Samples Do Tell A Story

I do not review books. First, I prefer to stick to my own writing. I choose to leave reviewing to others.

Second, and in its way more important, to be a reviewer I know I would have to offer, at times, not exactly stellar reviews, and that is awkward in our “social media” era. An indifferent or bad review could attract the anger of an author and then we end up in some online “feud.” I don’t need or want that nonsense.

Relatedly, I also refuse to get drawn into this stuff. Some authors, operating supposedly under the guise of “supporting” each other, seem to engage in unspoken [wink wink, nod nod] behavior that makes me uncomfortable when I see it. It amounts to (although they would surely deny they do it) this: I give you a good review, and you give me a good review. For example, a few days ago I noticed on Instagram that Writer A offered a “glowing” 5-star review of Writer B’s book, and yesterday hey, whaddya know, here’s a surprise Writer B then recommended Writer A’s book.

That latter “recommendation” is how I first heard of Writer A’s novel. (A book I will also not name here for obvious reasons.) However, that “recommendation” also noted it was set in the 1700s – a time that is bound to attract my attention regardless of how it came to my attention. After all, you may know me by now…

[The 1700s.]

An Amazon search for the author quickly turned up the book. In more detail, I saw it is set starting in “1786” and features a well-to-do family in rural England. Immediately I thought I had to check this out.

I clicked over to the Kindle free sample to have a read of it.

[Open to an Amazon free sample of a recently released novel.]

The major downside quickly revealed itself (as far as I am concerned): that above is too much to throw at readers right out of the “Page 1” reading gate, even for a prologue (in my opinion). I feel I have a fairly good ability to digest lots of names and large amounts of “historical” information, and even I felt overwhelmed by just those first three paragraphs. I had to re-read them a couple of times, and found myself wondering how much of that will be on the exam. LOL!

I thought as well: this author is obviously seriously knowledgable, wants to share a compelling story, and is clearly bursting with a desire to do so. Unfortunately, I thought also, the person appears to be frantic to get it out there almost all at once, rather than gently working to keep us curious as to what may be revealed on the next page and then on the next and so on and thus keep us turning pages. Wading through that opening and into a good part of the rest of the sample, I found that – vitally – it did NOT really entice me to want to read more of that novel (that is apparently some 600-plus additional pages).

It all just felt a bit too much (again, to me) like reading a school history assignment. I sat back finally and sighed: I HATE myself in moments like these. The sample is literate and clearly well-written, yet it did not really grab me. Indeed, my mind repeatedly wandered.

When I encounter a book by any author who writes anything even remotely close to what I write, I cannot avoid a sudden bout of forced self-examination either. Especially if I am underwhelmed by what I have just read, I find I think: IS THE PROBLEM HERE ME?

[The opening to the Amazon.com free sample of Conventions: The Garden At Paris. Click to expand.]

Feeling glum, I re-skimmed the opening chapters (that appear in its Amazon Kindle free sample) to my Conventions. Reflexively I juxtaposed them to what I had just read of that sample in that recommended novel. Among perennial writers’ chatter is about concocting a great first line, but more important (to me) as a reader, and now a writer, are the longer openings, and therefore the ONLINE visible sample chapters, that MUST pull readers in.

That fact has played a part in how I write, because we know 21st century reality: books no longer can start slowly. As with social media (see my lighthearted “social media” post of yesterday), writers need to remember that books have to seize and hold a reader’s interest within the initial pages at the most or you will probably lose that reader. I may have accomplished that with some readers, and maybe not with others, because reading is, of course, also ultimately about an intangible personal taste regarding what “grabs” us.

In much of my own reading in recent years, I have also learned that an opening Amazon (or other online) sample DOES usually broadly reflect what follows in a book. I always urge anyone who wants to buy a book to ignore the number of stars and the reviews – good or bad – and READ THE SAMPLE, because if you LIKE the sample you will probably LIKE the rest of the book. For chances are the sort of writing you read in the sample’s “Chapter 2” will be encountered eventually in “Chapter 12″… and in “Chapter 22.”

Have a good weekend, wherever you are. 🙂

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