 cents on Nook and Amazon (due to the volume of downloads, the Kindle version is now free).
  • Promotion On launch day, we urged our authors to broadcast the news to their contacts. We also sent out a press release and an e-newsletter. We promoted the Sampler through blogs, social media, and sites that feature free books and/or Alaska-themed material. Now it’s a consistent performer, and we spend little time on promotion.

Readers can download the Alaska Sampler 2014 for free at www.runningfoxbooks.com, or directly from online vendors.

OVER TO YOU

Do you have any top tips to add to Deb’s list? Have you had your work included in an anthology and has it helped you gain new readers? Join the conversation via the comments box!

Twitter bird outlineEASY TWEET

#Writers: top tips on how to create your own #anthology by @DebVanasse: http://www.selfpublishing.org/anthologies/ via @IndieAuthorALLi

 

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3 Responses to How to Reach New Readers with Anthologies

  1. Deb Vanasse October 20, 2014 at 12:14 am #

    Wow! So much great anthology energy…thanks for sharing that, Debbie. My reading list is expanding!!

  2. Debbie Young October 18, 2014 at 4:29 pm #

    What an inspiring post – I want to go right out and create my own anthology now! I’m very pleased to have had two of my own flash fiction stories included in anthologies this year – “Eating My Words” edited by Calum Kerr and “Change The Ending” curated by Dawn Reeves. The first was published to mark National Flash Fiction Day, of which Calum is the founder and director, and was on the theme of “the senses”, and the second was a project to promote a positive future for local government. It was really stimulating to write stories to order for these books, and a thrill to have mine selected, which has certainly introduced new readers to my work – I know from the reviews and the Twitter traffic.

    Bizarrely, I’ve just realised there is a common link between the two, although written months apart: both my stories were about public libraries!

    Speaking of which, there’s another terrific anthology I know of – “Unchained”, which was published to mark the 400th anniversary of libraries in Bristol. This was produced by a writers group called Bristol Women Writers, and they launched it in Bristol Central Library, which has helped them build their relationship with libraries as individual authors too. So another benefit there.

    The possibilities are endless!

    Thanks for sharing this, Deb, I’m looking forward to reading “Alaska Sampler” now – it’ll be interesting to compare and contrast with yet another anthology, “The Best of Ohio Short Stories”, which I read and reviewed for the fab Vine Leaves Literary Journal earlier this year. (Vine Leaves is in itself an anthology, being a literary magazine featuring work by dozens of authors.)

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