The startling importance of your “Look Inside”
I never feel my age as much as when I catch myself referring to the “good old days”, and yet with self-publishing I can’t help but think back about how much easier things were (or at least seemed) back when the online eBook landscape wasn’t so crowded. With less books to choose from, it didn’t matter as much if you clearly did your own covers or hadn’t tweaked your blurb to perfection. Writing in less popular sub-genres was no big deal, either, because while there were fewer readers, they were hungry for content and there weren’t many authors feeding each niche. And don’t even get me started on advertising! It not only cost less but gave a much better return.
True, those days are gone, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make money as a self-published author anymore – you just have to pay a lot more attention to the details. Not just the things you always hear about, like your cover, blurb, and advertising, but on everything that stands between a potential reader and the buy now button. And when you’re selling on Amazon, one of the things that is so often overlooked by authors is the sneak peek at your writing provided by the Look Inside feature. Here’s Ginger with why paying attention to this is so important!
The secret to making or breaking your career as a self-published author is conversions – turning traffic to your book’s product page on Amazon into paid book sales. If you’re paying for advertising, you want that advertising to eventually pay you – and the only way to make that happen is to ensure that enough people actually buy your book.
Part of the struggle is working out how to make that happen, and there are so many different variables. Your cover, blurb, and book reviews all make a big difference – but one thing that’s surprisingly overlooked by aspiring authors is the Look Inside for your book.
Your Look Inside is the first 10% of your book, presented on Amazon as a pop-out screen for readers to peruse before they click the ‘buy now’ button (hopefully they do, anyway!)
While many of us use the Look Inside function ourselves when we’re considering new books to buy for ourselves, I’ve found a surprisingly large percentage of authors who never even consider what impact their own Look Inside might have on their book sales. In fact, it wasn’t until I looked into the issue myself that I discovered how much of a big deal it was!
Example: The start of a series
Last year, during the pandemic, I started advertising my MC romance series quite heavily – but was disappointed that the first book in my series didn’t ‘convert’ as much as I’d wanted it to. Although I was sending a decent amount of traffic to my book’s product page thanks to Facebook advertising, the number of sales and page reads I got, not to mention the follow-through to the next books in the series, always seemed underwhelming.
One day, while looking at tweaks I could make to the product page of the first book in this series, I clicked on the Look Inside for the first time; and immediately spotted the most egregious of self-publishing sins – a typo!
I promise, I did pay for the book to be professionally-edited! But no editor is perfect, and apparently I was far from perfect in reviewing their work! (FYI, this was not my current editor, who is exceptionally eagle-eyed.)
In correcting that typo, I also reread the first chapter of my book and realized that I’d written it quite a long time ago – twelve books ago, in fact – and the first few pages no longer reflected how well I could write. I mean, they were fine – as demonstrated by the thousands of copies I’d sold – but in rereading them, I realized I could do better.
So, I did.
I ended up reworking the entire book – but I paid special attention to the first chapter, realizing that it was the first glimpse of my writing that most potential readers would ever get. It was quite humbling to realize that the most important book in my catalog – the one that could hook potential readers into the next twelve in the series – was far from my best work. It should be the book that grabs a reader by the throat and refuses to let go. Instead, it was just… fine.
Rewriting sections of the book was time-consuming, but I thought it needed to be done. What I hadn’t expected, though, was the impact it would have. When I republished my updated manuscript and the Look Inside reflected those changes, I spotted something exciting almost instantly.
Suddenly, I was making more book sales.
In fact, judged by the number of clicks my Facebook ads got, compared to the number of times my book was sold, I realized that I’d practically doubled my conversions. Almost twice as many potential readers ended up buying my book as they had done previously.
I felt like an idiot, I’m not going to lie – but I also realized I was far from alone in this. During the consult calls I have with other authors, I’ve found a large number of them haven’t even considered their Look Inside to be a valuable (potentially essential) part of the conversion process; and many of them reported a spike in sales immediately after changing it.
This kind of low-hanging fruit can make or break any advertising or promotion you are doing for your books – but so many of us fail to take advantage. I guess we’ve spent so long looking at our books through the lens of an author that we’ve forgotten how it must feel to look at them as a potential reader.
As authors, we really need to focus on that. In fact, it’s possibly the second most important thing to focus on after writing the damn books! I often argue that we write our books for ourselves, but the creative choices we make in publishing them are for our readers. The Look Inside is one of those choices; and the improvement I saw in my conversions after changing my own made me realize that it’s one of the biggest and most important choices.
So, if you’re getting the hang of successfully driving advertising traffic to your book on Amazon, but you’re still not seeing the sales you’d hoped for, give your Look Inside a… well, a look inside! Consider what appears from the point-of-view of a potential reader; and make sure you fix anything that could throw up an obstacle between them and the “buy now” button.
Empathy for your reader, and a focus on the quality of your books, remains the one consistent approach to self-publishing that never seems to get old or obsolete. Tactics and techniques to advertise your book come and go, but writing the best, damn book you can is forever; and your Look Inside makes those first few pages so, so important.
Why do we overlook the Look Inside?
I’m not sure why so many of us authors forget about the significance of the Look Inside. After writing our book, I guess we often think that the first chapter or first few pages have already been finished – that it’s up to the rest of the product page to ‘sell’ our book for us.
But your Look Inside is literally that – a peek into your book that potential readers on your product page are considering handing over their hard-earned dollars for. As much as your blurb, title, and cover can make your book look great – and no matter how many good reviews you have – if a potential reader takes that early peek isn’t grabbed by your first few pages, it makes it that much less likely for them to buy your book.
So, most definitely give that some attention – and honestly evaluate your Look Inside with the critical eye of a potential customer, not your tired eye as an author.
The other take-away from the Look Inside
The other thing that you need to keep in mind with your Look Inside is within the context of writing your next and subsequent books. Once you’ve realized how big a deal the first few pages can be – as I said, I doubled my conversions when I changed Chapter One – it makes you realize that your first few pages are essential no matter where you promote your book.
For me, this has led to a bunch of different choices to make when plotting and writing new books. I’ve even taken to changing some of the narrative path (incorporating flashbacks a lot more) so I can open my book on a more exciting scene. It really changes the way you try to ‘hook’ your reader in the first few pages, and this ultimately makes for much more compelling books.
It’s worth thinking about – because although a loyal readership is the way to build a sustainable income out of self-publishing, every new book you publish (and the Look Inside, as it appears on Amazon) is a new opportunity to hook NEW readers to your catalog – and, ultimately, that’s how you advance in this competitive, but rewarding industry.
Thanks for a great article. I had a slightly different experience with my Look Inside, which I believe was detrimental to my sales for almost a whole year.
Last November, I hired a professional designer to format my debut novel in Vellum. However, when my book went live on Amazon, I was shocked to see that the “e” in Prologue was dropping to the next line (among other weird formatting issues).
When I contacted the formatter, she explained that “That happens sometimes” and said there was nothing that could be done. Deferring to her many years of experience, I accepted her answer and left it at that.
As recently as last week, I began ruminating on it and contacted KDP support to see if it might be an issue on their end. Surely enough, they were able to resolve the problem within a couple of days. It’s not perfect–there’s still no drop cap in my first paragraph–but at least the word Prologue is intact on the same line.
I informed my formatter about it and she thanked me for the reminder to contact KDP if anything wonky was going on with the Look Inside.
It was a good lesson, but I’m kicking myself for having waited so long to address the issue!
Thanks for this article. I’m definitely looking inside my Look Inside. I have 2 questions though: it seems that Amazon defaults the look inside to your 1st chapter no matter what comes prior. So what you’re saying is look at the hook of your first chapter or prologue and make sure it’s captivating, yes?
My other question is how much front matter should put before the beginning of the book? Should I put things like copyright, TOC, and other nonstory items in the back-matter instead so that more story is available?