Welcome to my Front Parlor, a place where I hope to engage you in some stimulating conversations about my continued journey as an indie author and the joys of writing historical fiction. I continue to marvel at how well the first three books in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series, Maids of Misfortune, Uneasy Spirits, and Bloody Lessons, and the companion short stories, Dandy Detects, The Misses Moffet Mend a Marriage, and Mr. Wong Rights a Wrong, have been selling. Thanks to all of you for your support. Do come in, look around, comment, and before you go, please leave a visiting card (url, twitter, fb address, etc) so I can return the courtesy and visit you next time.
When I read Marie Force’s recent blog post celebrating four years as a self-published author, it occurred to me that I should celebrate my own anniversary since I self-published Maids of Misfortune, the first book in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series, on November 28, 2009––FIVE YEARS AGO.
While Force’s success as one of the most prolific and high selling hybrid authors of today is truly remarkable––it struck me that I should honor the fact that when I self-published (with no traditionally published books under my belt, no fan base) I was doing something a little risky––a little ahead of the curve. In 2009, the pundits were still saying ebooks and self-published books were the route to failure, and J.A Konrath and April Hamilton were voices in the wilderness. So, when I clicked publish on that first ebook edition, I was taking a leap of faith. The first of many. And some of the most gratifying lessons I’ve learned from self-publishing have been to continue to take risks, not take no for an answer, and to enjoy controlling my own destiny.
Not that the success was over night. I just looked back and saw that at the end of six months I had sold 284 books copies of Maids of Misfortune in ebook and print, vastly more than I expected but certainly not something that promised an end to my day-job. I also had four very nice reviews on Amazon (three from complete strangers) that pleased me no end.
Yet, today, five years later, I have sold over 120,000 books (which includes just Maids of Misfortune, Uneasy Spirits, and Bloody Lessons, a boxed set of those novels, and a recent collection of my short stories––a far cry from Force’s 27 self-published books), and the first book, Maids of Misfortune, has over 740 reviews and has recently been issued in German by AmazonCrossing.
And I have also gained innumerable friends in the writing community and discovered fans of my series who love my characters as much as I do, perhaps the greatest reason to celebrate there is!
So in celebration, I am doing my first Raffle Copter Giveaway, just one more experiment in this world of self-publishing, offering copies of my boxed set, and collection of short stories and $25 Amazon gift cards to five winners. I hope you will enter, help me celebrate, and get some new books to read for the upcoming holidays! Just click here for a Rafflecopter giveaway starting Thursday, 11/20-2014.
The night wind whispers — Ghosts !
They are waiting for their hosts;
The waning moon is weary and will not be up till late ;
Already there are shadows at the gate.
A word, half heard, that is whispered in your ear,
And a presence that is felt when no one else is near.
Have you been along the corridors alone — all alone —
And listened to the wind up yonder making moan?
Have you thought about it all,
The footfall in the hall
That comes and goes — comes and goes —
With the measure of a heartbeat of a life that ebbs and flows ?
The poem above was the first item in a nearly 200 page book, Hallowe’en Festivities by Stanley Schell, put out in 1903, that was devoted to giving suggestions on how to celebrate Halloween. It includes everything from examples of invitations to the party, decorations, songs, a play, pantomimes, costumes, dances, and twelve ghost stories. There are also recipes, like the following. (Notice the 1 gold ring)
FORTUNE CAKE. One lb. butter, 2 lbs. sugar, 3 lbs. flour, 1 lb. currants, 1 lb. raisins, 6 eggs, 3 teaspoonfuls powdered saleratus, 1 teaspoon- ful ground cinnamon, \ nutmeg, 1 gold ring. Beat butter to a cream; add sugar after rolling it fine, add well-sifted wheat flour, well-beaten eggs. Dissolve saleratus in little hot water, add it. Also add cinnamon and grated nutmeg. Wash and dry currants thoroughly and stone and cut raisins in two; flour them all together with the ring and work them all in the dough. Put into large buttered tin and bake in moderate oven.
HALLOWE'EN PIE. Consists of upper and lower crust of dough and looks like any large deep pie. Dish is deep and round. Bake under crust and upper crust. When cool, fill with sawdust and dainty knick-knacks. Have knick-knacks evenly scattered throughout sawdust. Then put on top pie crust and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Knick-knacks should consist of things pertaining to occasion, as witches on brooms, tiny jack-o'- lanterns, ghosts, apples, etc., â€” souvenirs of the occasion.
It also lists 60 different Games to play at your party. Here are just a few:
HIDING RING, THIMBLE AND PENNY.
Hide ring, thimble and penny in room. To one who finds ring speedy marriage is assured; thimble denotes life of single blessedness; penny promises wealth.
JUMPING LIGHTED CANDLE.
Place lighted candle in middle of floor, not too securely placed; each one jumps over it. Whoever succeeds in clearing candle is guaranteed a happy year, free of trouble or anxiety. He who knocks candle over will have a twelve- month of woe.
Float in tub of water a half walnut shell with tiny sail made of a tooth-pick and slip of paper. On paper each one writes his initials and another’s ; revealing name to no one. Boats are all launched at same time; water is agitated to make miniature waves; those whose boats are overturned will not win their lovers and sweethearts, but owners of boats that override the troubled seas will get their hearts’ desires.
Hostess enters with small round pumpkin on old pewter platter. On pumpkin are carved all letters of alphabet. One guest is blindfolded and given a hat-pin, then led to pumpkin, where she is expected to stick pin into one of the letters on the pumpkin, thus indicating the initial of future life-partner.
The dragon consists of half a pint of ignited brandy or alcohol in a dish. As soon as brandy is aflame, all lights are extinguished, and salt is freely sprinkled in dish, imparting a corpse-like pallor to every face. Candied fruits, figs, raisins, sugared almonds, etc., are thrown in, and guests snap for them with their fingers; person securing most prizes from flames will meet his true love within the year.
CANDLE AND APPLE.
At one end of stick 18 inches long fasten an apple; at other end, a short piece of lighted candle. Suspend stick from ceiling by stout cord fastened in its middle so that stick will balance horizontally; while stick revolves players try to catch apple with their teeth. A prize may be in center of apple.
A raisin is strung in middle of thread a yard long, and two persons take each an end of string in mouth; whoever, by chewing string, reaches raisin first has raisin and will be first wedded.
Suspend horizontally from ceiling a barrel-hoop on which are fastened alternately at regular intervals apples, cakes, candies, candle-ends. Players gather in circle and, as it revolves, each in turn tries to bite one of the edibles; the one who seizes candle pays forfeit.
HALLOWE’EN SOUVENIR GAME. Suspend apples by means of strings in doorway or from ceiling at proper height to be caught between the teeth. First successful player receives prize. These prizes should be Hallowe’en souvenirs, such as emery cushions of silk representing tomatoes, radishes, apples, pears, pickles; or pen-wipers representing brooms, bats, cats, witches, etc.
Each one places handful of wheat flour on sheet of white paper and sprinkles it over with a pinch of salt. Some one makes it into dough, being careful not to use spring water. Each rolls up a piece of dough, spreads it out thin and flat, and marks initials on it with a new pin. The cakes are placed before fire, and all take seats as far from it as possible. This is done before eleven p.m., and between tha.t time and mid-night each one. must turn cake once. When clock strikes twelve future wife or husband of one who is to be married first will enter and lay hand on cake marked with name. Throughout whole proceeding not a word is spoken. Hence the name “dumb cake.” (If supper is served before 11.30, “Dumb Cake” should be reserved for one of the After-Supper Tests.)
If you are planning a party and want to look at all the suggestions-this book is free from the Open Library.
By the way, If you want something to read to put you in the mood for the holiday–Uneasy Spirits, the second book in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series, (with spirits, seances, murder and a Hallowe’en Party all its own) is Free on Kindle October 30-31.
I am very pleased to introduce Katja Blum, the person who did such a lovely, professional job translating Maids of Misfortune into the German edition: Dienstmädchen im Unglück.
She graciously answered some of my questions in my quest to get to know her, and I think you will be as charmed as I was with her answers.
1. Please tell the readers about yourself and how you got into translating.
I began working as a translator (English into German) while I was studying at Hamburg University in Germany – sheesh, that was almost twenty years ago. My major wasn’t translation, by the way, but American Literature and Women’s Studies. For my first job, I translated Harlequin romances into German. I’m fluent in English, I’m a writer – how hard can it be? The answer: Very. I learned many important things from working with those romances and my extremely strict editor – listening to the author’s voice and reigning in my own, being disciplined about deadlines (tough one) and writing to meet specific market requirements, while still creating a natural, flowing text in German.
After a few years working solely as a literary translator, I felt that I needed a different challenge and went into marketing and corporate communications for luxury brands. I was able to use many of the skills I had learned, because I was still dealing with fairy tales for adults, just that the perfect guy was being replaced by the perfect pair of very expensive shoes.
One of the very best parts of my job is that I can work in my pajamas. I don’t usually, but I could. Freelance work also allows me to make my schedule around spending time with my three-year-old son. Sam has a condition that makes it hard for him to learn speech, so in working, playing and learning with him, I now get to approach language, communication and storytelling in a whole new way.
Apart from family and books, the fiber arts are my greatest passion. I study textiles through the ages and how to make them today using the old techniques from spindle-spinning flax to tatting lace. The knowledge comes in handy when I translate historic fiction. Not only do I have a pretty good idea what people are wearing or making, but the study of textiles also comes with a lot of social history, which to me is as fascinating as it is useful.
Today, I mix it up in my job with marketing translations, usually time-sensitive, and bigger book projects (fiction and nonfiction) with longer deadlines. All parts of my job inform the others and continue to shape my understanding of the languages I work with and – hopefully – my skills as a translator.
2. What are some of the specific difficulties in translating novels from English to German?
One problem that all English to German translators have to wrestle with is the form of address. English has one (you) with the degree of formality being expressed through the language and by using a person’s first or last name. German has two – formal (“Sie” with last name) and informal (“du” with first name). In English, it is appropriate to address a business associate with their first name, even if the relationship is somewhat formal. In German, you have a choice between making the language of that relationship much more formal – a problem if the source text doesn’t give you the person’s last name – or much more informal than it really is.
Naturally, wordplay, jokes and metaphors work very differently in English and German. Sometimes I can translate a funny phrase as it is, but often I have no choice but to write a straight sentence. Since that could drastically change the tone of a book, my motto is “you win some, you lose some”. If I do have to skip a pun or other humorous line, I pay special attention to passages nearby where a similar line might be possible and appropriate in the German text.
Literary translators in any language need to work on cultural transfer. My goal is to make the setting, time and culture of the original novel accessible to German readers within their frame of reference, so that they can live in, say, late 19th century San Francisco without too many moments of “huh?”, which tend to snap them out of the story world.
One famous example of cultural transfer is the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. While peanut butter is now widely known and available in Germany (it wasn’t when I started), grape jelly is not. ‘My’ novel characters eat their PB with strawberry jam.
The same goes for sports metaphors. If translated literally, baseball phrases like “stepping up to the plate” or “throwing a curveball” make no sense to Germans. Good thing I like soccer.
3. Do you do anything special to prepare for a translation job?
I read ahead. I don’t read the entire novel before I start, because my translations tend to be better if I’m curious about how it all ends. But I keep reading at least a few chapters ahead to make sure that my translation decisions (e.g. formal vs. informal address) are going to make sense all the way.
I also read what I can about the author. Having been entrusted with the result of their passion and hard work, I like to get to know them a little.
In Maids of Misfortune, the biggest challenges were the voices of “Lizzie” and Mr. Wong. Translating the cultural or ethnic characteristics of a person’s speech is one of the hardest tasks for me. Literary dialogue is always about making it sound natural, even though people in real life don’t usually speak in so many coherent, complete and grammatically correct sentences. If you add dialects or other peculiarities of speech into the mix, the translation becomes a balancing act of getting the person’s voice, ethnicity and social standing across without sounding stilted and annoying. In the German version of “My Fair Lady”, Eliza Doolittle’s Cockney is brilliantly transformed into the dialect of working class Berlin, because it is as widely recognizable and familiar to Germans as Cockney is to the English. In the German Maids of Misfortune, Lizzie doesn’t speak dialect, but her attempt at sounding naïve and ignorant was great fun to play with in the translation.
5. Do you have any tips for authors who are looking for translators, how to find and evaluate a good translator, what to look for in the process?
Unless you speak the target language of the translation project very well, my advice is to go through a translation agency or publisher like Amazon Crossing. You need a translator who understands both languages and your work very well. And you need an editor with the same qualities, maybe even more so.
If you do want to find and evaluate a translator/editor team on your own, you can reach them through several reputable job portals for translators or industry associations in most countries. Candidates should be willing to provide a sample translation – you can ask for a very short unpaid sample, but consider offering payment, because you can ask for a longer one. Working as an editor as well, I know that pretty much anyone can keep it together for a couple of hundred words of a free sample, so a longer one is well worth the investment.
6. Do you have any advice for someone who would like to become a successful translator?
Get the best language and or translation education you can, read a lot in both languages. Take feedback from editors and clients as a chance to learn, own up to your mistakes and fix them. Respect the author. Above all, love language. If you are passionate about language and communication, if you spend rather a lot of time thinking about why there is no English word for “Schadenfreude” and why “oblivion” is really hard to translate, this might just be the job for you.
7. Is there anything else you would like to add?
I would like to mention how important it is for any novel translation to be read by a good editor. Once I am done with the first draft of a novel and a couple of revisions, I know the text inside out, front to back. Given the production schedule, I often don’t have the time to let the novel sit for a few weeks to read it again with fresh eyes. Eventually, I lose the distance necessary to find my own mistakes and goofy passages. A good editor makes a translation shine. Maids of Misfortune had an excellent one. She edited the book with great care, attention to detail – and with zero tolerance for any of my shenanigans.
Notice that Victorian woman on the cover? She looks almost exactly as I picture Annie Fuller, the main protagonist in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series. Which is lovely, since this is the cover of the new German translation of Maids of Misfortune, the first book in that series. Available now for pre-order, this edition is coming out in print and ebook in exactly a month, on September 2, 2014.
So how did this happen?
As an independent author, I knew that getting my books translated into foreign languages would be more complicated than if I had a traditional publishing contract and/or agent. And, while I knew of other indie authors, like David Gaughran and Joanna Penn, who were working to find translators on their own (often using a royalty splitting agreement), or using a distributor like Babelcube, which matches up authors and translators, this seemed time-consuming and therefore was not something I put high on my “to-do” list. It was more on my “someday maybe I will do this” list.
Then I was contacted by AmazonCrossing.
AmazonCrossing is the second imprint that Amazon launched (after AmazonEncore), and it was set up in 2010 with the stated purpose of finding and translating foreign language works into English. One study that tracks translations of foreign language books into English found that by 2012, AmazonCrossing had become the second largest publisher of translated books in the US. AmazonCrossing’s list of books by publication date reveals that in 2012 they also began to put out German language editions of some of their own Amazon imprint books, including Kindle Singles.
Then, in late 2013, AmazonCrossing began to reach out to indie authors who published through KDP––authors who had books they thought would sell well in German. I was one of those fortunate authors.
In December of 2013, I accepted this offer, and in a few weeks a translator, Katja Blum, was hired (I will publish an interview with Ms. Blum later this month). Late in March, 2014, the translation was complete and the book moved into the review and copyediting phases (with input from me––for example I asked for a change in the translation of the title). In the beginning of July, I received the above cover to approve, and the book went up for pre-order two weeks later, to be available September 2. Nine months from offer to publication. With virtually no effort on my part. Smile.
While I know personally of one other independent author who is also having her book published in German by AmazonCrossing, if you look at the list of German editions coming out under this imprint in the past few months, it is clear we are not alone. The day when Maids of Misfortune comes out, for example, there are four other German translations of indie books being published as well (all contemporary romances.)
What this will mean in terms of sales, I don’t know. I can only assume that Amazon did its research ahead of time and they wouldn’t have gone to the expense of translating Maids of Misfortune if they didn’t think it would sell. My hope, of course, is that the Germans will enjoy the Dienstmädchen im Unglück as much as readers have enjoyed it as Maids of Misfortune and that this German edition will be a wild success, with a German public clamoring for Uneasy Spirits, next book in the Victorian San Francisco mystery series.
To help that happen, if you should know anyone you think would like to read the German edition, do pass on this information. Better yet, if you know someone you think might like a free copy of the ebook in exchange for an honest review, let me know!
Meanwhile, stay tuned for my reports back on how my German adventure plays out.
M. Louisa Locke, August 2, 2014
I am the last author you would think would be writing short stories. As a writer who tends to be prolix, the short form wouldn’t seem a good match for me. I don’t write anything short––not emails, not blog posts, not books. Twitter, forget it––the most I can do is retweet those of you who are good at being succinct. I don’t even read many short stories, (except by 19th century writers like Alcott, Wharton, and James).
Yet, this spring I took time off from doing the research for Deadly Proof, the next book in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series, to write my third and fourth short stories, which are now part of a collection, Victorian San Francisco Stories, that I just published on Kindle, and I have every intention of putting out more short stories in the coming year.
So what happened?
Dandy Detects, my first short story happened. Three months after the publication of my first book in my series, Maids of Misfortune, I started to write a short story about the Boston terrier I had introduced in the book. I had read that publishing an inexpensive short story was a good way of introducing potential readers to your work, so my reason was completely pragmatic. Maids of Misfortune was selling less than one ebook a day, and I wanted to feel like I was doing something to help gain it some visibility. I was only producing about two blog posts a month (remember my tendency to be long-winded), and writing a short story and putting it up on Kindle seemed like manageable activity.
Dandy Detects ended up doing more than I could have thought possible to boost sales. Stephen Windwalker picked it as one of his earliest Kindle Shorts on Kindle Nation Daily (probably the first site to effectively promote ebooks) over the weekend of July 4, 2010. This prompted so many people to buy the full-length book that Maids of Misfortune raced to the top of the historical mystery category, where it stayed for over two years.
But even more significantly—writing this story turned out to be great fun, and the readers enjoyed it. Dandy Detect also was less than 8000 words—a triumph for me since I swear I have blog posts longer than that!
While I didn’t write the next story for another two years (in this case after the publication of my second novel), during that time I started keeping track of short story plots I wanted to write. By the time I had written my third story, I had concluded that writing short stories is about more than providing a loss leader to sell other books. In fact, I believe that, particularly for authors of series, short stories can be one of the most effective methods of building and maintaining both the readers’ and the author’s enthusiasm for a series.
Reason #1: Short stories permit me to expand on events, places, and, most importantly, characters from my longer novels.
As an author of historical mysteries, I constantly struggle to maintain an adequate balance among the competing demands of character development, historical detail, and plot momentum, while keeping my novels to a reasonable length. Writing short stories that help me develop back-story, expand the roles of minor characters, and provide more historical context, have been crucial to helping me keep that balance within the novels, while satisfying my creative impulses.
For example, historical fiction readers love to read about the details of day-to-day life in the past, and they are interested in how character development provides insight into social relationships and behavior in other times. So they expect the historical fiction novels they read to be fairly long.
Mystery readers, on the other hand, tend to be partial to speed. They are generally looking for fast-paced, suspense-driven plots. They certainly want to know enough about the characters to understand their motivations, but their expectation is that every scene and every conversation is going to move the mystery plot forward by dropping clues, introducing red herrings, etc. For an example, the advice on word count for traditionally published books is that mysteries should be under 100,000 words while the top limit for historical fiction can go as high as 140,000 words.
If you add in light romance to the mix, as I do, you have a third set of expectations to meet. I need to weave in the push and pull of the romantic relationship between my protagonists, Annie Fuller and Nate Dawson, making sure there is some sort of satisfactory resolution of that relationship along with solving the crime.
To meet all those expectations and not end up with a mammoth tome that tests the patience of the reader (particularly the mystery reader) means that I often have to sacrifice minor characters and historical detail. I suspect I am not alone in being frustrated about making this sort of choice.
Writing a series is one way I deal with this dilemma. I console myself with the promise that I will get to expand the roles of these minor characters or introduce more historical places and events in future books in the series. For example, in my second book, Uneasy Spirits, I gave the boarding house maid, Kathleen, a starring role, writing a number of chapters from her point of view. In my third book, Bloody Lessons, I sent some characters off to spend more time at Woodward’s Gardens (a fabulous place in San Francisco that was a cross between a zoo, art museum, and county fair) that I had introduced briefly in my first two books.)
Another way I satisfy my urge to expand, however, has been to write short stories where these minor characters get to have center stage and where I can provide even more historical detail about Victorian San Francisco. In The Misses Moffet Mend a Marriage, I took two characters that barely had speaking roles in my novels and gave them a whole adventure to themselves. This meant I could develop their distinct personalities (and some of the back story that explained those personalities), throw in detail on women’s fashion (they are dressmakers) and spend a whole scene describing the interior of the famous Palace Hotel.
In Mr. Wong Rights a Wrong, I was able to explore more of the history of Chinese immigrants in this era, including the precarious position of Chinese women and the hostile attitudes of the Irish to this ethnic group—something I had only been able to hint at in Maids of Misfortune, the novel that introduced Mr. Wong.
In my latest short story Madam Sibyl’s First Client (only found in the new collection), I was even able to write a prequel to the series. In earlier drafts of Maids of Misfortune, I had had a complete backstory for why Annie Fuller, my young widowed boarding house owner, decided to supplement her income by pretending to be the clairvoyant Madam Sibyl. But after lots of input from various people over the years, most of that back-story was cut in the interests of introducing the murder earlier and expediting the plot. In Madam Sibyl’s First Client, I was finally able to tell that story and introduce some economic detail about San Francisco in 1878 that would have never made it through the editing process with my full-length mysteries.
In fact, except for Dandy Detects, my short stories aren’t really mysteries at all, and as such are designed to satisfy those who are reading my books more for the historical setting than the mystery plot. Since I was a professional historian before I shifted to my career to writing fiction, this satisfies me as well.
Reason #2: Short stories help build and maintain the interest in my series in between books.
I am a relatively slow writer. Part of the reason for this is that I do write relatively long books (my shortest is 110,000 words and my longest nearly 140,000-––not long for historical fiction—very long for the mystery genre.) Doing the extra research needed for an historical mystery also takes time—before starting out as well as during the writing.
Added to the time spent on research and just writing these books, there is the amount of time I spend staying connected with both fans and other authors, which is the biggest part of the on-going marketing of my books. These connections are incredibly rewarding, but they still represent time taken away from working on the next book.
Finally, since I am in my mid-sixties––I spend a good deal of my time just maintaining my body in working order (smile) and visiting my grandchildren.
The result is that each book has come out about two years after the previous one. Two years is a long time to leave readers waiting. Therefore, my short stories are my way of thanking my fans for being patient and helping maintain their interest in the series in the interim.
These stories keep my enthusiasm for the series going as well. I find that my motivation to write tends to flag during the months I spend marketing a book when it first comes out and then during the months doing the basic research for the next book. I know I am not alone in this pattern. I suspect this is one of the reasons that some authors have more than one series going at a time or why they get tired of their series after a few books and move on to something else.
But I love my characters and the world of Victorian San Francisco, and I have lots of stories about them I still want to tell. I am reminded of that love when I start a short story. A day that I spend with my minor characters, hanging around the kitchen of the boarding house or moving across the city with Annie Fuller, is just what I need to rekindle my enthusiasm for the series—something I hope happens for readers as well.
And the rewards are almost immediate. I can write, edit, and publish a short story in a month’s time, and I immediately start to get feedback, in terms of sales and reviews, which is terribly motivating. Mr. Wong Rights a Wrong came out three months ago, and it has already sold 1595 copies and had twenty reviews with an average rating of 4.3.
Also, these stories don’t require much investment in time or money on the part of the reader, which brings me to the third reason I think writing short stories is good for series authors.
3. Short stories provide an inexpensive (in terms of time and cost) introduction to a series, and that can attract new readers.
This may have been the primary reason I wrote my first short story, but for me, personally, it’s now the least important reason for writing them. If I discovered that everyone who bought one of my individual short stories was already a fan of the series, I wouldn’t be disappointed. I expect that most of the people who buy my new collection will be people who have read at least one of my novels, and one of the reasons I did the collection was to provide a print edition for those fans that still prefer print.
However, when Dandy Detects was published in April of 2010, short stories were still viewed as something authors sold to magazines and traditional publishers were still successfully keeping ebook prices high—often higher than paperback print prices. Amanda Hocking had just published her first 99 cent book, KDP Select with its free days wasn’t on the scene, BookBub and other marketing sites weren’t sending us emails every day listing every discount, and no one was talking about perma-free books as loss leaders. Therefore, a 99 cent or free short story was still a pretty big deal.
Fast forward four years to 2014. Readers now can find long lists of books for free and even boxed sets of five or more books for 99 cents. The fact that a short story is free or 99 cents is no longer as much of an incentive to buy.
That doesn’t mean that short stories can’t still be an important marketing tool for those authors who are either unwilling or unable (perhaps because they don’t control the price of their books) to discount their full-length books. In this case, publishing a free or 99 cent short story is one of the few ways these writers can attract the reader who isn’t willing to shell out much money for a book by an author they don’t know.
In addition, giving away a short stories is an effective method of encouraging people to do things like sign up for a newsletter, subscribe to a blog, or like an author’s facebook page. I have now given away two of my short stories through my newsletter. This has helped grow my email list of people who want to hear when my next publication comes out.
Perhaps more significantly, short stories and novellas are beginning to appeal more to readers because they are perfect for the person who has short bits of time on their hands and a mobile device. Anyone who been traveling recently, or spent much time on public transportation, or in waiting rooms, has witnessed the rapid integration of mobile phones, tablets, and ereaders into everyday life.
Amazon, never a slouch about anticipating the desires of consumers, has responded by creating a number of features that emphasize the short form: Kindle Singles, Kindle Worlds, DayOne, and StoryFront. Just last month they introduced a new Kindle feature called Short Reads that lists selected short stories by the length of time it takes to read the story.
For authors who write series, whether they are writing historical fiction, science fiction or fantasy, or contemporary literature of any sub-genre, I am confident that they might find writing short stories or novellas that use characters and settings from their series as rewarding as I have, for many of the same reasons.
The intricate world building that goes into creating a dystopian future or alternative universe can just as easily come into conflict with moving the plot forward or adequately developing a romance. Or, a contemporary cozy mystery series can have secondary supporting characters that readers want to know more about. See this interesting blog post and series of comments by Elizabeth Spann Craig for an example. Any author can use a short story from their series as a way of enticing new readers or rewarding existing fans. And every short story can enhance the enjoyment by both the author and the readers of the imaginary world that has been created.
So, readers: Do you have any examples of series that you feel have benefited from having short stories connected to them? Authors: Have you written or contemplated writing short stories—with or without a series connection? I would love to know.
M. Louisa Locke, June 12.2014