At Writer’s Relief, we’re approached by countless writers every year who want help submitting their short story collections to literary agents. The short story is an exciting literary form that many writers have mastered, but few writers truly understand how to get a collection of short stories published.
It takes talent and practice to make short stories work. Some novelists begin their careers with stories and work their way up to longer forms (novels or memoirs). Other writers prefer to work in the short form and eventually find themselves with a stack of stories inches high, wondering, “Why not turn my short stories into a collection?”
Short stories are becoming increasingly popular, not only because they are mini works of art, but also because busy people have shorter attention spans. There are hundreds of literary magazines and journals looking to publish individual stories (and Writer’s Relief keeps tabs on all of them), but finding a home for a collection of short stories is no easy task.
Major publishers want novels because they sell, and they infrequently consider novellas or collections of short stories. Short story collections are harder to place because editors are unwilling to take chances on unknown writers; unless you’re Alice Munro or William Faulkner, you will find it considerably more difficult to sell your work.
Before you protest about the number of successful anthologies on the market, be aware that anthologies are generally collections of stories by a number of different authors—collections appealing to those who are looking for a particular theme or subject matter. Anthologies of work by a single, unknown author are very difficult to sell.
Many writers get frustrated and end up self-publishing their work, especially if they’re simply looking for limited quantities to give to family and friends. But for a writer looking to sell a decent number of books and see his or her collection at the major bookstores, the marketing process can be a nightmare. When you self-publish, you are responsible for nearly all the marketing and publicity efforts.
Don’t let us thoroughly discourage you from trying to get your short story collection published—there are some things you can do to increase your chances.
Publish selected works. It’s easier to sell a collection if you’ve had at least a few short stories previously published in reputable literary journals. Submit individual stories to quality magazines on a regular basis, and with each publication credit, your credibility will increase.
At Writer’s Relief we highly recommend that writers build their credits first rather than approach literary agents with a group of unpublished stories. National exposure in quality magazines is key to attracting an agent’s attention.
Theme. It also helps if the stories have a common theme or subject to tie them together. James Herriot was a country vet, not an aspiring author, but his collection of stories had a cohesive theme, and the series is still popular today.
Go for a novel. Some agents recommend scrapping the whole idea of a collection and refashioning it into a novel. They might also recommend selling the collection as part of a two-book deal, with the story collection designed to generate interest in the second book, which would be an actual novel.
Enter as many short story writing competitions as possible. An award-winning story can land a publishing deal. It can also boost a writer’s self-confidence—always a bonus.
Consider small presses. There are far more small presses than big publishing houses, and they tend to specialize in niche marketing. They also tend to publish out of love for the genre and may be more receptive to a short story collection if they love the quality of your work.
Get a literary agent. If you have an agent, your chances of selling a collection are better than for unagented writers. To be a writer who gets an agent for a short story collection, you’ll need a strong bio. Also it may help in your query letter to mention that you have a novel in the works.
Get schooled. Short story collections are far easier to sell when their authors have top-notch credentials: publication credits in quality magazines, awards, grants. Graduating from a quality MFA program is a plus as well.
To learn more, check out How To Write A Query Letter For A Short Story Collection. We help writers submit their individual stories for publication because we’ve found it’s the best way to help writers improve their bios (so that they can be competitive when approaching literary agents). If you would like Writer’s Relief to help you submit your individual short stories for publication, or if you would like us to consider working with you on a collection, give us a call!