Cue the sad Charlie Brown music…

A few months ago, I entered Portrait of Woman in Ink into a book award contest. It was the same contest that I entered The Redheaded Stepchild in a couple years before, so I had a pretty good feeling about it and didn’t flinch at all about paying the $25.00 entry fee. The Redheaded Stepchild had made it to the semi-final round of this contest, and since I felt like Portrait of Woman in Ink was a much better book overall, I thought it had a very good chance of doing just as well.

I thought this right up until I reviewed their reading criteria, which stated that books were initially judged on the content of the Kindle sample. If you’re not familiar with the Kindle sample feature, it’s essentially a try-before-you-buy function that gives you the first X% of the book for free on the Kindle, and then after you reach the end of the sample, you have the opportunity to buy the rest of the book. Why did I think this might make my book’s entry as a contestant fall short? Because I didn’t know how much of the book the publisher made available for sampling, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t enough to get to the actual meat of the book.

The book includes an amazing foreword by Dr. Marta Vicente, a women’s studies professor who is a great authority on the complicated relationship between tattoos and female identity, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. However, it’s not the best measuring stick against which to judge the actual body of the book, and just as I feared, the book’s entry was rejected out of hand. I worked with my publisher to figure out if there was a way to start the sample somewhere in the middle of the book, but this doesn’t appear to be a feature that Amazon makes available.

I’ve personally been burned by this feature as well. I’ve been on the fence about shelling out the money for a book, so I try the free sample, only to get 10 pages of nothing but “front matter”: cover, blank page, copyright page, dedication page, table of contents, and (if I’m lucky) the first couple pages of an introduction, preface, or prologue. I understand why they rejected the book; if I were a judge and this was my only criteria for a certain phase, I would reject it too, because I wouldn’t get a good enough idea of whether the book is something that I would enjoy.

So what will I do differently next time (besides write an even better book, which is a current work in progress)? I’ll limit the front matter, even if means moving what would otherwise be an introduction to the back matter. Why? There are already enough barriers between getting my book in the hands of a new reader, the last thing I need is to put up another one, particularly when I can avoid it. Sampling is a great feature, and until they let authors and publishers determine the exact starting and ending point to enable for this feature, I’m going to play the game, and lick my wounds from losing a contest I previously did very well in.

What do you think? Would you buy a book that offered you no “meat” in the sample? Hit me up with your now-solicited opinion.