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An author at a conference recently asked me for tips on publishing on the Kindle and then said that he didn't actually read books on digital devices.
When you publish a print book, don't you buy it immediately to test the process and the quality? So why not do the same for ebooks?
If you're going to digitally publish, I believe you should own an e-reader, even if just to test how your book looks. They aren't expensive anymore so there is no excuse.
It's also important to understand how ebook readers shop, because they are the high-volume readers, the ones who will make up the bulk of your digital sales.
How do ebook readers shop for books?
I read around 95% digitally, on a Kindle Paperwhite and through the Kindle app on my iPhone. I don't own every device but I certainly test the .mobi format on Kindle and the ePub format on my desktop reader and my iPad and iPhone. I am also a voracious reader, getting through 3-5 books per week, more on holidays. Not having a TV helps!
This is how I shop:
a) I hear about a book on twitter, or I see one at a physical bookstore, or see a review somewhere, or find something I like in the Amazon store Top rankings for categories I like. I surf for fun in the Last 30 Days area.
b) If the book is available as an ebook, I download the sample right away and put it into a collection marked Samples. If the book isn't available as an ebook, 99% of the time I won't buy it unless it is an author I am committed to. I have other Collections on my Kindle marked ‘To Read' which are books I have bought but haven't started yet, “Reading” for ones I am reading now and “Make Notes On / Review” for those I want to revisit to write notes on or review on Amazon & Goodreads.
c) In between books I am currently reading, I go through my samples. If I make it to the end of the sample, I will usually buy the book because I am hooked. If I don't, I delete the sample. No sale. I usually give a book 3 clicks of my Kindle before I delete it. Harsh, maybe, but life is too short to read books that don't call to you.
So your marketing efforts, your book cover, your book description and reviews have helped your book get this far, but it is the sample that leads me to buy. I probably delete 60-75% of my samples so I have a harsh approach, but I don't think I am an untypical example of a high volume ebook reader (although if you are one also, I'd love to know what you think in the comments!)
Make sure your sample makes the reader want to buy
Your book has to start with something that hooks the reader.
This isn't new advice – if you want an agent, the first page has to hook them, and readers of print in bookstores may browse the first page, but because there are so many ebooks available, readers are increasingly unforgiving if a book doesn't fit what they are looking for.
Here's some tips:
- Get into the meat as soon as possible. Put all the acknowledgements and extra stuff at the back, not within the sample. I was severely annoyed recently to download an Angela Carter anthology of short stories to find that the entire sample was an essay about her work and the stories didn't come until later. I looked for a better version.
- During the editing process, make sure you pay particular attention to what will hook the reader. If non-fiction, what is the problem you're solving. If fiction, why would the reader read on? What have you caught their attention with? What loops have you opened mentally that they must close?
- Make sure the formatting is excellent and easy to read throughout. I have deleted samples straight away when they start with coding errors. It denotes a lack of respect for the reader. This is why you need to test and curiously this has happened with more traditionally published books than indie. Seriously, one book was entirely formatted in Bold. Did no-one even check it? (Make sure this doesn't happen to you!)
- If non-fiction, DO include the table of contents. If fiction, your chapters don't really add anything so aren't so necessary.
What other suggestions do you have for improving samples? How do you shop for ebooks? Please leave your comments in the notes below.