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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Authors Give 1st Glimpse Online

NEW YORK -- When authors write a new book these days, one of the first places it will be seen is on the Internet -- which, more and more, is becoming the place to read "Chapter 1" of tomorrow's bestsellers.

Whether you want a taste of blockbuster thriller writer Tom Clancy's books or an obscure literary author, the Internet has become a place to help you decide what to buy.

Posting of excerpts began around five years ago with online book retailers requesting them from publishers to help stoke sales in the then brand-new medium. But now, it's become the normal practice to put a sample online.

"Prior to the Internet, there really wasn't any good mechanism to get portions of a book, interviews with a particular author or a look at the table of contents," said John Corcoran, an analyst who follows the Internet for CIBC World Markets in Boston.

In addition to the sample chapters, Amazon and its competitors have also salted the web with countless literary links, accessible by punching in a title or an author's name on a search engine. The links help steer readers to "marketing candy" such as excerpts or biographies and question-and-answer interviews with the author. It has marked a dramatic change from the time when many books were sold by bookstore browsers. Web browsers are becoming a much bigger part of the industry's pitch.

As use of the Internet has blossomed, the practice has extended to publishers and even authors themselves, who post excerpts and other promotional goodies on their web sites. Publishers also fold the excerpts into electronic newsletters they regularly send to consumers.

In the early days, some authors were reluctant to see parts of their books offered for free on the Internet.

But publishing executives say that many are now anxious to see excerpts quickly posted on Amazon, Barnes&Noble.com, or by publishers like Penguin Putnam Inc., which gives Tom Clancy's latest book on the U.S. military's special forces top billing on its site, penguinputnam.com.

"I would say both publishers and authors feel that putting a percentage of the book online for people to read and get a taste of it is a great promotion for the book and really helps sales," said Jessica Carter, an executive in charge of online promotions at publisher Alfred A. Knopf in New York, at aaknopf.com.

Michael Pollan, who has made a name for himself over the past decade writing literary articles and books about plants and gardens, believes strongly that posting chapters of his books on the web has been a very good move.

Pollan allows that it is hard to prove, but nonetheless is convinced that sales of his latest book, "Botany of Desire: A Plant's Eye View of the World," were definitely boosted because of promotions on the Internet.

"The book did extremely well on Amazon. As far as I could tell, it had its own life on Amazon that wouldn't necessarily correlate with what TV or radio appearances I was doing," Pollan said.

The Connecticut-based writer said posting chapters is just one of many levels of promotions that the Internet offers. Some authors find "guerrilla marketers" to plug books in Internet chatrooms or write anonymous reviews.

"It's a very intriguing arena in which to find an audience. But it's also daunting to find out what the point of entry is and exactly how to do it," he said.

Despite being advised by book marketers to do so, he decided he did not have the time to create his own web site, nor did he engage in any guerrilla tactics.

Another writer, Malcolm Gladwell, a New Yorker magazine reporter and the author of "The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference," did take the step of setting up a site -- Gladwell.com -- promoting the book, which examines why social change sometimes comes with lightning speed. His site includes excerpts from the book, an archive of his New Yorker articles and a Q&A section with Gladwell.

While publishers and authors agree that giving too much away on the Internet would be commercially reckless, few are worried it will ever happen.

Pollan says he defers to his publisher on these matters, and, besides, doesn't worry too much about the risks.

"I don't think it hurts to have a lot of our stuff out there on the web. People still want to own books. A book is not the same thing as an e-book. People don't want to read that way -- at least not yet, or not on the machines we now have."

Offering up freebies on the web is hardly the same thing as trying to sell entire e-books -- electronic books on computer disks or downloaded online. But some can hardly resist seeing excerpts as an early sign of how the Internet is likely to change the world of books.

"The Internet will change the way we consume books; how we perceive them; how they're created and how they're distributed," said CIBC Internet analyst Corcoran.