Working on long-form projects like novels can mean that you feel like your profile is hard to maintain. Once the excitement of a book coming out has died down, how do you keep up momentum until you publish the next one? This may not be an issue if you are particularly prolific, but as many writers (particularly indie writers) fit their writing around other jobs and commitments, churning out new titles isn’t always practical or possible. Here’s where digital singles can help you.
It’s not a new trend. Many mainstream authors now use digital singles both as standalone income generators but also to whet the readers’ appetite for their novels. Take Lee Child, for instance; these days a Jack Reacher short story usually comes out a month or so before the new novel, with an extract of the novel included. Some authors find it a useful way or reusing material that has been published elsewhere (for example, in anthologies), or putting out pieces that don’t have an obvious home in a different publication.
Why is it good news for indie authors?
As an author, I have enthusiastically embraced the trend – and found it a fantastic exercise. I had always planned to put out one Dark Dates book a year, but in the gap between the novels, when a couple of ideas for stories occurred to me, I published them as standalone stories.
The benefits were multiple: readers got a chance to catch up with characters they had already become fond of, sometimes in very different settings that those of the novel. It was an opportunity to explore relationships that weren’t filtered through the subjective lens of Dark Dates’ first person narrator, Cass, which meant that the characters became more rounded, since I was often exploring their interior lives in a way that wasn’t possible when they were being viewed from just the outside.
It also helped create a steady stream of reviews and interactions, which helped feed the promotional machine which is so much part of today’s indie publishing world. Many of the bloggers who had reviewed Dark Dates were happy to read and review the shorts, and though I definitely found it harder to get as many online reviews in places like Amazon and Goodreads, I still got a decent amount of traction in tweets and social media. And though none of the stories were massive money spinners, they did all sell: many readers downloaded them, and told me how much they loved them.
Later, such a mechanism provided a useful stopgap when I realised I was behind on my schedule: when a series of personal catastrophes meant I knew there was no way I would get another full length novel out on time, I wrote a longer short story to, hopefully, keep readers interested in the interim between books. (This story, A Vampire in Edinburgh, actually ended up being one of my favourites. In fact, I am unreasonably fond of all my short stories – they were all such fun to write!)
Fancy giving it a try? Here are some tips:
Short, but not too short: If you’re selling a story as a standalone, it needs to be a reasonable length so buyers don’t feel shortchanged: if it’s only 1,000-3,000 words or so you may be better off just putting it on your website or as a blog post.
Expand your world: If you’re writing as part of a series, this is your chance to really have some fun with the world you created. Write about side characters, delve into backstories, play with perspective (Jim Butcher has done this incredibly well: his Dresden Files story narrated by Harry’s brother, Thomas, is a great twist on his usual style and we get the fun of seeing a narrator through someone else’s eyes). I wrote stories set in New York, Edinburgh Fringe and Brighton, and a seasonal Christmas story – all of which gave me different angles for promotion.
Try out some ideas: The great thing about a short story – or a collection of stories – is sometimes they work as standalones, but sometimes you can build on them. I’ve published short stories that have later expanded into plays or novels, once I’ve had time to fiddle around with the original idea (and see if anyone likes it!)
Price it low: Even very successful authors usually can’t really charge more than a couple of quid for a short story, so you’re best keeping your price point low. If you’re publishing on Kindle, consider doing a free promotion to get attention for your other books.
Have realistic expectations: Lots of people just don’t like short stories, and even when they do, reviews can be less enthusiastic than those for a full length piece. Don’t get hung up on this, or it’ll put you off!
Compile them! Once you have a few standalones, you can put these together as one product – this is particularly useful if you’re moving from digital to print. I did this twice, combining a novella length short with two shorter stories for the collections A Vampire in Edinburgh and A Vampire in New York. Both ended up working really well.
So why not give it a go?
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Rom-com with a dash of Northern charm: The Bridesmaid Blues
Paranormal adventure with snark and sexiness: Dark Dates: Cassandra Bick Chronicles: Volume 1
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