Sunday, August 28, 2011

Another way to increase your audience (SPJA)

Years ago, before Kindles and Nooks were even lines on a trademark application form, I was eager to make a name for myself. Like many in those days I turned to short fiction, which allowed me to experiment with different styles and genres without dedicating a year or more to each project.

I started about a hundred short stories, finished about a dozen and sold maybe six. Over the years, as I battled with obscurity, my wife would suggest tidying up and publishing more of these stories. I was focused on novels and didn't listen. (She also told me again and again that I should be writing children's fiction. One of these days I'll ask her to sign me as a client, because she's a much better career advisor than anyone else I know!)

Anyway, JA Konrath agrees with her: To build a presence you need a fan base, and if you're only writing novels it's way too long between drinks. Short fiction, assuming you're any good at the form, allows you to tickle your average reader like a trout, keeping them busy while you reach for the net. (Sorry readers. I don't really believe you're fishy.)

On the other hand, spamming forums and blogs with BMBs (Buy My Book! posts) is like chucking dynamite in the river. A few readers may float to the surface, dazed and disoriented, but they're not going to be long term fans.

Before you embark on a short fiction writing spree I recommend reading up on the form. Short stories should be self-contained, not just a chapter from the middle of a WIP. That means beginning, middle and end ... with the end the most important. They often focus on one character, one plot idea, one climax.

(I'm not trying to teach experienced short story writers how to go about their business here - just giving pointers.)

It can be harder to write an effective short story than a novel. Not in terms of effort or amount of work, it's just that you have a lot of room to move in a novel. You can spend whole paragraphs and chapters on background information and flashbacks, detailed characterisations and so on. In a short story you do the opposite: economical and sparse. Get in, entertain, get out.

So, I've taken all the advice (Konrath's AND my wife's) and started writing short fiction again. After years writing scenes and vignettes featuring Hal and Clunk, without really knowing what to do with them, I'm finally in a position to capitalise on all that hard work.

Recently I released my first ever Hal Spacejock short story (science fiction comedy), putting it on Kindle, Smashwords and my own site. I'll be writing more, and when I have enough I'll release them as a collection, maybe even in print. It's all good marketing, but more importantly I'm really enjoying the process.

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

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