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: