Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Choosing An Excerpt

One of the many tools you can use to promote a novel is a compelling excerpt. Unfortunately, finding a good one is also one of the hardest tasks writers face. How do you choose a few hundred words out of two or three hundred pages' worth that will stand alone and sound interesting to readers?

Here are a few tips on choosing good promotional excerpts:

* Usually, the best place to select an excerpt is toward the beginning of the book (no further than the first third or so). Keep in mind that someone who hasn't read it yet probably won't know what's going on when things get complicated in the story.

* An excerpt should focus on your main character (or couple, if it's a romance). Excerpts featuring minor characters can be misleading, and often don't convey the general idea of the story.

* Excerpts should be light on dialogue. If readers aren't familiar with your characters, dialogue - especially taken out of context - can be difficult to follow.

* Keep an excerpt relatively short: 150 to 300 words is a good range. You'll want to keep the reader's attention, especially with online promotion where you don't have much time to grab interest.

* Leave them wanting more. If possible, an excerpt should end by leaving a question in the reader's mind that begs to be answered - preferably by reading the rest of the book. :-)

It's a good idea to prepare a few different excerpts before publication of your book, and keep them in a separate file for easy access. You never know when you may have the opportunity to provide a quick sneak peek of your work.

Finally (you knew this was coming, right? LOL), I'd like to share with you an excerpt from HUNTED. Opinions welcome - does this work? Are you intrigued?


The tall, narrow window in the motel's front door revealed glimpses of the occasional vehicle rolling down the street. Most of Vegas slept in, so traffic stayed light until at least noon. Something big and brown rumbled past, and Grace caught flashes of yellow lettering - a UPS delivery truck. Bringing packages to normal people who didn't have to stay in an endless succession of third-rate motels, who had permanent addresses and jobs, families, friends . . . lives. Must be nice. She'd yet to think of anywhere in the world she could live without the stares and the questions, the constant need to avoid lasting relationships.

Another vehicle came into view at a crawl and stopped in front of the motel. A white sedan, black lettering Grace couldn't make out. She leaned to one side and saw a light bar across the roof. Cops. Damn it.

She made herself stay calm and turned back toward the office. They could be here for anything. Didn't have to be her. Probably wasn't. Cops made constant stops at motels all over Vegas. She rang the counter bell again and heard the front door open behind her just as the desk clerk, a sour-looking woman with a pan-flat face and too much makeup, emerged from the office. The clerk's dour expression lit with unpleasant surprise, and guilt lurked in eyes that refused to look directly at Grace.

"Oh, ah . . . Miss . . . can I help you?" You were supposed to stay in your room. You always stay in your room all day. The clerk's gaze darted past her shoulder to the cop Grace knew stood behind her. Through the open office door, Grace saw a single crumpled sheet of paper lying on the desk next to the phone, curled up enough to reveal ING in bold black letters at the top. Her stomach plummeted.

She knew the rest of the words on the flyer by heart. Missing: Grace Carrington, beloved daughter of Kendra Carrington. Last seen in Palo Alto, California, on 10/28. $100,000 reward for information leading to her return. Please bring my baby back home.

All complete, unmitigated bullshit.


Sheila Deeth said...

That excerpt definitely leaves me intrigued. Fascinating. And thanks for the advice.

Kim Smith said...

woot! i love this excerpt!

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

What a GREAT excerpt, SW. Perfect. I love this book and these characters, as I keep telling you!

Another thing to remind our writer friends is that some publishers allow only one page or chapter to be used in "public" forums. It's always a good idea to ask your pub for permission to print excerpts. :o)

s.w. vaughn said...

Thank you, Sheila, Kim and Aaron!

Aaron - oops! You're right. That's important information!!

Everyone listen to Aaron. :-)