How Publishers Can Cure “Ugly Sample Syndrome”
What if publishers could sell more books by learning the secrets of selling chicken sandwiches? In my hometown of Atlanta, GA, Chick-Fil-A is the dominant fast-food restaurant chain. Started in 1967, the company’s annual sales now eclipse over $6 billion. In addition, their stores generate more revenue per restaurant than any other fast-food chain in the US.
When Chick-Fil-A first entered the fast-food landscape, they setup locations in the food court of shopping malls. I can remember walking past their storefronts where an employee was usually placed among shoppers with a large platter of free chicken nuggets. They would kindly offer, “Would you like a free sample?” Who can turn down a hot, tasty, free chicken nugget? It would be downright un-American to decline.
On multiple occasions, Chick-Fil-A’s strategy of offering free samples lured me right up to the counter where I would order a chicken sandwich, waffle fries, and a lemonade. One free nugget led me to willingly purchase an entire meal. Sampling is a simple business concept that works throughout our economy.
Yet, publishers are woefully stingy when it comes to handing out free samples. Visit the average publisher website and you won’t see any samples up-front. Instead, the home page is covered with one book after another begging to be purchased. When a consumer comes by, the publisher websites seem to say, “Buy this book! Buy this book!” Click deeper onto any subpage in the website and same the issue occurs. “Buy this book! Buy this book!”
What if Chick-Fil-A employed the same approach? Would many people stop to eat at a restaurant that had employees out front begging, “Buy our chicken sandwich!” No way. Consumers are turned off by companies who always ask and rarely give.
This issue might explain why publishers get such little traffic to their websites. People know that if they visit they’ll going to get bombarded with requests to buy something. One cannot build a relationship (personal or business) with someone else when all you do is ask and never give. There must be give and take to build trust.
Publishers might defend their actions by pointing to all of the sample chapters they offer. But, let’s be honest. Most sample chapters are bland, similar to cold, tasteless, chicken nuggets. I call it the “Ugly Sample Syndrome.” Consumers look at the sample, don’t see anything appetizing, and just walk away.
The best parts of a book are usually after the first chapter as a novelist builds the story to a crescendo or a non-fiction author gets into the meaty part of their teaching. Thus, publishers need to go beyond giving away trite sample chapters in order win consumer interest.
How can publishers avoid the Ugly Sample Syndrome? Take advantage of all the content that’s already created. Repackage in-house material into attractive samples. Below are four ideas I’ve successfully used with my publishing clients:
1. The Sample Platter
Create a “sample platter” that combines excerpts from various books by the same author or book franchise. For instance, when I helped the backlist book, Boundaries, become a New York Times bestseller last year, we created the 40-page “Boundaries Sampler” that could be downloaded as a free resource. This nugget of content gave consumers a way to taste the material and see the benefits. Options to purchase books were built-in to the free download. Plus, we used the sampler as one of the enticements to attract over 25,000 new subscribers to the publisher’s email newsletter.
2. Greatest Hits
Successful musicians always offer a compilation of their top songs as a greatest hits collection. Sometimes, these compilations capture more interest than their original albums. Publishers can use the same approach with their most successful authors. Pull together the best selections from an author’s top-selling books into one resource. For example, I recently helped a publisher create five free “greatest hits” downloads based on their five top authors. Both the publisher and the authors can use these appealing nuggets to attract readers in numerous ways.
3. Short Stories
Sampling doesn’t have to be limited to non-fiction. Offering nuggets of fiction is effective by creating short stories. The content can be a short, standalone novella written by the author. Or, publishers can pull out the most suspenseful section from a novel and turn it into a free download. For instance, New York Times bestselling novelist, Stephenie Meyer, wrote a free novella called, The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner, as a way to please fans in-between releases of her popular Twilight Saga series. However, the free resource become so popular that her publisher turned it into a paid ebook, which became a bestselling title on its own!
4. Action Guide
Publishers can also create nuggets that get consumers to take action. When I helped author, Lysa TerKeurst, become a New York Times bestseller with her book, Made To Crave, we turned 30% of her manuscript into a free resource called the “Made to Crave 21-Day Challenge.” Thousands of readers downloaded this tasty nugget, enjoyed the material, then purchased Lysa’s book. In addition, a major radio network caught wind of the free resource and featured it for 21 days on over 300 stations across America. Using free content as an action guide helped generate thousands of paid sales.
One reason why Chick-Fil-A has become the fastest-growing restaurant chain is their history of offering lots of free chicken nuggets to consumers. They don’t just ask people to buy their food. They generously give tasty samples that lead shoppers to become paying customers.
Likewise, it’s time for publishers to cook up better content nuggets than the stale old sample chapter. Stop asking for book sales all over your website. Start giving away more creative enticing samples. There is a mountain of content to mine within the books you publish. Use the four ideas listed above to let people taste-test your books. Giving away great samples is always a recipe for success.
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