Prequels build buzz!

Have you heard what some savvy authors are doing to build excitement and attract readers to their upcoming books?

They’re writing prequels: tantalizing teasers in short story form that preview the key characters and settings of an upcoming novel.

Some prequels predate or provide backstories for the longer books to come. Others are like outtakes from the novel, standalone narratives that add to our knowledge of the characters but don’t appear in the books themselves.

Prequels provide readers with the flavor and quality of the forthcoming book in a way that makes them yearn to read more. This technique has had notable successes lately, like propelling a book from obscurity to six-figure advances, and building pre-publication buzz and momentum.

Scroll down for prequel power tips

From self-published to a six-figure book deal

Self-published author Brittany Geragotelis began distributing Life’s a Witch, the first volume of her young adult paranormal trilogy in 2011 for free on Wattpad, a social reading website. A startling 18 million readers tapped the tale of Hadley Bishop, a teenager with “magic in her blood”. That caught the attention of the folks at Simon and Schuster, who evidently loved the story about the teenage descendant of the first woman hung during the Salem witch trials. By 2012, S&S had made Geragotelis a six-figure publishing deal that she didn’t refuse.

As a marketing strategy to launch the digital and print editions, Simon and Schuster released three e-book mini prequels. Excerpts are also available free on FaceBook, and the New York Times published one on July 19th of this year.

Another example of a prequel marketing strategy is Rogue, a thriller by Mark Sullivan. Three months before the publication of the digital and print editions of the book, Sullivan’s publisher Minotaur (an imprint of St. Martin’s Press/Macmillan) released three digital short stories with the backstory of how the Rogue’s hero grew up as a teenager in Argentina and later trained as a US Special Forces expert in unconventional warfare.

Repurposing material for a prequel

Many authors begin a first draft manuscript with a terrific backstory, filled with character, personality, excitement and plot potential. Later in the process of revising the book, however, some scenes may wind up on the cutting room floor.

That’s exactly the kind of deletion that can be picked up, polished and expanded as necessary, then emerge as a prequel to lure readers with a delicious sample of the larger work to come.

One author client of mine wrestled with a complex plot structure. In trimming down the intricate story to make it move faster and be more understandable, we found a few scenes that developed the main character, but weren’t absolutely essential.

The author decided to polish up one deleted but particularly riveting scene and post it as an EBook prequel on Kindle Direct and FaceBook.

.

Prequel power tips

• Punch up the content

When writing that separate backstory, focus your creative laser on a moment in time when your main character is facing a life-changing choice or is overcoming a dramatic crisis. When buffing up a deleted but revealing scene from the draft manuscript of the novel, heighten and expand the moment so it stands alone as an irresistible preview of the book itself.

Not all prequels are traditional cliffhangers, but the judicious use of that technique is always a good idea, since the goal is to make the reader want more…now!

• Keep it short and snappy

Think short. Remember — a prequel needs to be not only a literary tour de force but an effective marketing tool. So quick and brilliant is the ticket.

• Preview the style

Don’t be shy about making a splash with distinct vernacular dialogue and unusual settings portrayed in vivid visuals. Try to include at least one original use of a sensory detail, like an odor or touch to demonstrate your craft and versatility.

• End with author bio and book release information

I advise two or three lines about the author’s most notable professional and literary achievements. Be sure to provide the title of the new novel, when it’s coming out, and how to order.

.

Plan your distribution

Wide distribution is critical to a prequel’s success as a marketing tool. Post it in as many venues as possible.

There are many places an author can post a prequel. The first is your own website, where you can offer the entire story. You can also fold it into your blog, post it on your FaceBook page, and tweet a link to your story.

Where to place a prequel

An excellent spot for free posting is Wattpad, the community social reading community website that worked so well for Brittany Geragotelis.

Check out FictionPress which bills itself the “world’s largest short story, fiction, and poetry archive and community.”  To upload your prequel, click on Sign Up at the top right of the page and register an account using a valid email address. Directions will follow.

Another is Goodreads, a big site for readers and book recommendations. Here, you can post your prequel or any piece of writing for free and get quick feedback from readers who can put the piece on their recommended list (or not).

If you want to sell your prequel, there are other vendors and services where you can charge $.99 or more. Smashwords, for example, provides inexpensive digital posting in all current formats and will post your prequel on a broad variety of sites for a percentage of the receipts at whatever price you set. Prequels can also be posted by authors directly to Amazon, as eBooks in Kindle Direct or print books in CreateSpace. Amazon also offers design, editorial and marketing services you can pay for or avoid by doing it yourself.

Other portals and digital publishing aggregators like Draft2Digital offer conversion tools for posting your prequel in any format, for a percentage of the sales. Many of these vendors also offer jacket design, consolidated sales reporting, self-marketing tools and other services at low cost. Choose carefully, since some are focused on one particular genre or niche, like Steam Punk, romance, paranormal and others.

What about you?

Have you written or considered creating a prequel to your book as a part of your own marketing strategy?

We’d love to hear about your experience, and if it made a difference in your book sales.

If this is a new idea to you, what’s your take? Think you might give it a try?

10 Responses to Prequels build buzz!

  1. Livia Blackburne

    I launched my prequel novella Poison Dance in September, in preparation for the launch of my novel Midnight Thief (Disney-Hyperion) in July 2014. I’ve been giving away a lot of copies to reviewers and have been really pleased at how it’s generated buzz about the novel. I’m also selling it at the ebook vendors. Sales have been slow — it’s hard to sell a prequel without the main event. I’d intended to position the prequel as a standalone, but customer reviews tend to describe it as the “prequel to midnight thief.” I’m not too concerned about sales for the moment — the main focus is to build buzz, and I’m hoping that paid sales will pick up after the novel’s release (since I do need to recoup my costs!)

    One important factor in writing a prequel novella is its similarity to the novel. There will invariably be people who read the novella and decide they are not interested in the book anymore. If the novella is very similar to the book, it’s not a huge loss, since that person probably wouldn’t have liked the book anyways. But if the novella is different from the book, then you might have lost a potential fan.

  2. Alan Rinzler

    Livia,

    Congratulations on your book deal with Disney-Hyperion for your novel Midnight Thief! That’s great news.

    It sounds like your prequel novella Poison Dance has been a very good marketing tool so far. You still have nearly seven months to keep building up the buzz for Midnight Thief’s publication in July.

    Let me know how it goes.

  3. Greg Strandberg

    I’ve been thinking of taking my fantasy Book 1 off perma-free and putting out a 15,000 word prequel in its place. Sales of Books 2 and 3 are picking up enough where this might be something to do early next year. I’d also like to do it with my historical novel trilogy, although I just made that a box-set and that’s boosted the sales from pretty much nil to something.

    Prequels might also be a good thing to have on the back burner, or even ready to go, so that when sales flag you have something that could provide direct and immediate relief. Being an established author would of course help with that as well.

  4. Alan Rinzler

    Greg

    I like your idea of reviving a book’s flagging sales by having a prequel waiting in the wings or creating a new one when needed. Very creative marketing idea.

    Let us know how it does if you try it.

  5. Busy Mama » The Weekend Edition

    [...] Prequels Build Buzz (The Book Deal)    [...]

  6. Cathy E.

    I love your posts, Alan. My only complaint is that I’d love to see a lot more of them. Is there anyway you can post at least once per week? (I’ve already read all your back posts)

  7. Guilie

    Excellent ideas, Alan. Thanks for sharing!

  8. S.R.Bogart

    Hello Mr. Rinzler

    Your blog is exactly what I’ve been looking for. I need a Developmental Editor because what I’ve been writing, going on 10 years this year, has reached the point that if I don’t find professional help soon (for the novels ;) I’m afraid I’m going to ruin everything I’ve done. Your post about Prequels is very encouraging as the (first) novel I’m writing currently wasn’t where I started. It’s a prequel but not.
    Because of your very insightful blog I now have the courage to ask…How does a first time author reach out to a Developmental Editor they are interested in working with? Say, for instance, you?

  9. Blots & Plots › To Prequel or Not to Prequel?

    [...] I read an article by consulting editor Alan Rinzler. The article, “Prequels build buzz!” talks about a [...]

  10. RC OLeary

    Alan

    The prequel idea, one I’m referring to as an “author’s extra” is something I am planning to do as part of the 90 day introduction of my novel “Hallways in the Night.” In the original story there was a backstory element in which two of the main characters had a previous courtroom confrontation. It was one of my favorite scenes, but one I decided to excise for pacing purposes.

    Now, thanks to the ease of digital publishing, I’m going to bring it back out and offer it on my website and other sites (thank you for some recommendations above). The title “Dontre Clinkscales” is different, but the cover image is the same.

    I agree 100% that it’s a low-cost lever to be used to build buzz. And per LIvia’s advice, the “author’s extra” will be of similar texture to the overall novel.

    I have also set up three free chapters as a download on my website which is part of my marketing plan to encourage readers to try before the buy. The first three chapters end on somewhat of a cliff so I hope if people enjoy what they have read they will go ahead and purchase the full novel.

    All my best as always, Alan.

    RC

Leave a Comment