So you want to offer a free sample of your work in hopes people like it and buy the stuff you’re actually selling. Sounds good. A popular marketing technique is offering the first book in a series for free, and charging for the second one. That’s all well and good if you have two or more books in your series, but what happens if, for the moment, you only have one? You don’t want to offer it for free, because then you’re essentially wasting your time, as there’s no other product for sale to lead people to (yet). The solution is to write a self-contained short story that ties into to book you’re selling, and offer that for free. Hopefully, folk will download the short story, enjoy it, and buy your full-length novel as a result.
The short story should be between 5,000-15,000 words. Anything further is pushing it into the realm of a novella. You should want to get started on your second book, so limit the time you spend on the short story. Remember, it’s a marketing tool, used to sell your novel. It isn’t, in and of itself, a product you’re selling. The advantage of a short story is that it doesn’t require much of a commitment from you or the reader. I wrote a 5,000 word short story in under a week (which I intend to release simultaneously with my novel). They’re also easy and cheap to edit, and because they can be done quickly, from start to finish, you can publish it mere weeks after (or even at the same time) you publish your full-length novel.
The story should be about a side character, preferably (you’ll want to save the main character for the main series, although he or she can make a cameo), or a prequel, and you should take pains to ensure that nothing that important happens in it. It should be a side story, a nice little adventure that isn’t necessary to read if you’re reading the novels, nor do they even need to be referenced. Not everyone will read the short story, and if it isn’t numbered, it probably won’t show up on your Amazon series page, so it is important to make sure there isn’t major character development that would effect later books. But just because you’re limited doesn’t mean you can’t tell a good story that’s short, sweet, and to the point, makes your audience that to find out more about your character(s) and most importantly, has a satisfying ending.
That last bit is vital. You do not want to have the story end on a cliffhanger. It will just frustrate the reader. They’ll feel scammed. You want your reader to leave the book with a good taste in their mouth. And if you’re lucky, they’ll hunger for more before long. One final thing, make sure to link to the novel you’re trying to sell at the end of the short story. It’s no good having a reader like your work if they can’t find it.