Saturday, July 4, 2015

How to Write a Compilation - Part 1

Dianne E. Butts
has contributed to all these
compilation books.
(and more!).
Please excuse me for being a little late posting this month. I was enjoying a fun and wonderful family vacation and just couldn't get it done earlier!

Last month I received a message from a reader, Pierre, asking, "Do you have any articles on how to write or organize a compilation?" (Tweet that!) That's a topic I haven't approached here on the blog so thanks, Pierre, for the topic suggestion. 

I've contributed to twenty compilations, all of those in the photo and a few more not pictured. I've also put together a compilation myself and another one with a co-author. (See photo below.) So I’m sharing what I've learned from those experiences.

When I brainstormed the answer to Pierre’s question and what I’ve learned about writing compilations and/or writing for them, I was surprised by how much information I came up with. So much, in fact, that I’m going to divide it into more than one post here (or else this post would be dreadfully long!).

Here’s how my plan is currently shaping up:

In this first post, Part 1, I’ll answer the first part of Pierre’s question of how to write a compilation which will include creating writer’s guidelines and getting them out where other writers might see them.

In Part 2 I’ll answer Pierre’s question of how to organize your compilation plus we’ll talk about paying your writers, a topic that is of great importance to me.

In Part 3 we’ll look at legal considerations, keeping the whole project organized, and marketing the finished product.

So let’s get started with:

A Ruby Christmas
a fictional story compilation.

What is a Compilation?

A compilation is a collection of stories--whether true or fiction--or essays or poems or other written material all bound together in one book.

Most of the compilations I've seen are nonfiction. They are often centered around a particular topic.

But a compilation can also be fiction, whether it's a collection of individual complete stories or perhaps different writers contribute a chapter to the same story, such as the one I contributed to titled A Ruby Christmas

How to Write a Compilation

You can do some of the writing yourself. You can ask other writers to contribute to your compilation. Or more likely you'll end up doing a combination of both. That's what I did.

          Write Part or All of the Compilation Yourself.

If your compilation is all about a collection of material from established writers, then they obviously will want to write their own material. But when I did my compilation, I wanted stories about unplanned pregnancies and all the different decisions people make and how that played out in their lives. For the compilation I did with a co-author, we wanted stories of grandparents finding ways to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with their grandkids. With a compilation topic like this, not everyone you're working with is going to be a writer. Some have no desire, skill, or time to write their stories down on paper. But they have great stories! So the solution is to do the writing for them. You interview them and collect their story details, and then write it as an "as told to." You'll see several of these in my Deliver Me book.
These are Dianne's six books.
The one on the top (Deliver Me) and the one on the 
bottom (Grandparenting Through Obstacles)
are compilations.

Doing this will assure you of many great stories. It will also assure the quality of writing you want for your book. If you can't do the interview and writing, you can find (or hire) a willing writer and assign them that story.

I consider writing others' stories one of the great privileges of being a writer. (Tweet that!) So many people have amazing stories that would help and inspire others but they do not have the skills to write them or the platform to share them if they did. (Tweet that!) So helping them share their stories is an incredible honor and blessing to me, not to mention my readers. (Tweet that!)

When you write an "as told to" story for your compilation, simply treat the person with the story as any other author: get the same permission to use the story, have them sign the same agreements. Put their name on the byline followed by "as told to" and then your name. Consider them a contributing author because they are the"author" of their story even though they didn't do the work of actually putting it on paper (or in the computer).

          Ask Writers to Contribute

If you plan to ask other writers to contribute to your book, first you need to be able to articulate very clearly the idea of your compilation and what you are looking for in submissions. I always found this interesting because I thought I was being clear but writers would have completely different ideas of what I meant. So I would have to continually clarify. The problem is they are not in your head, so all they know about what you're thinking of for your compilation is what you tell them. Therefore:

  • Be as clear as you can be. 
  • Be willing to clarify your vision when needed. 
  • And be patient when working with other writers.
You may have to answer the same question(s) over and over. Count this as a great learning experience because you'll get a clearer picture of how you're coming across as a writer and how your reader understands you. (Tweet that!)

Create Writer's Guidelines

You'll need to create some writer's guidelines, just like the professionals do. Because you are a professional.

As an example which may be helpful to you I’ll share the writer’s guidelines I created years ago for my book Deliver Me, but please know this opportunity is now closed and this is intended only as  an example or a starting place for you.

Better yet, gather some writers guidelines off the internet from magazines or other compilations and use them as a starting point. 

Besides sharing your vision you'll want to give:

  • An idea of what you’re looking for in stories you’ll accept. 
  • Tone. 
  • How long you want each story (in word count).
  • Which rights you want to purchase.
  • Compensation (what you'll pay in $ and/or contributor's copies).
  • If you want a bio for the back of the book (a great perk for writers) and the word limit on that.
  • How and where to submit.
  • Your deadline.

Get the Word Out

Once you have the writer’s guidelines for your  project written, edited, and polished, make them a printable PDF document.

Then post your guidelines on your web site, blog, and/or Facebook page.

Once you have your writer’s guidelines available somewhere online, you can link to them in Twitter messages, on Facebook, at LinkedIn, in your emails, in your newsletters, etc.

Ask your friends and writing acquaintances to share them with their circles of writer friends.

You can also seek out web sites that writers frequent that want to post opportunities for writers and politely ask them to post or link to your project’s information and your guidelines.

So this month why don’t you consider gathering some of your writer friends, reaching out to other writers you know, or possibly extending the invitation to friends of friends and talk about doing a compilation together? Brainstorm your idea, then brainstorm your writers guidelines.

Then come back next month and we’ll talk about how to organize your compilation and about paying your writers.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. The above comment contained a link that appears to go to a member-only site which required membership and/or money to access. I did not see anything of value for my readers on the home page. I could not remove the link without removing the entire message, which did not make a lot of sense to me anyway. Therefore I have removed this comment from my blog.

  2. Hi Dianne,

    Thanks so much for addressing this topic!! I'm learning a lot from you and look forward to sharing more about the compilation I'm looking to put together!

    In this post, you said that we need to decide in our vision, "Which rights you want to purchase." Can you explain this a bit further? What are the various rights that we can purchase? Are there some pros and cons to each?

    Thanks again!

    Pierre Eade

    1. Hope you saw my answer in "Part 4" posted October 1, 2015, Pierre. Thanks again for suggesting a great topic. Please feel free to let us know how your compilation is coming along. God bless your writing.

  3. How are the contributors compensated?

    1. Hi Unknown. Contributors are normally paid (if they are paid at all) by the person creating the compilation. The publishing company, should you find one to publish the book, will not pay this. It's up to the Author to do so. If you're blessed to find a publisher (hard to do) and if you get paid an advance (rare these days), you can pay your writers out of your advance, but it still comes out of your pocket. Some compilations "pay" by giving contributors a copy of the book and a discount on buying more that they can then resell and make some money, but it is my firm belief that writers should be paid a fee -- that mean really money -- for their stories. A worker deserves her wages. But the Author -- the one heading up the project -- is the one who pays. I hope that answers your question. I wrote more about paying in Part 2 posted August 1, 2015 here:

      God bless your writing and your compilation book!