Putting Together a Collection of Shorts

As readers of Writer Unboxed know, I’ve recently launched myself into a bit of an adventure through founding my own micro-publisher, Sixteen Press. My first Sixteen Press e-book, a collection of my fantasy/supernatural short stories for a crossover readership (adult and young adult) titled The Great Deep and other Tales of the Uncanny, is now available to buy in both Amazon’s Kindle Store and the Kobo bookstore, with other platforms to follow when I get round to it.

The reason I chose a collection of short stories for my first Sixteen Press book is that these have all been published individually before, in anthologies and magazines, but never before published together. They have all been properly edited and have proven themselves with readers individually, are linked by genre—fantasy and the supernatural—and even thematically, in some ways. So all in all they seemed like a naturally elegant fit, and a collection of short fiction the best thing to start with. Then I got thinking; why not do more of these types of collections, not only fiction, but non-fiction? Like most professional authors, I’ve written lots and lots of shorts, fiction and non-fiction, and though I’ve had a book of essays, Life, Literature, Legends published recently in handsome hardcover by a small publisher in Australia which has been very well-reviewed,  plus an earlier softcover POD collection of my short stories and essays, Walking in the Garden of the Mind, published by another Australian small press, I’m not holding my breath that there is going to be a big demand from publishers for more collections of shorts of mine. Yet I think there’s a definite market for them, and not just in Australia but internationally. So I’ve decided that’s what I’ll concentrate on, with Sixteen Press: collections of my shorts, fiction and non-fiction, and across different age ranges. It also fits in well with the rest of my published works, by not being in competition to them but extending my possibilities at the same time.

The experience of e-publishing is not what I want to cover in this post, though, but, rather, passing on tips about how to put together a collection of shorts for publication. I’ve had a fair bit of experience in that: not only was it me who chose the pieces in all these collections, including the ones released by the other publishers, but I was also creator, editor and compiler of The Road to Camelot (Random House Australia) an anthology of short stories about the childhood of characters from Arthurian legend, to which some of Australia’s best writers of fantasy contributed. (You can now also buy this book as an e-edition on Amazon and other e-tailers.) So here’s some of what I learned:

  • *Whether your collection includes fiction or non-fiction shorts, it is more deeply satisfying for the reader if there is a kind of theme, however broad, than if you are merely putting together a collection of your shorts chronologically(say) or without a theme. In The Great Deep and Other Tales of the Uncanny, the sudden eruption of the unexpected and supernatural into ordinary lives forms a common thread, and certain watery elements also, as of course does the genre of fantasy/paranormal. In Life, Literature, Legends, the collection is arranged in exactly those three categories, non-fiction pieces I wrote over fifteen years and chose on the basis that they are either memoir pieces, pieces about books and writers, and pieces about folklore and legend, both ancient and modern. Basing a collection around a theme gives a coherent structure and rich texture which can give to a collection of shorts the same kind of reading satisfaction as a novel, in that you feel you really are entering into the writer’s world.
  • Themes don’t however need to be too strictly interpreted, unless you’ve got something very particular in mind(for instance, if you’ve written a number of stories about recurring characters or settings): what you’re aiming for is that rich and involving atmosphere I mention above.
  • Basing a collection around something very particular though, like I did in The Road to Camelot anthology(and am planning to do with two books of non-fiction shorts, one on writing, one on food)has a great many pleasures but also pitfalls—principal of which is not repeating yourself! In  Road to Camelot, that was easy, as we had 14 different contributors—each of whom chose a character from a list—first come, first served—so there would be no repetition. But when it’s just your own work in a collection, you need to avoid echoing yourself too much.
  • Though keeping to a broad theme and/or genre is a good idea, you don’t need to keep to the same feel or style—in The Great Deep and Other Tales of the Uncanny collection, for example, I’ve mixed elements of drama, suspense, mystery and horror with romance and humour.
  • You can mix fiction and non-fiction as long as they’re in the same genre—for instance, Walking in the Garden of the Mind had both essays and short stories, but they were all linked by the fact they were all about folklore/fantasy themes.
  • Length is up to you, but I do think it’s better, with non-fiction, to have a good mix of long pieces with some shorter ones to yeast the cake, as it were. Lots of long pieces without shorter ones is too heavy; but too many short shorts without the luxury of long is to my mind not a satisfying reading experience, and makes you forget individual pieces too quickly.
  • In fiction it is slightly different: short shorts can certainly be mixed in with the longer stories, but I think very sparingly. Micro-stories can certainly work but are better used as a spice than as a main course.  And in purely practical terms, readers looking to buy your collection will also be looking at value for money, and too many short pieces and not enough pages don’t give the right impression.
  • If you can, collect shorts that have been published before, whether in print or digitally/online, as they’ve already passed the reader test–though it can also be a good idea to include one or two previously unpublished but rigorously edited pieces as well.
  • Write a preface or introduction to your collection. But make it engaging and informative, without abstractions. Readers will probably skip over it anyway at first and only go back to reading it afterwards.

Image by Fuel.

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About Sophie Masson

Sophie Masson has published more than fifty novels internationally since 1990, mainly for children and young adults. A bilingual French and English speaker, raised mostly in Australia, she has a master’s degree in French and English literature. Sophie's new e-book on authorship, By the Book: Tips of the Trade for Writers, is available at Australian Society of Authors.

Comments

  1. says

    Thank you for the information; we have no prior experience in publishing an anthology of short stories, but since we do wish to do so in the future, your advice will come in handy.

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  2. says

    Sophie,
    Thanks for sharing your experience in publishing a short story anthology. Sadly the market for short stories is drying up, but I think in today’s fast-paced world, readers are looking for compelling stories they can digest when they only have an hour or so to read. Your advice is very useful. Thanks again.

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  3. says

    These are great tips! I’m just working on getting some short stories completed. I like the idea of having a theme that unites them in some way. I’m bookmarking this post for future reference! Thanks!!

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  4. Ceejae says

    Thank you for this post. I am currently working on a series of short stories and essays so, as I read your article, I checked to see if I had done what you listed.

    I have a question. Could you please share the total word count of your anthology? What is a normal range?

    Also, I have heard that it is best not to have published work prior to submitting to a publisher, so assuming your mention about using published work is for others who will be self-publishing.

    Thank you for your time,
    Ceejae

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    • Sophie Masson says

      Hi Ceejae, haven’t got word total right to hand as I’m away from my computer, but my book is 146 pages long, most of the stories are around 2,500-3,000 words, a couple about 1,000-1,500.
      What I meant by previously published stories is that all these have been published individually in anthologies and magazines, and it’s the collection itself that’s new. I’m an established writer with many publications to my name and a collection like this doesn’t interfere with my normal publishing program, but if that wasn’t the case, I don’t think a collection like this would harm your chances of being published. It provides a kind of showcase, esp if what you’re pitching to the publisher is NOT the collection but, say, a novel. Hope that helps.

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      • Ceejae Devine says

        I am pitching the collection of short stories and essays. There are about 30, ranging from 500 words to 2600, averaging 1,000, so I am just over 40,000 words. I have been told you should not pitch less than 50,000.

        I have some other material, but it is a little different in theme, so trying to figure out what to do. I might be able to generate a couple more short stories from other events, but was at a writer’s conference and a couple are willing to review my work so I don’t want to wait too long to submit.

        Appreciate your time and any other comments,
        Ceejae

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  5. says

    I’ve been working on putting together a collection and was also wondering what the overall size should be. Would you agree with the 50,000 words that Ceejae Devine mentions?

    I’m glad to have found your blog, thanks for the information.
    Jim

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  6. says

    Hi Jim
    50,000 words is what some publishers may say as a lower limit; others are happy with less–shorter books are becoming more common, esp in e-publishing. I really don’t think there are hard and fast rules. You have to go with your own feeling on what fits in your collection. And of course if you’re publishing your own book you can set your own limit. what I would advise though is to look at similar collections published already and get a feel for what works in different genres–ie whether you’re putting together short stories, essays, journalistic pieces etc.

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