I am the last author you would think would be writing short stories. As a writer who tends to be prolix, the short form wouldn’t seem a good match for me. I don’t write anything short––not emails, not blog posts, not books. Twitter, forget it––the most I can do is retweet those of you who are good at being succinct. I don’t even read many short stories, (except by 19th century writers like Alcott, Wharton, and James).
Yet, this spring I took time off from doing the research for Deadly Proof, the next book in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series, to write my third and fourth short stories, which are now part of a collection, Victorian San Francisco Stories, that I just published on Kindle, and I have every intention of putting out more short stories in the coming year.
So what happened?
Dandy Detects, my first short story happened. Three months after the publication of my first book in my series, Maids of Misfortune, I started to write a short story about the Boston terrier I had introduced in the book. I had read that publishing an inexpensive short story was a good way of introducing potential readers to your work, so my reason was completely pragmatic. Maids of Misfortune was selling less than one ebook a day, and I wanted to feel like I was doing something to help gain it some visibility. I was only producing about two blog posts a month (remember my tendency to be long-winded), and writing a short story and putting it up on Kindle seemed like manageable activity.
Dandy Detects ended up doing more than I could have thought possible to boost sales. Stephen Windwalker picked it as one of his earliest Kindle Shorts on Kindle Nation Daily (probably the first site to effectively promote ebooks) over the weekend of July 4, 2010. This prompted so many people to buy the full-length book that Maids of Misfortune raced to the top of the historical mystery category, where it stayed for over two years.
But even more significantly—writing this story turned out to be great fun, and the readers enjoyed it. Dandy Detect also was less than 8000 words—a triumph for me since I swear I have blog posts longer than that!
While I didn’t write the next story for another two years (in this case after the publication of my second novel), during that time I started keeping track of short story plots I wanted to write. By the time I had written my third story, I had concluded that writing short stories is about more than providing a loss leader to sell other books. In fact, I believe that, particularly for authors of series, short stories can be one of the most effective methods of building and maintaining both the readers’ and the author’s enthusiasm for a series.
Reason #1: Short stories permit me to expand on events, places, and, most importantly, characters from my longer novels.