To Box or Not to Box – including my top tips


This is a copy of an article I wrote for Romance Writers of New Zealand on boxed sets where I share insights on what it’s like to be a lead and a participant. And it includes my top tips!


I’ve been published for over three years and in that time have worked on a number of boxed sets, as both a participating author, and also as a leader.

Ever wondered what they were all about? Perhaps considered joining one?

Here are my insights into being both a participant and a leader.

❤️ Being a participant in a set

Being in a set can be like gambling, you just don’t know how the set will go. It depends on the roll of the dice.

Before signing up to being in a boxed set/anthology you should read the fine print…yep, it’s like a contract.

  • Who is the lead? What’s their experience in leading a set?
  • Who are the other participants? What if there is an author in the set you don’t work well with? You need to decide if you want to be in the set.
  • Do you have to include a new piece of writing? Or can you use an existing book?
  • How much to join the set? Is it refundable if you leave?
  • What is the heat level of the set? And the sub-genre?
  • Will it be wide or in Kindle Unlimited?
  • What is the goal of the set? Donate money to charity? Earn royalties? Widen your audience? Letters (eg USA bestseller)? Promote your first in series?

You should check all of this before considering to join. But other important considerations are – will everyone’s books be edited and proofed? What length are the books? Is swearing acceptable or not?

You’d be surprised that everyone has different expectations for launching their books, and not everyone works as hard as you and I.

You should also find out about payments, and how the profits are distributed.

When I joined my first set, we were able to use an existing book but it had to have a beach/summer theme. Everyone worked hard, and the leader collected the money under her name and split it accordingly to all of us. This is not easy when you have royalties from different countries.

You need to have full trust in your leader, and that she will do the right thing in guiding the project to success. It happens a lot, but not all the time.

An author friend, LB, signed up to a boxed set that seemed to be legit. The joining fee was $100 (US) however, it was poorly managed. Ads were not booked, the lead did not provide any sales details. Also, the first book in the set, was poorly written and/or did not resonate with readers. Unfortunately many readers did not continue to read the rest of the books in the series.

For sets in KU, this sounds the death knell. You need readers to read all the books in the set, as it generates high KENP (page reads).

Another example, I joined a set but something came up (personally), a week later, and I had to withdraw. I explained this to the lead, and even though the set was not launching for months, she removed me from the Facebook group, and didn’t refund my money. There was no mention of this in the terms. Again, buyer beware.

Okay, so these are examples of when bad things happen. But I mention them because being in a set can be a risk. Be prepared to lose your money, and if you make money, that’s a bonus!

There are lots of positives to being in a set-

  • Gives you exposure to new readers
  • You can make new author friends.
  • Gives you visibility, via also-boughts in Amazon
  • Can “stretch” you as a writer, if you write something new and different

If you decide to join, I’d look at only committing to a 3 month period. Any longer, is too long, in my opinion.

There are list runs, where the aim to is to make it on to a list eg: USA Bestseller. This involves a savvy lead, and for all the participants to work hard and push the set. It’s a lot of work, and I would recommend experienced authors joining these sets. Also, the cost can be from $500-$1500 (USD) so it’s not a cheap option. And again, you may not make the list. This does happen, and can be very disheartening.

❤️ Should I join a set? Joanne’s top tips –

  • Research! Find out as much as you can about the leads and other participants.
  • Be prepared to lose money. It doesn’t always happen, but can.
  • Consider why you are joining the set, to make money? List run? Gain exposure? Learn?

❤️ Being a lead in a set

I’ve led a number of sets. Having worked as a manager and project manager in my former corporate life, I was able to manage this role competently. However, if you cannot multitask, project manage, or have “thick skin”, I would recommend you not to be a lead.

It’s hard work…and often can be unforgiving.

As the lead, you are responsible for the set. You have to manage the participants, make the decisions, and ensure its success.

As the lead, you can make your own decisions for how the set will be managed and controlled. For example, when I ran a Christmas set I included the following –

A joining fee

Authors joined the set and had time to ask questions. From April, they had to commit and pay the joining fee. Why? Because on a previous set I had authors leave the set after the covers had been finalised, and they had to be re-done. The artist needs to be paid for her re-work. The joining fee is the author’s commitment to being a part of the team.

Editing and proofing

I expected the authors to have their novellas edited and proofed. I always do a sample read before launch, and check this. Novellas that are poorly written will be removed from my set.

Working with author friends is always fun!

Know your authors

I have previously worked with authors I didn’t know. Most of the time, this was fine. However, my preference is to work with authors I know and trust.

KU vs Wide, and pricing

I’ve been both wide and with KU, and my preference is with KU. I priced our set competitively and had the set in KU. Readers making their way through all the novellas earned us 1000s of page reads.

Distributing the profits

You can do this yourself or you can use a third party to manage the account.

I personally prefer to use a company to manage the accounting, as this is a time consuming process, and I’d rather use that time to write. However, your participants must know upfront how you will manage the finances.

I have personally used IndieWrites and found them professional and easy to work with.

If you do the accounting yourself, you must be transparent with your team and show them everything. You need to spend time in ensuring that you correctly convert the different currencies.

There is no financial benefit or reward in being the lead. With all the sets I’ve managed, I’ve earned the same as the participants. So why did I do it? I liked being in control of the direction of the set, and working with fellow authors. Writing can be a lonely occupation. A set is a wonderful way to meet and/or work with other authors.

There are lots of positives to being a lead. But there are some negatives. The main one is when things go wrong, you need to step up, take action and lead. You can’t ask for advice, you have to provide the direction. Depending on the severity of the issue, you may consult the team but generally you have to be decisive and manage issues.

Last year with one of my sets the team dealt with some hate from Twitter. It was nasty, mean and very upsetting. Not only did I have to deal with these readers personally ridiculing me online, I had to manage the team. There were issues, disappointment and fall out.

You need to keep calm, and manage this in a methodical way. You are the lead, and you are responsible. You may not have to deal with any issues with your launch, and set, however, you have to be prepared to step up in the event that it does happen.

Two teenage girls looking at a tablet

❤️ Should I lead a set? Joanne’s top tips –

  • Research! Don’t accept anyone onto your team. Read their writing, and look at how they manage themselves. Are they professional?
  • Authors can be newbies. I’ve welcomed newbie writers on to my team if they are good writers and are prepared to work hard at promoting the set. Don’t dismiss an author because they are a newbie.
  • Stick to your guns. If you want your set in KU, then don’t allow your team to push you to go wide. You’re the lead; be the leader.
  • Be prepared to work hard, and receive no reward. It can be an unforgiving role, and even if you do well, your team may not thank you for all the extra hours you do.
  • Enjoy the challenge and opportunity to work with other authors.
  • Readers love sets. Pick a theme of something you love, and get authors to contribute. If you love sports, then create a set with sport star heroes/heroines.

There is so much opportunity out there to create, you just need to dream and then accomplish it.

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