Dos and Don’ts of Putting Together a Short Story Collection

How to put together a short story collection & pitfalls to avoid

booksOver the years, Renee and I have written quite a few short stories, challenging one another to write in a particular genre, or on an image or prompt. Back in 2014, we attempted our first challenge. I can’t remember who suggested it, I’m thinking it was Renee. We decided to write a fairy tale, and the results were pretty remarkable. It had been several years since I had written fiction. Most of my writing had focused on articles for Dueling Librarians or academic papers. Immediately, I remembered how satisfying fiction writing is; the freedom, the characters, the worlds. After that first challenge, I was hooked. Many more challenges followed: westerns, ghosts, mythology, conspiracy theories.

We’ve accumulated quite of a colorful portfolio of our work. We’ve even kicked around placing them into a collection and sticking it on Amazon or Smashwords. This got me thinking: how should one go about compiling a short story anthology of their work or others? What steps should be considered, and what should be avoided? Here’s what my research turned up.

EditingDon’t use every story you’ve ever written. Pick your best work, and I mean best. Quality if everything. Just because you’ve written lots of stories doesn’t mean it’s mandatory to publish them all in a collection. Please refrain from doing this. It’s a bad idea.

Red HerringDon’t pick your best work willy-nilly. It has to mesh, to blend, be connected through an overall theme, genre, tone, or voice. Avoid the temptation to squeeze in an outlier just because you love it. If it sticks out, leave it out.

Do choose your stories’ placement carefully. Put your strongest stories at the beginning. You want to hook your reader. Put the least strong (remember, this is a collection of your best work, not all of your work) in the middle. If you have a story that’s longer than the rest, perhaps even bordering on novella statues, put that at the end. Putting longer work earlier can interrupt the momentum of the reader, allowing them to set aside your shorts for something else. If some of your chosen stories contain reoccurring characters, place these next to one another. Readers love following characters. Don’t make them wait. For more on story placement, check out Richard Thomas column, StoryVille: Tips on Putting Together a Short Story Collection, and John Fox’s Ten Tips for Organizing a Short Story Collection.

ManuscriptDon’t worry about length, too much. Short story compilations can run anywhere from 100 pages to over 300. Most presses have a word limit of 40-thousand. If you’re self-publishing, you might be more comfortable sticking with the big three’s standards, or you might want to break trail and do your own thing.

ReaderDo include both previously published and unpublished stories. A short story collection serves to offer several stories to your fans (and maybe net a few new ones) with very little work for the reader. If someone likes your work, they will seek you out. Make that easy for them. Put the best in one place for them to enjoy at their leisure.

Do put thought into the collection’s name. What you name your collection will serve as a means of giving your readers a clue as to the collection’s theme and tone. The easiest would be to name your collection after the strongest story or the story with the best title. Do a little research. Has someone used it before? If so, make it your own with a few edits here and there.

journalDo read other short story collections and take notes. What did you like? Dislike? Did the author lose you? Did they grab your attention and keep it the whole way through? How did they begin and end the collection?

There ya go. Seven tips for compiling a short story collection. All right, I’m off to finish up chapter 12 of my YA novel. I might actually finish the damned thing this year.

Originally published on on August 8, 2016

Photo credits:

books by Jonas Tegnerud via Flickr Creative Commons License

2008-01-26 (Editing a paper) – 31 by Nic McPhee via Flickr Creative Commons License

red haring by Rakka via Flickr Creative Commons License

manuscript by René Gademann via Flickr Creative Commons License

Reading by Sam Greenhalgh via Flickr Creative Commons License

Writing In Journal by Walt Stoneburner via Flickr Creative Commons License

Cynthia Varady

Cynthia Varady

Cynthia Varady is an award-winning freelance writer and co-owner of the book review website, She currently resides in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and son. Cynthia has her BA in English Literature from Sonoma State University, and her Masters in Library and Information Science from San Jose State University. Occasionally, Cynthia can be found voicing characters in casual video games, including Stella in the Aveyond series. She is presently working on a young adult fantasy novel.

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