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Using Short Stories as a Marketing Tool

09-10-30a walanb, 511120633


Earlier this month Alan Rinzler put up a great post “Why book publishers love short stories” about why short stories are so desirable in today’s time pushed society. People are reading short stories on mobile phones, e-zines, e-readers, story sites and magazines, because the quick reading experience fits into their busy lifestyles.

This means there is a large audience of readers, eager to read short stories.

This audience is generally ignored by novelists.

This is a big mistake.


Because using short stories as a marketing tool can support a writer’s aspiration in many rewarding and powerful ways. They can be used as test beds for ideas, as promotional media to build an audience, as vehicles to improve your craft, and these are but a few of the possibilities.

In writing a novel there is always a lot of material that is redundant once the novel is complete. It may be the main characters back-story, events that have been only hinted at, research notes, or those character lead diversions that had been written but now have been, correctly, removed. If we capture these diversions and weave them into a short story, if we explore the back-story for a meaty tale or produce a parallel plot using some of the discarded research, then we have the makings of some good short stories that complement the main novel and can be used in the same manner that trailers are used in the film and TV industries.

Think of them as teaser shorts.

The stories are already in our heads, so they flow quickly on to the page. It can flow in the other direction too, if you are considering them as you write the novel, then you have the option to include artefacts in the novel, which will be supported by the short story. When your reader reaches that point in the novel, they will have an ‘A-ha!’ moment of recognition and feel they are in possession of secret knowledge about the artefacts in the novel.

The wonderful thing about shorts is that they are short. They can be penned very quickly when compared to a novel and there is good reason to release them on to the net before the main manuscript is completed. If your short stories fail to find an audience, then all the hard graft you put into completing your novel is unlikely to produce any better results and you should invest time in finding out what is wrong.

A short, based around the novel, also frees you to explore scenes and events from the perspectives of the other characters, even bit characters like a store keeper or a waiter. Maybe you would like to explore the antagonist’s reactions, his upbringing or his positioning in the prevalent culture. I guarantee that if you write about an event from a different characters view point, you will have to go back and edit the original because of the new material that develops in the exercise.

Shorts also allow for development of the bit characters and scenes outside of the novel and this can then feed back to add richness in the main work. The short can also allow the writer to explore some side issue or event without diluting the main plot line but again the developments can feed positively into the main manuscript.

Positive reader feedback from promo shorts also contribute to the development of the novel, maybe one character would feature more if he/she/it gains popularity. Positive feedback will also motivate a writer and provide the impetus for him/her to persevere through dragging sections and so complete the novel.

However, short does not equate to simple, short actually equates to difficult. Every single word has to add value, the pace has to be fast, the plot has to be compelling and since you do not have the characterisations available that were built so carefully in the main manuscript, the characters have to be instantly recognisable. A short story has to stand on its own and it has to produce enough enjoyment to convert the reader into your-reader. Since none of this will hurt your writing, it is well worth investing considerable effort in pursuing the necessary skills.


In summary, using short stories as a marketing tool, can;

     get your writing in front of an audience quickly

     gain reader feedback on your writing and story idea

     be used to explore and test reactions to ideas

     be written quickly from discarded material

     make additional use of research

     make additional use of back-story

     utilise character driven diversions

     allow exploration of events, places or characters

     improve your writing craft

     improve the main novel

     build synergy between the novel and its shorts

     grow a fan base

     be used as media during a virtual book tour

     be used as ‘teasers’ for the main novel

     develop your marketing ‘muscles’ early

     provide motivation

     be a lot of fun


If you have any more ideas on how to use short stories to support your novel, please let us all know in the comments section below.


Photo; 511120633, cc walanb

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9 comments to Using Short Stories as a Marketing Tool

  • It’s nice to know there’s a future for short stories.

  • Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by Andy Shackcloth: New post; Short stories as a novel marketing tool.

  • [...] As you’re writing your novel, you want to begin thinking of marketing possibilities, and Andy Shackcloth comes up with a great article on Using Short Stories as a Marketing Tool. [...]

  • Phew! It’s taken me days to get here!

    As you know (as, bless you, you’ve joined!) I am running a short story club from my writing site. There are many great reasons for doing this, but in terms of a marketing tool, it is enabling me to find people who love my writing, and to establish a relationship with them. I give members a free short story every month, one they have contributed to the creation of through the ideas phase, and so they are able to decide whether they like my style, my concepts etc with no risk to themselves.

    Finding fans and being connected with them is what so many writers need to do these days, and whilst this may be a high-maintenance way of doing it, I love it. So do the members!

  • I hope you can take a little constructive feedback, Andy. I think you’re doing short fiction a disservice here. You’re making the mistake that a lot of readers, writers and (arguably, most importantly) booksellers make in seeing the short form as second class citizen to the long.

    The best short stories have nothing to do with novels. They do much more than complement or market longer work. Of course they CAN do that – but you’re missing a trick if you think that such, er, ‘subservience’ is what suits short fiction best.

    Come along to one of our live fiction nights if you don’t believe me ~

    • Hi Decongested, I presume I’m talking to Pauline or Martin, thanks for the invite to come along to your fiction nights. I have looked at your site and it is very interesting, and since London is not that far from me I will keep checking your diary and see if a date works out. However, I will have to forgo the glass of wine, since I never mix alcohol with driving.

      In the morning I have only have time available to read and approve comments. So I cannot respond immediately and I have been troubled by your comment all day. I am quite desperate to know how I got it so wrong, that I lead you to believe I was “doing short fiction a disservice” and that you believed I was talking about all short stories instead of exclusively talking about short stories specifically written from, and intended to support, a specific novel, when you wrote, “They do much more than complement or market longer work”.

      I had also believed I made the point strongly, that writing a short story was actually harder than writing a novel, but that striving to learn this skill will also help your novel and so it is worth “investing considerable effort” to acquire the necessary skills in this demanding format. So it troubles me deeply when you pointed out “seeing the short form as second class citizen to the long” and “if you think that such, er, ’subservience’ is what suits short fiction”.

      Can I take you up on your first offer of a little constructive feedback, would you be so kind as to point out which sentences have lead you to interpret my intentions in the way that you did, I trust you can see from this reply that the intent was quite different from the perception in your comment. Once I can see which sentences are causing the ambiguity, I will rewrite them and ensure that the post is true to its theme of covering short stories written specifically as marketing and learning tools. And explain that the short story marketing stream is only available because of the high quality and value of all the short story sites. That they are an art form that has its own following, its own strengths, its own opportunities and a novelist who ignores or thinks of it as “subservient” will be making a big mistake.

  • Great idea! I’ve jotted down some rough back stories for characters who would have appeared in my poor neglected NaNo novel, hadn’t thought of expanding them and making them works in their own right. I think I might do that, then come back to the full novel later. Thanks for the inspiration!

  • Hi Kate,
    Lovely to see you here, bit surprised that with NaNo you have the time to surf ;)

    Wishing you the very best of luck with NaNo.

  • lol I don’t, that’s why I’m not holding out much hope of ‘winning’. I’m never going to finish in a month: by the time I’ve finished paid writing, and work on two non-fiction books I can’t face doing any more :-( So, I’ve been NaNo-ing (that should be a verb) at the weekend. I’ve made quite a good start, and assuming I write every weekend I should get it finished by the end of January. Well, that’s the theory …