Just want to take a moment to pimp fellow mystery author Steve Hockensmith, who writes a bunch of stuff, including the Holmes on the Range series, which I love. In his recent blog post, he writes about the art of the short story.
Your most loyal readers are invested in you, the author.
Pre-internet, “you” consisted of your writing voice, an author photo, and the occasional interview. Now we have the option of engaging our readers with stories of our lives, our writing process, and the interesting things we learn during book research — all of it augmented with pictures, videos, and the opportunity for readers to have a conversation through comments.
This is where short stories have a serious promotional advantage over free books.
I want you to imagine two scenarios of reader engagement.
1) Free Book Offer
You give away your book for a certain period of time. The word goes out over FB, Twitter, through your blog, and if you’re lucky, an aggregator of free book offers. Readers looking for free books click the link to your book. The best of these people first read the description of your book and only acquire if it fits their preferred genre. The worst will read anything, and if it’s not to their taste, they may leave a crappy review on Amazon or B&N (this happens). Because they went directly to the book’s purchase page, there is no need for them to visit your website or learn more about you. If your ebook is being given away through a print publisher, there may not even be a hotlink to your website at the end of the ebook. If there is, it’s often unhandy to surf the Web on a dedicated ebook device.
2) Free Short Story Offer
You give away a short story, set in your series’ universe and with your characters, on your website. The word goes out as before, ideally with a photo that is larger than the average book-cover thumbnail. The reader goes to your website, sees a photo of you, sees the covers and titles of your other books in the sidebar or banner. Ideally, they begin reading the story immediately, because it doesn’t require a big time requirement. You include photos in the text that evoke the location, any featured animals, something that sets a mood. At the bottom, within the text, you include a personal note that says you hope they enjoyed it. They should feel free to pass it on. You encourage them to sign up for your email list, so they know when more free stories come out. Look, the email sign up box is right there on the right, see? And of course, if they liked the story universe, here are links to the first few chapters of your books, with links to buy at the end.
Unlike a temporary free book offer, your short story will always be free.
That blog post will work for you ad infinitum, not for a limited time. Along with other items on your website, that story is searchable, and contains key words that bring readers to your site through Google searches. If you want, you can put your books on sale when you promote a new short story, to sweeten the deal.
Let’s say there were as many manufacturers of food products as there are authors, and they came out with new items as often as we come out with new books, and they gave them away for a week at grocery stores. What would happen?
People would never have to buy food again.
When you go to a grocery story, those food demo people aren’t giving away free dinners. No, they give away samples, and often a coupon to buy the full item at a discount.
We should stop giving whole dinners away. Get your readers to your website and give them a free sample. Engage them with photos, stories of your life, and links to free chapters of your other books. Give them the opportunity to buy a book on sale, if you want.
When enough authors give away books, people never have to buy books again.
This blog post is a follow up to My Plea to Self-Published Authors, which talks about ways short stories are better for readers as well as authors, and one author’s success with short stories. I hope you’ll consider passing these articles along, or writing your own post on the benefits of giving away short stories rather than whole books. If you do, send me a link to your post through my Contact Page, so I can pass it around.
Next time, I’ll talk about what Amazon could do to help us sell more books.
Marni Graff is the author of the Nora Tierney mystery series – which falls somewhere between a police procedural and a cozy. The second book in this very interesting series just came out, and I wanted to find out more. One lucky commenter will win a copy of The Green Remains.
Before we start talking to Marni, let me catch you up on the series. In The Blue Virgin, American writer Nora Tierney travels to Oxford, England. Her good friend has been wrongfully accused of murdering her partner. But is the accusation wrong?
In The Green Remains, Nora is living at Ramsey Lodge in England’s Lake District, anticipating the birth of her first child and the publication of her first children’s book. But when she finds a body by Lake Windemere, her illustrator, Simon Ramsey is implicated. As the body count rises, Nora and her unborn child will face risks and perils she could never anticipate.
Pretty riveting stuff, huh? Now, I’m a big fan of stories that take me to other countries, so I decided to ask Marni about setting her books in England rather than the U.S.
Setting is such a great way to add a tone or feeling to a story, especially if the setting has a strong “personality.” I’m trying to imagine a chipper comedy set in a place where it rains all the time – it’s difficult. I’m assuming you didn’t finish the books during your visits to the UK. Do you ever look at photos to get yourself back in a certain mood?
I keep my photo albums of my last trip to Oxford and to the Lake District on my desk. As a matter of fact, we used a photo I took on Lake Windermere as the basis for the cover of The Green Remains. Cumbria is a place of such natural beauty, as opposed to Oxford, which has beauty of a very different kind, all of those golden ancient buildings and bustling crowded streets. It’s town vs country for sure; both strong in personality, as you mention, but of a very different kind.
When I read Elizabeth George’s newest (Believing the Lie) I wasn’t surprised to see she’d taken Lynley to a visit to Cumbria. But then I don’t have a lock on that place, as evidenced by Reginald Hill’s The Woodcutter, and one entire series by Martin Edwards, aptly called The Lake District Series. It’s one of my favorite places, and anyone who has seen the natural beauty of Cumbria comes away impressed. Beatrix Potter and Wordsworth and Ruskin all reveled in the tarns and becks, the fleecy clouds reflected in the many lakes’ surface.
After I leave a remote book location, I sometimes have a logistical question about it. I once used Google Earth to find out if a parking lot had a convenient bush beside it, for my sleuths to hide behind (it did). Have you ever had this happen, and what did you do about it?
Ah, yes, the challenges of setting … since my books are set so far away, I use a local contact to answer email questions and keep my photograph albums out for reference. But Google came into play when my copyeditor was going over The Blue Virgin. I’d set a character on a walk from his flat to the Covered Market, past Magdalen College, and it sounded like he’s arrived in about three minutes. Turns out Google told her the distance was a mile and a half, so we changed the text to show it took Davey a bit longer to get there!
Any funny stories about travel or other experiences you had in the UK?
When I studied at Oxford as an adult, I kept buying books and souvenirs, things I fell in love with because I knew it would be a while before I could go back and I loved the town. But I ran out of suitcase space and ended up having to mail myself a two cartons home … don’t ask about the postage. Since the cost was based on weight, I packed the boxes mostly with dirty clothes and put the books in my suitcase! Then I went through the security check on my way home, and this was before 9/11 and they did random baggage checks. Of course, mine was pulled and when the woman opened my suitcase, it was mostly all books. She looked at my passport, saw I’d been there over a month, then looked at my bag and said, “Lor, lass, where’s your knickers?”
Bonus link: A great guest post by Marni on Motherhoot, about her interesting journey to writing.
Two publishing contracts ago, this book, originally titled Telling Lies, won the Mainstream category of the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers contest. Jennifer Unter, my agent, took me on as a result of it. Publishers read it and loved it, but didn’t know how to sell it unless they labeled it Chick Lit, which was considered dead at the time. So we got a lot of rejection letters like this one,
TELLING LIES was utterly clever and fun and often startling truthful. And you’ve really got a wild ride of a writer on your hands. But I think this is just a bit too far on the other side of chick lit for me—the voice wasn’t exactly hitting my chords and I think the tone, overall, falls outside of Harcourt’s best range.
Thanks, though, for the read—which was completely unforgettable.
and this one,
Thanks so much for sending me TELLING LIES. I had great fun reading it.
This is a really charming novel and I think Esri is a promising talent. I especially enjoyed Julio because my neighborhood is full of Chihuahuas with attitude, so he made me laugh. I’m afraid my gut sense was that this isn’t a big commercial hardcover, so it’s not right for me. If I were still buying paperback, it might be a different scenario. I do think that you’ll find a publisher for this, though, and I wish you the best of luck with it. It was by far the most entertaining novel I’ve read all week!
Finally Kensington/Zebra asked if I had any other books for sale. I did, and we left this book behind. And that’s why, six years later, I can offer you what is possibly the best book I’ve ever written – for a buck. At least, for two days it’ll be a buck. After that, it’ll be three bucks.
I believe that with the vast audience of the internet, books can be sold inexpensively. That’s why I’ve turned down a second hardback contract with St. Martin’s and plan on self-publishing my books in ebook and print-on-demand from now on. Here’s your chance to validate that decision. Buy it. Read it. If you like it, review it and recommend it.
I’m working on making Jokers & Fools available on Smashwords and also in print form, through CreateSpace. For now, it’s on Kindle, but you don’t actually need a Kindle to read it. There are free Kindle apps you can download to your PC, Mac, phone or whathaveyou. Here’s a link for those.
Got a call from Bruce Wolk’s editor at the Denver Post. He is sending a photographer out tomorrow to take pix of me in my natural habitat (or as natural as I’m going to let them see it, i.e., minus dirty dishes and clumps of cat hair on the carpet). Was thinking of wearing a black sundress, then put on some clothes to wear today, looked in the mirror and thought, “That’s it.” So it’ll be gray jeans, gray spaghetti-strap top and orange and pink striped sports bra under it. C’est moi.
The article will come out on Sunday. I could not be more excited if I were hooked up to a car battery.
Oh, and if you want to do me a favor that doesn’t require committing to anything, click the “I’d like to read this book on Kindle” link. Wait…with a little cleverness on my part, you can just click here for that. Hey, I can be clever.