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 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 can be very difficult to sell.
Don’t let these warnings thoroughly discourage you from trying to get your short story collection published—there are a few things you can do to increase your chances!
Self-publish. Knowing the odds (and the nightmare submitting a short story collection to literary agents can be), many writers choose to self-publish right from the start. For a book of a unique format, such as a short story collection, self-publishing can be a perfect answer for writers because it allows total autonomy over the process of publishing and marketing—and if your stories fall under one of the most popular self-published genres, all the better!
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. Additionally, know that 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! Finally, feel free to contact Self-Publishing Relief if you’re interested in taking control over the publishing destiny of your short story collection.
How to sell a short story collection: this article is well-written and informative. Thanks, Gilda Haber, PhD
quite a rich, and focused! thanks!
This article is very helpful to writers who are keen to publish their work. Thank you!
I have six short stories being published, in reputable literary journals, in the month of May 2013 alone. That makes seven stories this year already and I had six stories published last year, with more in the years before that. Some of the stories have been published three and four times. The publications run from Playboy to Fiction International. It would seem to me that this is beyond subjectivism. Obviously, my work is being accepted and read. I know it is time for some of this work to be put into a collection, but I am still at a loss as to how to do this without wasting a tremendous amount of time and energy.
Impressive. Do what I’m doing right now, google short story collection, literary agency (together) and compile a list of all leads and then query them about your collection. The fact you have so many published in the last two years will get someone’s attention. An agent might find you from one of your published stories, but they might not either. So do some legwork, compile a list of agencies/agent who accept ss collections and query them. At the same time, enter your collection in various short story collection competitions, like Drue Heinz. Good luck.
I got the information I wanted.
You have given fresh ideas for new authors to get accepted by publishers. However, the cost of marketing and selling agents are an additional burden for the self-published authors who cannot afford to pay for printing their works. Consequently, they get assurance but no return on their small investment. Dr Nazir Ahmad Ph.D.(London)
My friend loves to write short stories and I think it would be great for her to be able to get them out there. So, I decided to look up ways she could get her stories out in the world. That is a great idea to enter competitions! That would definitely help boost her confidence and she can put that on her resume if she decides to try and publish. Thanks for the tips!
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