From the Vault: How Previews May Help You Sell

Picture 10A while back, I explained why previews and reviews are crucial to sales. Seeing as more and more people are publishing every day, I thought it would be helpful to share this post again. Please enjoy this post “From the Vault.”

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 for content to highlight. Regardless of the reason, I am often surprised by how many books lack 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, three things help 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 the book is about. So, that’s step 1 – think about your description and try to tell people what your book (or CD or whatever) is about, 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 chance on your book.

The second thing I look at 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 your book loved it, I’m probably not going to purchase a copy (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) 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 the book 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 work is and they aren’t as likely to give it a try.

This is why I 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 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 you’re more likely to sell copies if you let people try it first.

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3 Comments

  1. Nice post. It is indeed difficult to sway people to read your work.

    One tip that I’ll add to this list is that it may be worth looking into giving the PDF away for free.

    Some people may think this is a bit crazy, but chances are people aren’t going to pay for a download. From what I have seen, people prefer a physical copy. When a download is free though, you can’t really beat it, and people are more inclined to download and read. They may not even read it all, and use it as a larger preview. If people are not purchasing a digital copy in the first place, then there is no real loss of sale.

    At least if a download is free, people may read your work, enjoy it, and then may be interested in paying for a physical copy and/or pay for the next work.

    I’ve done this for my first book, and I’ve seen a lot of downloads because of it. This means, in theory, people are reading my work, which can only be a good thing.

  2. Great ideas Nick, thank you. While I would love to get my book into Barnes and Noble, my local store said that they don’t stock items from self published authors(they cited the return policy). Same thing with Borders. I’ll keep trying though.
    Nancy Anderson

  3. The book preview becomes even more important when it comes to e-books.
    At least the 20 or 30 first pages should become available on the e-bookstores or blogs.
    It will make readers bond with the plot and become eager to finish their reading.

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