A reader writes:
I have a small collection of short stories and I need help getting them published. How do i go about doing that? I have looked everywhere, agents, small publishers, etc. What do I do?
I'm a little hesitant to offer advice to short-story writers because it takes me 5,000 words just to clear my throat. I haven't written a short story since I was in George Nobbe's wonderful class in creative writing at Columbia...and that was close to fifty years ago.
The short story is a demanding genre, but no longer a popular one. Every pulp magazine used to publish a batch of them in each issue, not to mention the general-interest magazines like Saturday Evening Post.
Now, the chief market for short stories is the academic little magazine, usually subsidized by a college or university. They pay mostly in copies, or fifty bucks a page. A tiny number of genre mags like Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Analog are still around, but they must be swamped with submissions.
Yes, some big names still publish short-story collections. But if you're not John Updike or Alice Munro, your best chance of getting a collection into print is to have published a successful novel...with another good novel in progress. The collection will keep your readers happy until novel #2 is out.
If short stories matter to you, then write them and don't worry about publishing them. Send them out to the little magazines, and if they're accepted, great. If not, write more stories.
As you gain skill and confidence, you should move to longer forms like the novella and the novel. You may find that a series of short stories about the same characters or locale can blend themselves into a novel-length work. (An unjustly forgotten writer, William March, wrote a wonderful novel called Company K in which every man in a World War I Marine company tells his own short part of the company's story.)
Should you self-publish? Sure, if you want to create a lifetime supply of Christmas presents for friends and family. You'd reach more readers by posting the stories on a website, free.
But if you want to publish a collection that actually breaks even, or makes a little money, you should first publish several successful novels.