Thursday, August 18, 2011

Publishing a Short Story Collection

Douglas Smith and I sat down to talk about short stories and publishing with a small, Canadian press. Doug offers so much information and insight in his answers, that I've decided to break them up over three days.


Krista's first question: In Chimerascope, most of the stories were at least nominated for Aurora Awards and one was a winner. With a strong list of credits like that, why did you choose to go with a small Canadian press like ChiZine?

True, the stories in Chimerascope have a lot of award credentials. "Scream Angel" won the Aurora, while another nine of the sixteen stories were Aurora finalists. "By Her Hand, She Draws You Down" was also a Best New Horror selection, and several more received honourable mentions in the Year's Best Fantasy & Horror.  I could talk similar numbers for my first collection, Impossibilia, which had another Aurora winner ("Spirit Dance") and an Aurora finalist in its three-novelette line-up.

But if I pick up any collection, I'd expect to see award credits for the stories. A collection is supposed to represent an author's best work. But unfortunately, regardless of awards, a "big" publisher will simply not be interested in publishing a collection, unless you are a Name (which I'm not). The strategy for how an author should market a collection changed from when I started writing to when I was ready to market Impossibilia in 2008. And it's changed again since I published Chimerascope just last year, thanks to eBooks and indie publishing options.

When I started writing short stories in the late nineties, the traditional route for a new writer was to build a name in short fiction, then sell a novel to a NYC publisher, and then have that publisher put out your collection once you'd had a few novels out.

That strategy had disappeared by the time I decided to market my first collection in 2007, for a number of reasons. First, collections have never sold as well as novels, and with publishing downturns, it had become even harder to sell a collection to the big NYC houses, even if you were already with them.

Robert J. Sawyer, the multi-award-winning Canadian SF writer and a mentor of mine, pointed out another issue to me at that time. If you sold a collection after you'd had a couple of novels out, the sales dip in the collection would hurt the orders for your next novel, since the chain buyers didn't differentiate between novels and collections. The well-known UK anthologist, Steven Jones, also advised me that a collection was becoming a way for short fiction writers to raise their profile with publishers to help when they were marketing their first novel.

So taking all those points together, my strategy switched completely from the old model of novels first, and a collection later with a big house, to an approach of selling a collection ahead of my first novel and focusing on a reputable small press to do that.

That meant that I needed to decide on which small press for my first collection. I started talking to writer friends who had done collections in the past couple of years regarding who they went with and why, and most importantly, what their experience had been with that small press. This proved to be a critical but depressing step, since it caused me to cross several small presses off my list. I didn't find many happy campers.

I also reviewed the recent awards lists, looking for small presses that showed up regularly. Steve Jones had recommended PS Publishing (UK), and I noted that they were getting a lot of award appearances and positive press. I did some more research, hearing only good things about them. They seemed to be the most prestigious small genre press around. I also knew Nick Gevers, one of their editors, and knew that he liked my work.

So I pitched Pete Crowther (publisher and owner) a full collection. And quickly received a very polite thanks but no thanks. Well, I knew it had been a long shot. I figured that was it, but then I received an email a few days later from PS, offering me, instead of a full collection, a mini-collection of 25-30k words in their "Showcase" series, a brand new line intended to "highlight genre fiction's best up-and-coming writers" (their words, not mine). I said yes (actually, more like "YES!!"), and in 2008, Impossibilia was published, much to my delight. Unlike most collections, Pete wanted new material, but I wanted to include my story "Spirit Dance," upon which my first novel is based. So we compromised, and Impossibilia contains two new novelettes and "Spirit Dance." The collection picked up two Aurora nominations, one for best long form and one for best story ("Bouquet of Flowers in a Vase, by Van Gogh" -- more on that and the Impossibilia cover later).

A year later, I decided to try pitching a full-length collection again. Although I was completely happy with the job that PS had done with Impossibilia, I wanted my second collection to be more widely available, including a paperback edition (this was late 2008, so ebooks weren't quite the obvious other option yet). The PS business model aims at collectors and the book as a physical artefact: very high quality production, hardcover and jacketed hardcover editions only, limited print runs of numbered, signed editions--but no retail distribution (beyond being able to order via Amazon). 

As I was considering my options, Brett Savory and Sandra Kasturi of Chiarascuro Magazine fame, announced that they were starting ChiZine Publications. Brett and Sandra have been friends of mine for years, and I had high regard for their editorial taste and publishing industry acumen, as well as the early list of authors they had lined up. In addition, they were expecting to have retail bookstore distribution in Canada and the US very soon (they did, and added the UK and eBook editions as well). Plus their model would focus on larger print runs of trade paperbacks for the bookstores (in addition to limited edition hardcovers based on pre-orders only). So I pitched them a full collection. Chimerascope came out in early 2010, and I've been 100% happy with the result. I provide more details on working with both PS and CZP in my answer to the third question below.

Doug is an award-winning Toronto-based author of speculative fiction, with over 150 short story sales in thirty countries and two dozen languages, including appearances in Amazing Stories,Weird TalesInterZoneThe Mammoth Book of Best New HorrorBaen's UniversePostscripts,On SpecThe Third AlternativeCicada, and anthologies from Penguin, DAW, and others.

His newest collection, Chimerascope (ChiZine Publications, 2010), is currently a finalist for the 2011 Aurora Award. His first collection, Impossibilia (PS Publishing), was a finalist for the 2009 Aurora Award.
Doug was a finalist for the international John W. Campbell Award for best new writer, and has twice won Canada's Aurora Award. A short film based on his story "By Her Hand, She Draws You Down" toured festivals in North America and internationally in 2010 and 2011, winning several awards.
His website is and he tweets at   

Print Edition: ChiZine | Amazon US | Amazon Canada | Amazon UK | Barnes & Noble | Chapters/Indigo | Powell's
Ebook Edition: Amazon US | Amazon UK | Kobo | E-Junkie (all formats) | Crossroads Press (all formats)
Print edition (signed, personalized): Doug's website


  1. I completely agree that the NY houses won't look at story collections for anyone who is not already a major name (e.g., Stephen King) but that a small press edition is possible -- small sales figures for a NY press often translate out as 'best seller' by small press standards. For the small press, putting out a top quality collection can raise their prestige or fulfill their mandate to promote great literature/reading; for the writer, it considerably raises their chances of eventually selling a novel to NY. Having sold short stories to a number of different magazines moves one up to the top of the slush pile because it tells the book editor that one has had a number of different editors sign off on them as at least adequate writers; a short story collection is not only an additional editor signing off on their writing, but one who is saying "this is someone whose reputation is big enough to warrant a collection" which raises one up yet another step in the "I'd better look at the manuscript" response of acquisition editors to novel query/submission. It still doesn't guarantee a sale of course, but it definitely helps editors take one seriously.

  2. As an editor, what I'm looking for when considering a collection is (1) publication in a variety of short story venues; (2) more stories than can fit in the collection -- as an editor, I want to be able to choose among the stories, both get the author's best work, and to create a 'balanced' collection (3) and an author who is willing to consider (usually minor) changes to stories. Yes, I know this or that magazine editor took it without any changes, and yes, that editor is a good one, but most magazines and anthologies don't offer a lot of editorial support, whereas my job is in fact to make the work as good as it can be -- so I may indeed have some suggestions. Indeed, having an editor is one of the chief advantages of going small press rather than self-publishing. (the other advantage is the branding and the implicit refereeing of that going with a press provides.)

  3. "third question below". Is there supposed to be more? Seems truncated.

  4. Katy, as the intro says:

    "...I've decided to break them up over three days."

  5. Robert, nice to see you here! Thx for the comments. I agree with your thoughts on needing a wide selection of stories and the need for editing, even for previously pub'd stories. CZP focuses on dark fiction, and that definitely went into the selection for CHIMERASCOPE. An author needs to have enough of a backlist to both show their best work and to also fit with the editorial focus of the press that they're going with. I also included one new story, which is another point I meant to make. Authors who are considering a collection of previously published work should (I think) offer a new story as well.

    On the editing, I honestly had expected that CHIMERASCOPE wouldn't need much editing, but Helen Marshall (the CZP'er who did my editing) found lots of edits that were needed. Another thing to check for when talking to authors about their experience with a small press--and as Robert points out, another advantage of a good small press over the self-publishing route.