Doing An Excerpt

Have you ever been excited for a new book and gone on an Internet search when you hear there’s an excerpt of it online? Or have you ever just finished reading a book, really enjoyed it, and found the first chapter of the sequel near the end?

Excerpts are great ways to get people interested in your upcoming work as well as work that’s already out there. For each of my books, I make sure to put up an excerpt on my blog prior to publication so that people can see what they’ll be getting should they decide to buy the book. And depending on what portion of your book you use for your manuscript, you can possibly increase your sales tremendously.

But which portions do you pick for your excerpts? Here’s some tips that might help:

1. Should you use the first chapter? Some writers out there reading this will say “Of course you use the first chapter! What else would you use?” That might not always be the best option, though. Take a Stephen King novel: sometimes it takes several pages (occasionally several hundred pages) before things get interesting. And an excerpt is supposed to be interesting. So if your novel is about a haunted house and your first chapter just involves your main character sipping coffee in an outdoor café in Paris and meting one of his fans, it might not be the best choice for an excerpt. (It would be how King might open a novel of his, knowing him).

But if your first chapter is interesting enough that it will entice the reader into reading the story, go for it and use it for an excerpt. If not, then you’ll have to choose a different section of the novel. Now how do you choose that section?

2. Find a section that’s the right level of interesting. What do I mean by this? If you ever watch a late-night talk show (The Daily Show comes first to my mind) and an actor is one of the guests, they will usually play a clip from their latest film. If it’s an action film, then they’ll play a clip with the actor’s character in a bit of a jam. It won’t be a clip from the climax or something that reveals too much about the plot, but it’ll be enough to make viewers wonder what the heck led to this situation, how the character will get out of it, and what will happen after that. If it’s a romance, then it’ll be right as something juicy is about to happen but the clip will end before that juicy thing can happen. If it’s a horror story, the clip will depict a tense moment right before something happens and will end right before the biggest scare yet occurs.

I guess one could call this method “feeding the fans a little bit and making them want more.” It’s quite effective and marketers use it all the time for movies and TV (you should have seen me when I saw a clip from an upcoming episode of this show I like. I freaked out and couldn’t wait to see it on Sunday). And if you can translate the above concept into literature, you can have a wonderful recipe for choosing excerpts.

Now just two more items to recommend:

3. Brevity is sometimes better. I find the best length is somewhere between two-thousand and five-thousand words. Remember, you want to give the readers just enough to get them very interested and make them want to read even more. The best reaction you can get from a reader is “Wait, that’s the end? I want more!” So having a short excerpt can work very well for getting that sort of reaction, especially if the scene in the excerpt is very well-written and has a good hook to it.

And finally…

4. Wait for the final draft to give out an excerpt. The final draft is the stage of the novel when you’ve done all the edits you can and can’t do any more. What you have is the final product and changing anything might be doing the work a disservice. It’s the perfect draft to draw an excerpt from as well. And it’s better than doing an excerpt from a draft with plenty of grammatical or spelling errors or something. Am I right?

Do you have any tips for creating an excerpt? What are they?

24 thoughts on “Doing An Excerpt

  1. Richard Conkey April 7, 2014 / 7:45 am

    Interesting article. A lot of good advice.

  2. Harliqueen April 7, 2014 / 8:37 am

    Great advice, thanks for sharing 🙂

  3. Michelle Proulx April 7, 2014 / 4:05 pm

    Great post! My thoughts on excerpts … hmm. Well, I originally went for the first chapter excerpt, since I figured that would be the best way to introduce new readers to the book. But I recently published a free short story on Smashwords, and in that one I stuck an excerpt from my novel that was from much later in the book — maybe chapter 8 or 9? So I took the “choose an interesting scene” approach there. I’m not sure which one is more effective!!!

    • rami ungar the writer April 7, 2014 / 4:11 pm

      It’s different for every book. Try it on a trial-by-trial basis and see what the results are. You never know what’ll happen.

  4. ronfritsch April 7, 2014 / 11:15 pm

    Thanks for this post, Rami Ungar. I agree the excerpt doesn’t have to be the first chapter (or chapters, depending upon their length). I think most relatively unknown writers, though, should probably opt for it. A wildly popular writer like Stephen King can get away with making a reader wait “before things get interesting.” Most of us can’t do that. Our hook has to appear as early on as we can dangle it. And we surely want a reader of an excerpt to take that hook, buy the book, and enjoy!

    • rami ungar the writer April 8, 2014 / 9:01 am

      You’re welcome, Ron, and thanks for your feedback. Yes, an excerpt is supposed to hook a reader, so we should use passages that can do just that. Good luck to you in the future.

  5. Eric Alagan April 8, 2014 / 12:00 am

    Running excerpts is a great idea and I usually do that on my blog and other social media platforms.

  6. Elke Feuer April 8, 2014 / 8:41 am

    Great tips! I usually use the prologue (yes, I’m one of those writers) and a bit of the first chapter because I write romantic suspense/mysteries so there’s action right at the beginning. I have, however used excerpts from other parts of the book during blog tours.

    • rami ungar the writer April 8, 2014 / 9:00 am

      It depends on the book. I find myself thinking of changing the excerpts for some of the books on my blog. I’m glad using the first chapter and using other chapters is working out for you.

  7. M T McGuire April 8, 2014 / 2:30 pm

    Thanks, that’s great advice, much appreciated. I’m just wrestling with the matter right now as I have books coming out in June and July and I am going to have to choose and post a couple of excerpts.



  8. bakdor April 8, 2014 / 6:02 pm

    Thank you for a helpful blog. Much of what you write is common sense, but I probably would not have of thought of the tips until I actually read your blog. Thanks again.

  9. obzervashunal April 9, 2014 / 3:14 am

    First off, I feel like I’ve struck gold from your site! What a treasure trove of fantastic information! Big ups to Renee DeSousa for the link on her site.

    Secondly, I like that you suggest sharing an excerpt from the Final Draft and not one which might still contain grammatical errors and the like… My first novel is getting to this stage where I’m considering thee best ways to approach marketing it. This makes great sense.

    • rami ungar the writer April 9, 2014 / 8:20 am

      We’re always happy to help. Good luck with marketing your novel.

  10. Ruth Ann Nordin April 9, 2014 / 1:22 pm

    I never thought of treating an excerpt for one of my books like something you might get when seeing a teaser scene from a movie or TV show. That’s the perfect way of thinking about it. I’m going to try this method for my next published book. And I think choosing something later than chapter 1 would be ideal.

    I love your blog posts. You think of things that never even occurred to me. 🙂

    BTW, I just finished a Robin Cook novel that was a medical horror novel, and he spent the prologue and first chapter setting the stage for everything else. It reminded me of what you said about Stephen King who takes time to set the stage, too. I enjoyed the book a lot, but I did skim through the beginning.

    • rami ungar the writer April 9, 2014 / 1:55 pm

      I’m glad you enjoyed the book Ruth. And thanks as always for your feedback. I do try to help people out and think of things nobody else has. Good luck with your next book. I hope it does well.

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