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Dave Fessenden

Dave Fessenden

Hi, Dave Fessenden here, to talk with you about writing, and here is something to consider:

Do you have editorial skills? Have you ever considered doing a compilation or anthology? This is the art of choosing, organizing and showcasing the works of other authors. Such books can be very successful and have a significant ministry.

A compilation project involves finding sources for material, copyrights, reimbursing authors, and editorial discernment. But first you need to decide what type of anthology you want to do. Here’s a baker’s dozen:

#1. A topical book based on a series of sermons or speeches by one person. This involves editing down transcripts of messages into written form. This is a very common practice; Chuck Swindoll’s books, for example, appear to be done this way. Typically each message becomes a chapter, but sometimes it’s more complicated than that. Even the best sermons can be far less strictly structured than a book chapter. If editing and chapter structure are your thing, here’s a project for you.

#2. A devotional based on selections from a single author. This consists of arranging appropriate excerpts from the works of a well-known, prolific author into a devotional format, adding elements such as Scripture readings and prayers. If you want to compile such a devotional, use a long-dead classic author, whose works are public domain, or you’ll have to strike a deal with the author’s publisher.

#3. A multi-author devotional. The driving force of these devotionals is the topic, not the authors, so unknown authors may be used. Even well-known authors may be used, if their publishers are willing to grant permission for a modest fee. One big headache in this kind of project is keeping track of permissions, fees paid to the authors, and other details.

#4. Multi-author first-person stories or chapters, centered on a theme. This is very similar to the multi-author devotional, but since the text of each author is longer, the editorial work, permissions and fees can be more complicated.

#5. Modernized version of an old book. Many classic books have great spiritual messages, but their verbiage and structure are too archaic for modern readers. If you can edit such material to make it more accessible, go for it! Just be sure the book is old enough to be in public domain, or contact the publisher.

#6. Biography based on letters and diaries. If you write a biography of a deceased person, the only way to let them speak is through their writings. Even if the person is alive, their diaries, journals and letters can be better than a direct interview. And some biographies are simply edited compilations of letters and journal entries, such as The Diary of Anne Frank.

#7. Biography or history compiled and written from older books. I wrote a biography of Thomas Barnardo, who started orphanages in Victorian London. But I had no access to his letters or journals, and anyone who knew him was long dead. My solution was to read what others had written about him, then compile and rewrite this public-domain material. The result was the book Father to Nobody’s Children.

#8. Reformatting a book into devotional segments, with added material. Edythe Draper divided a book by A.W. Tozer into 31 readings and added sidebar material from other authors to create The Pursuit of God 31-day Experience. Needless to say, such a project requires the publisher’s cooperation.

#9. Quote book. Short, pithy excerpts from other writers can be fun to compile. If you collect quotes from various authors on one topic, you may not need to pay, or even ask permission, since they are brief. However, if you collect quotes from one author on various topics, you need to get permission for any copyrighted material.

#10. Creative presentation of previously-published material. Leona Choy took excerpts from classic authors’ writings on the Holy Spirit and arranged them with appropriate questions into an “interview” format to create the book Powerlines. Perhaps you can come up with a similar creative idea.

#11. Festschrift. This is a collection of articles by collegues, former students, etc. in honor of a scholar. If you have contacts in academia, you may be able to do a project like this.

#12. Collection of papers or presentations given at a conference. This can be a compilation of papers from an academic conference, or written versions of popular conference seminars and workshops. You will need to arrange this with the conference leadership ahead of time.

#13. Collation of articles, or papers. These are academic papers or popular articles, usually previously published by a particular organization, journal or magazine. Such compilations are often published annually — the “best of” articles or papers from this publication or group. As with a conference, you need to get the cooperation of those in charge. In fact, sometimes an organization will hire someone to do a compilation for them. There’s no reason why that person can’t be you!

David E. Fessenden is a literary agent with WordWise Media Services and an independent publishing consultant with degrees in journalism and theology, and two decades of editorial management with Christian publishers. He has written six books and hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles. His first novel, The Case of the Exploding Speakeasy, was published last fall. His blog on writing is www.fromconcepttocontract.com.

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