Thursday, June 02, 2016

Indie Publishing Paths: What’s Your Reader Retention Plan? Part Four

By Jami Gold, @JamiGold

Part of the Indie Authors Series

In this Indie Publishing Paths series, we first focused on how to decide which path will work best for us. Once we know our goals and priorities and are ready to put our book up for sale, we need to decide on:
The second phase of our indie publishing journey is to figure out how best to increase our chances for success along our chosen path. Whatever our goal, we’ll have a better chance of success if we can hold onto our readers from book to book.

So far, in the second part of this series, we’ve covered our options for…:
One of the options we discussed in Part One of this Reader Retention Plan phase was including an excerpt of our next book at the back of this book. Let’s take a closer look at when including an excerpt might be a good choice for us—and when it might not.

What’s the Purpose of an Excerpt?

We’ve probably all heard that we sell this book with the packaging (cover, back-cover blurb, etc.), and this book sells the next book. A teaser excerpt, typically the first chapter of book two placed at the end of book one (and so forth), takes that sales idea to a literal level.

Just as a reader is most interested in our work (as they finish this story), we include a teaser of the next story. An excerpt—if done well—can hook our readers enough to click on our buy link and purchase our next book right away.

Sounds great, right? So why wouldn’t we always want to include an excerpt of the next book?

What Can Affect an Excerpt’s Success?

Excerpts can work well with all types of stories, series or non-series books.
  • For non-series books, excerpts are one of the best ways to bring readers from one unconnected story to another, as a teaser is a great introduction to our other writing.
  • For series books, excerpts can work especially well because readers already have an idea of the kind of story to expect from the next book.

However, series are not created equally. A big element determining the success of a teaser excerpt is what type of series we’re writing. Some types of series work well with teasers, while others don’t. Before we can get into the analysis of which categories work best, we first have to identify the different types of series.

Books are typically labeled a series because they share a common factor:
  • Setting: These series take place in the same “world” but might each feature different characters. The characters of book two may or may not have been introduced in book one. The events of book two may or may not be dependent on the events of book one. Many romance series fall into this category, each book featuring a different couple that receives their “happily ever after” by the end of their story. 
  • Characters: These series feature the same characters. The events of book two may or may not be dependent on the events of book one. Many urban fantasy series fall into this category, each book featuring a different bad guy for the protagonist to defeat. However, series like Nancy Drew also fall into this category, where each book stands alone and can be read in any order.
  • Story Arc: These series follow a main story over several installments. Each book usually features at least some of the same characters. Sometimes a story will end with a cliffhanger to be resolved in the next book. These books need to be read in order to make sense. Typically, these series have a definitive ending rather than going on forever (a story arc needs to end sometime), but for sales reasons, some authors have attempted to turn a story arc series into an open-ended series (to mixed results).

Obviously, series can share more than one common element. Those with a common story arc usually share common characters and settings as well. The Harry Potter series has common characters and settings (and individual book arcs) in addition to its series-long story arc.

Teaser Excerpts Might Be a Bad Idea When… 

…It Ruins the Emotional Resonance of the Resolution

In a series where each book has a separate story arc that ends with a resolution, readers are left on an emotional happy point (or whatever emotion the author was going for on the final page). If that same character is the protagonist in the next book, the next story will usually begin with the character in a new situation that won’t match that same emotion.

In other words, if a character has a happy ending in book one, they might start off book two in trouble again to kick off the next part of the story. In those cases, a teaser excerpt interrupts the emotional resonance of the ending and could even mess with the reader’s imagination.

For example, in one book I read (the first of a series), the heroine was happy at the ending. However, in the teaser chapter for the next book in the series, the heroine was facing problems left over from book one. That teaser acted like an epilogue and ruined the entire first book for me.

The teaser chapter felt like more of the same—at least as far as the heroine’s emotional arc. All the progress she’d made emotionally was erased. The couple’s happily ever after was broken. Essentially, the teaser chapter told me book one didn’t matter and the ending hadn’t been “real.”

Instead of tempting me to read the next story, the teaser turned me off from the whole series forever. A teaser shouldn’t change a reader’s fundamental understanding of this book—characters, arcs, future, etc.

…It Disappoints Readers about the Story Length

In addition, teaser excerpts can be a bad idea if we don’t give readers the heads up in our book description that our book length includes an excerpt. Countless reviewers have complained when they thought a story had more time to wrap up the resolution, based on the percentage remaining listed on their ereader. They’re then disappointed when the story ends more quickly than expected, as the excerpt took up part of the remaining percentage.

…It’s for a Book That’s Not Yet Available

If we can’t include a buy link for the next book at the end of the excerpt, they’re less effective—and potentially harmful to sales. Readers might read the excerpt and like it, but after the release delay, they might think they’ve already read the book because the first chapter in Amazon’s Look Inside feature sounds familiar—and then they might not buy the book.

Teaser Excerpts Might Be a Good Idea When… 

…It Turns a Freebie Reader into a Paid Reader

One of the options we talked about in regards to pricing in the first phase of this series was offering a freebie of the first book of a series. A freebie is a great place to include excerpts to our other work, as it can help turn a freebie reader into a paid reader. However, as mentioned above, we’d want our description to explicitly state that our book includes an excerpt at the end, just to avoid disappointing readers.

…It Works Well with that Type of Series

Even with a freebie, excerpts aren’t always appropriate with series. Now that we know the common elements in series, we can analyze why some types of series work better with excerpts than others.

If the common element is…:
  • Setting: If setting is the only common element, each book acts as a standalone story. Events revealed in the teaser wouldn’t usually affect our understanding of events in book one, so teaser excerpts could work very well as a sales tool. 
  • Character: Success depends on the nature of the conflict in the next book…
If the next book introduces an entirely new conflict with the same characters, a teaser could hook readers into wanting to learn about the characters’ next adventure. 
If the next book continues with a question left over from a subplot, a teaser would remind readers of that mystery and hook them through curiosity. 
If the next book unravels the end of the arc of the current book, we’re messing with the reader’s memory of this book, and teaser excerpts should be avoided.
  • Story Arc: Success depends on whether this book ends with a cliffhanger…
If this book ends with a cliffhanger, we should probably avoid teaser excerpts. After all, is the hook at the end of chapter one of the next book is really more enticing than the cliffhanger at the end of this book?
If this book doesn’t end with a cliffhanger, we might want to avoid teaser excerpts. It depends on what happens in that first chapter of book two. Do the events take away or in any way erase the gains of book one? If so, a teaser chapter might interfere with the reader’s satisfaction.

We don’t want to build interest in the next book by ruining the reader’s experience of this book. We usually want to leave the reader with certain thoughts or emotions at the end of the story. If the teaser unravels the emotions we induced at “The End” in any way, we’re effectively erasing the ending of the first story. And that’s no way to sell the next book.

In the right situation, excerpts can hook our readers and keep them around for our next book. If our excerpts end with a “To Continue Reading” type of buy link, our readers are much more likely to stick around through all our stories yet to come. *smile*

Until next time, let me know if you have any questions in the comments! 

After escaping Area 51 armed only with a ukulele, Jami Gold moved to Arizona and decided to become a writer, where she could put her talent for making up stuff to good use. Fortunately, her muse, an arrogant male who delights in causing her to sound as insane as possible, rewards her with unique and rich story ideas.

Fueled by chocolate, she writes paranormal romance and urban fantasy tales that range from dark to humorous, but one thing remains the same: Normal need not apply. Just ask her family—and zombie cat.

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About Treasured Claim, the award-winning debut novel of the Mythos Legacy:

A shapeshifting dragon on the verge of starvation…

For Elaina Drake, sparkling jewels aren’t a frivolous matter. Without more treasure for her hoard, she’ll starve. On the run from her murderous father, she’s desperate enough to steal—er, acquire.

A modern-day knight seeking redemption…

Disgusted by his father’s immorality, Alexander Wyatt, Chicago’s biggest corporate titan, is determined to be a man of honor. Yet the theft of a necklace, stolen by an exotic beauty at his latest fundraiser, threatens to destroy all his charitable work.

A predator made prey…

Passion ignites between thief and philanthropist, sparking a game of temptation where jewelry is the prize. But when Elaina’s exposure jeopardizes Alex’s life, she must choose: run again to evade her father—or risk both their lives for love.


  1. Eek yeah I've seen both the bad and good types of excerpts that you've mentioned. One book had the hero and heroine having a "HEA" in Book 1, only to have an excerpt right after showing that their marriage was failing just like the hero's first marriage was. =_= Are you serious??

    One of the best excerpts I've seen was where the book itself had hints of a very interesting romance developing in the future, and the next book's excerpt shows a peek into that growing romantic relationship. It was super enticing and I of course pre-ordered the book right away. When I got to read the book almost a year later, even though I did enjoy it very much, to my surprise, this couple's romance was overshadowed by an even more intriguing and touching romance that appeared in this sequel...I still loved both romances, though.

    1. Oh, interesting! So there, the excerpt worked together with hints in the earlier story to strength the hook. :) Thanks for sharing!

  2. You always provide such great advice, Jamie. :-) Thanks, Janice, you also provide wonderful content to your readers.