Why I no longer trust kindle ebook samples

The BookDepository

In the last few years ebooks have taken off, rising 366% in the UK last year. One of the benefits of ebooks is the ability to try a sample before parting with your money. Unfortunately some authors seem to be making the most of this opportunity and I have noticed some changes in the content of fiction released recently.


10% Cliffhangers

Amazon allow a reader to try 10% of a book before deciding whether or not to buy the rest. This has led some authors to deliberately create an exciting scene, ending with a breath-taking cliffhanger, at the 10% cut-off. Readers desperate to find out what happens next are therefore more likely to buy the rest. I have seen several mentions of this on Twitter, but admit that I haven’t noticed it much myself. This is perhaps because it is more likely to occur in thrillers, a genre I don’t read that often.

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I can see why authors are tempted to do this. If you’d written a book and noticed that you had a suspenseful scene 15% of the way into your book, wouldn’t it be tempting to move it forward a bit in the hope it would encourage more people to buy it? Kindle samples are changing the structure of books and unless another major retailer comes into the market with a different sample cut off I can only see this sort of behaviour increasing.

Amazing First Chapters

One thing I have noticed is the increase in fantastic first chapters. Authors seem to be putting a disproportionate amount of effort into honing the beginning of their book and neglecting the rest. I find this really frustrating. It shows the quality the author is capable of producing; they tempt me with amazing writing and then fail to apply that same level of scrutiny to the rest of the book. I know authors have always put extra effort into the first line/page of their book, but now they seem to be extending this to the first 10% of the text and then, once the reader has purchased the rest, they fail to insert that magic spark to the other sections. This is such a shame as all pages of the book should be given the same level of attention. Authors shouldn’t be concentrating on a single purchase, they should ensure their entire book is as good as it can be. That way I’ll buy the next book they produce and recommend it to all my friends.

Once Burnt, Twice Shy

In the last few months I’ve lost count of the number of books I’ve had to abandon after the quality of the middle section failed to match that of the start. I am now deeply suspicious of any book that has a suspenseful scene just before the 10% threshold and in future will try a random page in the centre to judge the quality of the writing.

Have you noticed any recent changes in the way books are written?

Do you trust ebook samples?

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  1. vikzwrites says:

    I download samples. But, I don’t use them to decide whether or not I want to buy a book. By the time I’ve gone to the Amazon website, I’ve decided that I am going to buy the book at some stage. I download the sample to remind me to buy the book later on when I have fewer books to read. My samples are one way I use to form my TBR list

    1. Jackie says:

      vikzwrites, Yes I’ve done that too! I need to create a folder in my kindle for books I want to get out of the library at some stage in the future. At the moment my sample list is getting a little out of control!

        1. My sample list is way out of control so I’ve stopped downloading samples.

          Actually the best use of samples I’ve found is for the classics with introductions. That way you can download a free classic and read an intro from another version that you would have had to buy – if you see what I mean. :)

          1. Jackie says:

            Margaret, I hadn’t thought about reading the introductions from the classics – very cunning! I do like reading the free classics and actually downloaded a few yesterday. One of the big benefits of an ereader.

  2. Heather says:

    I’ve never taken advantage of the samples Amazon offers. By the time I’m heading to Amazon to download a book, I already have a specific book in mind and I’m usually 99% sure I’m going to enjoy it. It’s unfortunate and unnerving that authors seem to be tailoring their writing to the sample.

    1. Jackie says:

      Heather, I had been making increasing use of the Amazon sample feature – not always with a plan to buy the book, but often just to see the general writing style etc of a selection (eg. trying all the books on the Booker longlist). I find it very difficult to predict whether or not I’ll enjoy a book before starting it as the subject matter doesn’t seem to have much influence on my enjoyment. With me it is all down to writing quality/originality and the emotional power. Things that are often impossible to judge from the blurb. Wish I could have a 99% chance of enjoying a book I pick up!

  3. Neil Ansell says:

    I had not come across this phenomenon before as I am still stuck in my old habits of reading paper books that I have bought from bookshops or borrowed from a library, but it is very sad if this is the case. Writing should be from the heart; each book should be worked at until iti s the best you can possibly make it, not knocked out and engineered in such a way as to make a quick buck. In light of all the other recent revelations about logrolling and fake reviews it paints a depressing picture where the simple motive of self-expression and a desire to create something of lasting value seem to have been forgotten.

    1. Jackie says:

      Neil, I agree with you completely. So many authors seem obsessed with getting their books to the top of the charts and whilst that must be a nice added bonu,s it shouldn’t be the sole aim. New websites/forums seem to be springing up each day, each with new advice for authors about the best way to write a book. Such a shame as it breeds a shelf of clones and the best books are always unique.

      1. Neil Ansell says:

        Jackie, perhaps it is in some ways a failing on my part that I can’t write to the market more, but it feels almost as though I have little control over what I need to write. I had a lucky break in that my first book seemed to fit into the zeitgeist a little, and was snapped up by one of the big 6 publishers. My new work was deemed too much of a challenge for them, but fortunately I have found a small press with an adventurous spirit who seem happy to take a chance on just about naything I do! Obviosuly it’s nice to make a little money from writing (it’s my only income) but if I wanted to compromise myself to earn a living I would have chosen banking rather than writing.

        1. Jackie says:

          Neil, I don’t think writing for the market is a good idea. By the time you’ve finished a book that is any good the market will have moved on. All the best books are written from the heart, without following market trends. I think you are doing the right thing.

  4. Biblibio says:

    Though I tend not to read samples, it never occurred to me that authors might try to write better opening chapters than the middle. I’m a little skeptical that this is related to eBooks, exactly, and maybe more related to the fact that a lot of books are simply not very good. I don’t think it’s anything new. Authors have always worked hard to have good hooks – a lot of readers still sample the first chapter or pages of a book before buying it (whether in physical or eBook format).

    1. Jackie says:

      Biblibio, I agree that a lot of books aren’t very good! I’m sure that authors have always honed the beginning of their books, but it does seem they are now focusing specifically on that 10% mark. Perhaps once I became aware of the growing pressure on authors to make the most of this I started looking for it, and therefore noticed it. Perhaps it was always there?

  5. Jenny says:

    Oo, weird! I didn’t know about this ebook samples business! The Nook doesn’t, I don’t think (?), have that same policy, and it’s not the kind of thing I would be likely to notice on my own.

    I read this article recently about how ebooks were able to track reader behavior, which was fascinating! They can track how readers interact with a book and report it back to publishers — like if most readers stop reading after a certain point, they can tell publishers when the book lost its readers. I do not want to be tracked in this way, but I rather love the idea of gathering Reading Data. Because I am a Data geek. :p

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenny, A couple of months ago I wrote a post about publishers tracking reader behaviour: http://www.farmlanebooks.co.uk/2012/the-blurb-of-the-future/
      so it might actually be my post you’re referring to. I’m a bit of a data geek too, but it does worry me a little bit that authors will change their books to suit the majority rather than most literary merit. I’m interesting to see how things develop and change.

  6. Ifi says:

    OMG, I had never even given this a thought!!! I don’t know what to think now.

    As I am still a fan of paper, I actually only started using my iPad as a reader about 10 months ago; and downloading samples a few months back. This, as a means of adding books to my TBR pile AND reading snippets. Although as both Vikzwrites and Heather mentioned, I’ve usually already made up my mind by then whether or not to buy the book. Yet, I love this tool !

    I don’t think reading a fantastic first 10% of a book, and finding the rest doesn’t match up would make me contemplate the idea that there might be some sales scam involved (funnily enough, this would usually be very much in line with my way of thinking). Back in the “olden days” when we didn’t have the luxury of Amazon reviews, let alone sample downloads, we read books based on the blurb and hoped for the best. I still sometimes pay attention to recommendations from friends, but less and less so since I discovered the world of book blogs. Now, thanks to my favorite book blogger, who has eerily similar tastes to mine, more than half my home work has usually been done for me.

    1. Jackie says:

      Ifi, I actually read very little on my kindle – almost all I read is the sample which I then use to decide whether or not to buy/borrow the book. I’ll probably just revert to the “olden days” LOL! where I just dive straight in; on top of following recommendations from my fellow bloggers.

      PS Thanks again for the kind words. Glad I’m able to do your homework for you :-)

  7. Jenners says:

    Wow … I never imagined this. I can’t say I actually use the samples … my husband does but I didn’t realize it was 10% of a book. It would take a lot of thought to work the system like this. It seems like a real author wouldn’t do this. And is it for ALL books? I can’t imagine the entire universe of writers pulling this off. Still, I’m sorry for your recent bad experiences.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenners, No it isn’t for all books. It seems to be an idea spread around by new authors (all the times I think I’ve spotted it it has been debut authors) It isn’t a big think yet, just a worrying trend. :-(

  8. Interesting, I never take advantage of Kindle previews. If several bloggers rave about a book that seems like it appeals to be that is a good enough testament…for a purchase.

    1. Jackie says:

      Diane, Agree. The word of several book bloggers is enough for me to ignore everything else :-)

  9. Caroline says:

    I didn’t know this at all. It’s somehow tragic and hilarious.
    I’ve never downloaded a sample so far. I make up my mind fter the first page and after what you wrote I think it’s just as well.

    1. Jackie says:

      Caroline, Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best!

  10. Charlie says:

    I don’t buy ebooks, but I did plan to start viewing the samples when looking for print books. I have to agree with your thoughts on this issue, lots of cliffhangers at the same point sounds incredibly off-putting. I wonder how it effects the book as a whole, beyond the lazy writing you describe. I might leave off trusting them now if this is the case, which is a pity because with the paid-for reviews issue, it leaves one more avenue closed.

    1. Jackie says:

      Charlie, Don’t avoid all samples – just be aware of the potential problems. At the moment it is still a small issue, just something to keep an eye out for.

  11. I never bother with e-book samplers, or other sample chapters. I tend to look at a few pages between p60-70 and if that’s readable and the book sounds attractive, that’s enough for me.

    1. Jackie says:

      Annabel, I worry I might see a spoiler if I read a page further into the book. There is no easy solution to this problem :-(

  12. Alyce says:

    I haven’t used ebook samples, but then the only ebooks I generally read are from Netgalley, so I’m getting the whole book anyway. Okay, now I have to backtrack, I read the BEA ebook promo that had first chapters of many books in it. I was surprised that one of the books in there had excerpts from various sections in the book, instead of just excerpting the first chapter. It helped to give a better sense of the book, but gave me a surprise when I actually sat down to read the whole book.

    I hadn’t given any thought to the issue of the first 10% getting more attention and effort than the rest of the book, but I would have assumed that the first chapter would get more attention/effort anyway in order to draw readers in and convince them to buy the book in any format. Leading with a cliffhanger right at the 10% mark seems a bit Machiavellian though.

    1. Jackie says:

      Alyce, The BEA extracts thing sounds like a great idea. Although I’d worry that would focus on the very best scenes from a book too (a bit like a film trailer that shows you all the good bits)

      I still haven’t tried Netgalley – I have so many books here already that it seems a bit mad to add any more to my list. Perhaps I’ll give it a try one day.

  13. Shan says:

    I didn’t even realize that you can download a sample of the book first. All I have downloaded from Kindle are free e-books that look interesting. I’m hesitant to spend my money on e-books given how much self-publishing/lack of editing is out there.

    Because I can’t afford to buy every book I want to read, I spend my money on authors I enjoy or who I know need the support (for example I’m a fan of Urban Christian Fiction which is a small genre. I try to buy as many of those books as I can rather than borrowing from the library because I know how much sales counts for the authors.) I would hate to spend my money on e-book and find it has the problems you mentioned, which is why I only try those sort of books when I’ve seen great reviews from many book bloggers (and I still get burned that way sometimes.)

    It’s a tough business being a writer so I can see why some new authors would try tactics like this to get their book noticed. It’s a shame because it puts a stigma on new authors/self-published books.

    1. Jackie says:

      Shan, Spending money on authors you want to support is a wonderful idea. Most of my money seems to go on debut authors as I get the bigger names from the library. I should perhaps spend more money on the authors I know and love, but I don’t like keeping books once I’ve read them…hmm…difficult choices.

  14. Chinoiseries says:

    I don’t own a Kindle, but a Kobo, but there are options to read samples as well. I have to admit that I don’t ever do though, because I usually either trust a blogging friend’s opinion, GR ratings and er, instinct? :)

    But yeah, I can see how demoralising it can be to purchase a book because you assume it’ll be as good as the first “10%” and be let down terribly.

    1. Jackie says:

      Chinoiseries, Book bloggers are my main source of recommendation, but I also try a lot of new fiction. I do like to head off into the unknown and discover things that others may miss. It is this treasure hunting that leads to my disappointments. I’d hate to give it up, but it is frustrating some times.

  15. Marty says:

    As a writer, I think it highly unlikely that a anyone capable of producing a full novel, would torpedo their tome by giving it less than their best effort throughout. If I might be so bold, what you suggest seems highly unlikely.

    What does seem likely is that some indie writers, capable of writing well in short runs, find themselves unable to carry it through a longer work. A short story, no problem. Compact, condensed, and able to carry the reader along on wild but brief ride. The novel is it’s own art form, though, and some who rush to publish, are simply not prepared to pull it off.

    While this response may be worthy of a book in itself – or perhaps a short article – suffice it to say that it makes little sense for a writer to deliberately tone down the quality for the sake of quantity. Intuitively, it just sounds irrational.

    1. Jackie says:

      Marty, I agree with many of the points you make, but I’m not suggesting authors are deliberately writing poor books. What seems to be happening is that they are writing average books and then putting loads of extra effort into honing that first chapter to perfection. I read loads of books and am looking for something extra special. I don’t want to read average books so am therefore disappointed when I read amazing first chapters and then discover the rest of the book is only average. I’d love to see some sort of statistics about how long authors spend working on each section of their book, but I’m willing to bet that a large percentage of their time is spent on the beginning.

      I agree that the best authors will not be bowing to the pressures of kindle samples, but try googling a few writer forums and you’ll find lots of posts about making the most of that 10% cut off point. Unfortunately it is happening, maybe more in the world of indie writers, but I’m sure it is creeping further into the real world of publishing than some might admit.

  16. I can very easily see how this can be specific to ebooks on Kindle, but also anywhere that a ‘teaser’ is offered to entice a reader to buy. And you are correct (where you mentioned it somewhere in the comment stream) that authors should want to entice life-long (or career-long at least) readers and not focus on making that first sale.

    However, if an author is trying to compete in a marketplace where teasers are part of the game, it only makes sense to time your cliffhanger to happen where the excerpt ends. Every other author with a survival sense will be doing the same. The ones with true survival skills, though, will have books that follow through.

    The problem is as you’ve noticed, so many are not holding up their end of the promise when the rest of the book is read.

    That’s what I like about real books – I always poked around in books before I bought them to read a page here and a page there to see if the prose held up throughout. Now every purchase of a new author or new-to-me author is blind and I don’t particularly like that.

  17. Tom Cunliffe says:

    Good point, but I can’t say it’s something I’ve noticed. The most frustrating thing is when the first 10% is taken up with a lengthy introduction and you never get to the body of the book. More a problem with non-fiction perhaps, but still frustrating


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