On publishing short stories
After two years and a bit of self-publishing, I now have a pretty substantial backlist available on online for purchase, currently something like 40 items (you know it’s a lot when you can’t immediately recall the exact number!). Only five of those are novels, of course, with almost twenty being short stories.
I love writing short stories. I am shamelessly (and poverty-inducingly) an artist first and a business-minded writer second, and short stories are where I do my experimenting. Some of you may have read some of them, but I have everything from diaries (The Tree) to second person instructive (?) (Three Two One), and lots more equally weird stuff still on the hard drive. It gives you a chance to try out a different writing style or write in a different genre without investing a whole lot of time. I can hammer out a 5,000 word short story in about three hours if I’ve got the plot ready in my mind. For every finished one though, there are 5 – 10 unfinished ones, everything from a couple of lines to several thousand words. They are in my writing scrap heap (A.K.A. the Unfinished Stories file), but if you’re like me and you run out of gas a lot of times, never, ever delete them. Remember, no writing is ever wasted, and you never know when you might come back to it.
But, I digress.
However, when you publish a short story, you have to think about it the same as any other product that you want to sell – what will make people most likely to buy this item?
Of course the basics are a nice cover, good clean formatting, editing and proofreading.
Short stories, however, won’t make a lot of money, particularly when you’re starting out. Mine are usually proper short – 2 – 6,000 words, because when I was submitting to magazines that was the ideal range. The closer to 2,000 words, the more likely you were – as an unknown – to be accepted.
Here’s the truth about the short stories I publish – I scrimp. I edit and format them myself, and I do the proofreading too. They’re 99% clean (in fact, I’d be happy to challenge anyone to find me a typo in one of my shorts – point it out via Facebook or my Mailing List email and I’ll send you a free ebook of Tube Riders: Exile), partly because I’ve been doing this a long time, most of my day job is correcting errors in English, and I trust myself over a short distance. If you’re in any doubt do a swap with someone or keep practicing until you trust yourself. Putting out error-strewn work is a really bad idea.
Recently, however, I did start getting new covers for a lot of my shorts. This is because the cover is basically the door – if it’s unattractive no one will knock, and once you get them knocking you’re good to go. Again, covers can cost a fortune, so I bought a job lot of premade ones from a site called goonwrite.com. I bought 10 for $225, which as the mathematically minded will notice, is $22.50 each. It’s pretty hard to get a decent stock photo for that price, and what I got was perfectly adequate covers. I’ve only ordered five so far, but you can see them on The Tree, Benny’s Harem, Castles Made of Sand, Once We Were Children, and Ms Ito’s Bird & Other Stories.
The majority of my short stories are designed either to be used as perma-free introductions to my other work, or are priced at $0.99 to tempt people to take a chance. At $0.99 I make roughly $0.35 profit, which is not a lot, and means I have to sell about 60 copies just to make the cost of the cover back. On a good month, I will sell two copies of a short story. It’s usually one or zero.
Here’s the thing, though. I’m not in this for six months, or a year, or five years, I’m in this until I die (or until I make so much money I can sit back on a beach drinking sangria for the rest of my life, haha). That’s hopefully a long time. Thinking long term is absolutely key in self-publishing, as it is in practically every other kind of business. Also, there is that wonderful little business term to consider – the upsell.
Here’s where I’m going to start talking about business stuff. If you’re going to get anywhere in self-publishing you have to LEARN LEARN LEARN, all the time.
It’s no good sitting in your ivory tower acting all high and mighty. You have to get down on the ground looking up at everyone standing taller than you and listen to how they did it. Then you can pick and chose your own method based on what you have learned.
I choose to publish in multiple genres. I chose to publish short stories which won’t make much money. These are my choices, but they come from learning how things work so that at least I know what I’m doing wrong. However, even with these choices, I still concentrate on the upsell.
I recently read a brilliant book called Write. Publish. Repeat. by two guys called Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant. I’m lucky enough to be in a multi-book anthology with Platt and his co-author David Wright, who also contributed to Write. Publish. Repeat. I strongly recommend anyone wanting to self-publish to read this book.
In it, they talk a lot about the upsell. Basically, you have a cheapo/free item which is designed to draw a reader in, after which ideally they will purchase a higher priced item. It’s simple economics. I offer Tube Riders for free, hoping that people will then purchase Exile and Revenge, or ideally the Trilogy Boxed Set, which is at the top of the chain. The boxed set is cheaper than the two individual sequels, but a sale of the boxed set over a sale of Exile guarantees a purchase of Revenge.
With the short stories, you need to have some kind of upsell. Admittedly, it’s more difficult unless they’re part of a series. What I have are collections of five genre-themed stories, and I offer a choice of two of these in the contact section of my back/front matter (which is what this blog was originally supposed to be talking about!). Wright/Truant talk a lot about tone of your contact info, and the importance of offering a choice of purchases over a purchase vs nothing.
Here’s an example of my contact matter for my short stories –
Did you enjoy this story? If so, please consider signing up for the Mailing List where you can get free stuff, special offers and discounts on new releases.
If you would like to read more stories like it, perhaps you would like to try one of my collections, such as Five Tales of Dystopia or Five Tales of Fantasy.
Also, you can chat to me on Facebook at Chris Ward (Fiction Writer) and follow progress on new books on my blog at A Million Miles from Anywhere
Thank you for reading!
I structure it in order of what I deem most important. First is the Mailing List sign up, because once they’re on that they get to hear first about all my new releases (and hopefully buy them). Second is the choice of two collections. This is from The Tree, which is a dystopian story. They get offered Five Tales of Dystopia first, and Five Tales of Fantasy second. After these I give them links to the more unimportant stuff, my Facebook and my blog. Everything is hyperlinked.
Having an upsell option on a short story to a product selling for $2.99 suddenly makes that $22.50 less of an investment. I still only sell a handful of collections a month, but again I’m thinking long term, plus I want as much material in place in the event that one or more of my books take off.
Front/back matter placement
So you’ve got your upsell info in place. Where do you put it? As always, I’m doing the failing so that you don’t have to. The door for a reader is the cover, but the second level of interest is the sample they can download on to their Kindle, generally 10%.
Until recently I had all my links and info at the front and back of everyone of my books. That included an author bio, a list of my other works, a copyright statement, and also the contact stuff. Then, the other day, I downloaded the sample for one of my short stories.
I didn’t actually get any of the story. All I got was the front matter. 10% of 2000 words is only 200, less than a page. It’s still enough to capture a reader’s attention if it’s good, but if all they get is a list of other works and an author bio, they’re not going to purchase anything.
It’s fine to have all that stuff at the front in a novel. Tube Riders is 160,000 words, so you get roughly five chapters in the sample. In a short story, however, it makes sense to put all that stuff at the back.
What I do now is have a simple Contents page like this –
Also by Chris Ward
About the Author
All the back matter is at the back, in reverse order of what I consider important. Straight after the story is the contact page, followed by my other stuff, a short bio if they’re really interested, and a copyright page (which is interesting to basically no one). The contents page is important particularly for other vendors (Apple requires one, even for short stories), but its so short it won’t take much away from the sample. If you’re just publishing to Kindle you could probably do without one. Most importantly, they’re now getting some of the story, and if they get some, they’re likely to want more, and if they like it they’ll be keen to click on the links they find at the back.
Hopefully you found this blog useful. If you did, sign up for my mailing list, go and buy all my books, or at least download Tube Riders, which is permafree. Then you can come back and tell me I’m awesome.
Until next time…
May 15th 2014