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.