The newly published A Southern Season is the third novella collection I’ve participated in, the first that was traditionally published, and I can tell you—I love writing novellas and being in collections.
As I’ve mentioned before, I use these novellas to play in genres I don’t usually get to write in—in other words, I play outside my brand. Is that smart? Well, let’s consider that, among several other things about participating in collections.
The Pros and Cons of Participating in Collections
As with anything else in this business, there are good points and bad…
- Increased visibility and opportunity to expand your audience:
Most collections have an “anchor” author, a more established writer who is likely to bring in readers. People buy the collection based on that person’s name alone and will often (but not always, sad to say) read and appreciate any new-to-them names in the collection.
- The opportunity to establish yourself in your genre:
This goes hand in hand with the first point. Those who read and love your story in the collection will look for other things you’ve written. You’ll gain fans—and fans talk. Word-of- mouth is the best advertising there is.
- The opportunity to play in another genre (my reason for doing collections):
Long story short of my history as an author is that my first release branded me—not just as a romance writer, but a cowboy romance writer, leaving me genre-locked. Not entirely a bad thing, but I read all genres and would like to play in several of them.
If you’re a fairly new published author with a fear of being genre-locked, collections are the perfect place to get outside your brand and stretch your wings a little. Best result is that you could find a genre you enjoy and understand how to transition from what you currently do to what you want to do or learn how to market yourself in both genres. Or, like me, you can discover another genre that fits well enough with what you write that any kind of major crossover event won’t lose you readers.
- Source of income:
Okay, not a huge source of income, but still a source of income.
- Publishing cred:
This can be a big deal if you’re unpublished or not published in fiction or not published in the collection’s genre.
- The collection will be reviewed and rated as a whole:
The weak link can bring down the entire collection, so unless your novella gets singled out with positive reviews, you’ll suffer the fate assigned to the collection as a whole. Best thing is not to be the weak link yourself.
- Playing too far outside your brand won’t bring readers to your other novels:
Herein lies the rub for my novella in A Southern Season—it is so different from anything else I’ve ever written that those who love this more serious side of me may not care for my lighter romances. If you’re working on building a readership, try not to stray too far.
- Source of income is divided:
If it’s indie-pubbed, the royalties are divided among the authors. If you’re with a traditional publisher, a percentage of gross sales goes to the publisher, the editor, the marketing staff, and whoever else was involved in producing the book.
So it’s important to know why you want to be in a collection. If you want to become a rich, overnight sensation, you may want to look elsewhere. If you’re looking for visibility, creds, and just a chance to play, you’re in the right place.
What to Consider When Participating in a Collection
After you’ve decided whether joining a collection is for you, how do you know whether the one you’re asked to join (or starting) is the right one? Here are a few things to consider…
- Can you write “short”?
Generally, a novella is between 20,000 and 50,000 words, and must contain everything you’d find in a full-length novel. Characterization and setting description matter just as much. So do the plot and character arcs. The end of the story must be fulfilling. If you have trouble paring down your word count, this may not be for you.
- What are the genre and theme?
At least one of the reviewers judged Ice Melts in Spring, my novella for A Southern Season, as a Romance, which it’s not. In fact, only one of the novellas in the collection can be considered straight romance. A Southern Season is pitched as stories from the American South, which can be anything. Readers looking at the list of authors and assuming the genre could be disappointed.
So if you’re not clear on the genre, or if the collection offers a variety of genres—like Coming Home, a Tiny House Collection—be sure your fellow authors have an idea in mind how to present it. The common thread in the multi-genre Coming Home is the tiny house. The only thing that connects the different stories is roughly four-hundred square feet of “home.”
The benefit of Coming Home was being able to write what we wanted, as long as we included a tiny house, which is a similar benefit to writing for A Southern Season. All we needed to do was have the setting in the South. But how do you pitch a multi-genre book—and to whom? Fortunately there are ways, but it’s best to get an idea of how early in the process.
The collection I’m reading now, The Great Lakes Lighthouse Brides, is strictly defined. The lighthouse is the common thread—and not just any lighthouse. Lighthouses of the Great Lakes region of America. The genre is Romance, but not just any Romance. Historical Romance. Check out the front cover blurb: “7 Historical Romances Are a Beacon of Hope to Weary Hearts.”
Despite the restrictions on what you write, the benefit of Lighthouse Brides is that it’s easier to market. The audience is defined, so you know who you’re writing to—women who enjoy Historical Romance. The only leeway allowed in this novella collection is the year in which your Historical Romance takes place.
If the genre is defined for you, be sure you can write in it. In a collection, a novice can be seen a mile away because those who most frequently write in that genre will be sitting side by side with someone who doesn’t. Comparison between the experienced and the novice is too easy. Don’t come across as the novice, whether you are or not. Learn the genre’s elements and structure before you start.
- What is the tone?
In A Southern Season, we have three serious novellas and one that has a lighter tone. So far, in what I’ve read in Lighthouse Brides, all of the novellas have the same fairly serious tone. The now unpublished The Bucket List Dare, for which I wrote Skydiving to Love, was a blend of tones, as was Coming Home.
This makes me wonder how the reader feels, after enjoying a lighthearted comedy romance, to have to transition to something heart-wrenching.
What tone are you comfortable writing in? If the entire collection is comedy, can you keep up?
- Who are the authors and how many, and who is the anchor?
You want at least one big-name author to up your visibility. And if the other authors are at least “out there,” you increase your chances of visibility and sales. Marketing is easier too. Each team member has their own followers to pitch to. Keep in mind, though, that the more authors on the byline, the smaller the percentage of royalties divvied out among them.
Additional considerations for indie-collections:
Once the team is assembled, everyone needs to be clear and in agreement about tasks and pre- and post-pub expenses.
You’ll want to discuss–
- who will edit?
- who will format?
- who will design the cover?
- where will the book be distributed?
- what is the marketing plan? (and will you be willing to pay as a group for ads and services?)
- who keeps the bank account?
- how and when will royalties be disbursed?
Considering how many of these I’ve done—and I’m in a new one that’ll release in August of 2019 called The Cowboys (a Historical Romance collection)—you can tell I’m a fan. But I believe I’ve given you enough to think about while you determine whether writing for a collection is right for you.