The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Multi-Author Boxed Set

MultiAuthor_FromPixabaybooks-441866_1920One piece of indie author advice that gets passed around a lot is, “Join a multi-author boxed set.” According to some, joining a set can increase your visibility and get you in front of new readers and possibly earn some cash.

If a newbie writer is interested in boxed sets, what do you need to know? Here, we’ll go through everything a would-be boxed set author needs to know.

What is a multi-author boxed set? It’s just what the name implies. It’s when several authors contribute a book to a set that will be sold in the same package to the consumer. Boxed sets tend to include anywhere from half-a-dozen up to twenty books. Sometimes a boxed set will be called an anthology, but the principal is the same. It’s multiple authors contributing to a story to a set that will be sold as a single unit.

What’s the reasoning behind the multi-author boxed set? People join these types of sets for three potential reasons: (1) more visibility/exposure, (2) to make a list, and (3) to make money. Almost every boxed set offers reason number one to join – more visibility. If you’re in a boxed set with multiple authors, you’re going to be more visible. Every author in that boxed set is going to send to their list of subscribers. That means, as a participant, you’ll be introduced to the fans of at least five other authors. That’s big. If the boxed set does well, that means several people who have never heard of you are now seeing your writing (and might buy your books). That’s additional readers for everyone.

Making a list is a goal that some boxed sets have. The lists I’m referring to are best-seller lists, such as USA Today or NY Times (though the NY Times recently dropped some of its eBook lists, and some authors have USA Today Bestsellerprotested). When authors use a box set to try to make a list, the authors involved tend to have large mailing lists and usually plan to spend a significant amount on marketing to ensure they move enough copies to make those lists, which can require 10,000 or more copies be sold in a week. If list-making is the goal, some set participants may be okay with breaking even or making only a small profit, rather than big bucks. People like making these lists because they can then call themselves a USA Today Bestselling Author, or similar.

The final goal of making lots of money should probably be a goal of all boxed sets. However, if the emphasis is on visibility or list-making, making money from the boxed set may fall lower among priorities. For example, a set that wants to make money may not want to discount to 99 cents for an extended period to move more copies. Selling 10,000 copies at 99 cents (for 35 cents profit on each) nets $3,500, while selling 5,000 copies at a price that nets a $2 profit on each copy gets the authors $10,000. Depending on the set goal, different choices might be made. I’ve seen some sets that go wide for two to three weeks with the goal of making a list, and then go into KDP Select for three months, with the goal of making money with a combination of page reads and sales. So, they try to get the best of both worlds. A boxed set that’s entirely about visibility may choose to be perma-free, giving away tens of thousands of copies so books get in readers’ hands. Recognizing that every boxed sets has a strategic goal is important, so you can figure out what type of set you want to join.

How do you join a boxed set? That is the $64,000 question. The way you join a boxed set is to find other authors in a similar genre who want to be in a boxed set. Where do you find these people? Hang out where authors are, and be fast. There are some Facebook author groups that specialize in boxed sets (like this one). Also, people solicit boxed set participants on the Kboards Writers Cafe. If you happen to know some authors who you think would make great boxed set participants, then you can organize a boxed set yourself and solicit authors.

How much does it cost? It depends. Often, there is a buy-in to join the boxed set. The buy-in pays for the boxed set cover, book formatting, and marketing. Buy-ins can range from $50 to $500 (or more). This is why it is important to know the goal of the boxed set. Sets trying to make lists tend to have higher buy-ins. They’re getting Bookbub ads, paying for Facebook marketing, and a whole host of other things designed to move enough copies to hit a list. Boxed sets trying to make lists are also harder to get into, with some sets requiring the participants have mailing lists of 10,000+ subscribers to be considered. Some boxed sets have no buy-in, with the organizer fronting the costs and paying out to authors only after the set expenses have been covered. Many of the boxed sets I’ve seen want a completely edited manuscript, so the author will have to pay for the edit, as they would with any other book. Some also want you to have your own cover, while others will include a cover with the cost of the buy-in. It all depends on the terms of the boxed set.

Are there any legal issues? The boxed set organizer will need to issue you a 1099 for royalties paid as part of the set, so you will need to provide tax information to that organizer. You should also sign a contract that explains the terms of the boxed set. Terms generally discussed in the contract include: how long the boxed set will run (90 days, six months, a year); whether the book you provide for the boxed set will be exclusive to the boxed set (which is required if the boxed set is in KDP Select) or whether the author can also publish the book elsewhere simultaneously; what the boxed set organizer will do (buy cover, marketing, etc); what type of manuscript you will turn in (usually they want a fully edited manuscript); and a plan for how and when profits will be paid. As an example of some terms, if there is no buy-in, the contract will probably specify that authors will not be paid until after the organizer recovers the expenses associated with producing the boxed set. In terms of other payment terms, usually the contract specifies whether authors will be paid monthly, quarterly, every six months, or at some other interval. It’s not unusual for exclusive boxed sets to only be available for three to six months and then unpublished so authors can have use of their work again. Whatever is happening to the books in the sets, and with the money, should be spelled out in the contract.

Is there anything to worry about? In every area of life there can be things to worry about.  While scammers are rare, a huge scam occurred last fall where a woman ran the equivalent of a boxed-set Ponzi scheme. She didn’t ask for any money up-front and organized a couple of successful boxed sets for authors, paying out and everything. Then, with her good reputaton there, she organized multiple boxed sets, asked for nothing up front and told authors she would pay them quarterly. Well, the sets made tens of thousands of dollars, much of it paid by Amazon monthly (after two months). The authors waiting for that quarterly payment saw nothing and the organizer disappeared into the wind with all the cash. The authors got Amazon to pull the sets so the scammer couldn’t profit from their hard work any longer, but the cash collected by the scammer already was gone. You can watch this Self-Publishing Round Table video where some of the authors impacted discussed the situation. They all note this was incredibly unusual. If you’ve never been in a boxed set before, be sure to look for a reputable organizer. If the boxed set organizer is an author who has been around for a long time with several successful books and a good reputation, then that’s a good sign. The scammer involved in the cited incident didn’t have a long track record, and therefore had little to lose. Also, if you know the other authors well and on a personal level, that’s a good sign, too. If you don’t feel comfortable with the organizer, don’t join the set. Feel free to ask around about any organizer of a boxed set.

So, that is the skinny on boxed sets. With this information in mind, go forth and join a set, if you’re interested.

Author: RJ Crayton

RJ Crayton is a former journalist turned novelist. By day, she writes thrillers with a touch of romance. By night, she practices the art of ninja mom. To learn more about her or her books, visit her website or her Author Central page.

20 thoughts on “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Multi-Author Boxed Set”

    1. Thanks. The world of boxed sets can be complex. I hadn’t really known much about them until I did one and then joined some FB groups that discussed them. If you find a good set, it can be helpful.

  1. I didn’t even know this kind of thing existed. I’ll keep my eyes open for boxed sets from now on. sounds like a good promotional technique.

    1. Yes, definitely keep your eyes open for them. They’re great for linking you to “whale” readers (those who read 10-20 books per month). Because they’re so voracious, they like boxed sets, will actually read all the books (or at least start each book; they tend to know quickly if they won’t like it and bag out on it), and they go on to buy from new authors they find in the set.

  2. Timely post, RJ.
    I’m currently in a box set aimed at making a list, Death, Lies and Duct Tape.
    14 authors, 14 crime thrillers – pre-order and first week price = 99c.
    We go live on May 30th.

    🙂

  3. I’d be open to such a plan, but my mailing list is small and I don’t know anyone who writes books similar to mine. But thanks for the idea, RJ 🙂

    1. I’m sure somebody writes in the same category. It can be broader if you write very niche. Some boxed sets I’ve seen cross genre, doing both sci-fi and fantasy. But, you just need a broad category, the same type of category you’d use for Amazon (romance, mystery). You can also just have an archetype. For example, I saw a romance boxed set called Bad Boys or something similar. So, it could be contemporary, historical, whatever. The main love interest was a bad boy. If you’re looking to organize a set, it’s just a matter of thinking of the common thread you want for your books.

    1. Thanks for the information. I learnt some new things today, first time for me. I would love to join one in time to come but i dont know of any authors who write about my category.

      Can i use this info to put on my personal website?

      1. Monica,

        I believe the IU policy is that you must link to the article. I believe you can copy a couple of example paragraphs, but you need to link back to this post. I’m going to flag the administrator to double check the policy.

        1. Hi Monica, Thanks for wanting to share the article – we would love that. You’re welcome to repost the first few paragraphs with a link to the rest of the article here. We really appreciate that!

          Thanks, Kat – Admin.

    2. Thanks, AC. And you’re right about the logistics; they can be a mess. That’s why it’s helpful to have a seasoned organizer. If someone knows the authors and wants to put a set together, it is doable, but it can be a bit of a learning curve.

  4. RJ, thank you for the post and sharing all the info on joining boxed sets. I am trying one out with a short story now. I was only paid $25 for my story, but did it for the exposure. Aberrant Literature will have exclusivity for one year, then I can self-publish my short again.

    You have provided a lot of useful information here. Thank you again.

  5. I know you’re trying to report neutrally, so here’s my advocacy position, that many authors disagree with but I hope more come to see is correct and best for everyone:

    A box set intending to make lists (“make your letters” in parlance) is unethical baloney. And by baloney, I mean something much more smelly.

    Forming a team of 10 or 20 or even 99 (yes, some have done this) authors to make an enormous box set and try to make a bestseller list is like putting 99 people on one side of the court at Wimbledon. It’s gaming the system to the breaking point, and it’s reason #1 why the NYT and others have started to (thankfully) disallow this cheesy tactic.

    Just because something can be done, doesn’t mean it should be.

    But wait, people say. Big publishers have used system-gaming tactics too. They put out the word for people to buy books during week 1 and give them away to friends. Some have even sent undercover buyers with their money to buy books they never read, and then they can return next week–after the list has already been made. And they have a marketing team, when these indies only have themselves.

    But two wrongs don’t make a right. Letters garnered merely with a box set do not represent what is implicit in making a bestseller list; namely, writing a book that catches fire and goes viral among readers to the point where it becomes a legitimate bestseller on its own merits.

    But who cares, right? It’s just a thing and if you can do it, do it! If you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin’!

    Yet any time anyone, regardless of the actual sales or popularity of the work alone (remember, with 20+ books in a set, even the worst material inside gets to be a “bestseller”*) can suddenly make it easier to get a certain award or stamp of approval, it cheapens the distinction for those who did it legitimately.

    If a ten-person team could join together and win an Olympic gold for weightlifting, it cheapens the real weightlifter’s medal. In fact, in time it makes it nearly worthless. Everything gets an asterisk.

    Note: I’m all for box sets for the other two legitimate reasons: discoverability and making money. I have run box sets myself for these purposes, but never in hopes of getting letters. If you as an author join a box set trying to make letters, you’re treading on very shaky ethical ground. If that were not so, the NYT and others would not have begun disallowing box sets and even ebooks in their calculations, and Amazon and other vendors would not have begun closing the accounts of some of the worst offenders.

    And, if you pay $4000.00 or more (yes, I know people who have paid that much to join box sets with the intention of making a list) and join together with 20+ authors under a shady organizer, that organizer suddenly has control of tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars of your money. There have been very credible reports of unethical dealings, inability to get refunds, sales practices that violate Amazon terms of service (such as illegal lottery giveaways or click bot farms) in these kinds of box sets. The more money in the pool, the bigger the temptation and incentive to use gray-hat or black-hat practices to underhandedly manipulate a list.

    Bottom line, fellow authors, it’s a slippery slope. When joining box sets, be sure of what you’re getting into; check with the reputation of the organizer and get reports from real people who have used that organizer before; do not get into box sets for “letters;” do not pay large amounts of money chasing highflown promises of magical success, and do not do things that are unethical and risk the vendors and publishers blacklisting you or closing your accounts–or even getting sued.

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