Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Best Promotional Bang For Your Buck

Actually, the title of this blog is misleading, because this type of promotion actually pays you. Perhaps not very much. And there is an investment of time. But this can allow you to reach more people than anything else you do, including writing your novels.

Naturally I'm talking about selling short stories.

I get a few emails a week from people who have discovered my writing in places other than the Jack Daniels books. And it makes sense why. There are a few hundred thousand Jack books in print. But if you combine all of the anthologies and magazines I've been in, my stories have been seen by over a million readers.


One of the problems with advertising is that it only offers a promise of something. But a story offers more than a promise. It offers a sample.

Your writing is the best advertisement for your writing, because if people like it, they'll buy more. But getting people to discover that your books even exist, and then try them, is hard to do.

Short stories help to bridge this gap.


There are several short story markets to consider, and I'll list the pros and cons. But first, an important rule:

WRITE FOR THE INTENDED MARKET.

Would you spend hours making a key without having a lock it can open? No. But many authors write whatever the hell they want to write and then erroneously believe there will be a market begging to publish it. That usually isn't the case.

Magazines, anthologies, and websites all have specific demographics. They want specific stories to please these demographics. It's much easier to write for a market than write according to your whim and then try to find a market that will buy it.

When you have found a market, read it. Don't guess what you think the editors will like. Discover what the editors like by reading stories they've already published.

Also, it makes good sense to write stories about the characters who are in your novels. The closer the tie in, the more likely you are to sell a book if someone likes the story.

Got it? Good. And if it stifles your muse, remind yourself that writing is a job. If you want to write for fun, why are you reading this blog?

Here are the markets:

MAGAZINES


Pros - They can have a large circulation, for both subscriptions and newsstands. They're usually specific in their target audience, which means your accepted story will reach a group of people that might not otherwise be aware of you. They can pay pretty well, though I've never gotten more than $500 for magazine fiction.

Cons - Magazines are disposable. While some of the genre rags are collectible, the majority of readers you'll reach happens during the month the mag is fresh. Most magazines, even the big ones, pay very little. And once a story is published by a print mag, it can only be sold again as a reprint, which lessens its appeal for other markets.


ANTHOLOGIES


Pros - Print runs and distribution can be huge. I was in an anthology called THRILLER which was published two years ago, and it has close to half a million books in print. I'm in two big anthos this year, WOLFSBANE AND MISTLETOE, edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni L.P. Kelner, and BLOOD LITE, edited by KJ Anderson for the Horror Writers of America. Both will have large print runs, plus they'll hopefully stay in print for years, leading new readers to my work. Pay can be pretty good---I've gotten as much as $2000 for stories. They're also a great way to find fans of bigger authors. Many people buy anthos for a specific author's story, then become your fans too.


Cons - The really big anthos are invite-only. This is where your conference schmoozing and networking pays off. Anthologies are very much about who you know. Most don't pay very well--sometimes you only get contributors copies. And the smaller anthos have small print runs of less than a thousand, so it might not be cost-effective to provide them with a story when you could be writing your novel.


LIMITED EDITIONS


Pros - Niche collector markets are how many horror writers stay in the black, selling ultra-tiny print runs in signed and numbered editions. As a collector, I love these things. They pay can be decent---a few hundred bucks---and it is a treat for your fans to own something exclusive. Plus, small genre presses have people who collect their whole press runs, so you can make new fans. You can also sell limited editions of stories that are otherwise impossible to sell, namely novellas.

I've got two Harry McGlade novellas coming out this year. For the uninitiated, Harry is a character in the Jack Daniels books. He's a private eye, and not a good one. Harry will be in SUCKERS, co-written with Jeff Strand, coming out from Delirium Books and clocking in at 12k words, and he has a novella in the antho LIKE A CHINESE TATOO, coming out from Dark Arts Books, which is the ungainly length of 13k. Not many markets accept stories of this size.


These are small print runs of under 500, but I'll be reaching some hardcore horror fans, which is a demographic that hasn't embraced my novels yet.


Co-writing is also a smart way to enlarge your audience. Strand writes funny horror novels (much like my funny thrillers) so we'll find each other's fans when SUCKERS. In the BLOOD LIT antho, I did a story with F. Paul Wilson, and hopefully some of his large fanbase will check my stuff out as a result.

Small presses also give you a chance to experiment, and get a little crazy. Those two McGlade stories have some scenes in them I'd never allow in the Jack books, because they're too over-the-top.

Cons - The small print runs and high prices usually mean no library sales, and collectors will hold onto their copies. This means limited readers, even if those readers become fans. And the money can be terrible or even non-existent, making these endeavors very cost-ineffective. Plus, once they're gone, they're gone. Unlike regular anthos, these usually have a limited shelf life.

THE INTERNET

Pros - This burgeoning market has many advantages. First, it is eternal. A story can keep finding new readers as long as it is online. Amazon Shorts, and some webzines, even pay you, so you've got the potential for unlimited readers and (in Amazon's case) unlimited income. Websites aren't as discerning as print publications, making it easier to get a story published on the net. Hell, you can even publish your own on your website.

Cons - The pay is often very small, and more commonly non-existent. Some print publishers consider online publication first rights, and won't publish anything that has appeared on the net. And many webzines aren't well-edited, meaning your story can look and read like shit, which isn't helping you to recruit fans. Plus, many folks don't like to read fiction online. And, if there are royalties involves, peer-sharing is going to take a chunk out of it. Why pay for something that you can get for free?

NEW MARKETS

Sure, we lament the dwindling circulation of the newspaper, and the lack of magazine fiction markets, but more markets are becoming available all the time.

Downloads are primed to take off, and not just for your computer or e-book reader. People are reading on their Nintendo DS game units (via Moonshell), iPods, PDAs, and even cell phones (if your phone has a browser go to http://www.textonphone.com/.) Print on demand is allowing anyone to edit their own anthology with http://www.anthologybuilder.com/. A few months ago, my son got audiobook CDs with his burger meal at Wendy's. This week, he got free print books in his cereal boxes---short paperback versions of the Spiderwick Chronicles.

There are more venues for our short works than ever before, and those short works are like started drugs, leading readers to the harder stuff that writers can actually make money on.

So when you're planning your next promotional endeavor, consider staying home and knocking out a few short stories. It's never been so easy to reach so many.