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
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