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Joining Forces: The Why and How of Author Collectives

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One problem for authors who publish independently is that each ends up reinventing the proverbial wheel. Convinced that like-minded authors could reach readers better by sharing resources and a quality brand, I formed the author collective Running Fox Books in 2013.

Similar reasons have led other writers to form collectives. “The main advantage of a collective is the place it occupies between the anarchy of self-publishing and the demands of traditional publishing,” says C. P. Lesley of Five Directions Press. Publicist Julie Schoerke of JKS Communications concurs, calling the collective “one of the savviest business models in publishing today.”

“I complained bitterly on a writers’ board, historical fiction section, about not wanting to go Indie as a solo writer and vanishing in the Amazon slush,” says p.d.r. Lindsay, who founded the international author collective Writers Choice in 2012. “What I felt indies needed was a group and group power.”

While Writers Choice connects authors who initially met online, Five Directions began in 2011 with authors who knew each other through a writers group. “We completed our first novels just as self-publishing was taking off,” explains Lesley, one of three founding members. “Our group had an unusual combination of editing, design, and marketing experience, so we decided to form our own press to maximize the opportunities offered by self-publishing while minimizing its disadvantages.”


Ways Of Working Together

Also known as “author cooperatives,” collectives set up their own operating structures and guidelines. Most have a “No money changes hands” policy, meaning that the authors publish through their own separate companies but promote their work together. In some collectives, authors also give each other editorial and production assistance.

Founded in 2011 with three authors and three books, Triskele Books now consists of five core members and three associates, with a total of eighteen novels and one work of nonfiction, The Triskele Trail, which tells how they formed their collective and how they run it (see triskelebooks.co.uk/).

Each Triskele author benefits from the input of four different editors, with brand commitment that “makes us raise our game,” according to founding member JJ Marsh.

Rather than provide input for each other, some collectives share resources. “We’ve pooled a list of the best cover designers, line editors, copyeditors, e-book creators, and paperback options,” says Michele Gorman of Notting Hill Press.

Notting Hill authors also share the administration of the collective, divvying up social media responsibilities and promoting one another’s books. Whenever possible, they quantify the results of their marketing and share the proceeds.

Authors at Triskele Books benefit from the larger reach of shared promotional efforts. “We have a network of channels to reach readers: our blog, website, social media presence are all vital,” Marsh explains. “We also create events such as our Indie Author Fair, and we make appearances at conferences, book fairs, and so on. In addition, we have an established profile in the shape of Words with JAM magazine,” a periodical for writers and publishers, “and Bookmuse, a review site for readers.”

Most collectives emphasize a commitment to quality and professionalism. “By banding together to ensure quality, we hope to convince readers to trust the Five Directions Press brand, which will help both us and them,” Lesley says. Writer’s Choice takes branding a step further, awarding titles that pass through its collective critique process a “Quality Fiction” seal.

Coping With Challenges

Collectives probably aren’t a good fit for authors who value their independence above all else. “It’s not just about what the collective can do for you, but about what you can do for your collective,” notes Andrea Brokaw of The Scriptors.

A collective’s vision may change over time, as demonstrated by what happened at Indie-Visible. “Indie-Visible 1.0 began in October 2012 with Jordan Rosenfeld and myself as the
founding members,” Chelsea Starling explains. “After a year, with a collective of about fifteen authors, things weren’t moving along as we all hoped they would.”

When the founders realized their differing visions were keeping the collective from moving forward, they split into two new groups: Rosenfeld began a collective called Scarlet Letter Writers while Starling kept Indie-Visible, which now consists of a dozen authors. At Indie-Visible 2.0, the new focus includes an Adopt-an-Author program that connects authors with readers in classrooms, and two new blogs, ReaderHub and PubHub.

“We have a collective reach that is pretty huge, so we’ll be sharing across all our social media platforms,” Starling notes, adding that they’re also launching an Indie-Visible street team. The new collective operates as a limited liability company, with the intent of generating revenue for its authors through the Adopt-an-Author and PubHub efforts.

To avoid problems, Lesley urges authors to think carefully about the logistics of running a collective. “How well do you get along? How will you keep in touch? Who will do what? How will you handle the finances? The publicity? The production? The more clearly and honestly you can answer these questions, the more successful the collective is likely to be,” she says.

“Keep it small and don’t rush,” Lindsay advises. “It will take five years to gain recognition and sales. Anyone joining a cooperative indie publishing group needs to be sure that this is their way to publishing and needs to spend time finding a group. Have legal contracts checked, and know exactly what is required of you.”

A version of the Indie-Visible Literacy League. From left to right: Maria Pease, S. M Boyce, Kristen Day, Heather Sutherlin, Crystal Bryant, Chelsea Starling, Victoria Faye, Regina Wamba, James Matlack Raney, Toni Lesatz, and Beth Issacs.

A version of the Indie-Visible Literacy League. From left to right: Maria Pease, S. M Boyce, Kristen Day, Heather Sutherlin, Crystal Bryant, Chelsea Starling, Victoria Faye, Regina Wamba, James Matlack Raney, Toni Lesatz, and Beth Issacs.

The Upbeat Outlook

Despite the challenges, authors involved in collectives seem upbeat about their prospects. “I’m excited about the future for author collectives,” says R. A. Desilets of The Scriptors. “It’s a great way to work with other authors you respect and have your own work promoted in return.”

LJ Cohen, a fellow Scriptor, echoes this optimism, noting that readers also stand to benefit when authors join forces. “Collectives can become solid brands that the reader can associate with a particular kind of product and professionalism,” she says.

The shared energy of a collective is a happy alternative to what can otherwise be a lonely pursuit for authors who publish independently. “I love my team,” Starling enthuses. “I love what we’re doing and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Deb Vanasse is the author of fifteen published books— including, most recently, What Every Author Should Know—as well as the founder of the author collective Running Fox Books. She is also the cofounder of the 49 Alaska Writing Center, a nonprofit that supports the artistic development of writers throughout Alaska. To learn more: debvanasse.com

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