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Saturday, December 13, 2014

Creating an Anthology

Although I love greeting cards and the idea of sending a literary hug to someone you love, the prices ($3 a card!) have put the brakes on my greeting card purchases in recent years. So when fellow writer Barbara Barth sent me an announcement about her new e-book A Cup of Christmas with the tagline "Instead of a Christmas card send a Christmas e-book. It costs less!" I knew I had to check it out. I had so much fun with this book. I'm a sucker for sappy Christmas movies and watch them endlessly and there were a few tearjerker stories in A Cup of Christmas but it was a great mix. I laughed, I cried, I got hungry(there are recipes), I was even creeped out a bit by some paranormal elements thrown into the mix. All in all it was a fun book/Christmas card (it even has Christmas card-like illustrations to accompany each story) and I know just who on my Christmas list will receive one. Here's a bit from the editor Barbara Barth about the mania of creating an anthology:

Barbara, you've written a memoir and a romance-suspense. How did you take a turn at editing an anthology? Did you just wake up one day looking for a new challenge and say, "Hey, why don't I edit an anthology?" Was it a protest against incredibly expensive greeting cards, after all, in your intro you did write "Give an e-book for less than the cost of a greeting card? Or are you just a sucker for Christmas?
You have me laughing with this first question. Yes, I did wake up one day and say, I think I’d like to pull together an anthology. I’ve never been a planner; I just get an idea and run with it. Once I decide on a project, it gets all my energy. I saw the cover image on a website and it clicked. A Cup of Christmas was created in six weeks. Originally, I expected ten or fifteen authors to participate, but the final e-book has 30 writers (and me, making it 31) with everything from holiday stories, memoirs, poems, and a few tasty recipes.

I loved the idea of sending a book for Christmas. Amazon makes it so easy too. They have a ‘gift button’ that lets you buy an e-book and send it, along with a personal greeting. Our slogan became ‘Why send a card when you can send an e-book!’ Catchy, fun, and practical. It is a gift that keeps on giving too. All proceeds go to First Book, a children’s literacy charity.

The e-book is visually festive. The bright red cover, the titles of each piece in red script, and a small graphic for each story. My sister (PD King Designworked magic with her design. The book is published through my company Gilbert Street Press.

A Cup of Christmas was my way of reaching out to others. I remember how much fun I had as an antique dealer, decorating my shop (and the occasional show) for Christmas. I loved connecting with customers during the holidays especially. I miss that interaction since I no longer am in business. The anthology put me in touch with so many different writers, it was a celebration of the season, and a way for me to connect to folks I might otherwise not meet.
Tell us about the process of creating an anthology, since I'm sure we all have a topic nearest and dearest to our hearts that we would like to see featured in an anthology. How did you pick your topic?
It was a given it would be a Christmas anthology the minute I saw the cover image. We were also just heading into the holiday season and I wanted a project to share immediately. Christmas is close to most everyone’s heart and I figured it was an easy topic for folks to write about in the short time-frame I gave them. I had my work cut out for me, but the authors stopped what they were doing to participate in a project that pulled together in less time than it takes many to plan a Christmas party. It was an awesome experience and a learning one for me.

How did you find your writers and, not just writers, but writers that were willing to write without compensation? And why didn't you ask me?
I contacted authors through Facebook. Some I know personally and others are just Facebook friends through the writers groups there, or through friends liking friends. Sort of the six degrees of separation theory. I posted a ‘call for writers’ on my timeline, then sent Facebook private messages to many authors I hoped would participate. In addition to my own writing, I love to promote others with my various book blogs, and I think that helped give credence to the project.

Several of the authors recommended students from their workshops, who would be wonderful additions to the anthology. The thing I love best about A Cup of Christmas is the range of writers. The contributions are from award winning authors, traditionally published authors, self-published, and those never published before. Many are southern writers, but we have authors across the country, from England and Australia. Each brings their special talent.

I planned for the e-book to be free (I did not want to collect money and distribute it, and I didn’t want any of the writers to think I was making money off the project and their work.). In exchange, each author would have a short bio and live links to their website, blog, and/or Amazon Author Page at the end of their piece.  It was a fun way to share during the Christmas season with a bit of PR for everyone involved. After that plan was in place, and halfway through the project, an author e-mailed me advising Amazon’s minimum price for an e-book was 99 cents. That took us in a new direction, and one that was kismet for everyone, bringing a charity on board, and one that all the authors agreed was a perfect selection, First Book.

Shame on me for not asking you, Jodi. Next time you will receive a personal invitation! And there will be a ‘next time’!
Was it difficult choosing who would be included? Did you have to edit some people out because of size constrictions?
The guidelines for the anthology were simple; the contents of the book had to be in the spirit of Christmas, no sex, no violence, something that anyone could read and enjoy. It could be a story (word length up to the author, but preferably less than 6000 words – so short or long), memoir, poetry, and, since I know a few chefs who are authors, some holiday recipes. Everyone who contacted me was included. I had a wonderful author come in the last 48 hours before the e-book design was completed. Time, not space, was the final decision maker. I was very fortunate that everyone involved had something lovely to share. 

Were you nervous about being the editor? Is this your first experience editing?
I was so nervous about being an editor, I was going to put assembled by next to my name, hoping to avoid the editor title all together. I don’t trust my own writing, punctuation, etc., and I felt very insecure about ‘editing’ other authors, especially those with credentials so far ahead of mine. As I read each piece, I decided I had to put on my editor’s hat, and get to it. I contacted most of the writers if I had questions. I realized two things: if there were glaring problems, I would look bad and the author would look bad. Being an editor is a huge responsibility and I knew everyone trusted me to produce a professional product. I was fortunate to have input from a few authors who helped with my editing questions, and actually looked at some of the pieces with me. You also have to remember, that no one had any real time to fluff their work, because the project came together so quickly.  I am proud of the finished book and now brag I am the editor. Don’t hurt me if you see something wrong!
Tell us a little about how First Book became involved in this project.
As I mentioned earlier, the anthology started out to be a free Kindle download. Then I found out we couldn’t list it for free (although I could do a free promo through KDP Select). We needed to bring a charity on board, because this was never about money for us. I had read about First Book some months back and suggested them to the group. It seemed a perfect match – writers helping to bring books to children. I contacted First Book directly, their Washington DC office, to tell them about the project, and to be sure I could link back to them in our anthology and in all our marketing. First Book has distributed more than 120 million books and educational resources to programs and schools serving children from low-income families throughout the United States and Canada. All proceeds from the sale of our anthology go to First Book, but even better, we are spreading the word about First Book through our group and individual marketing and encouraging readers to donate directly.
What was the most rewarding and difficult thing about creating an anthology?
The most difficult thing about this project was the fact I jumped in without a plan other than to get it done. It was a huge learning process for me. Next time I will have better instructions for the authors in how to format their work so there is a consistency in what I get. Double space, single space, story embedded with illustrations, two spaces between sentences, etc. I received stories in every format imaginable – and that was my fault. It just created extra work for me, but it taught me so much! Then the snafu with pricing, I did not research that before I started. While I had to make adjustments along the way, it was a remarkable process, and taught me by trial and error what to do next time.

I am very proud of our marketing efforts too. The anthology launched for free, and now is for sale at $1.99, with all proceeds to First Book. I had a great time with graphics for Facebook, my own timeline, and our A Cup of Christmas Authors Facebook page

Two authors, Tori Bailey and Doug Dahlgren, created YouTube videos for the anthology. Kerry Alan Denney spent most of the first day tweeting and reposting on every site imaginable. The team effort was awesome. Our launch landed us as number 3 in the top 100 free anthology e-books on Kindle.

I love working with other authors. Writing for me is more connecting with people, sharing experiences, making new friends, doing something meaningful. A Cup of Christmas is full of the spirit of giving and it doesn’t get any better than that in my book!

What's up next? Another anthology?
Most likely, there will be an annual Christmas anthology. This was so much fun we would like the tradition to continue. As for me, I am almost finished with my dog memoir. I hope to have it available by early spring. The hounds are impatient to see their stories in print.

Jodi Webb is still toiling away at her writing in between a full-time job, a full-time family and work as a blog tour manager for WOW-Women on Writing. For Jodi's take on reading and writing (no 'rithmetic please!) stop by her blog Words by Webb and a new one Building Bookshelves (no hammers required).


  1. This is a great idea! Thanks for sharing the Christmas book instead of the Christmas card! :)

  2. Thanks so much for sharing our anthology back-story on The Muffin! It was a wonderful experience and a learning process for me. I could not have been happier with the spirit of everyone involved. Barbara

  3. Thanks Barbara and Jodi, it was a blast participating. I'm busy loading up the sleigh in preparation for the bid day. And thanks Barbara for including my short story "A Clatter of Hooves" in the anthology. May the joyful spirit of Christmas be with you all the whole year through! :)

  4. Anonymous8:56 PM

    This is an amazing idea,Barbara and thank u so much for sharing this wid us,Jodi...this is my first time i am visiting ur blog and thx to AME...was thinking of anthologies since my friend has worked on them a budding author,i will love to be part of an anthology soon...


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