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Monday, June 3, 2013

The Perfect Excerpt

Excerpts—we love them, don’t we? There’s no better way to sample an author’s writing style than to read an excerpt. However, there is a right way and a wrong way to post the perfect excerpt. Many writers have their own methods, from very long, to very short, somewhere in-between, at times concise, and at others, rambling.

What is the best method of selecting a sample of your writing? How can you entice a reader to read your full excerpt?

Choose one that contains dialogue or action, not just narrative, and keep it short and simple.

Consider the short story. The guidelines are: limit to a specific time, place, event, interaction, or character’s evolution. It is, in fact, a mini-novel, complete with a beginning, middle, and an ending, i.e., an abbreviated novel.

Attention span is the amount of time a person can concentrate on a task without becoming distracted. Continuous involvement without any lapse at all is as short as eight seconds. The average adult who is engaged in an interesting activity or topic will remain focused for twenty seconds. People are also capable of longer periods up to two and a half hours when they are doing something enjoyable or motivating, such as watching a movie.
Researchers have found that the modern adult’s attention span shortens as time goes on.

The phenomenon of instant gratification in our technological world deters the attention span even more.

Now consider the excerpt. The guidelines are perhaps the same as those for a short story: one idea, one interaction, in one short time frame, wrapped up with a beginning, middle, and an ending, approximately three hundred words—a mini-short story with a hook at the end.  

Here’s a test for you. How many words are in this article to this point? (310) How long did it take to read it? (Average adult-one minute.)

EXAMPLE from a short novel titled RODEO MAN--
Excerpt: Cody and Marla

Smiling lazily, he looked her up and down, at her short white shorts, pink stretch T, and red flip-flops. With that salacious grin, he continued back to her hair, hanging to her shoulders in a tangled mass of curls, but right now, there was no time to brush it properly. Some day she would just get it all whacked off and stop worrying about it.

“Stop staring,” she demanded.

“Well, I can hardly keep from it since you’re standing right in front of me.”

“Oh,” she muttered, straightened, and moved to the side.

Cody kept staring at her even though she’d moved out of his direct line of vision.

He drawled, “You know, if there’s anything I like in this world, it’s a woman with red hair.”

“It is not red. And if there’s anything I hate in this world, it’s a man saying my hair’s red. For your information, it’s strawberry blond.”

“Strawberry blond. Whadda you know? Now, I like that even better.”

Narrowing her eyes at him, she said, “Well, I’m just as pleased as punch.”
This short excerpt has three parts: Beginning: Cody stares at Marla while she watches him. Middle: they have a short argument. Ending: She has the last word.
It contains 260 words.
Reading time: 25 seconds.

Celia Yeary-Romance...and a little bit 'o Texas
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/author/celiayeary
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  1. Great advice, Celia! Wish I had seen it sooner. :)

  2. Celia, this is perfect! Excerpts are one of the best ways to interest potential readers. We see them on Facebook and blogs all the time. Sometimes they work, and sometimes they don't. Your advice should be helpful to anyone who's considering posting an excerpt anywhere. Gotta share the link. :-)

  3. Great advice about keeping an excerpt short and in the action. That's the way I like them. I once saw an entire first chapter posted on a reader/author loop. I'm sure not many read the whole thing. Something that long might be better on a writer's website.
    I don't like long blurbs, either. I like them short and enticing.
    Great blog, Celia.

  4. Thanks for the tips, Celia. Continued good luck with your books.

  5. Jennifer--better late than never.I've seen some of your excerpts, and they are very good! You have little to worry about. Still, we can all do a little better. I really hate to see an except that goes on and one. I wrote this because I love to read excerpts, but I found that too many authors just get so carried away, I lose track.
    Thanks so much for commenting.

  6. Kathleen..please do share the link. If authors only knew how readers get tired reading their looooong excerpts. We don't want half a chapter...we want something short that will define the novel. Thanks--I appreciate it so much!

  7. Sarah--you mentioned short blurbs, too. Yes, you are so right. Keep everything short. In our day of internet blogs and blurbs on Amazon, etc., you cannot keep the attention of a reader very long. Short and concise, and above all, something that packs a punch!

  8. Caroline--oh, thank you very much. I do hope we can keep interest up for our Western Historical Romances.

  9. Yep, Celia, you are talking to ME. LOL I have trouble finding the "SHORT" excerpt. Because I think "people won't understand this if I don't give them more"--but that's not the point. The point is to catch them an make them WANT to know more. I am taking notes here, dear friend! I needed this.

  10. Remember the old Book Spa? We allowed excerpts on Sundays, and we got a lot, and I read every one of them so I could comment--because I was part owner. Well, I learned that most authors simply didn't know when to quit! I remember that. I still see long excerpts. And some I read, and some I don't. Glad you took notes!

  11. Great advice, Celia! I've seen excerpts that were way too long. I might have started reading them but gave up part way through! Choosing an excerpt is an art in itself. It has to draw the reader in - without giving too much away!

  12. Celia, do you know any sites that post excerpts? I've written two flash fiction collections and could easily submit excerpts of about 300 words. All my short-short stories are under 1,000 words: FLASHING MY SHORTS and 200 SHORTS, both published by All Things That Matter Press, and available at Amazon.com.

    Salvatore Buttaci

  13. Hi, Paula--oh, yes, that's the way to do it. Usually, the shorter the better. I've read some very good very short excerpts I wish I'd copied for examples, but I haven't. At least I try to keep excerpts very short. I've given up on many excerpts, thinking....this person is giving us an entire chapter! Thanks for coming by--you know I always appreciate your input.

  14. Hi, Salvatore--I wish I could help you. I'm involved with everything romance, a couple about romance excerpts, but even those don't have a big following.
    My only advice is to get on FaceBook and make a name for yourself. Are you on there? Think about it.
    Some of my western romances are called Dime Novels, about 23,000 words max, and I used a "he said, she said," kind of excerpt on FB every week, and those four short novels have been very successful. And I give credit to FB and many friends for that--and all from two sentences. Good luck to you, and thanks for commenting and asking advice.

  15. I've never been a fan of excerpts, and only post them because that's what you're supposed to do. That said, kudos to you for explaining exactly why and excerpt should be short, and posting an excellent example. (Great story, too!) I know for a fact that on Romancing The West, short excerpts get read, and even medium excerpts don't. 500-word excerpts rarely hold the reader's interest. One of the best was only 7 lines. It was great writing--catchy, romantic, and funny. I bet a high percentage of people who read it actually went ahead and bought the book. I did--and I never buy from excerpts.

  16. Jacquie--wow, thanks! I'm glad a few people get it--for some reason, we authors are a wordy bunch.
    I always appreciate your comments.


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