Author Topic: Plot Question: Thirds?  (Read 1146 times)  

Offline Thame

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Plot Question: Thirds?
« on: April 18, 2017, 11:59:59 AM »
Hugh Howey has motivated to finally write and self-publish my own books. I've wanted to do this for years, but I'm finally doing something about it. I'm trying to outline structure before I begin. My idea was to use a similar model to the original Star Wars movies. One long story arch, with a book for each section, say for a trilogy. Does this seem like a good model to move forward with for my first work? Can you guys with more experience and insight maybe give me some pointers?
« Last Edit: April 18, 2017, 01:24:58 PM by Thame »

Offline SC

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Re: Plot Question: Thirds?
« Reply #1 on: April 18, 2017, 12:11:09 PM »
The three act structure is a very common story plotting technique. I rather like it. In fact, if you look at most movies, you'll probably find the majority follow the three act structure. A trilogy of books can work out as each book being an act of the three, and then even within each book, there are three acts. I guess it depends on how deliberate you want to be.

My default is to think in three act structures when plotting, though this may be because when I was in college, I studied filmmaking/screenwriting before prose writing, so a lot of film stuff formed the basis of my writing training.

When I think of plotting a book using a basic three act structure, it kind of goes like this:
- inciting incident (the event that starts off the action of the story)
- first act climax
- mid-act climax (the big scene in the middle of the book which turns the story on its ear)
- second act climax
- third act climax

I think if you can figure out what those are, you've got a good framework to start with.

If you're interested in learning more about the three act structure, check out some books on screenwriting, like "Story" by Robert McKee.

Offline she-la-ti-da

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Re: Plot Question: Thirds?
« Reply #2 on: April 18, 2017, 01:24:24 PM »
The three act structure is as old as storytelling, and so is the hero's journey. I'd advise spending some time with a few good writing books and practicing a lot. You can find recommended books just about anywhere writers hang out, or ask a librarian.
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Offline It's A Mystery

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Re: Plot Question: Thirds?
« Reply #3 on: April 18, 2017, 02:01:33 PM »
I'm doing this exact thing. The trick is, you have to have a complete story in each book of the trilogy, not just the overarching story.

So in my example, i am writing three separate mystery's, each will be concluded in its own book. In addition, there is a larger mystery regarding an incident in my sleuth's past which runs through the three books, climaxing in the last.

Offline SC

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Re: Plot Question: Thirds?
« Reply #4 on: April 18, 2017, 03:26:24 PM »
I'm doing this exact thing. The trick is, you have to have a complete story in each book of the trilogy, not just the overarching story.

Yes, this is very true. If you don't have a satisfying end to each book, readers get angry. Each book must be a complete story in itself, in addition to serving the larger story arc.

Offline Nick Marsden

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Re: Plot Question: Thirds?
« Reply #5 on: April 18, 2017, 03:42:06 PM »
When I think of plotting a book using a basic three act structure, it kind of goes like this:
- inciting incident (the event that starts off the action of the story)
- first act climax
- mid-act climax (the big scene in the middle of the book which turns the story on its ear)
- second act climax
- third act climax

If you want to use Star Wars as inspiration (great idea as it adheres very well to the 3 act structure both within movies and as a series) you can plug Shawna's list into the story
For the entire series (Luke's journey to know and redeem his father):
Inciting Incident: Luke finds the Droids, who will eventually lead him to Obi-Wan, his father's mentor
First Act Climax: Luke learns to trust the force when he uses it to destroy the Death Star. This leads to his training with Yoda and becoming a Jedi.
Mid-Act Climax: Luke learns the identity of his father. Luke fights Vader and loses.
Second Act Climax: The Rebel Alliance moves toward their final goal of striking at the Emperor directly. Luke discovers his father is on Endor but must still do his job to help the Rebels break through the force field.
Third Act Climax: Luke fights Vader and defeats him, both to defeat the Emperor and to redeem his father.

If you are familiar with the movies, then you can see where the movies break. The break between Episode 4 & 5 is after the first act Climax, while the break between 5 & 6 is after the Mid-Act Climax. Act 2 is still going in Episode 6 until Luke, Han, and Leia return to the Rebel fleet. Then the adventure on Endor and the destruction of the 2nd Death Star is Act 3 of the series. The real reason for the breaks between movies has more to do with the time gaps between Ravin and Hoth and between Bespin and Tattoine than with where the overall story is (and the fact that the smaller stories of each film have been resolved - Rescue of Princess Leia and destruction of the first Death Star, then the rescue of Luke at Bespin). But the trilogy doesn't end until Luke's overall goal is accomplished (The "Rescue" of his father -- which happens to result in the fall of the Empire and the victory of the Rebels -- Yub Nub!!)
« Last Edit: April 18, 2017, 03:45:54 PM by Nick Marsden »

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Offline SC

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Re: Plot Question: Thirds?
« Reply #6 on: April 18, 2017, 07:56:33 PM »
Nice breakdown, Nick.

Star Wars is also a good example to use when explaining the Hero's Journey structure. Mostly because, as my screenwriting teacher in college told it, George Lucas deliberately followed that structure when writing the first Star Wars script. One could probably argue that the subconscious familiarity that we as a culture have with that structure (because of the old legends and myths) is part of the reason Star Wars did so well. Often, when I read reviews of books/movies that even sort of follow the Hero's Journey structure, people accuse it of "copying Star Wars". Which I guess is what happens when one instance of something gets super-popular, no matter how long other versions of that thing have been around. It always makes me kinda shake my head. Star Wars is a great movie with a lot of great stuff going for it, but a unique and original story structure isn't one of them.

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Re: Plot Question: Thirds?
« Reply #7 on: April 18, 2017, 09:41:34 PM »
I'll just leave this here:

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Offline MH Johnson

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Re: Plot Question: Thirds?
« Reply #8 on: April 18, 2017, 11:09:51 PM »
As a pantser, I wanted to ask, does anyone reading this post ever close their eyes and let the story flow out of them, in whatever direction it chooses to take, without trying to 'force' it? Letting the scenes unfold like you are an invisible cameraman, or the lead character herself? (The minute I try to outline things, that fierce spark of life in my story quickly fades and dies.)

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Offline It's A Mystery

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Re: Plot Question: Thirds?
« Reply #9 on: April 19, 2017, 12:00:49 AM »
As a pantser, I wanted to ask, does anyone reading this post ever close their eyes and let the story flow out of them, in whatever direction it chooses to take, without trying to 'force' it? Letting the scenes unfold like you are an invisible cameraman, or the lead character herself? (The minute I try to outline things, that fierce spark of life in my story quickly fades and dies.)

That is pretty much what i do, i just try to make sure that i hit certain points along the way.

If you don't, the worry is you end up with a 50k act 1 and a 20k act 2 (or something like that), and the book will feel unbalanced.

Offline RightHoJeeves

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Re: Plot Question: Thirds?
« Reply #10 on: April 19, 2017, 01:54:56 AM »
As a pantser, I wanted to ask, does anyone reading this post ever close their eyes and let the story flow out of them, in whatever direction it chooses to take, without trying to 'force' it? Letting the scenes unfold like you are an invisible cameraman, or the lead character herself? (The minute I try to outline things, that fierce spark of life in my story quickly fades and dies.)

I'll do an outline, but am more than happy to leave it behind if I come up with a better idea on the fly.

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Offline VanessaC

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Re: Plot Question: Thirds?
« Reply #11 on: April 19, 2017, 02:13:19 AM »
Great advice above, as ever on these boards. As an alternative, check out Chris Fox's you tube videos - he does at least one on outlining where he describes the three act structure for a hero's journey. The videos are short and I find them helpful as I like having things explained in different formats.  :)

Edited to add: also check out Rachel Aaron's writing blog where she provides hints and tips on series plotting and world building and all sorts of other good stuff.
« Last Edit: April 19, 2017, 02:24:56 AM by VanessaC »

Offline ADDavies

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Re: Plot Question: Thirds?
« Reply #12 on: April 19, 2017, 04:19:32 AM »
As a pantser, I wanted to ask, does anyone reading this post ever close their eyes and let the story flow out of them, in whatever direction it chooses to take, without trying to 'force' it? Letting the scenes unfold like you are an invisible cameraman, or the lead character herself? (The minute I try to outline things, that fierce spark of life in my story quickly fades and dies.)

Outlining shouldn't mean the creativity dies. I'll write a sentence per chapter but it's more about a destination than the journey. "Adam escapes from the fire set by the serial killer" leaves me a lot of room to play. And I have been known to throw out 50-75% of an outline if my characters feel like they're being forced to fit a story. It just means I did the original outline wrong.

And hitting beats is really quite liberating. Which I know sounds counter-intuitive, but setting myself boundaries (ie, "destinations" to reach) enables me to simply tell the story without worrying about herding cats. I guess I'm saying it helps focus the spine of the story without going off on tangents. Maybe that's just my shortcoming though in terms of keeping on track.

Generally I've always thought pantsers have a more instinctive understanding of story since they tend to hit the same beats as outliners anyway (rising action, pinch points, low points, transformation, etc). I couldn't say either method is better, certainly not for experienced writers, but if it's your first novel I'd very much advise toward a planning strategy, at least for the essential beats.
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Offline SC

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Re: Plot Question: Thirds?
« Reply #13 on: April 19, 2017, 05:55:58 AM »
As a pantser, I wanted to ask, does anyone reading this post ever close their eyes and let the story flow out of them, in whatever direction it chooses to take, without trying to 'force' it? Letting the scenes unfold like you are an invisible cameraman, or the lead character herself? (The minute I try to outline things, that fierce spark of life in my story quickly fades and dies.)

I start with signposts (things I know I want to happen somewhere in the story) and a collection of my major characters, and I tend to do more pantsing at the beginning of the story and much more detailed and extensive plotting the farther along I go. I kind of think of it as building the bridge as I cross it.

Having a plan/outline helps me focus on the structure of the story and what I intend to happen. It keeps the story from going off the rails. I'm a logic person, not an emotion person, and maybe that's why I consider the carefully thought-out version of a plot event to be the true one, rather than the one that happens willy-nilly as I'm writing. I make adjustments to my plan as necessary, sure, but it's far too easy for things to wander off into the weeds if I don't at least have those signposts keeping me on the right path. I don't think of that as "forcing" the story. I think of that as keeping the story going where I want and need it to go and not driving me off the road into a ditch. (I had a story that I started once, fully pantsed, and after 50 pages or so I did end up driving into a ditch where I just didn't know where it was going next. I want to get back to that story at some point, but I need to come up with at least the signposts, to try to drive the story back onto the road so it can get moving forward again.)

Offline Deke

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Re: Plot Question: Thirds?
« Reply #14 on: April 19, 2017, 06:41:16 AM »
I recommend starting small...really small. I'd write some short stories first before you tackled a novel...and then a novel before tackling a trilogy. Short stories really help take the onus off plot and put it on the characters, situation, and prose.

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Re: Plot Question: Thirds?
« Reply #15 on: April 19, 2017, 07:12:45 AM »
I'm useless at this. Is it possible to have a multi plot structure within a 4 act story?

I have a work in progress almost complete that I thought I had plotted with 4 plot points or acts.Or I suppose you could say it has 3 acts and a climax.

When I look at it now, it seems to be split into two halves with the first half having 3 acts and a climax all on its own. Sorry if it's long winded.

These are my original notes, and I've just tried to split them in to acts, but then I 'm not sure how to condence what I've done into acts using terminology.

Overview; Ist half: 18-year-old Clara relives her life in first person for her defense attorney though not stated as such for half the book when they move to a small mid-west town.... Only revealed at the end that it was her version of events to her defense attorney with the true version of events shown with a twist ending.

Act 1: Clara wishes her religious zealot Pa dead. Shown to be controlled by her father  who claims everyone outside their household is in league with -the devil - no social contact - home schooled -  develops panic attacks if sneaks out of house alone - realization/discovery of what she is missing out on -  starts to push back against Pa - ends with her Pa arranging a marriage to an old guy.

Act 2: The fight back to overcome his control and to escape before the marriage. Shows that she has overcome her fear and panic attacks. Plan to escape foiled after brief freedom when he had to go away. Sham marriage goes ahead. 2 young guys who have vied for her affection (conflict) during her freedom call a truce. They help her to a dramatic escape after the home ceremony.

Act 3: Takes sanctuary at church. Husband and Pa come looking for her to take her back at the point of a rifle after she has discovered from the priest the marriage is not legal and that her Pa had committed incest with her as a child. Fights back at church with help of the two young guys, who threaten to kill him, but only after she has revealed her Pa's incest with her in anger and in front of a crowd in town during the fight.
 
Climax: Believes all the town and her two suitors will shun her at the revelation of incest. Decides to leave town alone but needs to return home in the dead of night for her backpack. Ends with sheriff arresting her at the scene of her Pa's murder of which she says that she has no recollection. Covered in her Pa's blood and with a bloodied knife.
 
2nd half, POV of detective third person..... .......


« Last Edit: April 19, 2017, 07:44:22 AM by Decon »


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Offline It's A Mystery

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Re: Plot Question: Thirds?
« Reply #16 on: April 19, 2017, 07:43:40 AM »
I'm useless at this. Is it possible to have a multi plot structure within a 4 act story?

I have a work in progress almost complete that I thought I had plotted with 4 plot points or acts.Or I suppose you could say it has 3 acts and a climax.

When I look at it now, it seems to be split into two halves with the first half having 3 acts and a climax all on its own. Sorry if it's long winded.

These are my original notes, and I've just tried to split them in to acts, but then I 'm not sure how to condence what I've done into acts using terminology.

Overview; Ist half: 18-year-old Clara relives her life in first person for her defense attorney though not stated as such for half the book when they move to a small mid-west town.... Only revealed at the end that it was her version of events to her defense attorney with the true version of events shown with a twist ending.

Act 1: Clara wishes her religious zealot Pa dead. Shown to be controlled by her father  who claims everyone outside their household is in league with -the devil - no social contact - home schooled -  develops panic attacks if sneaks out of house alone - realization/discovery of what she is missing out on -  starts to push back against Pa - ends with her Pa arranging a marriage to an old guy.

Act 2: The fight back to overcome his control and to escape before the marriage. Shows that she has overcome her fear and panic attacks. Plan to escape foiled after brief freedom when he had to go away. Sham marriage goes ahead. 2 young guys who have vied for her affection (conflict) during her freedom call a truce. They help her to a dramatic escape after the home ceremony.

Act 3: Takes sanctuary at church. Husband and Pa come looking for her to take her back at the point of a rifle after she has discovered from the priest the marriage is not legal and that her Pa had committed incest with her as a child. Fights back at church with help of the two young guys, who threaten to kill him, but only after she has revealed her Pa's incest with her in anger in front of a crowd in town during the fight.
 
Climax: Believes all the town and her two suitors will shun her at the revelation of incest. Decides to leave town alone but needs to return home in the dead of night for her backpack. Ends with sheriff arresting her at the scene of her Pa's murder of which she says that she has no recollection. Covered in her Pa's blood and with a bloodied knife.
 
2nd half, POV of detective third person..... .......


Putting it against Save The Cat (below), I'd say you are at the dark night of the soul and just need to bring it home in act 3...






ACT ONE

Opening Image: The first thing seen. This will set the mood and tone of the story. It's the starting point for the protagonist, and this image is often the opposite of the final image. For example, if a character starts out alone with no friends here, the final image will be him surrounded by friends. [The opening scene] and (The Ordinary World)

Theme Stated: Early on, the theme is introduced, often by stating it outright.

Set-Up: The basic introduction of the world and characters and what's wrong in that world and/or character's life. [The opening scene] and (The Ordinary World)

Catalyst: The trigger that starts the plot. This is the thing that is new and changes what the protagonist knows. [The inciting event] and (the Call to Action)

Debate: The protagonist decides whether or not to do whatever it is he needs to do. [Act One Problem] and (The Refusal of the Call)

ACT TWO A

Just like the other structure formats, the middle is when the protagonist's world gets turned upside down and the bulk of the plot unfolds. Act Two is broken into two parts, ramping up to the midpoint and down to the climax. Within the first half of Act Two, you'll find the following beats:

Break Into Two: The choice to act and move the story forward. [The Act Two Choice] and (Crossing the Threshold)

B Story: Often this is where the love story plot or major subplot comes into play.

Fun and Games: Snyder calls this beat "the promise of the premise." It's where all the fun stuff of the premise occurs as the protagonist tries to solve the problem, but before things get really serious. [First half of Act Two] and (Tests, Allies, and Enemies)

Midpoint: The middle of the book. Stakes goes up and the "fun" is over. Now it's serious. This beat is either a false victory or a false defeat, which will be the opposite of the All is Lost beat. [Midpoint] and (The Ordeal)

ACT TWO - B

After the midpoint, the story heads toward the climax. If the middle was a false victory, the protagonist realizes that he did not win as he thought. A false defeat, he realizes all it not lost. Within the second half of Act Two, you'll find the following beats:

Bad Guys Close In: With rising stakes comes more attacks from the antagonist. This is when things start to fall apart for the protagonist. [Second Half of Act Two] and (The Road Back)

All is Lost: The other false victory or defeat, and the opposite of the midpoint. The low point of the story, where everything is stripped away from the protagonist. [Act Two Disaster]

Dark Night of the Soul: The deep soul searching of the protagonist to find the solution to the problems facing him. [Act Three Plan]

ACT THREE

Act Three is where it all comes together for the protagonist, and he realizes where he belongs and who he is. The final act is the climax and the events leading up to the climax. Within Act Three, you'll find the following beats:

Break Into Three: Plot and character arcs merge and the protagonist knows what he has to do to win. [Act Three Plan]

Finale: The climax, where the protagonist takes all the lessons learned and uses them to defeat the antagonist and solve the problem. The world makes sense again based on the experiences he's undergone in the story. [The Climax] and (The Resurrection)

Final Image: The ending, showing where the protagonist is now. This will be the opposite of the opening image, showing the end of the character journey and how that helped the protagonist. [The Wrap Up] and (The Return With the Elixir)


Offline KennySkylin

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Re: Plot Question: Thirds?
« Reply #17 on: April 19, 2017, 10:08:58 AM »
Here is a video I found recently that gives an overview on a bunch of the common plotting methods. It might help you find a method you want to try out and research more.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BhjRZ18JwpY

Also, read Aristotle's Poetics. It's like the classic of all classics for story theory. You can find free versions on both Amazon and gutenberg.org

Offline Nick Marsden

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Re: Plot Question: Thirds?
« Reply #18 on: April 19, 2017, 10:15:35 AM »
As a pantser, I wanted to ask, does anyone reading this post ever close their eyes and let the story flow out of them, in whatever direction it chooses to take, without trying to 'force' it? Letting the scenes unfold like you are an invisible cameraman, or the lead character herself? (The minute I try to outline things, that fierce spark of life in my story quickly fades and dies.)

My story almost never resembles my original outline. What the outline does for me, is that it reminds me what my original idea is and how I can get from beginning to end without plot holes. If I stray too far from my outline, plot holes inevitably develop. Or I have to stop writing completely and rethink my story. Sometimes the story comes out better that way. But I don't look at my completed first draft and compare it to the original outline. That would depress me. What I do is I write a NEW outline after the first draft is done and make sure I can map out the story in outline form so I don't have any obvious plot holes or impossible leaps of logic. I base my first edits off the new outline. The outline is just a way to map out the story so that I don't have to stop every chapter and think, "What comes next?" When I'm in the midst of chapter, I might go into a flow state and stray from the outline as my muse insists, but that is the best part of writing.

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Offline Jeff Tanyard

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Re: Plot Question: Thirds?
« Reply #19 on: April 19, 2017, 05:26:25 PM »
Outlining shouldn't mean the creativity dies.

This.  Outlining doesn't mean you're not being creative.  It just means your creativity is manifesting itself in a different part of the writing process.

Having a plan/outline helps me focus on the structure of the story and what I intend to happen. It keeps the story from going off the rails... I don't think of that as "forcing" the story. I think of that as keeping the story going where I want and need it to go and not driving me off the road into a ditch.

Same here.  I've tried pantsing before, and I always end up abandoning the story.  I have to know where I'm going and how to get there before I can start out.
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Offline swolf

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Re: Plot Question: Thirds?
« Reply #20 on: April 19, 2017, 08:05:29 PM »
Does this seem like a good model to move forward with for my first work?

Unless you're some kind of prodigy, no. Structuring and plotting three novels that tie together into a unified story is a major task, even for an experienced writer. I don't mean to be discouraging, but I think it would be more discouraging to advise you to go for it, and you discovering after a lot of work that you're in over your head.

I know you're in a hurry to create this masterpiece, but I agree with others' recommendations to take your time and build your skill set before tackling a project like this.

Good luck.

Offline Thame

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Re: Plot Question: Thirds?
« Reply #21 on: April 20, 2017, 12:54:15 PM »
Thanks for the advice everyone! Some excellent posts here with tons of knowledge! Since this will be my first published work, I think I should take some of you all's advice, and start small. I suppose starting off with a full trilogy can be bit much for a first time out. I'm considering trying my had at short stories to get my feet wet. How popular are science fiction short stories on Amazon? Are they hard to get noticed with? Would about 12,000 words be an appropriate length?
« Last Edit: April 20, 2017, 12:56:48 PM by Thame »

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Re: Plot Question: Thirds?
« Reply #22 on: April 20, 2017, 06:14:03 PM »
How popular are science fiction short stories on Amazon? Are they hard to get noticed with? Would about 12,000 words be an appropriate length?

Generally speaking, short stories don't sell (erotica excepted).  They're good for getting your feet wet in self-publishing, but that's about it.  Publish shorts for the fun of it, not because you expect to make any significant money from them.
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Offline SC

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Re: Plot Question: Thirds?
« Reply #23 on: April 21, 2017, 12:09:58 PM »
Generally speaking, short stories don't sell (erotica excepted).  They're good for getting your feet wet in self-publishing, but that's about it.  Publish shorts for the fun of it, not because you expect to make any significant money from them.

Yeah, all the current stuff I have out is short, but I did do it as a sort of "getting my feet wet" thing. I certainly haven't seen many sales at all. It's useful for getting a handle on the publishing process, though, I think. I think I'm a little bit more prepared, having done that, for when I'm ready to put my first novel out. I may publish a few more short pieces for fun or something, but it's definitely not something I'm going to make any kind of focus. (BTW, the only promos I've done is some AMS ads. I got a total of one sale out of many different runs and enough clicks that, based on the click to buy rate I've seen people talking about on here, I should have gotten one or two dozen sales. I think people just aren't really into shorts that much.) (FWIW, mine aren't free. Maybe people would be more likely to download free shorts, but I doubt even that would get a great deal of downloads.)