Sunday, February 15, 2009

Marketing #4: Sample Chapters

I was having a discussion with an author on-line on GoodReads. He was a bit upset because no one was buying his books. I decided to "checkout his books". In just a short time it became completely clear to me a big part of his problem - I could not (even with a lot of searching on my part) find any sample chapters.

Sample chapters are essential, especially for new authors. People would like to "try before they buy" as it were and if you don't give them a place to investigate your work you'll be fighting an uphill battle.

You should not just think about one way for people to get at sample chapters. You should use a series of weapons in your arsenal including:
  • Amazon Search Inside the Book
  • Google Book Search
  • Authors Den Book Excerpts
  • GoodReads Excerpts
  • Author's Website
  • All-in-one Book Page
We discussed this a bit in another post I'll refer you there rather than repeat myself. But one thing I should point out about this source of getting a "sample out" - You have no control over "what" is posted. They are going to do a few pages from the front of the book and where it stops may not be at the best place for your book. For "The Crown Conspiracy" the first chapter is a red herring, because the people you are first introduced to are not the "main characters" but bit players. Many people reading about it on Amazon might get the wrong impression so for the chapters I have control over I actually post an excerpt from chapter 2 which does have the main characters in it.


This is very similar to Amazon's Search Inside the Book Program. An example of Michael's Book which is in the program is shown above. It also indexes the entire book but shows a few pages. Again you have no control over what pages are shown in fact in Michael's version it starts (for some inexplicable reason) on page 2 instead of page 1. One of these days I have to fix this.

One of these days I have to do an entire post about this site as it offers a ton of great opportunities for authors and is highly ranked in the search engines so it is a good way to get your books high up on Search Engine Optimizations. But one thing I'll bring up for today's post is that they you can post your books and in that posting is a place for putting an excerpt of your book. I HIGHLY recommend that you take the time to pay attention to the formatting when putting into this format. When I cut/pasted from Word there were line and paragraph breaks that were not ideal. So I took the time to put it into notepad, make all the paragraphs on individual lines then pasted it into AuthorsDen. This made a much more attractive and easier to read post. (This is where I eventually found the author's excerpt that I stated above and he did not do this - the overall effect was on of "unprofessionalism"). Remember anything worth doing is worth doing properly so take a few minutes to put your best foot forward.

If you don't have an author profile on GoodReads you really need to. Like AuthorsDen this deserves a post of its own but suffice to say they have an area where authors can showcase their writings as well. Here are some tips for when you post your samples chapters on this venue:

  • Description is 2048 characters and will allow for html formatting so use for bolding and for italics. I suggest you put the "blurb" from your back of the book and then select a few "choice" reviews and put them here.
  • Make sure you set the genre drop down to the most appropriate category for your book if you can't find one that makes sense use "Literary & Fiction" for novels and "Non fiction" as your best "generic" categories
  • Tags: On this site tags MUST be single words so take this into account when making your tags
  • Don't forget to add your ISBN for the book that the chapter relates to - this ensures a picture of the cover is included and provides a quick link to the Goodreads page for that book

Again I've already covered the importance of an author's website elsewhere on this blog. But it bears repeating that having a books page with a sample chapter with each book is essential. I always recommend having a page where you have the "Blurb" from the back of the book and THEN a button for the sample chapter - so many people drop the readers right into the sample chapter and without context they are lost. Give them the same information that a reader in a store would have.


This is something that not many people have - but I think it is essential. This is a page that is "independent" of your website (i.e. you would not land on it as a part of your website but it contains everything you would ever want to know about your book in one spot. Again I'll go over this page in more details in a future post but suffice to say that the ability to access the sample chapter must be on this page.

For the pages that you have control over I highly recommend you post them in a .pdf format on 8 1/2" x 11" with ample spacing such that it looks like what it would look like if it were in book form but "blown up" to the larger page size. In other words make it look as much as possible like a real book but allow it to print nicely on their printer. Make sure that on every page you have the following: page number, author name, book title, URL to "All-in-one Book Page". They just might give it to a friend and then they will have all the information required to order their own copy.

When posting a "sample" it is not always necessary to choose the first chapter of the book. Although in most cases this will be the logical choice. When I first posted a sample chapter for "The Crown Conspiracy" I started getting some interesting feedback - people didn't like the characters and were being "turned off". As I mentioned these were not the "real characters" and so it was giving the book a wrong impression. So for that sample chapter I choose a lively piece near the beginning of the book that shows the main characters and the rapport between them.

While I'm not a huge Twilight fan I will admit that I was impressed with the sample chapter that Stephanie Meyers put in the first book. The reason is where she ended it. It definitely ended in a place where someone would want to rush right out to get the book to see what will happen next. Now it turns out that her Chapter 2 was a huge let down from the build up but the technique worked. So choose carefully where you end your sample even if you don't publish the whole thing. In Avempartha there are three sections in the first chapter. The first two are compelling and end with the main characters going off to find someone. The third section is really just them "finding" the person - not much really going on there so I ended the sample chapter for that book after the first two.

When posting sample chapters make it easy that anyone can find them no matter where they "find" your book. Use every avenue at your disposal. The disadvantages of Amazon and Google (can't select which pages you wish to showcase) is a sever limitation so be sure to use the other venues so you can pick "the perfect" pages for showcasing each book.

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