Has the way you make book buying decisions changed in the past few years? It certainly has for me. And I don’t mean the fact that I can buy e-books for less money than print books. I’m taking about how I've had to change the way I make my book buying decisions.
Back before Amazon came along, I would walk into a bookstore, head directly to the shelves holding my desired genre (usually fantasy), and peruse the books. I’d check out titles and authors, and if I was intrigued, I’d read the back cover copy to see if the premise was interesting. If so, I’d open the book.
Somewhere roughly in the middle.
You see, I’d learned at any early age that the opening chapter of a book was usually a poor way of judging a book. Back then, most books started slowly, with the MC doing something rather mundane, like thinking about the weather or something similarly uninspiring, and it would be a while before the story got around to anything interesting. There might be a prologue, or lots of backstory (which I don’t mind all that much myself, as long as it’s entertaining), but those things didn't give the reader a good handle on how the author was going to tell the story, which is what I wanted to know before I bought a book.
So I’d open the book somewhere in the middle and look for things like the percentage of dialogue. Too little and it might be a tough read, but too much and it might be a sign of a weak plot. Did the author spend too much time harping on the character’s feelings or did he/she get on with the story? Was the prose too purple for my tastes?
Now everything has changed. I don’t have as much time to visit bookstores these days, despite the warm fuzzy feeling I get whenever I’m inside one, so I spend much of my book searching time on Amazon. And Amazon’s previewer only allows me to see the beginning chapters, which means I’m often forced to make a buying decision based on the part of the book that happens long before the story-worthy problem (as Larry Brooks puts it) is revealed. How much different will the writing be once the story gets going? Did the author spend all their energy on that first chapter and leave a sagging middle? The whole process leaves me feeling rather anxious. I will admit, though, that the lower price of e-books does help mitigate the risk of choosing wrongly.
This new paradigm has also changed how I write. When I first began writing fiction, I never paid much attention to those people who said that your first chapter is the most important chapter. I grew up in a time when first chapters weren't all that exciting. But now, with the Amazon previewer, I’ll agree that the first chapter is pretty darn important. Not only does it have to demonstrate your writing style, but it also has to convince the reader that your character is worth following for the next twenty chapters and that the excitement is only just beginning. A rather tall order.
So how has the Amazon previewer changed the way you buy books?