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Sample size

Discussion in 'Marketing' started by Benjamin Clayborne, Oct 20, 2011.

  1. I'm curious what thoughts people have on how long a sample should be when publishing electronically, e.g. on the Kindle store. Imagine a book in that's 30 chapters. If the sample is 1 chapter, that seems totally reasonable, right? Try the first chapter, if you want to keep reading, go for it. The rest of the book is $3.99.

    What if the sample is now 3 chapters? Might hook you longer, maybe make the reader more likely to buy the story, assuming it's good enough to hold your attention. The rest of the book is still $3.99.

    What if the sample is 15 chapters? Half the book? That seems kind of weird, but look at it from a cost-benefit POV: as a reader, you get half a book for free! Of course, the other half still costs the same: $3.99.

    Now let's up the sample to 25 chapters, the first 5/6 of the book. Oddly enough, even though the full book still costs $3.99, I think most readers would perceive this to be extortion: If you want to know how it ends, cough up the dough!

    I'm trying to figure out how much of my novel I'm going to put into the sample. Maybe the first 5 chapters, since that introduces all the main characters (plus prologue). Or maybe just the first 3 chapters (prologue + 2). I would think that since the purpose of a sample is to get the user hooked, you'd want to have it be long enough to get the user attached to the characters, and end on a cliffhanger, but not so long that it feels strange, as above.

  2. Elder the Dwarf

    Elder the Dwarf Maester

    No experience with publishing myself, but I would think one to three chapters would be a good size. Of course, if you weren't familiar with the author/series, it would probably be nice to have a 5 chapter preview, so that sounds like a pretty good idea. Don't go on my opinion though, so far I'm just a consumer.
  3. Linqy

    Linqy Scribe

    I agree with Dwarf. One chapter usually isn't enough to get me pulled into a story all the way. Somewhere between the third and fifth chapter I'm usually dragged in completely (if it's a good book). And after that I'd be willing to pay the fee to get the rest.

    As you say, 25 is definitely a bad idea, I'd drop that right away (Extortion, definitely). I'd not go for just 1 chapter, if that chapter is not broad enough for a certain audience you might miss a lot of sales. Three chapters is usually enough to grab everyones attention and maximize your sales. I personally would set the max at 5 chapters.
  4. mythique890

    mythique890 Sage

    I'm in or out by the end of the first chapter. Usually by the end of the second or third page, really. But if the author had three chapters up and I was still reading at the end of them, it would be a must buy situation.
  5. Kelise

    Kelise Maester

    Three chapters is perfect, I think. And what I see most often.
  6. The Kindle sample size is actually a factor of a percentage of *file* size, not pages. So putting a high resolution image in the front of the book decreases sample size. If your cover image is a blank grey screen with the title in text on it, the sample size will be longer. Add the first chapter of a few other novels to the end of your book, and the sample size will expand because it is still a percentage of the overall book size.

    Have not tested yet, but I believe if you put the cover image at the END of the book as well as the beginning, you increase your sample size because you've balanced out the weight the cover had.

    Smashwords lets you adjust your sample percentage up to very high levels, but Kindle is locked at a max of 25% of the file, if I recall right.
  7. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Maester

    In most cases you can't decide where to stop the sampling (except for smashwords as Kevin noted above). You should always have a sample downloadable from your website and since you can control the length there I sugggest you make the "stopping point" at a compelling point...In other words where the reader "must know" what comes next. It's a teaser after all and meant to get people to buy the book.

    But the idea of sampling brings up a more important point - which is today, most people will "try before they buy" so it is important that your story starts with a compelling scene. Too often I see authors (especially fantasy authors) using the first paragraph or even first several pages to establish a setting and that (IMHO) is not nearly as compelling as some nice juicy plot driven opening. A great opening to a story is like offering a nice bit of candy. People taste it, like it, and hope for more.
  8. I wonder whether this is actually true, or if it's a correlated effect? Er, let me clarify that:

    Imagine two books, A and B, which both open with a chapter that does not really advance the story much, just establishes setting and the main character. A is extremely well-written, while B is tedious and infodumpy. A will probably hook a lot more people than B.

    Now consider books C and D, which both open with a chapter that is a "juicy plot driven opening." C is extremely well-written, and D is obvious and lame. C will probably hook a lot more people than D.

    The question is, will C hook more people than A? (Imagine that C and A are written by the same person.) Is it that "plot-driven" openings inherently hook people more than "establish a setting" openings, or is it that authors who write good, hook-y openings tend to choose plot-driven over establish-setting?

    I started reading Neal Stephenson's latest ("Reamde", no that's not a typo), and the first many pages (no idea how many pages, I'm reading it on Kindle, so it's like... the first 300-400 locations, or several thousand words) are basically lots of exposition and backstory about the main character. But I was hooked almost right away, because Stephenson is such a fluid writer. In fact, now I'm about 1000 locations into the book and there still have been no actual plot developments, but the whole thing is fascinating. (I know not everyone likes that, but I've read books where nothing happened for dozens of pages and it felt like a slog to get through it.)
  9. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Maester

    There is no question that "personal tastes" comes into play and authors that are well established can get away with things that newer or lesser known authors can't. If you wish to be published by the traditional route you have only a few paragraphs to get an acquisition editor interested. The "quality" of your writing is certainly one thing they are looking for...engagement is the other. It would appear you were "engaged" in the exposition but for me it is the quickest way to get me to "move on".
  10. I wasn't really thinking in the context of getting an editor interested, but rather a reader. Editors look for things readers don't: "Will this sell?" is a different question from "Am I enjoying this?" If one is willing to avoid the traditional publishers entirely (which is now possible), one doesn't have to write with editors in mind.

    I'm not saying I favor starting off with lots of exposition; in fact I prefer to quietly meld exposition and action together continuously. A bit of exposition here and there as the action is happening, and it builds up to something over time.
  11. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Maester

    I totally agree about being able to not worry about "will this sell". In fact when I was writing The Riyria Revelations I was focusing on making a book I would like irregardless of publishers or readers.
  12. Yup, agreed. And even if you ARE looking at trade publishers - you still have the indie option.

    So if you write the book, and it doesn't sell to a major house, you self publish it. It still gets out there, still sells. Heck, if you've got a major NYC house backing your name on some books, and are indie publishing others, it's the best of both worlds in some ways.

    It also means that you have the freedom to walk away from a bad contract with a publisher - and the publishers know this. If you demonstrate that you're perfectly willing to publish this book with or without them, they lose the leverage of being the only way to get your book to readers. I imagine that would make the contract negotiating table much more interesting than it once was.

    Writers now know they can publish *everything* they write. If a publisher wants it, great. If not, it's still going to earn money. None of it is wasted time, now.
  13. Ditto. I just can't bring myself to write something I don't enjoy. I've got a day job I like, which means I can afford to write stories that I would want to read, and if they don't sell? Oh well.
  14. This is part of what really drove me to commit to writing (this time around): knowing that I would no longer be at the mercy of a small cadre of professionals. It's an exciting time to be a writer. :)
    C. L. Larson likes this.
  15. SeverinR

    SeverinR Vala

    You mean (self)e-publish don't you rather then self publish?
    Self publish means the author is out alot of money(to print a book) if it doesn't sell, e-published means it is a very tiny waste of webspace if it doesn't sell.
  16. Dreamhand

    Dreamhand Troubadour

    Not at all Severin... Between Lulu, LightningSource, CreateSpace, and other print-on-demand services, authors can be listed on Amazon and not be out more than a set up fee. The on-demand aspect of publication has turned the old school paradigm of "huge financial investment upfront" on it's ear.

    Of course, it's been replaced with "huge amount of marketing and promotion effort up front", but I think most of us are willing to burn some sweat if it means saving some money AND seeing our name on the spine of a book.

    Benjamin, have you considered writing a short story as a teaser to your novel and releasing that for free? I mention this because:

    * A short story is quicker paced, tighter, with more bang for the buck
    * You can establish some foundational elements and characters in the story, laying the groundwork for the larger tale
    * You can give the reader a sample of how you "finish" as well as how you "begin" your stories. I would imagine that might be a strong selling point as well.

    Michael is doing this with "Viscount and the Witch", right, Michael? It seems to be an excellent way to showcase writing, story, character and setting in a compact, high-impact delivery tool.

    EDIT: OOO! Or have you considered podcasting your novel? This is a fabulous way to build readership... it's a proven model for attracting critical and fan-based attention. (I even happen to know a talented actor type with an awesome voice and a modest recording studio who'd be willing to lend a hand) ;) Food for thought!
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2011
  17. I hadn't considered writing a short story as a teaser. I'm not sure it would work without rewriting the novel; the main characters are pretty ordinary folks until the novel begins. There's a little interesting backstory for a couple of them, but it's revealed during the novel. It's not a bad idea in general, I just don't know if it would work for this novel. And I have no problem with releasing a large chunk of the book as a sample, or even with releasing the whole thing for free for a few weeks (KDP, PubIt, iTunes) to get people interested, before making it cost money (probably $3.99, I'm thinking). It's ~160k words and will probably be a good 10-20k less by the time I finish editing, so it's not a short novel, about half as long as Game of Thrones (~293k words).

    The podcasting idea could be interesting; do you mean basically making my own "book on tape"? (Or, er, MP3?) And then releasing it serially somehow (I have a blog which I update occasionally, I suppose it could be released there? I'm a web developer by day, making my own custom site for releasing such would be easy for me)? I'm not averse to the idea, I just don't know if it'd be a great place to start... but maybe. I would think that my primary problem would be making people aware of the content, not having content worth consuming. (I'm fairly -- perhaps too? ;-) -- confident that my novel will be worth reading.)

    But, if people are more likely to listen to a (freely released? I have no problem with that, as a loss leader) podcast than they are to read an e-book, then it might be worth it. Certainly can't hurt to have multiple methods available to get people into the work. I don't know if I want to jump in that heavily right off the bat, though. This is my first novel; my plan right now is to finish the novel to my satisfaction, get cover art painted and the world map done up well (I have zero graphic arts talent), and have at least one professional eye go over the novel (I know someone who does freelance fantasy fiction editing), and then release it. Once it's actually out there, I'm definitely interested in figuring out all the various marketing avenues I can undertake.

    My main concern there is that right now, I have just barely enough time in the day to write, which means I pretty much need to be done with the novel before I can seriously deal with marketing, otherwise the time spent marketing gets in the way of the time spend writing. Bleh. So much to absorb, it feels colossal right now. I know from experience that complicated things eventually seem easy. I remember the first time I built a website, it was terrifying. Now I build web apps in my sleep. ;-)
  18. Dreamhand

    Dreamhand Troubadour

    Don't get me wrong, Ben... I think sending out the first three chapters is a fabulous idea, especially if they have the major hook of the story and are a good showcase of your talents (have you posted them in the Showcase, by any chance? I'd love to read them). The suggestion of a short story as a free lead-in/teaser was purely an alternative.

    And the story wouldn't have to be about your primary protagonists. I'm assuming, for your description that your protagonists stumble into something that is "in progress"... a plot, a curse, something that they fall into and either muck up or are the best hope for a solution. If that's the case, then the short story could be about THAT twist in the plot (which has its own merit in terms of giving the reader information that your characters wouldn't have, at least in the beginning of the novel).

    Yes, the podcast would be basically books on tape, but I have heard authors use other voices for some of the main characters. A little music, the odd sound effect here and there and voila... a respectable serialized episodic podcast novel! And between your web site, iTunes, podiobooks.com and other venues, there would be ample opportunities for distribution. Follow that up with some social media and a few review requests from the podcasting community and you have a bit of "buzz" on your side (plus it makes a VERY inexpensive Christmas Gift.) (Not that it would be ready by THIS Christmas... but still... you get the idea).

    Your plan sounds extremely reasonable... as you say, this is your first novel and life is already moving fast. I mostly offer the idea as something to consider, possibly for the future, possibly as a "rekindler of interest" for when you're ready to release the sequel ;)
  19. Self publishing just means the author is also the publisher. Many (most?) self publishers today do ebook only, because the cost is so much lower. But getting a print version of a novel set up costs me about $65. It's really not breaking the bank. ;) Now, I have the advantage of having had professional print layout experience, so I do my own book design and create my own book interior PDFs - bu worst case, if you're lacking those skills it'll cost you $200-300 for most novels to get the job done by someone.

    DON'T confuse self publishing with using the scam-the-writer "deals" out there that charge hundreds, even thousands up front, publish the book for you, then keep 50-90% of the profits. That's not self publishing (by definition, since they are publishing the book, not you). It's a scam, pure and simple.

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