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The Prequel as Bait: How to Hook More Readers

This is a guest post from author Carmen Amato. Over the next several months, she is going to share tips and tricks she learned to help her to sell more of her mystery books. These tips and ideas can apply to most every author.

In this edition, she discusses how to use a prequel to attract customers to your writing, which will then expose them to your other books. The key is to make someone a fan, then they will want to buy all of your books.

Authors want to hook readers with a great experience. If the experience resonates, the reader will turn into a fan. They’ll read the next book by the same author. And the next.

Or the first.

A prequel can introduce books to a new reader or offer a “behind-the-scenes” moment to those readers already familiar with an author’s books.

A prequel can reel in readers and turn them into fans.

What a Prequel Is and Is Not

A prequel doesn’t have to be another book. Short stories for fiction authors or a collection of essays by a nonfiction author can be very effective vehicles for building your audience.

Use the prequel to set a scene that chronologically comes before your other books. This means the prequel will:

  • Be fresh and not repeat book content
  • Set reader expectations for existing books
  • Enhance and lengthen an appealing storyline.

Ideas for Prequels

Remember that little Star Wars movie? And that other Star Wars movie?

Out of six movies, the three that were most recently released are considered prequels to the original movies. They were hugely popular because everyone wanted to see how Darth Vader and the rest of the cast evolved and became who they were in the original movies.

Fiction writers can create a short story or novella that takes the action to an earlier time. What could you tell readers about your main characters and the challenges that shaped them into the persons introduced in the first book?

Nonfiction authors can offer a prequel in the shape of case studies or advice that prefaces the content of their books.

For any author, a personal memoir could be a compelling prequel. Novelist Ann Padgett did this to good effect in The Getaway Car.

What to do with your Prequel

You’ve written a great prequel, included active links to your book sales pages, website, and the signup page for your emails, and saved it as a PDF or .epub or .mobi.

So now what?

Consider the prequel as a gift to your readers. Distribute it as widely as possible to hook them with your generosity and awesome prose:

  1. Use it as a freebie to build your email listThis is particularly effective for series writers or for those launching a new book. Create a cover for the prequel, craft a description, and use these elements on signup forms on your website. Using an autoresponder service like MailChimp or aWeber, send a free PDF to everyone who signs up for your email list.Sign up for my Mystery Monthly newsletter and you’ll get a free download of The Beast. The free short story giveaway has been the biggest factor in building my email list. The Beast reveals how Emilia Cruz, the main character of my series, became the first and only female detective on the Acapulco police force..
  2. Distribute for free on other websitesUpload the prequel to free ebook sites such as free-ebooks.net. There is no cost to upload and the site promotes new releases for a week.Readers downloaded over 400 copies of two Emilia Cruz prequel short stories, The Angler and The Cliff, within weeks of them being posted on free-ebooks.net. Each story contains links to sign up for my newsletter.
  3. Publish on a popular websiteLook for websites that host short stories, memoirs, or long form essays and submit a query. If accepted, make sure the prequel file you send contains a short author bio and the links discussed above.In September 2013, my prequel The Beast was featured on The Huffington Post’s Fiction 50 showcase. Kindle sales of the first two Emilia Cruz novels (the only books in the series available at that time) exploded, boosting the second book in the series onto Amazon’s Top New Releases list for 30 days.
  4. Sell it as an ebookWikipedia defines Amazon’s Kindle Single as “a format for novella-length nonfiction literature or long-form journalism.” While Amazon is very choosey and might not accept your prequel for its Kindle Single promotional program, anyone can adopt the same format.Keep in mind, however, that if the prequel is enrolled in Amazon’s KDP Select program, you cannot publish it elsewhere at the same time and the power of the free giveaway is lost.

Ready to start fishing for readers? Hook them with a prequel and reel in your fans!

In addition to political thriller The Hidden Light of Mexico City, Carmen Amato is the author of the Emilia Cruz mystery novels set in Acapulco, including Cliff Diver, Hat Dance, Diablo Nights, and the collection of short stories Made in Acapulco. Her books all draw on her experiences living in Mexico and Central America. Visit her website at carmenamato.net for a free copy of The Beast, the first Emilia Cruz story.


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  • George

    This is an excellent piece of strategy! I never considered the extra juice that can be squeezed out of s short promotional pdf offering. If not to hook a reader, at the very least get a few low cost nibbles from the free or low cost promo sites and their mailing lists. All the while securing some e-mail addy’s. Enabling an opportunity to execute the rest of the engagement process.

    In particular, I found the concept of a bio (even a fictional)connecting to a work of fiction to be very interesting.

    thanks for being here!
    ~GJH