The two short stories you have to write: why, How and then what.
I think most writers have heard of giving away a story for free as a way to get new readers and build your email list. I was nearly finished with my latest novel and was planning to give it away for free, but then I got this piece of advice.
Short Story 1
Don’t give away a novel. Give away a short story. The reason for this is first it’s easy to make a reader hungry for more in a short story. After an entire novel, they can be satisfied or even worn out. I know some books I pick up that I enjoy I’ll read one or two, then take a break and come back. Sometimes I just need a break from the writer's style or their characters. This won’t happen in a short story, at least not to someone who will enjoy your writing.
Second is that this is your writing sample. It illustrates how well you tell a story. You should be going back to this at least once a year, sometimes more to polish it and improve it so it is always the best representation of your storytelling abilities. If it’s a whole novel it can take a lot of time, but if it’s 10,000 to 15,000 words it not going to be a huge time sink to update and improve it.
Third, emotionally it just easier to giveaway.
Fourth, you don’t want to establish a trend or habit with your fans that you give away your novels for free. Those are how you plan to make a living. They should be paid for.
This story should be connected to your series and lead the reader into it. They will meet some of the characters. Generally, the protagonist of your series will be the protagonist of this story, but you can also choose a side character. Again, keep it short.
Short Story 2
In the original Star Trek series, they often talked about something called the Kobiashi Maru. It’s part of the test to become a Starfleet Captain. While the test is often talked about, what it actually was didn’t get mentioned. Fans were insanely curious about it. They wrote fan fiction, before there was an internet, about it. They wonder and waited. Eventually, a trailer for one of the Star Trek movies was released and in it they revealed the Kobiashi Maru would be seen in the movie. They turned out was huge. The fans had wanted to know for a very long time what this thing was and now they had a chance.
This second story is something you mention within your larger story a lot, but never discuss. In the “Escape from” series Snake Plissken is often asked about what happened in Cleveland. He never answers the question, but it peaks the interest of the audience. Every time someone mentions it we learned more, but never the whole story, never enough to know how Snake actually escaped or survived. There’s a story there. A short one, but one that people want to here.
This is the second short story you will write. In your larger novel the characters will talk about it, reference, but never reveal it. This short story is then offered exclusively to those fans who sign up for your newsletter. You put it in the back book matter. “What to know what happened to Snake in Cleaveland. Sign up for my newsletter and I’ll send you that story.”
A case study of an author: W.H. Lock who tried saw his newsletter signups go from 2 in every 100 to 46 in every 100.
My own short will be Secrets of the Sky Fall: Everything that was left of the Nature of Sky Fall Events.
Short Story Principles:
The first thing you need to think about is the length. Not just because you want to keep it short, but because of back matter limitations. Essentially what this means is that Amazon and other ebook retailers sometimes limit how much back matter you can put at the end of a book, after you write the words “The End.”
Amazon’s limitations are 10%. This matters because you’re going to want to put the first chapter of your novel here, along with requests for reviews, invites to your newsletter etc… So if the opening chapter to your novel is 3,000 words you need 30,000 short to fit it all in. This also means you might want to look for a good cliffhanger moment in your opening chapter and cut it there instead of the end of the chapter.
To keep a story short you have to limit the PoV. If your following five characters each with their own chapter then you’re going to end up with a novel.
This isn’t a hard rule, but even if you start developing them, you may want to wait to resolve them in the the novel
Try Fail Cycles:
Much of the middle of a novel is filled with the try-fail cycles of a character. They attempt something big, and it has many smaller steps within it. They fail several times at each step until they get it right.
To keep the short story short you need to essentially limit this to all one chapter, and not a crazy long chapter either.
Plot vs. Character Development: Not Both
Once again you need really pick a few things for a good short. If you want a character focused short that’s great, or you want to an actioned packed one that is plot focused, also great, but don’t try to do both or else you will once again end up with a novel.
As Few Characters as possible:
I remember hearing about the development of the Television show Seinfeld. Nearly all the character were a blend of three or four people Jerry knew in his own life. Kramer was four different people mixed into one, George was three. It kept the cast smaller and gave the characters more quirks, so they stood out more. That’s part of why they were so memorable. Look at your scenes in your short. Can you blend any characters together?
Summation paragraphs are how we skip of location transitions and other dull parts of character life in a novel, but in a short story, you can use it summarize ever larger events as a way to carry the story forward. Sure you write an intriguing scene when the main character argues with his boss, but it’s not an essential scene. It can be summarized.
The first of these is a short story you will work on your entire writing career. The second is a secret between you and your true fans. If they don’t work at what they designed to do write new ones. They are short. It shouldn't take too long.
Another great way to leverage these short stories is to ask authors to put them at the back of their books, while you do the same for them. Not the first novel in your series, save that space for the next chapter in your series, but maybe at the back of the second and third?