Ooligan’s staff are excitedly preparing all the marketing details for the upcoming release of the literary fiction novel Three Sides Water by Peter Donahue in May. In this vein, I’ve decided to discuss the marketing process for books. Since every book is unique, all the books at Ooligan Press have their own marketing strategy and target audience carefully planned from the very beginning of the publishing process. This makes discussing the marketing of books in general rather difficult, because each book will have different strengths and challenges to consider when planning a marketing campaign, and, thus, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to marketing a book. However, Three Sides Water is unique from most fiction novels, because it contains not just one narrative, but three separate short stories. Novels that contain multiple short stories have a slightly more challenging marketing process overall, because succinctly describing the book and its message to the potential reader is more difficult.
This isn’t to deride short story collections in any way. Short story author Michael Knight says, “A good [short story] takes a novel’s worth of emotional complexity, strips away all the fat, and compresses what’s left into a much more confined space, which can make for a reading experience that’s hard to match in terms of its intensity.” Short stories are a literary art form that can show off an author’s raw talent, and there is a host of amazing collections of short stories by famous authors, such as the Brothers Grimm, Roald Dahl, Alice Munro, and Agatha Christie. Short story collections can be wonderful ways to get quick, scintillating reads; I am personally quite fond of reading short stories by Edgar Allan Poe during the month of October. But that gets us back to marketing these books.
I read Edgar Allan Poe in October. Why? For his scary stories. I know what I’m getting from any of Poe’s stories before I read them. Book publishers signal this to me in many ways: a black cover covered with creepy ravens, a sinister-looking font in red, the word “macabre” in the description on the back, the book’s location in the horror section, creepy excerpts from the book used in promotional materials, reviews and blurbs by other famous horror aficionados and authors, and publicity and advertising around October in preparation for Halloween. While each story by Poe is different, they are unified by one theme––horror. Elements like those listed above can all be part of a marketing strategy, but the common thread is what helps guide the marketing process.
The Huffington Post notes that authors without the established reputation and brand to sell their writing on their name alone should craft their collection of short stories to contain the same central characters, setting, or theme. With this cohesive thread, a literary agent—or a publisher, such as Ooligan—will have an idea of how to market your collection and get copies of it into the hands of interested readers. For the reader who is not attracted to short stories as a form, but to a genre, setting, or character-type, these themes can market the book as containing many examples of the kind of stories they like as opposed to just a collection of stories. A unifying thread can also comfort the reader in their choice to buy a whole collection of works rather than seeking out individual pieces, because the collection may offer greater insight and nuance into the message the author wishes to convey.
A challenge for authors writing a collection of short stories (and their publishers) is to find the thread that will resonate with their audience and make it known to them. That way, more people will be willing to dive into a collection of separate stories.