Writing from the Peak, PPW Blog

Book Appraisals: Picking Comps – Part 2

Note: This is Part 2 of a two part series. See yesterday’s post for Part 1. We pick up where we left off yesterday….

Your First Comp

To find your first comp book, first find out what you’re selling (genre and subgenre), then look at the bestseller list for that genre.  Don’t pick anything that hasn’t been released yet.  Click on a book, then note the name of the publisher and whether they’re traditional, small press, or indie; the publication date; the number of reviews; and the sales rank.

Finding your first comp is the hardest. Make sure it is the best.
  • If you’re not sure whether the publisher is traditional, small press, or indie, copy the publisher name and search for them in Google.
  • Look for a publication date of 2-3 years at most.  If you’re not sure whether the date is the original publication date or just the date the book was uploaded to Amazon (or whatever site you’re using), look up the same book on Goodreads, which should list the original publication date (“first published XXXX”).
  • The number of reviews should be at least a dozen, although more is better.
  • Indies can select books of any bestselling rank; I would say that for people doing traditional or small press, don’t go above the 2,000 ranking on Amazon.com (the US site)—some agents and editors get a bajillion queries for “the next Harry Potter” and may be turned off by that, where “the next Magic Misfits by Neil Patrick Harris” might be perfect.
  • I would not pick anything under a 50,000 ranking on Amazon.com for a comp.
  • I would not pick any book that is clearly on sale; the sales rank will be temporarily skewed.
  • If you’re struggling, pick a bestselling book that is somewhat close to your own and look at the “also boughts” or “sponsored products” that are related to that book.  Anything that Amazon thinks will sell because you came to the Harry Potter sales page may be a good comp for a book like Harry Potter.  Looking at Goodreads lists with that bestselling book in them can be helpful as well.
  • I would not pick anything related to a media franchise.  The marketing will be skewed toward the movie, TV show, or video game; likewise, the sales rankings will be artificially lifted by fans of the other media checking out the book. 


Some subgenres, especially down in nonfiction book rankings, can have lower sales ranks in general.  If your subgenre’s sales ranks don’t match the numbers I gave, I would say that, roughly, don’t pick anything in the top 10 or under the top 50, if possible.

Finding your first comp is the hardest!  After that, you can leapfrog to other comp books by searching for books like your first comp.  Make sure your first comp is as good as you can get it!

Example Comps

In our domestic suspense example, I skimmed through the bestseller list and checked the following books:

  • Room by Emma Donoghue is a traditionally published book.  The publisher is Back Bay Books, which I googled and found was part of the Hachette Book Group (a large traditional publisher).  It has a movie out, and it is more than 3 years old.  The rank is in the 8500s (which is fine).  5000+ reviews.  Not on sale.  Cannot use due to movie and age.
  • Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney is a traditionally published book.  The publisher is Flatiron Books, which I googled and found was part of Macmillan Publishers (a large traditional publisher).  A TV series is in production (which makes it multimedia).  It was published in 2018.  The rank is in the 9500s.  722 reviews.  Not on sale.  Cannot use due to TV series.
  • It’s Always the Husband by Michele Campbell is a traditionally published book, published by a subdivision of Macmillan.  I can’t find any related multimedia. It was originally published in 2017.  The rank is in the 10,000s.  527 reviews.  Not on sale.  We can use this!

Also Bought

Scrolling down to the “also bought” section of the It’s Always the Husband page, I can see several other titles that might work.  With some effort, I picked out:

  • White Lies by Lucy Dawson. (Small press, no multimedia, 14,000s sales rank, not on sale, 253 reviews, published 2018.)
  • The Ex-Wife by Jess Rider. (Small press, no multimedia, 31,000s sales rank, not on sale, 380 reviews, published 2018).
  • Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown. (Trad press, movie options sold but no movie in the works [this is okay for our purposes], 22,000s sales rank, not on sale, 402 reviews, published 2017.)
  • The Liar’s Wife by Samantha Hayes.  (Small press, no multimedia, 9000s sales rank, not on sale, 125 reviews, published 2018.)

Some notes:  The sales ranking between print and ebook will vary.  If you’re aiming for traditional publishing, look for print sales ranks; if you’re aiming for indie, go with ebook.  But, really, if a book hits a decent ranking on either print or ebook, it’s probably fine.

Some websites, Amazon especially, tries to make everything look like it’s on sale when it’s not.  If it’s $3.99 US or over on the ebook, just assume it’s not on sale—although traditional publishers’ ebooks will usually be $9.99 to $12.99 US. 

We now have our five comps!

What to Do with Your Comps

Now that you have comps, you have a wealth of options:

  • Pick out similarities between titles to use when titling your book.
  • Pick out similarities between covers and use them for your book cover, especially when sending instructions to a cover artist/designer.
  • Study their book descriptions for hints and tricks.  (But, beware: book descriptions are often terrible, even on successful books.  Consult The Copywriter’s Handbook for copywriting tips.)
  • See what categories the books are in and use for additional sales categories for your book.
  • Use alternate categories as keywords.
  • Use comps to find ad keywords.
  • Look up the authors online and see how they are marketing themselves via their websites, newsletters, and social media accounts. (Again, caution; sometimes authors are terrible at this.)
  • Find out (on Goodreads, for example) who is reading those books so you can start working out your audience.

And more.

Comps in a Query

In a query letter, you may want to only mention the top one or two comps that you’ve chosen; however, if you are including a book marketing plan for your book (which is beyond the scope of this article), you can include all of your comps as data points.

Marketing is a separate skill from writing an actual book, but it can still play into your writing.  Understanding your audience is never a bad thing. 

But let me stress that you don’t need to start with your marketing before you start writing.  It is perfectly okay to write that one weird book that doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere.  You will find comps.  They won’t be perfect, but they’ll help you get away with writing what you really want to write.

On the other hand, if you’re stuck for ideas, starting with a book you enjoyed is not a bad way to start brainstorming…

DeAnna KnipplingDeAnna Knippling has two minor superpowers: speed-reading and babble. She types at over 10,000 words per minute and can make things up even faster than that. Her first job was hunting snipe for her father at twenty-five cents per head, with which she paid her way through college; her latest job involves a non-disclosure agreement, a dozen hitmen, a ballerina, a snowblower, three very small robots, and a disposable dictator in South America. Her cover job is that of freelance writer, editor, and designer living in Littleton, Colorado, with her husband, daughter, cat, more than one cupboard full of various condiments, and many shelves full of the very best books. She has her own indie small press, www.WonderlandPress.com, and her website is www.DeAnnaKnippling.com.

Book Appraisals: Picking Comps – Part 1

Most of us, as writers, are not that skilled at the beginning-to-end process of selling things.  We aren’t trained marketers or promoters; most of us haven’t gone door-to-door selling encyclopedias (although some of us have sold Girl Scout Cookies and other items, back in the day). 

Getting your marketing in place before you start selling your books means you can promote very quickly.

Selling things isn’t just banging on someone’s door with a fundraising form for a band trip.  Someone has to figure out what to sell, who they’re selling it to, and what that thing will do for the customer, then translate that into packaging, ads, marketing text, and even the forms the customer fills out to make their orders.

Books are no different, either for traditionally published or indie authors.  Roughly speaking, here’s the process:

  • You decide to be an author.
  • You write books.
  • You sell, or help sell, those books.
Let’s say you’ve completed a book. 
What next?

You need to figure out what story you’re selling, who you’re selling it to, what that story will do for the reader, and translate all that into covers, ads, book descriptions, newsletters, and so on.

If you are an indie writer, this process is essential; no marketing means no sales! 

If you are a traditionally published writer, this process seems like it’s not your problem, but it really is—you will be expected to help sell your book, once it’s published.  Even before it’s published, you will need to understand what you’re selling in order to write a query letter and synopsis. 

Why are query letters and synopses so hard? 

Because they involved understanding how to market your book.

In other words, whether you’re an indie or are traditionally published, understanding marketing will help you sell books.

Marketing vs. Promotion

Marketing is the invisible process of getting your book ready to sell.  Once your book goes on sale, the efforts that you put toward selling your book are no longer marketing, but promotion.  Marketing = finding your market.  Promotion = making people within that market aware of your book.

Getting your marketing in place before you start selling your books means you can promote very quickly.  You will be able to respond quickly to opportunities as they arise.  Marketing is like having your house in good repair and staged and ready to show for possible buyers, and listed for sale.

Promotion is showing your house, or holding an open house.  That open house may look like what sells your house—but without the hours of repair work, cleaning, and staging, your house isn’t as likely to sell as quickly or for as much, if at all.

First the marketing.  Then the promoting.

(Unless you discover from your promoting that your marketing is flawed.  Then you can switch back to marketing mode.)

Where to Start with Marketing

You’ve decided to do some marketing. 

Now what?

Some people start with the marketing research.  Other people write the book first and then do the marketing research.  I recommend the latter; markets change in popularity but passion gives a project legs (in other words, the ability to build an audience over time).

But, in either case, the first step remains the same:  find out what you’re selling.

How do you find out what you’re selling?

The same way a real estate appraiser finds out the value of a house: they find multiple comps, or comparable examples of houses in your neighborhood that have been sold recently.

To sell a house, find several other houses nearby that sold well.  To sell a book, find more books.

Your story has a genre.  That is the “city” that your story lives in.  Your story has a subgenre.  That is the “neighborhood” that your story lives in.  Your genre and subgenre are where you should start to look.

Finding Your Story’s Neighborhood

Let’s say that your story is a domestic suspense novel.  Your “city” is mystery/crime/suspense; your “neighborhood” is domestic suspense.

As an example, let’s look on the Amazon bestseller lists and find their term for a domestic suspense novel.  (It might not be the same term across distributors, and you might have multiple options.)

Let’s start out with the Amazon Mystery, Thriller, & Suspense list. 

The subcategories (on the left side) are:  Mystery; Thrillers & Suspense; and Writing.  Our domestic suspense example probably “lives” in Thrillers & Suspense rather than Mystery or Writing, so let’s go there.

If we look down the list of subcategories under Thrillers & Suspense, we find one called Domestic.  Let’s click that.  We are now in a good “neighborhood” for a domestic suspense story.

A note for indie publishers:  make sure you’re looking through the Kindle/ebook lists, rather than print (print often has separate lists).  Print skews toward traditional and small-press publishers, and may not give you a full range of good comps.

Finding Your Story’s Comp Books

What makes a good comp book?

This will be affected by whether you’re selling an indie book or are putting together a query letter for a traditionally published project.  Indie books should draw from a mix of indie, small press, and traditional sources; traditionally published projects should go for just traditional sources.  Small press books should lean toward a mix of small-press books and traditionally published books.

In general:

  • Comp books should have been published within the last 2-3 years.
  • Comp books should at least be in the same subgenre.  If they have the same type of plot or setting, even better!
  • Comp books must have the same overall audience:  children’s, middle-grade, YA, adult, etc.  Don’t use a YA domestic suspense title as a comp for an adult domestic suspense book!
  • Comp books should have a reasonable amount of success, but not be flops or bestsellers for traditional and small-press publishers.  Indie publishers can go after the bestsellers as comps, if they like. Agents and editors are often annoyed by a comparison to a really famous book.

A note: don’t worry about name recognition on your comps.  Book pitches should feature books that people recognize easily; comps should be books that sell reasonably well (name recognition not necessary).

Part 2 posts tomorrow.

DeAnna KnipplingDeAnna Knippling has two minor superpowers: speed-reading and babble. She types at over 10,000 words per minute and can make things up even faster than that. Her first job was hunting snipe for her father at twenty-five cents per head, with which she paid her way through college; her latest job involves a non-disclosure agreement, a dozen hitmen, a ballerina, a snowblower, three very small robots, and a disposable dictator in South America. Her cover job is that of freelance writer, editor, and designer living in Littleton, Colorado, with her husband, daughter, cat, more than one cupboard full of various condiments, and many shelves full of the very best books. She has her own indie small press, www.WonderlandPress.com, and her website is www.DeAnnaKnippling.com.

Happy Birthday Robert Sabuda

Born today in 1965, Robert Sabuda is best known for his enormously successful popup books.  Robert was brought up in rural Michigan with few resources. He followed his passion and taught himself now to create three dimensional books. He reminds us that the most important tool in our craft can’t be bought. Some authors prefer to work the old fashioned way.  Do you find that pen and paper change your creative flow?

Profile Photo of Gabrielle V Brown Managing Editor Pikes Peak Writers BlogGabrielle V. Brown, Contributing Editor with Writing From the Peak, writes all manner of fiction and nonfiction.  Find her on Facebook, and instagram ; contact her at gvbrownwriter@gmail.com.  For more about today’s birthday author, visit her website.

Letter from the Editor – March & April

Dear Readers,

My letter to you this month is coming a few days late. Sorry, but I have a really good reason. Writing from the Peak is jam packed with such an amazing batch of posts that I am having a few problems getting them all scheduled. It is so packed that I am going to skip my letter in April.


We kick off these two months with a two part series from DeAnna Knippling who will guide you through Book Appraisals: Picking Comps. Margena Holmes introduces us to a non-PPW event, Camp NaNo, which takes place during the month of April. Jason Diaz, faculty member for PPWC2019, also has a two part series post on Why diversify our characters? Don’t miss this one.


As we go into April, award winning author and keynote speaker Susan Wiggs shares her writing process in Stuff you need to Know about Writing. Next up is Rebecca Davis, a long time attendee of PPWC, who has her top 5 lists of the Peevie Jeevies of editors and agents.

Mid-month, New York Times best selling author John Gilstrap will get you up to speed on Networking at Conference. Be ready to shake some hands and pass around business cards at PPWC2019.

Wrapping up April, Gabrielle Brown will give you the scoop on What to Expect at Conference followed by Margena Holmes who is in the know about Marketing on a Budget.

Never fear…your favorites are still here. Lit-Quotes will celebrate a few birthday anniversaries, and the wrap up from Writers Night will stop by in March and April.

Whew!! That’s a lot! Be sure to BOOKMARK this blog so you don’t miss anything. Come back often to keep up with all the news from Writing from the Peak.

See You at Conference! ~Kathie~


What’s in store for early May? CONFERENCE!!

The Prequel is May 2nd and PPWC2019 gets in full swing on May 3rd. Take a look at the workshops that are scheduled and the Who’s Who of PPWC2019. Hope to see you there!!



Regular registration runs April 8 – April 28

KJ Scrim, Profile ImageManaging Editor, Kathie “KJ” Scrim, is a graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder. Her inspiration for blogging, flash fiction, short stories, and the long haul of novel writing comes from her many life experiences. When she’s not writing you can find her somewhere in Colorado walking, hiking, or rock climbing at the local gym.

Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss

Today marks the birth anniversary of Ted Geisel, known to most as Dr. Seuss. He offered timeless advice to authors of every generation.

Photo: Al Ravenna, New York World-Telegram and the Sun staff photographer [Public domain]

Profile Photo of Gabrielle V Brown Managing Editor Pikes Peak Writers BlogGabrielle V. Brown, Contributing Editor with Writing From the Peak, writes all manner of fiction and nonfiction.  Find her on Facebook, and instagram ; contact her at gvbrownwriter@gmail.com.  For more about today’s birthday author, visit her website.

Why You Need an Email List & How to Create It

“But nobody reads emails!” “My inbox is already too full!” “I hate getting more email!”

Email remains the most effective way to reach an audience.

You’ve heard all this before. Five years ago, I would have agreed and told you building an email list and creating an email newsletter was a waste of time. It was going out of style. It was fading to Instant Messaging and social media platforms. It was antiquated. Well, I fully admit that I was wrong. While social media sites come and go, even the influence and reach of Facebook and Twitter ebb and flow, for the foreseeable future, email remains the most effective way to reach an audience – an audience that wants to hear from you. Here are three reasons why you need to start building an email list:

1. People Read Email

According to Forrester Analytics, 91% of U.S. customers (people who are online to buy things) use email daily and more than 70% of them read email first thing in the morning. The number of email users worldwide is projected to reach 3 billion by the end of 2020.

2. Email Converts to Sales

According to Campaign Monitor, the delivery rate for an unboosted Facebook post is less than 5%, while the delivery rate for an email is 75%, and an email is six times more likely to generate a click-through than a tweet. Anik Singal, founder and CEO of Lurn, Inc, reports that email marketing for Black Friday / Cyber Monday deals converted ads to sales at double the rate of social media. For more statistics on this, see WriterNation/EmailStats

3. You Own It

This one is key. Everything you post on social media is no longer owned by you. Instagram owns your pics. Twitter owns your tweets. Snapchat owns your snaps.  They also own your followers. Whereas you own the copyright on everything you write, film, design in your email. You also own the list. If you move from Facebook to Instagram or Snapchat, you can’t take the followers with you. You can with your email contact list.

Ways to Build Your List & Create a Killer Email

Whether you’ve published twenty books, ten books or no books, now is the time to start building your list. Don’t think because you don’t have anything to sell it’s too early to start building your list. It’s never too early or too late. Start now. To get you going, I’ve included some tips below. 

  • Use Mailchimp. It’s the easiest to get you started and its free for the first 2000 contacts. The analytics are good. It has A/B testing and segmented lists. And it has automation. Other email providers to check out are ConvertKit, AWeber and Constant Contact.
  • Create a killer landing page. This is where you tell the reader what they’ll get out of signing up with you. How often you’ll send them news and what type of things they can expect in your email. Here’s mine for reference.
  • Post it everywhere. Make sure your website has a subscriber link. Mailchimp has a pretty seamless plugin with WordPress. Even if you don’t use WordPress, the URL for the landing page works on any website or blog. Pin a tweet or Facebook post to the top of your profile. Put the link in your signature block and on every piece of paper swag you take to conferences, meetings or retreats.
  • Offer a freebie. For signing up with you, what special something can you offer? The possibilities are endless: deleted scenes, extra chapters, checklists, planners, calendars, access to a closed Facebook Group or Instagram feed.
  • Automate the first three to five emails. Once someone signs up and confirms their subscription (*always require confirmation to be in compliance with Anti-Spam laws), send them a thank-you and a link to the freebie.  Within 24 hours, send another note welcoming them to the email news and give a longer introduction to yourself and any news they should know as they embark on this journey with you. A week later, send the first email.
  • Create a Killer Email. Whether you use a newsletter format or simply an email is up to you. The difference in Return on Investment is negligible until you start segmenting lists and selling different items, and I’ll post on that next month. What really matters is what the reader gets out of it. They’ve already told you they want to hear from you and they dig what you’re doing. So, now offer them information they can’t get elsewhere. Some ideas:
    • Progress reports on the current work in progress
    • Event announcements
    • Photos of your research or interviews
    • List of your favorites (books, authors, movies, plays, music, etc…)
    • Promotions and/or Giveaways
    • Backstory (you know all that stuff you wanted to put in your book but your agent made you take it all out)
    • Quotes and Questions
    • ALWAYS put in a Call to Action (buy the book, attend the event, respond to a question)

If you still have questions, find me on any of my social media sites. I’m standing by to help!

Peace & Prose!


Jennifer Lovette HerbransonJennifer Lovett Herbranson is the founder of Writer Nation, a podcast and Facebook group dedicated to helping writers market their work. With 17 years communications experience, she regularly writes on social media, internet marketing and face-to-face publicity. She currently lives in South Korea and travels around Asia for fun. You can find her on her Website, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest: @jennylovett

Advice for Beginning Writers

Though none of us are new to the process of stringing words together, there comes a moment when we stop writing for the sake of a task and become writers.

I became a writer when…

My own moment came when our family purchased a computer and my mom gave me her electronic typewriter. I was so excited! I sat down right away and began typing a report (voluntarily) about black jaguars. But the love for writing fiction actually came from an assignment. We were moving from Hawaii to Colorado, driving the rest of the way from California when I became horribly ill. To help take my mind off feeling so gross, my mom had me work on a short story. And so, with incredibly bumpy handwriting I produced The T-Rex That Ate Pancakes.

Everyone’s story has a different beginning, but the point is…they all had a beginning. No one has sat down to write their very first story ever and ended up with a best seller. Like anything, writing requires practice, perseverance, and support. The adventure of being a new writer is very much like Frodo’s journey to take the ring.

Here are five ways to follow in Frodo’s footsteps as you progress as a writer.

  1. Surround yourself with people who will be supportive and honest. Frodo would have been very vulnerable to attacks, getting lost, and failing his mission if he had not had a good support system. While the bulk of your writing may be a solitary activity, you should involve others in the revisions. Your supporters need to be able to constructively tell you the truth when changes are needed and encourage you when you are discouraged.
  2. Keep moving and eating. It is so easy to dive into what we are working on and forget to take care of ourselves. You need to take care of your health as much as possible because the state of your physical health greatly impacts mental health, and therefore, your writing. If Sam had not pushed Frodo to eat throughout their journey, Frodo wouldn’t have had sufficient strength to reach the end. If you tend to get lost in your work, set an alarm to remind you to eat. When you’re stuck in the story, that’s the perfect time to do a few minutes of your favorite exercise—which is beneficial to your body and will usually clear your mind for new ideas!
  3. Network. Frodo enlisted help from others besides the Fellowship and you will need to as well. As important as your supporters are, they shouldn’t be the only ones involved in your writing life. You will need to branch out and form relationships with agents, editors, fellow writers, and readers. Editors will shape and polish your work. Other writers will gladly share tips and tricks and will cheer you on! Agents will represent your writing. And when you take time to connect with your readers, they will frequently share your writing with others. I strongly encourage you, especially as you are beginning to network, to attend a writer’s conference. Not only will you learn to improve your craft, but it is the best way to network.
  4. Check your work. There will be lots of revisions and multiple versions of your story. Though you should generally avoid editing during your first draft, subsequent drafts will be full of edits. When you hand over your work to an editor, it can be a little nerve-wracking. But, just like when Frodo asked Sam to carry the ring, Sam gave it back and so will your editor.
  5. Finish. This is the most important bit of advice I can offer you. It’s also the best part of the Lord of the Rings movies. The moment Frodo finally threw the ring in the lava; the moment you finish your book. Finish. Your. Story. No matter the obstacles you face, no matter how long it takes make sure you finish. All the hours of writer’s block and nights spent falling asleep on your keyboard will be worth it the moment to get to type ‘The End’.

Some will say that a “real” writer is published, or that a “real” writer writes every single day. While it is true that you should write something every day, what makes you a writer is you. Your love for words, your insatiable appetite for books, your desire for adventures and new fictitious friends—these are the things that make you a writer. Though your writing journey is still in the beginning stages, you are a real writer now.

Leilah Wright lives in beautiful Colorado Springs where she amasses books like a dragon hoards treasure. She is an editor at Novelesque and is writing her first novel. A true pluviophile, she is happiest on rainy days while drinking obscene amounts of coffee. When not working she enjoys time with her two children, reading, and catching up on shows. Keep up with her on her Blog and on Facebook.

Danilo Kiš’

Danilo Kiš’ ; (22 Feb 1935 – 15 Oct 1989) novels and short stories are influenced by the death of his father in a Nazi concentration camp and his family. Danilo, who’s image appears here on a postage stamp from Montenegro, is best known for his Family Cycle trilogy and was intended to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature before his untimely death. His short stories, novels, and poetry earned him international awards. This quote was part of an address to aspiring writers. Our characters become interesting as they gain scars.

Profile Photo of Gabrielle V Brown Managing Editor Pikes Peak Writers BlogGabrielle V. Brown, Contributing Editor with Writing From the Peak, writes all manner of fiction and nonfiction.  Find her on Facebook, and instagram ; contact her at gvbrownwriter@gmail.com.  For more about today’s birthday author, visit her website.

Editing an Anthology

What’s involved in editing an anthology?

As an editor you define the vision and theme for the project, select the stories to include, edit those stories, and usually write accompanying material like a foreword, introduction, or epilogue. You’ll determine the order in which the stories appear, and might write a short introduction to each story and/or author. Depending on how the project is structured, you might also write the sales copy, give direction to the cover designer—or design the cover, and put together promotional material.

You need to define the theme clearly enough so the authors understand what you’re looking for, review and edit manuscripts, and sometimes pass on a story you love because it’s not right for the collection you’re working on. Editing might go smoothly, or you might find yourself spending hours editing a story, only to find that the author isn’t willing to make the requested changes and you have to find a new author/story to fill in at the last minute. Thinking through your goals and making decisions ahead of time can make the whole process significantly easier.

The more clearly you envision and describe your project, the closer the authors will get to it.

How to Select Authors and Stories

Invitations vs. calls for submissions

If you extend invitations, think about the expectation you’re setting. Are you extending a blanket invitation to accept any story an author sends you? Or have you made it clear that you intend to review each story to make sure it’s a good fit for your theme?

If you put out a call for submissions, have you made sure your guidelines are clear enough so that you don’t end up having to wade through a zillion manuscripts that have nothing to do with the theme you’ve envisioned? Will you publish the guidelines on a website, in a newsletter, a Facebook group, mailing list, or all of the above?

A combination approach can work well in situations like if there’s a well-known author or two who you’d like to include in the collection, or if there’s a group of authors you know will write exactly what you’re looking for.


Suppose you’ve extended an invitation to an author based on reading some of their work. You know they’re capable and talented. Then they submit a story that’s not nearly as well-written as you know they can write. Do you have the time and energy to edit this story to get it up to par?


Do you want all of the stories to be similar, or do you like having more variety? The tighter the constraints you specify in your vision and guidelines, the more similar the stories will be.

Promotion/Social Media

Do you care if an author has a modern, professional-looking website, or perhaps doesn’t have a website at all? Do you want to work with authors who have experience with promotion, or are you and/or the publisher planning on handling this?

If you’re not counting on the authors to help out with marketing, you can choose to invite authors based solely on the quality of their stories. If instead you’re relying on the authors to help with promotion, you’ll need to base your selections on the quality of the stories and how effective you feel each author will be at marketing.

There’s no right or wrong way to choose which authors to work with. The key is to figure out what is important to you and to then be mindful of this while you make your decisions.

Project Decisions


Your vision for the project should include both the genre and the theme of your project. The more clearly you envision and describe your project, the closer the authors will get to it. Just be sure to keep your vision in mind when reviewing the submissions, as sometimes authors will submit stories they know are close but not on point.

In addition to information about your vision for the project, project guidelines typically include things like allowed story lengths, the length for author biographies and, if you’re opening the collection up to submissions, how to submit a story, including the desired manuscript format.

Anthology title

The title of the collection is just as important as the title of any other book. Make sure it fits with your vision as well as the genre of the project. One way to figure out if the title is working is to compare it to other titles in the same genre.

Number/length of stories

You can either set a specific number of stories to include, or set a target word count for the anthology.

The word count range per story should be set in the guidelines. You might choose to give authors the option to check in with you if they’re over or under this range, or you could make it clear that there’s no wiggle room. Authors will often submit stories that are either too short or too long, regardless of how firm you’ve said the rules are, so you’ll need to figure out how to handle these situations.

Scheduling and deadlines

Make sure to set a deadline for submissions that allows authors enough time to write their stories, and factor in enough time for you to review and edit the submissions.

If you’re involved in other areas like formatting the book, designing the cover, and putting together promotional material, take the amount of time you’ll need to spend into consideration when setting both the launch date and the author deadlines.


If you’re working with a publisher, this may not apply. However, it’s becoming more and more common for editors to work very closely with small presses, and often the editor is also the publisher.

If you’re involved with setting the price for your collection, look at other, similar anthologies to see what prices are working well. You might also consider different strategies, like launching at a temporarily low price point for a week or two, or making the anthology available for pre-orders.

Contracts, licensing, and payment/royalties

This is another area that was traditionally outside of the hands of the editor, but today editors are often involved in.

Do you have a standard contract ready? If not, do you feel comfortable putting one together on your own, or do you need—and can afford—legal advice?

If you’re determining licensing terms, do you want to request stories be exclusive to your anthology—and for how long? Are you okay with reprints, or are you only interested in new stories?

Will you provide a one-time payment for each story? If so, will you provide a fixed fee per story, pay per word, or offer a contributor’s copy but no monetary payment?

Would you prefer to pay royalties, so that each author gets a percentage of the revenue in perpetuity—and if so, how will you track the sales and deliver regular payments? If you’re paying royalties, will each author get the same percentage, or do you want to give a larger percentage to a well-known author?

Anthologies can be fun!

While putting together an anthology can entail a fair amount of work, it’s incredibly rewarding to see your vision for a project come alive.

Jamie Ferguson has curated ten multi-author collections and is working on many more, including a monster-themed anthology series she’s co-editing with DeAnna Knippling. She’s also a member of the Uncollected Anthology, an urban and contemporary fantasy author collective, which she joined in the spring of 2018. She loves creating colorful spreadsheets and has spent her day job career working in software. Jamie lives in Colorado and spends her free time in a futile quest to wear out her two border collies, since she hasn’t given in and gotten them their own herd of sheep. Yet.

A K.I.S.S. of Comedy

Subtext, Silly

Okay, they’re going to revoke my comedy writer card for this, but I’m going to share with you the great secret of being funny. Listen carefully. The secret is … a kiss. (Put down the breath mints; it’s not that kind of kiss.) You’ve heard the phrase “Keep It Simple, Stupid,” but in the realm of comedy writing, you’ve got to “Key Into (the) Subtext, Silly.” Yes, subtext. You know, that thing that clicks when you hear the punchline of a joke. It’s what people relate to when they hear something amusing. It’s the “ah-ha!” or the “Oh, I get it!”

It’s time to pucker up and slip them some … subtext.

Think about a character who has all the scene stealing lines in your favorite book. Why are they so good? Why are their wit-filled quips the mic drops of every scene? Because, more often than not, they’re saying what we’re all thinking. They’ve got the bravery to spit it out with sass. They’re hitting those universal truths that we’re all picking up on consciously or subconsciously. Yep, I’m bringing in big, serious words now. Why? Because making people laugh is serious business.

Guffaws are Great

Adding a guffaw or two to your story, even if it’s a work of horror, can be immensely satisfying for both you and your readers. A simple comedic detail, an outrageous adjective, or a sarcastic barb in the middle of a monologue can go a long way to keeping a reader interested. And let’s be honest, those humorous moments are fun to write. So, let that character whose been hanging back in the scene you’re currently writing step up and work some sarcastic magic. It’s time to pucker up and slip them some … subtext.

Uh-oh. The Comedy Police are coming. We didn’t talk. I wasn’t here.

For more on the secret of subtext and other reasons why R.J. Rowley is going to get her comedy card revoked, check out the humor writing workshop “H.A.: Humorists Anonymous, the 12 Steps to Embracing Your Funny” at the 2019 Pikes Peak Writers Conference in May.

R.J Rowley illustrated headshot

Satirist and Joker of All Trades, Rebecca “R.J.” Rowley captures life’s absurdities on the page and keeps them there until the proper authorities arrive. Publications include humorous fiction novels, short works of satire, and random acts of poetry. When not entertaining the masses or terrorizing the villagers, she copyedits for a local publisher and utilizes her MBA in Entertainment Management to develop programs designed to support fellow authors and humorists in building their careers. Find out more at www.bexly.org.