Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Using Short Stories to Promote Fiction – The Costs and Benefits

Copyright © 2013 Gina Robinson
Originally published by 1st Turning Point
Last fall the editor of a popular series of romance short story anthologies approached me about contributing a story to an upcoming anthology.  The offer came out of the blue.  I write in the subgenre that she was going to feature in this particular anthology.  The deadline was short—just three weeks.  Was writing a story for it worth my while or not?  Can a short story be an effective way to promote a novel or a novelist’s career?
Fortunately for me, the offer came at a good time.  I was between projects and had the time to devote to writing a story without sacrificing my other writing goals.  Recently a friend of mine received a similar invitation.  For her, the timing didn’t work out.  She was on a tight deadline for one of her novels.  Whether published or aspiring to be published, the first thing to consider is the opportunity cost regarding your novel writing time.  Will the benefit you receive from the short story outweigh the cost of the lost days of work on your novel?
This is something each writer must determine for him/herself.  I was also lucky.  The deadline for the story was only three weeks away.  This prevented me from getting sidetracked and endlessly revising the story for months, rather than working on a new novel.  When making your decision, evaluate your personality and make sure a diversion into writing a short story won’t turn into a time vampire that takes you away from your novel writing indefinitely.
Secondly, I evaluated the anthology to see if having a story in it would be good for my author brand.  I wouldn’t want to be associated with something that would hurt the reputation I’m trying to build.  I asked for a list of other contributing authors and was impressed by the number of bestselling authors already onboard.  The anthology seemed like a good mix of bestselling authors, midlist authors, and debut authors.  Since we all write in the same subgenre, I hoped fans of the other authors would read my story and possibly become my fans as well.
With twenty-two authors participating, I also felt I’d get good exposure.  Twenty-two authors listing the book on their websites and blogs and promoting it had to be a good thing.  And, hopefully, the name recognition and selling power of the bestsellers would guarantee a good print run.
I checked out past anthologies in the series.  From what I could tell, they seemed to sell well and were well distributed.  In my opinion, there wasn’t any point in spending any time at all writing a story for an anthology that no one was going to read.  My research was validated later.  In March, I had an opportunity to speak with a salesman from the publisher who told me they were pleased with the lay-down for the book.  All good, encouraging signs.
After initially receiving the offer, I gave myself the weekend to think about it.  I decided that if I could come up with a story idea within that time that I felt would represent me well in the anthology, I’d accept.  If not, I’d pass.  It doesn’t do any good to have a short story published that isn’t your very best work and that doesn’t represent the novels and brand you’re trying to promote in the best possible way.  I didn’t want to meet a valuable new audience with a weak story.  Short stories are different animals from novels.  Consider carefully whether you think you can make the transition and write a short story that sells your longer work.
As a side benefit, I was paid a decent amount for my short story.  Many short story markets pay little or nothing.  Some organizations use short story anthologies as fundraisers, for example, and the authors donate the stories to support the cause.  For me, the pay wasn’t an issue, the value of the promotion was.  But it was a nice side benefit.  I can use the money I received to pay for other promotional costs.
When selling a short story, it’s important to realize which rights you’re selling or giving away.  I retain full rights to my story, which is important.  I’m free to use the characters in a full length novel, for example.  I can post it to my website as a freebie to entice traffic.  Or sell it to a magazine.  Or sell it on Amazon as a short.  Being able to reuse the story and characters in some other manner is a bonus and ups the promotional value of the time I spent writing the story.
To recap, when deciding whether to pursue short stories as a means of promoting a novel keep the following questions in mind:
  • Do you have time to devote to writing the short story?  To researching the market and submitting?
  • Do you have a story idea that will be a positive example of your longer work?
  • How large an audience do you expect to reach?
  • Is the audience large enough and targeted enough to justify the time and work of writing involved?  Check magazines for subscription levels, websites for traffic, and print anthologies for print runs and selling status.
  • Will you be paid?  If so, how much?
  • What rights will you retain?  Can you use the story in multiple ways to get maximum value?
Best of luck and happy short story writing!

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Gina Robinson is the author of the award-winning funny romantic suspense Agent Ex series. She also writes historical, contemporary, and new adult romance. She was not a prankster in college, although she knows a good many people who were. They will remain nameless to protect the guilty. She married her college sweetheart and has never forgotten that wonderful feeling of falling in love. Most days she writes while wearing slippers, flip-flops, or tennis shoes, depending on the season. But she loves a great, sexy heel and has a closet full for special occasions.

1 comment:

  1. I've always been a fan of article marketing for novels. This idea of using short fiction is the next natural step.