How to Use a Free Short Story to Entice New Readers

Stephanie: I love the idea of authors offering a short story for free when people sign up for their mailing list. That is a great marketing strategy and as a reader myself, it really helps me to decide if the author’s work is something I want to invest my time and money in.  Deborah Swift -B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree does this and I have asked her here today to talk with us about that and she gives a list of benefits in doing so…Thank you, Deborah. Please share your experience.


I write under two separate personas – Davina Blake who writes WW2 fiction, and Deborah Swift who is currently writing a big book set in the 17th century. My husband says Davina Blake is not as grouchy as Deborah Swift!

Just before Christmas, longing for a breather from my long novel, I decided to swap personas and leave the Deborah Swift book (then 300 pages long) and write something shorter. Feeling a bit Christmassy, I had an idea for a short story with a winter theme, and hit upon the idea of making it a free gift to my Newsletter subscribers, and any other readers or bloggers I’d come into contact with over the year.

I loved writing the story, and zipped through it. Getting the story out to readers though, well – that proved to be a great learning experience. Almost by accident the process has brought me lots more subscribers to my newsletter, and introduced many more people to my writing. It is also a strategy that many other writers are already using and is surprisingly simple to do.

The technical stuff

The story was short – about 25 pages and a fifteen minute reading time, so I didn’t want to spend a fortune on editing or cover design, but it still needed to be a quality product, even though I was going to give it away and would never earn anything from it. Two writer friends and two reader friends vetted it for me, with editing and proofreading, and I chose the simplest word document style (Times New Roman 12pt) that would convert well to Kindle or any other device.

The cover was made using Canva, a free online design tool which is very simple to use and has  ‘kindle cover’ and ‘ebook cover’ templates. Not being a designer, I tried to keep it as simple as possible, and use a ‘wintry theme’ of snow with lots of red. The images I used are royalty free from Dreamstime, and I paid just a few dollars each to download them. One of the things Canva helped me to do was to position a very large sticker on the front which says ‘a short story’. I didn’t want anyone to think I was giving them a full novel. When sharing it, I was also making it clear it was a short read, and that it was free. For a free short story, I thought these shortcuts were acceptable, though I would invest in professional editing and design for a full novel.

The story is not for sale anywhere, which is nice for loyal fans and my core readers – people have to sign up to keep in touch with me before they receive it. Of course they can unsubscribe any time. I like to keep my newsletters infrequent – we get so much spam in our inboxes and I don’t want to spam my readers.

How to get your story to readers

I used a simple program called Instafreebie. And by simple I mean that even a technoklutz like me can fathom out how it works. Other writers, I have since discovered, use a company called Bookfunnel. On Instafreebie you can sign up initially for a trial period, whilst you test it out, and it is very simple to navigate. You need a pdf edition of your story (which I got by simply saving my edited Word document as a pdf).

When you upload it to the site, it then converts your story like magic into the different formats for you and issues the choice of format to readers when they input their email address. You can easily link this to your Mailchimp or Newsletter provider. A link to your story is created, and you share it with whoever you like. There is a facility to password protect it too, which could be useful if you want to restrict your readers to a certain group.

An added bonus was that many Instafreebie browsers also found my story and downloaded it, so having a sample of my writing style. Because it was linked to Mailchimp, they are now on my email list, and I can offer them another free story or alert them to new releases. Unsubscribers so far, have been few.

The five benefits of short.

  1. Surprisingly, many people wanted to read Last Train Home because it was a short read. A friend took it on her commute to work, and another read it in her lunch hour. It was surprisingly popular, and from my point of view it was very enjoyable to be able to give something away at Christmas time.
  2. As a reader I know that many readers would like to sample the writing before committing to purchase a book. Of course you can also give away an extract of a book (up to 20% before you infringe Amazon’s rules) but it is nice to leave the reader with a complete story with a beginning, middle and end, and have a sense of completion, rather than a sample that stops abruptly in the middle.
  3. It’s quick to produce. For a novelist, writing a long book can take years. This is a long time for your readers to wait, and in between they will have found other books to read and other writers they can connect with. A seasonal short story keeps you in touch with your readers and can be something extra as a reward for loyal fans.
  4. It’s versatile. I added the link in my Christmas cards and emails and gave away copies to friends and neighbours – the ones who thought they might not want to read a whole novel, but once they’d tried a short story, asked about my longer books! You can also put the link on business cards or on your email signature.
  5. The back of my short story has all the links to my novels and to my website, as well as reviews of my other books, so that if they have enjoyed the story, the reader can click to buy a longer book.

So, if you would like a free short story set in WW2, with a nostalgic winter theme, do click to download Last Train Home by Davina Blake. And do let me know when you produce your own short stories, so I can sample yours too. I’m already conjuring up an idea for my next!

I love to chat, so find me on Twitter @swiftstory

And I blog at my website

Many thanks to Stephanie for hosting me, and all the IndieBRAG team for their work in bringing deserving books to wider notice.



The comments, advice and opinions expressed here are those of authors whose books have been honored with a B.R.A.G. Medallion. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the owners, management, or employees of indieBRAG, LLC.

One response to “How to Use a Free Short Story to Entice New Readers”

  1. Geri Clouston says:

    This is a terrific idea! Thanks for all the info, I am sure a lot of authors have thought of this but had now idea how to proceed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *