Short stories as a marketing tool?

I’m a keen believer in the power of a good sample.  For authors this could refer to sample chapters of a new book, or, as I highlight here, making short stories available for free.  As a marketing tool a good short story is the best recommendation for a new book from the same author.

I’ve wanted to review a selection of short stories for a while now as they are often an underused marketing tool. The reviews given here cover a total of 10 shorts from a variety of genres that were all available for free at the time of posting.  With all this in mind this post may be a little longer than usual, so please bear with me, or feel free to grab the key details that have been helpfully highlighted in bold.  Here goes…

The Captive by Linda Boltman (Smashwords)
Rating: 4 stars
Genre: Horror
Words: 1200
Imagine waking up to find yourself tied to a beam with blood dripping on you from above… This short intense offering considers just that scenario and follows it through superbly to its dramatic conclusion. The only grumble I had was some repetition in the text, for example I…, I… :- a pet peeve of mine.  Otherwise, although short, it works well as a potential advert for more developed storylines.

The Gathering by Victorine Lieske (Smashwords)
Rating: 4 stars
Genre: Paranormal sci-fi/fantasy
Words: 4650
     Danielle collects people for ‘reprogramming’, believing that it’s preferable to the life they would lead otherwise.  But is it ever right to interfere with a civilisation in such a brutal way?  
Overall I enjoyed this short, even though it is clearly designed as a prequel to a more involved book, as it was still self-contained.  Some potential weaknesses include the obvious introduction of a larger story-arc (that I assume is addressed in the following book) and my pet peeve of repetitive phrasing, hence 4 stars.  

Dead Men Don’t Cry by Nancy Fulda (Smashwords)
Rating: 4.5 stars
Genre: Crime/Sci-fi
Words: 8011
I found it incredibly difficult to put this one down. A classic ‘who-dunnit’ with a sci-fi twist, this short story is told from the viewpoint of a colonised planet in the wake of an assassination attempt, and a race to find the true culprit before the planet falls prey to war.  Why am I torn between 4 and 5 stars? Although I liked the story I found the ending a little clumsy.

Tempting Yerva by Chris Turner (Smashwords)
Rating: 2 stars
Genre: Speculative fiction
Words: 2200
     I could see that there was some plot to this short story but I felt that it was tragically underdeveloped. The narrative was confusing and lacked logical progression and I couldn’t decide if this was intentional by the author.  By the end I found myself skimming text to reach the conclusion, which I never consider a good sign…

A Simple Lens by Chris Turner (Smashwords)
Rating: 3 stars
Genre: Sci-fi
Words: 4900
     You may notice that this is the second short from the same author.  I wanted to be sure that my dislike of  Tempting Yerva was not related to the genre so I tried some good ol’ sci-fi.
     Perhaps the writing style associated with this short has something to do with the mental state of the narrator, and it certainly seems to come across that way, but again I found the story difficult to follow as decriptions of events were staccato and ill-organised.  Compared to the previous short I’ve given this one 3 stars as the story is genuinely interesting.  I can also see what the author was possibly trying to get across (including a tag-on novel perhaps?), but I don’t think it was delivered in the best way.

The Nebula was Empty by Mary E. Lowd (Smashwords)
Rating: 4 stars
Genre: Sci-fi
Words: 850
A fantastical and short piece, this clearly demonstrated that the author knows how to convey a novel and complex idea across without losing or confusing the reader. I loved the unqiue viewpoint of the Nebula and gave it 4 stars rather than 5 only because I guessed the ending and its short length makes it difficult to ascertain whether I’d enjoy longer contributions from this author.

Spy Hunt in D.C. by Max Connelly (Smashwords)
Rating: 1
Genre: Espionage thriller
Words: 5680
     I do not like to give such poor reviews.  Unfortunately the poor grammar, command of tenses, and multiple spelling mistakes* didn’t give me much choice.  There is the possibility of a genuinely interesting story here but it is so poorly delivered that I couldn’t bring myself to finish it.  Perhaps with the help of a friendly editor it might show more promise.
*[restrains rather than restraints; retorted rather than resorted; deposed rather than disposed… etc…]

Wanderer by Richard Cheesman (Smashwords)
Rating: 4 stars
Genre: Post-apocalyptic
Words: 9560
Grigori, also known as Wanderer, treads the expanse of post-war Russia trading information between settlements. One night, when forced to camp outside he comes across another traveller who introduces himself as Sunrise…
     Incredibly well researched, this short would definitely work well as an introduction to a longer narrative. It was unique and kept my interest over a prolonged period (at slightly over my definition of a short story). I found the text at times clumsy (hence 4 not 5 stars) a feature that did not pull away from the main emphasis, but can add the ‘final touch’ that often comes with experience.

Suicide helpline by M.R. Cornelius
Rating: 4.5 stars
Genre: Post-apocalyptic thriller
Words: 1942
     Post-apocalytic: that’s your clue for this one.  To give a brief synopsis would give too much away, but needless to say you immediately get pulled in from a first person viewpoint and dragged along to its rapid conclusion.  As can be the case with some shorts you’re left wondering what happens, having been given enough information to speculate, and as a result I’m truly tempted to try this author’s first novel.  This short is available for the next 3 months at  http://indieebooks.co.uk.

Overtaken by Karl Bunker (Fantasy and Science fiction magazine Sept 2011, free kindle edition)
Rating: 4.5 stars
Genre: Sci-fi
Words: 2587
     The spaceship Aotea carries refugees from Earth, hoping to find a habitable planet. Three hundred and seventy eight years later it’s caught up by an advanced ship from Earth, the Rejoindre.
     Even though I realise it’s a cunning marketing ploy by Amazon, I still signed up for the free edition of the fantasy and science fiction magazine.  Partly because I enjoy the short story treat every 2 months, partly to see how well magazines are coping with converting to kindle format.  The September copy featured this particular short by Karl Bunker.
     Although beautifully written I did find myself reaching the conclusion before the story did and whether this was part of the plan is unclear, but I thoroughly enjoyed it nonetheless.  The best feature of this short?  It had me thinking about it for days.

So, that’s it for now.  A total of 10 stories, approximately 41,000 words and ranging from 1-5 stars. The best of these indicate potential favourite authors, the worst perhaps a little more editing before the publishing stage…

If you have a short story you want reviewed in my next batch please leave a comment here, or contact me. I try to keep it fair, and the general rules can be found in this blog.  As always I shall be publishing short stories via  http://indieebooks.co.uk where links to published ebooks are available if you find something you like.

See also – Reviews: Some general rules

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About indie e-books

http://indieebooks.co.uk is aimed at providing a common platform for indie writers and publishers to show-case their work. The content is kept limited to one (free) short story per author to give the reader an idea of the writing style and talent involved and to help forward them on to more substantial work.
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9 Responses to Short stories as a marketing tool?

  1. alchemyofscrawl says:

    That’s exactly what I do – either give the short stories away or feature them in an anthology. If you want to review Playing with Fire (which is 7 authors and their short stories), just let me know.

    It’s important to build a reputation and short stories let you due that. Plus, it’s fun and relatively easy to do. Thanks for the post.

    • Indieebooks says:

      Thanks for the useful comment!

      I agree, for new authors short stories are a good way to build up your reputation as they require less investment (with regards to time on the reader/reviewer’s part). Speaking for myself, a good review or recommendation often decides whether I’ll pick up a new author or not. With the recent ebook publishing ‘goldrush’ I can also see authors becoming heavily reliant on this as a pathway for free advertisement so it’ll be interesting to see where it goes.

      p.s. I’d be happy to review Playing with Fire – it seems to review well already on smashwords ;).

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