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The Collection Book by Rochelle Melander

Are you a collector? As a child, I collected rocks. I was so dedicated to my extensive collection that when we moved to a new house (which we did often) or a new town (which we did once), I packed up my rocks and moved them with me. In high school I collected clowns and in my 20s I started collecting turtles. I’ve also been collecting quotes for years. Only recently have I considered turning that collection into a book.

A collection book is a close cousin of the list book. In the list book, the writer gathers together a list of items that go together such as books to read or places to visit. In some of these list books, the writer adds an essay on each. In a collection book, the writer collects together quotes, prayers, or inspiration from a specific source or on a theme. In Write-A-Thon, I said this about the collection book: “These books can be wildly popular because they are easy to read and great for nabbing quotes for speeches, reports, and dinner party conversation.”

Popular examples of collection books. If you can imagine it, you can probably find it collected in a book. Over the years, authors have collected toasts, tools, sayings, and mistakes together in books to help, delight, or disgust their readers. Here are three of the most popular kinds of collection books:

Quote books: If you’ve ever looked for a quote to begin a speech or a chapter, you’ve no doubt checked out a quote book (or site). Probably one of my favorite books of quotes comes from Amy Gash: What the Doormouse Said: Lessons for Grown-Ups From Children’s Books. These thematically arranged quotes come from popular and obscure children’s books and relate to many of the crises of life.

Prayer Books: Ministers, politicians, and others who offer public and private blessings often turn to one of the many books of prayers on the market. Barbara Bartocci has created a whole series of short prayer books under the title Grace on the Go. Each brief book of prayers is geared toward a different market—dieters, financial worriers, or people in grief.

Joke books. Need a joke you can take to work or the family dinner party? My kids have several collections of joke, riddle, and tongue twister books that we have found both fun and irritating over the years. (How many knock-knock jokes can you listen to before you want to pull out your hair?) My favorite joke books have been the Cake Wrecks series, which show cake mistakes: Cake Wrecks: When Professional Cakes go Seriously Wrong.

Should You Write a Collection Book?

No doubt you’ve seen these books in stores and thought, “I could’ve done that!” or “Why didn’t I think of that?” Now you have your chance to add your own brilliant collection book to the market. But before you sink time and money into the collection book project, consider these questions:

1. Does my topic fit the collection book format? Just like with the list book, you will need to consider whether the information you have is best conveyed in a collection book. You’ll also need to decide if you have enough material for a whole book or if the idea is better suited to a blog post or article.

2. Has it been done before? In this day and age, it’s rare to think up a brand new, never-been-done book idea. In fact, you kind of hope your idea has been done before and sold well—because that shows you that there is an audience for your book. On the other hand, you want to make sure that the market is not flooded with these types of books. So, how do you discover this? Check out the collection books that are already out there in your niche. Look at their sales numbers on popular online sites. Finally, ask a few booksellers about how these books sell and whether there is room for a new one on the market.

3. In what ways is my idea fresh and unique? In order to outsell the collection books in your niche already on the market, you need to show publishers or buyers that your book is different and better. Before you begin, make a list of all of the ways your book will add value to your readers. Before you begin writing, you want to know that readers will buy your book over all of the other books of its kind on the market.

4. Are there people publishing collection books that might be interested in my idea? If you have your heart set on writing a collection book but don’t want to jump through the hoops of a traditional publisher, one way to get into the genre is to look for book packagers that create and publish series of collection books. Send in your resume and a letter of introduction, expressing your interest in researching and writing collection books.

Writing your collection book. 

The collection book can be a great project to write fast especially if you have a fun, timely idea. Jacob Weisberg of Slate magazine has put out a series of collection books based on the gaffes of politicians: George W. Bushisms: The Slate Book of the Actual Wit and Wisdom of our 43rd President and Palinisms: The Accidental Wit and Wisdom of Sarah Palin.

The collection book can also start as an online blog project. Several recent collection books (like the Cake Wrecks series) got their start as popular blogs:

The Book of “Unnecessary” Quotation Marks: A Celebration of Creative Punctuation by Bethany Keeley

Damn You, Autocorrect!: Awesomely Embarrassingly Text Messages You Didn’t Mean to Send by Jillian Madison

Awkward Family Photos by Mike Bender and Doug Chernack

Another way to write a collection book can be slowly, over the course of years of collecting quotes, prayers, wisdom, or some other gem that no one has thought of yet!

Your turn: What’s your favorite collection book? Have you considered writing one?



2 Responses

  1. Oren

    I liked this post, and I have a question related to it.

    I’ve recently thought of writing a book that would include a lot of people’s answer to a particular question. I don’t plan the whole book to be a collection of one-liners but rather a collection of more elaborative thoughts that could span 1-10 pages. Would that still qualify as a collection? Is there another classification that is more fitting?

    1. writenowcoach

      I think that would be classified as either a collection book or perhaps an anthology. Sounds like an interesting project!

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