Tuesday, March 16, 2021

How to Publish Your Own Short Story Collection

By Rayne Hall, @RayneHall

Part of the Focus on Short Fiction Series

JH: If you have a lot of short stories written, publishing a collection might be a great idea. Rayne Hall shares tips on how to publish a successful short story collection.

Do you want to gather your short stories in a book? Here are insider tips for publishing a successful short story collection. Whether you’re looking for an agent or publisher, or plan to self-publish, these tips will put you ahead of the game.

1. Stick to one genre

Short story collections sell best if they focus on one genre, for example, romance, fantasy, historical or horror. Collections within a sub-genre are even more popular, e.g. paranormal romance, urban fantasy, mediaeval historical or psychological horror.

This is because most readers look for their next read in their favorite genre. Rather than browsing thousands of published short story collections, they go straight to the 'romance' category, or type 'paranormal romance stories' in the search box.

So if you write both romance and horror stories, don't put them in the same book.

Professional tip: Collections within sub-genres—or even sub-sub-genres—have the best chance of getting discovered by readers.

(Here’s more with Is It a Genre That Starts With F? Breaking Down Genres)

2. Choose a theme

Story collections with a theme sell much better than those without one. A theme could be, for example: Seaside, Mother's Day, Italy or Animal Rescue.

Readers love stories about their favorite subjects. People who are passionate about pets will be drawn to a book with stories of animal rescues, while readers with fond memories of Italy will reach for the collection of stories set in Italy. Themed story collections are also popular as gift books: "What can we give Suzie for her birthday? She's a bookworm and loves the seaside. Let's get her a book with seaside stories!"

Seasonal themes can work well. You could create a collection of stories about Valentine's Day, Easter, Mother's Day, Christmas, Hanukkah, Eid, Beltane or Halloween.

Professional tip: Your story collection's success potential will multiply if it has both a genre and a theme.

(Here’s more with What Every Writer Should Know About Theme)

3. Get enough stories

In the early days of e-book publishing, small collections with three to five pieces were popular, but over recent years, readers have come to expect more stories in a book. Aim to get at least eight tales for your collection. Better still, get ten, twelve or twenty.

What if you don't have enough stories? Write more!

You may also be able to rewrite some of your old stories so they match the genre. Let's say you need another romance. If you have a horror manuscript which includes a romantic element, consider rewriting that story so the romance aspect is stronger.

Another possibility is to include stories by another author. Perhaps you have a friend who pens stories in the same genre, writes well and would be happy to be included. In this case, you'll be co-authors of the book, e.g. Biting Love: Twelve Paranormal Romance Stories by Suzie Scrybe and Klaus Schreiber.

Professional tip: If you work with a co-author, put your agreement in writing: responsibilities (who does what), payment (if any) rights (who will own the copyright to the stories). The most practical arrangement is that you own the copyright for the book as a whole, but your co-author keeps the copyright to their stories and is free to publish them elsewhere.

4. Aim for high quality

Make your stories as good as you can before you publish the book or submit the manuscript to agents and publishers. Don't settle for second-rate work, neither from yourself nor from your co-author.

If you have a co-author, you can critique each other's contributions.

Professional tip: Find readers who love that genre, invite them to beta-read the manuscript, and ask for their constructive criticism.

(Here’s more with The Spit Shine: Things to Check Before You Submit (or Publish) Your Novel)

5. Present the stories in the best order

The first story in the book is the one viewers see when they click the 'look inside' or 'download free sample' buttons. Choose a story that starts with a powerful hook to draw readers in.

The last story leaves the final impression. Pick an emotion-arousing, thought-provoking tale.

Arrange the remaining stories to create a varied rhythm by alternating short pieces with long ones, funny and serious yarns, your contribution's and your co-author's.

Professional tip: The first story determines the book's success, because that's the sample the viewers will see before they decide whether to buy the book. It needs to be strong so they click 'Buy Now,’ but it also needs to be typical for the whole collection, because it builds expectations. Don't risk disappointing your readers.

(Here’s more with Channeling The Reader’s Brain: What We Expect of Every Story)

6. Choose the title and subtitle

Create a title with words that appeal to fans of that genre, preferably one which isn't already in use by another short story collection. If you're stuck for ideas, use one of the story titles as the book title.

Then add a subtitle which clarifies that this is a short story collection and includes the genre and the theme, e.g. Twelve Seaside Romance Stories or Whodunnit Mystery Stories from Ireland.

Professional Tip: What words will people in search of this kind of book type into the search box? Include those words in the subtitle. This will help increase the book's sales.

(Here’s more with Titles: The First Impression a Novel Makes)

Case study: The Bride's Curse: Bulgarian Gothic Ghost and Horror Stories

Let's look at my latest short story collection, and I'll show you how I applied these tips in practice.

The genre is horror, and the subgenre is gothic horror. Although I had ideas for tales in other genres, I decided to stick to gothic horror.

All the stories are set in Bulgaria, the country where I live. So 'Bulgaria' became the theme.

At first, I didn't have enough short stories for a collection. Rather than publish a thin book with only a few stories, I decided to wait until I had more.

I considered finding a co-author, but there aren't many authors of horror stories set in Bulgaria—at least not authors who write in the English language—so I dropped that idea. Instead, I hired a Bulgarian artist to create illustrations for the book.

For each story, I wrote several drafts, revising with the help of other writers who provided constructive criticism. Then I got two beta readers who critiqued the complete book.

I put what I thought was a strong and typical story at the start, and an emotional, thought-provoking piece at the end. My beta readers agreed with my choice for the final tale but urged me to open with a different story, and I followed their advice.

For the title, I considered the titles of the stories. The Bride's Curse stuck out because 'bride' and 'curse' are both evocative words, and they match the gothic vibe.

The subtitle conveys the genre ('gothic' & 'horror') and the theme ('Bulgarian'). I added the word 'ghost' since many readers use 'ghost stories' as a search word.

My cat Sulu obviously loves this book. Do you think he's biased because there's a black cat on the cover?

Have you considered publishing your stories as a collection? What genre and theme would you choose?

Rayne Hall is the author of over seventy books, mostly fantasy, horror and non-fiction. Her books have been published by several publishers in several countries, and translated into several languages. A trained publishing manager with more than thirty years’ experience in the industry, she also publishes her own books and champions indie-publishing for authors. She is the editor and publisher of the Ten Tales short story anthologies.

About The Bride’s Curse

Welcome to Bulgaria, my adopted country in the south east of Europe, a land of snow-blanketed mountains and sun-baked plains, deep pine forests and fragrant rose plantations, studded with remnants of past eras—ancient Thracian and Roman, medieval, Ottoman and Communist.

Join me on a fictional journey to remote villages where you'll meet native Bulgarians, travellers and expatriates, demons and ghosts. I’ve blended my personal experiences with Bulgarian folklore and mythology, and let my imagination roam. All the events and characters are my inventions, yet they’re steeped in Bulgarian myth and reality.

The tales in this book belong to the ‘quiet’ horror category—more creepy than gory, rich in atmosphere and suspense. Instead of throwing you into a whirl of violent action, I’ll take you on a gentle visit to experience Bulgaria—the wealth of her nature, her economic poverty, her legends and traditions, her creepy abandoned homes and her timeless beauty—all from the safety of your armchair.

The stories are personal, arising from my perceptions and imagination. Still, I hope you’ll gain a ‘feel’ for the country. After each story, I’ll tell you a little about the genesis of that tale, the sources of my inspiration.

Bulgarian artist Savina Mantovska from Sofia has created beautiful illustrations, enriching each story with her vision.

Come and join me under the grape arbour while the sinking sun streaks the mountains with crimson and purple. Sip a blood-red pomegranate juice or a fiery rakia, and enjoy my creepy tales.


  1. Thanks for featuring my post. :-)

  2. Great guidelines for anyone with some short stories and thinking about publishing them in a collection. Good practical advice about sticking to a genre, finding a theme and the kind of stories to start and conclude with. And if you don't have enough short stories, write some more. Was thinking about that the other day. Will print this and put it in my short story folder. An excellent check list.

    1. Thanks, Alex. I hope the suggestions will be helpful for your own short story project.

  3. This is a complete and practical guide for anyone considering publishing a collection of short stories. The ideas and tips are explained clearly and are easily applied. It's definitely an article I intend to keep close at hand.

    1. Are you planning a short story collection, Pia? Or toying with the idea?

  4. Okay, this was brilliant. Thank you! I have dozens of short stories, along with a handful of novella's. Almost all of the short stories and all of the novellas are set in my fantasy world, more specifically, the country of Pannulus. Thus, all of them could be divided by genre, some by theme (maybe all, depending creative I was with my theme). Almost all the short stories are 4-5K in length, the novellas 30-35K.

    I'm curious, though, if you have any opinions about publishing a book with, for instance, half-a-dozen short stories along with a novella, or some similar combination. In other words, enough to equal novel length. I know Stephen King did something similar with Skelton Crew long ago (it included the novella, The Mist). I loved the concept at the time and it's stuck with me all these years. If combined, I could make 2-3 collections that would be great introductions to my fantasy world. Thanks, again!

    1. This sounds like the ideal project, Christina Anne! The length of books, and of stories within books, matters far less these days than it used to, so you have a lot of freedom. You could even get more than three books out of this, by putting, for example, one novella and two short stories into each book. That's enough length for a book. --- Publishing more books brings a significant marketing advantage, because with each new title, the author gets an exposure boost on sites like Amazon. (It's too complicated to go into this here, and the details change all the time anyway, but it's a real advantage.) It sounds like you could get at least five books out of this. :-)

    2. Thank you, Rayne! I hadn't realized the advantage of going shorter, no matter the reason, though I captured the essence of it from your words. Thank you so much for the advice. It's much appreciated. :-)

    3. You're welcome. :-) Best of success.

  5. Usually my short stories come up out of nowhere and topics are completely different. However with those tips I will be able to become more organized and improve my quality of writing. Sometimes I'm really chaotic when writing so I hope that I will become better. Thanks, Rayne!

    1. Hi Kokie, it sounds like you may not yet be at the stage in your development as a writer to publish a short story collection. I suggest keeping the idea in mind and working towards it for the future.

  6. Diana Atanasova3/18/2021 12:21 PM

    Yet another highly beneficial article by Rayne Hall. I am not a writer myself (I wish I were) but I love reading and I've always been curious about the lives and work of professional writers. I can imagine how helpful this comprehensive article would be for anyone who is planning to publish...By the way, I've read The Bride's Curse and I find it fantastic. Thank you for your hard work, Rayne.

    1. Thanks, Diana. Which is your favourite story in The Bride's Curse?

  7. Awesome article. I've already done this twice with my previously published short stories. There are some terrific ideas here.

    1. I've read at least one of your short story collections - The Fairy Cake Bake Shoppe! Loved it.

  8. Great advice from Rayne, and thank goodness I've taken most of it for my new set of four flash fiction tomes. Still time to work on the keywords, and to take note of what I've missed for next year's efforts. :)

    1. Four flash fiction tomes? So you're publishing four books of flash fiction stories? Wow, that's a big undertaking.

  9. All good points. "...use one of the story titles as the book title...Then add a subtitle which clarifies that this is a short story collection"
    Did both!
    The Knot at the End of the Rope and Other Short Stories. I played around with genre references, but science fiction and post-apocalyptic seemed to make it more cluttered, so I made sure the cover gave no doubt (which I am currently redesigning) and added to the back cover "13 new science fiction and post-apocalyptic tales"

    1. Yes, this is an important factor to consider: if the title and subtitle are cluttered with keywords, they won't be attractive to readers. There's little benefit in getting the title and subtitle to show up in search engines when they don't have reader appeal.

  10. A timely post for me, as I am thinking of doing just this!

    1. Have you chosen a theme? Best of success!

  11. As a reader of anthologies and short story collections, I love the ones that are based on a theme or concept.
    It keeps me in the zone, and I can read it like an episodic tale linked by the things that matter.
    Thank you.

    1. That's an interesting point, that it reads like a connected work.