The Kindle chapter preview: Which books benefit, which suffer and what does this mean for cap-L Lit?

image The Kindle’s first chapter preview feature---which works with Amazon’s iPhone app, too---is a joy for for many readers.

It’s also a great promotional peg for Amazon.

But do previews of this kind always jibe with the welfare of Literature or even the needs of many customers in the long run?

image Many memorable books take time developing characters before plunging into the plot. The idea is that the reader will care more about the fates of the heroes and others if they know them better. Yes, Scott Fitzgerald’s wisely observed that action is character.  But in opening pace, he still tends to be a long way from the authors of SF action-thrillers.

Valid in situations like Fitzgerald’s?

Is the first-chapter screening, then, as valid in Fitzgerald’s case as it might be for gadget-oriented novelists and the shoot-‘em-up variety? And should Amazon let other chapters be used instead?

What great works of literature do you think would pass the Kindle First Chapter test in its present form, and why? Which would flunk it? Some might argue that the start of The Great Gatsby is sufficiently intriguing even if the first few graphs are expository rather than dramatic narrative. We’re learning plenty about Nick Carraway, in fact. But the back story is overwhelming the present action---in fact, there is virtually none of the latter in Gatsby’s first few paragraphs.

The ultimate effect on literature

If Amazon and other e-retailers with a first-chapter orientation grow in importance, as I expect, what will this mean for the future of literature? Will the character-driven variety count? Already many and perhaps most literary agents don’t bother with the rest of submissions if they don’t like the speed of the openings. Will the first-chapter fixation at Amazon just exacerbate this trend?

Related: How the Lit Fic Crowd Can Make Digital Publishing Legitimate?-–by Jane, over at DearAuthor. I’ve written similar thoughts in the past and hope that publishers will heed her and use the economies of E to improve the odds of literary works.

I know. Some editors say, “Well, the paper and distribution are just part of the costs. What about paying for editing, design and the rest?” But I’d argue that when a large house feels compelled to start out printing tens of thousands of copies, the people there will be tempted to ratchet up other costs.

Meanwhile over at PersonaNonData, Michael Cairns is asking, "Which publisher will be first to eliminate a first edition print in favor of digital only?"

5 Comments on The Kindle chapter preview: Which books benefit, which suffer and what does this mean for cap-L Lit?

  1. When I was taking a course in creative writing, the teacher taught that if you do not capture the reader in the first page, let alone the first chapter, the reader is likely to put that book back on the shelf and look at another.

    My personal experience is that if the book is written in “text message” or other illiterate mode, I will reject it. If I find misspellings and grammatical errors I will be annoyed and probably not purchase that author again. This will weed out many authors who seem to feel that it is too much effort to get someone else to proof their book or to get an editor. There is too much good writing out there to put up with junk.

  2. Books which do NOT benefit are those where a multitude of pages in the front of the book are taken up with long lists of the publisher’s other publications and all the chapter headings, in some cases marked as live links but which obviously aren’t, because the sample given does not progress past the table of contents. It would be better for Amazon to actually give you the actual first chapter. Sometimes they do, but only if the pages prior to it are few.

  3. I love the preview feature. I use it most often for books I simply would never buy without being able to preview them. The money aside, I no longer feel a need to continue reading once I lose interest in a book. Life is short, and there are too many books out there to spare my time on those I’m not enjoying.

    But I agree that publishers really need to look at where the preview ends. I want to know the writer’s style, and if there is a 20 page intro by someone else, the preview can be worthless.

  4. Provide more than first chapter.


  5. Their reader is not available in Canada. Fortunately, I possess a jailbroken iPod Touch, so I installed it “illegally”. It is a very pleasant experience, reading books on it. You need not worry about formatting, because it is specially formatted. I feel fiction books will suffer. It is only in the later half of the book that the action becomes overwhelming. For fiction books reading some helps you determine the author’s style, and whether you like it. If it is an author you have read from before, the description is all you need.

    Meanwhile, for academic books, the first chapter is invaluable. The first chapter outlines what the books is about, and has always been enough for me to determine whether I will buy or not.

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