Writing short stories to promote your novels by RAYNE HALL

Welcome Rayne Hall.  Thank you for blogging with me today.  I hope that everyone will comment.  The person chosen from the commenters will be able to choose whether they want “Haunted: Ten Tales of Ghosts” or “Bites: Ten Tales of Vampires”?


Short stories are excellent promotional tools. You can offer free stories to attract new readers. If they like the short, they’ll be hooked and look for more by the same author. Make the story free, and charge for the novel.

The story must appeal to the same readers as the novel. Don’t write children’s stories if you want to promote adult novels. Make the story as similar to the novel as you can. Here are some ideas:

* Same genre. This is important. Paranormal stories promote paranormal novels; horror stories promote horror novels; chicklit stories promote chicklit novels.

* Same mood. If the novel is funny, the story has to be funny too. If the novel is scary, gritty, thought-provoking, tear-jerking or sexy, then the story has to be scary, gritty, thought-provoking, tear-jerking or sexy.

* Same location. Are your novels set in South Carolina or in Hong Kong? Choose the same setting for the story.

* Same period. To promote contemporary novels, you need contemporary stories. If you write historicals, using the same period cuts down on research and has the greatest promotional effect.

* Same characters. Involving the heroine and hero in another story can bring problems, but minor characters are a safe choice. Consider promoting members of the novels’ supporting cast to a starring role in the story.

If you’re new to writing short stories, here are some quick guidelines.

* Keep the story short. 750 – 5,000 words is ideal.

* Give the main character a goal, something they desperately want to achieve. Then give them obstacles they must overcome to reach their goal. The story ends when they have (or haven’t) achieved that goal. The more urgent and important the goal, the more exciting the story.

* Use few characters. Three to five are enough.

* Unlike a novel, a story doesn’t stretch over a long time. Ideally, everything happens in one day, or even in a single hour.

Of course, all the other guidelines for good fiction also apply.



* Upload it on your website, to give your visitors interesting content.

* Upload it on someone else’s website, to give their visitors interesting content, and to reach new readers who hadn’t heard of you before.

* Publish it as a free e-book, to attract new readers – the type who wouldn’t spend money on a book by an author they don’t know, but are keen to try new things if they don’t cost anything. If these readers like your free story, they’ll trust that your novel is worth money. (Note: making an e-book free at Amazon requires some jiggling).

* Submit it to magazine or e-zine, if possible one specialising in your genre. Some zines even pay for the use of stories. However, most editors are inundated with submissions, and you may get many rejections before you get an acceptance.

* Submit it to an anthology (a themed collection of short stories by different authors). Anthologies are even better than zines, because they have a longer shelf-life. An e-anthology will be available forever, and a print anthology will continue to circulate in second-hand bookstores. If you place your story in an anthology, it will continue to promote your writing for years. Genre fans love anthologies. They know that a book filled with stories in their favourite genre will contain at least some gems they’ll enjoy. Most anthology readers pick a favourite story or two, and look for more fiction by those authors. The drawback is that most anthology editors are inundated with submissions.

* Use the story as a giveaway. When you give author interviews or write guest blogs, the hosts may ask you to give a prize to a prize draw, or give away free copies of your book, or something like that. This stimulates interest. However, it’s an old marketing adage never to give away the product you want to sell. If you write a guest blog promoting your book, and offer to give away four free copies, then none of the blog readers may buy the book. If they’re interested, they’ll enter the prize draw, and hope to win it for free. By the time the winner is announced, they’ve already forgotten about your book and bought something else.
Consider promoting your book – and giving away free copies of your short story. This way, you get the benefits without the drawbacks.

* Donate it as a competition prize. There are lots of contests for all kinds of things, always looking for donations of prizes. You may want to favour contests which raise funds for charities, so you’re doing a good deed which doesn’t cost you anything. The best contests are the ones which target your typical reader. For example, a horse-painting contest for teenagers is perfect if your write YA fiction with horse-riding heroines.

* Upload it as free reading at Wattpad. People who like the free story may become fans who buy your books. Wattpad has can give your story exposure to a huge potential audience, and works especially well for YA and Paranormal Romance.

* Upload it at various other sites.

When you allow someone to publish your story, you need to know which rights they claim.

“Non-exclusive rights”: This means they may publish the story only in this book or on this website. You own all rights and can publish the story elsewhere. This is ideal for promotional stories.

“Exclusive rights for a certain period”: This means you can’t publish the story for a year or whatever that period is. This is often the case with magazines and e-zines. If the magazine has many readers, or if the readers are your target audience, it’s worth it.

“First serial rights”: This is tricky. It means the publisher wants to be the first. It’s the story’s virginity: you can give it away only once. Some prestigious magazines demand first serial rights. It can be worth it because it gives your story first-class exposure. The editors will probably pay for the story, too. The problem is that this type of magazine has a long response time. You may have to wait for a year before you hear from them, and in the meantime, you can’t use the story anywhere else.

“Exclusive rights” or “All rights”: Caution! This means you will never be able to publish the story anywhere else, ever. This is seldom a good idea. Agree to this only if it’s a very prestigious publication and if they offer you a lot of money.

You can combine several of these actions, but some exclude others.

For example, if you make your book available free on your website, you can’t offer it as a prize or giveaway.

If you submit it to an anthology which demands exclusive rights, you can’t also publish it in a magazine, at Wattpad, or on your website.

When planning your strategy, consider this as your guideline:
“How do I get this story read by as many people as possible who are my target audience?”

You may be able to do a lot of things with your story, as long as you do it in the right order.

Here’s the most effective strategy

You may be lucky and a prestigious genre magazine publishes it on a “First rights, exclusive for a certain period” basis. Once that period is over, you get it published in other magazines and anthologies on a non-exclusive basis. At the same time, you offer it as a giveaway for guest blogs, prize draws, and contests. Let a few more months pass, then upload it as free content on your own website, as well as on friends’ websites and Wattpad.

However, this strategy requires luck: Your chance of getting a story accepted by a prestigious magazine may be as small as one in ten thousand. Even the more modest publications are taking months to respond and accept only one in a hundred or one in a thousand. It also requires patience: Some magazines and e-zines keep you waiting for months before they give you a decision. Since most refuse simultaneous submissions, you can only submit to one at a time, which may force you to wait for a decade before the story is published – and in that time, the story could earn its keep in other ways.

Here’s the easiest strategy:

Upload the story at once on your website, at Smashwords, at Wattpad etc, without bothering with magazines, e-zines, anthologies or giveaways. This puts the story to work immediately.
But it limits what you can do with it. Once the story is published, it has lost its virginity and you can never submit it to a “first rights” market, and if it’s free, people won’t value it as a giveaway or contest prize.

Rayne lives in a small seaside town on the south coast of England. She has written more than twenty books under several pen names, published in several languages by several publishers, as well as many short stories, mostly in the fantasy and horror genres. A seasoned professional in the publishing industry, she has edited magazines and anthologies. Her most recent anthologies are Haunted: Ten Tales of Ghosts and Bites: Ten Tales of Vampires.

She teaches online classes on Writing Fight Scenes, Editing Your Writing, Writing Scary Scenes, Writing about Magic and Magicians and more. For an up-to-date schedule of her workshops, see


30 thoughts on “Writing short stories to promote your novels by RAYNE HALL

  1. Awesome post. I’ve recently decided to write a few short stories for a couple of different anthologies as a way of promoting my name. I think free stories and really cheap short stories aren’t awesome promotional marketing tool.

    Thanks so much for the tips.

  2. I have done something along these lines…a series of “Behind the Scenes” shorts using characters from a series to promote the series itself. I post on my blog and on others.

    • Hi Liz,
      Using characters from the series in shorts is perfect for promoting the series.
      Do your shorts feature the main characters from the series, or do you give minor series characters a chance to shine in starring roles?

    • Hi J.A.
      Which short story technique do you mean? Using short stories as promotional tools, or something else?

  3. With my first book coming out in September 2012 and the second in the Jake Carrington Mystery series coming out in January 2013 this article has been very helpful. Thanks you Rayne, Marian

    • Hi Lynda,
      If your aim is to get your name out there, try to get your stories into genre zines and anthologies.

    • Hi Vikki,
      So you specialise in short fiction? Do you ever use some shorts to promote others, or do you market them all equally?

  4. Very informative. I’m working on a novella about a character from book I to put out as free before book II comes out in the series.
    It has spoilers so I’ll have to put that in the description.
    Thanks for the post Rayne and Cynthia for hosting.

    Cora Blu

    • Hi Cora,
      Publishing a free novella between two novels in a series sounds like an awesome strategy. You’ll attract new readers to hook on the series, and you’ll keep existing fans interested in the gap before the next book is out.

  5. Great post.
    I have done this, but the problem is my short story is in a completely different genre than my novel.
    I think maybe I will write a short paranormal romance story and see how it goes.

    • Hi Brenda,
      If the story is a completely different genre, then it has a completely different audience, which means that as a promotional tool, it has little value.
      Of course it can still be a fantastic story with a value of its own.

    • Hi again, Brenda.
      If paranormal romance is your novel genre, then writing a paranormal romance short is a promising strategy.

  6. Rayne: Thanks for all the good ideas. I’d planned to put up a short or two on my website, but what should I do about editting? Would a crit partner do? If an agent stops by, I’d want it to be as good as I can make it. Suggestions?

    • Hi Barbara,
      Agents stopping by are highly unlikely, so I wouldn’t worry about that.
      However, readers stopping by is very likely, and you’ll need to give your readers the best you can. The better the story, the more likely the readers will buy your books.
      Swapping stories with critique partners is a good plan. I always get several people to critique my stories before publication. Each critique partner brings different gifts: some are good at seeing plot holes, are demons at spotting inconsistencies, yet others can tell me where the pace slacks or the rhythm is off.
      The best critique partners are those who are honest and thorough, and who don’t expect you to make every change they suggest.

  7. Hi Rayne,
    Interesting thought. Not sure I can write a short story, but you’ve certainly got me thinking about it! Great blog! Thanks, Cynthia for having Rayne! CJ

    • Hi Anna,
      Normally, the author owns the characters, although some publishers make authors sign over the rights to the characters in the contract.
      However, most publishers are more than happy if the author promotes the novels in an original way. So if you ask the publisher, they’ll probably encourage you.

  8. Great Post! I love short stories, and you are so right, they’re the perfect way to test an new author. If the shorts are good the novels usually great. Thanks for sharing!

    • Hi Ane,
      Have you bought any novels after reading a short by the same author? Could you give us an example?

    • Almost the only way to make a book free on Amazon is to make it free on the site of one of Amazon’s competitors (Kobo or Barnes&Noble), and then get several dozen friends to report this to Amazon. If enough people report a cheaper price (or a free product) available on the rival site, Amazon will price-match.

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