Behind the Scenes of Paying Markets: Understanding the Business Side of Your Short Story Collection

Behind the Scenes of Paying Markets: Understanding the Business Side of Your Short Story Collection

For many authors, the journey to creating a short story collection can feel like traversing a dense and untamed forest. The path is filled with writing, revising, and then bravely submitting to open calls or paying markets, hoping that your stories find their place. However, as important as honing the craft of storytelling is, there’s another critical element often overlooked: the business side of writing.

This article aims to illuminate the commercial pathways that authors can navigate to build their collections. We’ll unravel the world of open calls, paying markets, rights, royalties, and contracts, as well as how you can leverage these components to assemble a collection of stories that are not only thematically cohesive, but commercially viable.

An important distinction we must draw before we venture further pertains to the realm of short stories. In the literary universe, there exists a celestial body called an ‘anthology’—a constellation of works by various authors, each star gleaming with its unique light yet part of a shared thematic galaxy. On the other hand, a ‘short story collection’ orbits a single star—the author. It is a solar system of narratives, bound by the gravitational pull of one creator’s voice. Our exploration today centers on this latter celestial phenomenon—the crafting of a short story collection from a solitary authorial voice.

Embarking on this journey, we might find ourselves lost in the vast expanse of the literary cosmos, daunted by the intricate mechanics of rights, royalties, contracts, and the multifaceted business aspects of authorship. Yet, it is in navigating these complexities where we can harness the power to mold a thematically united, commercially viable collection. It requires strategic navigation, a deep understanding of the marketplace’s gravitational forces. But remember: no star is too distant, no journey too arduous. In the words of the renowned wordsmith, Neil Gaiman, “Short stories are tiny windows into other worlds and other minds and other dreams. They are journeys you can make to the far side of the universe and still be back in time for dinner.” In illuminating the business side of writing, our aim is to equip you with the celestial map needed to unlock these windows, guiding your voyages into the farthest reaches of imagination and making a triumphant return—with a collection of tales that resonates with readers and fosters your success.

The Power of Open Calls and Paying Markets

Like the call of a distant star beckoning interstellar travelers, open calls in the literary universe offer authors a destination, a purpose. These open calls, often presented by literary magazines, anthologies, or publishing houses, serve as invitations for authors to submit their works—each a unique opportunity to propel your stories into the literary cosmos. Open calls offer specified themes or concepts around which stories must orbit, providing a trajectory for your creative endeavors.

Just as gravity molds celestial bodies into their distinctive forms, open calls and paying markets shape the constitution of your short story collection. These markets, willing to compensate authors for their works, present viable platforms for your stories to reach a broader audience, for your voice to echo through the vast expanse of the literary universe. They serve as essential testing grounds where the mettle of your stories is tried and tempered, paving the way for their inclusion in your collection.

However, it’s not enough to aimlessly launch your stories into the void. A strategic understanding of your own creative themes can serve as your navigation system. Writing for similar themes not only streamlines your creative process but also fortifies the thematic core of your future collection. A scattered array of unrelated themes might resemble a random constellation, while a set of stories crafted around a common theme forms a compelling and coherent galaxy of narratives. This can allow a better grouping of your stories, and potentially revisiting characters and locations along the way.

Embracing open calls and paying markets, aligned with your thematic nucleus, can expedite the assembly of your short story collection. This strategic approach allows you to craft a collection that’s not just a mere assortment of narratives but a thematic journey for your readers—one that resonates, reverberates, and ultimately leaves a lasting impact on the literary cosmos. Remember, every successful journey begins with a single step. Open calls and paying markets are those initial steps towards crafting a stellar short story collection that shines brilliantly in the literary universe.

The Business of Writing: Unpacking Terms and Concepts

Embarking on your writing journey is akin to setting sail into uncharted waters. Amidst the thrill of exploration, there also lie undercurrents of complexities, hidden in the language of the business of writing. To navigate successfully, it’s crucial to understand the terminology. Three main navigational markers guide your course: rights, royalties, and contracts.

Rights refer to the legal entitlements related to your work. When you submit a story to a market, you’re typically selling specific rights, such as ‘First North American Serial Rights’, which permits the market to be the first to publish your story in North America. Rights are geographical, temporal, and format-specific, and the variety can be daunting. However, each right sold is, essentially, permission given to the buyer to use your story in a specific way. A few other examples of this are:
First Serial Rights: These rights allow a publisher to be the first to publish your story in a periodical, be it a magazine, newspaper, or journal. After publication, the rights usually revert back to you.

  • Second Serial (or Reprint) Rights: Once a piece has been published and the First Serial Rights have been used, you retain the right to sell the story again under what’s known as Second Serial or Reprint Rights.
  • First North American Serial Rights (FNASR) or First British Serial Rights (FBSR): These are examples of geographically specific rights. FNASR gives a publisher the right to be the first to publish your story in North America, while FBSR pertains to the UK.
  • Anthology Rights: These allow the publisher to include your story in a collection or an anthology. This is often in conjunction with First Serial Rights, but not always.
  • Audio Rights: These rights permit the publisher to produce an audio version of your work, for example, as part of a podcast or an audiobook.
  • Film Rights: When sold, these rights allow a producer to adapt your story into a film or a television show.
  • Electronic Rights: This category has grown in significance with the advent of digital media and pertains to the right to publish and distribute your work electronically, for example, in an online magazine, as an eBook, or in a digital library.
  • Translation Rights: These permit the publisher to translate your work into other languages.

Royalties represent the financial aspect of your story rights. When a market purchases the rights to your work, they often agree to pay a certain percentage of revenues as royalties. Understanding how royalties work—when and how much you should expect to be paid—is fundamental to your financial success as an author.

Contracts bind these concepts together. They’re the legally enforceable agreements that detail the rights sold, the royalty rate, the territory of publication, the length of time the market holds the rights, and other critical factors. Reading, understanding, and sometimes negotiating contract terms is an essential skill for authors.

Understanding these concepts not only equips you to navigate the business landscape but also empowers you as an author. This knowledge arms you with the ability to make informed decisions, safeguard your work, and maximize your income.

One area requiring particular attention is the reversion of rights. Often, rights to a story revert back to the author after a certain period or once the work goes out of print. This reversion allows authors to resell their stories as reprints or include them in their personal collections. By effectively managing rights reversion, you can extend the lifespan of your stories, reach new audiences, and generate additional income. It’s not just about creating a compelling story; it’s also about understanding the journey that story can take once it leaves your hands. The art of writing and the business of writing are two sides of the same coin, and a successful author must become fluent in both.

The Role of Rejections and Rights Reversions

In the vast expanse of the literary universe, rejections and rights reversions are akin to cosmic phenomena that can, at first glance, seem daunting, even disastrous. However, with the right perspective, they can be turned into opportunities, launching pads for greater success.

Rejections are an integral part of the writing journey. They may signify that your story wasn’t a good fit for a specific market or that it needs more refinement. But more importantly, they also represent a chance to revisit, revise, and rediscover your work, and to seek out markets that may be a better fit.

Similarly, rights reversion—the process where rights to a story revert back to the author—can be a powerful tool. Rather than viewing it as the end of your story’s journey, see it as a new beginning. With the rights back in your hands, you can sell your work again as a reprint, include it in your own collection, or even adapt it into another format such as a screenplay or a novel.

Consider the story of N.K. Jemisin, an author who has carved her constellation in the firmament of fantasy literature. Though her works were initially met with rejection, she treated these as cosmic whispers, guiding her towards a grander narrative design. These rejections were not terminations of her stories, but a refining fire, strengthening her voice, and sharpening her vision. Through persistence and re-imagination, she found a celestial niche that reverberates with her unique voice, going on to capture the Hugo Award for Best Novel in three consecutive cycles—a testament to the transformative power of perseverance.

These stories remind us that an author’s journey is a complex orbit—fraught with challenges, but ripe with opportunities. Rights reversion and rejection aren’t black holes where stories vanish, but wormholes that transport them into new realms of possibility. And within this cosmic dance, you—the author—are at the helm, guiding your narratives across the vast literary universe, navigating rejections and rights reversions, towards a constellation of success.

The Art of Assembling a Thematic Short Story Collection

Just as a constellation is a meaningful pattern formed from individual stars, a thematic short story collection is a coherent narrative crafted from separate tales. Like the stars, each story shines on its own, yet when viewed as part of a larger pattern, they illuminate an overarching theme or motif. The ability to weave together disparate narratives into a cohesive whole is an art—one that offers the reader an immersive, connected experience, and provides the author with a compelling way to showcase their creative versatility.

Here are some tips on how to craft such a collection:

1. Identify the Common Thread: Review your stories and look for recurring themes, settings, motifs, or characters. These commonalities form the connective tissue that binds your collection. The thread could be something as broad as love and loss, or as specific as stories set in a post-apocalyptic world.

2. Keep the Reader in Mind: While you should always write for yourself first, don’t lose sight of the reader. Consider how the thematic connections between your stories can create a meaningful journey for them. The collective impact of related stories often surpasses that of the individual narratives.

3. Be Flexible with Story Order: The order of stories in a collection can greatly impact the reader’s experience. Don’t be afraid to rearrange until the overall narrative flow feels right. Sometimes, a story may serve better as a poignant ending than an engaging opener.

4. Revisit and Revise: Once you identify your theme, revisit each story. You may need to revise or add details to strengthen the thematic connection. Remember, the goal isn’t to make the stories identical, but to ensure they resonate with the same thematic frequency.

5. Consider the Cover and Title: Your collection’s title and cover are the reader’s first glimpse of the thematic connection. They should hint at the common thread that ties the stories together.

The role of common themes in a short story collection cannot be overstated. They are the gravitational force that holds your narrative constellation together, drawing readers into a deeper exploration of your literary universe. Readers often find a thematic collection more immersive, as they can engage with the recurring motifs, experience different facets of a theme, and see how it evolves from one story to the next. By guiding your readers along a thematic path, you offer them a more profound engagement with your work—an interstellar journey they are likely to remember and revisit.

Anthology vs Short Story Collection: Knowing the Difference and its Implications

In previous sections of our journey, we’ve cast a glance at the differing natures of anthologies and short story collections. Now, let’s delve deeper into these narrative constellations, understanding the singular orbits they occupy, and the unique gravitational effects they have on an author’s career trajectory.

An anthology forms a cosmic gathering—a cluster of stars, each a short story by a different author, drawn together by the gravity of a shared theme, genre, or concept. Being part of this celestial assembly can expose your work to the followers of other contributing authors, widening the swath of space your work illuminates. An anthology offers a chance to align your voice with others echoing in your genre, serving as a stepping stone across the vastness of literary space.

A short story collection, in contrast, is akin to a solitary star system, comprised of celestial bodies—short stories—revolving around the single, binding gravity of their creator. The stories in this system might be tied by common threads, or display the varied spectrums of the author’s creativity. Emerging from the nebulae of unformed ideas, short story collections provide a stage upon which writers can cast their narratives into the cosmos.

From the perspective of interstellar trade—financial gain—both formations have their unique assets. Anthologies typically bestow upon you a one-time tribute for your contribution, or a percentage of the accumulated royalties. Short story collections, on the other hand, may yield income via the sales of the collection, and if you’ve held onto your rights, from offering individual stories as reprints to different markets.

Examining the constellations of an author’s career, we find anthologies and short story collections twinkling with unique light. Contributing to an anthology positions your narrative alongside other tales, enhancing your visibility and credibility in the cosmic expanse. This shared endeavour not only extends the reach of your narrative but also creates a sense of community among the stars—a cluster of writers bound by a common theme.

Crafting a short story collection, conversely, enables you to take center stage, casting your unique radiance across the literary firmament. This solo act allows you to explore and exhibit the varying hues of your storytelling, uniting them under your banner. Moreover, a well-received collection can boost your celestial stature, leading to grander orbits—novel contracts, or esteemed residencies.

Navigating through the cosmic pathways of a writing career, both anthologies and short story collections play integral roles. Each offers a unique set of opportunities and experiences—be it the collective recognition of being part of a curated group of writers or the individual acclamation of a solo collection. Ultimately, comprehending these distinct celestial formations and harnessing their potential can serve as powerful propulsion systems, launching your literary journey into the unknown reaches of success.

Building a Sustainable Writing Career: Monetizing Your Short Story Collection

Creating a successful writing career is a challenging endeavor, much like crafting a captivating short story collection. It’s important to recognize that the sales of such collections can greatly vary. Some authors may only sell a few copies, while others find collections to be a valuable asset in their creative arsenal. The key to monetizing your short story collection effectively lies in understanding the nuances of the market and incorporating it as part of a diversified income strategy. I’d like to stress that for many authors, writing is only ever going to be a side-income. However, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be treated as a business in case we can grow it and to be prepared if we do reach a wide audience.

In the realm of writing, relying solely on a single source of income, such as novel sales, can be risky. The publishing landscape is fluid and unpredictable. As such, adopting a multi-pronged approach is vital. This approach might include income from novel and short story sales, freelancing, writing workshops, and royalties from past works. Hell, you couldn’t sell a novella in speculative fiction unless you were famous five to ten years ago and now shorter works have become quite popular. Short story collections play a crucial role in this diversified strategy.

Building a sustainable income through short story collections is a multi-step process. First, focus on writing engaging stories that resonate with readers. Then, actively seek out paying markets and open calls for your stories. Remember, every publication increases your visibility and expands your audience. Once you have a sizeable collection and your rights have reverted, consider compiling them into a thematic collection. This not only provides an additional revenue stream but also a platform to showcase your narrative prowess.

Additionally, short story collections can serve as a promotional tool to boost your overall sales. You can offer them at a discounted rate or even free during special occasions or in conjunction with the release of your new works. Collections can also be bundled with your other books as part of a sale package, making them a versatile tool in your marketing toolkit.

Moreover, short story collections can act as a gateway to your longer works. If readers enjoy your collection, they are likely to seek out your novels or novellas. You can include excerpts from your longer works in your collection to pique their interest further. This cross-pollination can effectively increase your visibility and reader base.

Building a sustainable writing career is akin to piecing together a complex puzzle. Short story collections represent one of those pieces, offering both financial benefits and a platform to enhance your visibility. By strategically integrating collections into your income strategy, you can bolster your writing career and navigate the uncertain seas of the publishing world with greater confidence.


As we draw this exploration to a close, the resounding echo is clear: understanding the business side of writing isn’t just a nice-to-have skill—it’s an essential part of navigating the complex waters of a writing career. Much like crafting compelling characters or weaving intricate plots, business acumen can determine how effectively your stories reach readers and how sustainable your writing journey can be.

Remember, every short story you pen isn’t just a standalone piece of art—it’s a potential cornerstone for something bigger. Each tale is a stepping stone that can lead to a broader, thematic collection. Each submission, whether it finds a home or returns to you, is a part of your writing journey, a testament to your continual growth as a storyteller.

Don’t be disheartened by rejections. Instead, see them as opportunities for growth, redirection, and, eventually, inclusion in your personal collection. Rights reversion isn’t the end—it’s a second chance, a chance for your stories to breathe new life in a collection that showcases your narrative arc as a writer.

Short story collections aren’t just income opportunities—they’re windows to your evolving world of stories, inviting readers to explore your creativity. They can serve as a bridge between your readers and your longer works, drawing them deeper into the worlds you’ve created.

In the end, writing is as much an art as it is a business. By understanding the dynamics of open calls, paying markets, anthologies, and short story collections, you can set the stage for a more diversified, stable, and successful writing career. So, keep writing, keep exploring, and remember: every short story you craft is a potential spark in the constellation of your literary universe.

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