Thursday, 12 July 2012

Lessons in Marketing (or How Not to Market Your Literary Short Story)

So the free promotion I participated in last week was a resounding success . . . for one of my titles.

Fallen Leaves reached a high of #53 on the Top 100 Free Ebooks on Pretty darn good for a short story! It also garnered a glowing 4 star review!

But my other short story, Listen to the Rain, didn't fair so well. It started off well, with downloads pretty closely matching those of Fallen Leaves, and even reached the #100 spot on the Top Free Ebooks list. But then the 1 and 2 star reviews started showing up:

"There's no ending! It just stops with no resolution."

"The author leaves you hanging. Lame. Just lame. Thanks so much for robbing me of 10 mins of my life."

"The ending is 'meh' at best with absolutely no attempt at conclusion or catharsis."


And from there, things went south. The downloads basically ground to a halt and story started sinking into obscurity. In the two days following the free promotion, the story sold exactly 5 copies. (While Fallen Leaves had nearly triple the sales.)

Double ouch.

At first, I couldn't figure out where I'd gone wrong. This, after all, was a short story my critique group loved and had even gone on to be published in a literary magazine!

Then a few romance writers clued me in: they thought my story was a romance!

Anyone who knows anything about romances knows the first rule of romance is there MUST be a happily-ever-after ending. Listen to the Rain has much grittier ending. It's also fairly ambiguous. I left it up to the reader to decide where the story goes from there. In other words, it has a literary ending.

So how the heck did my literary story end up being marketed to romance readers? I certainly didn't categorize it as a romance. I chose the sub-categories Short Stories and Contemporary Women's Fiction. My search tags include terms like "bittersweet," "coming-of-age," and "responsibility."

So what happened?

Well, first, I chose the wrong cover:
Listen to the Rain: A Short Story

I thought the moody blue-grey with the heart drawn into the raindrops would give the story the appropriately melancholy tone, but the reality is most people equate hearts with romance.

And second, my description backed up that idea:

All Jeremy Owen and his eight-months-pregnant girlfriend, Maya, seem to do is fight. With the baby on the way, Jer's doing the best he can, but it never seems to be enough. Then one night, after a bad argument, Maya packs her bags and storms out. Now Jer has to decide if he wants out too or if he wants her back.


So, over the weekend, I gave Listen to the Rain a marketing make-over.

New cover:
Listen to the Rain: A Short Story

New description:

All Jeremy Owen and his pregnant girlfriend, Maya, seem to do is fight. With the baby due in a month, Jer's doing the best he can to make ends meet, to make Maya happy, but it never seems to be enough. Then one night, after a bitter argument, Maya packs her bags and storms out. Now Jer has to decide if he wants her back or if he wants out too. Just what the hell is he doing with his life anyway?

It also now has a new categore: Literary Fiction.

Will this mean the story starts selling now (and getting better reviews)?

Only time will tell.


  1. Fascinating. By the way, I really like both covers, although I think the second one is more in line with your aims.

    I just had a limited edition free short story tie-in download with my HEX BREAKER release ( It wasn't through Amazon; it wasn't up for review, unless someone does so on his or her own blog. I was gratified by the high number of downloads, and wonder if it'll translate into sales at all.

    Check back in a few months to see how we both did?

    1. Hi, Devon! Long time no see!

      Yes, it will be interesting to see how both stories do. I plan to do an update in a few months. Hopefully with some good news! :)

      Thanks for posting!

    2. Oh, and I'm glad you like both covers. I do too. But the new one definitely suits the story more. Plus it's just so pretty! :)