If you're like me, after the holidays, your house is filled with leftovers. Food, decorations, Christmas cards, gifts you're not quite sure what to do with. One of the challenges of the New Year is to tackle these leftovers so that the house isn't overrun. The easiest thing to do is to just throw everything away and start fresh, but that can be wasteful. So we pack some things away. Donate others. Recycle others. But my favorite is to take those leftovers and find a new way to use them. Who doesn't love turkey casseroles?
In your writing, there occasionally comes a time when you are faced with a similar dilemma. Perhaps you've reached the end of a series, or you have a compelling secondary character who lingers in your mind not wanting to be packed away. How do you handle these leftovers?
You could just throw them away and start fresh. Or you could carefully pack them up hoping that they might be brought out again sometimes in the future. Or you might repurpose them into something delicious.
I did just that with my Archer brothers. Readers grew so attached to these reclusive brothers named for heroes from the Alamo, that they clamored for more. And to be honest, I became rather attached to them as well. My editors have always steered me away from series because I only put out one full-length novel a year and it is hard to sustain interest in a series when they are spread out over such long periods of time. However, after turning in the manuscript for Short-Straw Bride, the book where Travis and his brother Jim both find love, I pleaded with my publisher to let me write another Archer story. I promised to write it so that it read as a stand-alone book, new characters, new setting, etc.
They agreed and Stealing the Preacher released the following year (Crockett's story). But there were four Archer brothers. So what was I to do with the youngest of the clan – Neill?
That's when I got the idea of trying a novella. It seemed the perfect solution. It would be a shorter project that could be finished more quickly so my readers wouldn't have to wait a full year to read the final Archer story. At the same time, it would free my next full-length project up for a new story in the pattern my editors preferred. But would my publisher get on board with the idea?
Thankfully, the answer was yes. After discussing it with my editors and my agent, we came up with three additional Bethany House authors who were willing to join in the project (Mary Connealy, Regina Jennings, and Carol Cox). The four of us got together and brainstormed ideas for how to tie the four stories together, and after a few virtual meetings, A Match Made in Texas was born.
I enjoyed writing the shorter novella piece so much, that when my next contract came around, I incorporated ideas for additional novellas. My publisher bought two. So now when I write my full-length novels, I can take those leftover characters (compelling secondary characters that are just begging to star in their own tale) and create marketable novellas for them. My hope is that offering additional content between my annual releases will keep my fan base hungry for more. An since these next two novella projects will most likely be e-format only, I'm also hoping that with the lower price point, new readers will give me a try and become devoted fans.
But what if your publisher isn't open to the novella idea? Well, there are many ways to get extra content to your readers. Self-publishing is opening a door for just these types of projects. However, some publishers might consider this a conflict of interest, so be sure to work with your agent and be up front with your publisher before setting a project in motion.
Another option is to offer bonus content free to your readers either on your website or as a "gift" for signing up for your newsletter or liking your Facebook page. I have done both of these. I posted the epilogue that was cut from my first book on my website for all readers to access for free. I also have a short story and Bible study that I wrote years ago, fictionalizing the story of Rahab that I offer as a free gift to anyone who signs up for my newsletter. My publisher has also run promotions where everyone who likes my author page on Facebook gets exclusive access to the first chapters of my next book well before they are available anywhere else.
My only caution is to never slap something together just to have more content available. Your name is on it, and it must reflect the quality of writing your readers have come to expect from you. It must fit your brand. If not, this bonus content will end up hurting your career more than helping it.
So the next time you have leftover characters or story ideas . . . think about writing a novella, an epilogue, a companion story, anything that will help get content in front of your fans and help build your readership. Whether the material is free on your website or published in print or digital formats, it can go a long way toward keeping your readers engaged.
Have you got any secondary characters you love and have 'left behind'. Is there a story for them in you? Leave a comment to get your name in a drawing for a copy of A Match Made in Texas
Karen is living her dream by writing Christian historical romance novels for Bethany House. Her books have consistently hit bestseller lists and have garnered awards such as the ACFW Carol Award, the Holt Medallion, and the Christian Manifesto's Lime Award for Excellence in Fiction. In addition, she is a multiple RITA and National Reader's Choice finalist. Karen is also a sought-after speaker for national writing conferences and regional workshops.
Find out more about Karen and her books: A Match Made in Texas (a novella collection) Stealing the Preacher, Short-Straw Bride and To Win Her Heart ~ 2012 Carol Award and HOLT Medallion Winner