Friday, September 18, 2020

Compilation Books—Why and How to Write Them

by Crystal Bowman

Compilations books are a collection of stories written by a variety of writers. Even though Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen struggled to get their first book published (like having 144 publishers say “no thank you”) the success of the Chicken Soup for the Soul Series—with more than 500 million copies sold internationally—has proven that they have a place in the world of publishing.

Why would an author decide to compile a collection of stories written by other writers rather than write his or her own story? 


It reaches a broader audience. 

A few years ago, my daughter-in-law asked me to help her write a book on the topic of infertility. During her five-year experience she struggled to find books that helped her emotionally. I told her that her story alone would not be enough to reach the market, but if we collected stories from a variety of women, it would reach a broader audience. We collected 30 stories from women ages 30-65 and covered the full spectrum that infertility encompasses. 


It allows more writers to share their stories.

Many of our contributors said that they had always wanted to share their stories, but it seemed overwhelming to write a book. Writing a chapter, however, was doable.  


It helps with marketing.

Many of our contributors were not published authors, so they were thrilled to see their stories and their names in a published book. They were eager to post the book on Facebook and spread the news on social media. 


How do you collect stories for a compilation book?


Start with people you know.

My daughter-in-law and I thought of several people who had stories to share, so we asked them first. Once we had a few solid contributors, we asked them to suggest other women who might be interested in sharing their stories. The number of contributors multiplied quickly and soon we had enough. 


Give specific guidelines and a few samples.

We wanted variety in the stories, but consistency in the format. We provided a template so the writers could follow the same format with their own content. The template was: My Story, My Struggle, My Strength, My Scripture. We requested word counts for each heading and provided several samples.  


Set a firm deadline.

Our deadline for the publisher was April 1, so the deadline for our writers was February 1. Some of the stories were professionally written, while other needed several revisions. Some followed the guidelines, others did not. 


Have all contributors sign release forms.

Since our book was being published by a traditional publisher, the publishing company provided release forms for each writer to sign. I needed to collect them and send them to the publisher. Some writers returned them quickly while others needed to be asked several times. 


Keep a list of names, address, and emails for all contributors

I needed to communicate often with our contributors, so having a current list of their contact information was critical.


Be sure every contributor receives a copy of the book. 

Our publisher was generous and sent 6 copies to every contributor. If your publisher doesn’t agree to sending complimentary copies, then it is your job to do that, and one copy is enough. I have contributed to several compilation books without receiving a complimentary copy and it’s discouraging. 


What about contributing to a compilation book?

Contributing to a compilation book, rather than compiling one has benefits as well. It allows you to share a story that isn’t long enough for a book, and it gets your name out there. Just be sure to follow the guidelines exactly to increase your chances of having your story published. It’s also a blessing to the person who has to edit it!


Compilation Books—Why and How to Write Them - Crystal Bowman on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

Crystal Bowman is an award-winning, bestselling author of more than 100 books for children and four nonfiction books for women. She also writes lyrics for children’s piano music and is a monthly contributor to Clubhouse Jr. Magazine. She loves going to schools to teach kids about poetry. She also speaks at MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) groups and teaches workshops at writers’ conferences. When she is not writing or speaking, she enjoys going for walks, working out at the gym, and eating ice cream. She and her husband live in Michigan and have seven huggable grandkids.


  1. Crystal, your post is exactly what I needed today. Thank you so much for confirming what the Lord has already shown me for a project I'm working on now.

    1. I am glad this post was helpful. Many blessings on your next project!

  2. Crystal,

    Thank you for these insights about compilation books. I've written for a number of these projects and they have been great opportunities. I've also tried to write for some compilation books (like some Chicken Soup books) where I've been rejected (another part of the writing life). Persistence and perseverance to find the right fit is also a part of working with compilation books.

    author of 10 Publishing Myths, Insights Every Author Needs to Succeed

    1. Thank you, Terry. I hope this post brings clarity to this writing opportunity.

  3. I am honored and blessed to have stories in several compilations. Just signed a contract for another compilation story. I enjoy participating and sharing.

    1. That sounds like a great fit for you! Congratulations!

  4. Good points, Crystal.
    My contributions have been published in 30+ compilation books, including 25 Chicken Soup for the Soul volumes. Your tips are timely for me as I'm working on collecting stories for a compilation book I'm creating.

  5. You have been very successful in contributing to compilations books. I am sure all that experience will be beneficial as you work on your own collection.

  6. Your suggestions about how to collect stories are so helpful! Thank you. I'll be doing that for the last four chapters of my book and haven't started researching it yet. You've given me a great overview to start my planning.