Image: Matthew Loffhagen
There are lots of ways to market a book, but the problem with most of them is how alien they can feel to writers. It’s rare that artistically-minded people have an instinct for selling, and indie authors can quickly grow frustrated with the need to package and repackage a book while offering shrewd discounts at different times in the year.
Of course, it’s beneficial to get comfortable with different marketing techniques, but today I want to look at something that’s definitely in any author’s wheelhouse: writing. Not just writing, of course, that’s what we should all be doing anyway, but consciously writing a varied selection of stories to help market your work and brand.
Mixing it up
It’s common knowledge that different people read different types of books. Some people love short stories, some like novels, some like novellas, some only have time for audiobooks, and some people prefer ebooks.
Generally, as an author, you pick your preferred style and you try and go after that audience. There’s nothing wrong with that thinking, but diversity instantly opens up your market. It’s common in today’s market for any author publishing a physical copy to also publish a digital version of their book. Why wouldn’t you, when 99% of the work that goes into a physical book can be transferred over to its digital counterpart?
It’s this same logic that makes varied writing so effective for marketing. The more different types of writing you add to your roster, the more markets you’re targeting, and since those markets intercept, there are plenty of readers who may be pulled in by your novel and then migrate to your short story collection.
That’s not to say that you have to be continually pivoting to new styles of writing. Like any technique, this thinking can be applied on a major or minor scale. Yes, authors who have three novels, two novellas, a short story collection, and entries in several anthologies are really making the most of their skillset, but an author who has three novels and a couple of short stories is still casting their net wider than someone who will only write works of a single length.
So, what kind of works could you be writing? Well…
- Novels – Novels take a lot of time and effort, but they also tend to have the most value to readers. If you don’t write longer fiction, it’s unlikely to be worth forcing out a novel just to vary your output.
- Novellas – Shorter than novels, novellas are the ideal way for long-form writers to diversify their output. Bonus points if you can write a novella that complements your longer work, perhaps focusing on a minor character or event from the main story. This is a great way to suck in curious readers; they’re not being asked to invest as much time and money, but they still get a taste of the world you’ve created.
- Short stories – Short stories are a great way to diversify your output because they’re so malleable. You might publish a short story collection, but you might also be able to contribute to an anthology along with other authors. Again, short stories ask for less investment from the reader, but they serve as a great introduction to your work. They’re also useful for giveaways, which we’ll touch on shortly.
- Audiobooks and podcasts – Some people prefer to listen to stories (or, at least, they find it easier to do so). Wherever possible, create an audio version of all your work, as there’s a growing market out there of people who prefer to ‘read’ in places where books aren’t practical. This isn’t so much about length as accessibility; make it as easy as possible to buy and enjoy your writing.
- Articles and blog posts – Again, ultra-short writing gives beleaguered readers an opportunity to get to know you. Blogs aren’t just about advertising; they’re the kind of writing a person can read on any device and easily circulate. Stories like ‘Cat Person’ and ‘17776’ (which we talked about in What ‘17776’ Can Tell You About Improving Your Craft) were popular on their own merits, but their rapid spread was partly down to their accessibility. Stories of this length can be shared and read (sneakily) at a desk in a way that other media can’t.
- Serials – Short, serial writing isn’t particularly big right now, but sites like Wattpad and Reddit still find ways to popularize serial fiction, such as ‘The Left/Right Game’. If you’re looking for a creative way to distribute a longer work, serialization may be the way to go.
Those are most of your options for varying the length of your writing, but once you’ve decided on a couple of approaches that work for you, how can they help your marketing? Well, answers vary, but we have five suggestions.
1. Diversify pricing
Diverse and varied writing output helps to attract different kinds of reader, but so does diverse pricing. If it’s possible for readers to try out your work at minimal cost, they’re more likely to move onto your more expensive work.
In this way, writing of varied length can create a ladder of investment – a free, enjoyable blog post can inspire someone to check out your shorter, cheaper works, which can then give them the confidence to check out your full-length, more costly books.
2. Create a brand
Branding is an essential part of selling yourself as an author – getting people to read one of your book is great, but getting them to see your name as a badge of quality is even better. When you’re just starting out, it can be hard to transition readers into this type of ‘brand’ thinking, especially when you don’t have a huge body of work to show them.
By varying the length of your writing and creating a range of different stories, you give yourself the ability to establish a brand early on, and readers will be able to immerse themselves in your work far in advance of the ‘three novel’ barrier that tends to limit indie author exposure.
3. Advertise range
Readers tend to have more faith in writers who have a lot of publications on the market. This is partly because such authors are clearly committed to their craft, and partly because it makes them look skilled enough to have survived the commercial demands of selling their art.
Publishing a variety of different-length fiction means you can publish more separate stories in a shorter time, and this can create a reassuring product range for potential readers wondering whether to give you a try.
4. Organize giveaways
Giveaways are a useful way to get readers interested in your work, but the drawback is that you’re not earning any money from the writing you choose to use. Happily, writing shorter fiction gives you the writing you need to run a successful giveaway while keeping the money you’re missing out on to a minimum. Better still, if you have something longer in the wings (or something with a higher price point, like an audiobook), your giveaways allow you to give away your cheaper writing to get people interested in your more costly output.
5. Assemble bargain sets
One great way to get readers hooked on your writing is to assemble bargain sets or ‘box sets’ of writing. These discounted collections are just multiple books sold together at a notable discount. As with organizing a giveaway, being able to utilize shorter writing when assembling bargain sets gives you the ability to be more creative with the deals you’re able to offer. Shorter writing might even be the difference between having a novel for sale and being able to assemble an apparent bargain that actually makes you more money while still giving value to the reader.
Variety and diversity
Shorter writing isn’t for everyone, but if it’s something you feel able to tackle, a few shorter projects could be what it takes to increase interest in your longer work. Remember that everybody loves a bargain, and if you’re able to produce shorter fiction, you suddenly have the ability to be a lot more creative with your pricing and offers, even as your range and brand presence make you seem like a much more trustworthy prospect.
Have you experimented with varying the length of your writing to help your marketing? Let me know how it went in the comments, and check out So You Think You Know Your Short Prose? and So You’ve Published Your Book… Now What? for more great advice.