I wrote a column on The How To Write Shop a couple of weeks ago on using excerpts as a selling tool. I’ll soon be posting excerpts from other writers here, so this is kind of my instruction sheet. One writer told me that her excerpts were really long, that “Short ones don’t give you hardly any idea of what the book is about.”
Here’s the first lesson: The excerpt doesn’t have to tell what the book is about. It just has to be interesting. It has to make the reader want to read more. Think of a movie trailer, where they show you the interesting bits. Same thing. You’ve probably seen an actor on a talk show, and just before they show a clip of the actor’s latest movie, the actor tells what it’s about. He does a set-up. A lot of writers don’t do a set-up, but you can see that I did very short set-ups on my Sample Sunday excerpts for the first and second weeks. On the third one, I just put up a logline describing my book. I also posted the price, because I thought $0.99 was a selling point and I wanted to get that up there right away. If one of my posters needs something longer, I could put up the book’s blurb.
Second: End the excerpt at a place where you’ll keep the reader wanting to find out what’s going to happen next. (But you already knew that, right?)
Third: Length. I don’t have the time or the inclination to read long excerpts when I’m at the computer. Try to make it 1-2 pages long. If it’s mostly all dialogue, with a lot of white space, that will read quicker and could be longer.
Fourth: It’s better not to use an excerpt from your first scene. By the time the reader gets around to reading the book, if she read the first chapter already it will seem familiar and she might wonder if she read the book before. Even if she’s sure she hasn’t, it feels as though she has, and she might put it aside and read something else.
Fifth: If you’re posting excerpts at different places, try to put up a new one each time. 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 or third excerpt might persuade them to click that Buy button.
Sixth: I’ll post Buy information at the end of the excerpt. So if this is an e-book, give me links to the places where your e-books are selling and your website, plus the price. Also, it would be helpful to send the cover as an attachment. Just a reminder to send me a set-up if you need one, and/or a short blurb or logline.
I can’t think of anything else. If you do–or if you disagree with anything I said–let me know in the comments. Happy writing!