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Excerpts: A Selling Tool for Books

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I’m an excerpt slut, and I’m not the only one. A recent post on Dear Author led to a lively discussion about excerpts in the comments.  I know I’ve been burned too many times by books that other people loved and I couldn’t get past the first chapter. So even if I’ve heard buzz about a book, I’ll often look for the excerpt before buying it. For my own books, excerpts are available on my book page. They’re are also available on Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords and–I hope–other venues where Smashwords has distributed it.

The week before last, I posted two excerpts online. The first was at Maya Banks’ Facebook release party for No Place to Run. (I was invited! I didn’t crash with an excerpt.) For the second, David Wisehart from Kindle Author thought up the idea that indie writers should start a #SundaySamples on Twitter. I participated, got some great comments, saw a jump in my sales, and had fun. I read excerpts from other writers, and some were excellent and I wanted to read more. Some were not so excellent.

All this has given me thoughts about this excellent selling tool. First, start where it’s interesting. It doesn’t have to be an action scene, but a place of tension or a hint that something will happen. Or it could be a voice that’s interesting. In the first Save The Cat! Blake Snyder said the single most important thing a logline needs is irony, whether it’s a comedy or a drama. I believe this is also true about excerpts.

To see what I mean, this is the first paragraph of David Wisehart’s #SampleSunday excerpt:

I arrived at the audition ten minutes early and parked at a broken meter half a block from the theater. I’d been to the same place three times that month, on different casting calls, so I knew the routine. How I knew the meter would be broken is between me and my priest.

You can see the irony in his last sentence. That’s what I call good writing.

Here’s the first paragraph of my #SampleSunday excerpt (it’s in the POV of a secondary character, a ghost who died in the 1950s and is the best friend of the heroine ghost whisperer):

Joe didn’t care for the way the guitar player eyeballed Cassie, as if she were a chrome-plated hot rod and he couldn’t wait to jump in and burn rubber. Good thing Joe had followed her, even though she’d told him not to. May as well get some use out of being dead. He could’ve used this invisible thing when he was on the force.

The irony starts in the first sentence, and it runs through the excerpt I posted.

Of course, even if you’re a new writer, you already know to end an excerpt at a place where you’ll keep the reader wanting to find out what’s going to happen next.

An excerpt that’s too long isn’t a good idea, especially when your reader is a busy writer. Even if I have the time, I don’t like to read long excerpts on the computer.

Try to make sure your excerpt is free of errors, especially if it’s something you’ve recently written. You probably think that’s a given. But, nope, I found out on Sunday that some people aren’t careful about their work.  This is why I have CPs and beta readers. Even then, mistakes are sometimes missed. I can let one or even two errors get by me if I’m enjoying an excerpt. More than that, and I’m out of there.

Most writers post their first scene or chapter. But many writers are veering away from the first chapter because readers forget they read it in an excerpt and instead think they read the book already, so don’t buy it.

One last thought on excerpts. Some writers post excerpts on guest blogs. If you do that, or if you’re asked to post an excerpt, use one you’ve never posted before. People will be more likely to follow you if they see that you’re putting up something new. And if they didn’t buy the first time, the second excerpt might persuade them to click that Buy button.

This is running long, but I want to post an excerpt from Dale Mayer. Her romantic suspense, TUESDAY’S CHILD, is one of six remaining books in the RT/Kensington Writing With The Stars Contest. The winner gets a book contract! Here’s her excerpt:

The older officer, his expression encouraging and steadfast, helped calm her nerves.  Except her ability to judge people had never been good.  Sam hesitated a moment longer before the words blurted out on their own accord.  “I need to talk to someone about a murder.”

He raised his eyebrows.

“Two murders.”  Even she recognized the apology in her voice.

His eyes widened.

Okay, she sounded like she had a couple dozen screws loose, but there wasn’t any delicate way to approach this.  She dropped her gaze to her tattered sneakers almost hidden beneath her overly long blue jeans.

“What murders, miss?”  His voice, so kind and gentle, contrasted with the sharpness of his gaze.

Shifting, she glanced around.  She didn’t want to talk about this out in the open.  The line of people started several feet behind her, but still…  She leaned closer.  “Please, I need to speak with someone in private.”

She twisted the ribbing of her forest green sweater around her fingers under the intensity of his gaze.  Catching herself, she stilled, as if locked in space and time.  Not so her stomach, which roiled in defiance.  This had to happen now, or she’d never be able to force herself back again.

Isn’t that great? The second sentence has irony, and the first paragraph ends with her reporting a murder. Who can stop reading there? And then it morphs into two murders. Double the bodies, double the stakes. And her apologetic, nervous manner raises questions in the reader’s mind. This is well-written, it pulls you in from the first sentence, it’s not long, it’s not from the first chapter, and probably most important, it leaves you wanting more.

Third round voting is open for TUESDAY’S CHILD and the other books. I hope you’ll vote for your favorite and help a fellow writer move up to the next round.

What’s your opinion of excerpts? Have you ever bought a book after reading one?


  1. Thanks for including an excerpt from my book! :)

    David

  2. Hi Edie – I have to say thank you as well! Very nice of you to include my excerpt! And you didn’t tear it apart. Lol!

    Dale

  3. Excellent article. Just the right length, easy to follow and straight to the point. I’ll definitely be looking at my future excerpts posted. Thanks for sharing.

  4. David, it’s a great excerpt! So was yesterday’s.

  5. Dale, your excerpt was fabulous! I’m eager to see that book published! You go!

  6. Linda, I think most of the SampleSunday writers did a great job. And the few that didn’t are probably not reading this.

  7. Good blog, Edie, and excellent excerpts. If I don’t already know an author, an interesting excerpt might make me look closer.
    Mary

  8. Mary, excerpts are huge for me. If nothing else, we get a taste of an author’s voice. If that doesn’t shine through, I’m less likely to buy the book.

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