Protect Yourself: Sample ebooks before you buy!

I spend a lot of time writing and talking about electronic publishing. One of the issues that comes up from both writers and readers is this: With everyone publishing out there, how do I know what is good? (The author version of that question is, “With everyone publishing out there, how can I make my stuff stand out?”)

We all agree that we don’t want to have dissatisfied readers running across our stuff and complaining about it. In this day and age they’ll not just tell a friend that an author is bad, they’ll post their insightful and well-reasoned opinion to Facebook and Twitter, then they’ll go onto every retail site available and give the book a single-star review. The difficulty for writers is this. Let’s say someone downloads In Hero Years… I’m Dead because it sounds like it might be a sequel to a romance novel that they sort of remember reading, maybe, on the beach five years ago. So, they snag my book and *pow* they get hit right in the kisser with something they weren’t expecting. They’ll be upset and the second they get near a wifi connection, anyone they can find will know that my book—to use the technical term—sucks.

What prompts me to address this right now?

This morning we got a solicitation from an author to be a guest on Dragonpage Cover to Cover, the books and publishing podcast which I co-host. The author provided a blurb for the book, which I glanced over. In the first paragraph I noticed two grammatical errors and the incorrect use of a word. Not a good sign, but press releases aren’t always proofread closely. The blurb went on to describe the book’s plot which, from what little I read, was extremely implausible and kind of tired. Didn’t mean it wasn’t going to be a good book—I’ve had enough clunker blurbs on my own novels to know better than to judge books based on them—but if forced to make the buy/don’t buy decision on the blurb alone, I was definitely not going to part with money.

So, I went up to Amazon and requested a sample to be downloaded to my iPad. One button, all done, had the sample in about fifteen seconds.

And after about thirty more seconds, I was very pleased I saved my money. (Nope, not going to mention the author or the book or the publisher.) (And if you are the author or publisher and recognize yourself while reading this, please do not embarrass yourself by mounting a defense in the comments below.)

Why did that sample turn me off to buying the book?

1) The ebook’s formatting did not appeal to me. Granted, this is a matter of personal taste, but I prefer things like having a title page, and a copyright page, and the dedication and any acknowledgments all on their own pages. It doesn’t cost the book designer anything to do it that way, and makes the ebook look more like print books. It’s more organized and presentable.

2) I only got four pages into the text. What I found was a manuscript that was internally inconsistent in the way it was edited—which, for just four pages is quite a feat. I found multiple viewpoint characters through which I was supposed to see the action. I got info dumps. I got bad science, like postulating a vacuum within the vacuum of space. (That’s like saying there is water inside a larger body of water—technically correct, but meaningless. The way vacuum was used in that example was also counter to any laws of physics.) The text showed a complete lack of any research or understanding of the specific technology being discussed—compounding doubts I’d gotten from reading the blurb.


And that’s for a book that would have set me back $6.99!

So, readers, before you buy, get a sample. If you buy a book without obtaining and reading a sample, you have no one to blame but yourself.

Authors: provide samples. I have plenty of sample chapters of my work available here on my website. Sampling is the one tried-and-true way of attracting customers. It works for TV and movies, it works for restaurant sampling platters, beer flights, wine tastings and those sausage stores in the malls. Heck, go to any Costco and you see the power of sampling in action every day of the week!

Samples sell. Use them.

When you’re formatting your ebooks, do yourself a huge favor and remember to put a page of hotlinks to other books you’ve written in the front end of your ebook. Sure, print books tend to have them at the end, but print books don’t have a function where a reader can slice the first fifty pages off as a sample. If folks like what they read of your work, they can go to your catalogue page and hit the hotlinks to get more samples. It increases the chances that they’ll find something of yours they will buy.

The digital revolution in publishing is really great. We can get more material faster than ever before, no matter where we are, or the time of day. But we have to protect ourselves. I mean, if you’re willing to buy a book sight unseen, I have a friend who will sell you, very cheaply, a lifetime membership in the “I Hate Money” club.

Every membership comes with a free, randomly chosen download. (Trust me, you’ll get what you pay for.)


Writing up this series of blog posts is cutting into my fiction writing time. If you’re finding these posts useful, and haven’t yet gotten yet snagged my latest novels, please consider purchasing a book. Nice thing about the new age of publishing is that you become a Patron of the Arts, letting writers know what you’d like to see more of simply by voting with a credit card. (Authors charge less when they sell direct, so you save, we make more, and that frees us to write more.)

My latest paper novel, At The Queen’s Command, is available at book retailers everywhere.

In Hero Years... I'm Dead. A Digital Original novel.
My digital original novel, In Hero Years… I’m Dead is available for the Kindle and in the epub format for all the other readers, including the Nook, iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad. (Imagine the Batman, Watchmen and Kick-Ass movies all rolled into one, as written by Dashiell Hammett, and you’ve pretty much got the idea of the book. Oh, and with some satire and political commentary slipped in for irony.)

Seriously, sample these books, then buy!

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13 Responses to “Protect Yourself: Sample ebooks before you buy!”

  1. Fine examples of the power of sampling, but you left out the other big one:


    In any bookstore you can open up said title of interest and read as much or as little as you want before making your decision to buy or pass. You should, as a consumer, have that same power with a digital version of a book.

    True, this won’t be true of those strictly e-edition self-published or small press or POD titles that have no shelf copies, but the same premise should exist.

    A digital bookstore shelf should be much like a standard bookstore shelf. Only with the digital one you can’t leave you empty coffee cup there for a bookseller to clean up.

  2. I have found this series of posts quite useful, but unfortunately, at this point I own a copy of everything non-Battletech that you have out for sale, in one form or another (except for T:R, which I have in dead tree and ebook, and I Jedi, in paperback and hardcover).

    One question that you haven’t addressed: is there any chance that, as authors start heading towards self-publishing ebooks, they’ll also have a way to potentially get dead tree versions as well? I ask this not only for the smell and feel of books, and the hope of the durability of a hardcover version of everything but also, as an Orthodox Jew, who is worried that very soon there will be no newly published science fiction or fantasy available for reading on the sabbath. And that would be a very sad thing.

  3. Caveat emptor, man, caveat emptor.

    I never buy physical books unless I’ve already read something of the writer’s and liked it. The same principle applies to eBooks.

  4. Great post as always!
    I would love to follow your advice and try a sample of your new book At The Queen’s Command but your publisher geolocked it so I can’t sample or even buy it in ebook format. That is one of the reasons that I consider geolocks a incentive to piracy. When I see myself faced with either waiting 6 weeks to read a book (the usual time my local supplier takes to import a book) and paying considerably more for it or downloading a pirated version of it and donating it’s ebook price directly to the author(if the author makes such donations possible) the choice seems pretty obvious.

  5. The reason that At the Queen’s Command is geolocked is that my publisher only bought North American rights for it. They literally cannot sell it abroad.

    Clearly this presents a problem, and authors will have to address the issue of worldwide English language rights as separate from translation rights (which is the key source of territoriality right now).

    As it is, however, there are sample chapters (three of them) from the book right here on my website! Enjoy!

  6. Doing physical book editions—what I tend to refer to as “souvenir” editions—of books is very possible. There are a variety of routes, and some other authors are already exploring them. I’ve held back simply for a lack of time and a desire to make sure they’re really cool. Because I know a lot of folks in the gaming industry (which is really a book-printing industry) I have resources to explore on how to do this sort of thing well, when I get a break and get to dig into it.

  7. Wonderful post. I don’t download anything without reading a sample chapter first. I also I don’t buy a physical book without reading a few of the pages first.

    However, may I also suggest that the sample chapter of a book not be the first 15 pages, including 8 pages worth of title, publishing info, dedication, forward, ect…and then stop in the middle of the chapter, page, sometimes even sentence. That is not enticing. It’s infuriating and instantly turns me off of a book I may have otherwise enjoyed.

  8. Sampled At The Queen’s Command. I’ll buy it before the month is out.

  9. Authors don’t get to pick what our samples are from stores. This is why I prefer to put full chapters up on my website. Hopefully any reader who gets half a chapter will come to the website and find the real thing. 🙂

  10. After spending the past 2+ hours reading your blog, I wanted to sample your books but couldn’t figure out where they are stored on your site. I went to the store but if they are located there, I couldn’t find them. I remembered this post so came here, assuming there would be a link in the text. Other links I tried were “Works” and “Find Books”. Perhaps I saw a link to samples in the text of another post of yours but I have limited tolerance for chasing stuff down unless it is really important to me and since I’m no longer sure that I did see the link somewhere, I’m closing out this tab. I appreciate all of the posts you’ve made about digital publishing. I’ve enjoyed them greatly.

  11. If you scroll to the bottom of the web page and click on “fiction” in the tag cloud, you’ll hit sample chapters. You might need to week through a few more things in there, but all of the free samples will have the fiction tag.


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