Giving It Away – How Previews May Help You Sell

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.

Deciding to Buy

If I have never heard of a writer before, and I’m in a bookstore, three things that make me 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 inspect 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).

Preview to seal the deal

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.

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6 thoughts on “Giving It Away – How Previews May Help You Sell”

  1. Heather Anderson

    Hi Nick,
    I found your thoughts interesting and I agree with you it makes sense to have a taste of the goods before you buy. I wondered what are your or anyone else’s thoughts on exposing children’s picture books in this way?
    I have written and illustrated a number of childrens books for 4-7 year olds. I’m actively looking for a publisher, but as we all know its a challenging process. I did self publish one book a few years ago, but getting it seen was tough, so I have held back on self publishing this new series. If I do, each book is 28pp. My concern is that to show a whole picture book online may result in no sales, as nowdays so many people are comfortable with downloads. To show only a few spreads may not be as impactful as reading say, a chapter from a novel.
    I’d be interested to hear what anyone thinks, and if anyone has offered previews of their children’s books?

  2. G D Stanford CCIM

    Great Info! I got a wealth of information from this relatively short blog and I appreciate your willingness to share this!

  3. Theresa Ratekin

    I am new to the publishing world and that was a great blog regarding previews. I think it is great how we can all learn from each other. I need to work on the summaries of my drafts. I only published a photography book and a calendar to start but I am researching on a couple of books I am working on and this really helps.
    Thanks for the info.
    Theresa 🙂

  4. Pingback: Lulu Blog » Tips & Tricks: Book Previews - Entice your Reader without Even Trying

  5. I am not sure I agree with the idea of letting people preview my book. For instance, many people in this economy may just read it online and not purchase it. I would rather go with a publisher and suffer the long hard road.

  6. Pingback: From the Vault: How Previews May Help You Sell | Lulu Blog

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