I tend to come across a lot of material on the site because of my job. Sometimes, it’s because I’m looking for something to buy, other times I am checking out whether it’s in violation of our membership agreement, and still others I am looking for content to highlight. Regardless of the reason, I am often surprised by how much of it lacks a preview. According to Chris Anderson, author of the “Long Tail”, on average, 500 copies of a book are sold per year. For a self-published author, selling 500 copies in a year is considered a huge success, but how do you get 500 people to buy your book when most of them haven’t ever heard of you? The simple answer is to let them read it.
If I have never heard of a writer before, and I’m in a bookstore, three things that make me decide to take a chance on a book. First, does the summary grab me? If a book has a good description and it sounds interesting, I will take a closer look at it. I can’t tell you how many books I come across with descriptions that don’t tell me enough about what it’s about, because it’s a lot. So, that’s step 1, think about your description, and try to tell people what your book (or CD or whatever) is about, and why they should give it a shot. Show it to people you trust to give you constructive criticism, and get their advice. Remember, if you don’t draw people in, they probably won’t take a risk and pay for your book.
The second thing I look for is who is recommending the book to me. If I see an author I recognize (and like) telling me they like the book, then I am more likely to pick it up. Since self-published authors can’t always get someone well known in their genre of choice to recommend their book, it helps to have people who are willing to give thoughtful and honest reviews of your work regardless. If it looks like your mom is the only person who reviewed it and loved it, I hate to say it, but I’m probably not going to buy it (unless your mother is Haven Kimmel or another woman whose writing I enjoy).
The final thing that will convince me to purchase a copy of a book I’ve never heard of before is being able to read the book, or at least part of it. I cannot stress how important this is. Barnes & Noble will let me sit in their cafe, read a book while drinking some Starbucks and never blink. They do this because they know that A) I will buy their overpriced snacks (and I will), and B) because they know I am more likely to buy something if I can read some of it first. They also know, I am unlikely to read an entire book in the store and then put it back on the shelf. So, they let me sit down, get comfortable and read, hoping I will like what it and buy it. The same thing applies to selling books, cds, and anything else online. People are unlikely to read an entire book online, and even if they do, if they like the book, they are probably willing to pay $15 to own a copy. On the other hand, if you don’t have a preview, no one knows how good your book is, and they aren’t as likely to give it a try.
This is why we advocate offering a preview. You don’t have to put the whole book or album up for people to read/listen to, just put up what you are comfortable with, and you think will help convince strangers and loved ones that they want to read, and/or listen to the whole thing. I can’t guarantee that you’ll sell 500 copies, but I can guarantee you’re more likely to sell copies if you let people try it first.