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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Let's talk about using short stories to build traction for full-length novels. Any discussion from authors who have done this (or are considering it) is welcome.

I want to write and sell full-length novels, mostly. In a perfect world, I would write a series of 12+ books and set the first to free, but I can't write that fast (especially not with the baby). So I've finally implemented the beginnings of an old plan.

I codenamed this Project Zero.

Goals of Project Zero
[list type=decimal]
[*]Create a quick, compelling short story that will draw an audience and act as a funnel for my books. This is the popular "Episode Zero" prequel idea.
[*]It must be representative of my two novel series. (While Project Zero is NOT a direct prequel to either, it will have elements reflected in those works.)
[*]It establishes my author brand of Crime Fantasy. This short story will be used to introduce my genre, announce myself to the world, and set a high bar because it is my most recent writing. It is essentially Patient Zero, and should hopefully lead to infectious sales.
[/list]

So far, so good, I think. These concepts are familiar with most authors here. (And it would be even better to write direct prequels.)

Below in my signature, Blood Magic is my Project Zero.

Now, using the Reader Magnets discussion, this short story is completely free (Amazon price-matched it for me immediately!). It's a quick read with only a single page of back matter - the call to action to join my email list. I am tweaking that text but here's the link: http://dominofinn.com/free-book-offer/ Kboarders will notice the sales copy is similar to Mark Dawson's stuff.

So we have a free short story that can be promoted on free sites and Amazon's free engine, then that funnels into a mailing list sign-up and a free book that costs money at retailers, which should hopefully lead to follow-up sales of Book 2 and help the launch of Book 3 when it's announced.

I won't know how that goes for a little while, but I'm wondering if anybody else has experience with shorts selling novels? Joe Hart is an author that has built up his own fans over the years, and I think giving away his short stories has helped him create an entrypoint. BUT it's possible that readers who look for shorts don't convert to buying novels.

At this point, I wonder if writing a few more shorts for exposure makes sense. Another idea is to submit some of them to magazines (like Fantasy & Science Fiction) to reach a different audience.

What are some strategies you have used to get short stories to sell your novels?
 

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I like the idea and it's something I am trying to do also. Except instead of a short story as my Episode Zero, I'm planning on releasing the first four chapters (about 10,000 words) as a stand-alone download, probably for 99 cents to start. Then when the first book comes out, I can set the four-chapter download to be free and then have a lower launch price for people who picked up the first work as a thank-you.
 

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In my experience novels sell short stories. Short stories don't sell novels - even when the short is free.

By the time I put the work into a short (outlining, writing, blurb, cover, keywords etc.) it takes at least a fortnight. That's a fortnight of novel writing time that I've lost - more because a novel gathers pace as it goes but writing the short breaks my momentum.

But that's me, in my genres of epic/high/heroic fantasy and sword and sorcery. YMMV. 

 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
omegajjj said:
I like the idea and it's something I am trying to do also. Except instead of a short story as my Episode Zero, I'm planning on releasing the first four chapters (about 10,000 words) as a stand-alone download, probably for 99 cents to start. Then when the first book comes out, I can set the four-chapter download to be free and then have a lower launch price for people who picked up the first work as a thank-you.
I think this sampler approach has worked for at least one kboards author. It sounds like you'll need to have a mailing list link in the back for sure.

Interesting observation, Jack. It might be different for stuff with a horror tinge. As someone who doesn't know much about this, it seems a much more robust short story market than classic fantasy.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Ok, here's another short story question. Since it's easier to be experimental with lower word counts, how many authors here release short stories in slightly different genres under the same pen name? My novels are all contemporary fantasy, but I'm soon planning on releasing a couple shorts - one more sci-fi and one more historical. I see it as fleshing out my backlist and keeping new releases up, but the styles are slightly different and I wonder if it muddies my brand. Thoughts?
 

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I have published short stories in several genres and even have series in three (or rather two and a half) different genres, all under the same name.

So far I'm not seeing a whole lot of overlap between the different genres, though I have had people tell me that they decided to try out my crime fiction, because they liked my SF.
 

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It's an idea to include a few chapters of the book that your short leads into. My publisher did this with the short story in my sig, Thirteen. It includes the first 5 chapters I think.

I'm not sure how many books the short story sells, but I know that a few copies are downloaded every day. It all helps, i think! :)
 

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A.A said:
It's an idea to include a few chapters of the book that your short leads into. My publisher did this with the short story in my sig, Thirteen. It includes the first 5 chapters I think.

I'm not sure how many books the short story sells, but I know that a few copies are downloaded every day. It all helps, i think! :)
I am thinking to do this also and I am an indie. What's your publisher by the way?
 

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Domino, I wrote The First Ark to try out the short story approach with the idea of using it for a reader magnet. I put it in KU for the first 90 days to help pay for its production, but it comes out on March 25th when I'll start giving it away to those who sign up to the mailing list.

Reader reception has been mixed. People who've already read the first novel love it, but almost no one has used it as an entry point to the series. It hasn't worked as a discovery tool, but I do believe it will work well as a reader magnet.

I'm extremely glad I had the audiobook version made, as I'm making good money there. I was okay with it being a loss leader, but audio turned it into a profitable venture.
 

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Looking at my Also Boughts,  it looks to me only one section of my readers buys everything I put out. Another section ONLY reads my novellas. And another ONLY reads my novels.

However. I DO think the discoverability advantage of a compelling short story can lift the sales of your other titles. For example, Very Merry Mischief right now is #3 in a subgenre. If someone saw that in their recommendations, but prefers novels, they might click on my author name to see what else do I have available.

I am aiming to write and release a 15k-20k novelette every month or so in addition to my novellas (30k and up) and novels.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Cora and Elizabeth, it sounds like you are both saying similar things. Whether or not audiences read both, the exposure theoretically helps. I'm hoping this is especially true when giving the short story away for free.

Anya, I totally noticed Thirteen in the top lists next to my book. It sounds creepy. I'm still torn between including chapters for future books or not... I'm not convinced it's doing me much good between Book 1 and Book 2 now, and I've heard others say that too much back matter can distract the reader from what you want them to do. It's still something I'm keeping an eye on.

Chris, your audiobook success continues to astound me. That said, I'm not surprised that The First Ark is more of a fan extra than a discovery tool. I think you'd have different results if it were free. Also, would you really recommend anyone read The First Ark first? (I didn't read it but I assume it would spoil some of No Such Thing). Anyway, you really make me think... I wonder if I should get Blood Magic to audio... it would be really cheap.

 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Just wanted to give a little update here because I'm excited.

Blood Magic has been doing great in the free lists, first hitting #1 in 30 Minute Mysteries, then all of 30 Minute Fiction. Now (after a Bknight push) it hit #1 in all Horror Short Stories! (Step aside, Mr. Poe).

I've never had a steady subscribe rate to my newsletter before, and, well, I can't say that I have one yet. But I've noticed a few hits in the last two days so I can see the process starting to work. My goal is to be able to say "I get X subscribers a day". As long as X is non-zero, then I know my next book launch will be better than my last.
 

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Domino Finn said:
Chris, your audiobook success continues to astound me. That said, I'm not surprised that The First Ark is more of a fan extra than a discovery tool. I think you'd have different results if it were free. Also, would you really recommend anyone read The First Ark first? (I didn't read it but I assume it would spoil some of No Such Thing). Anyway, you really make me think... I wonder if I should get Blood Magic to audio... it would be really cheap.
The First Ark doesn't spoil anything in NSTAW, but because I am an ass it raises as many questions as it answers. The few people who've started with that haven't complained, but I think they get more out of it if they've read NSTAW.

Thanks for the compliment about the audio success. It continues to astound me too. I hit 230 reviews today =O

Edit: Grats on Blood Magic. Sounds like it's really popular already.
 
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