Six Key Publishing Lessons
When author Joanna Campbell Slan teamed up with fellow authors to create the Happy Homicides mystery series, they got the ultimate lesson in publishing and promoting a book.
What does it take to be successful as an author today? Sure, you’re expected to be a good writer. But “good” is a highly subjective term that covers a broad spectrum of results. Just as important, you have to be discoverable; that is, readers need to be able to find you.
With that in mind, my pal Linda Gordon Hengerer and I launched Happy Homicides, a series of anthologies featuring cozy mysteries. The first book (Happy Homicides 1: Thirteen Cozy Holiday Mysteries) came out in the fall of 2015 with an eye towards holiday sales. We’re now assembling the fourth one in the series (Happy Homicides 4: Fall into Crime). Each anthology has its own bonus file of recipes and crafts related to the stories and theme.
We started with these ideas: the goal would be to get new readers (each author brings his/her audience to the others in the anthology); the books would be seasonal or thematic; the cast of contributing authors would rotate; Linda and I would edit all the stories; the authors would be asked to help with promotions; and each book would offer tremendous value to the reader.
A free bonus file provides added value for both readers and authors. For readers, in addition to 13 stories, they can receive recipes and crafts in the bonus file. For authors who submit a recipe or craft, it’s a way to remain on readers’ radar. Every author in the anthology receives the names and email addresses generated by the bonus files to add to their email lists.
Boy, oh, boy. This has been one heck of a learning experience, with each new book teaching us lessons we couldn’t have imagined. We’ve learned tons about project management, publishing a series, promoting and marketing a series, editing, formatting, and about each other. After 10 years of friendship, I thought I knew Linda pretty well. After one year of working together compiling anthologies, I’m more impressed with her than ever. Here are six lessons we learned along the way:
- Keeping everyone in the loop is essential. We chose to use Basecamp, a project management service. It allows us to post and share (discriminately) emails, files, and a calendar.
- Explaining things must be done over and over. Even rehashing points covered in the contract and in emails. We’ve decided that’s just part of a large project with a lot of moving parts and various personalities. People process information at differing speeds. Once we came to grips with that reality, we quit stressing about it.
- Developing boilerplate saves time and grief. We created a template for the story formatting. We have a point-by-point explanation of goals and marketing tools. By loading this information into Basecamp, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel with each book.
- Staying flexible will keep you sane. There have been times when Linda has been crunched for time, and as I write this, I’m recovering from surgery. We trade off responsibilities—although she knows better than to let me monkey with the accounting.
- Putting systems in place streamlines the process. It took us a bit to figure out how best to handle the editing. Now we divvy up the stories so that each of us have six or seven to edit from the 13 in the book. We do these on computer, using the markup capabilities in Microsoft Word. Then we swap. I review the ones she did and vice versa. Next we swap again (back to our original set of stories with the other person’s edits) and finally, we print out these versions on paper for yet another We also post the edited versions for the authors to see and comment on.
- Adjusting, recalibrating, and moving on is part of the growth curve. With each anthology, we bump into new problems. Since the cast of authors is constantly changing, we get new questions and encounter new challenges. Rather than take umbrage, we’ve come to see these as chances to learn. We’ve been frank with our group that Happy Homicides is a work in progress.
In addition to these logistics, working with other authors has also been an enlightening experience. Think about it: Most of us are Lone Rangers who prefer creating our own reality to living in the real world. We are not tribal by nature. One wit once told me, “Dealing with authors is like herding cats.” Our formatter told me that another project like ours resulted in the organizer sobbing and swearing she’d never, ever, ever try this again. Fortunately, Linda and I have had fantastic experiences. Contributing authors tell us this has boosted their Amazon author ranking, increased sales of their other work, added new readers to their email lists, and kept flagging series alive.
Will we continue the Happy Homicides series? Later this year we plan to debrief, discuss, and decide what happens next.
What questions can we answer about our experiment?
Joanna and Linda have cooked up something special, a Two-fer Sale. When you buy Happy Homicides 4: Fall Into Crime for 99¢, you’ll automatically get their previous release Happy Homicides 3: Summertime Crime free for a limited time—from Monday, Aug. 29 through Sept. 5. Happy reading!
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