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Writing: Love of the Craft
David Duggins : Selling Short Fiction — Is it Easy?

Love of the Craft

Selling Short Fiction — Is it Easy?

By David Duggins

Hi everybody! I apologize for my recent absenteeism; it's been a busy summer. I've been productive and happy. I hope you have too!

Here's a recent question:

Q: I would like to start out writing short stories. Is it more difficult to sell a book of short fiction?

Until very recently, I would have said yes. My opinion was revised when I attended the Agents and Editors Conference in Austin last month.

I was there to promote my coaching business and pitch my novel, Watershed. My agent of choice was Kimberly Cameron at Reece-Halsey. Ms. Cameron likes horror. Several other agents at the conference recommended I pitch the book as everything from "mainstream fiction with supernatural elements" to "dark fantasy." While my novel has an uncharacteristically upbeat ending, it's a horror novel.

After I pitched the book to Ms. Cameron, we discussed my published short fiction. I mentioned the two stories that had appeared in an anthology with Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Ramsey Campbell and a slew of others.

"Have you considered publishing an anthology?" Ms. Cameron asked.

I had not. I'd assumed that you needed a couple of bestselling novels under your belt before you could do that. I had also read that agents don't represent short fiction.

Ms. Cameron smiled. "I do," she said.

I stand corrected. But I also stand firm on my original belief that if you are pitching an anthology of previously unpublished short fiction, you've got a tough sell on your hands.

Don't get me wrong: short stories are a good thing. You're going to find a lot of people who will tell you otherwise. They'll tell you the fiction magazines are all but gone, anthology sales numbers are down, and really, with the world scheduled to end in 2012 anyway, why make plans?

Here's the thing: writing isn't a business of odds and statistics. It's not science. Even the sales aspect isn't really mathematically based, although it pretends to ride on numbers, graphs and statistics.

Writing is an intuitive practice as much as a craft. Who can tell what's going to happen with a piece of writing? When I began selling stories in the early 90s, I didn't even know the markets. I was barely aware of manuscript format.

When things started to happen, I never looked back. There was no plan. I was winging it.

And the death of the short story was as popular a writing magazine topic as it is today.

So my advice is to hear the cautionary tale. Take it in. Absorb it. Then, with a boulder-sized grain of salt, bury it and do what you want to do. Write for yourself.

But if you want to publish an anthology, sell the stories to magazines first. Then have the reprints published as an anthology.

This serves three purposes. First, it gets you paid a little (and I do mean a little). Second, it gets you used to the "business" of writing — acceptances, rejections, editorial rewrite requests. While it's great to get paid for your work, dealing with the business adds multiple layers of complexity. It takes time and experience to adjust, and cultivate a professional attitude.

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