Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Thoughts on Teaser Chapters

By Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

I had a deadline Sunday that I met just in the nick of time. :)  It was a deadline for a teaser chapter—the first chapter in my current WIP that will go into the back of the December Penguin release.
I realized that I treat teaser chapters differently, depending on the situation.  I actually sweated a bit over this one, which was probably why I ran so close to deadline.  That’s because my editor asked for this chapter (with a September 1 deadline) before I actually started writing the book or even the outline.  That means that I wrote the chapter with an eye for marketing.
I was particularly conscious of the opening hook and the chapter ending. Ordinarily…I really don’t think too much about them.  I always open with dialogue, even though I keep reading that this is a “bad thing.” It’s worked out all right for me.
It's certainly easier on me when I get the request for a teaser chapter and I can lift the chapter out of an already-completed first draft.
My publisher tells me that they want the first chapter “fairly firm”—in other words, they don’t want any major changes.  Minor word changes would be all right.  Changing the characters’ names—not so great.
My editor will always say that if I don’t have a solid first chapter for the teaser that they’ll use the first chapter for the first book in the series.  My gut tells me that’s a less-successful marketing technique so I always make sure that I’ve got the first chapter for the new book ready (even if I’ve not written the rest of it).
On the other hand—it occurred to me that cliffhangers in trad-published teasers aren’t necessarily a great thing. Yes, it can pique reader interest in the next book.  But, if the next book isn’t being released for nearly a year (as in this case), then it might prompt some reader frustration, too.
But if you’re self-publishing, this might be exactly the effect you’re looking for.  Maybe you’ve even got the next release in your series ready to go.  Perhaps these are even backlist books. In that case, a cliffhanger of a teaser chapter would be smart marketing. 
And then…part of me wonders if teaser chapters make a huge difference to readers at all. For me, I’m already committed to reading the next book in a series, if I’ve enjoyed the series so far.  What I have done, as a reader, is buy someone else’s book when a book has been cross-promoted by a publisher with a teaser chapter.  This makes me think the self-publishing practice of trading teasers with other authors is a smart move.
As a writer, do you use teaser chapters?  As a reader, do they have an impact on your buying habits?