When Authors Become Publishers: Creating a DIY Literary Anthology

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There are many reasons to publish a literary anthology. Maybe you’re in touch with a lot of talented writers who deserve more attention. Maybe there’s a very specific and overlooked sub-genre that you’re passionate about. Maybe you’re raising funds for a charity and selling an anthology related to your cause will help you raise contributions. The reasons are endless, and so are the methods, although following the footsteps of those who have gathered exceptional writers and published fun, unique anthologies can be helpful when it’s your turn to put on your publisher’s cap.

Bud Smith, author of such books as Tollbooth and Or Something Like That, is what I call a classic networker: he’s involved with multiple small presses and magazines, loves talking shop at gatherings and readings, and he founded Unknown Press, which also features a weekly online radio show. Under the Unknown Press moniker, Bud recently published First Time, an anthology of poetry and prose concerning the funny, crazy, romantic, and painful experiences of losing one’s virginity, as told by a wide variety of authors.

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“Ideas just seem to pop up. First Time came from a conversation with a friend of mine who owns a recording studio. He was looking for a book to read, specifically about how people lost their virginity and he didn't see any cool/crazy ones. So I made it.”

He enjoyed the experience enough that he and author Chuck Howe are well underway with a second anthology, this one titled Too Much, and will focus on stories of excess (be it booze, food, love, etc.). The idea for the second anthology came while Bud and Chuck Howe were, go figure, drinking beer.

“I like to work with a large group of people on creative projects and an anthology is a perfect way to do that,” Bud says. Bud utilizes blog posts, Twitter, and event notifications on Facebook to spur word-of-mouth excitement about his projects, and all guidelines and due dates clearly posted. The submissions poured in quickly.

“People are eager to share their stories, and that’s why I love doing these projects. I meet a lot of new writers and also get to touch base with some of my old favorites in the small press community. However, I find that nepotism is self-defeating,” Bud admits. “The submissions are read blind, so being a friend doesn't help much anyway. Actually, being a friend probably hurts things in a way. Maybe you owe me $20 or something and I refuse to publish you ‘til you pay me back. All joking aside, submitters can expect a fair shake from projects I put together and a professional dedication to fine-tune an accepted submission for print.”

The editing process has evolved over time, becoming more of a group effort, but Bud does all of the interior design and pagination himself using iPages for Mac. “It’s a simple program, and cheap too. Just $9.00. However, it has the ability to make beautiful documents and generate the clean PDFs that I like to use for print purposes. I enjoy it, making the text pleasing to read, making the font and spacing and general appearance of the inside of the book pleasing.”

Getting his hands dirty with other publishers gave him the skills to confidently take on the challenge of managing his own anthology. Bud has worked jointly with Piscataway House on his novel Tollbooth, Marginalia Press with his forthcoming collection of poetry, Everything Neon, and for a little while he worked on book layout and design for Kleft Jaw Press. “It was a great learning experience and really helped me learn the ropes,” Bud says. “Those guys are true artists over there.”

But pagination and actual art design can be two very different beasts, and authors are advised to work with artists to develop dynamic images for their cover. Many artists will post work online that is for sale or is available for use, especially at such sites as Deviantart.com or the Saatchi Gallery online. For his own covers, Bud turns to his wife, Rae Buleri, who does the covers for the Unknown Press releases and also did the covers for the novel Tollbooth and his short story collection Or Something Like That.

Createspace is his go-to tool for printing. “It's a simple process working with them,” he says. Bud prefers to edit by hand, especially in book form, so being able to order proof copies and make changes on the fly before publication is a huge plus. “You have a much harder time contacting a local printer and saying, ‘Can I get two more copies of my second draft of the novel?’ They would probably strangle me. The faceless machine of Createspace/Amazon doesn't seem to mind the convoluted way I like to work.”

Another advantage, he says, is cost. “$3 for the proof? I can live with that.”

Paypal has made it easy for authors to sell books at their own blogs and websites, and some authors/publishers have even opened shops at website such as Etsy.com, and of course any books printed through Createspace are automatically available for purchase on Amazon.com.

PR is always a concern for indie authors and publishers, and another benefit of working on an anthology as opposed to a single-author book is you now have twenty or thirty writers spreading the word and doing marketing instead of one. But Bud is no slouch when it comes to getting the Unknown Press name out into the circles of readers and fellow writers.

“I do a live online radio show every Tuesday night, The Unknown Show. I get to talk to some great artists, writers, and musicians, and I always learn something new about writing and publishing. I try to apply the things I learn to the press. Like all things in life, it’s not perfect and I’m always learning something new to improve on what I’ve failed at in the past, but failing is part of the process. I’m becoming a better editor, writer, organizer and friend to the small press writer and reader by actively being involved. I can’t recommend that highly enough to the new writer/publisher who wants to start something up—jump in immediately. Do what Ray Bradbury says, ‘Build your wings on the way down.’”

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The most helpful promotional tool? “Picking a topic or theme that people are just as excited to write about as people will be excited to read. If you can get people interested, they’ll help you fight the war of promotion without even knowing they’re doing it. ”

How about you? Have you participated in an anthology, or created one of your own? Have any tips for those who aim to do the same someday? Feel free to post your stories and advice below!

And for more information about Bud’s upcoming anthology and his previous publications, visit budsmithwrites.com.

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James Duncan is a content editor for Writer’s Digest, the founding editor of Hobo Camp Review, and is the author of the short story collection The Cards We Keep and the poetry collection Lantern Lit, Vol. 1. He is in the process of submitting a handful of novels to agents for traditional representation, just like everyone else on the planet. For more of his work, visit www.jameshduncan.com.

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