Book Series: Should We Include a Teaser Excerpt?

by Jami Gold on August 1, 2013

in Writing Stuff

Child sticking out his tongue with text: Teasing Is Good When...

Yesterday, Kristen Lamb ran an encore of one of my posts from last year on her blog. We both liked that post because it discusses the importance of leaving the reader room to use their imagination.

In the post, I made an aside about the danger of including a teaser excerpt for the next book in a series at the end of our story. So many people commented on my observation that I wanted to delve more into the issue.

Are teaser chapters always a bad idea? Or only under certain circumstances? Let’s find out.

Danger? What Danger?

We’ve heard that we sell this book with the packaging (cover, back-cover blurb, etc.) and this book sells the next book. A teaser excerpt, typically the first chapter of book two placed at the end of book one (and so forth), takes that sales idea to a literal level.

But there’s a danger when that technique messes with the reader’s imagination. As I shared in the post:

“I read the first book of a series where the heroine was happy at the ending. Aww, perfect.

However, the author included a teaser chapter for the next book in the series, and the heroine was facing problems left over from book one. Ugh. That teaser acted like an epilogue and ruined the entire first book for me. Instead of tempting me to read the next story, the teaser turned me off from the whole series forever.”

Yikes. That’s definitely not what the author was going for, so let’s dig into why that sales method didn’t work as intended.

Series Are Not Created Equal—At Least When It Comes to Teasers

A big element determining the success of a teaser excerpt is what type of series we’re writing. Some types of series work well with teasers, while others don’t.

Books are typically labeled a series because they share a common factor:

  • Setting: These series take place in the same “world” but might each feature different characters. The characters of book two may or may not have been introduced in book one. The events of book two may or may not be dependent on the events of book one. Many romance series fall into this category, each book featuring a different couple that receives their “happily ever after” by the end of their story.
  • Characters: These series feature the same characters. The events of book two may or may not be dependent on the events of book one. Many urban fantasy series fall into this category, each book featuring a different bad guy for the protagonist to defeat. However, series like Nancy Drew also fall into this category, where each book stands alone and can be read in any order.
  • Story Arc: These series follow a main story over several installments. Each book usually features at least some of the same characters. Sometimes a story will end with a cliffhanger to be resolved in the next book. These books need to be read in order to make sense. Typically, these series have a definitive ending rather than going on forever (a story arc needs to end sometime), but for sales reasons, some authors have attempted to turn a story arc series into an open-ended series (to mixed results).

Obviously, series can share more than one common element. Those with a common story arc usually share common characters and settings as well. The Harry Potter series has common characters and settings (and individual book arcs) in addition to its series-long story arc.

Why Some Teaser Excerpts Hurt the Ending of the Book

Over on Kristen’s blog, Heather Button asked why the teaser chapter I mentioned in the post didn’t work for me:

“Did you know it was part of a series? Would that have affected your take on it? Or was the problem because she in the end didn’t grow?”

The teaser chapter I referred to was clearly marked, so it wasn’t a case of confusion. Book one had a good, wrap-up ending (not a cliffhanger). In other words, it read like a paranormal romance, where the hero and heroine found their happily ever after at the end.

However, the teaser chapter made it clear that it was more like an urban fantasy, in that the same hero and heroine were featured. Sometimes this would mean the same characters would fight new bad guys. I wouldn’t have had a problem with the introduction of a new problem.

Instead, the teaser excerpt felt like more of the same—at least as far as the heroine’s emotional arc. All the progress she’d made emotionally was erased. The couple’s happily ever after was broken. Essentially, the teaser chapter told me book one didn’t matter and the ending hadn’t been “real.”

If the teaser chapter hadn’t been there, I would have closed the book and basked in the good feelings of the couple’s happy ending for a while, imagining them living happily for years. Later, maybe a day, maybe a year, I would have opened book two and seen the lingering emotional issues and accepted that “better” doesn’t mean “perfect.”

With the teaser chapter, I never got to enjoy those feelings of satisfaction at the end of book one’s story. I never got to imagine those years of happiness for them. As I said above, it acted instead like an epilogue to this book, giving it a sad ending.

Teaser Excerpts Are a Good Idea When…

Let’s go back to that list of common elements. If the only common element is setting, each book acts as a standalone story. Events revealed in the teaser wouldn’t usually affect our understanding of events in book one, so teaser excerpts could work very well as a sales tool.

If the common element is character, it depends. If the next book introduces an entirely new conflict with the same characters, readers could want to learn about the characters’ next adventure. Or if the next book continues with a question left over from a subplot, readers would be reminded of that mystery.

Teaser excerpts could work with either of those cases. However, if the next book unravels the end of the arc of the current book, we’re messing with the reader’s memory of this book.

If the common element is story arc and each book ends with a cliffhanger, we have to ask ourselves if the cliffhanger at the end of chapter one of the next book is really more enticing than the cliffhanger at the end of this book. After all, we ended this book at that point for a reason. *smile*

If a story arc book doesn’t end with a cliffhanger, the answer might depend on what happens in that first chapter of book two. Do the events take away or in any way erase the gains of book one? If so, a teaser chapter might interfere with the reader’s satisfaction.

We don’t want to build interest in the next book by ruining the reader’s experience of this book. We usually want to leave the reader with certain thoughts or emotions at the end of the story. If the teaser unravels the emotions we induced at “The End” in any way, we’re effectively erasing the ending of the first story. And that’s no way to sell the next book. *smile*

Do you like or dislike teaser excerpts? Does it bug you that teaser excerpts mislead you about how much of the story is left? Has a teaser for the next book ever ruined the ending of a book for you? Do you agree with these tips for when a teaser excerpt might or might not work? Do you have other examples or suggestions?

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35 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

Michelle Roberts (@michroberts90) August 1, 2013 at 7:04 am

As a rule, I never read teaser chapters. This is for 2 reasons. 1) I read the author’s next book based on the book I just finished. 2) I don’t want to be driven even more crazy while waiting for the next book to come out.

For me, the teaser chapter at the end of the book is like the prologue that a lot of readers skip (although I never skip a prologue). 🙂

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Jami Gold August 1, 2013 at 9:56 am

Hi Michelle,

LOL! at the driven crazy part. I can understand that. 🙂

The only time I’ve been able to resist a teaser chapter is when the publisher includes a teaser of a different author (who I know I don’t enjoy) or when I know I’m going to read that next book right away, so there’s no point to reading that chapter here. 🙂 So I guess teaser chapters work on me as far as the tease.

But I can think of several that convinced me not to buy either because of the issue discussed here or because I saw the quality of the other author (in those publisher-included chapters of their other authors) wasn’t good. So teasers have a low success rate in getting me to buy. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your take and for the comment!

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Carradee August 1, 2013 at 10:16 am

As a reader, I like teaser chapters best when I can immediately go buy the book if I enjoy it. And while it doesn’t need to be the sequel, it does need to be related, like a chapter from a spin-off series. (I actually suspect the “spin-off series” is the best time to use the teaser chapters—makes the reader aware of related series, gets them invested in the setup, without potentially sabotaging the story just told.)

From a marketing perspective, I like the idea of teaser chapters, but in my own experience playing with them, they don’t seem to help sales at all.

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Jami Gold August 1, 2013 at 10:29 am

Hi Carradee,

Yes, I agree that if the next book won’t be for sale anytime soon, then it’s too much of a tease. LOL!

Great point about spin-offs! Most likely, they would fit into the “setting” category discussed above, for which I saw very little downside to including an excerpt. And as you said, the teaser can be a great method for letting readers know about the related series.

Interesting about how you haven’t seen an increase in sales in your experience. From a reader perspective, if I liked the story I just finished, I’d probably buy (or plan on buying) the next book with or without the teaser. So in that case, the teaser would be more to let me know when the next book releases, who will be featured, etc.

On the other hand, if I didn’t enjoy the book I just finished, I’m more likely to skip the teaser chapter. Or if I do read it, I’d buy the next book only if I saw significant improvement over the current book.

In marketing speak, it seems like the teaser chapter works as an impression (letting readers know) but is less important as a standalone sales trigger. I’d put book trailers into that same category. They’re not likely to trigger someone to buy on their own, but they help add up to a reader’s overall number of impressions that might get them to buy down the line.

Interesting! 🙂 Thanks for the insightful comment!

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Carradee August 1, 2013 at 1:21 pm

There is one situation I forgot about that actually benefits from teasers: crowdfunding projects. Which is interesting from a marketing perspective. 🙂

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Jami Gold August 1, 2013 at 3:39 pm

Hi Carradee,

Good point! We need to make it clear here that we’re not saying teasers are always bad. 🙂 Teasers or excerpts can be a useful sales tool in many ways–a sample chapter on an author’s website for example. The problem is with the delivery location (at the end of another story) and not with the teaser itself. That’s a great distinction to make! 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Barbara August 1, 2013 at 12:27 pm

The best example I can think of for me is the Twilight books. I wanted to go on and on. Other spin-off books just irritate me. I don’t like reading the chapter twice and I don’t like rereading things from the previous book to catch-up readers. If I am involved with the characters and their life I want to continue onto the next book. I will not read the teaser chapter.
I love your blog and look forward to receiving it.

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Jami Gold August 1, 2013 at 12:59 pm

Hi Barbara,

Great point about not wanting the read the chapter twice! Yes, if I know I’m going to get the next book, sometimes I can resist reading the teaser chapter for that reason alone. 🙂

I also don’t want to read the teaser chapter and then skip it in the actual book because what if they’re not the same? (Note: This is ultra-completionist me speaking–LOL!) What if the teaser was from pre-final edits? Or what if the teaser excerpt isn’t the full chapter and just parts of it? Yeah, I have a love-hate relationship with the things. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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chemistken August 1, 2013 at 12:28 pm

Can’t say as I’ve read any books that had teasers. Then again, maybe I just wasn’t paying attention. Either way, I can definitely understand why having a teaser that presents the future in a different way than I expected them to be, based on my reading of the first book, would be annoying.

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Jami Gold August 1, 2013 at 1:02 pm

Hi ChemistKen,

“…a teaser that presents the future in a different way than I expected them to be, based on my reading of the first book, would be annoying.”

That’s a great way put it! 🙂 If a teaser changes our fundamental understanding of this book–characters, arcs, future, etc.–then it changes how we interpret the current book, which might not match the author’s intentions. Thanks for the comment!

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Widdershins August 1, 2013 at 12:49 pm

The only teaser chapters I’ve liked are for Mysteries that have an on-going detective/sleuth who I know is going to be around for a whole ‘nuther bunch of stories, and only partially set up the plot (just a bit more information than I would be able to find in the back cover blurb)

I guess that’s why I don’t watch the ‘next week on …’ TV trailers either They take me out of enjoying the moment and reflecting on what I’ve just seen.

… and don’t get me started on the interminable movie trailers and ‘sneak peeks’ and short clips that start being released years (only a slight exaggeration) before the movie hits the cinemas!

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Jami Gold August 1, 2013 at 1:07 pm

Hi Widdershins,

Yes! Setting up the plot a bit more than we already know from the back-cover blurb is less problematic. But as you said, at the end of a book, I like reflecting on what I just finished. Teasers can force us out of that “zen moment.” 🙂

LOL! Yes, I know what you mean about movie teasers being released so early. I remember seeing one that was for 2 years down the line, and I was incredulous. That’s more likely to make me sick of the thing before it comes out, or to make me think, “Wait, wasn’t that out already and I’d decided to skip it?” Again, not the reactions the sales people hope for. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Taurean Watkins August 1, 2013 at 2:19 pm

My paperback copy of Janice Hardy’s “The Shifter” had a teaser chapter for “Blue Fire” second of the trilogy, and I didn’t read it, but they also included questions for book club discussion, I think those can be interesting, but I bought it purely for the price, and while I had emotional time with the book, it was a solid story, I will read the next book eventually, but I’m still recovering from the first book emotionally, and this was TWO YEARS ago.

I owe the book club I sometimes take part in to my having the courage to finally read/listen to the audiobook when I got too emotionally jerked around reading solely in print. It’s easier to dive into new literary territory when you’re doing it with friends, especially when they’re reading tastes are WAY braver than mine on average.

I hadn’t thought teaser chapters would undo the experience of the book one JUST READ, but I can see the issue now, and I think I’ll just avoid that tactic, especially because I don’t want my quality standards questioned unjustly.

On the other hand, it could play in favor of the authors who’ve drafted all the books in a series ahead of time, so at least any teasers would be close if not highly similar to the final book, since earnest work on a sequel comes, especially if it took off.

So, I can see it from both sides, but for me, the risks of undoing what I did in the book at hand is TOO HIGH a price speaking from either my author or reader POV, not my marketing POV…

I’ve been thinking how my debut fits the criteria above-

I am working on a sequel to my debut (Alongside a unrelated WIP story), it’s in the same world, and while the MC of my debut isn’t in it, it stars my antagonist from the first book with a mix of old and new characters, but I wouldn’t consider it a stand-alone in that it takes place a year after the events of book one, and it wouldn’t make sense to start the book any earlier because the antagonist (Who’s the protagonist of the new book) would not yet learned what he needs to learn for the events of book 2 to happen, nor have the motivation and external/internal needs to make the journey made in this next book.

In other words, this book wouldn’t exist without the events from book one, even though the progtaginist from book one’s not physically in it.

I guess in that sense, it’s more like HP, where each book had a book-specific arc, but there is this long-term arc that only all the books in order can give the reader. Something as a reader I really appreciate, and while there few purely open-ended series that do it for me.

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Jami Gold August 1, 2013 at 3:51 pm

Hi Taurean,

Like you, this post has forced me to think about how I’ll handle the issue with my stories. I originally thought a teaser chapter sounded like a great idea. As I mentioned in the post, it’s taking “use this book to sell the next one” to a literal level.

However, many times our goal with a teaser would be mostly to make the reader aware of the next book. After all, if they liked this one, they don’t necessarily need to be “sold” on the next one. A simple page at the end of the book along the lines of, “Watch for Book Two of xyz series in October, 20xx,” would do the trick for that simple awareness goal.

That page could also include the cover of book two, a tagline or short blurb, and newsletter signup instructions to hear the official release date. A single page like that wouldn’t get in the way of this story, wouldn’t bloat the word count (which can lead to disappointment when this story ends sooner than we thought it would), and would still meet the goal. (Note to self: Go this route unless I have a compelling reason to do more. 🙂 )

What would you think of that approach? Thanks for the comment!

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Taurean Watkins August 2, 2013 at 4:18 am

Yes, that can work, Jami, but I think it’s more common to see that in series than related stand alone books, unless there are characters in common.

One thing I’m concerned about in the print versions of a book (If you’re not ebook only) is that the newsletter and website info might change if a reader picks up a book five, ten, or more years from now.

As an author you need to be careful about including information that can become dated quickly. You can quickly update an ebook to reflect those changes, but you’re stuck with them on the print book until the next one, assuming reader loyalty.

Though I said above a lot of open-ended series don’t do it for me as a reader (Like seeing characters grow and progress too much), the Geronimo Stilton series does this well. If’ you’ve seen my review on T.A.A. you’ll know just what I mean.

In terms of the topic addressed above, at the end pages after the story’s done, they usually tease the next book with cover, title, and a short blurb, and that’s enough to get me, without spoiling it, or “undoing” what I just read.

But that series is WAY more open-ended than what I write, so that helps, too.

Those of us who have a more linear story arc have a lot more to consider. But I think I’m personally better off leaving it out and let the book shine or tarnish on its own merits.

That said, longtime authors usually have an “Also by X Author” list of their past books in a series or related to the book you’re reading.

That lets readers know of your backlist, without inundating them with stuff that gets in the way of reading the current book on its own merits.

I think the countdown page idea best works if the book first came out in hardcover, and the paperback when you might hear when the next book’s coming out.

Whereas with the ebook version, you can just lead people to your main website where that news will be available when it’s available.

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Jami Gold August 2, 2013 at 10:08 am

Hi Taurean,

“I think it’s more common to see that in series than related stand alone books, unless there are characters in common.”

Hmm, then how common those are may vary between genres. I know I’ve seen them sometimes at the end of completely unrelated books. Some publishers will put them in even for other authors!

As you said, linear and/or connected story arcs have more to consider about what to reveal (or not reveal) about future books. And if we start with the assumption that if the reader liked this book, they’re already “sold” on the next one and just have to be made aware of it, a list of books by the author with a “coming soon” label on the next book could work too. Good stuff to think about! 🙂

That’s a good point about dated links too. That’s yet another reason to own our platform as much as we can–at least our domain name, so we can take it with us wherever we go.

All great points! Thanks for the thoughtful discussion! 🙂

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Taurean Watkins August 9, 2013 at 10:00 am

Well, even though you own most of your platform, links still change for other reasons.

For example, when I moved from Blogger to self-hosted Wordpress, I changed how I named my post urls,so I renamed a lot of my earlier posts before the switch to be easier to remember and reference for both me and the readers.

That’s more what I was thinking about, versus say my facebook page that stays more or less the same, depending on what Facebook decides to force on us…

I’m sure your site will change in some ways when you start building your body of work, right?

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Jami Gold August 9, 2013 at 10:57 am

Hi Taurean,

Very true! If we change our permalink format, we can mess up those internal links. Sometimes my site will do auto-forwarding of changes like that and sometimes it won’t. I haven’t quite figured out those variables. 🙂 Good point and thanks for the comment!

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Taurean Watkins August 10, 2013 at 1:54 pm

Just something I felt needed clarification.

While I’ll always own my blog’s url (While I’m alive, anyway…) I may have to change it in ways that will make links change.

I’ll probably just keep most of my web links mostly for any ebook version of books I do, since you can update that information when needed.

I know Janice Hardy’s site went through a couple versions from the time I first started following her blog years ago to now.

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Jami Gold August 10, 2013 at 3:08 pm

Hi Taurean,

Yep, I don’t disagree that there’s a risk. My friend Stina Lindenblatt just had to change her URL because her domain expired a week earlier than she thought. Yikes! The point, like you said, is that things can go wrong, even when we think they won’t. Thanks for the comment!

Serena Yung August 1, 2013 at 7:08 pm

Hmm, I’ve never really thought about this issue before, mostly because I usually avoid reading teasers because I already bought the next book so I don’t want to spoil anything for myself XD I’ll probably read it if I don’t have the next book though.

But it’s a good point about how some teasers may “unravel” the ending made in the first book, and thus ruin the experience for us. This is not quite related, but I read a very nice romance with a very happy ending. But after the ending, they included a preview script for the MOVIE they made of the book. The problem was, that preview ended on a very sad note (i.e. ended on the PROBLEM that the story will later solve). Even though I knew that all would be okay in the end, that note of sadness concluding the book really made me unhappy, such that I deliberately reread the last few pages of the STORY (not the movie script), so I end with the happy ending again, lol. That “last feeling” of the reader after they put down your book is so important!

I didn’t think about writing teasers for any of my books before, but after reading this, I think I’d rather avoid using them. (Partly because I wouldn’t even have WRITTEN that next book yet XD)

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Jami Gold August 1, 2013 at 10:35 pm

Hi Serena,

Oh, I understand! I think I’ve gone back and reread the last few pages of the story a couple of times after those teaser excerpts. 🙂 As you said, that final note is so important. Thanks for the comment!

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Taurean Watkins August 17, 2013 at 9:18 am

That said, Serena, I think this CAN be more tricky if you’re coming to the first book in a series that’s not yet completed when you jump in.

Sometimes it’s not always clear what the first book in a series is (if they’re not numbered), and a lot of series pre-2000 were happenstance, not being planned for series, but evolved more organically as one over time.

Now some older series may be reissued and numbered, but if you first discover them in their earlier editions (Especially from libraries) that aren’t numbered, you don’t always know, especially in the pre-internet days.

I don’t know about you, Serena or Jami, but until I’ve read a new book from a new to me author cover to cover, I don’t always think to look him or her up to see if there’s more books by that author, unless it was a personal recommendation.

I sometimes bought a book not realizing it was a series, or that it’s not the first one, and many older series were written to stand alone, even if they continue a longer story arch.

For me as a writer, I prefer series that allow characters and their world to grow over time, and that means you can only be so open-ended, and for a reader to engage with my series, they need to read them all and in order to get the full story, and I sometimes fear the push by some agents and publishers to make books stand alone is to the writer’s detriment at times.

Unless you’re writing a true stand alone of which I personally haven’t written much of yet. Just my personal thoughts on the matter.

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Jami Gold August 18, 2013 at 11:07 am

Hi Taurean,

Absolutely, some series are more standalone-ish than others. Some have to be read in a certain order. And that changes the situation a bit.

I’ve written both: a set series designed to be read in order and a standalone novel that later expanded to an open, read-in-any-order series. Thanks for the comment! 🙂

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Rinelle Grey August 1, 2013 at 10:34 pm

As I’m getting near finishing the edit on the second series of my novel, I’ve been wondering this. I leave the end of the first book with a major situation resolved, but curiosity in the reader for the second book (or so many have mentioned in their reviews). Seems to me like I’ve ended it at the right place.

Then again, those who’ve read the second book say the opening is strong and grips them right from the start. So I don’t know! The problems my characters are facing are quite different to those they faced in the first book, and more environmental than internal, so it’s a difficult call!

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Jami Gold August 1, 2013 at 10:41 pm

Hi Rinelle,

Interesting dilemma! Make sure you read through the other comments here, as others make some good points. There’s the “disappointing the reader that the story ends before the end of the book” issue, the “messing up the final note” issue, and the “if people liked this book, you don’t need to sell them on the next, just make them aware it exists” issue (that I can think of off the top of my head). 🙂

Personally, I’d stick with a single page announcement with cover, tagline or short blurb, and release date announcement. Then you still get the awareness of the next book without the potential negatives. But what I’d choose for my books might not be the best situation for others. 🙂 Good luck with your decision and thanks for the comment!

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Rinelle Grey August 1, 2013 at 10:55 pm

Good point, the comments are worth reading!

I’m really thinking I’m going to leave the story where I choose to leave it! I might link to the first couple of chapters on my webpage though, for any readers who would like a sample. Though I guess most would just go and download the sample chapters from Amazon if they want to take a look!

Currently, I have the cover, blurb, and a link to signup for my mailing list in the back. I think that might be the best option.

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Jami Gold August 1, 2013 at 10:56 pm

Rinelle,

That sounds perfect to me! 🙂 Good luck with it!

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Laura Pauling August 2, 2013 at 5:32 am

I hate to say this but….I rarely read the teaser chapters. Most times that is not what convinces me to read the next book. It truly was the first book and how much I enjoyed/liked the story and characters. If I do read the teaser, it’s the first or second page, not the entire first chapter.

I think it would be most effective when it’s a series or the teaser is another one of the author books…and the blurb and first page really hooks me. 🙂

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Jami Gold August 2, 2013 at 10:14 am

Hi Laura,

You’re not alone. 🙂 A good number of these comments are about how if the reader liked this book, they’re probably already sold on the next book, and they just have to be made aware of it. A simple announcement page of cover, tagline or short blurb, and release date could do that. Thanks for chiming in with your thoughts!

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SBibb August 4, 2013 at 12:52 pm

Interesting. I hadn’t thought about how teaser chapters affected the previous books, but you have a point about it unraveling the ending. I think there’s been a few books like that, where I deliberately didn’t read it because I didn’t want to ruin what had been set up. Or I felt disgruntled after realizing the problem wasn’t solved.

Then again, I remember some trailers being awesome in catching my attention, but those were in series where the first story was ended, but you knew there would be another problem to solve in the next (I think it was Animorphs I read like this).

So I guess it depends on the book and the type of story it is.

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Jami Gold August 4, 2013 at 1:01 pm

Hi SBibb,

Exactly! Readers don’t want their good feelings unraveled. 🙂 As you said, whether or not a teaser could help will depend on the type of story. Thanks for the comment!

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