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The Anthology Advantage

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Why publish an anthology? At Running Fox Books, an Alaska-based press and authors’ cooperative, the answer was simple: We believed it would help sell our other books.

With the anthology we titled simply Alaska Sampler 2014, our idea was to make it easy for readers to discover the real Alaska, minus the hype and minus the cost, by creating a digital book that we would give away as a means of promoting cross-readership and exposure for the contributing authors and for our organization. For Running Fox, it would be content marketing; we would create and use content that would raise awareness of the content we sell.

The scene at Powell's as Forest Avenue Press launched its scond anthology, The Night, and the Rain, and the River.

The scene at Powell’s as Forest Avenue Press launched its second anthology, The Night, and the Rain, and the River.

The idea of an anthology is nothing new, of course, and the reasons publishers produce them are many. Publisher Laura Stanfill launched Forest Avenue Press with Brave on the Page: Oregon Writers on Craft and the Creative Life, a collection of interviews and flash essays by 42 local authors. The book was a Powell’s Books Small Press Bestseller for four months. In addition, says Stanfill, it “built a sense of community around my nascent press.”

At Quinn Publications, editor JD Smith decided to produce an anthology as a way of giving the winners and finalists in her “Words with Jam” contests something physical to share with friends and family. The contest that solicited pieces for the anthology also provided good exposure for the publisher’s website. “A lot of people subscribe to the site (which is free) owing to the running of the competition,” Smith notes.

Publisher Vered Mares of VP & D House discovered that anthologies are a great way to package the novella, which she calls an under appreciated form. Offering three novellas in a single book makes the cost to the reader less than it would be if they purchased all three separately, Mares points out. And, she adds, it costs much less to publish a single longer book than three individual novellas.

Constructing the Sampler

At Running Fox, we modeled our project on short-run anthologies other publishers have created using excerpts from their forthcoming books, anthologies that they then handed out at conferences and other events. Using digital technology, we believed we could get similar exposure for our press and our authors without the headaches and expenses of printing, shipping, and conference fees.

We also decided not to limit our collection to book excerpts. Authors were invited to submit any material that pertained to our theme (Alaska) and reflected the literary quality that is part of the Running Fox brand. Since they wouldn’t be earning royalties from the free e anthology, they needed to value the fact that we were offering a unique way to gain visibility and readership by aggregating high-quality prose. In other words, they had to be forward-thinking in their understanding of the project.

We were pleased with the submissions we received. As noted by David Marusek, author and production manager for the Alaska Sampler 2014, “selections range all over the literary landscape.” Contributions included a humorous essay by Dana Stabenow, the author of more than thirty novels, an excerpt from Leigh Newman’s memoir, a short story by Marusek that originally appeared in Playboy Magazine, and “Digging Robert’s Grave” from Don Rearden, author of The Raven’s Gift.

Marusek handled the design of the Sampler (including the cover) and the digital conversion of the manuscript, while I served as editor, managing the content, distribution, and promotion. We worked as a team, bouncing ideas back and forth and fine-tuning as we went. Aiming for our release to coincide with the start of Alaska’s tourist season, we completed the anthology in what seemed like record time for a two person effort: less than three months from conception to publication.

Payoffs as Planned

As Stanfill at Forest Avenue Press observes, “Anthologies are a lot of work for the editor, selecting stories and working with the authors to polish them, but also in terms of promotions and publicity and making sure each contributor is recognized for his or her talent and efforts.”

At Running Fox, we added to the anthology workload by partnering with independent booksellers, a move intended to demonstrate our good will toward them—we didn’t want to leave them out of the loop even though we were producing in digital format—and also to expand our book’s reach. We produced free postcards for our bookstore partners to hand out to their customers, with a QR code for easy downloading.

In terms of exposure, one advantage of an anthology is that each author brings an audience to the book. For the VP & D title Weathered Edge, “Having three authors working to promote a single book translates to greater sales and access to a broader audience,” according to publisher Mares, who has a second collection of novellas in the works.

Stanfill concurs. “Instead of pouring resources into one author’s novel, we’re celebrating a lot of people, all at the same time, and producing a product that has something in it for everyone to enjoy.” Forest Avenue Press recently released its second anthology, The Night, and the Rain, and the River, which Stanfill says was “absolutely worth the time and commitment.” She’s already planning another themed collection for 2016 release.

Our Alaska Sampler 2014 performed exactly as we’d hoped. On launch day, our website—where we had added a “freebie” page for readers to side-load the anthology onto their e-readers—generated ten times the traffic it had been averaging per week. Within a few hours of release, the Alaska Sampler 2014 had hit #1, #2, and #5 in Amazon categories. Amazon’s bots took note, and 24 hours later, the book achieved “perma free” status. (Initially, Amazon requires a minimum price of 99 cents on an e-book, unless it’s offered exclusively through its Kindle store.)

And the benefits continue. Traffic at the Running Fox Books website is up 150% over last year. The anthology has been holding at #1 in its category at the Kindle store, where it appears on the first page of search results for “Alaska.” And after thousands of downloads in the first three months postpublication, the book continues to be a consistent source of free marketing for our authors and our press, working as a loss leader as it entices readers to read (and buy) more.

“I read the opening in the Anthology,” a reader wrote to one of our authors. “Now I’m hooked!” Through online reader reviews, we’ve received similar feedback. “I’ll be looking up several of the authors in the Sampler to read more of their work,” one reader said. “Led to it by one favorite author, walking away with several new favorites,” said another. And from a third: “Please publish an anthology every year or two.”

Like Smith, Mares, and Stanfill, we’re planning to do exactly that. From a publisher’s point of view, the anthology is a win-win. As Stanfill aptly puts it, “Anthologies allow us to take on more writers, to share the spotlight with more people, and as a result, they make our press stronger.”

Deb Vanesse 2Author of fourteen published books—including her most recent novel, Cold Spell, produced in a hybrid arrangement between the University of Alaska Press and Running Fox Books—Deb Vanasse is the co-founder of the 49 Alaska Writing Center, a non-profit that supports the artistic development of writers throughout Alaska. To learn more: www.debvanasse.com.

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