Many indie authors like to expand their portfolio with compilations of short or long pieces, on their own or in collaboration with other authors. Sometimes they struggle to know what exactly to call such a product, and I’ve often seen collections labelled as anthologies or vice versa.
So here’s the low-down on the differences between these three popular and useful formats, to help you classify your products correctly,with tips on how to use them to best effect to cross-sell your whole list.
- A collection is a set of short pieces by a single author
- An anthology is a volume of short pieces by a number of different authors
- A box set is a bundle of of full-length books by either a single or different authors.
A collection is a great way to bring together in one place short pieces, whether or not they’ve been previously published. If you have short stories that have been previously published in magazines or online, “repurposing content” is the buzzphrase for this approach.
Provided that the magazine has bought only the right to be the first to print the piece, which is standard practice, the copyright remains with you. You’re free to publish it elsewhere anywhere you like, but it’s courteous to both the original publisher and your readers, and sometimes the publisher’s stipulated requirement, that should you republish it elsewhere, you include a statement citing where it first appeared.
A collection with a specific theme provides a more consistent experience for the reader, e.g. my most recent collection, Marry in Haste, has a theme of dating, love and marriage, and there are three distinct sections with five stories on each of these topics. Random stories on various topics, bolted together willy-nilly, can feel a bit like watching a movie made from offcuts on the cutting room floor, although readers may also enjoy the element of surprise, like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates analogy. (“Mama always said life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”)
Marketing Advantage: Although not hugely commercial, because lots of people are averse to short stories (sigh!), a collection can offer a satisfying quick read for those don’t want a long, complicated book, are pressed for time, or want to sample your style before committing to your novels.
Anthologies usually have a theme of some kind, whether of length (eg National Flash Fiction Day’s 2016 anthology, A Box of Stars Beneath the Bed, includes 500-word stories of all kinds) or theme (eg Out of the Shadows provides stories by ALLi member women writers with female characters at their core).
Marketing Advantage: anthologies provide a great opportunity for authors to cross-sell to each other’s fans, presuming that each contributor has a different audience to which they actively promote the book. Having a story featured in an anthology is also a great way to add a new book to your portfolio without actually having to write a whole one yourself. If even just one of your stories has been included in a multi-author anthology, you can claim it for your Amazon author page via Author Central, which adds to your credibility as an author. This is especially useful early in your self-publishing career when you have just one or two books out.
A box set is a group of full-length books sold together, usually at a price that offers considerable savings compared to buying each of the books individually. A box set may be either by a single author, typically combining a whole series of books in a bundle, similar to box sets of TV shows on Netflix, or by multiple authors.
Outside the Box (left) was a notable box set of literary fiction novels published last year by ALLi author members Orna Ross, Jessica Bell, Kathleen Jones, Carol Cooper, Jane Davis, Roz Morris, and Joni Rodgers.
The box set offers more flexibility and scope than an anthology because it’s essentially a cosmetic job to provide a virtual outer wrapper for existing products, whereas an anthology has to compiled, edited and formatted afresh, creating a single new book. Unlike collections and anthologies, which are usually print and book, box sets are usually ebook only, rather than in print, which means production is cheap, easy and low-risk. You can publish (and unpublish) box sets relatively rapidly, experiment by offering different box sets on different platforms, or offer them for fixed time periods to encourage take-up on a “when it’s gone, it’s gone” principle.
Marketing Advantage: Single author box sets can persuade readers to buy a whole series in one go, rather than working slowly through it (and maybe getting distracted before they’ve bought them all). Multiple author box sets allow authors to cross-sell to each other’s audiences, in the same way as anthologies. If you’re prepared to get the right mix, do a lot of planning, and invest in coordinated marketing, you can get a lot of mileage from a box set, e.g. the twelve-book crime set, Deadly Dozen, featuring books by ALLi authors Diane Capri and J F (Joanna Penn), hit the New York Times and USA today bestseller lists.
While collections, anthologies and box sets may or may not make you a handsome profit, they are definitely a useful addition to any writer’s portfolio, and collaborating with other authors can be fun too – although for the sake of satisfaction all round, it’s best to agree in advance how you will share responsibilities (and profits), before you press the publish button.
OVER TO YOU If you have a success story or a cautionary tale on this topic, we’d love to hear about it!
- How to reach readers with boxed sets – by Diane Capri
- How and why to set up an Amazon author page – by Mark Gillespie