IAM Guest Post…The Joy of Sampling

Guest Feature

Today on Indie Author Month we welcome author Sara Zaske as our guest. Sara is an expat American writer living in Berlin, Germany. Her debut novel, The First, is available at all places that sell fabulous books. She’s currently revising a scorcher of a second novel called, Spitfire. You can visit her book blog at YA Fantastic Book Review.


The Joy of Sampling

I’ll admit it. I’m a serial sampler.

I often cruise Amazon or Smashwords to download free samples of books. I probably have hundreds on my Kindle. Of course, I’m a book blogger, a writer, and an all-round reading addict, but I think every reader should sample books with the same abandon.

Why sample? Because you can. When you pick up a book at a bookstore, what’s the first thing you do? Look at the cover? Read the flap stuff? I open it and read the first line or paragraph. For me, it’s the only way to tell if it’s going to be a good book. Usually though, I like to read 10-20 pages before I decide to get it. But by then, the bookstore employees are looking at me funny.

With ebooks, you can read the first couple chapters of nearly any book that catches your eye and read them at your leisure. This is one of the best ways to discover Indie authors because let’s be honest, there’s a lot of chaff out there in both traditional and Indie publishing world. And who wants to spend time and money on a dud?

No Kindle? No problem. Even if you don’t have an ereader, you can sample books on your computer, iPad or smartphone. Smashwords allows you to sample books in almost any format. And Amazon has free apps that will turn almost any device into an ereader. (So does B&N, see the image next to Nook book buy link: example.)

Of course, sampling is super easy if you have a Kindle or a Nook. Just click Send sample on the right of a Amazon Kindle book page (example), or the Get Free Sample link next to the Buy Now button on Barnes & Noble (example).

What to look for in a sample? I probably don’t have to tell you. You know it when you read it. But here are some of the things I look for:

Grabber opening—Sets up an interesting problem from the get go, usually in the very first line

Great character— A main character who is sympathetic but flawed (problems are always more interesting than perfection)

Voice—A confident storyteller who makes no mistakes, earns my trust, and generally gives me the feeling that my imaginiation is in good hands

Start Now! A great place to begin sampling is right in front of you: this very blog. Cruise the Indie author postings from this month, click their links, download free samples, and start reading.

The First by Sara ZaskeI’ll give you a taste right now. Here are the opening lines from my YA urban fantasy novel, The First:

“I should have never gone to the new girl’s house. The walls didn’t need to melt, and the ground didn’t have to disappear under my feet to know that I should have stayed far away from Violet Starkey . . .“

Want more? Download a longer free sample of The First from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Smashwords)

Tony’s Thinking: Finding an Old Friend


A few years ago, I was wandering through the library at the school where I work, and there was a book seller vending his wares. Just on the spur of the moment, I asked him if he had Bedknob and Broomstick by Mary Norton.

And he did. Wow. Nostalgia trip! It was like finding an old childhood teddy bear in a forgotten cupboard.

You see, B&B was one of the first books I read independently when I was about six, and I devoured it. The plot was simple, the characters easy to grasp and I loved that book. I still love it, and sometimes still even quote it (“It’s cheaper to spit in a bus”, “Pale hands, my heart is singing…”). I read it over and over, and it soaked into me.

I was utterly transported by it, carried away for the first time I could remember. My love of books and writing is all down to this. Here is where it all started for me.

As a result, B&B is part of who I am today. It got me into reading, and there’s been nothing I’ve ever read since that has given me such simple pleasure. Flicking through it again years later, I was still captivated by it, like finding a childhood toy that can still transport your imagination to another world. It was like stepping back to being six years old again.

I was swept away by it when I reread it, and that’s something every book should do to you. Take you away from where you are and drop you somewhere else, whether it’s by magical bed like in B&B or Platform 9-3/4 of Harry Potter.

There’s an elemental power in the first book we remember reading, something that stops with us for the rest of our lives. One of the reasons I love reading – and one of the reasons I love writing – is to write something like this: Something that doesn’t leave you, but becomes part of who you are as you go through life.

I haven’t come close to writing anything as elegant as B&B yet, which is why I keep trying. I don’t think I’ll ever come close to anything like this wonderful and powerfully simple little story that captured my imagination and then set it free again.

Thank you Mary Norton. Thank you more than I could ever tell you.


Have a favourite childhood book? Leave your comment below.

W…W…W… Wednesdays

To play along, just answer the following three (3) questions…

• What are you currently reading?
• What did you recently finish reading?
• What do you think you’ll read next?

My Answers:

What are you currently reading?

Saving Mary  Saving Mary by Deidre Havrelock

If you’re a fan of supernatural fiction then you will be captivated by this true story about a spiritually sensitive girl and the path that led to her possession. Part one of a two-part series, Saving Mary is the story of a modern-day Mary Magdalene—the woman from whom Jesus cast out seven demons.
Deidre Daily is drawn to anything seemingly spiritual, desperately seeking a spiritual existence. But inside this vibrant girl hides a terrified child who sincerely believes she has married the devil. Through a series of spiritual encounters her fear turns into reality, and she ends up possessed.

What did I recently finish reading?

The Bull Years  The Bull Years by Phil Stern 

For Steve, Sophia, Dave, and Brooke, life hasn’t turned out as planned. Rather than easy fame and fortune, these happy-go-lucky teenagers of the 1980’s found young adulthood a mystifying series of dead-end jobs, failed relationships, family scandal, and surging frustration.
Now approaching middle age, all they want is to reverse their gradual alienation from life and one another, reconnecting with their earlier, innocent selves.
But there’s a catch. Before any of them can move forward, they must collectively confront that one outrageous night back in college that first drove them apart, revealing secrets potentially shattering everything they ever were.

What do I think I will read next?

Pack of Lies (Red Ridge Pack Series # 1)  Pack of Lies by Staci Weber and Sara Dailey

The last thing Allison Wright ever expected when she moved to Red Ridge, New Mexico was to come muzzle to muzzle with the wolf of her dreams.
Seventeen-year-old Allison Wright is convinced she’s losing her mind. Uncontrollable mood swings, hot flashes, and the urge to punch anyone who gets in her way are suddenly becoming everyday occurrences. Before her erratic behavior gets out of hand, Allison’s mother finally comes clean about her dark secret. Mom is a werewolf, and soon Allison and her brother Aiden will suffer the same fate. When Allison reaches her breaking point, the family leaves their life in Texas to move to Red Ridge, New Mexico where they rejoin the pack that Allison’s mother left behind almost 20 years ago.