Creating an Anthology: Experience Making Charity Anthology Queens & Courtesans

When some of my friends and acquaintances set out to create an anthology, we had only a little bit of an idea what went into it. I had been involved in two crowdfunded anthologies (affiliate links ahead – What Follows and Fight Like a Girl) and I had previously published nonfiction on my own, giving me a grounding in the formatting and publishing process. As a co-creator of the Queens & Courtesans Sirens charity anthology, I wanted to write an honest recap of our plans and experiences with creating the first anthology (in a hopefully long line of charity anthologies) for Sirens.

Concept

In February 2016, an idea stirred in the community surrounding the Sirens Conference. We had a prompt, of a strong woman monarch and an equally vibrant courtesan. A variety of writers had ideas snag their attention. We could compile these ideas, we thought, since they were all clearly rooted to a theme. And we wanted to give back to the conference that brought us together.

The project started snowballing, informally. We had volunteers to write, edit, format, illustrate, and publish the anthology. The desire was to publish the anthology before the Sirens Conference in October 2016. Which means we needed a timeline and we needed it fast.

Timelines

Jessica Corra, editor of the anthology, and I built backwards from when the anthology needed to be published—early October. Jessica, a former editor for Samhain Publishing, had a solid grounding in publishing production and how we would need to budget for this project.

We budgeted a month for ebook formatting and proofing. We budgeted a month for print formatting and proofing. I had volunteered to format the anthology and these timelines were comfortable for me—even though I had to learn print formatting since I hadn’t done that before. The blocked times in these areas became a comfortable buffer to absorb any variation elsewhere in the project (which happened).

We planted editing windows in 7-10 day stretches when Jessica had the time available around work and life commitments. The editing timelines had to be compliant with Jessica’s life since she was one of the few people in this project who would be touching every story. We wanted to have two rounds of edits for her, since a lot of the writers who wanted to contribute to the project did not have previously published stories.

We also planned to have beta readers take on some stories before sending to the editor. We wanted to be sure that every writer had at least a second set of eyes on their drafts before Jessica got them. We ended up with enough beta reading volunteers to give each story two sets of eyes.

This left us with February-May as the timeline for the stories to be written, pre-betas and editing. Not bad given the ideas were fresh in our writers.

Our timeline ended up looking like this:

Date – Action – Who
May 15 – Stories due to Beta Readers – Writers
May 28 – Stories due back to Authors from Beta Readers – Beta Readers
June 4 – Stories due for First Content Edits – Writers
June 12 – First Content Edits returned from Editor – Editor
June 25 – Stories due for Second Content Edits – Writers
July 5 – Second Content Edits due from Editor – Editor
July 17 – Art submissions due to curator – Illustrators
July 17 – Final Content Edits due from Writers to Proofreaders – Writers
July 24 – Proofreading due to Formatter – Beta Readers (opposite stories from first Beta Read) who communicate to Writers, Writers send to Wrangler of Awesome
August 16 – Print Format Proofs due – Formatter
August 25 – Proofreading Print Format Proof due to Formatter – Everyone
August 25 – Cover Art/Cover Flat Due to Formatter and Curated Art due to Formatter – Illustrator
September 1 – POD proof request deadline – Publisher
September 20 – eBook Formatting Due – Formatter
September 26 – eBook Proofreading Due – Everyone
October 4 – eBook and Print Version Release Date – Publisher

Communicating

We opened the call to a group on Facebook full of previous Sirens Attendees. From there, we made another group (since we didn’t want to drown the existing group) for those who wanted to contribute to the anthology.

In the group, we provided support to writers and beta readers as the usual writer insecurities kicked in. Some of us stumbled around deadlines but overall, most of us made the deadlines on time.

Writing and editing was tight, as seen with the timeline posted above.

Submissions and distribution of work to beta readers and editors was done through a central email address.

Formatting

Formatting was my main challenge with this project. I have formatted ebooks before and I knew the amount of work I was looking at in regards to that.
Print formatting, however, was a different story.

I had a wonderful friend agree to teach me print formatting. It was extremely generous of her, especially given that it is a potentially transferrable skill. Once learning the print formatting, and applying that skill to an anthology (which is probably the worst starter project for a formatter), I will be gladly sending potential clients her way because I hope to rarely (read: never) have to take on that task again. Every story needed its own page set of masters (with running headlines of author and story, along with page count). Every story had some unique quirk or usage that required special formatting. Basically, it was hell for beginner formatting.

Programs used:

  • Adobe InDesign – print formatting
  • Adobe Photoshop – to make some graphic elements for the interior matter
  • Sigil – ebook formatting
  • Calibre – ebook formatting conversion to mobi
  • Various ebook reading software to test file coding. Includes Kindle Previewer, iBooks, and Adobe Digital Editions.

Proofing by the beta readers condensed the timeline for formatting. A lot of people had summer vacations planned and that impacted their ability to check over the files and get feedback to the Wrangler of Awesome—who also had summer vacation plans. We made a note for future anthologies that we should give proofing a better timeline so that we wouldn’t have to gouge time out of another category to cover the deficit.

Uploading

Uploading was an adventure all its own. As this was the first print project I was a part of directly, learning the nuances and needs of the back end of CreateSpace made for a challenge.

We wanted to be sure that the work was up for preorder in order to best leverage the marketing we wanted to do. The compulsory preorder upload times—ten days before publication—was a challenge and further impacted the timeline we had previously set. That being said, we took it under advisement for future timelines.

Marketing

Marketing is the one section of this where we really faltered. We knew we would have an audience for the book, but we didn’t think about it too much in the creation of the project. Nor did we create a marketing team to start building a plan to reach out to bloggers and whatnot around three months before publication. This is the one area where we really missed out.

In the end, we did reach out to some blogs in the network of our contributing writers and beta readers. For the next time we do this anthology, marketing needs to be addressed in advance of the publication—preferably 4-5 months before publication.

The final product:

Planning to do better next time

I have mentioned a few things that we wanted to improve upon for the 2017 Sirens benefit anthology in the post above. But now I am going to expand it a bit.

Start Sooner

We definitely want to start sooner. Starting in late February 2016 made for a very tight writing deadline. This year, we started as we were at Sirens 2016 in October 2016. Formal guidelines and timelines were set up in November 2016 with more generous time buffers where we ought to have had them for the first anthology.

Step Back

This was a personal decision, but I had to step back and make sure people knew I wasn’t the head of this project. I was expecting my daughter in November 2016 and planning a publishing project while caring for a newborn…it doesn’t really mix well. I took a lot of other tasks off my plate in preparation for baby and the Sirens Benefit anthology was one of those things.
The only thing I made sure to do before I left was facilitate the choice of the next anthology theme and hash out a timeline with the knowledge that the above experience brought to the project.

Invite More Contributors

One of the things we wanted now that we proved that we could produce the anthology in this timeline was invite other people to contribute. Most notably, we wanted to invite previous guests of honour. And so far we do have some who are willing to send a story our way to see if it fits the theme.

Style Guide

We might actually look into developing a style guide for this next anthology so that the formatting between stories compliments each other better.

Additional Resources

One of the best resources I have seen for creating anthologies was a series down in 2016 by Joshua Palmatier. In the 10 parts, he goes over everything from concept to distribution. You can find the posts through these links:

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