Ebook Sample Chapters: Best Idea Ever

Growing up, I loved game demos and shareware.  There was something sublime about the variety of choice one had with free partial games.  If I wanted to play DOOM, I could.  A level of Jumping Flash? Why not?  I could even play multiplayer Twisted Metal and wash it down with some Warhawk or the entry campaign in Wolfenstein 3D.

Jampack Demo Disc The best part was, though, because I grew up kind of poor, these games and their variety often came at little to no charge.  For the price of a single rental or a slight download on our newly acquired dial-up internet, I had hours and hours of fun at my fingertips and never got bored with it.

And if I really loved a game and played the heck out of it, I could always go buy/rent/borrow the full version to placate myself.

It really was the perfect gaming platform, but it wasn’t until the Playstation that it really proliferated.  Why, you ask?  Economics.  Cartridges were too expensive to manufacture for demo purposes, but CDs cost pennies.  It was also about that time that the internet became more available to the public, so shareware and demos could and did spread like wildfire.

My other favorite hobby, reading, has only recently begun to delve into making use of new technology, but now that it has, my love of demoing unknown software has bled into it, too.

Amazon Kindle Reader Really, before Amazon’s Kindle and the ebook boom, there was no good way to try a book before you bought it.  Sure, there are public libraries and standing in the aisle of the bookstore, but it’s really hard for an avid reader to get a good feel for what a book really is unless he or she can really settle in with it.

Enter the 21st century, revolutionizer of books and reading.  There are effectively three ways for authors to get samples of books in readers hands:

  1. Sample chapters for ebook readers. Amazon did a great thing with the Kindle: it started offering free samples—up to 4 chapters, sometimes—of any book in their digital library.  This is very much a “try before you buy” scenario, in that readers are allowed to download the samples and demo them at their leisure on whatever handheld ereader they choose.  There is no need for a browser or special software to read, and it also accounts for those people who wish to not read and deal with glare on their computer monitors that often results in PDF and HTML samples.
  2. Free is good. Economically, ebook samples are awesome.  If I’m down on my luck and need a few somethings to read, I don’t have to make a special trip to the library; I can just download some sample chapters and read anything I want—for free.  Free editions get people to buy more from an author/company far better than even a public library can:  There are no more large volumes to heft around on a maybe.  If I like the book, I can hit “purchase” and own it immediately or keep the sample for when I can afford to.  If I don’t, then, I can delete it off my device and go about my business.  In addition to samples, many publishers/authors include the first novel in a series as a free ebook download—Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb is an example—to hook readers and all but force them to buy the next installments because they are already engrossed.
  3. Bloggity Blogs! John Scalzi did with it with The God Engines: post a free first chapter on the author’s blog to stir up interest in the hardcover release.  This tactic is especially effective if there is no ebook being released simultaneously with the print version, which would mean no sample chapters are readily available for consumers to peruse. It’s not quite the promotion that free downloadable ebooks/samples are, but it gets the reader tossed into a community based around the work.

Kindle ScreensaverI’m currently reading a book I found based on a free sample: World of Warcraft: Arthas, Rise of the Lich King.  I had avoided it for a long time based on my previous burnout with franchise fiction and the complete travesty that Richard A. Knaack’s Warcraft novels had been in the past.  But I went to Amazon, found the excerpt from Chapter 4, and sat and read it while my wife was in Anne Taylor.  It wasn’t half bad, so I downloaded the full novel and have been very much enjoying it’s not-quite-literary fluffiness.  I had passed Arthas over in the past because of my dislike of other books based on the franchise.  If not for ebook samples, I’d have missed a fast, fun read.

So, if you haven’t bought in to the ebook phenomenon just yet, then I highly suggest you give it a shot by demoing a few samples here and there and seeing if the format tickles your fancy, and if you’re already a fan of ebooks and are not readily sampling various authors and new reads, I ask you “why not?” Really, no cost and no risk?  What do you have to lose?

By B.J. Keeton

B.J. KEETON is a writer, teacher, and runner. When he isn't trying to think of a way to trick Fox into putting Firefly back on the air, he is either writing science fiction, watching an obscene amount of genre television, or looking for new ways to integrate fitness into his geektastic lifestyle. He is also the author of BIRTHRIGHT and co-author of NIMBUS. Both books are available for Amazon Kindle.


  1. That’s definitely a good idea. How many books have been put down because someone had bad experiences with a recommended author before?

    This idea should be extended to MMOs, not all offer free trials, which is a shame.

    1. I agree. I *always* try a sample or excerpt now.

      Totally with you on MMOs. I //need// a Fallen Earth trial that’s readily available. And I would love it if they all took it one step further and adopted WAR’s endless trial system. Being able to get on WAR for some scenarios in Tier 1 (the most fun Tier of RvR I was able to experience; I never made it to Tier 4) is an awesome deal. More MMOs need to realize this kind of model adds to their subscriber numbers rather than detracts. If I love something, I’ll pay for it. But I won’t pay without knowing about it first.

    1. You can get Kindle software for your PC or iPhone, if you want. It’s not that bad to read on, either, honestly. Give it a shot.

      Also, I’m feeling you with the Arthas thing. I had avoided the book because it sounded terrible, but I really do enjoy it so far. Maybe it’s just my mood lately. Who knows?

  2. Is it bad that the thing I noticed about the graphic there is the weird sweater the user’s wearing? Either that’s a wonky Photoshop hack job, or a sweater cuff with a thumb hole. Odd…

    As to the topic, though, I loved those Jampack discs. I love trial versions of games. I only give money to MMOs that let me play first for free to see if I like them. I downloaded a half dozen game demos just last week… not that I’ll ever get to them, though.

    “Try before you buy” isn’t always the best for a given product, but it really is a smart marketing strategy where appropriate.
    .-= Tesh´s last blog ..Allod of Acrophobia =-.

    1. Try before you buy can make some people not buy it; that’s true. But for every person who doesn’t buy it, the demo might sell it to three or four who would have never given it a shot otherwise.

      That’s why I love demos. I get a chance to sample anything I want even if its not in my normal niche.

  3. The idea of “demo” chapters sounds very appealing. Over the last few years I’ve bought quite a few books that I’ve given up on because I simply didn’t enjoy them but had no way to tell before I purchased them (short of standing and reading them in the bookshop 😉 ).

    One day… one day… the UK is going to get access to a decent library of eBooks. And when that happens I’ll be all over the Kindle like a rash! 🙂
    .-= We Fly Spitfires´s last blog ..The Right Sort Of Microtransaction =-.

    1. I read the other day, Gordon, that there is a way for UK citizens to buy from the US Kindle store with a $2 fee added to the price of the book. I don’t know many other details than that, but it might be something you could look into.

  4. I personally enjoy reading regular books and don’t know what reading an ebook like this would be like. I do have many ebooks – mostly on blogging and making money from blogging – on my computer’s hard drive so I do read things on my computer.

    In the future I just might give this a shot as it would allow me to see if I’m even going to enjoy reading the entire book and it would be easy to carry around and not take up a lot of room at the same time.
    .-= Eric´s last blog ..Real Or Robot =-.

  5. I love the feel of paper. I love to underline heart-touching lines. I love regular books because they relax, not strain my eyes. There is nothing like old-fashioned books, shelves of them, the smell of them the feel and the look that lines my walls. Sorry Kindle.

    1. I love regular books for research; there’s just no replacement. I do think, however, the ebooks are better for personal entertainment. I think, too, that I will never completely stop buying hardcopies of books. Why? Because when I finally get to build my dream house, I intend to have my study be lined wall-t0-wall, floor-to-ceiling with books as the only decoration in the room.

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