When it comes to reading, I have a terrible attention span. I wasn't always this way. As a child, I could read all day and well into the night, then wake the next morning and read in bed until my mother made me get up and eat.

All that changed when I had children. Stolen moments of reading developed into a habit, and now, unless a book is fabulous, I can't get through more than a few pages at a time unless I'm stuck on a plane or have the flu. Even a fabulous book often takes a week to read. As long as I notice an unfinished book lying around the house, though, I'll get through it sooner or later (with the occasional exception, such as The Mysteries of Udolpho... It's an interesting story, but writers were sooooo long-winded two hundred years ago).

Onward to my subject: free reads in installments. A few months ago, I had the bright (but not original) idea of writing a short story to use as promo on my (not yet up, alas) website. I admit to an ulterior motive: I love writing short stories. It's the attention span thing again. Short stories don't take long to write. Closure comes quickly. And my editor liked the idea, so I dug in and wrote one.

But at over sixty pages, it's too long, or at least for its purpose. Or at least for me. One of my favorite historical authors, Elizabeth Hoyt, has a free read on her site in installments of a chapter at a time. Not that I need a free read to convince me to buy anything by her; I love all her books and bought the latest the week it came out. I read the first chapter of her free read on line, and a while later I remembered to read the second. It's a great story (of course), about a secondary character in another book (so I'm already invested in the heroine), but then... Sigh. My attention span--or rather, lack of it--kicked in. This may be partly because the free read is on line. I'm not too keen about reading on the computer. I prefer to veg out on the couch. It may be partly because I have to go to her site and open the file. Arduous labor, I know. But for whatever reason, I haven't gone back.

On to the survey:

Am I the norm here?

If you're enjoying an installment story, will you remember (without persistent self-promo on the part of the author) to return every week for the next fix (say, over a period of four to six weeks)?

Would every day for a week work better? (It would for me, because it's easier to remember to do something tomorrow than next week.)

Is there anything (apart from being entranced or bored) that would make you more or less likely to return?

Do you like reading short stories, or is an excerpt from a full-length novel more interesting/useful for you?

Oh, and somewhat unrelated but significant, I think: Should a short story posted on line have a sex scene, and if so, should it be abbreviated or sweetened... or would that give a wrong impression if the author's books have longer/racier scenes?

Thanks for the input... I'm going on line now to catch up on Elizabeth Hoyt's free read!



  1. Beth Trissel // June 7, 2009 at 1:49 PM  

    Tooo true. Life and kids cuts into reading time. Sometimes I think I should retire and do little else.
    I like your post and the free read/short story idea.

  2. Mary Marvella // June 7, 2009 at 2:28 PM  

    Great idea. My tastes have changed, too, and some authors and literary works no longer appeal to me. I will keep reading for a while, though.

    I like short stories of most kinds. The sex scenes depend on the story, as long as there is a story.

    I forget "to-be-continued" stories and need a reminder to return to read each installment.

  3. Mary Marvella // June 7, 2009 at 2:48 PM  

    Also, I prefer books I can hold. I spend too much time at the computer as it is.

  4. Mary Ricksen // June 7, 2009 at 3:26 PM  

    Things might be different for me than you lucky ladies who have children.

    I read, when you were hugging your wonderful kids. So I guess my addiction helped me. Yup, I'll admit I am addicted to reading.

    What stopped for you when you had children, has been my salvation. That and doggies!

    So given that I will read anything, anytime. I think if it fits in one post it's better. But I have come back to finish stories, like our own Linda's, which she has posted.

    If the story is good, I can't not finish it. The only time I don't go back is when it's not up to par.

    Sex scenes have to be done well or I just skip them. Our Jianne writes sex scenes that are actually interesting. I can't explain that, it just is a fact.

    If you posted a story, continuing or not, I would read it because it's by you. Know what I mean?

    Lastly, I love to hold a book. But I love my laptop too.

  5. Dayana // June 7, 2009 at 3:26 PM  

    well, Barbara, free reads are cool because if you are unfamiliar with the author you can get a taste. A full length posted in portions would not work for me.

    I can honestly say no matter how good the story was I probably would not consistently return especially if new installments run over a period of weeks. I am too busy and too much on the 'puter to put that much effort into it.

    I like to hold a book in my hands but will read books on my ebook reader:) I like it because you can read in bed--mine has a backlighted screen.

    I love short stories and fulls but don't have much time to read lately. Sex? As Mary said, it depends on the story. You can find anything online today ever erotic shorts free over at the Scarlet line at the TWRP so...

    Interesting post. Got me thinking. I do suffer at times from comprehension deficit as well, LOL


  6. Mona Risk // June 7, 2009 at 3:28 PM  

    Interesting blog. When my kids were small and I was working and I didn't have a minute to read, I just scanned magazines. When they grew up I went back to books and novels.

    I can't read in installements. If I like a book I read it straight no matter how many hours it takes. And trust me I don't skip a word. I don't read free reads because I don't have the patience to wait for the rest of a story or the perseverance to keep going back to it.

  7. Nancy // June 7, 2009 at 3:39 PM  

    Hi, Barbara--

    I don't do well with installments. I like having a sample of an author's work before I buy, but I tend to forget to go read the next installment. A short story, however, I'd read in one sitting as long it wasn't a novella in disguise.

  8. Anonymous // June 7, 2009 at 3:48 PM  


    I thought I was alone. It takes me weeks to finish a book where I used to read two or three a week.
    I'm also not a big- read a book on line- kind of person.
    Yes, installments daily might be easier for me to remember than one installment a week.

    Connie Gillam

  9. Linsey Lanier // June 7, 2009 at 3:49 PM  


    Interesting post. Looks like you're getting some mixed reaction here.

    I would have to say I'd go back and read installments on your site because it's by you. But I also think that short posts are better than longer ones and shorter ones get read more, so I'd say I would go with installments.

    I would also cut or sweeten the sex scenes. You never know who you might attract on the Internet.

    If anyone wants to sample an installment, check out Aspen Expose on Petit Fours and Hot Tamales (shameless pluge here, LOL.) http://petitfoursandhottamales.blogspot.com


  10. Debbie Kaufman // June 7, 2009 at 4:16 PM  

    I tend to read the free stories on Harlequin only after all the chapters are posted. I never remember to go back since it's not a site I visit daily. I do read the Aspen Expose on Petit Fours and Hot Tamales, mostly because, A. I like the story and B. Nicki sends these wonderful little reminders from Facebook every week!and C. I'm on our blog daily. Otherwise, give me one continuous read or I'll forget!

  11. Cyrano // June 7, 2009 at 5:02 PM  

    Excellent post Barbara,
    I myself have a very short attention span. Like you, even books that are wonderful in every way take me a week or so to finish.
    They make me sigh, make me cry, make me laugh, but more often than not those qualities aren't enough to keep me reading non stop throughout the night and next day.
    Hmmm. I wonder why we do this? Why do we have a book sitting near our tubs(half done) a novel in our car(half done) a story poised at the ready next to our beds? (yet again partially finished) Why can't my attention remain on one thing to the end?
    I guess if I knew the answer to my own rhetorical question I'd have nine finished manuscripts instead of one finished and eight partials.
    As far as reading a chapter of a book a week on a website, I'm for it. Petit Fours and Hot tamales is doing just that. I'm one of the authors of that novel (Aspen Expose') and I enjoyed writing chapter two...plus, I actually finished something. maybe that's because it was short and catered to my even shorter attention span.
    I also think that your website is your website. You can't make everyone out there happy. If you want to put a sex scene on it, you should be able to without worry. Just post a warning ahead of the chapter. I'll read it!!
    Great post Barbara.
    Have a fabulous evening!

  12. Barbara Monajem // June 7, 2009 at 5:21 PM  

    Wow! I went down for a nap, and when I woke up there were a slew of comments! Thanks, everyone.

    Beth - I thought once the kids were older I would get my attention span back, but it seems to be gone for good!

    Mary M and Mary R - I prefer to hold my books, too. And it's easier to skim ahead in a paper book. I skim a lot when there's suspense because I can't wait!

    Dayana - I guess I'll have to get an ebook reader, both for reading in bed and in the car. I've been resisting it, but since I started reading more downloads, it's becoming necessary. Now all I need is a savings account.

    Mona - Wow, that's great that you can read right through without skipping a word. Your version of impatience is entirely different from mine, LOL.

    Nancy - I'll be sure to let you know if my novella's wearing a short story costume.

    Connie - I think one reason I take so long to read a book now is because I spend so much time writing. Perhaps that's true of you, too...?

    Linsey - Thanks for reminding me about the Aspen Expose story. I've read every installment, but usually late. Maybe I'll get to this one on time!

    Debbie - I've only read one of those continuous reads on Harlequin, and that was because it was written by a friend. I downloaded an entire free historical novel from their site a while ago and read it almost immediately on my laptop (I wasn't feeling well, so I actually stayed still long enough to do so.) It was a great intro to a new (to me) author, Elizabeth Rolls.

    Tamara - A warning about a sex scene is a great idea. Thanks!

  13. Mary Marvella // June 7, 2009 at 8:17 PM  

    An excellent post, Barbara!

  14. Jianne Carlo // June 8, 2009 at 9:11 AM  

    I'd read one free read, but not a continuing story unless a reminder's sent to me regarding the next installment. One where I don't have to do anything but click on a URL.


  15. Scarlet Pumpernickel // June 8, 2009 at 10:26 AM  

    Interesting survey! I enjoy reading an entire story, I have tried the installment type thingie, and I always forget to go back for the next installment. I think having a ereader would be productive for me. I've asked Santa for one this year. We'll see if I can manage to be a good girl and get one!


  16. Judy // June 8, 2009 at 10:57 AM  

    I'm one of those people who love to hold a book and get involved in the story. If it's good, I'm thinking of it until I have time to sit down and do more reading. I use reading as a reward for getting my other tasks, including writing for the day done. I have been known to discover a new writer through a brief free read but as a marketing tool, I'm not sure...

  17. Barbara Monajem // June 8, 2009 at 8:30 PM  

    Jianne, Scarlet and Judy, thanks for the comments. I've pretty much come to the conclusion that installments don't work for most people, unless--maybe--there are only a few over a short period of time.

    Thanks to everyone who commented. This has been a huge help to me.