Writer Q&As: How do I know if my manuscript works for a publisher?

I am hoping to contact publishers with a query letter. I have 22 short stories; 11 have been published in literary journals. Are 22 tales too many? Should I cut some or wait and let the editor do so? Should I just keep the manuscript limited to the 11 that have appeared in literary journals? The long manuscript is 43,000 words. Cullene Bryant

Given that you are an emerging writer, the risk-taking aversion publishers have, and that story collections are not money-makers for publishers, you need to do more research before you approach a publisher as this will make all the difference in the outcome of your query letter.

In your research, first consider:

    • Which publishers you are interested in?
    • Have they published collection of stories in last 3 years? Have they published emerging writers?
    • How many stories are in the collections (or total pages for the book)?
    • What is their total page count or word count? This signals what size your manuscript should be.
    • Also, what collection subjects seem to interest each publisher?

On the publisher’s websites,  you will find crucial information about submissions and query letters such as:

      • when they accept submission
      • if they accept unsolicited submissions
      • whether they want a query letter first, or if they want a sample or an entire manuscript
      • if they want you to include your writing curriculum-vitae, or other supplemental documentation.

Without fail, tailor your submission exactly to each publisher’s requirements. If you fail to do so, they will dismiss your submission without reading it.

To my knowledge, most short story collections run about 10-12 stories (total pages is the deciding factor). If your 11 published stories include more of your recent work, if they show your range of subjects, and have an overall cohesive and compelling focus, then use these. Mention in your cover letter that you have additional stories if the publisher is interested.

Next, do some North American market research to establish a context and viability of readership for your manuscript. Are there collections that have some similarity to yours published in past few years? Have they done well (reviews, awards, 2nd editions, etc.)? If so, mention this information in your cover letter. Your cover letter should convey your up-to-date knowledge about publishers’ current trends in short story collections. It should also convey your professionalism (that you have finished your manuscript with the help of professional mentors/editors).

Lastly, provide your URL and confirm that you are very motivated to promote your book. Also, state that the readers’ responses to your stories (via giving readings and journal publication) clearly indicate there is a sizeable readership for your collection.

Answered by Betsy Warland.

Do you have a question you would like answered by one of the Vancouver Manuscript Intensive mentors? Let us know in a comment.

Posted by: Lindsay Glauser

2 thoughts on “Writer Q&As: How do I know if my manuscript works for a publisher?

  1. I have had three books self-published. I was out of so much money for the last two, that I look at my next book and wonder, “What in the world am I going to do?” I can’t keep doing this. I am finishing up my children’s book as soon as possible.

    I need to get more into marketing my own books. That also is expensive, but I am gathering all the information I can. How do you know if your work is any good?

  2. Hello Betty,

    An important question. And, I empathize.

    In order to answer it, let me know the genres of all three books you have self-published; what kind of reader feedback did your receive about the; how did you get them out there (distribute them); how big were your print runs and approximately what percentage of each book did you get into the hands of readers; finally, how many publishers did you send these manuscripts to and did they give you any feedback? Kindly reply to these questions in bullet form.

    Back to you, Betty.


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