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I am currently working on a novel, and am approximately 45% of the way through (~37,500 words / 100 A5 pages).

Working full time, I am unable to finish my story within the next month, and I plan on completing it within the next three-to-five months. During this time, however, I would like to make people aware of its existence and was toying with the idea of offering the first chapter for free (personally, I believe that the try-before-you-buy system is a wonderful marketing strategy, plus it will also ensure that people who are likely to enjoy your book will be the only ones buying it, thus potentially providing positive feedback).

I intend on publishing my novel myself in eBook format (.epub, .mobi, etc.) and was wondering which - if any - sites offer such a first-chapter-for-free service free of charge. Ideally, I will be listing with Amazon, but I understand that an eBook can only be listed in full (i.e. I cannot list merely the first chapter on there free of charge as a pre-release sample).

Any suggestions would be great.

Many thanks.

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I would strongly advice against offering a "pre-release sample". Offering a first chapter or two for free to get your readers hooked before they have to pay is a nice touch in my opinion, but providing a portion of your novel before it is all finished sounds risky. What if you realize by the 80% mark that something is horribly broken in the beginning and you need to go back to fix it? If you have offered the first chapter, you cannot really change anything in or about the first chapter, which often includes a number of character introductions and world basics. It seems to me to be a bad idea to limit your available options like that.

Another possibility, which has been pointed out in comments by both Monica Cellio and Paul A. Clayton, is to write and publish a separate short story. It is more work than simply taking the first chapter of what you have written and dump that in peoples' laps, but it does give people a chance to see what your writing is actually like rather than risk being disappointed in only getting the very first portion, particularly if that is very little. If you do go that route, you should consider that short story an "advertisement" and make sure you do your very best with it, because people are going to judge your longer novel based on that short story if they read it. If the short story is bad, they will (right or wrong) conclude that you probably can't wing writing a novel any better.

If/when you decide to publish a portion of your novel for free, there are a couple of options. One obvious one that I can see (and this said without knowing what Amazon's etc. ebook publishing agreements are like) is to publish the first chapter separately either on a page on the merchant's site or on a site of your own, and provide a link from the purchase page. You would probably need to work out the particulars with each merchant; have you contacted e.g. Amazon and asked if they have anything like what you are after? They are, after all, the ones most qualified to answer questions about their services.

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Thank you - you make some very valid points indeed, Michael. There are three characters who are introduced very briefly in the first chapter, which in itself is rather short - the characters' traits and personalities are explored and explained in much more detail as the story progresses - and at the moment I honestly can't see any reason to change anything at all in Chapter One. However, I still appreciate that the point you make may very well be the case (is it possible to "predict" hindsight? I highly doubt it!). I have not been in touch with Amazon, but will do. Thanks again. –  SnookerFan Jun 7 '13 at 22:21
    
@SnookerFan I just know how many times I've gone back to change things even in hobby writing because some things worked out poorly in the end, and sometimes that involves making changes to pretty basic elements of the world. Even if you end up not needing that possibility, it's always good to have options. –  Michael Kjörling Jun 7 '13 at 22:30
    
@SnookerFan If you feel either answer has answered your question, please do accept it by clicking the green checkmark outline in the left-hand column. –  Michael Kjörling Jun 22 '13 at 10:40
    
I have moved some comments to chat here: chat.stackexchange.com/transcript/message/10023353#10023353 They were turning into a side conversation, which isn't what comments are for. –  Monica Cellio Jun 23 '13 at 16:39
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If you publish the initial chapter, there's one thing you should make damn sure: That the readers are guaranteed to know up front that they are reading only a part of the story. Nothing puts you down more than if you expect to get the full story, and then detect that it's only a part, and you have to pay for the rest. This is true even if the author didn't intentionally hide the fact, but just made it not obvious enough for you to notice it. At least that's how I react as a reader. If I know up front that it's a sample, then I'll start reading under that premise, and then might buy it if I like it. If I expect to get the full story, and notice the incompleteness only after getting to the (non-)end, I definitely do not feel like buying it.

I suggest to write at the very beginning of the actual ebook containing the free chapter that it is not the complete story. That way, you also cover deep links directly to the text (which may fail to mention that it's not the complete story). Note that this might include people coming from search engines (and you certainly don't want to alienate people discovering your work through search engines).

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Another way to avoid this problem might be to write a short story linked with the novel. This would be much more work than just using the first chapter, but if there was a subplot or some background information that could not be fit into the novel, using such for a short story would reduce the extra work and might satisfy the desire to communicate such. –  Paul A. Clayton Jun 8 '13 at 12:35
    
Woops! I did not see Monica Cellio's comment on the other answer stating much the same thing (though I did add the aspect that "trimmings" from the novel could be used). –  Paul A. Clayton Jun 8 '13 at 12:38
    
@PaulA.Clayton I took the liberty of adding that to my answer and crediting you as well as Monica Cellio. –  Michael Kjörling Jun 9 '13 at 9:20
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