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Friday, January 06, 2012

My Kindle Free Short Story Experiment ~ Tess Gerritsen

Tess Gerritsen left a successful practice as an internist to raise her children and concentrate on her writing. She gained nationwide acclaim for her first novel of medical suspense, the New York Times bestseller Harvest. She is also the author of the bestsellers Life Support, Bloodstream, Gravity, and The Surgeon. Tess lives with her family in Maine. (PHOTO CREDIT: Paul D'Innocenzo)

My Kindle Free Short Story Experiment  by Tess Gerritsen

In June, shortly before my book THE SILENT GIRL went on sale, my publisher and I decided to try a little experiment. We put up a free Rizzoli & Isles short story called “Freaks” that had earlier appeared on the TNT website to promote the TV show. It was intended as a fun little piece, a complete mystery told in about fifteen pages. It opens with a dead girl’s body in an abandoned church. There are hints of vampires, there’s a chase through an alley, an autopsy, and a final confrontation with a gunman. Mystery solved, with a twist. All in fifteen pages.

Also included in the free download were the first two chapters of THE SILENT GIRL, and a script from the TV show. We wanted to give readers just a taste of Jane and Maura, to offer a sneak peek at the new book, and maybe entice viewers of the TV show to give the books a try.

And did I mention this was all free?

“Freaks” shot to the top of the chart for free offerings and was downloaded tens of thousands of times the first week. It looked like the experiment was working. I waited and watched the reader reviews, to see if folks were getting a kick out of it. To see if it was leading them to buy a book.

What I found instead were complaints, complaints, complaints: The story was too short! Hardly any character development! Not as good as the books! Some people were pissed about the two free chapters because they resented anything promotional, and were disgusted that they got a free peek. (You know, no one forced you to read the chapters.) And for some, “free” wasn’t cheap enough; they complained that the offer wasn’t “worth it.”

The objections made my head hurt. Do people really expect a short story to be as good as a book? Do they really expect deep character development plus a complete mystery in fifteen pages?

My conclusion: I don't think it was worth it on my end, either. Short stories are killers to craft when you’re used to writing novels. I had to distill a plot down to its basic elements, make it punchy enough to work for a TV website, keep the action tense and the twists unpredictable, all while establishing a feel for the characters. My hope was that the story would serve as a bridge between the slightly different TV and book versions of Jane and Maura, helping readers enjoy both interpretations.

For all the effort I put into it, I think the free short story experiment was, if not a failure, a disappointment. I think I’ll stick with Twitter.


  1. That's really interesting to see. I guess those who are complaining are really cheap. LOL

  2. I think writing short stories help you in your craft. Not all people are like that especially if you go by the magazine short story market and flash fiction market. I've also found on my own newspaper no matter what you write there are a group of people who seem to like putting down everything and anything. There are people I know who read short stories because they don't have time for novels, and people who prefer novels. I had my short story critiqued by my ACFW group and two of them were not fond of short stories and didn't like my story; the others got it. So don't give up. I do think there is too much free out there.

  3. Yeah, free promotions seems to bring out a certain personality we could all live without. I'm sorry you got some idiots. But, it wasn't all for nothing, you just saved a lot of us the time of trying to do the same thing. Thanks for sharing your experiences, Tess.

  4. Your experience is.... interesting. Distressing and interesting. What kind of people complain about free stuff? Maybe they thought they were giving helpful feedback? Me, I love free chapters because I can easily decide if I want to buy the rest or not without gambling. Huh.

  5. I hate to hear it had such a disappointing outcome. In my community of friends and acquaintances I was able to use your free short story to introduce others to your books, and I know of quite a few who've become real fans. I appreciate your willingness to give this a try and then let the rest of us know how it turned out.

  6. I think a free peek at a chapter or example of a writer's voice is terrific and I agree with Leila. A glimpse at the writer's voice tells me if I want to read more. And Edie says she introduced you to a few folks via that short story. So not a complete fail.

  7. Complainers always need something to complain about, even if it's free. The good news is that they are the minority. Unfortunately, the majority - those that loved the short story and appreciated the other goodies - tend to be silent. Don't let the voices of the few drag you down. Your experiment was probably a bigger success than you realize.


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