Author Nancy Sakaduski sticks to a promise in her newly released book How to Write Winning Short Stories: “Let this be a practical little manual of tips, designed to provide accessible, actionable advice to short story writers, particularly beginning or emerging writers, who want to write short stories for adult readers.” For that reason, this book landed on a shelf of works by my favorite writing teachers.
Sakaduski pursues the writing life as an author (23 books), successful regional publisher (Cat & Mouse Press in Lewes, Delaware), and manager of the Rehoboth Beach Reads Short Story Contest, which connects to seashore life in and around the Mid-Atlantic’s Delmarva region. In today’s sharply competitive literary world, she goes quietly about her business, supporting seasoned writers and discovering fresh voices.
How to Write Winning Short Stories packs practical and bold writing lessons in a tight package. The tone is friendly but gets to the point. Sakaduski does not waste words in urging her readers to work. It’s an ideal tool whether one prefers to write solo or participate in a writing group or community workshop.
Note: The Rehoboth Beach Reads Short Story Contest, sponsored by Browseabout Books in Rehoboth, Delaware, launched on March 1. It features the theme “Beach Nights.” Writers from any location may submit entries.
Why did you publish a book on how to write a short story?
I saw so many entries to the short story contest that had basic, easy-to-fix problems. Some of the stories were pretty great and might have won a place in the book had the author not made these errors. I wanted to write a book that would help talented writers correct their mistakes so they had a better chance of getting published.
Why is this genre your personal passion?
From a publisher’s standpoint, it gives many authors a chance at publication, instead of just one. For essentially the same amount of effort on my part, 20 or more authors can know the thrill of seeing their name in print.
What are the top five challenges short story writers face?
When did you start the Beach Reads Contest–and why?
The first year was 2013. I wanted to showcase local authors while creating a book that visitors and residents would enjoy reading.
The books are roughly the same length, so the number of winners really depends on the length of the stories (if a lot of the top stories are long, fewer authors get in the book). After the first year, I lowered the maximum word count from 5,000 to 3,500 to try to give more people a chance.
Your book covers have a strong visual component. How do you work with illustrators?
I try to promote local illustrators. Rather than use stock photos or covers with just typography, I like to commission original art by local artists and have done this for every book. Using original art makes my books more expensive to produce, but it gives them a distinctive look.
Describe your partnership with Browseabout Books.
Browseabout Books is generally very supportive of local authors, but they were particularly generous in their early support of the Rehoboth Beach Reads Short Story Contest. They were willing to provide the entire prize money and have continued to do so, adding to the pot so that now there are three cash prizes ($500, $250, and $100). They also help spread the word about the contest and help promote the books after they are published. It’s a great synergistic project.
Being a regional publisher requires passion, market sense, vision, and business smarts. What differentiates your press from mainstream commercial publishers?
I have had quite a few books published through national publishing companies, with mixed results. I was not always impressed with the quality of the marketing or the teamwork, so I felt I could do a better job.
Although I am a writer, I am also a businessperson who has an MBA and a successful consulting business to build from. I’ve always liked teaching and nurturing talent. I thought that combination would work well in creating a collaborative publishing process that would provide a successful experience for the writer as well as for me.
I also realize that self-published books are flooding the market and that many of them are not of high quality. I try to clearly differentiate my company’s books through professional editing, good cover design, and industry-standard marketing and sales practices. I want booksellers and book buyers to feel confident when they purchase Cat & Mouse Press books.
How do you coach new writers?
I coach writers in the process of producing the books. This is a somewhat hidden but (I’m told) highly valued side benefit of having a story selected for the yearly anthology. I spend quite a bit of time working with each author to improve the stories that were selected so that they are the best they can be.
I don’t offer coaching services separately. It’s part of my process when working with an author. I try to point out what is working and then ask questions (“What if the character didn’t have the right information here?” “This seems like an opportunity for humor—can you think of a funnier example?”). I also try to teach along the way by pointing out issues that pop up more than once (“Remember to stay in the right point of view.” “Show this in dialogue rather than explain it”). I aim for being clear about what needs to be changed and how, while not embarrassing the writer or making him or her lose enthusiasm.
How do you market books?
I accept the reality that I cannot effectively market on a national basis, so I only publish books that I think will have a solid sales potential in this region. Through strong independent bookstores and a growing base of followers who know Cat & Mouse Press books are of professional quality and will not be a disappointment, I am able to achieve a much greater sales success than the typical author can obtain through self-publishing. My hope is that some of my books will break through on a national level, but am pretty confident of modest success even if they don’t.
Do you spot industry trends that are changing how readers access, read, and shop for books?
I don’t pay too much attention to this, although I will say short stories are a trend because attention spans are getting shorter and people find it harder to read for large blocks of time. My sales approach runs counter to what many view as the trend toward everything going through online retailers, and books being primarily in digital form. My books are almost exclusively sold through stores, and I’ve only just released my first e-book.
What is the most fun part of your job?
I love the excitement of an author or illustrator being thrilled with the final product. For that reason, the book launches and signing parties are great fun. I also enjoy the creative side of the business of identifying a great idea, thinking about how best to execute it, figuring out the best way to get the word out, and—if all goes well—having everyone enjoy a share of the success.