Thoughts On Writing

Sample Chapters?

A couple of people have asked me why I don’t have sample chapters on my website. The answer is simple; I think they are a bad idea. Why?

1) Because you are giving away potential sales. A lot of people will want to read your work out of curiousity. They want to know if you are any good. A sample chapter, or worse, two, lets them decide that without paying for the book.

2) A percentage of people who start reading your work will not like it, or not get totally absorbed in it, and put it aside. They are more likely to do this with a free sample that they have not made an investment in. They are unlikely to buy the book if they weren’t absorbed in your sample.

3) Keep up the mystery! Let the excitement build around your book, and a glow of mystique surround the contents until publication day.

4) The vast majority of people will not read your full sample chapters. They will read a few paragraphs, make their judgement and not give themselves time to be drawn into the story.

That, in a nutshell is why I won’t be putting sample chapters up on my website!

NB: These comments apply to mainstream published books. Indie authors probably have more of a case for samples. They need to tell a prospective purchaser that they can write, and a sample is probably the only way to do that. The same negatives, however, will still apply.

Postscript: A writer friend just told me that the e-book stores often don’t give you a choice, that they offer samples as a matter of course. Not sure if anyone else has experience with this.


Twelve Tips

I don’t pretend to know it all, I wish I did, but here are some tips that spring to mind. They worked for me, they might just work for you.

1)      I believe that my work was given a fair hearing from editors dozens of times before it was good enough, or marketable enough, to be published. You will get those opportunities too. Make sure that your work hits the spot.

2)      Rejection hurts. Use it to focus your ideas. I wrote a whole novel where the hero’s unsuccessful quest was a metaphor for my own desire to be published.

3)      I had an underlying reason to persevere. I felt that writing was the only thing that made my life make sense. I think you need that to get through the tough times.

4)      Use music to get yourself in the appropriate mood for a scene. Sad, hopeful, wistful etc. I collect songs like that. Ethnic music can help when writing of other cultures too.

5)      I got an agent first. That took me five years, but his percentage has been repaid many times over.

6)      I always use friends as first readers. They don’t necessarily give great advice (sometimes they do) but usually just the manuscript getting ‘out there’ spurs me to think of ways to improve. Even the amount of time it takes them to read it tells me something. Friends who simply give you praise serve a purpose too. You need positive reinforcement at the drafting stage.

7)      Don’t be too much in love with what you do. Be critical. Then critical again.

8)      Keep reading, particularly in your genre. Reading helps you remember that the most important thing of all is to be interesting. You don’t have to change the world, (though I’m always trying).

9)      Observe other people. Keep a journal. (I use my phone these days). When you’re at a bus stop describe the people there while they think you are texting. You’d be amazed the colour and detail you can transfer to your fiction.

10)   Imagination can get you only so far. Keep drawing on real life. Hold up a mirror. Use realism even in fantasy.

11)   Don’t look down your nose at any other writer, no matter what the genre.

12)   And always work on the assumption that your readers are at least as smart as you.

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