I watched a presentation called Your First 10k Readers. It explains a marketing course that will build an audience for your book prior to release - even prior to completion. It sounds sensible and the idea of offering a small teaser or a such for free to build a mailing list of likely buyers makes sense.

It explains how he built his brand and created a presence, which greatly improved the sales of his books.

If I end up going the indie route with an ebook, this would certainly be valuable. It would create buzz and have a list of potential readers who actually like my genre and will have received some samples of my work. It should improve conversion and make the ‘I just published my book’ email a very useful one to write.

The reason I think it might work is, that to those on my list, I will not be an unknown quantity. I know that when I look at a book by an author with whom I am unfamiliar, I am skeptical. A free sample that proves this unknown is not untalented would make that leap from thinking of getting it to buying it easier.

Will I be shooting myself in the foot by doing this? Would it preclude the agent to publisher route for which we tend to hope?

Edit: It seems that the focus is on creating an email list of those interested in books of the type one writes, giving them some value and building trust and brand prior to asking for the sale. This might include a blog, but I don’t think it does.

  • Related, not a duplicate: First Chapter for Free? Full disclosure: The accepted answer is my own.
    – user
    Apr 19, 2019 at 11:33
  • The presenter said it can be anything from a pseudo CIA file complete with redaction as a character profile to a free first volume. If it were a chapter, my first 75 pages have not changed in a year. ‘Deleted scenes’ is another suggestion he makes.
    – Rasdashan
    Apr 19, 2019 at 14:20
  • Related (not a duplicate, but has some overlapping issues): writing.stackexchange.com/questions/42823/…
    – Cyn
    Apr 19, 2019 at 16:04

6 Answers 6


It's complicated.

An indie writer who mostly does their own marketing winds up taking on two jobs -- writing new books, and marketing them.

Although these can feel related, they're very, very different. For one you're writing fiction, working a bunch on a single story. For another, you're interacting on social media, writing blog posts, figuring out art and design and how Facebook advertising works, and a hundred other tasks that aren't the act of writing your book.

If you want to take both jobs on, and think you can do well at both, this approach can be extremely effective.
But if you don't devote enough effort to marketing, then, well, you won't have any. So: make sure you understand how much work you're getting into here.

The thing that has me concerned here is that your example of marketing is:

A free sample that proves this unknown is not untalented would make that leap from thinking of getting it to buying it easier.

This is an example of fairly simplistic marketing, that doesn't usually work well on its own. Consider: what audience do you expect will seek out and read your free sample? How will you find them? Most readers don't go out looking for random snippets of unpublished books -- they have plenty of complete books they could be reading instead!

Rather, free fiction or samples (and, really, any marketing at all) is something you should try to do in the context of a larger business plan to draw and maintain interest. You should understand where you're trying to draw readers from, and how you're going to do it.. For example:

  • Listing some really inexpensive books on Amazon could draw in Amazon browsers looking for bargains!
  • A regular blog with, e.g., publishing advice and fiction samples might draw in some audience looking for the publishing advice, who'll get curious about the fiction, and go on to buy actual books!
  • Being super active on Twitter, maybe with a strong focus on a particular passion of yours, can get you new friends and followers who'll be excited when your book comes out!

All of these involve different steps -- and are suited to different types of authors, and even different types of books. If you're someone who will enjoy spending a lot of time on social media, that's one approach; if you're publishing indie in a genre with very inexpensive books, then capturing bargain-hunters is a different good approach.

Here's what's advisable: Not the yes/no question of when to market, but the more complex question of "How do I want my career kickoff to look." You have many options, but they all tie down to your specific case, and what specific work you want to do.

Come up with a marketing plan. Come up with five marketing plans, so you've got lots of choices. See what makes sense to you -- what looks feasible; what you have time and energy for; what feels to you like it'll actually work. Then, start choosing from among them.

There are a million paths to success -- but you need to figure out which one of them you're going to invest your energy in. The book can you you awesome suggestions you wouldn't have thought of on you're own -- but, don't do something just because a book told you to. This is your career, you're going to need to manage it, and you can only do that if you understand the book's rationale. Figure out your path; see what your choices are -- and understand where you expect the readers (and the money!) to be coming from.


You asked:

Will I be shooting myself in the foot by doing this? Would it preclude the agent to publisher route for which we tend to hope?

There are a few salient points to consider here:

  • Publishers want an author to already have a market / platform so this would only help if you have statistics that state that X people downloaded your sample. They are definitely not going to be upset that a great many people have read your sample.
  • You will learn tons from marketing your book / giving away a chapter. You will learn how distracted people actually are and how difficult it is to get their attention. Most people will only read a sentence or two, even if you are able to :

    1. get them to find your sample

    2. convince them to actually download the sample.

  • The challenging thing that may occur however, is that you cannot get people to read your sample, even though it is short and free. This will send the opposite message to the Publisher, but you don't have to mention that you tried that if you are not successful.

Marketing your book is always a good idea. There are books that are written beautifully and tell fantastic stories but if they are not known then they are not read.

On the other hand, the world of published books is rife with poorly written books that are nothing more than marketing hype.

The point is that people have to know about your book and an amazing free sample can open the door to readers actually finding it.

  • That makes sense. I suppose one thing that concerns me is if I publish the first volume thus and later because of sales get the call from the magic unicorn (publisher). Will I have lost the ability to sell volume one’s electronic rights?
    – Rasdashan
    Apr 20, 2019 at 15:28
  • What you're asking is actually answered on the WattPad site at : wattpad.com/writers/faq (check out the Rights item there) It is basically not likely that any publisher would consider that you've already lost your First Rights just because you published it online on your web site or whatever. Maybe you even want to try WattPad.
    – raddevus
    Apr 20, 2019 at 21:00

I'll take a stab at this. I am a semi-well-known author who got his start on reddit by submitting short horror stories to /r/nosleep. My work is hugely popular on YouTube and is narrated by dozens of horror narrators with views in the hundred-thousands. Two of my works have been optioned for film.

I published my first book in 2014 and tried every single gimmick I could find. I watched all the SEO dweebs go on and on about marketing your product and garnering a following. I even did the KDP tricks where you give your book away free long enough for it to rank up on Amazon's bestseller list, then move it over into the paid column so it debuts on the front page at #1.

The only thing that ever worked for me was producing high-quality writing content and regularly releasing it. New, high-quality content is absolutely imperative to surviving as an author. I made a Facebook page, a website, and an option for readers to sign up on my email list. When I publish my books I send an email blast to the list. I put tremendous effort into my books and take my time with them; I release short stories for free between major publications.

The responses I've gotten from agents/publishing houses are all positive. They love it when you already have a following because it means they spend less time and money marketing your work for you. They don't appear to care whether you've released some of your book content already. (There's one caveat to this I'll mention at the end).

But releasing pieces of your book before the work is published does not appear, in my experience, to have any positive effect on book sales after the fact. Nor does it appear to increase my fanbase. Fans tend to want completed works that leave them satisfied, and they are very easily miffed by anything resembling a sales gimmick. The whole "tantalize them with a sample and make them buy the rest" approach does not work at all, unless you are Martin or Rowling and you have a ravenous fanbase.

Instead I suggest cranking out a few good-quality short stories that take place within the universe of your book, whose plots intersect in some meaningful way with said book. Target a specific audience (there are forums online for sci-fi, fantasy, horror, mystery readers, etc) and give them free stuff.

If your work is good and if you are able to produce new content at a reasonable pace, your fanbase will grow itself. And if you have a fanbase, you can build your agent queries on it; that's your strongest sales point. Keep one thing in mind, though: some publishing houses are more territorial than others about your book content (their property) being hosted on various forums. This is why I recommend short, intersecting stories instead.


You might be shooting yourself in the foot.

This likely depends on high personal productivity of the author, and if you cannot sustain the pace, I think you will lose whatever audience you gather.

It will also depend on your writing style: I could not take this approach at all, I cannot finish Chapter 1 and make it shippable without having written the rest of the book, I go back and change things all the time, to fix up character motivations or traits, or add foreshadowing. Even after finishing a book I go through multiple reads to double-check my story holds together, my characters are consistent, that I have color (literally) in my descriptions, that I haven't written walls of exposition or dialogue, that I eliminate redundancy and pick better words, and so on.

I do finish books, but I have to finish a book before the first page is ready to be seen. The book I just finished has had the first page revised about ten times, and the first three paragraphs probably twenty times, several times after I finished the book.

But, let's say you are confident your first chapter will never need revision in any way. How long would you stick with a story if the chapters come out sporadically? It takes me roughly nine months to finish a book from conception to delivery. How many pages a week are you going to deliver? Will it always be the same number of pages? Will your quality suffer just to get the next installment out?

Consider a long fantasy, like the first Harry Potter: 384 pages. If I could finish writing that in 9 months; which is 39 weeks, I would be delivering 10 pages per week. Or about a chapter per month.

I finish a book like that in a weekend. I would not read a book in that fashion over nine months. It would be too disruptive to my reading immersion; I would forget too much in-between installments and have to re-read old material. So, even though your writing might be something I want to read, you would lose me as an audience member quickly.

Even if I wrote the whole thing before I began marketing, so I could deliver installments quickly, sooner or later my writing productivity will catch up with me: If I don't finish something new to sell, I lose the audience.

I am NOT skeptical that giving something away for free is a good way to build an audience; that seems plausible to me. In marketing, a free sample worth 25 cents will be taken and used about 100 times more often than charging 25 cents for the sample. That is basic psychology.

So it is possible, if you had a finished book, you might be able to give away the first ACT (about 25% of the book, ending on a serious note of "what happens next" or "how does this turn out" or an actual cliffhanger if you have one) as a free sample, and have immediately available the rest of the book for some reasonable price, and let the readers know that up front.

If I know I am reading a free sample and won't get the whole story, but the whole story costs $8 or whatever a paperback usually costs, I'm willing to make my judgment on the first 60 pages or so. That is more than I get in a bookstore; I will typically read (for an unknown author) about five or ten pages before I make a decision to buy, and my decision to buy is basically "Did I want to turn every page?" If so, it is well written, and I don't skip ahead.

Of course integral to that decision is they did get it published, so I still have a small amount of trust in actual publishing houses, that the opening is not the only good writing in the book!

For a self-published author, I'd guess that 50-60 pages of good writing is worth paying for the rest of the story. In the first Harry Potter, Hagrid first appears at the end of Chapter 3, page 56. So you want to read Chapter 4!

That might be a route; and it can be marketed in that way periodically forever. Like I said, it is just an extension of what happens in a brick-and-mortar bookstore; and to an extent what Amazon sometimes allows in "preview", and free samples are good marketing practice.

You can do much of the work to support this mode of operation before you finish the book; like figuring out how to produce your book for sale on iTunes, or building yourself a simple website and be able to take payments.

But I wouldn't start marketing a book, even free previews, until your book is finished and in your eyes ready to sell.

I will remark that finishing the book is free to you, and if you truly intend to be a profitable author, waiting until you have a finished book should not delay any profits you will reap by very much, and it will not put you on deadlines which can lead to substandard work and a loss of audience. While you are promoting one book, you can be writing the next, at your leisure. You can also build your email list (require an email address before delivering anything free). Even if they don't buy, you have a list of people intrigued enough by your pitch or ad to get the first ACT. You may be able to have conversations with them and ask them if they liked the first ACT, or if there was a reason they did not buy the rest.

  • It is not so much serializing the novel (I doubt that assassin novels are amenable to that) but more of samples such as character profiles, short stories, sample chapter as preview only and possible free first volume. The presenter emphasized engaging with those on the list, giving them something on a weekly basis and finally, after creating fans, sending the ‘just published the novel and it will be discounted for three days’ email. He tries to avoid becoming the smarmy salesperson for his book and simply announces to his new friends that he has published another.
    – Rasdashan
    Apr 21, 2019 at 14:52
  • @Rasdashan Okay. Character profiles and short stories would not convince me to buy a novel; and on your end of things, I couldn't sustain their interest for 9 months while I write a novel, and the time spent interacting with them and coming up with crap to give them that ISN'T my novel would eat into my writing time. A free Act I, that compelled me to know what happens next, THAT could convince me to break out the credit card. I don't even like character profiles, they are just an infodump, and ruin all the tension and surprise of getting to know the characters.
    – Amadeus
    Apr 21, 2019 at 16:46

I worked for two book publishers, and books were often offered at a prepublication discount. This would bring in some money ahead of the printing bills, and it would allow any large orders (such as cases of books going to book distributors or large chains) to be shipped directly from the printer.


I haven't seen the presentation you describe and it's not clear to me what sort of marketing it calls for. You mention giving out a free sample. Like a sample chapter or something? I see two big catches to doing this before the book is complete.

One, as Amadeus mentions, what if you write chapter 1, give it out as a free sample, and then as you continue to work on the book, realize that you need to make a change to chapter 1? I can easily imagine all sorts of reasons why that might happen. You realize that something happening in a later chapter is not adequately foreshadowed. You discover that something that something you want to do in chapter 15 contradicts something you said in your first draft of chapter 1. Etc.

Two, are you sure you can meet the promised schedule to finish the book? If you tell readers, "Here's a free sample, the complete book will be available in two months", and then two months later you're still struggling and you're not finished, you'll embarrass yourself and confuse or frustrate potential readers. Even if you don't promise a specific date, any interest generated by a free sample is likely to fade quickly. Few people are going to say, "Hey, isn't this the book that I got that sample chapter from a year and a half ago?" I know when you're writing your first book you can get anxious to see it published. I certainly did. But if I had some marketing plan that relied on sending out these teasers, I'd wait until the book was complete, then send out the free samples, then wait whatever I believed was the optimum time before publishing the rest. Even if it meant sitting on the book for a couple of months when I am just dying to get it out there.

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