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Prequel as Marketing Strategy


A question on a short story I'm writing, as a prequel to the books. I also have a novella prequel, which I'll use to get people to sign up for my mailing list. But the story would be to direct people to the novels in the first place, and would be free, maybe on Bookfunnel. The question is this: do you think that if readers downloaded that short story, knowing full well that it was a prequel, but it ended with a set up to show that something else will happen in the future, would the readers be unhappy? The story as is is concluded, but they'd need to get the novel if they want to see what happens to the characters. Do you think it that just the fact it was done that way put people off buying the book? Or, if the story was entertaining enough, would they buy the book? Highly hypothetical, but I'm sure it's been done before, don't know if anyone here has experience with it as a strategy.


I personally don’t have any experience with it, but I see that authors do it all the time. Especially if they are self-published. I don’t think your readers will be mad. Treat it like a business; they gotta pay to read your best stuff ya know?


Short stories and novella prequels can be effective in driving interest, and sometimes drawing folks to newsletters.

With newsletters, often those that join to get something free are not those that will engage in a newsletter, or even open future ones. Most newsletter services have a free account status, until a certain level of members is reached. Culling can be an effective thing to keep under that number (200, 500, 1000, etc.) but sometimes people culled actually do pay attention. Their email is set up such that there is no notification of their opening a newsletter, etc. Also, if you have a large number of active newsletter recipients, the newsletter cost is paid for by sparking sales.

I think you have it correct in that the short story and novella have to be complete tales in themselves.
I think a lot of stories have the question of what happened to the characters built into them. There's always the option of "okay, we won. Now what?" as long as the story of the novella itself reached a satisfying conclusion and that the novella is not required reading for the novel you'll be fine.

What's more, I think it's the only real way to succesfully use this strategy. With your novella you need to drive people to your novel. These readers are already flooded with free books. They need a reason to spend money on your novel. And the only way to do so is to have some kind of cliffhanger in the novella and to have people enough about the characters to want to find out.

For what it's worth, I'm a bit sceptical of the strategy. If you're a fast writer then it's a great one (since the novella doesn't cost you much in terms of writing time). But if like me you can get one or two novels out a year then it's a big investment. And I'm not sure it will help you sell a lot. As mentioned, if you're the kind of person who signs up for a mailing list to get a free book, then you likely already have a lot of them. And you're maybe not very interested in actually spending money on books. Which is not the ideal audience. After all, it's not like it actually costs anything to sign up to a newsletter. And you can either ignore the rest of the mails, block them, send them to spam or just unsubscribe.

Then again, it has worked for some people.So, YMMV.
A lot of factors, including what market you’re chasing. I tend to agree with the notion that freebie readers tend to read freebies. Does an epic fantasy fan want a novella? Or for that matter, a normal size novel? I recall audiobook commentary on Eve of Snows being that it wasn’t long enough at 15 hours, Which is longer than audio for a 120k word book that publishers tend to draw the kill line at, LOL.

So, market considerations. That said, it is a popular tactic and must work (or worked in the past) for people. And I guess if you have a short or novella sitting there anyhow, then, what the hell? Give it a go.

Everything is a crap shoot.

Ned Marcus

I don't think it will put people off—although some people will complain whatever. I have a free novelette, which is a prequel to my series. Mostly I get good feedback, but the biggest complaint I get, from those who do complain, is that it's too short. This is after making it clear in several places that it's short.

It's a novelette (just over 9,000 words) but it still took me some time to write because I wanted to make sure it was as good as I could make it. Whether it was a good investment of time and money (editing and cover) I'm not sure. The read through is poor, but I do get some read through, and some people love it and buy the whole series in one go. So I have mixed feelings about the value as a marketing tool. I also have a short story that I offer for free to people who sign up to my mailing list, which I think helps.
Share your secret, how do you release two novels a year? do these two novels allow you to live the whole year? just curious.
I'm afraid I'll disappoint you. At the moment, I've got 2 novels published, a third with my editor and I've just started nr 4 (and technically nr 5, though that's a different story and just me messing up my process...). Then again, I've only been at it for a year and a half, so there's that. These novels unfortunately don't allow me to live off them. At the moment they just about let me buy one lunch each month, and only if I spend a similar amount on marketing them... And with editing and cover costs, I'm still in the red so far. But, book 2 is doing better than book 1. And book 2 is the start of a series, so I have decent hope things will pick up.

As for how I do it, it's very not-glamorous. Butt in chair, hands on keyboard, that's the only secret there is. I'm not a particularly fast writer, I manage somewhere between 600 and 1.000 words an hour. Which means it takes me something like 100 - 200 hours to write a first draft. I basically spend 1-2 hours a night writing, for 5-7 days per week. Which gets me between 3000 and 10.000 words a week (I'm happy with 5.000). Do this consistently and you get a lot of words in a year.

My process is roughly:
- outline and worldbuild for a month
- write until it's finished. Something like 3 months.
- Do two editing passes. Takes about another month
- Send it of to an editor who does his thing. In the mean time, start at step one for the next novel
- Get the novel back, change what needs changing (and perhaps a second editing pass), get a cover, get a proofread and publish. Another month.

That gives about 6 months of writing for 1 novel. Though it should be noted that there's a bit of waste which creeps in, so I need to push myself to really get it done in 6 months. 7 is more likely, which puts me just under 2 novels a year.

There is a lot of people who publish a lot more books than me in a year. And their main secret is to write more hours. Yes, some people manage to write faster as well (dictation seems to work wonders for a lot of people). But in the end it's simple math. It takes X hours to write a novel (150 in my case). Dedicate as many hours as possible to writing the novel. The more you dedicate in a week, the more you write in a year. If you write fulltime, then you can manage those 150 hours in a month and publish a novel every two months. If you manage to reduce the time to 100 hours, you could potentially squeeze it into two weeks and publish a novel a month.
Freebie lovers also tend to pile up a massive TBR list that could stretch around the block a few times, and they simply don’t lack for books to read because they tend not to be very picky on quality.. The read through rate for a freebie is going to be lower than a $0.99 sale, and the read through rate for a $0.99 is going to be lower than that for people who spend $2.99, etc. A healthy portion is, quite simply, people who spend $2.99, or $5.99, or $9.99, are more likely to vet your book more closely, make sure it’s something they want to read and enjoy, while a freebie or $0.99 purchase can be taking a flyer, like me and... was it the Popy War? Anyhow, I bought a book 0.99 and it sucks despite its accolades and critical acclaim. If I had vetted Poppy War closer, I would NEVER have bought it, let alone at regular price.

This is similar to the early days of giving away copies of Eve of Snows to get reviews... people took the freebie who had no idea what a multiple-POV Epic was like, I swear, and it hammered the books Amazon rating average, LOL.

That said, it can be done, no doubt, but IMO, freebies are at the very least suspect as a viable tactic to build a following in paying readers. Obviously, Kindle Unlimited is a different beast. Other genres, in particular Romance, and others may vary.

As far as fans go, I often notice that freebie lovers really love. And, as a rule, their taste for reading is not satiated. But with free lyrics, you can build a group of fans that can become permanent over time. And these people can be offered a paid continuation.