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:


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:


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.


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.


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.


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?


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 Print on demand is allowing anyone to edit their own anthology with 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.


Josephine Damian said...

JA, great advice. I used to take the shotgun approach: write whatever I felt like and submit to a gazillion 'zines - with no success.

Now I use the sniper approach: write a story geared toward a particular mag - and it's worked - my first story in a print mag - OUT OF THE GUTTER - will be out in April.

Anonymous said...

I'm taking a midline path on write for markets. First and foremost because I spent two years writing to market and sold nary a one to all those markets. All my sales have been "shotgun" method as Josephine points out above.

Many of my misses have also been "We just took a story like this" or an editor has admitted that they are just burned out on seeing those kinds of stories, and while mine was good, they just couldn't stomach any more, good or not. You have no way of knowing if the editors are to that point because there's no way to see into their slush.

So sure you should definitely target your stories, but just completely writing just to market often leaves you with a bunch of stories that have Nos attached and no clue where else to send them.

James Goodman said...

Thanks for the advice. I'm in the process of trying to get my work infront of new readers and now I have another avenue to approach.

Much obliged...

s.w. vaughn said...

Ah . . . but what if one can't write short stories to save one's proverbial life?

JA Konrath said...

A lot of writers tell me that short stories are harder to write than books than books.

I think it's like the difference between ice skating and roller blading. If you can do one, you'll be able to do the other, but you may need to practice and rethink some basics.

Writers write. Good writers write everything.

No one ever accomplished anything by saying "I can't do that."

Nick Kelly said...


I told you when I first approached you that I'd found your work through the Thriller anthology. This post is absolutely on the mark. That has extended now as I'm reading "These Guns for Hire", the hitman anthology, on the prowl for new authors to read. It may not be the approach of all readers, but it's certainly how some of us find new things to read!


Allison Brennan said...

Joe, great advice. And you're right--short stories are harder (for me at least!) than full-length novels. But I also love Stephen King's novellas and short stories, and was upset when he said that the art of the short story was dead. I've really tried to learn this lost art, because I lived on short stories when I was younger (Ray Bradbury has some GREAT shorts. The one on the tesseract, "The Sound of Thunder", and others stick out and I haven't read them in more than 20 years. God, I feel old.)

One problem with some of the anthos (IMO) is that they want SHORT short stories. If you look at King, for example, he has a few short shorts (less than 5K words) but the bulk of his short stories are between 5-15K, and his BEST work is in novella format (30-50K) My KILLER YEAR antho went over by a thousand words, but fortunately my mentoree Gregg Olsen, went way short so I took his word allotment :)

I'm writing, on spec, a story for Thriller2. Don't know if it'll make the cut, but I don't regret trying because it's good practice.

s.w. vaughn said...

Dude. Are you saying I'm not a good writer? :-)

All righty then. Guess I'll have to prove you wrong...


Must burn all these putrid short stories first. I can write novels, non-fiction, articles, ad copy, commercial scripts, web copy - you name it, I've written it. Except for short stories. I suck at those.

I feel challenged now.

Conda Douglas said...

I was thrilled to read this post, Joe, as short stories were my first true love. And you're right, it is a different style of writing, so even now, when I take a break from a novel to write a short story (a treat for me) it takes a while to change modes.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this. I have been using the shotgun approach with little success.

BTW, I found you through the Thriller anthology. I've just finished Whisky Sour and have bought 3 more of the Jack Daniels books. Love your humor.

Picks by Pat said...


I'm am so glad that Harry McGlade is finally going to have his own novella. I really think he is funny as hell. I know he's a jerk, but hey...he's like family! Where can we find that novella? I assume you'll post on the blog when it comes out.


T. M. Hunter said...

Gives me a little hope that my time writing short stories in between novels isn't all wasted... :)

Unknown said...