Image: Matthew Loffhagen
The greatest enemy of the self-published author is time.
Time moves too quickly (unless you’re at work). Free time is precious. Your potential readers are all too aware of this, and they’re having to be very careful with what leisure activities they invest in.
For this reason, it can often seem like an uphill struggle attempting to convince readers to take a chance on a book they haven’t heard of before: the natural tendency is to go with something more familiar, or with an author who’s been more widely praised.
Sometimes, the perfect way to draw in readers is to offer them a small, self-enclosed story that doesn’t take too much of their valuable time. A good short story will hook readers in and make them eager to read your longer work.
Tried and tested
Mini snippets of promotional content are a common marketing tool online.
In 2013, in anticipation of the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who and in order to generate interest in their upcoming special episode, the BBC released a short seven minute mini episode online. This was a wholly original, self-contained episode which set up the events of the anniversary special.
This mini episode, too short for broadcast, was the perfect little snippet for YouTube, sending the internet abuzz with excitement, and increasing interest in the longer television episode released a week later.
Similarly, the videogame developer Galactic Café found that their narrative-based video game, The Stanley Parable, wasn’t drawing very much attention from the gaming press. Part of the problem, they found, was that their game’s unique selling points could only be experienced by those who actually played the game.
In order to draw in a wider audience, they released a unique, self-contained miniature version of the game which players could download for free. Once players had experienced the quirky humor and challenging puzzles of the demo game, they were eager to invest their time in the full version of the game.
A small taste to get them hooked
Short promotional stories are also useful for writers looking to keep their fanbase interested in between novels. Writing a full book can take a long time, and there’s a danger that, without anything new to read, some of your followers will lose interest. A short story is the perfect way to keep your novels relevant to your audience, and helps them to remain hyped about upcoming releases.
Along the same lines, adding short stories to your body of work is a fantastic way to raise your profile among for new readers. Somebody who stumbles upon your novel, reads it, and is desperate for more can then enjoy your short stories. Reading one story is nice, but reading more than one shows the beginning of a habit.
For those who are truly invested in your writing, a short story helps to flesh out the world that your stories take place in – these fans want as much of your storytelling as they can get their hands on, and any small nuggets you can give them will help fuel their love for your world, and will encourage them to share that love with their friends.
Writing a short story provides you with a fantastic opportunity to explore the lore of your literary world – you can write about a side character, or delve into your protagonist’s backstory. A good short story will inspire a new reader to want to read more stories set in the same world, while providing existing readers new insight into the stories they’ve already read, or gearing them up to read your next novel.
What to do with your short story
With a short story that’s designed for promotional purposes, you want to get it in front of as many potential readers as possible. Uploading it to Amazon and other online booksellers is a must, but there are also a lot of other options.
Think about submitting your short story to magazines, competitions and anthologies. The trick is to reach the widest possible audience, so any existing platform that’s likely to do some promotion for you is worth a try. The more places you submit your story, the further it can travel and the more new readers it’ll draw in for you.
Social media is an obvious perfect place to start. A friend of mine recently posted a short, four page story he’d written on his Facebook page. While I probably wouldn’t have given a full length novel my attention, such a small snippet of my time seemed like a perfect way to see what my friend was writing. Sometimes even friends or family who don’t have the time to read your full novel may be tempted to invest in a small promotional gem.
Think of a short story as being kind of like free samples in a grocery store – the more people have a taste, the more are likely to buy the full product. As you share your short story with the world, your writing style will be enjoyed by a wider readership, and your book will sell better as your new fans are eager to have more than just a small taste of your work.
Have you ever tried writing a short story? What was your experience? Which authors do you know of have done something similar? We’d love to hear from you! Please share your comments and suggestions below.