A conversation between Peg Brantley and L.J. Sellers
More important, I went to Amazon to check out the short story and discovered that it has almost all one-star reviews. I was stunned! I read several, and they all have the same complaints: The story doesn’t have a real conclusion, and the ebook serves mostly as a promotion for Connelly’s next book, The Gods of Guilt. Both the short story and the novel are selling well, so was it effective? And even so, was it worth alienating some readers?
Peg: My guess would be no, soooo not worth it. I have become a huge fan of Michael Connelly and have to wonder what his publisher was thinking. By the way, while I’ve read a lot of mixed reviews on sites like DorothyL and For Mystery Addicts about The Gods of Guilt, but I enjoyed it.
But Connelly isn’t the only author who might be suffering repercussions from this new marketing tactic. I recently downloaded what I thought was a short story by Dean Koontz, another of my favorites. I was completely turned off when at some point (it was moving rather slowly for a short story) I figured out it was simply a marketing promotion for his next book. I never finished it. And it still leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.
L.J.: Readers hate that! Which makes me wonder whether the author knew what his publisher planned and if he had any say in the matter. I like to think that he didn’t and that he’s not happy about the situation. I know that publishers sometimes encourage (pressure?) authors to write short stories as between-book promos. And sometimes they want their authors to participate in new programs and formats.
Thomas & Mercer asked me to publish my last Jackson story as a serial because they were launching the new program and needed material for it. But it was my choice and I said no, that I would rather wait for a traditional release because that's what my readers expected and I didn't want to alienate even a few. Other publishers don’t give their authors as much control, which is why I would never sign with anyone but Amazon.
Peg: As you know I’m self-published and love the control it gives me. I establish content and cover and price and marketing. It isn’t always easy, but I don’t ever have to risk a publisher who is so focused on the bottom line they forget the reader. The future. The next book. If I have a win, it’s all mine, but so are my losses. I’ve watched you and others with Amazon and know they’d be my first choice as a publisher if I ever wanted to have a foot in both camps. I can’t see Amazon ever doing something that would be such a career game-changer without the full support of an author. Kudos to both them and you regarding the serial program.
L.J.: After I saw the one-star reviews with comments that said they would never buy another Connelly book, I thought, He should leave his publisher and go indie. Connelley has so many readers and so much clout that he could sign a deal with Ingram to get his self-pubbed print books into stores and make more money both in print and digital. If he had only his own profit to worry about—and not be concerned about Hatchette’s bottom line—he could be very successful as an indie and never have to participate in gimmicky promotions that piss off readers.
Peg: I totally agree! But I’m betting he has another consideration: What about his agent? Those bonds get sticky. I know they do. Maybe that’s another discussion?
L.J.: Lots of indie and hybrid authors have agents, who often secure foreign rights or negotiate contracts with new-age publishers and distributors. But with Connelly's Harry Bosch series finally debuting on Amazon Prime, maybe the author will feel empowered to make a break from his legacy publisher (Hachette). Maybe Amazon Publishing will be able to lure him away.
Readers: What do you think about these promotions? Has it made you drop an author?
Writers: How do you make short stories work as a promotion for your other books?
I'm indie too, and I'm toying with the idea - you know, in my free time - of posting shorts about my current characters. Just 'backstage stuff' that didn't get into the novel(s) or back story that has no business in a novel, but that's interesting or funny or gives my readers some more detailed info about these people. For instance, in 'Banana Bamboozle' I made reference to a funny event in the characters' past which is the reason they shouldn't drink rum any more. Funny in my head, that is. My readers don't know about it. I'd like to think it would be a bonus feature, rather than a marketing ploy, though. Perhaps it's a fine line to tread carefully.ReplyDelete
The problem I've discovered with short stories published by themselves is that some readers will always be disappointed and say "It's too short!" And give a low rating that brings down the average. When readers can buy 80,000 word novels for $.99—or get them free—they resent paying 99 cents for a short story they can read in a few minutes. It's just how it is. Short story collections fare better. Novellas tend to suffer from the same issue. I've decided that for myself, I'm not likely to ever publish anything but full-length novels.Delete
Becky, it should be perfectly fine, so long as you're up-front about what the piece is about. The Connelly short-story offer backfired because people thought they were getting an actual short story instead of an excerpt.Delete
If you want to see another way of doing this, check out Jasper Fforde's site (check out his books, too, they're imaginative and funny). Anyway, he offers a section on his site that acts as "CD extras", such as a chapter he excised out of the book, a discussion of his writing process, commentary on the novel. Fans of the book will eat it up with a spoon and ask for more.
I'm both traditionally published and self-published, and with my new book am going back to a publisher, though a smaller one this time, where I will maintain control. As you've said, there are so many options these days. As for short stories, I don't like them, don't read them, even when it's a favorite author.ReplyDelete
Actually, I take that back. I did read one by Tess Gerritsen, whose books I dearly love, but was disappointed in the short story between books. I've only written one myself, and that was for an anthology. But if I'm going to invest a lot of time and heart in reading or writing, it's going to be in a full length book. And I wish the big time authors would do the same.
My biggest issue is that a short story should be a true— independent of a book—short story. Don't make me think I'm going to get a short story and have it only turn out to be a commercial for an upcoming release.Delete
This is what baffled me about the idea of a short story "backfiring" as a promotional gimmick - on the one hand, I'd love to get a little taste of the author's work before buying a book. But I'd want the short story to stand on its own merits - not be a "teaser" for a book. I'd also not appreciate being spammed with links from a PR agent.Delete
That said, there are authors who write short stories better than novel length works, and authors who do better with a little elbow room. And there are authors who do both well - but the readership for their short stories and for their novels isn't always the same. I think Stephen King, for example, is an even better short story writer than he is a novelist. How many people have read all of his short stories? Not as many as are very familiar with his novels (or movies based on them).
I much prefer to sink into a novella or novel than a short story, so I rarely read them. But it seems to me that if authors are going to do this, they'd better make sure their short stories are high-quality and interesting in themselves, not just a teaser!ReplyDelete
I have always held the belief that the short story requires different skill sets, and many GREAT novelists don't possess these skills. Sure, these are all marketing ploys and readers aren't fooled. That said, they are hugely disappointed.ReplyDelete
I agree. With the short story you have to compress plot and character arc and everything else into a very tiny capsule. I've done it, even won an honorable mention, but give me a full-length novel to stretch my wings rather than tighten them.Delete
I'm pretty sure I've read some awesome shorts by Stephen King, and maybe even a few others, but I'm unlikely to buy another one.
I'm trying something new to me this year - releasing a new short story (aprox. 10K words) in the same story arc at five different times, essentially completing the arc in December. It's not a big profit center, but it is a good exercise and has done a great job of driving signups to my new release newsletter, which is my primary focus this year. At the end of the year, I'll smooth out the transitions and publish it as a 50K novella, because I know there are people that will never give it a look in the shorter format. I do occasionally get the "Too short!" reviews, but they've been outweighed by the positive reviews so far. Also, I am making sure that each story can be read as a standalone, hopefully taking away the sting of "this is all a promo that I paid for" feeling.ReplyDelete
It sounds like you're being upfront with readers and giving them completed, satisfying stories, so there's no reason for them to feel cheated. And it's an interesting approach. Let us know how it works out.Delete
Interesting post. The success of these can often depend on the marketing strategies. The mistake that Connelly and Koontz made, I think, was that they marketed them as short stories, rather than telling readers they're promos for an upcoming book. It's deceptive, like making readers pay for blatant self-promotion.ReplyDelete
On the other hand, James Patterson and a few others have found great success with publishing "first looks" at their upcoming releases (first fifty-or-so pages), clearly telling readers what they're getting. These excerpts have shot to the top of the lists. Still, I wonder whether this only works for A list authors.
I suspect you're right, that only superstars will get away with that. I can't imagine myself doing it, even if I could. It feels wrong somehow. But being absolutely clear with readers is important.Delete
Still, some readers don't pay attention to labels or explanations and often even miss the phrase "short story" in the title or subtitle. But you can't worry about everything or please everyone. :)
I agree with Lala their is a skill set involved is writing a good short story and I love well written short stories. I realize that there are no hard and fast rules, but they certainly don't have a...too be continued ending. I have no idea what Michael Connelly (or his publisher) put out there, but if it told a tale and left the reader hanging, then fooey on that.ReplyDelete
Exactly the point. A short story that's completely a stand alone, or even one that enhances an existing character is one thing. A short story simply to get you to buy the next book leaves a poor taste in my mouth.Delete
I was lucky and found out what was going on with Switchblade before I bought it. That tactic will not keep me from ever buying another one of his books, but I think it is a bad move to do those kinds of shorts. On the other hand, doing a complete short story that features the central character from a longer work can be a good marketing tool. I took the opening of my mystery, Stalking Season, and changed it up just a bit to give it an ending and it was included in an anthology of mystery stories. But I don't think I would ever try to sell it the way Switchback was marketed.ReplyDelete
I think you're good if you always try to do what's best for the reader... not just the author or the publisher.Delete
I felt that way about Evanovich and Goldberg's "Pros & Cons." Plenty of people disagreed with me, so it didn't seem to hurt them. :)ReplyDelete
Going for a similar approach to Shawn ~ making completed shorts set in my fictional world available to readers/followers over a few months, sort of as world tasters. Then I will compile them as one release with novellas that complete the 'picture'. And have a novel that ties in, loosely,ReplyDelete
I agree; writing short stories uses a different craft/skill set. As novelists, we're constantly learning and honing skills needed for "bigger" longer stories. I suspect the short-story writers we follow similarly develop their skill set.ReplyDelete
I have written a spin-off novella. The protagonist in Honor Code, detective Larry Robbins, is a secondary character in The Professor. I kept Robbins' mannerisms and character consistent, but the novella stands alone. While my novels are traditionally published, I indie-pubbed the novella and have enjoyed the flexibility to use it for marketing.
If you keep your reader in mind, I think you'll only end up enhancing your sales.Delete
Compilations work good for authors who like to write shorts stories. And I feel stories set in the author's universe, whether with the main or secondary characters as the protagonist, would work (if they're stand-alone stories and not commercials, as stated above). I like to write shorts, but some wind up maybe too short for individual sales. I have a few of these up, but I think I'll pull them and add them to my next compilation. Don't want any readers to feel short changed.ReplyDelete
"SHORT changed." LOL.ReplyDelete
Best of luck, Richard!
Funny, because I subscribe to Connelly's newsletter and I thought he'd made it very clear that this was a short that expanded the reason Haller and Bosch ran into each other at the courthouse. I didn't feel it was a phenomenal short story, but I didn't think it was mere promo for the other book. It stood well enough alone for me. Maybe it's because I got it free as a PDF when I ordered Gods of Guilt, and I have no idea how his publisher started marketing it; I got it before it was released.ReplyDelete
I'm sure Connelly made an effort to communicate, but he has millions of fans and only a small percentage get his newsletter. Maybe and his publisher should have offered it for free. That could have been very effective.ReplyDelete