Creating a Short Story Collection

Four MothersMany authors write the occasional short story, but because of their length, may not want to sell them as a single item.

A short story collection is a great way to release some shorts with a word count that makes the price reasonable.

Creating a short story collection is a little different from creating a traditional novel, so here are a few things to consider:

Collection theme. It’s good to have a general theme for the collection. That helps ground readers in what they’re getting and solidifies the reason the stories are together. A tagline that expresses the gist of your theme can also help quickly sum up the collection in potential readers’ minds. For example, if your collection theme is mysteries, you could use a tagline like, “Mysteries to keep you up all night.” If the theme is cozy mysteries, maybe you use something like, “Cozy up for a night of intrigue.”

Introductions & TOCs. An introduction is often appropriate for collections. It only has to be about a paragraph and should let the reader know the general theme of the collection. While some people don’t believe a table of contents is necessary in novels, I think a short story collection should have one. TOCs let readers know all the stories in the collection. They also allow readers to easily pick a story they want to start with. If that’s the way they like to read collections, they should easily be able to get to the story they want to read first.

Story order. While this may seem insignificant, story order does matter. You want to lead with one of your strongest stories, one that readers will devour so quickly they’ll want to keep reading all the rest. Of course, all the titles in the collection should be good, but it’s important to start strong. In looking at short story collections for sale on Amazon, many collections’ one-star reviews indicated the first story the reviewer read was poor. On one collection I saw, a 4-star reviewer noted implored others to give the collection a chance because it starts off weakly. That’s not what any author wants. Saving the best for last doesn’t work in books, because readers tend not to wait that long. (I know I mentioned skippers earlier, but for every person who likes to skip around there’s another who likes to start at the beginning and move to the end.)

Book Description. Because it’s a collection of stories, you can’t write the typical linear narrative you would craft for a novel description. Short story collection descriptions vary in method, but the first thing you’ll want to do is start with your theme. This is where your tagline can come in handy. Then, provide a few sentences that describe some of the tales in the collection. If you have 25 stories, you can’t describe them all. Pick a few. Some collections list the title of all the stories in the bottom part of the product description (mainly when there are multiple authors); others choose to leave that information to the book’s Table of Contents.

Cover. As always, check to see what other covers look like for your genre. Romance collections look different from horror. People have varying opinions on this, but I think it’s important to say it’s a short story collection on the cover. Readers should look at the description, but sometimes they don’t. It’s best to avoid confusion with a little clarity on the cover.

Promoting Your Other Work. One thing marketers suggest is to promote your other work at the end of your book. One way is to put an excerpt from another novel at the end of the newest work. With short story collections, you have to make an extra assessment before deciding if and how much of an excerpt to provide. If the short story collection is very short, you’ll probably want to include as minimal an excerpt as possible or no excerpt. While writers like to promote the excerpt as “bonus material,” readers sometimes feel cheated if half the length of the eBook is an excerpt from another work. The longer your collection is, the more comfortable you can feel adding a short opening chapter from one of your other novels at the end. The shorter your collection, the more you may want to think about it.

Those were the major things to look out for when dealing with short story collections.

Author: RJ Crayton

RJ Crayton is a former journalist turned novelist. By day, she writes thrillers with a touch of romance. By night, she practices the art of ninja mom. To learn more about her or her books, visit her website or her Author Central page.

21 thoughts on “Creating a Short Story Collection”

  1. Good tips, RJ. I’m actually finishing up a longish short story (12,000 words). I plan to release it as a standalone (I’ve seen this done), but I’ll make sure readers know that’s what it is, so they don’t feel cheated.

  2. Thanks RJ. I’m working on a collection of Hillbilly Savant essays that average about 2000 words each. I would classify them as philosophical creative nonfiction. I have an outline of about 60 essays with 13 written and plan to release this in two or more volumes. Do you have any advice about a good length for each book?

    1. Richard, I think you wouldn’t want a short story collection to be too much longer than a single novel you would publish. So, if your average novel you write is around 80,000 words, I would keep each volume to around that length and sell it at the same price you’d sell a novel.

      If the goal of the essays is to introduce people to your work, you could do with making the volume shorter, 15-25k words, and selling it for 99 cents. It just depends on how you want the short story collection to fit in your overall body of work. You could do a hybrid approach and have the first volume in the collection be a short introductory one you charge 99 cents for and make the rest full length and charge full price.

      But, I don’t do a ton with narrative nonfiction, so you may want to check with some authors who do that to see what price point/size they have found to work well.

      1. Thanks for your advice RJ. I don’t write fiction and have no plans to write a novel. My new book due out in December, Bountiful Bonsai, is 30k words but also has 100 pictures. The proposal I’m currently preparing for my agent will be less picture driven and the book will be about 50k words when written.

        I believe these essays will be the most significant work I do. This will be my first self published work as my others are traditional print with large publishers. I was thinking 50k at 2.99 and will produce some as paperbacks so I can also sell them at book signings for my print books.

        From what I’ve learned here at IU about marketing, I think a shorter volume at .99 would be a good way to introduce my essays. Thanks again for your suggestions. I truly value this group and have learned a lot here even though my writing experience is different than most authors here.

    1. PDR, thanks for sharing that. I’m curious, what genre do you write? And what price point have you found that works well for your single shorts?

  3. Thanks, RJ. Reading your post had me thinking about publishing some of my shorts, but they are nothing like my novels. They are for an adult readership so I’m still wondering how to go about that.

    1. I have a friend who publishes YA and he just published an erotica title under a pen name because he didn’t want the two associated with each other. So, a pen name is always an option, but of course you end up having to start from scratch promotion wise. If your work is just different, not diametrically opposed (where readers of one type of work would be offended by the other), then you could use a pen name that’s a variation of your main name. (They abbreviate their first name or last name, so it’s similar; like you could be Dana Fur). I’ve seen that with a couple of authors when they are just trying to let their readers know the work is different, but they’re not trying to stamp out an association. This is pretty common in romance. If you Google romance writers, you’ll find many with pseudonyms based on the type of novel it is, contemporary may use one name while erotic use another.

      Or you could just identify it on your website as “Adult books.” My daughter has fallen in love with a set of books about a girl named Sassy. When we checked out the author’s site, she has all her books listed by section: young readers, tweens, powerful reads for teens, and for Teachers. So, she writes in various genres, all under the same name.

      1. That’s a great idea. They’re just Fiction shorts, people killing people, lol, not Erotica. Younger readers probably wouldn’t like them.

        Thanks heaps for that, RJ.

  4. All great points. My only pet peeve is when I download a short eBook and the back matter eclipses the length of what comes before it! I downloaded your short stories last week and hope to be able to give them a read soon 🙂

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