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Should I write a novel or a collection?

You're a new author. You're on social media and you see other authors talking about short story acceptances and open calls. You haven't written a book yet, but think to yourself, "I can write short stories, maybe I'll write a collection."


And maybe you should write that collection. I think short stories are a great way to learn the craft of writing, learn how to format a manuscript. Especially if you don't have any sort of writing background and need to sharpen your skills. Working with an editor for these stories is a must in my opinion if you're in the early stages of your career. Of course, nothing is really a must but I truly believe if your craft is very rough, a true, good editor is going to easily pick out all of your bad habits and grammar tendencies and rip you apart. Because that early in your writing, you need someone to tell you the hard truth. How can you get better if everyone is telling you "wow this is great" when in actually it's a steaming pile of crap.


I know because I was there. When I really started getting serious at writing there were alot of very supportive authors, editors and pre-readers. But it wasn't until I paid Ken W. Cain to look at a manuscript that previously I'd heard nothing but kind words for that I realized it was crap.


So yeah, write those stories, write that collection. Writing is the only way to get better. But I'm not here to talk about that, it was simply necessary to open up with that. What I really want to talk to new authors about, especially in the small press and self publishing world, is should your debut book be a short story collection, or a novel/novella.


I don't beat around the bush when I speak about things that I'm passionate, and I'm certainly going to give some advice here that people won't agree with, but that's ok. You take what I say, and what others say and you decide what works for you.


Feel free to write that collection, but I think it is in a new authors best interest to HOLD IT until they have a novel out in the world. Selling a book is a difficult task, even for authors who have established themselves. You're the new jack, it makes it that much tougher to ask someone to spend their hard earned cash on you. You might be saying to yourself "But wouldn't a short story collection be the perfect way to introduce people to my writing?" Yes, and no. A good short story is difficult to write. You need to make people feel the same way they feel from a novel in a much shorter length of space. You have to establish good characters, an intriguing plot, and then wrap that all up in a shiny, pint sized bow. It's a difficult task for the best writers.


And in theory, you're absolutely right. It is a great way to give people a small taste of your writing. But I'm not talking about theory here, I'm talking about real life facts. Whether you like to believe it or not, I want you to ask a handful of authors about how their collections sell in comparison to their novels and novellas. I'd bet the farm on it that 70 percent of them will tell you their best selling books are the longer forms.


Why am I so sure? Because as someone who would like to turn writing into a living, I ask business questions to publishers and authors frequently. I can think of a few authors who've told me their collection is their best selling work, but from all the private conversations I've had the last few years, those are the exceptions, not the rule. You can find exceptions to any rule, not just this. I take part in various large facebook groups regarding self publishing, and for the most part, regardless of genre, every single person I've talked to says the same thing. Collections don't move the needle the same way.


As far as my own personal experience? Well, even with a book under my belt first that has scene moderate success, far more than I had anticipated, and some stellar reviews for the collection, it is all but unseen. If we are talking numbers, the collection doesn't even move a book a month. Nine months after release, I haven't recouped the editing costs or the cover cost of the book.


You need to ask yourself what your goal is. If you honestly don't give a damn what you sell or don't sell, then congrats because you can do whatever you want, say whatever you want and don't need to worry about a damn thing.


But if your goal is to make a career out of writing, no matter whether you want to write full time, to supplement your income, or just for one book to fuel the next then I'm going to tell you what a small publisher told me a few years ago. Do yourself a favor and sit on those stories. Keep writing them if you want to, especially if you're shopping the stories. Before you know it you'll be sitting on a collection. But as a business decision, your best bet is going to be sit down and finish that novel or novella and get that out before you publish that collection, Especially if you're going to self publish it. The truth of the matter is that while there are plenty of readers that love short stories, collections simply don't have the same audience reach as longer works do. Your best bet is to build an audience first. You do that by releasing books.


If a publisher is taking the book on, well then you've got someone paying for editing, a cover, and a minimal amount of marketing and it is much less of a risk for you, and that may help you make the choice. Just try not to get discouraged if the sales are soft and keep working on whatever is next. But if you're self publishing, and don't have an established audience, you're making a very risky business decision.


Writing is art, publishing is a business. In the end you need to make the decision for yourself, and I hope this has helped you somewhat.

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