Sunday, 11 July 2010

Rough online preview chapters - good or bad idea?

This is something I've been wondering for a while now, and I'm interested to see what others think.

Some time ago I read the opening chapter of Blake Charlton's Spellwright on his website. It was a rough version that - I think - was unedited.

I didn't think much of it at all, and decided largely on the basis of this rough chapter that the book wasn't for me.

Fast forward a few months, and I chance upon a hardback copy of Spellwright in my local bookstore. So I picked it up and scanned the first few paragraphs to remind myself why I didn't like the opening chapter.

Instead I found myself thinking, "Hmm, actually...this isn't bad at all."

Obviously, the chapter I read in the bookshop was the finished version - it had gone through the extensive editing process, and had been polished, polished, and then polished some more.

The result was that I changed my mind and decided that maybe I would give Spellwright a shot after all.

So the question I'm asking is this: is it a good idea for an author to post up rough, unedited sample chapters of their debut novel on their website? It's a trait I'm starting to see more and more of, yet I question its value.

Based on my own experience, I'd have to say no. It's very hard for debut authors to make a significant impact - for every debut that causes a buzz, there are a dozen that barely cause a ripple. Why make it harder for yourself by showing everyone your rough, unpolished prose?

I suppose the counter argument is that perhaps a lot of readers will like the sample chapters, and they act as a sneak preview sort of thing, which some readers appreciate - and this may even help create some buzz. But for people like me, for whom strong, stylish prose is highly desirable, it has the opposite effect. I don't really like the majority of writers' polished prose, so showing me your rough version is not really advised.

There are certainly two sides to this argument, and I'm interested to see which side people fall on.


Simcha said...

I don't think it's a good ideas for authors to publish rough drafts of their work, particularly if they are new authors.But they could do what Brandon Sanderson does and put up the samples of the work-in-progress, after the book has already been completed.

Sharon Ring said...

I'd have to say no as well. It's an interesting idea/experiment for more established authors to play around with but, when there are so many new authors out there and competition to get noticed is so high, showing the world your unedited novel is most definitely not the way for new authors to go.

Just how different were the sample and finished chapters? Had there just been a bit of a tidy-up or were there any major changes?

Jebus said...

I also think it's a bad idea. Would anyone want to see the original Toy Story storyboard where Woody was a total c**t? No (ok, well maybe). But the fact is stories can change a lot between then and the released product, the whole damn tone can change dramatically.

It may be a nice and interesting curio for someone to look at once they've read the book, but an author putting it our there in unfinished form is just asking for trouble.

Jessica Strider said...

I used to think it was a good idea, a way of showcasing your work. But ultimately, what a new writer thinks is a polished chapter and what actually is a polished chapter can be two VERY different things. No point shooting yourself in the foot by posting something you'll regret two months later.

Moses Siregar III said...

Rough material, no. Polished material, fine if you want to do that.

Mike said...

Being a successful debut author means not only writing brilliant work, but also building an audience, cultivating a fan-base and taking opportunities to get yourself heard. You are one voice among many.

There is some excellent writing out there, but there is also a lot of mediocre and so-so writing too. By putting up something that is not ready, you risk being counted among the also-rans.

If you need feedback on unfinished work, then send it to a critique group or go through one of the web-forums. Otherwise it's an opportunity wasted.

Gino said...

There's plenty of time between a polished version of a draft is done and when a book is published. If the idea is to get some buzz, then one should wait... there's time to get the buzz out there with a better sample than a rough draft.

Now, new authors obviously want and need feedback, so they need to get the rough draft out somehow, but not to the masses as some have done.

Niall Alexander said...

Seems to be something of a consensus here, and I'd add my voice to the chorus: publishing rough drafts might be fine for an established author, a Stephen King curiosity or something similar, but for writers still to make their mark it can only spell trouble.

The Evil Hat said...

I think it's a cool insight into the writing process, and I love to look at them, but I think posting them before people have gotten acquainted with your polished work spells nothing but disaster. Even when Brandon Sanderson did the draft-by-draft posts of Warbreaker, I saw people judge him on the first drafts of the first few chapters and decide that he wasn't for them, and that was his fifth book.

Blake Charlton said...

obviously i’m very interested in your conclusions. i wonder if you first saw the chapters when pat's hotlist pointed to me. i must admit to having been caught completely unawares when pat posted that. my site at that point was very rough and designed to show rough talent to agents and editors. the samples were years old. though i was clearly unprepared for public attention, I must say I think having a newbie website was useful for showing industry types how I might present myself online. very not useful for the public. ergo, i’ve been delaying the release of the Spellbound samples until they are within one final polish draft.

James said...

Thanks everyone for your comments; looks like we're all of a similar mind here.

Thanks Blake for dropping by - guess the moral of the story is to remember that what you post online is viewable by everyone! But yes, I think polished chapters are fine, perhaps even a good idea these days.

Tyson said...

I tend to stay away from preview chapters. I am waiting to get my hands on Way of Kings and Black Prism and I was even sent the first three chapters from the publisher for Black Prism but will not spoil things by reading them.

As for rough previews, unless it is a deleted scene such as Peter V Brett's postings I stay away from them as they don't serve any real purpose. If the book isn't even out yet it may turn me away completely. Which is why I avoid previews at all costs.