A few weeks ago I read a post that really caught my imagination. It was Matt Wright’s post on Tolkien’s published appendices. The question that came to mind is how can the volumes of back story that we create for each character, plot, location, and obstacle be used other than to help write the story? A sizable portion of Tolkien’s world and back stories were published after his main books and were gobbled up enthusiastically by his fans. As Matt points out, the e-book industry is perfect for this type of follow-up publication and many of the author’s I follow have used it to good effect.
I got my start writing by creating back stories for my friend’s RPG characters. So, generating back story is something that I spend a fair amount of time thinking about. I found that creating a character study using free-writing is not only is fun, but it produces characters with interesting and unforeseen motivations, likes and dislikes. Back story written as short-shorts or even a short story can be a nice change of pace from your main WIP. Also, it can help a writer through a plot or character block.
So, this ‘extra’ writing brings up a few questions, “Can back story be used to promote a book that has yet to be published? Can it be used to help create an audience for an upcoming book release? Can it be used for story promotion without damaging the story to come? If written with the intent to promote a longer upcoming piece, what is the best vehicle to introduce it to potential new readers? Would posting it on a blog provide as much exposure as e-publication? If the back story is a short-short, does it even make sense to try to e-publish it?
Honestly I’m split on this topic. Whereas, introducing readers to a short piece to lure them in may sound like a good idea, it would have to be written so that the writer did not give away too much of the character for the main story to follow. Also, short pieces are harder to write from a world-building/explanation stand point. The writer has less room for exposition.
The flip side is that a short piece might be enough candy to lure the reader into a relationship with your characters. The writer needs to be aware that new fans won’t wait very long for the longer piece to be released. So, unless the goal is to release numerous shorts before the main book is released, timing of the back story release would be critical.
What do you think? Do you have back stories you could use to promote your WIP? Would you ever publish back story to promote your WIP or do you think it best to wait and see if the WIP is well received?