Arts & Writing Craft & Culture Writing tips: from writers for writers

Why writing groups should create anthologies (and how to go about it)

C.R. Berry, author of the time travel conspiracy thriller Million Eyes and current chairperson of UK writing group Rushmoor Writers, talks about the art and the benefits of creating anthologies for writers’ groups.

On November 1st 2020, Rushmoor Writers turned seventy years old. It’s the second-oldest writers’ group in the UK, after the Authors’ Club, which was founded in 1891. Having joined in 2015, I myself am a relative baby within the group next to our longest-serving member, sci-fi and horror author Gary Couzens, who’s been with the group since 1989 (when I was—urm—four). To celebrate this whopper of a milestone, we decided to showcase our work in an anthology, which is published by Midnight Street Press and available as a paperback and an ebook from Amazon: The Thing About Seventy.

We saw the anthology as a way of promoting the group and promoting ourselves as writers, but mostly as a way of bringing the group together. Of collaborating to create something we could be proud of. And of giving Rushmoor Writers a tangible identity.

Anthologies are a great way of cementing the connections between the members of a writing group. Of course, 2020 has made cementing connections with anyone an uphill struggle. But, even though Rushmoor Writers’ group meetings have been confined to Zoom since March, The Thing About Seventy is one of the things that’s really kept us going. It’s given us a goal, kept us busy, and given us something exciting to talk about over the airwaves.

Anthologies are also a great way of pooling your resources and spreading your reach. With a novel or short story collection that’s all your own work, everything’s down to you. With an anthology, you’re all involved in creating and promoting it. What’s more, by promoting an anthology, you’re promoting each other directly. Depending on the genre you write in, it also means you can tap into an audience you might not otherwise have reached: the people who follow your fellow members.

Turning your writing group’s work into an anthology first involves a discussion about why you’re doing it and what you hope to achieve from it. If it’s about celebrating something, creating something and having something to your name as a group, great. Those are the reasons we did it. If it’s about selling hundreds of books and garnering a whole new fanbase, less great. While I’m sure it’s not impossible—depending on the resources and reach of your members—it’s probably a bit pipe dream-y for most of us.

Next, pick a theme. A theme is important because you want to give the anthology a sense of cohesiveness and some indication to the potential reader of what it’s about. Some ‘how to create an anthology’ articles may advise you to pick a genre, too, because otherwise it will be difficult to place the book with retailers (they like putting books in boxes). However, because ours was more of a creative endeavour than a commercial one, we deliberately decided not to do that, mainly because our members write in different genres and styles and we didn’t want to restrain anyone’s creativity. By the same token we decided that our theme—seventy—should be quite loose. Certainly, in some of the stories in The Thing About Seventy, it’s very loose. Almost like seventy is an Easter egg for the reader to spot. (In one of the stories it was a wonderful aaaaahhh moment for me when I realised the reference to seventy.) At the same time, some of the stories revolve completely around the number seventy, such as my own, What Happened To 70?, a sci-fi story about the deletion of the number from the universe.

When it comes to the actual creation and publication of the anthology, set some deadlines for the different stages of the process and decide who’s going to do what. On The Thing About Seventy, we had two editors; two proofreaders; various people doing administration and liaising with our cover designer, our foreword writer and our publisher; someone writing a press release, etc. While the groundwork was laid before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, most of the work has been done over Zoom instead of over a coffee or pint at the pub. (Frankly, it’s great that we’ve still managed to create the anthology despite the extra pressures on everyone.)

Ideally you want to hold some physical events, such as local launch parties and book signings in shops. Your best bet is independent bookstores, although check with the local Waterstones if they’re interested in stocking a few copies and/or hosting an event. Launches, talks, signings and other kinds of guest events are the things that generate sales and get you noticed.

Of course, we’re putting our anthology out in a land of lockdowns and rules of six, so we won’t be doing any physical publicity for a while. However, for us, The Thing About Seventy has never been about numbers (no pun intended). In any case, I’m choosing to view every single sale as a win, along with every review on Amazon, every like or share on Facebook or Twitter. I don’t think writers give themselves enough credit. This is a tough industry and the writing is considered the easy bit.

As for publishing, I imagine most writing groups will use a self-publishing platform like Amazon. We were lucky that one of our former members, Trevor Denyer, runs a well-established indie publishing house, Midnight Street Press, and agreed to publish The Thing About Seventy. Being backed by a small press gives us a platform that we wouldn’t have had otherwise, but the fact that it’s a former member is a lovely touch and almost like a birthday present.

All of this nicely illustrates the other reason why writers’ groups should put out anthologies, one that may well trump the others I mentioned earlier. It’s valuable experience. Not just of writing to a theme or genre, but of all the different aspects and stages of publishing a book. You get a taste of what it’s like to work with editors and proofreaders, which all writers have to do at some point in their career. You also get a chance to see what it’s like from the other side by stepping up to be an editor or proofreader yourself. And things like working with cover designers, writing press releases and talking to bookshops are great experience for authors intending to self-publish or seek publication with small presses; in both cases you’ll be doing a lot of the marketing yourself.

Personally, I’ve really enjoyed creating The Thing About Seventy with my fellow Rushmoor Writers and I’m grateful for the experience I’ve gleaned being a part of it. As long as you go into it with the right mindset, I can’t think of any reasons why a writers’ group shouldn’t put out their own.

The Thing About Seventy features tales of love, loss, lockdown, dragons, abandoned houses, dead people, mystical crystals, rebellions in the supermarket and vanishing numbers. And in all, there’s a thing about seventy. It’s available from Amazon as a paperback (£7.99) and as an ebook (£2.99). For an exclusive NITRB preview of some of the stories, click here. For more information about Rushmoor Writers, click here. They’re currently open to new members.

About the author of this post

C.R. Berry is the author of the time travel conspiracy thriller trilogy, Million Eyes. The first book is out now and available to buy. Described by Berry as The Da Vinci Code meets Doctor Who, it incorporates conspiracy theory-laden events such as the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower and the death of Princess Diana into a fast-paced, twisty page-turner. An accompanying short story collection, Million Eyes: Extra Time, is available for FREE download from publishers Elsewhen Press.

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