Free Previews: A Double-Edged Sword?

If you’ve browsed for a novel or a short story at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords, then you’re probably familiar with the free preview feature. On Amazon you can view the first 10% of an e-book, and on Smashwords it varies by author preference.

Now many think that this is a positive feature for your work. After all, you’ve been through several revisions of the piece and you want prospective readers to see that you’re not contributing to the dreaded Indie Author Stigma. You want to show that your writing is clear and properly edited, with no amateur errors.

I suppose that’s a good thing, but here’s the problem. I’ve heard that most audiences today judge whether or not they like a film within the first five minutes, and I suspect that readers are no different. So what happens when the best parts of your work are in the middle or at the end?

I’m selling short stories right now, as a way to build up some readership before my novel is ready for the public. My own quirky story-telling manner never jumps at you in the first page or two. Instead, my style does quite the opposite. I like to lull a reader into a sense of security before everything begins to run amok. Therefore, the first page or two may not hook a potential reader and reel them in. But my beta readers tell me that the lulling makes for a real punch at the end, so I’m reluctant to change this style.

Now, we all know about the need for a first chapter to be powerful. However, I’m talking about a short story, which can be chapter length or less. So the online retailers only show the first few pages, which I generally use to establish characters and setting. Therefore that percentage-based preview often cuts off before the story really gets going.  And I really wonder if that is affecting my readership.

So I have two questions for the blogosphere:



17 thoughts on “Free Previews: A Double-Edged Sword?

  1. I wish Smashwords would allow specific text sections as samples as well. We could then select an exciting/dramatic piece of a scene to share. I used to post first chapters as samples on my publishing site, but now, I use a gripping scene with the hope readers will get hooked.

    Here’s my “Shadows in the Stone” page with summary, buying links, a trailer and a gripping sample:

    It’s not perfect, but I keep working on it. The goal–as my salesperson nephew would say–is to create a page that at the end has readers needing to buy that book.


  2. One thing: I can’t find the link to your Smashwords story. Perhaps you can add it to make others find it easier. For me, I’ll enter your name into the Smashwords search engine, but not everyone will do that.


  3. I notice the previews. It does sometimes change my mind on whether to buy the book or not. I remember a few years back I was reading a preview and everything was bad about. Spelling, grammar, formatting. I was simply glad I hadn’t spent money. The only time I don’t read the previews is if I have talked to the author.


  4. I think I decide which books to pick up based on the cover. I know I then decide whether or not to buy the book by picking some random page in the middle and reading a little bit. If it sparkles, I buy. If it doesn’t, I look for the next shiny distraction on the shelf.


  5. I’ve had chances to provide previews to websites etc–not talking Amazon now–and I say “no”. I just picked up a book last night and it was so badly written that I stopped at page 5. Who knows, maybe it would get better, although I doubt it. Previews are definitely double edged, but I’ll take my chances without them.


  6. Previews are a great thing, in most cases. I don’t mind a slow start to a book, but if the preview or the blurb have spelling and grammatical errors, that’s a no-go for me. An author’s style shouldn’t have to be compromised (e.g. slow start) just to make the preview better. It should be all about the quality of the writing itself.


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