Since I’ve done this several times and a couple of people have asked me how I managed it, I wanted to set down my thoughts. Be advised that these are my personal experiences and may not be applicable to your situation.
First, what should you pitch? I would advise a collection of between 60,000 and 80,000 words total. Stories that have been previously published will need to revert to you before you can publish them again, check your contract to see how long an exclusionary period was specified.
I prefer a mix of previously published and exclusive material–I want to give readers something that they can’t get anywhere else. If you’re published in wide range of magazines and anthologies, as I am, it’s likely that there is going to be some new content for any reader, though.
The nice thing about previously published stories is that they have already been accepted by somebody, and they’ve been through the editing process once before. I advise using the version that you were sent to proof as the version to include in the collection. (I could be wrong, but I believe that edits are not copyrighted. I’ve never had any editor I’ve worked with tell me that I couldn’t use their proofed version of my story, anyway.)
Collections should have some cohesion to them–all stories of a similar genre or a similar tone. For example, Dark Fantasies is all fantasy stories, while Endless Summer is all science fiction. Bad Dreams & Broken Hearts is all stories about the same character, set in the same world.
If you can’t put together 60,000 words without mixing very different types of stories, you might want to wait until you have more stories written. And if at least half of the stories haven’t been published elsewhere, you might want to wait until you’ve sold more stories.
But let’s assume that you have a collection of stories and the ones that you’ve sold have the rights have reverted to you, and they all hang together. What next?
Well, I don’t know of any small presses that advertise for submissions of short fiction collections, and that includes the three presses I have sold collections to. So you’ll have to do a blue sky pitch.
First, look at what presses publish, and the place to start is the publications that have already accepted your work. Does your collection, as a whole, fit in with what a press tends to accept? As an example, I sold one story to Switchblade Magazine and I am very happy with that sale, but I wouldn’t pitch a collection to them because most of my stories are not Crime Fiction.
Once you have a press in mind, someone with whom you have worked in the past and that you think could do a good job with your collection, then your write your pitch.
This is a business letter. Be clear and straight to the point. You are one professional proposing a business deal with another. The time to talk about artistic vision and overarching themes is after you have found out whether or not they are even interested.
My name is Jane Bloggs, and you may remember my story “I’m Sorry I Ate Your Cat” which you published in Issue #11 of Squishy Magazine.
I currently have a collection of short Sci Fi/Horror fiction of 68,000 words. Would be interested in discussing the project for publication?
You’re likely to get one of several responses. They might say, “No, I’m not in a position to publish a long project right now.”
Or they might say, “I’m interested. Tell me more.”
Or they might say, “What kind of deal would you want?”
I try to be flexible on terms. A small press that has been in operation for a while will have a standard contract for buying stories, and will probably want to used a scaled up version. They may offer an advance against royalties, or not. I am not going to try to offer advice on contracts–that’s a whole ‘nother area of specialization. Suffice to say that I am happy with the terms I’ve gotten on my collections.
Keep in mind, though, that you are dealing with a small press, and that they will be absorbing the upfront production costs and assuming the risks, so don’t expect them to also cut you a fat check.
So, if you can come to terms that you are both happy with, you’re in business. If not, thank them for their time and attention and pitch it to someone else.
Any questions? Ask them, and if I can I’ll answer them.