When you’re trying to establish a brand, it’s important to build your series as quickly as you can without sacrificing quality or sanity. If you have a good response to the debut book, don’t make readers wait a year or more for their next meal—they will move on, and you need all the momentum you can get. Short stories are a way to stave off starvation and keep your audience engaged while you finish the next full book.
How short can it be?
Too short will piss people off. I’m not sure why, but I’ve seen tons of one- and two-star reviews in which the reader’s only complaint was that it was “too short.” Anyway, I’d say the bare minimum is 5,000 words. That’s enough real estate to tell a complete—albeit brief—story and make it worth your reader’s time. Here are some ideas for a short story featuring your protagonists:
• Prequel – Your heroine in college, your hero during Desert Storm. The first time your main characters met.
• In-between – Action that takes place between two of your full books. Even better if it’s a time or incident referenced in the later book.
• Fantasy – Take a break from your usual genre and send your private eye into space. Or stick your sorceress in a modern corporate cubicle. How would your CIA agent deal with becoming a werewolf at the full moon?
• Seasonal – Christmas stories are popular every holiday season and beyond. Halloween’s a good opportunity to explore horror, disguises, or just spooky fun. Summertime offers all kinds of vacation, travel, beach, and bikini action.
So when are you supposed to find the time to write a short?
Well, those two or three weeks when you finish a novel-length work and you’re not allowed to touch it until you get some distance. Or while you’re waiting for feedback from your editor or proofreader. Once you’ve finished the first draft of a novel, there is some downtime, and for the first few days you may not feel like writing anything, but then again you might miss your daily fix of your characters. I know that when I finish a Lexy book I am just sick to death of her. She’s emotionally exhausting and I’m anxious to take a break. But after a few weeks or a month, I start to miss her. I start to think about what sort of trouble she can get into next. I just can’t quit her. So I might have to knock out a little short to get it out of my system so I can give my undivided attention to the other book I’m supposed to be writing.
5 Great Reasons to Publish Short Content
1. Keep your readers engaged and hungry (but not starving) for more content
2. Maintain a regular release cadence
3. Explore settings and situations that you wouldn’t want to build a whole novel around
4. Test the waters on new characters or genres
5. Generates a promotional opportunity: pimp the new short and your whole catalog