Jilly: Try Before You Buy

Do you sample a book before you buy it?

Not so much in-person bookshop browsing, because right now that’s off the menu for most of us. But reading an excerpt on an author’s website, or using the Look Inside feature on the world’s most powerful online bookstore.

How often do you think reading a sample persuades you to buy a book, or makes you decide to move on to something else? I never used to bother with it, but a few years ago, after a particularly long series of dud purchases, I gave it a go. Now I’d never buy without trying.

I was thinking about samples this morning, after I discovered a brand-new reason not to buy. I saw a strongly positive review of a new-to-me author on a site I follow. The cover was great, and I loved the premise. The story sounded smart, original, quirky, just what I was looking for. So I headed over to the Zon and checked out the sample.

Have you ever tried food or drink that was delicious on the first mouthful, tasty on the second, fairly nice on the third, but by the fourth or fifth you never wanted another bite and a sixth would have made you gag? It was like that.

The story was told in first person, through the eyes of a smart, potty-mouthed, strongly opinionated character. The inciting incident was impactful and well told. The writing was super-strong. It was just too voice-y for me. If they’d cut off the sample at the end of the first page, I probably would have bought the book. By the end of the third page, I was done. I didn’t even read to the end of the sample or check out the reviews.

After thinking about it for a while, I decided it was a great Look Inside, because I bet the right reader would have devoured that sample and probably gone on to love the book. And the story promise was strong and clear enough for me to discover that I wasn’t that reader.

Do you read samples?

Have you gone on to buy (or not buy) based on what you read? Can you remember why?

8 thoughts on “Jilly: Try Before You Buy

    • The ‘too voice-y’ experience was a new one for me. This one wasn’t intrusive in the sense that it was ‘look at me’ writing (I really dislike that). Maybe the problem was the character’s voice, rather than the author’s, if that distinction makes any sense. The character was so vivid and extreme, and the author captured that perfectly. Imagine Jack Nicholson as The Joker or Jim Carrey at his most manic narrating a whole book. Exhausting and tiresome, for me at least 🙂

  1. I never read samples. Which is a problem, especially with e-books, where I merrily click away. I am also very stubborn about finishing books I start. All of which is to say: I end up doing more unhappy reading than I really should.

    • This was me, for years. Buy without trying, and finish what you start. Then I started writing, which cut into my reading time, made me a much pickier reader, but made me want to read more widely. The only way to make that work at all has been to read samples, and to give myself permission to DNF if I’m not enjoying the book.

      • I would probably be a much happier reader if I did this. I am working on getting better at DNFing – the relief when I decide I’m not going to keep going is sometimes palpable.

  2. This year, I buy most of my books because I’ve seen people on Twitter promoting them, and they’ve had something that just clicks for me. I usually have to see them three or four times, and then it’s usually some mini-review that just cements the deal.

    I will read samples if I’m not sure — but I haven’t been reading them much this year.

    • Michaeline, that thing about seeing a promotion three or four times before making a decision is a well-tested advertising ploy, although the “rule” is that it takes seven impressions for a reader/viewer to remember the product. So if you can remember it after three or four, you’re a bookseller’s/advertiser’s dream come true. 🙂

  3. I’ve always read samples. In the pre-Amazon days, when I was at a bookstore or the library, I often decided to borrow or buy after just a paragraph, or sometimes even the first sentence, although if I had time I’d read more. With the advent of Amazon, I usually read the entire sample unless I hate it and stop sooner. I hear that people buy a book without reading the opening, but actually, I’ve never understood that. 🙂

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