Crafting a Book: Compilation Books

Over the last month, C&T has released information about my latest book, The Appliqué Book. I wanted to wait to post about this latest topic until it was publicly announced that The Appliqué Book is a compilation, so although this post is coming long after the rest of the Crafting A Book series, I hope you’ll see it in the same vein as those glimpses behind-the-scenes and find it useful if you are considering proposing or writing a compilation book.


The Applique Book cover, featuring Shards, by Casey York, and Belle the Squirrel, by Jenifer Dick

In the crafting industry, a compilation book is simply a book in which each section, chapter, or project is devoted to a different “author.” (For The Appliqué Book, each project was contributed by a different designer; in addition, I interviewed and wrote profiles of several more quilting superstars who work with appliqué in various ways.) A compilation usually has a lead author or compiler, who solicits and selects the projects and serves as an intermediary between the publishing house and the contributors. Often, that person is also the one who initially proposed the book, and they tend to have a great deal of both control over and responsibility for the contents of the book. Having written a book as a sole author, I can honestly say that writing a compilation is a completely different experience, and I thought sharing some of that experience with you might be interesting and helpful.

Paper Chains, by Debbie Grifka; photo by Nissa Brehmer

Paper Chains, by Debbie Grifka; photo by Nissa Brehmer

At first, it seems like writing a compilation will be easier (or at least quicker) than writing a stand-alone book because each project is written and produced by a different person, presumably at the same time. So, if it takes me two weeks to make a quilt, I have to multiply that by 12 to create the projects for a book that I’m writing myself. But if I’m writing a compilation with 12 contributors, they could possibly each make their project during the same two weeks, bringing the time of production way down. While this is true in the sense of the book timeline, the flip side is that as a compilation author you still do the same amount of work as a solo author, it just goes into administrative tasks instead of producing samples. Depending on how you prefer to work and what skills you have, this can be a blessing or a curse. Luckily, my husband is a manager and let me pick his brain for insights on managing and motivating my group of contributors, so I was able to piggyback on his skills for this aspect of the book.

Astrid, by Lynn Harris; photo by Nissa Brehmer

Astrid, by Lynn Harris; photo by Nissa Brehmer

So how do you become a contributor to a craft book compilation? It depends on the book. Some authors/compilers send out calls for proposals and then choose a certain subset of the entries to feature in the book. For The Appliqué Book, I wrote the book proposal with a list of people I envisioned as contributors, and then contacted the people on that list after the book proposal was accepted. If you’re writing a proposal for a craft book, it helps to have a list of people who might contribute projects (keeping in mind that not everyone will accept your invitation), because it gives the publisher an idea of what people with established followings might draw people to the book, as well as the style and caliber of projects that will be included.

As the proposer/author/compiler, you then have the task of contacting each of the folks that you hope will contribute and soliciting a contribution. The number of contributors and projects in the book depends on the resources that the publisher is able to invest in it, so there are some behind the scenes financial negotiations that you also have to take part in. To my relief, C&T took care of contracting with and paying my contributors, although I imagine this detail might differ from publisher to publisher. In any case, you should be prepared to be an intermediary between the publisher and your contributors with regards to legal issues and compensation.

Sweet Pickles, by Latifah Saafir; photo by Nissa Brehmer

Sweet Pickles, by Latifah Saafir; photo by Nissa Brehmer

Once you have your contributors on board, it’s up to you to track their project progress, collect their samples and written instructions, edit those instructions, and pass everything along to the main publisher. After the publisher is done with the samples, you are also responsible for returning them to their designers (which is the project I will be working on this whole weekend). While I was prepared for this responsibility going in, I was still surprised at the number of details it required me to track. I maintain a running spreadsheet of the names, contact info, and shipping addresses of all of my contributors, as well as a database of over 60 permissions forms that they signed in order for C&T to be able to photograph and publish images of them and their work. As the author, it was my responsibility to collect, organize, and communicate all of this information to my publisher, and I anticipate I will have to maintain these records for the foreseeable future.

The stack of permissions forms that I sent to my publisher last week.

The stack of permissions forms that I sent to my publisher last week.

Once you receive the projects and instructions from contributors, it is then your task to choose the structure of the book and organize the projects into it. You also must re-format the instructions so that they all read the same way without compromising the unique voices of each contributing author. I actually enjoyed this part of the process more than I had anticipated–I learned many new-to-me tips and techniques while translating my contributors’ instructions into a language that would be consistent throughout the entire book. After the draft went to C&T, I was the point person for clarifying text and images throughout all of the usual phases of editing, including Developmental editing, Technical editing, and Production/Design. This means that if my editors had a question about a project, I needed to be able to get the answer from that project’s designer and communicate it to them.

All of this is to say that writing a compilation book is certainly not less–and perhaps not more–work that writing a solo book, but it is definitely work of a different type. I had a fantastic time working on The Appliqué Book, in part due to the amazing contributors that I formed relationships with, and in part due to the wonderful production staff at C&T. I hope that this post gives you a bit of a peek into what goes into compiling a project-based craft book, and I’m happy to answer any more specific questions you might have. Many thanks for reading, and have a good weekend!



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