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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:

WRITE FOR THE INTENDED MARKET.

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:

MAGAZINES


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.


ANTHOLOGIES


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.


LIMITED EDITIONS


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.

THE INTERNET

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?

NEW MARKETS

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 http://www.textonphone.com/.) Print on demand is allowing anyone to edit their own anthology with http://www.anthologybuilder.com/. 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.

The Short Of It

I've got an article online here:

http://writersdigest.com/articles/konrath_amazonshorts.asp

The article is all about Amazon Shorts, and whether they are a viable market for writers. But that's not the topic of today's blog.

Today we're going to talk about the immortality, in the virtual sense.

Every blog post lasts forever, or at least until there's a server crash or you manually remove it.

I've used the analogy before that a blog post is like a lobster trap. An unmoored lobster pot will kill for decades, because lobsters keep crawling in, getting trapped, dying, and becoming bait to lure more lobsters to their doom. Google and the other search engines, other blogs, websites, message boards, and newsgroups, all link to your blog, treating each entry as a seperate page. A post can keep killing for years after it was written.

Unless, of course, there's no reason for anyone to visit it.

Last week, I mentioned that information and entertainment are what people are looking for. When there are billions of things to see and do on the World Wide Web, having a specific focus can help surfers find you.

Now I want you to think about the last blog entry you either read or wrote. Go on. Think about it. And try to think of the search terms that surfers would need to enter into Google in order to find that post. Then try to think of a one sentence summary that another blogger would use when linking to that post.

If you're writing blog entries that can't be summerized, or can't be Googled using obvious terms, then maybe your blogging time isn't as effective as it could be.

How are people finding your blog? Are they people who are looking for you, or looking for something else and finding you instead?

You can guess which will recruit more readers.

So what is the secret to a blog post that will be relevant a year from now?

1. Define the topic. The more specific, the better. If you blog about baseball, you're competing for search engine rankings with eight million other baseball blogs. If you blog about left-handed pinch hitters named Raul, you'll be ranked higher, and get more hits.

2. Stay focused. Think essay. The Amazon Shorts article above was basically an entry from this blog. I try to make each of my blogs a self-contained article.

3. Offer something. People who read blogs are looking for expertise, advise, and opinion.

4. Encourage user-generated content. Ask questions, allow feedback, and foster repsonses. Debate is what separates the good blogs from the great ones.

5. Be consistent. Post regularly, and stick to the point.

Did I miss anything?

Inform and Entertain

I recently attended the Love is Murder Conference in Chicago. One of the panels I emcee is called Stump the Stars, which involves asking the bigshot guests of honor questions about their own books in a gameshow-style format.

The audience loves it, because authors often don't remember characters or lines from their earlier novels, and laughter ensues.

But Stump the Stars isn't just about entertaining the fans. After questions are asked, the author has a chance to explain more about the book in question.

The result? People watching have a good time while also learning about the authors and their books, and then buy them.

This is basically a microcosm of what every author needs to do to promote themselves.

Information on its own can be useful, especially if someone is seeking that information. I get hits on my website and blog all the time from folks who have no idea who JA Konrath is, but they've found me because they've Googled topics that I write about.

Remember that anyone looking for you can find you. One secret of self-promotion is to get people to find you when they're looking for something else.

Entertainment by itself is why most of us write. Our books are diversions, like TV or music. We're seeking fans who are actively seeking the kinds of stories we write.

Information can help to sell information. And entertainment can help to sell entertainment. But it's only with a combination of the two that an author can reach the widest audience.

When most authors begin to promote themselves---both on the Internet and in person---they seem to forget to entertain. As a result, they become walking commercials for their books. No one likes commercials, and their effectiveness is questionable at best.

So you, as an author, must provide more than simply what your book is about and where to buy it. You have to prove to your potential audience that they'll enjoy the book. This involves a combination of information and entertainment. If you can provide this for free, all the better.

Speaking of free information and entertainment, if you live in or near Chicago, I'll be doing a talk and signing at Susanin's Action House on 900 s. Clinton, February 13th from 7pm until 9pm. The event is hosted by the 24/8 Book Club. It's free, and they'll be selling books there.

Joining me are mystery authors Laura Caldwell and Marcus Sakey. I promise it will be fun.

Let's Hear It For Podcasts

Last night I was a guest on Political Pistachio, an internet radio show hosted by my friend Douglas V. Gibbs. I basically blabbed for 90 minutes about publishing---the standard 90 minutes that I regurgitate during most of my speeches for newbie writers. You've heard me preach about this stuff before.

If you're still interested, you can listen to the show by following the link below. There are some tech probs in the beginning, so fast forward a few minutes.

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/politicalpistachio/2008/02/08/Political-Pistachio-Conservative-Politics

When it was over, I was surprised how easy it was to do. It was so simple, it forced me to seriously consider jumping into the podcasting arena. With minimal effort, I could create audio segments to supplement this blog.

BlogTalkRadio.com allows a person to host a radio show, complete with guests and listeners calling in, all for free. It then archives the show, and creates an RSS feed so blog readers and iTunes users can subscribe and download it.

Naturally, my radio show would be the audio conterpart to A Newbie's Guide to Publishing, and it would involve me interviewing many of my writing peers to get their views on marketing, self-promotion, etc.

But before I jump into the arena, I'd like feedback. Tell me:

1. Would you be interested in my gabbing for an hour about this business on a twice-a-month basis, assuming I had cool professional guests with interesting things to say?

2. Who are some guests you'd like to hear?

3. How would you listen to this podcast? Would you be more likely to tune in live on your computer at BlogTalkRadio.com, or follow the link to the achived show at your convenience, or actually use the RSS feed and hook up your iPod for listening at your convenience?

I've been wanting to try out podcasting for a while, but didn't want to bother learning the technology. Now that the technology exists, I think this could be an interesting way to broaden my audience while also providing a service to new writers and to the authors I'd be interviewing.

Lots of writers blog. Not many of them podcast. Now that we all have our websites and blogs and MySpace pages, maybe this is the next big thing.

Your thoughts?
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