Personal editing. Professional results.

How to promote your short stories

April 12, 2022
Posted by:
Ron Seybold

The challenge we all face when we approach the task of book discovery is making things unique and specific—at the same time that we keep the desires and problems universal.

"A young, broke Irish woman narrates her relationship with a successful comedian in New York." That broke Irish woman plus a standup comedian (a situation from Nicole Flattery’s award-winning collection, Show Them a Good Time) suggests possibilities that we don’t get from general, all-encompassing situations. How will that broke girl plus successful comedian duo ever work out? That’s the question we want the reader to see. And we infer the question from the specific situation.

We don't want to err on the side of too much mystery when we summarize. We tease, and the difference between the mystery and the teasing lies in the specifics.

Short story collections succeed either on their diversity, or on their cohesive charms. A novel in stories, Olive Kitteridge is the latter. I’ve edited a collection of the former from a novelist with three science fiction novels already published. Sahil’s collections, The Edges and Beyond the Edges, work to do both these things: use recurring characters, as well as one-offs with a macabre tone. He’s underway on his third collection, after his Final Wars series was launched on Kindle Unlimited. You can look him up on Amazon under his pen name, S.A. Asthana.

Take your time

This kind of revision of a collection’s summary is essential. It’s the kind of thing an editor will do with you. In general, good advice is to kick your release back at least 60 days. You’ll want the time to seed the ground with reviews and hunt out an endorsement or two. There’s no reason to hurry, no matter how long it took to write these stories. You’re only going to publish this collection once, unless you carry some stories into another collection.

I don’t see many books out there that do well without those elements of discovery. They can take a while to gather. People want to help out a book with discovery when the book is new, or when it’s forthcoming. You get about three to six months of interest after the book releases. Then the world moves on, seeking the next collection—from you, or from another author. Kindle Unlimited is a pretty good arrangement for everybody.

Eyes behind you

If doing this promotion was as easy as just reading an endless source of internet info about these things, you might be able to do this for yourself. It really helps if you’ve been a marketer. Marketing stories isn't like marketing services, software, or the joys of a mango peeler. You have to summarize and condense and entice with the finished product. Stories are about people's foibles. It's not a topic that comes up often while selling anything else.

Regardless of marketing skills, we all need somebody reading behind us, though, as we say in the trade. That's what an editor will do to help with promotion. There's drama in every sentence.  I started in drama school (on the GI Bill) and discovered I needed more ways to earn a living than auditioning for roles that wouldn’t pay enough to support a family.

My next step was to periodicals, because earning my way to an English degree looked like it would land me teaching. I enjoy teaching authors. Teaching wasn't writing stories, the task the periodicals assigned to me through the Eighties and onward through the Nineties. I wrote about people, in features. Some subjects were entrepreneurs.

Twenty years ago, I made the shift to fiction. I finally got back to the arts, after years of telling short nonfiction stories about people in tech, government, and the schools. I got in trouble early on with one story when I made it too dramatic. An auto-schoolgirl injury tempted me. There was a lot on the line. High stakes make for good storytelling, and good promotion, too.

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