The task of engineering exciting excerpts is actually easy for a writer. You’ve already written it. Now you just have to find it. An excerpt is typically 500 words, and for a short story about 200-250 words. The advice I have is general—pick an excerpt from the first third of your book. Told you it was easy! Although very rarely does that mean that you need to copy and paste the first five hundred words of your story and call it a day. For a short story? Yes—that’s exactly what you do. But not a novel.
Why, you ask? Well, that’s inherent in the differences between long and short fiction. A successful short story begins with a strong hook. In order to sell a short story, you have to pull the reader in from the very first sentence. With a novel, the creation of the story comes along with a more deliberate pace. With a novel, you want to select a scene that sets up the story and above all makes the reader want to read MORE.
In other words—a cliff hanger.
Say you’re writing a young adult romance novel. A good choice for any YA romance novel excerpt is a scene between the heroine and the hero. A first meeting, perhaps. A confrontation. The moment when the heroine first realizes that there’s something different about this guy.
Say you’re writing a middle grade fantasy novel. Pick a scene that jump starts the action. A fight. The moment when the hero realizes that he or she has a purpose to fulfill. The moment when everything changes.
Once you’ve decided on a scene, the real skill comes into play. You need to pick the moment of that scene where the reader absolutely has to know what happens next. And if the reader wants to know, what does he or she have to do? Buy the book. Which is, of course, the point.
So that’s the kind of scene you want to choose for your excerpt. And here’s another little hint, too—if you DON’T have a moment like this in your book, then you have some work to do. Every good story should have a moment like this—several in fact. That’s how you want to end a chapter, a POV section. That’s a real cliffhanger—the excerpt, the paragraph, the SENTENCE that forces the reader to turn the page. The moment that the reader thinks, “Well, one more chapter won’t hurt. I’ll just read a little while longer.” That moment is the holy grail for every story in existence. This is how writers should approach every excerpt they choose.
And one last thing—wait to pick your excerpt until an editor has gone through it with you and cleaned it up. The absolute worst thing that can happen here is for spelling and grammar errors to make it through to publication. Your excerpt, like your blurb is part of your sales strategy. You can’t sell a car if the engine doesn’t work, right? Well, technique—grammar, spelling, structure—is the writer’s engine. It doesn’t matter how great your story is, it’s not going to run unless those techniques are there and sharp.
Sharon Ledwith is the author of the middle-grade/YA time travel series, THE LAST TIMEKEEPERS, and is represented by Walden House (Books & Stuff) for her teen psychic series, MYSTERIOUS TALES FROM FAIRY FALLS. When not writing, researching, or revising, she enjoys reading, exercise, and anything arcane. Sharon lives a serene, yet busy life in a tourist region of Ontario, Canada, with her hubby, one spoiled yellow Labrador and a moody calico cat.
Learn more about Sharon Ledwith on her WEBSITE and BLOG. Look up her AMAZON AUTHOR page for a list of current books. Stay connected on FACEBOOK, TWITTER, GOOGLE+, TUMBLR, and GOODREADS. Check out THE LAST TIMEKEEPERS TIME TRAVEL SERIES Facebook page.