Discover the power of free and whether short stories sell in today’s Q&A with fantasy author Rebecca Knight.
ALEX: Fantasy writers have double the work when they’re writing because they have to build a whole new world instead of just setting a story in our existing one. Where did the inspiration for “Legacy of the Empress” come from?
REBECCA: I actually got the idea for Legacy of the Empress during one of my college writing classes. There was a writing prompt we did where we had to come up with a fantasy world, and I imagined lines of magic intersecting all over the planet like a grid, and an Empress imprisoned in a crystal fortress. I never did anything with it, and ended up finding it a couple of years later in my journal! Lucky me :).
It was my husband who finally convinced me I should do something with it a couple of years later. Moral of the story: Save all of your story ideas! You never know when they’ll come in handy.
ALEX: Were there fantasy authors that influence you, either classical or contemporary?
REBECCA: Oh, man. One of my favorite authors of all time is Ray Bradbury. I love how tight his fiction is even while he’s painting these poetic images of the new worlds he’s creating. He does it almost effortlessly. If I could be half as good as him one day, I’ll die a happy camper. Another of my favorite authors is Dan Simmons who wrote Hyperion. Again, gorgeous worlds and complex characters, but despite everything, it seems like not a word is wasted. I highly recommend that everyone read Hyperion if you love sci fi, fantasy, or just amazing storytelling.
ALEX: One of the things I’ve picked up on — and I agree with — is that you like your main characters to have significant flaws. Especially in a fantasy / quest story, it’s much more compelling when your hero or heroine has a quality that makes you doubt they’re capable of succeeding.
REBECCA: Absolutely. I mean, humans are inherently flawed, so one of my pet peeves is when a main character seems invincible or even totally pure of heart. I consider myself a generally good person, but I’ve had those moments where the wrong thought creeps into my head, and I have to make a choice. What makes it more interesting for me is when flawed people have to make decisions for the greater good. Are they choosing the right thing? Or the easy thing? I find it much more interesting as a reader when I see the heroes struggle.
ALEX: Now in addition to your novel, you’ve got some short stories with a wickedly fun hook — the Fairytale Assassin series. There are some concepts that, when you hear about them for the first time, you smile because it’s such a great idea. (And then, about five seconds later, you ask: Why didn’t I think of that?) Where did the idea come from? And did your friends look at you funny the first time you told them about it?
REBECCA: Haha! Actually, believe it or not the first Fairytale Assassin story was a flash fiction piece I wrote just for the heck of it. I’d always found Bluebeard a really dark and twisted tale, and then I wondered what it would be like if there were some secret agent type that took out creeps like him. I have no idea where the idea came from, but it keeps expanding, the more I dig into these tales, and most importantly? It’s hilariously fun to write!
The people I work with recently found out about those stories and most of them just raised an eyebrow and said something along the lines of “You’re twisted. I did not know that.”
ALEX: So the novel comes out in the spring and you’ve got these two great short stories. And you decide to make the short stories free. Explain what happened next …
REBECCA: Well, the wonderful thing about having a free story, is that you can tell readers about your other fiction in the back, just like a traditionally published e-book does. I had just released the second e-story in the Fairytale Assassin series called Carnivore (which is based after Little Red Riding Hood), so I thought I’d take a gamble and make No Rest for the Wicked free to drive people toward that as well as my novel. What I didn’t realize is how things would blow up for me. I’m writing in another genre under a pen name, did the same thing, and my sales took off in both arenas. I feel incredibly blessed that so many people have found me and liked what they read.
I’ll definitely keep No Rest For the Wicked up for free because there are many more Fairytale Assassin stories in the works :). Giving a bit away so people can sample it just seems like the smart thing to do.
ALEX: Authors like to see the numbers, so let’s talk numbers. What happened to sales for your novel and the other short story after you published the freebie?
REBECCA: My numbers pretty much rose by at least 100-200%, more than making up for the price of that one short story. My other pen name (not to be revealed–sorry folks!) went from about 10 books a day to 100-150 books per day after a story went free. It really just depends on which story takes off and where you get lucky. This is why I’m a big fan of diversifying! I have 15 titles out under different names, and will have more Fairytale Assassin stories as well as that sequel to Legacy of the Empress coming out, too :). The more books and stories you have out, the easier it is to get lucky when you set one free.
ALEX: So much for the conventional wisdom that short stories don’t sell.
REBECCA: So true! My short stories are my biggest sellers so far. Even during the traditionally slow summer months, I’ve made more money off my short stories than my novel. I love writing them, so it’s a real blessing for me, as well as an eye-opener about this new digital marketplace.
ALEX: I don’t get why some authors have this disdain for short stories and novellas. Attention spans are short these days — people are looking for something they can enjoy in an evening after dinner.
REBECCA: I love a good novel, but even I’m finding myself buying more short stories and novellas nowadays. Maybe we just thought books were the end-all be-all because it was the only option we had. Now we can read a great story on the morning commute, or sample something from a new author without paying full price for a novel. It’s wonderful to have such variety and so many exciting ways to discover new stories.
ALEX: So are you now focusing on your next novel or on writing more short stories?
REBECCA: Right now, I’m outlining my novel while writing short stories :). I’m a multi-tasker! I have to admit being in love with short stories right now, but the sequel for Legacy is underway as well. I love that world and those characters, and have a lot of exciting places to go with it. I know fans of Legacy will really enjoy the next installment, so I won’t tarry too long. I promise not to pull a George R. R. Martin on anyone ;).