Marketing is a lot like writing

For a lot of writers, marketing doesn’t come naturally. That’s sort of silly if you think about it: At its core, marketing is telling a story — just like writing. 

But in order for that story to effectively sell your book, you have to know whom to tell it to when, and this can be the hard part — especially when it comes to getting your book in the press.

The way writers should go about this for a short story collection can be different than for a novel, something I’ve thought a lot about as I promote my own debut title, Tell Me What You See (Whiskey Tit, December 2022). 

Thinking about your short story collection as a whole

Short story promotion is much more focused but — at the same time — widespread.

Here’s why: Think about the way you describe what your short story collection is about. The answer likely varies, depending on which story from the book you think of first. 

For those writing linked collections where every story is set in the same town or is built around the same theme, it becomes easier to narrow the subject down to one sentence. 

But not all collections are connected. The main similarity between the stories in Tell Me What You See, for example, is they’re all set during covid. But is the collection about the pandemic? Not necessarily. 

Some stories are about corona, but there’s also a story about Alzheimer’s and another about cancer and one about the January 6th invasion on the US Capitol. 

This variety makes it harder to market: Whereas a novel has one single tagline the writer can use to get a reporter or reviewer’s attention, short story collections are harder to sum up.

Think about each story in the collection individually

The way to get around it, though, can be a blessing: Personally, I wrote a different subject-driven pitch for every topic in the collection. 

This took more work, but it also created more opportunity for results. Getting your book in the news means figuring out which podcasts, websites, and other press are a good fit – for each individual story in your collection. 

Take a political magazine with a book review section. If I sent them a pitch saying the book is about Alzheimer’s, they’d throw away my email. But if I told them the book had a story about the Capitol, they’d perk up.

Woman sitting cross legged with laptop on lap

Create a pitch for each story

The same goes for reviewers: Not all critics read the same type of books. Just like us, they have personal preferences on what they prefer to read. Some like nonfiction better or historical novels. There are a lot of bloggers who only read YA.

To identify which outlets to approach, I printed a copy of Tell Me What You See’s table of contents. Then, beside each story title, I wrote its hook: political, medical, experimental (don’t forget genre!), and so on. 

Then I went down the list of political magazines to pitch the Capitol story, then medical for the ones on Alzheimer’s and cancer — you get the drill.

How to approach reviewers

For reviews, it’s the same idea but a slightly different technique. Just because a critic reviewed one historical novel doesn’t mean they stick to that genre. 

This could even be the only book of that type they’ve reviewed. Most of my stories are experimental, so when I find a review of experimental fiction, I look to see who wrote it, then run their name through Book Marks, a free database from Literary Hub. 

Using the site is easy: You type the critic’s name into search and it pulls up every review they’ve written for books that have received three or more reviews overall. 

This gives a general overview of what the reviewer usually likes so that you know which pitch to send them.

Each world you create needs special attention

Granted this is more work than novelists need to do, but as short story writers, we’re used to that. 

With every new story, we create a seperate world as opposed to novelists who stay in one world for a much longer time. 

My collection has 10 stories, so I had to develop 10 worlds. When I thought about it that way, writing 10 pitches wasn’t all that hard. Neither will it be for you.

Terena Bell
Author: Terena Bell

Terena Bell has reported on books and writing for The Boston Globe, The Guardian, Smithsonian Magazine, and others. Her debut short story collection, Tell Me What You See, published with Whiskey Tit in 2022. A Sinking Fork, Kentucky native, she lives in New York. Learn more at terenabell.com.

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