The Kindle chapter preview: Which books benefit, which suffer and what does this mean for cap-L Lit?
June 14, 2009 | 10:43 am
It’s also a great promotional peg for Amazon.
But do previews of this kind always jibe with the welfare of Literature or even the needs of many customers in the long run?
Many memorable books take time developing characters before plunging into the plot. The idea is that the reader will care more about the fates of the heroes and others if they know them better. Yes, Scott Fitzgerald’s wisely observed that action is character. But in opening pace, he still tends to be a long way from the authors of SF action-thrillers.
Valid in situations like Fitzgerald’s?
Is the first-chapter screening, then, as valid in Fitzgerald’s case as it might be for gadget-oriented novelists and the shoot-‘em-up variety? And should Amazon let other chapters be used instead?
What great works of literature do you think would pass the Kindle First Chapter test in its present form, and why? Which would flunk it? Some might argue that the start of The Great Gatsby is sufficiently intriguing even if the first few graphs are expository rather than dramatic narrative. We’re learning plenty about Nick Carraway, in fact. But the back story is overwhelming the present action—in fact, there is virtually none of the latter in Gatsby’s first few paragraphs.
The ultimate effect on literature
If Amazon and other e-retailers with a first-chapter orientation grow in importance, as I expect, what will this mean for the future of literature? Will the character-driven variety count? Already many and perhaps most literary agents don’t bother with the rest of submissions if they don’t like the speed of the openings. Will the first-chapter fixation at Amazon just exacerbate this trend?
Related: How the Lit Fic Crowd Can Make Digital Publishing Legitimate?-–by Jane, over at DearAuthor. I’ve written similar thoughts in the past and hope that publishers will heed her and use the economies of E to improve the odds of literary works.
I know. Some editors say, “Well, the paper and distribution are just part of the costs. What about paying for editing, design and the rest?” But I’d argue that when a large house feels compelled to start out printing tens of thousands of copies, the people there will be tempted to ratchet up other costs.