Short story collections are underrepresented among literary agents, making it harder for beginning (and even established) writers to make their way into this market. Some writers begin submitting stand-alone short stories to literary magazines, or combine them to form collections, but nevertheless, may find it difficult to emerge in the publishing world and/or find success in submitting to prestigious magazines. Publishing houses sometimes hesitate to accept short story collections due to the fact that they are often harder to market and sell, as opposed to novels.
Because short story collections are a difficult sell to agents, I wanted to interview agents who represent collections, to share their insight with writers on how to succeed with the short story form, as well as shed light on what they personally look for in submissions. The wonderful agents who agreed to this interview include:
- Reiko Davis of DeFiore and Company Literary Management
- Kim Lindman of Stonesong Agency
- Amanda Orozco of Transatlantic Agency
- (See more details on Reiko, Kim, and Amanda below.)
This is a guest article by Lindsey Catanzaro. Lindsey is a student
at Salve Regina University studying English literature, creative writing,
film, and music. She is the author of the novel Finding Harmony (2017)
and hopes to publish more in the future. Composing music and playing the
piano are her passions. Lindsey loves traveling and hiking but can also be found
indoors hunched over her next story idea with a hot cup of tea. She lives in
Rhode Island with her parents, grandmother, and younger brother.
* * * *
Short story collections are underrepresented among literary agents. What made you want to represent them?
REIKO DAVIS: Firstly, I love the form. I started reading more story collections when I began working as an agent and had less time to read novels for pleasure. I just wanted a book that I could start and stop and then pick up again easily. Something that could be consumed in the space of a lunch break, a subway ride home, the hour before bedtime. I love their compactness, their bursts of brilliance. Novels are incredibly immersive, but the best short stories tend to stick with me longer, sometimes for years, and I remember their characters and small universes more clearly than even my favorite novels.
KIM LINDMAN: Short stories appeal to me because I still marvel at how much writers can do with so few words. I also think short story collections can be welcoming gateways to discovering (or rediscovering) a love of reading.
AMANDA OROZCO: I’m drawn to short story collections because I love the freedom and flexibility there is in presenting a range of stories and experimenting with form. I also believe short stories take a high level of craft to pull off and can be more difficult in a lot of ways than writing a full novel, so I enjoy seeing the creativity and mastery that goes into short stories. I also feel that, with our shortening attention spans, they’re a refreshing way to experiment with and present amazing writing/storytelling in smaller doses.
For many writers, the short story may be one of the best places to begin because of the length, allowing stylistic practice and shorter, more compact plots. Unlike the typical novel, the word count of a short story can range from anywhere between 5,000 to 10,000 words. Completing multiple short stories to form a collection is a great way to experiment as a writer—especially for new writers seeking to establish themselves and their reputation. Having individual short stories published in literary magazines also speaks to a writer’s dedication and talent, and can assist in pursuing publication of a short story collection or larger works with an agent.
Does a short story collection have to have unifying themes or genres to give the collection an identity?
REIKO DAVIS: In my experience, yes. It’s important for a collection to have some sort of organizing principle or connective tissue the reader can sense.
KIM LINDMAN: I am looking for short story collections to be unified in genre, but hopefully in more than one way, like atmosphere, theme, tone, form, or something more literal like an object or place.
AMANDA OROZCO: Yes; it’s helpful to have a cohesive thread that ties the collection together, whether that’s in tone, theme, genre, or style, among others.
ATTEND A WRITERS
CONFERENCE IN 2024:
You seek short story collections to represent. But within that category, what are you looking for specifically? Are you seeking specific genres or styles in the short story collections that come your way?
REIKO DAVIS: Great question. I would say I look for stories and story collections that show the world through a tilted lens—something wholly exciting or unexpected. Being a much more compact form than the novel, I would say short stories have to clear a higher bar at the line level, too (at least for me). The language needs to startle and sing as much as the story arc and characters. I tend to be drawn to collections that center around a particular region, setting, or community. I do my best to remain open to different genres or styles. I love to be surprised.
KIM LINDMAN: In short stories I am particularly drawn to magical realism, light speculative elements, and surrealism. I am always intrigued by stories that experiment with form. I’d like to see collections that are comparable to: VERGE, by Lidia Yuknavitch; FRIDAY BLACK, by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah; THE LONESOME BODYBUILDER, by Yukiko Motoya; and MOUTHFUL OF BIRDS, by Samanta Schweblin.
AMANDA OROZCO: I’m looking for a distinct voice from a writer of color whose stories are experimental and groundbreaking, in content or structure or style. I’m particularly drawn to speculative or magical realism in short stories but am open to anything that sheds light on an unexplored area of life or is told from a completely fresh perspective, in the vein of FRIDAY BLACK by Nana Kwame Adjei- Brenyah or MOUTHFUL OF BIRDS by Samantha Schweblin.
Short stories provide a place for distinct voice, original perspective, and unique form. Many are often most successful due to their quirks and unconventional styles, unlike mainstream novels. Speculative realism, magical realism, and surrealism are often sought to introduce new concepts, worlds, and ideas, making this form very broad and full of potential.
How does a writer having a literary agent help with the odds of being accepted into literary magazines? Does it at all?
REIKO DAVIS: While short fiction writers often submit and successfully place stories with magazines and literary journals on their own, a literary agent can sometimes help by handling certain story submissions to the larger or very “prestigious” publications (e.g. The Paris Review) when the agent has a connection to editors there. I think many publications frankly prefer to work directly with the author without having to deal with an agent, but an agented submission can help a writers’ chances of being noticed and published at those bigger places.
KIM LINDMAN: I represent book-length fiction or book-length collections of short fiction to publishers, so I can’t speak to submission acceptance rates at literary magazines or journals.
AMANDA OROZCO: From my experience, it doesn’t make a huge difference; the writing should speak for itself and I think that’s the main concern of most literary magazines.
Should a writer try to get some short stories published before querying you with a collection? If they do not have any published, will that potentially harm their submission chances with you?
REIKO DAVIS: It certainly helps. I tend to find promising short fiction writers by scouting various magazines and journals and then reaching out to a writer when I read a published story of theirs that I love. If the writer is approaching me through a query, it helps when they already have a few writing credits under their belt, even if their stories have so far appeared in smaller or lesser-known publications. It speaks to the writer’s commitment to putting their work out there, participating in a writing community, and building a name for themselves in that particular space.
KIM LINDMAN: While having no previous publication isn’t an automatic rejection, I always hope that short story writers have had stories published in literary magazines or journals. It shows a dedication to writing and receiving feedback that bodes well for eventually working with an editor and writing future books.
AMANDA OROZCO: Yes, it’s helpful to have a few published stories before querying because when submitting a collection to publishers, the publishers will be more likely to seriously consider a writer who has previously been published with a good track record. While I wouldn’t say it would potentially harm an author’s submission chances with me, it certainly wouldn’t hurt. Short story collections can be a hard sell to publishers, especially for debut authors, so anything that could help boost the author will help the collection’s chances of being acquired.
Overall, short stories serve as a wonderful form for writers to practice different styles, establish credibility, and build up their name. Whether the writer is experienced or just beginning, having written a short story or short story collection can aid in connecting with agents, as well as give a strong foundation for publishing larger works. Start writing your collection today!
A special thank you to Reiko Davis, Kim Lindman, and Amanda Orozco, all of whom were extremely helpful and knowledgeable. All three agents are currently accepting short story collections. Considering submitting? Links to websites below!
Reiko Davis has been an agent at DeFiore and Company since 2016, prior to which she was at Miriam Altshuler Literary Agency. She focuses on literary and upmarket fiction and narrative nonfiction, as well as middle grade and YA literature. A graduate of Brown University (where she majored in Comparative Literature and Art History) and the Columbia Publishing Course, she grew up in Kansas City, Missouri, and now lives in Queens, New York. Her clients include Devi S. Laskar (winner of the Asian/Pacific American Award for Fiction and the Crook’s Corner Book Prize), Genevieve Plunkett (O. Henry Prize winner), Lucy Jane Bledsoe (ALA Stonewall Award winner and Lambda Literary Award finalist), YA novelist Lindsey Klingele, two-time Paralympic swimmer for Team USA and ESPY Award winner Mallory Weggemann, middle grade authors Andrea Debbink and Brittany Geragotelis, bestselling writing coach Alan Gelb, novelist Micah Perks, Netflix Last Chance U star and athletic academic counselor Brittany Wagner, PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize winner Shannon Sanders, and journalist and former Harvard Business Review senior editor Nancy A. Nichols.
Kim Lindman started as an assistant at Stonesong in 2018, and now holds the positions of Associate Agent and Social Media Coordinator. Originally from the West Coast, she graduated from Seattle Pacific University with a B.A. in English Literature and a subfocus in Journalism. Since moving to the NYC area, Kim has worked with the United Nations and currently holds a hospitality position at Van Brunt Stillhouse in Brooklyn. Her distinct professional experience and personal passions make her a good choice for social sciences, travel, and beverage/cocktail books.
Before joining the Transatlantic Agency, Amanda Orozco gained a breadth of experience in publishing, publicity, subsidiary rights, and agenting in New York. She graduated from the NYU Masters of Science in Publishing: Digital and Print Media in 2019, during which she worked at the National Book Foundation, Shreve Williams Public Relations, and The Gernert Company. Upon graduating, she worked at Little, Brown in Subsidiary Rights where she helped sell rights for authors such as Michael Connelly, Elin Hilderbrand, and Sarah Knight, until discovering agenting was her true calling. Amanda worked at Park & Fine Literary and Media before moving back to Los Angeles, where she grew up. Amanda has been a member of PoCinPub since 2018 and has recently worked for Dryland, the literary journal born in South Central, where she aimed to amplify marginalized voices from the literary underground.