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.