Mickey Spillane’s Advice Modified for the E-Book Age

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Mickey Spillane has a lot of good things to say about how to write well and sell books. One of his famous quotes is:

“The first chapter sells the book. The last chapter sells the next book.”

We have to modify that for the Digital Age, when more and more books are being sold as e-books. Today, business book readers are more likely to download a sample of a book than read the first chapter. If you’re an author, that means the sample is one of your sales tools.

Amazon uses the first ten percent of the book as the sample. That should be enough to sell a good book, but it often doesn’t. In fact, some research says that less than five percent of sample downloads convert to sales of the entire book.

Obviously, the first part of the book should be compelling. It should inspire readers to want the entire book. The sample should work for you in another way, too.

You can make an offer for a free information product and include the URL of your web site. Include it as part of the text of the part of the book that will be the sample. That way you can tell people who read the sample more about you and what you do. If they like what they read, you may acquire them for your mailing list whether or not they buy the whole e-book.

So, let’s modify Mickey Spillane’s advice a little bit.

The sample sells the book and tells about you. The last chapter sells the next book.


The original version of this post attributed this advice to Elmore Leonard. Fortunately, James Scott Bell called the mistake to my attention so I could make it right. Thanks.

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