Yesterday, which led into the wee hours of this morning, I did some backing up on my computer and my iPad, and installed the latest OS on my iPad, which has been out I don't know how long, but I finally got around to actually doing the update.
Anyway, when going through all the bright shiny new objects that showed up as a result of the upgrade, I went into iBooks to see how that had changed--and to make sure my books were still there because sometimes my books seem to vanish if I don't have sync disabled or whatever.
At any rate, I started going through the iBooks bookstore, and went through the Top 300 Paid and Free books, before looking in certain categories. Mind you, I was browsing as a reader, not a writer, so my observations are based on my experience as a reader.
I was supposed to be going out of town this weekend, which ultimately didn't happen, and I figured I'd get some books to read. Admittedly, I went looking for books that were cheap or free. I downloaded several public domain books, not necessarily to read right away but to have, and not just because they were free, but because they were classics I wanted. I also grabbed a couple reference books that were free or 99¢.
I noticed something with the free books. Some of the free books only included a couple sample chapters. Then you'd have to buy the full book to read the rest. I found myself not interested in those. I would either look for a full book that was similar but free, or a book that was maybe 99¢ or $1.99 but a full book. The idea of downloading a book and only getting a couple chapters was not appealing to me at all, even if it was free. After all, I wasn't reading it then and there, but later. When reading it later, I wouldn't want the hassle of having to buy and download the full book (if Internet access was even available where I was). I would prefer to keep on reading straight until the end. So, a partial book was of no value to me. Too many alternatives to waste time on that.
I also noticed something about covers. A quality, professional-looking cover does in no way guarantee a sale, nor even increase the chances of a sale. There are tons of quality, professional-looking covers out there, so you're just lost in a sea of covers. But, a poor cover can reduce the chances of a sale, or eliminate it entirely. You spot a lousy cover and you wonder if they didn't take the time to create a decent cover, did they take the time to create decent prose?
And a cover doesn't have to have fancy art or anything either. Some of the books I downloaded or bought have only text for the cover. Some may have text and a very simple design. But they look nice. They look professional. So, quality doesn't necessarily mean having to spend hundreds of dollars on a cover artist. Simple type, professional done, can do the job as well.
But bad covers are just bad. They scream "Don't buy me!"
Reviews also help too, especially with authors you're not familiar with. Reviews can give you some idea whether you want to buy or download. Even with free books! I like to check out the negative reviews. Sometimes those are a lot more informative, since the reviewers obviously aren't shy about telling you exactly what they thought was wrong with the book. That can be very telling. For example, suppose it's an educational book, teaching you how to do something. If I know nothing at all about the topic and someone gives the book a negative review because it only teaches the basics that everyone should already know, then I know that's the book I want, despite the negative review. Of course, if I have some experience already, then I'd know the book is not for me. Fiction can be more subjective, but again you pay attention to the specific complaints.
Returning to the free books, there's something I've noticed too. The length doesn't matter so much as completeness. As I mentioned, I don't care to download free sample chapters.* Free short story, free novella, free novel . . . sure, count me in. But a few sample chapters? Nah. I think you want to be able to enjoy a full story, regardless of length, rather than a few chapters that leave you hanging.
A self-contained story that's still part of a larger adventure seems to be a good thing, even though, technically, it leaves you hanging. Sometimes it can be frustrating as a reader, especially if the next part isn't available yet. But, sometimes you'll get the first book for free or 99¢ and then you're buying the next to keep going. And the next. And the next. Sometimes, it's annoying because you'd like to just read the full story and not keep having to buy the next one (thus making a "boxed set" or omnibus a good deal), but you keep buying anyway.
That strikes me as strange. Getting the first in a series free (even if it's a short story or novella) seems to be more appealing than getting a few chapters free. The former seems like a deal while the latter feels like a marketing gimmick. Which is strange, because, when you really think about it, there's not a lot of difference between giving a few chapters free to entice people to buy the book versus giving the first book free to entice people to buy the series. But I think it's the difference between feeling you're getting something free (a complete story) versus being able to sample something you'll have to buy. With the former, I'm making a choice to buy the rest of the series. The first book was free, no obligation, but I make the choice on buying more. With the latter, it feels like I'm being forced to buy the book to find out the rest of the story. So the latter makes me feel as though you're teasing me or stringing me along whereas the former makes me feel like you're giving me a deal. Free book! Woohoo!
Anyway, those were my personal observations while browsing for books in the wee hours of the morning, so take them for whatever you think they may be worth, which might be less than 2¢.
*The exception being if it's educational non-fiction where I want to gauge the content of the book before buying it. Usually these types of books are $10 or more, so you might want to look over a couple chapters before deciding to buy. Since iBooks (so far as I know) doesn't have a "Look Inside" feature like Amazon, I imagine this is the closest thing to it.