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Saturday, June 11, 2016

Boxed Set Basics

HEATHER DAY GILBERT currently has a novella, Out of Circulation, in the Smoke and Mirrors Romantic Suspense Collection, and she's enjoying every minute of it. Find this highly rated set here on Amazon for only 99c! Heather's Viking historical novel, God's Daughter, is an Amazon Norse bestseller. She is also the author of  Miranda Warning and Trial by Twelve, Books One and Two in the bestselling A Murder in the Mountains mystery series. Trial by Twelve is the 2015 Grace Award winner for Mystery/Romantic Suspense/Thriller/Historical Suspense. Heather has also written the IndiePublishing Handbook: Four Key Elements for the Self-Publisher. You can find Heather on her Website, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Goodreads.

Boxed Set Basics

Until last year, boxed sets with multiple authors were just a pipe-dream for me. I'd heard good things about them from my author friends, but I hadn't been invited to join one yet!

When I joked with my author friend Karin Kaufman that we should do our own set because we enjoy each other's mysteries so much, we began to realize we could create a boxed set. We just needed to find other authors we felt meshed with our books.

I've since participated in that boxed set, Fatal 5, and one other, Smoke andMirrors, which by no means makes me an expert, but it has given me some perspective on contracts and other issues you'll want to consider before you launch a set of your own.

1) Choose a set theme/rough publication date. This way, you'll have solid facts to take to the authors you ask to join the set so they can make informed decisions. Most sets stick with one genre or a mix of comparable genres (our Fatal 5 included both mysteries and thrillers).

2) Choose your authors carefully. The more big-name authors with large followings you can get, the better. This will necessitate going to quite a few authors to find those who can not only meet your publication deadline, but who are willing to pitch in their time to market the set.

3) Set up a private Facebook group where authors can interact quickly. This is so much faster than trying to set up an email loop, and it's much more effective, because with boxed sets, there will probably be hang-ups that arise that need to be addressed immediately.

4) Write up a contract. For both the sets I've been in, we followed a contract that all the authors agreed to before getting rolling with the set. We posted it on our private Facebook group wall, so authors could refer to it as needed. This contract included the following elements:

         a) Boxed Set Goal: This can include such information as an agreement to keep all the books in Kindle Unlimited if the set is in KU. It can also underline the reason for the set—to drive new readers to all the authors.

         b) Timeline: This lays down a very specific timeline for the authors, including dates drafts are due for formatting and when the book will be uploaded, when the set will be dissolved, and when and how payments will be made.

         c) Theme/Title: This is updated as the group agrees on a theme and title. You want a catchy, memorable title that somehow captures the feel or theme of all the novels/novellas in the set.

         d) Cover: This is updated as the group decides to use talent in the group or pay for a cover artist.

         e) Formatting: This specifies who will format the book—whether someone in-group or hired.

         f) Price for Boxed Set: This specifies the pricing on the boxed set, including specials that will be run. Individual set agreements vary, but some might wish to specify that authors' individual novels/novellas will not undersell the set as a whole for the duration of the set. For example, authors agree not to price their individual novels/novellas below the set price of 99c. This directs attention back to the set and guarantees everyone works hard to promote the set, not just their individual novel/novellas.

         g) Royalty payouts: This specifies when/how authors can expect to be paid by the one who uploads the set to vendors.

         h) Promo expectations: This section clarifies what will be expected from all the authors by way of promo, and it includes an agreement on how ads will be paid for and by whom.

5) Nail down theme/title/cover art/formatter/uploader. These are things that can change as additional authors join the set, but most groups work together to decide the best route to take on these things. Often, decisions are carried by a majority vote. The dynamics of each set vary, but I always see authors working to accommodate each other. Authors in my latest set, Smoke and Mirrors, decided to have our cover art designed, and we were all able to contribute thoughts and were pleased with the outcome:

6) Get rolling toward those deadlines, get the final file out to early readers, market like crazy, then reap the rewards of being in a boxed set!

Inevitably, boxed sets will run into hitches—just ask anyone who's been in one. You might shoot to be in Bookbub and then realize your set doesn't meet the specifications (be sure to read those first—Bookbub requires a 2D cover, novellas and not novels, as well as a certain number of pages per novella). You might have an author who can't make the final deadlines. You might have authors who poop out on marketing and don't participate.

When your set is reviewed, it's inevitable some readers won't like your contribution. You're mixing author styles and some can be vastly different. Don't expect everyone to rate yours highly.

There are any number of variables, but you have to try to be prepared for anything and ride the boxed set waves, however smooth or choppy they may be.

Yet I probably don't have to tell you that the payoff can be huge. Yes, there are a plethora of boxed sets these days, but some are still making the USA Today bestseller lists. Most will bring new readers/newsletter subscribers to each author in the set. Valuable connections are made with the authors you work with and the new readers you gain.

Finally, boxed sets are a lot of fun! If you're asked to be in one, first consider carefully if you can meet the deadlines and if you'll be able to contribute to the marketing, and if so, enjoy the experience! 

TWEETABLES: 6 Basic Points on how to self-publish a boxed set. #writing #PubTip (Click to tweet)


  1. Thank you for sharing, Heather! Boxed sets are a lot of work, but they are a lot of fun, too. And it's awesome to find new readers.

  2. Excellent advice, Heather. I know a number of authors who have done really well with them ... meaning they made good money. :)

  3. Yes, Alexa--it's been so great being part of a boxed set with you! And Ane, I was truly surprised by how much income sets can bring in, if they are targeted and marketed right. Especially surprising was the number of KENP (Kindle Unlimited) pages read (both my sets have been Amazon exclusive).

  4. I'm finding that true. You can make more on pages read than books sold. lol When it's indie, the money is what matters. :)

  5. I'm in three box sets right now, and what I'm finding is that if your set is on Amazon only, it really needs to be in KU as well. Heart and Soul has five award-winning/bestselling novels by Julie Lessman, Ruth Logan Herne, Naomi Rawlings, MaryLu Tyndall, and moi. And we've realized we really needed to get it in KU to get more attention and traction. So that's just happened, and already it seems like more people are finding the set. Yay!

    Box sets are fun but they're a good bit of work. You've got deadlines, all kinds of people to work with, all kinds of details--for the indie author, this is probably the closest it feels like being a trad pub author. :) But so far I'm loving it! Especially since all the writing is done, haha! Phew. :)

  6. Thank you for this, Heather. Very helpful! Some friends and I have been discussing doing a book set, but have been leery of starting this venture without experience. Maybe this will be the push we need to take the plunge.

  7. SO glad this info helped, Brenda! All the best if you choose to go the boxed set route!

    And Sally, I've enjoyed being in Smoke and Mirrors with you! But I know 3 boxed sets at once must be so draining. I feel like we do invest a lot of effort into these sets, especially marketing-wise to get the word out. I hope this is a very lucrative year for you and well worth the time and effort!

  8. Excellent information, Heather. We sure learned a lot doing our Fatal 5 box set, and you've summarized it beautifully--all that and more! For me, the best thing about doing a box set is that in most cases you're working with already-published novels or novellas, so the hard part--the writing--is over. Still, a box set requires work, particularly an up-front understanding among all the authors of deadlines and finances, and a willingness on everyone's part to market the set. Any indie author thinking of starting or being part of a box set should print out your article and save it. It's a goldmine of information.

  9. Thanks, Karin! Yes, we learned by doing, didn't we? And I was so pleased with the success of Fatal 5 and blessed to be with such amazing authors. Smoke and Mirrors is actually an all-new novella set, so it did require writing/editing the novellas by a certain date for formatting. I think that can be stressful if you have other deadlines overlapping. Each set is a different experience and dynamic, but I do think each one is worthwhile, if done right.

  10. Heather, you are a wealth of information--always! Which is why we in the Smoke and Mirrors set were so lucky (blessed!) to have you with us. Always at the ready with ideas and more than prepared to follow through on them. The only thing I'd add to your above article would be to make sure you invite Heather Day Gilbert to it :o)!!!

  11. Connie, you're a sweetie! And talk about giving a massive effort to a boxed set! The virtual cruise on FB was one of the most relaxing and enjoyable online events I've ever participated in, and you masterminded it!

    I tell you, we learn with each set, don't we? I hope you have many more boxed sets in your future! :)

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