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Giving Away Novel Previews: A Cautionary Tale

Posted by A.E. Marling in Uncategorized

Once I was a young man drunk on hope and shinning with belief in human kindness. That was three long months ago, when I decided to promote my Kickstarter by giving away the first ten chapters of my novel on Amazon. The Kickstarter was a Herculean success, crushing its stretch goals like the delicate heads of a hydra under the conquering sword of my valorous readers. But at what dreadful cost?

As a method of promotion, the free preview likely contributed to my Kickstarter the least and caused me the greatest woe. I uploaded Gravity’s Revenge (First Act Preview with Internal Illustrations) to Amazon. In addition to the long, informative title, I also made certain the product description mentioned this was an incomplete sample. Signing it up for a free KDP promotion would allow readers to read it for free. If only I had stopped there my acidic tears would not now be washing away the letters from my keyboard.

Publicizing the sample giveaway seemed a logical step. I was skeptical a reader unfamiliar with my work would dedicate the coin to support a Kickstarter, but someone who had taken their first steps up the cliffside roads to the Mindvault Academy in my story, just might. So I listed my sample on sites promoting free books and paid for promotion. I felt I was in uncharted territory of book promotion, and a nervous foreboding filled me. I even made this joking tweet:
Fateful tweet
I suspected this would happen because the sites promoted complete books as a rule. And people are people. However, I was not much concerned. After the KDP promotion ended, I unlisted the giveaway version. Then I retreated to my underground laboratory to finish edits of the novel, to place the succulent internal illustrations, to format the manuscript with tender love for both printing and eReading, and at last to upload the brand new novel on July 1st. Securing my party hat on my head, I clicked on the link to my epic fantasy for the first time. I was so excited to share this triumph with all my Kickstarter supporters. This is what I saw:
A surprise review!
But how could this be? This novel was complete. The listing was separate from my giveaway sample, even with a different Amazon identification number. And, oh no! Another review:
A review of the Free Sample
By this time I had already appealed the reviews. Amazon’s response: While I understand your concerns, these reviews don’t violate our posted guidelines. We link different editions, bindings, formats or color variations of a product in our system to make it easier for customers to find the version they’re looking for.

Linking the paperback and digital versions of a book makes a lot of sense. Chaining my completed book to reviews critiquing only the shortness of the preview, less so. I mentioned this to another Amazon representative, and she hinted that if the two versions had different ASIN’s (which they did), deleting the old sample would remove the reviews that had attached themselves to Gravity’s Revenge like leeches. (Not her exact words.)

Armed with this ray of hope, I requested the deletion of the unlisted Gravity’s Revenge (First Act Preview with Internal Illustrations). The response:
Amazon customer service
I looked for it, but find nothing on Has the title already been removed?

Ever helpful, I relisted the book with a new title: Please Delete Me.

At this time, it is not possible to completely remove a book from the Bookshelf if it’s available for sale in the Kindle Store.

Fine. I’m a patient man. Unlisted the book again and resent request.

At this time, it is not possible to completely remove a book from the Bookshelf if it’s previously been available for sale in the Kindle Store.

By Zeus’s crackling beard! So unless Amazon changes its decree, Gravity’s Revenge will forever bear the scars of two misleading reviews. And it’s not as if confusing potential buyers about the length of a book helps Amazon.

But let’s not overlook the type of person who would take the time to write those reviews. Imagine what they were thinking: “What! Someone, somewhere might have to pay to read a book they love? Not on my watch!”

It’s not as if giving away preview chapters is an unspeakable dark ritual of marketing.* Tor used to hand out the first 300 pages of The Wheel of Time for free. Websites are riddled with the opening chapters of upcoming novels. And do you know which other industries offer free samples of product to entice new customers? All of them.
Thumbs Down
I do have to be thankful, though. It could have been worse. At least one of the reviewers acknowledged that the writing seemed good, and neither branded me with the red-hot-iron touch of a one-star review, like I thought they would in my prophetic tweet.

As you may have noticed, a few of my lion-hearted readers have voted those reviews as “Not Helpful.” Feel free to do so as well. I’m not certain it matters to Amazon, but it might make the rest of us feel better. Or at least me. If you’ve read Gravity’s Revenge and loved it then the most heroic thing you can do is write your own review. I look forward to the day when Gravity’s Revenge has a hundred reviews, with a few oddballs of no great importance.

*(If you happen to know any unspeakable dark rituals of marketing, please send me the steps. I, ah, might know a fantasy author who’d be interested.)

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7 Responses

  • Pingback: Giving Away Novel Previews: A Cautionary Tale | The Passive Voice | Writers, Writing, Self-Publishing, Disruptive Innovation and the Universe

  • ATraveller says:

    I am an avid reader with a three years old. In other words, I pick my next book very carefully, because my time is precious. This is why I always read the bad reviews first, and quite frankly you have nothing to worry about.

    A well written, well thought-out negative review kills a book – three star reviews that obviously do not apply, and are even slightly positive, do not. In fact, they pique my interest more than a glowing, five star review that might have been written by a friend of the author, a paid patsy, or a publicist. However, be aware that reviews like this will never fall off the bottom of the page – The stars are clickable. Therefore any author should think twice about how they respond to them.

    Happy writing.

  • Fiona Ingram says:

    A salutary tale and a warning to others – thanks for sharing. I think you are worrying for nothing and got off extremely lightly. I have seen Famous Big Name Authors get a severe drubbing with really bad one-star reviews. Look on the bright side. You found out quickly enough that it was a bad idea. Moral of the story: do not tempt Fate with prophetic tweets that err on the side of pessimism. Fate doesn’t like it…. An easy-to-do ritual of marketing is one by marketing guru Penny Sansivieri of AME marketing. She says: tell someone every day about your book/s. Marketing doesn’t sell books. Marketing gives you exposure. Exposure and word of mouth sell books so tell EVERYONE … and they will tell others.

  • Take the book down, then ask to have them unlinked. Once unlinked, the reviews will be gone. I have had this done many times with my stories.

  • Iris says:

    For what it’s worth, I started reading your books because I picked up Brood of Bones while it was free. Reading is an investment of not only my money, but my time, and I’m picky, so I rarely buy a book on impulse if I’m not already familiar with the author. Brood of Bones was very good, and I’ve since purchased and read every other book you’ve sold, and I will do so for as long as you continue to write. Personally, I would be willing to pay much more than what you charge for your novels. I’ve got money and I’m not averse to paying what a novel’s worth, but I am unwilling to take a risk, especially with the low quality of many self-published books.

    (That said, I don’t think it’s necessary to give away more than the first chapter for free. That’s all you need to tell whether a story is worth reading.)

    Two other key factors that initially drew me to Brood of Bones were 1) The cover art. You clearly hired a professional artist, which shows that you take your work seriously enough to put money into it, and that puts you above the glut of self-published authors that think art isn’t worth paying for (as an artist, I do have opinions about this) or that they are special enough that they shouldn’t be required to entice the reader into their writing, and 2) The protagonist was an adult woman, which is my favorite kind, and somewhat hard to come by.

    • A.E. Marling says:

      Thank you for your post on my blog. I am dragon-fireworks happy that you appreciated the vibrant artwork of Eva Soulu, as well as the adult protagonist, Enchantress Hiresha. It is my hope to draw her story arc to a triumphant close with my current manuscript.

      I am flattered at your encouragement to increase the prices of my novels. Indeed, $4.99 may be a more correct cost, and I will keep it in mind. I offer Brood of Bones for free in part because I personally have always preferred to investigate new authors by checking them out from a library.

  • Yasmin says:

    It contains the information.