Category: publishing

Organizing a Short Story Collection

These are short story collections.

Last year I made a plan. In 2020 I was going to build a website (check!), consistently update that website (mostly check!), and I was going to self-publish a novella and a short story collection (… not check…).

So obviously, 2020 being what it is, things have changed. When I made this plan there was no Covid on the horizon, I wasn’t thinking about buying a house, and I didn’t expect to become a father. Yet, somehow, all of those things happened. And you know what? I kinda like the unplanned stuff more (except Covid–that can suck a big fat donkey dick).

Anyway, all of those things are a delay, not a cancellation. The novella is written (but needs some editing, and a rewrite of at least one section), and I have enough stories to put together a collection. The plan was always to pull down the vignettes and collect them with unpublished stories. I’m going to do that, but as I sat to think about what that could look like I realized that short story collections are more complicated than just taking a bunch of stories and throwing them together.

First, if I’m going to self-publish something, even if it’s only priced for $0.99, I want the reader to get value out of it. A book made up of 12 vignettes would top out at 15,000 words, if that. I don’t think I’d buy that book, especially when the vignettes were already free online at some point. This wouldn’t be as simple as just collecting and self-publishing what is already on this site.

The idea was never to only do that, but I did want to ensure that I had enough stories of varying lengths to make a purchase worthwhile. I went through everything I’ve written, including what I knew I wanted to include, some works I wasn’t sure about, and ideas that aren’t written but I’m excited about. I put them all into a spreadsheet (youse know how much I love spreadsheets) and wrote down the exact page count for each, as well as whether the writing was a vignette, short story, or poem.

Seeing all the stories laid out quelled my fear that I wouldn’t have enough writing that I was proud enough to publish. I saw there was a decent mixture of lengths that, together, added up to something worth $0.99. The next step, then, was figuring out how to organize them.

I didn’t quickly find many articles online for organizing short story collections. That said, much of my thinking from here on out is influenced by this blog post from BOOKFOX, so instead of cribbing from it I’ll just point you there.

Specifically, I found guideline #3 to be helpful: “Build your own structure, and then order stories according to that logic.” The post describes five different types of structures for a collection–hourglass, möbius strip, mosaic, musical improvisation, and instant replay. The hourglass structure most appeals to me for this particular collection.

Having decided on a tentative structure (it may change as I work toward publication), I had to figure out how to fit the stories I chose into this concept. My stories tend to wander between genres, but touch on common themes or play with similar styles. I went back to my spreadsheet and added “Genre” and “Subgenre” columns. Sticking to only a few genres so as not to overcomplicate the exercise, I put the writings into loose groupings.

Then, on the advice to start with your strongest story to draw the reader in, I arranged the order from that story down. From there, I tweaked the order in which stories appeared to have a better flow from genre to genre, and from idea to idea. Now, the collections starts with a series of horror stories, eases into existential dread, turns into experimentalism, dovetails into romance and sci-fi (I tend to use sci-fi to explore romantic notions–who knew?), and ends on a dramatic note.

This collection has required far more thought than I expected, but it’s also challenged me to think deeply about what I’m including and why, and illuminated common themes in my work.

I hope to have the collection on Amazon by December or January.

Wattpad: A Detective Story

By Unknown author, extracted by Maxxl2i – Cover, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32592724

I’ve known for a long time that the best way to build an audience is to be part of a community. Community, after all, is where we get the support we need to improve our craft, build word of mouth, and get picked up when we fall down. Since college I’ve done quite a few in-person writer’s groups, from large organized groups to a small cadre of like-minded friends from work (oh how I miss you, Scribe n’ Imbibe). What I haven’t done much of is find an online community.

Many writer’s forums are intimidating to dive into, or seem to be infrequently used. While listening to The Bestseller Experiment podcast, an author mentioned using Wattpad to build her reader-base into a career. Well, that’s exactly what I want to do. So I put on my detective cap and dove into Wattpad for an investigation. Here’s what I’ve noticed so far:

The straight dirt.

Let’s get this out of the way: Wattpad is a legitimate service. They don’t retain any rights, there are no fees (unless you’re paying for Premium or something), and you have complete control over what goes in your story, what happens with it, etc. We can argue the wisdom of putting your work up for free if you’re trying to get traditionally published, but that likely doesn’t matter for most of us. Wattpad also offers plenty of opportunity for writers. There are contests, an annual award called the Wattys, and top authors have been given publishing deals and even sold movie / TV rights.

As far as I can tell, there is very little risk to publishing on Wattpad. So, the question then becomes: without much risk, is there much gain?

It’s a lot.

Wattpad is huge. There are literally millions of books, tons of features across different payment levels, and millions of users who, collectively, spend 23 billion minutes on the site per month (according to Wattpad). This doesn’t include the forums, which is impossible to manage without carefully curating the settings to your interests. Luckily, Wattpad has lots of explainers and features to help newbies do just that. Still, it can end up being a lot of time and effort to find yourself drowning in content. And if you’re a writer, it’s akin to throwing a drop of water into the ocean hoping that a fish will find it.

Wattpad skews young.

Within a few days of bopping around the forums, searching for an online writer’s group for critiques, I ended up in a Discord chat with another aspiring author. She is a moderator for the chat and was orienting me with the group, and I made an offhand comment about my day job. After a lot of back and forth, I came to find that she was finishing her first semester of college, which meant she was maybe 18 or 19 years old.

Friends, I’m nearly old enough to be her father. (That’s only a slight exaggeration.)

In another interaction on a forum, I found myself giving writing advice to a 15 year old. I had to dig to find older writers on the site, and it’s unclear how many are active in the community itself. The vast majority of Wattpad’s users seem to be teenagers or young adults (according to this article from a successful Wattpad author, eighty-five percent are between 13 and 30 years old), so if you want to publish there keep that in mind. Your James Joyce-ian tome with alternating chapters from a woman on her deathbed and the ghost of her ancestor probably won’t appeal. Which brings me to…

Readers prefer very specific genres.

Wattpad added separate subgenres for “Vampire” and “Werewolf” fiction. That might be a hint as to the types of stories that are most popular on the platform. The most popular stories on the site seem to be absolutely dominated by romance. Specifically, billionaire romance, which is a subgenre of romance stories where one of the main characters is a billionaire. There is also a large fan fiction audience.

In short, unless you’re writing in one of those genres your story will have a tough time gaining readers. Not impossible, and there are some more literary writers that have wracked up tens of thousand of hundreds of thousand of views, but difficult.

Expectations.

I’m only at the beginning of my Wattpad experiment. I’ve found the forums to be friendly and, in the case of my deciding on a cover to use for my posted story, helpful. My (admittedly limited) presence on the forums doesn’t seem to be translating to reads, but I’ve only posted two chapters within the past few days. I’m going to give it a bit of time, continue posting chapters and browsing the forums, and see if that translates to readers.

This investigation is ongoing.

Cheap plug.

Read my novella, A NIGHT OF CHAOS on Wattpad. I’ll be publishing it chapter-by-chapter for the next month or so. A brief description:

On the night of his bachelor party, disaffected Anh Nguyen is ensnared by wild child Amy Hess with the promise of a capital-A “Adventure.” Anh ditches his groomsmen to wander Buffalo, NY, with Amy and quickly finds that the adventure she promised is really a city-wide attempt at disrupting aspects of society, from the city’s community centers to the highest echelons of its power–all driven by a mysterious religion.

The nature of Amy’s mission forces Anh to question everything he knows about society, religion, and the trajectory of his life. As Amy introduces chaos everywhere she goes, Anh struggles to reconcile who he is with who he wants to be.

© 2020 Craig Gusmann

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑