Tuesday, June 18, 2019

How does one actually write a query letter for a short story collection?

How does one actually write a query letter for a short story collection? Query letters don't come handily to me in the first place, but compounding it with trying to highlight the best aspects of already-published stories while also hinting at new stock just eludes me in the absence of examples.

Also, how does one send pages? If the query criteria are "the first ten pages", I've got short stories that fit that. If it says "the first three chapters", I'd assume that's three stories but. You know what happens when you assume!

In all, I've had 14 short stories published and have at least five more forthcoming in 2019, with yet more on submission. One of my stories made it onto the Nebula recommended reading list in 2017 and another story was a Baen Fantasy Adventure Award finalist. So I'm confident that I've got enough stories to make a good collection, but not confident enough to just kind of wing it when it comes to the query letter.

First, make sure you have a novel ready to go as well.
Oops, didn't know that part did you?

An agent friend of mine sells a lot of literary fiction: short stories and novels.
She always laughed about the fact that when she went out with a collection, the editor always asked if there was a novel too.

So, heads up on that.

Smaller genre publishers may well have different take on "you need a novel."

It's essential that a hefty percentage of the stories have been published but you will need new content as well.

You query stories by talking about the narrative arc that defines the collection.
You list the story title, and where it was first published and the word count.
You list the NEW stories, and their word count.

Include one story with the query. Don't worry about page count but don't send a novella.


K. White said...

I was surprised that a short story collection could be queried. I'd heard only authors with several successful novels would be offered the opportunity. And even then it's rare because short story collections notoriously don't sell well. I'm a little shocked, but also hopeful, that a debut author can sell a collection.

Amy Johnson said...

Best wishes for success with your story collection, OP, and congratulations on your publishing success so far. I've got a game of "Guess the OP" going this morning. I'm not certain, but I have a guess. I'll be excitedly checking the comments to see if OP reveals her/himself. Such fun!

Kitty said...

What K. White said.

Craig F said...

I, too, have to agree with K. White.

I really can't think of any short story anthology that happened without the author already riding the publishing wave. Getting all they can out of the curl.

The anthology pool seems too small to create a ride able wave.

John Davis Frain said...

OTOH, the whole world is moving toward smaller, bite-sized chunks in just about every aspect you can think of. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule (American cars, and we won't go all Freudian on that), but a collection of flash fiction for people to gobble up at red lights won't surprise me. They can download a story while they wait in line for French fries.

I think you're on the cutting edge, OP. Way to be ready for the rest of the writing world to catch up.

Sam Mills said...

I don't know the literary side, but short story only writers do happen in SFF! Ted Chiang is the biggest example, but there are a lot of other short writers with followings who get small press collections.

Casual-T said...

Very interesting (and rather educational) topic. I’ve been working on a collection of stories and poems for some time, but, understanding that collections don’t sell (for debut authors), figured I’d keep it on the backburner until my first seven novels had gone certified platinum. I’m currently WIP-ing on my first... Shouldn’t be too long... Should it?

Colin Smith said...

Those who have dabbled in various sizes of story (which I'm sure includes many of the Reiders) know that each one is its own distinct discipline. Some writers successfully bounce between novels as shorts (e.g., Neil Gaiman, Stephen King). Some find their niche in flash fiction and never seem to be able to go beyond that 500-1,000 word threshold. Others can novel but can't short story, and vice versa.

And it's all good. You may be a wonderful novelist and never won any of Janet's contests. That's okay. Some contest winners may be struggling with their novels.

All this to say, there should be room in publishing for all story types. Right now, as Janet says, the big publishers are more interested in debut novels than debut story collections. So if shorts are your thing, you may be looking at small publishers, or even indie publishing--at least for now. Things might change, and they often do.

But be encouraged, OP! :)

Beth Carpenter said...

OP, I'm rooting for you. I've always loved short story collections. When life is busy, I being able to finish a short story in one or two nights of bedtime reading. Now you just need the novel...

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Okay, I confess, it was me!

It doesn't really surprise me that an editor would also want a novel ready, though if I considered any of my novels "ready", I wouldn't have considered the gymnastics of querying a short story collection!

Though the good news is, I started a readthrough of the novel that I think I would like to be ready for querying and so far it doesn't have things I want to leap at and fix? So we'll see how things play out.

Thank you, Janet, as always!

MA Hudson said...

Good luck Jennifer - sounds like you've got lots of fodder for an interested agent. I'm not surprised either, by publishers wanting a novel first. Personally, I love the longer format and would only ever pick up a book of short stories if I already knew and liked the author's novel/s.

AJ Blythe said...

Good luck, Jennifer. Sounds like you might have the requisite novel too...

I'm with MA. I read anthology's, but usually only if I already read the author's novels.

Amy Johnson said...

Hooray! Jennifer, you were my guess for "Guess the OP." I hope all goes great with your short story collection and your novel.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Amy happy to prove you right! That's such a great feeling, isn't it? :)

And thank you, fellow Reiders, for the well wishes! I'll let you know how it goes!

Also, I don't know if any of you remember my short story "Daddy's Girl" (first published in Syntax & Salt), but it's been reprinted in StarShipSofa with a fantastic reader, if you're interested!