News for Authors

Try Before You Buy

by Matt Schwartz|May, 2015

Previewing books has become increasingly important in helping readers decide to buy. A recent study found that 18 percent of respondents had read a sample of a book or looked through it in person, and liked it enough to make the purchase. More anecdotally, we often see a spike in sales when titles are placed into sampling programs, and a drop in sales when titles are withdrawn.

Many online retailers, including Barnes & Noble and iBooks, provide previews from the beginning of the book, as does Typically retailers offer up to 20 percent of the book to help readers decide if it is the right purchase for them. Readers of eBooks who download samples from Kindle, Nook, or iBooks will usually receive the first 10 percent of the book on their device. Amazon and Google, on the other hand, have unique sampling programs that are often misunderstood.

Amazon and Google use the complete internal text of a book to help match books to users’ searches, and then show them an excerpt specific to what they were searching for. Neither Amazon nor Google will ever show more than 20 percent of a book’s content to any individual—but the 20 percent that is shown to you is often a different 20 percent from what they would show another user. With Google, it can often seem that the whole book can be previewed because if you scroll quickly, it looks like you can breeze through the entire text. In fact, spending even one second on a page is long enough for Google to consider that you’ve read the page. Once you’ve seen 20 percent of the book, the preview will shut off all other pages. Leaving the website and coming back will not alter your preview—Google will remember you and provide you the same preview you’ve already seen.

These two particular programs can be frustrating to authors, particularly fiction authors, who would like to make sure that the parts of their book presented to readers form a complete and intelligible whole. However, the rationale behind these programs is that with the entire text of the book used for discoverability, readers are more likely to see the part that interests them, resulting in more book sales. And our experience has been that these programs are valued by readers and do drive purchases.

The vast majority of recent Penguin Random House titles will have a preview excerpt available on and retailer sites. (If your recent title does not have a preview on, please get in touch with your marketer to see if one can be made available.)

In addition, Penguin Random House has developed a modern previewing widget that readers can use to view a sample of a title on This widget is only available when you view the site on your desktop, since the excerpt will provide a better reading experience for mobile users. The widget is also available to authors to use on their own websites or blogs.

Here’s how:

  • Locate your title’s book page on A book page will look like this one for Dead Wake.
  • If the Insight widget is available, you’ll see a “Look Inside” link below the book cover.
  • Click on “Look Inside” to produce a small window where you can preview the title.
  • If you hover your mouse over the bottom of any of the pages in the preview, you’ll see an “Embed” button. This button will produce a snippet of code that can be pasted into a web page or blog. Here is an example for Dead Wake:

<iframe style=”height:800px;width:600px;” id=”atomic-insight-reader” src=” Larson&title=Dead Wake”></iframe>


Matt Schwartz is V.P., Director of Digital Strategy and Associate Digital Publisher for Random House.