Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Shorter works

I wanted to talk today (in my small 30 minute allotted time about short stories).

Traditionally these have been sold to magazines (first in print and now a days online) and very genre specific. Often they are collected into anthologies and sold at the price of a full length novel. Historically anthologies don't sell very well.

I think "shorts" have a tremendous opportunity for indie authors especially those that think ahead. I'm turning my attention to Michael's big six release and one of the things that the publisher is going to be doing is making a Riyria Revelations Facebook Page. As it will start from zero I've been thinking what I can do to get followers which will be a signal to Orbit that Michael has a platform and is worth further marketing investment...enter a short.

I've asked Michael to write a short story with his main characters of the Riyria Revelations that I can give away to people who sign up to the Facebook Page. It will be a bit of back story of when Royce and Hadrian met Albert Winslow. For those that don't know Michael's work Albert is kind of their "front man" that operates in the world of the nobles finding jobs of intrigue to be performed for our pair of thieves for hire. This little piece of fiction won't take Michael long to write but gives me a lot of marketing opportunities for new readers to his world.

But...let's take it a step further. This short story, if written properly can also be the start of a longer work a little standalone story within the Riyria Revelations universe. No it won't be tied into the carefully constructed six-book story arc, but it will be a nice little stand alone going on another adventure with two characters that many fans have come to love. So when that novel is released I can use the short story as a $0.99 low priced entry into the $4.99 full length novel.

Many people use $0.99 to get eyeballs, and it definitely works. But if that $0.99 takes you six months or a year to write you're significantly impacting your revenue stream. Writing it in a week or so makes a lot more sense.

Moses Siregar has done something similar with his The Black God's War. It was just launched a few days ago (July 31) at $2.99 and is selling well. It is on at least two Best seller lists:
  • #89 of Kindle Epic Fantasy
  • #35 of Hot New Epic Fantasy Releases
His shorter Novella is currently free and #71 on the Free Epic Fantasy. It was released about a year ago and has sold for various prices (but on the low end). At 26,000 words I'd venture it took a lot less time to write than the novel followup. And he has used this year to get a name for himself, some good reviews (29 12 5-star, 13 4-star, 4 3-star). So low and behold when the novel comes out he hits the top selling lists right away and doesn't have to resort to $0.99.

So, as an indie author I want you to think about how you can use shorts as your "low price leader" and keep your longer, more time invested works at a higher price point. If you do write some shorts here are a few tips:
  1. Make it CRYSTAL CLEAR that this is a shorter work. That means putting a clear indication on the COVER as well as mentioning it in the description. If a reader thinks they are getting a full length novel then they will feel cheated.

  2. Think about branding them. Ridan will probably come out with a "shorts" line in the future and we'll come up with a "brand" (Name and layout) that identifies all our shorts together. Orbit (who is Michael's big-six publisher) has an Orbits short line - further proof that they are smart cookies over there and know how to maximize their income in the digital world. Amazon of course has their Amazon singles line further proof that there is some good business sense in utilizing this venue.
In the indie space, someone who is using the short well is Debora Geary who has something called Novel Nibbles. These are little $0.99 short stories that all carry this brand and have a little apple on the cover with a bite taken out of them. They are designed to be be something you can read while at lunch and its a brilliant move.

She's even turning this into a kind of a franchise. I don't know all the details, and hopefully I'll get her to do a guest post on this. But I recently saw one of the Ridan authors, Nathan Lowell came out with a Novel Nibble with, A Light in the Dark (Tales from the Deep Dark). It has the Novel Nibble brand but I noticed the publisher is listed as Durandus which I know is Nathan's own entity.

In any case, this title was released July 22, 2011 and I stumbled across it just a few days after its launch when I found it on a best seller list. It is currently ranked 674 and is on:
  • #17 Hot New Release in Books Science Fiction and Fantasy
  • #5 Hot New Release in Books Science Fiction
  • #3 Hot New Release in Books Science Fiction Adventure
  • #2 Hot New Release in Books Science Fiction Space Opera
  • #75 Bestselling Books in Science Fiction and Fantasy
  • #20 Bestselling Books in Science Fiction
  • #5 Bestselling Books Space Opera
  • #11 Bestselling Books in Science Fiction Adventure
  • #2 Hot New Release in Kindle Science Fiction Adventure
  • #3 Hot New Release in Kindle Science Fiction
  • #85 Hot New Release in Kindle Genre Fiction
  • #15 Bestseller in Kindle Science Fiction
  • #9 Bestseller in Kindle Science Fiction Adventure
To maximize income your "low price leaders" should be something quick to produce. Think about your writing and how you can generate a short to lead people to your bigger, more expensive works.

Okay I'm way over 30 minutes but yesterday's post was shorter and it still took less than 1 hour.


Suzanne said...

Thank you for another superb post, Robin. I've tweeted a link to it.

And great minds think alike. :-) I plan to publish a short story in September, as part of the roll out for the first book of my spin-off series, release date 14 October. Before I offer the short for sale, though, I'll offer it as a freebie to those who opt-in for my email list. I'll now give some thought to how I can brand the story.

Suzanne Adair

Libby said...

Robin, perfect timing. I was just thinking of doing this myself and was planning to ask your thoughts, and now I know them. Glad to see we're on the same page. It makes me feel smart. :)

Margo Lerwill said...

I'm really pleased that I was thinking just like this post when I released a short at the end of May (and hopfully another in late August or early September). The cover has the name of the short story series and several design elements that will appear on all covers for this series. It's a 99 cent intro to the urban fantasy novel series I'm hoping to launch at the end of the year (at a price point somewhere between $2.99 and $4.99) and includes the heroine of the novel. So far, the most common comment I'm receiving is, "I want a novel about that character." So in case anyone is wondering, these ideas absolutely can work. I've stopped promoting for now to concentrate on writing, but I managed to hit 3 Kindle Top 100 lists with just one short out. I highly recommend giving these ideas a try.

Suzanne said...

Margo, thanks for your feedback. One important point about making these short stories work well as marketing tools is that their covers must look just as professional as the covers for novels.

On this point, I have a question. In terms of the elements that you include in cover art, what are some guidelines for how similar the short story cover should be to the novels' covers? I imagine that you can make them too similar, and buyers might mistake the short story for another novel in the series.

Eloheim and Veronica said...

Hi Robin, thanks for a great post. I live in the non-fiction world, but have done something similar.

My SEO consultant researched spiritual topics that were getting a lot of traction on Google. We found that "What Will Happen in 2012?" was getting 18,000 hits a month and that the folks on page one of Google didn't have a lock on their positions.

I wrote a short book on the subject. I work a little differently than fiction writers, but it probably fell into the amount of time you suggested to spend on such a project.

Our goal is to get on the first page of Google for this search. Publishing the book is just the first step in a multi-step process.

The book is now online with the usual suspects including my website. I even hit #1 in my category on the first day of release.

It's a great way for me to try out the $0.99 price point. I was happy to find a non-fiction version of a "short."

Oh, as a side note. My Amazon sales and my website sales are running just about even.

What Will Happen in 2012 and Beyond?

Margo Lerwill said...

Suzanne, I have the same concern myself about making sure readers can look at the short covers and the novel covers and tell it's the same series but different lengths. I'll be discussing that with my cover designer (Robin Ludwig) when it comes time to design the first novel cover. I suspect we'll change something about the watermark-like design we have on the covers of the stories. Plus, the cover will state it's Book One in the series.

David Gaughran said...

Hi Robin,

Another thing is that short stories can dramatically increase your virtually shelf space.

You could easily write 5 short stories in a year in between longer projects. Sell them individually for 99c, and bundle them into a collection for $2.99.

That's six new titles on your bookshelf. Six new ways for readers to discover you. And six releases that leave a trail of promo breadcrumbs all around the internet leading back to you and the rest of your books.

If you plan to price in the higher bracket ($3.99 or $4.99), 99c shorts can be a great way for readers to try you with little commitment in terms of time or expense.

If they enjoy the story, they will have no qualms about shelling out five bucks for a meaty novel.


Suzanne said...

You could easily write 5 short stories in a year in between longer projects. Sell them individually for 99c, and bundle them into a collection for $2.99.

David, the drawback I've heard to this plan is a high return rate when readers find out the short is part of a collection. If you've tried bundling short stories this way, have you experienced returns of individual stories?

David Gaughran said...

Hi Suzanne,

I've only 2 "singles" out at the moment, so I don't know about returns on collections. We debate this all the time on Kindle Boards, with some people doing it the way I suggested and some the other (only collections for 99c).

I haven't heard anyone complain about returns.

I've sold 250 of those two singles in less than 3 months, with zero returns.

It's essential to label it clearly so readers know exactly what they are getting. Short story - 4,000 words - 16 book pages - something like that works. Word count and short story on its own aren't enough. Most readers don't get word count, and some don't even know what a short story is!

I had one review which said "this is the shortest novel I have ever read, but it was great." It was 4,000 words!

I think I had only one stinky 2 star reviewer who complained about the price.

So, I think there is a market there, I think this approach works, and when people buy either, they seem to buy the other the next day. I just want to get more up.


Jamie Todd Rubin said...

Robin, this is a clever marketing idea, but there is a built-in assumption that goes unspoken in your post: that the author in question is capable of writing a short story. I have no doubt of this in the case of Michael, but I'd point out that the short story form is a very different beast from the novel. Most novelists I know who have attempting short stories find them difficult. They are not used to the compactness of the form. And many short story writers I know find working at the novel length difficult (I am one of those).

But a novelist who has never attempted a short story might be in for a surprise. They might be capable of writing one, but will it be any good? Does a novelist inexperienced in the short form run the risk of upsetting their reputation by turning out a story that doesn't meet the standards of their novels?

I'd caution that Michael is an exception here. As you indicate, "this little piece of fiction won't take Michael long to write..." but that is not necessarily the case for everyone. With one exception my best short stories are the most difficult ones to write, the ones into which I pour everything I've got. The result, I think, is good, but it can easily take me a month or two to turn out a decent short. But then again, I'm a brute force writing and while I love the short form, my ability at writing them are more from practice than talent.

Just wanted to point out that short fiction as a promotional tool can have its downsides, too.

David Gaughran said...


I think if you are a novelist who only reads novels and think you can just dash off a short story, you will be in for a shock.

However, I think if you read a lot of short stories, you will have a much clearer idea of how to approach it, the various expectations, etc.

Being good at one doesn't make you automatically good at the other, and there are lots of famous examples to prove that point, but practice will get you quite far.

Melissa Douthit said...

Hi Robin! Loved the post. This short story freebie does work! This is what I did and I got the idea from Moses. I wrote two prequel novellas (The Journey Begins and The Vanishing) to my novel (The Raie'Chaelia) and placed them on sale for free. Since then I have had a bunch of downloads and sales of the novel are beginning to increase, and this is only having had the titles out for a month.

I got a review of The Journey Begins on Goodreads that said:

"I liked The Journey Begins, it was really interesting and offered up a great introduction to The Raie’Chaelia. The ending left it open and I know that I’ll definitely be reading The Raie’Chaelia as soon as I can."

This free prequel novella idea does work and if done right can really boost your sales.

Melissa Douthit said...

"I think if you are a novelist who only reads novels and think you can just dash off a short story, you will be in for a shock."

David, you have a good point but if you have a story that you love and you have a good idea for a short story prequel for it, writing that short story is not hard. For me, I wrote one of my short stories in one weekend. The other I did in one week. And I did this after I wrote the novel. I actually found that writing the short story was easier. It was also a lot of fun.

Melissa Douthit said...

"Margo, thanks for your feedback. One important point about making these short stories work well as marketing tools is that their covers must look just as professional as the covers for novels."

Yes, that's absolutely right, Suzanne.

Eva Hudson said...

Another informative piece - thank you for sharing your expertise

Moses Siregar III said...

Great article, great discussion. Thanks for the mention. David Gaughran makes a great point about increasing your virtual shelf space. That's one reason I'm not sure if I want to rush ahead into my next novel, or try to write some short stories or novellas first. I haven't written a short story since high school, but I read some and my chapters tend to be almost like short stories.

Btw, as for my experiment, my novel has been up for four days and I just hit my best rankings yet:

Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #2,485 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
#51 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Fiction > Fantasy > Epic
#71 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Fiction > Genre Fiction > Science Fiction
#81 in Books > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Epic

#8 Hot new releases (epic fantasy)
#12 Hot new releases (science fiction)
#27 Hot new releases (fantasy)

Of course, I've done a lot of things to raise awareness about my work, but the freebie novella/excerpt from my novella is one of the biggest things.

David Gaughran said...


Those are some great numbers. Especially for a debut novel, four days out of the gate, in a competitive genre.

Nice work,


Lindsay Buroker said...

Giving away a short story (on B&N and Smashwords -- couldn't get it on Amazon for free until recently) was what first started selling books for me. I'd barely started my blog, and didn't have much of a social media presence (still don't outside of Twitter!), but getting a freebie out there did wonders for sales of my novels.

If it's intended as a lead-in to your other work, I think it works best when you can use characters from your novels. I ended my short story letting folks they could find out how the two heroes met (they're an unlikely team!) by reading the first novel, and I also included an excerpt at the end. Lots of readers have told me, or written in reviews, that they tried my novels because of that short story.

For others considering using a freebie as a marketing tool, I suggest being generous and putting it out there in as many places as you can get it. Don't make people punch in coupon codes, and don't make them jump through any hoops to get it. *Do* make sure it's entertaining and representative of your other work.

On a related note, I also have a series (well, I'm about to release the second) of steampunk novellas. I love publishing shorter works in between the novels (they take a lot less time to write!) as it keeps your name in people's minds and, as others have said, it increases the number of titles you have out there, offering folks an entry into your world.

Ebook Endeavors

Suzanne said...

I ended my short story letting folks they could find out how the two heroes met (they're an unlikely team!) by reading the first novel, and I also included an excerpt at the end. Lots of readers have told me, or written in reviews, that they tried my novels because of that short story.

Lindsay, that's a brilliant idea. Thank you!

John Brown said...

This is one of the best posts on promotion I've read. Wow. Thanks, Robin.

Michael D. Young said...

Great post, I hope to do something like this for some of my upcoming works. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I've been doing something similar. I originally didn't plan on self publishing ebooks, I started a blog to try to create a platform for myself and to attract readers and general feedback on my work.

My plan was (and still is) to post 3 short stories a week, and, after some consideration, I decided that every time I reached 20 short stories, I would compile them into an ebook, so far I've created 2 ebooks and soon will have enough for a 3rd.

I figured it would be a very good way to get my name out there and would give me some exposure on amazon/smashwords etc and it really has!

The short stories themselves are not connected to one another, nor are they connected to my novel (which I also self-published) but do follow a general theme of horror/suspense/thriller

In terms of covers, I have so far changed the cover with each one, but kept the title the same (adding Vol to the end of it so it's Vol ii, Vol iii etc etc)

I offer the collections for free because I think it is kinda wrong to charge for something that can be gotten for free from my blog.

My hope is that people who enjoy the short stories might buy the novel (which I know that someone has already bought it based on their enjoyment of the short stories)

I also have a few other novels that I hope to complete soon to add to my titles on Amazon, these will be priced at the normal prices (after some consideration, I chose 2.99, as the short stories are free and act in a similar was to the .99 hook or at least, so I hope!)

So far it has gotten me some great exposure (along with a few positive reviews which is always encouraging!)

I just wanted to share my experience with offering short stories for free/reduced price and it has been a very positive and beneficial experience so far, hopefully this will help people decide whether or not they want to go down that route.

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