Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Writer's Toolbox: Your Writer Questions Answered

So here's this week's question (and if you have questions you'd like answered by workshop leaders or our favorite writers, let me know by e-mailing me at

How do I get a publisher or an agent for a collection of short stories?

James Mathews, alum, workshop leader, and author of the Katherine Anne Porter prize-winning collection Last Known Position:

One of the best tracks to follow for a collection is to first get as many stories as possible published individually - in literary or other competitive journals. This greatly increases your chances of landing a publisher or agent as it demonstrates the prose has already been, in a sense, peer-reviewed.

Matthew Pitt, Spring 2011 Emerging Writer Fellow (who'll be reading at Story/Stereo on March 4). He will also lead a one-day short fiction workshop at TWC called "Openers, for Openers":

There’s no short answer to this. But the shortest answer I know—write/revise with unwavering dedication, and be lucky, and have a completed novel in your drawer—seems both true and glib. A longer answer is the "how" differs from writer to writer, project to project, and is a moving target, depending on what particular agents and publishers are seeking at a given time.

So here's a beginning strategy. Read a lot of collections, from publishers large and small. Not only to support fellow writers, but to absorb as much about voice, craft and technique as possible. Think about the collections/writers on your shelves you most admire, or feel your work most resembles. See if they mention their agents in the acknowledgments. If so, query those agents. If you admire a collection with a small publisher, go to the website: many modest-sized publishers will allow writers to submit portions of their work at specified times. Others will hold contests, offering monetary prizes, travel grants, and, best of all, publication.

Leslie Pietrzyk, another alumni-turned-workshop leader at TWC, Pietrzyk has published two critically acclaimed novels, Pears on A Willow Tree, and A Year and a Day:

Story collections are notoriously hard to sell, so make sure your stories have been published first in excellent journals. Most agents aren’t interested in story collections (unless you also have a novel), but you can enter your ms. in contests run by small/university presses. Best list of legit contests: Best database of small presses to query:* And if you want to look for an agent to query anyway, here’s a good place to begin:
Leslie blogs at Work-in-Progress.

No comments: