Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

All About the Excerpt

I don’t agree with everything in this article but this sentence in the third to the last paragraph really struck a chord with me as readers and authors grapple with the price (as opposed to value) of ebooks.

The two most common ways people acquire books today are borrowing from a library and borrowing from a friend. There are several reasons for that; economically, a principal reason for this is that until you've read a book you can't be sure whether it's worth the price printed on the book's jacket, so you prefer to get the book for free when possible.

One reason that word of mouth is so successful as a selling tool is that someone else is vouching that the book is worth the retail price.   But what about books that no one is talking about or that no trusted source will vouch for?   That’s the purpose of excerpts.

If you look at this thread on what readers want from authors in terms of promotion, most of them point to the work itself.   Readers really want excerpts. The question is what kind of excerpt?   For me, there are three kinds of excerpts:

1.   The retail excerpt. With ebooks, we often have the opportunity to download a sample to our devices. Samples can vary from retailer to retailer.   For example, Dukes to the Right of Me, Princes to the Left by Kieran Kramer yields no color cover, the acknowledgments, table of contents, and the first chapter and part of the second.   Strangely, the sample ends at different places from each retailer.   Amazon’s sample has 678 more words than the BN sample and 795 more words than the Google Books sample.

Balto and The Great Race is a book my daughter brought home from school (kind of a thrilling real life story about an amazing dog).   She downloaded the sample on the Colornook.   The sample is very revealing in that it shows that it’s not a book worth downloading.   Why not? Because the images are not scalable.   Here is a full image of what the illustration looks like on my Mac which is larger than the screen size on my Colornook.   The Kindle sample exhibits the same problems.

This sample is also illustrative of two things the publisher did wrong.   First it showed how unfriendly the digital book is for digital readers.   Second, the excerpt contains two illustrations, a one page foreward and one page in chapter one.   Assuming that samples and excerpts are provided in an effort to increase sales, this sample is in opposition to that goal.

2. Author excerpt. We receive about 3 to 4 author review requests a day.   These are requests sent directly to us by the author and not from a publishing house or a publicist.   Because of this, I tend to see a lot of author websites, but oftentimes, these sites will not have excerpts of their work. I find this astonishing.   Additionally, I find that excerpts are often hard to read. Courtney Milan’s books all have excerpts and the excerpts are displayed on a white background making it easy to read.   Milan does not have the excerpt available as PDF download. Anne Stuart is another author who has well formatted, easy to read excerpts.

Moriah Jovan offers excerpts as a download.   You can get up to 34 pages of her book formatted for your favorite reading device.   She offers, html, epub, PDF, and prc (for the Kindle).

Moriah Jovan excerpt

Fiona McGier, however, is an author whose website offers no excerpts. Further, the link on her site to her publisher’s bookstore doesn’t go directly to her book, but the general website even though the publisher does host an excerpt for the book.

3.   Publisher excerpts. HarperCollins allows you to read about 20% of some of its books but I can’t figure out from looking at the Avon Romance site which ones had excerpts and which did not.   Berkley/Jove offers PDF downloads (although it isn’t noted that the link is a PDF download) but what you get as an excerpt might be an uncorrected proof as is the case with Robin Owens’ Heart Fate.   Macmillan (St. Martin’s Press) offered a nice long excerpt of books but it’s formatting makes it very hard to read.   There is not enough line height spacing (spacing between the lines).   If an excerpt is hard to read, I’m not certain how many people stick around to actually read it.   Harlequin offers excerpts only on its paper book pages and not on its ebook pages.   This is very frustrating.

Ellora’s Cave actually gives you a decent sized excerpt (or at least one long enough to decide whether the book is for you. I.e., take a gander at this excerpt).   But this press, Eternal Press, offers a paragraph excerpt.   That isn’t even as long as a blurb.   It’s almost useless as an excerpt.

In reviewing excerpts, I think the way Google Books handles it is the nicest.   The Google Book excerpt can be read on your computer or downloaded for later consumption. I like the option.   I like an excerpt to be at least one full chapter.   I prefer the excerpt to be the first full chapter.   Generally, I don’t like to read on out of context excerpt in the middle of the book unless it highlights some of the best writing in the book.    If the book has illustrations (like a cooking book or a how to book or a children’s book), I want the excerpt to show the quality (or lack thereof) of the illustrations.

In sum, I want the excerpt to show me why I should part with my money.   What do you guys want, like, expect in an excerpt or sample?

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

81 Comments

  1. J.
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 05:30:52

    For me, I like to read the blurb first and then read the excerpt (if it’s provided). Most of the time, if I can’t get past the blurb then I don’t even read the excerpt. It’s only if the blurb catches my attention then I continue to the excerpt and finally decide if I want to buy the book. I noticed though, that are there are times where authors will have excerpts on their site but I would have to do some digging around to find the blurb. I like to know what the book is about before I start reading the excerpt.

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  2. Milena
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 07:18:11

    Having written a fair amount of blurbs in my life, I’ve learned not to pay attention to them — they’re sometimes written by people who haven’t even read the book. But I do like the excerpt to give me an idea if the book would work for me; it can be the first chapter or less, as long as I can get a feel for the book.

    And yes, if I have to do a lot of digging to reach the excerpt, I will mostly give up and move to something else, unless I already have a reason to look closely at a title — so I guess it’s word of mouth again.

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  3. Keishon
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 08:01:10

    I use excerpts go gauge the author’s voice and style of writing. Excerpts really won’t tell me if the book is good or not. Excerpts to me are like a snap shot of a story in part. But at least with excepts you can decide if the book is readable to you or not and maybe tell if it’s something you may want to read in full. That’s how I use them and they are invaluable.

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  4. Allison
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 08:34:12

    This is very helpful – thanks. :)

    My first book comes out in Jan, but up until now the publisher wouldn’t allow me to put up an excerpt. I was just given permission to put the first chapter up – so I’ll try to get it up in the formats you listed up there.

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  5. Denise Rossetti
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 08:39:18

    I won’t buy an ebook unless I can read an excerpt first. I just… won’t. The only exceptions are the very very few authors I trust. Like Keishon, I want some idea of the author’s voice before I part with my money. A lot of the time it works and I’ve made some great discoveries through excerpts. OTOH, if I find I’ve made a mistake after all I can get pretty cranky!

    So on the general principle of ‘if I like this, you must too’, I provide first chapter excerpts of all my books on my website. Hopefully, it’s enough for readers to get a real taste. I do try to make excerpts as intriguing as possible. They’re an important selling tool.

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  6. Portia Da Costa
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 08:48:06

    I always like to read an excerpt first, so I know that the author’s voice works for me. Reviews & recommendations, then an interesting blurb, then a good, representative excerpt are the things that make me buy.

    At one time I didn’t post excerpts of my own books, but for a while now I’ve been working to put an excerpt of nearly everything of mine – published or forthcoming – on my site. Still a few to go yet, but I’m getting there. :)

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  7. Moriah Jovan
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 08:51:25

    Thanks for the shout-out, Jane! My excerpt’s also online here, but I only now realized nobody can tell that from my website.

    The original excerpt was 200 pages, but then I realized there were a whole lot of people who thought that was the whole book (and got some not-so-nice reviews about the abrupt, incomplete ending), so I shortened it.

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  8. Adriana Kraft
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 09:01:54

    I agree, an excerpt tells me more than just the blurb, although I also use the blurb to make sure it’s a story I’m interested in. I try to keep short excerpts on my website but haven’t finished all my back list. My publishers also post excerpts.

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  9. Shannon Stacey
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 09:04:21

    Moriah Jovan offers excerpts as a download. You can get up to 34 pages of her book formatted for your favorite reading device. She offers, html, epub, PDF, and prc (for the Kindle).

    Before Exclusively Yours came out in June, I’d been watching a conversation on Twitter about offering excerpts as downloads so readers can grab them and read them on their devices at their leisure. So I did that, making EY available in PDF, ePub and mobi.

    I consider myself probably average when it comes to digital-knowledge, but it still took me the better part of a weekend day and gave me a headache. But I finally got them done and available on my site. When it came time to put up an excerpt for Undeniably Yours, I looked at the number of readers who downloaded excerpts for EY versus read the excerpt on my site, and the number of downloaders was very low.

    While I get that those who did download the excerpts probably appreciated the option, it was simply too much work for me and I didn’t make downloadable excerpts available for UY. And doing EY’s really only cost me hours. Authors who aren’t as familiar with Calibre and its capabilities and/or those who pay a professional to maintain their sites would be investing money as well.

    My royalty statements tell me the majority of my readers are buying through Amazon and B&N and those sites offer samples. And, speaking as a reader, if I’m actively looking for an excerpt, I’m more likely to read the one chapter or less right then and there rather than go through the song and dance of getting a chapter or less onto my device. (If I read excerpts at all, which I don’t. Never have. Cover, copy & word of mouth.)

    If, like Moriah, I was a lot more savvy about formatting and offering work/excerpts in a digital form, I might try it again. But, for me, the interest didn’t merit the headache. I make the first chapters available on my site and call it good.

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  10. Christine Bell
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 09:04:23

    Great article, Jane. Do you find it off-putting if the author links to the publisher’s site for the excerpt if the link is functioning properly and links directly to the excerpt? I’ve thought about having the excerpts on my site as pdf files, but my web skills are limited and any time I do something new (to me) it’s a bit of a process. That said, I want to make things as easy as possible for readers to navigate the site. Thoughts?

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  11. Jane
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 09:10:50

    @Christine Bell Not really although for the SMP site, I had to click twice to get to the badly formatted excerpt so if I add in an author’s link, then it’s three clicks and I really have to be interested to follow that many clicks. You may want to indicate that the reader is being redirected to the publisher site although I don’t know if that matters to other readers.

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  12. Jane
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 09:12:25

    @Shannon Stacey I’ve never actually downloaded a sample except from the retailer site. I like the option of reading online and I wonder, now that ebook readers are so prevalent, whether the option to send to a device wouldn’t be preferable. Obviously these do require some technical skills. It’s too bad that properly formatted excerpts aren’t part of the publicity package the publishing house could prepare for an author.

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  13. Jane
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 09:25:05

    @Moriah Jovan I looked for the online excerpt but couldn’t find it! I thought it was odd because you are so technically savvy.

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  14. Deb
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 09:26:10

    I must be an odd duck. I rarely have downloaded samples from Amazon for my Kindle. I will read an excerpt if I happen on an author or publisher’s website, or if excerpts are included at the end of an ebook. But I don’t seek them out. I use the blurbs to find out if the book is in a subgenre I’m either interested in or don’t enjoy. I rely on word of mouth. Reviews here, SmartBitches and AAR help. I especially appreciate your monthly “Coming Soon” posts, as well as the open reader & author on Sundays. But I don’t know need a “guarantee” on purchases of books. I’ve purchased books which I either didn’t finish or didn’t enjoy. But all in all, I don’t mind the risk. I need to try on clothing before hand and read up for big ticket items, but books, nah. I probably won’t read an author again if I didn’t enjoy her/his book, but then again, if in the future I hear their next/latest release is great, sure, I’ll give it ago. I’d rather read than most anything else. It’s a “risk” I’m willing to take.

    The children's book you refer to Jane, was probably just an optimized version of the print book. When these books are designed for the readers and tablets, the books will be “readable”. I think it is going to take a while until publishers see the value of investing in the addition to their work flow. The design of an ebook requires a different skill set from print.

    Can I just say, the writer of that linked article is, in my opinion an idiot? He clearly doesn’t know readers. Angry Birds with ads isn’t a bigee, the price point for the game is small enough to wait the ad out. Readers will not tolerate ads as part of the reading experience.

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  15. Shannon Stacey
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 09:27:52

    @Jane: It would be neat if there was a way you could input your Kindle address on my site and my site would email your Kindle a sample, but I can’t see it being worth the work when one click over to Amazon yields the same result. But, knowing how innovative the tech community is, somebody’s probably working on a plug-in for that right now.

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  16. Colleen
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 09:38:46

    I often buy Kindle books on impulse, especially when they are priced under $5.00, but for ones that I’m on the fence about or are more expensive, I download the samples, which vary greatly in quality and usefulness. For example, a novella anthology with 3-4 stories will have an excerpt from the first story only, where if I were browsing the physical book, I would read the first page or two of each story to see how it grabs me. Another big pet peeve on Kindle excerpts is how many books with lengthy introductions and forwards have only those in the excerpt–no way to tell if the actual text is interesting or readable. The most recent book to give me that irritating experience is Mark Twain’s autobiography, but it happens fairly often with non-fiction and classic literature.

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  17. Shannon Stacey
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 09:39:34

    @Christine Bell: Speaking with my author hat on, I think it’s important you have the excerpt available on your site (though, as I said, I’m not sure you need it available for download.) Why?

    When a reader comes to my site looking for info on a book, she’s invested a few minutes and a few clicks. In return, I need to give her the information she’s looking for. At my site, she gets the cover, the cover copy and the buy links, followed immediately by the excerpt. She’s already there, so maybe she’ll take the extra few minutes and read the excerpt since it’s right there.

    I think that’s important for a couple of reasons. One, maybe the cover copy’s a little meh and she’s ambivalent and her Twitter client’s flashing new replies at her, so she doesn’t click over to the publisher’s site for the excerpt.

    And two, once she’s on the publisher’s site, there’s more than your book going on. There’s a list, probably down the left sidebar, of books other people have shown an interest in and one of the titles really grabs her. And there are other covers saying if you like this, you might like that, too. If those covers and titles do their jobs, she might not bother reading your excerpt at all.

    Your website is where you sell your books and the strongest tool you have is your words. Making those words only available at least one click (and usually more) away, in the hands of somebody who may or may not present them well may be easier for you, but I’d recommend against it.

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  18. Moriah Jovan
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 09:44:02

    @Jane:

    It was just something I overlooked, honestly. Shannon’s right about how time intensive it is all is, and the details! They start adding up.

    That said, I fixed it and pronto. :D Thanks for pointing it out!

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  19. MaryK
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 09:46:56

    Yes, author voice and writing style.

    I prefer excerpts that have dialog; that seems to give me the best idea of whether I like the voice/style. I’m not crazy about first page excerpts. (I’ve never used the Kindle app to sample books; I should probably start doing that.) I find a lot of beginning excerpts are just infodumps and I can rarely tell by that if the writing interests me. I’d much rather see character interaction. H and H interaction is ideal, but I can get by without it though I’d really like to at least “see” each of them to decide if I like how they’re written. I’m primarily a character driven, as opposed to plot driven, reader so I’m looking for how “real” the characterization is.

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  20. MaryK
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 09:52:20

    @Jane: I don’t always click through to publisher websites b/c I assume it’s just a purchase page. If there’s a note saying “here’s a link to the excerpt at my publisher’s site” or some such, I’ll click through.

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  21. Isobel Carr
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 10:08:05

    @Jane:

    It's too bad that properly formatted excerpts aren't part of the publicity package the publishing house could prepare for an author.

    I'd never thought to ask . . . but I will now! All they can say is no, and I'm no worse off than I am now.

    As a reader, I LOVE the samples on Amazon. I download tons of them (and then buy the ones that grab me; it gives me the feeling of being back in a bookstore where I could grab a book off the shelf and try it out).

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  22. MaryK
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 10:11:28

    @Shannon Stacey: You might include a link to the Kindle page with a note about the Kindle sample. Going to Amazon and downloading a sample seems like a logical thing, but I probably wouldn’t think to do it while I’m browsing an author’s website. :*)

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  23. Lisa Hendrix
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 10:24:12

    The Robin Owens excerpt you linked to is from the Berkley Jove Authors site, a separate promotional site provided through Writerspace, and would have been posted by Owens herself.

    The official Penguin (Berkley) site offers author letters plus excerpts of the final book. An example of that would be for Owens’s HEART JOURNEY.

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  24. Jane
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 10:30:59

    @Lisa Hendrix It’s not possible to tell that information from the site itself. It looks pretty official (the Berkley/Jove site).

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  25. Susanna Kearsley
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 10:47:47

    @Jane:

    I agree. My awesome UK publishers, Allison & Busby, have always supplied me with a pdf of the first chapter that I can post up on my web site for readers, on the individual book pages: http://bit.ly/gE8hiR

    And because they create the pdf’s from the final printer’s proofs, I can get them on my web site well before the book comes out (the first two chapters of my next book, The Rose Garden, are already posted, though the book itself won’t be out till May in the UK).

    I’ve always thought this was a nice thing for Allison & Busby to do for me, since it saves me time and gives my readers decent-looking excerpts they can download if they want to.

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  26. cs
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 10:51:48

    I don’t read excerpts. Ever. If the blurb doesn’t get my attention, that says enough for me. Excerpts just annoy me, most of the time they’re randomly picked sections of a book (in my personal experience). Unless it’s an excerpt of the first chapter, I might read it.

    Word of mouth is an important tool. I mean I recommend TV shows to my family, and they end up buying the DVD’s – same with books.

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  27. Susanna Kearsley
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 10:53:11

    Oops. Sorry. I was trying to blockquote this comment by Jane:

    “It's too bad that properly formatted excerpts aren't part of the publicity package the publishing house could prepare for an author.”

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  28. Shana
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 11:04:28

    I find the sample size that will hook me is about 3 chapters.

    If I know the author, I’ll buy sight unseen or on a small snippit, but I’m seldom hooked enough by small samples to make an immediate purchase.

    In sf, Baen’s policy of putting the first quarter of the book up as the free sample has earned them a lot of my money.

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  29. brooksse
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 11:14:50

    I download samples from Amazon to my Kindle all the time and store them in a samples collection. It may be 2 or 3 weeks before I read the samples… it really helps cut down on impulse buying.

    Before I bought a Kindle, I used to send samples to the Kindle app on my iPod touch. If I liked a sample, I left it in the app and used the app as my TBB list.

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  30. Sarah Frantz
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 11:18:55

    Short excerpts at the publisher site almost make me NOT want to buy the book, because I wonder what they’re trying to hide. If it’s a website, you can make excerpts longer than a book page. Carina Press is worst offender here, to my mind. Their excerpts are really about as long as they would be if a page excerpts were inserted in another book. PLEASE make them longer. Dreamspinner, OTOH, has chapter long excerpts. I like that A LOT.

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  31. Sandra
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 11:28:57

    I always read excerpts for new-to-me authors, just like I browse through paper books at the bookstore. Books cost too much any more for me to waste my time and money on something I may not like. My preference is to read from the author’s website, but I’ll read excerpts on B&N or download to my nook app, if available. The nice thing about downloading excerpts from B&N is, if I like the book, I can purchase directly from the sample in the app.

    But, as mentioned upstream, the excerpt has to be long enough to be worth while. Case in point: Sarah at SBTB recommended Marguerite Kaye’s Temptation is the Night recently. I downloaded from B&N, only to find that after cover copy, publication data, blurbs and TOC, the actual text consisted of less that two paragraphs. Granted, it’s a 50 page novella (short story?) but that’s not enough to make a purchase decision.

    Something else I like to see on author sites (and blogs, for that matter) is buy links. And links for more than just Amazon. I don’t do Amazon. If I have to search for it myself on B&N, I’m less likely to do so, especially if I’m wavering about the book in the first place.

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  32. brooksse
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 11:35:11

    @brooksse: Forgot to mention that what I usually prefer in an excerpt is to be able to read the entire first chapter. The first two chapters would be even better.

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  33. Cris
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 11:38:54

    I only go to author sites for authors I already like, so it doesn’t matter to me if they have excerpts there. Though it is nice when a favorite author posts a few pages from her latest WIP and gets me all psyched about it!

    Usually, I pick new books/authors by the SBTB, DA, or LRP sites’ recommendations (then by price) and then while I’m at Amazon, I’ll look around for others that interest me. First, it’s the blurb to see if the story line holds any appeal, then to the first couple of user reviews, THEN I download an excerpt. I prefer most or all of the first chapter, but whatever gives me an idea of the writers voice is sufficient if I have good recommendations already.

    But the bottom line is that since prices went up so much (paying more for the eBook than the hard copy cheeses me off to no end), I need way more than a good blurb to hand over the cash.

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  34. Eliza Evans
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 12:06:11

    I have hundreds of samples downloaded on my Kindle. My rule for myself, actually, is that I have to download the sample and read it first before I can buy a book, or I would have less a bank account and more a smoking hole in the ground.

    I do like excerpts on author pages but to be honest I don’t go to author pages very often. I get recs from friends and sites like DA or Smart Bitches. Also, lots from Twitter.

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  35. TKF
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 12:22:54

    @cs:

    I don't read excerpts. Ever. If the blurb doesn't get my attention, that says enough for me.

    I'm the opposite. The blurb isn't written by the author and often-’at least in my experience-’bears little resemblance to the book itself (I would NEVER buy a romance novel if the blurb was the test; they're almost universally awful and make the books sound trite).

    If I'm browsing unknown authors, I go by genre/subgenre, then I crack the book and read the first few pages. It's all about voice for me, so the blurb is really meaningless/useless.

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  36. KB/KT Grant
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 12:25:59

    Books excerpts should be like movie trailers. Grabs your attention where you want to buy the book. I think an attention grabbing scene from the book should be posted.

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  37. Ridley
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 13:50:19

    @KB/KT Grant:

    Looking at it from a reader perspective, I have to disagree. Rather than the misleading movie trailer approach where you cherry pick an exciting scene that may or may not be indicative of the book’s talent as a whole, I want the first chapter of a book as the excerpt.

    From the first chapter you get a sense of the author’s pacing and writing style as well as enough of an idea about the book concept to decide if you want more. That’s more likely to sell me on a book from a new-to-me author than some disembodied exciting scene.

    I read excerpts online, and I’d suspect that most non-Kindle/Nook readers do the same. After all, you’re shopping online and reading excerpts to inform your shopping. I can’t figure out the value add of a downloadable excerpt.

    And the lack of excerpts on ebooks at Harlequin is a problem for me. It prevents me from buying new-to-me authors unless there’s a 40%+ off sale going on. Sorry, but categories are way hit or miss and I’m not shopping blind.

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  38. JenM
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 14:12:23

    I’m one of those people that is very picky about an author’s voice and use of language/grammar, so much so, that prior to getting my Kindle, I would never buy books online – I’d see something that would interest me, but I’d write it down and wait until I could find it in a bookstore and actually read a few pages before I would buy. After I got my K, I quickly learned to always download a sample first – I probably do that with 90% of the books I buy.

    I usually only go to an author’s site after I’ve read at least one of their books and liked it, so excerpts there don’t matter as much to me, but I do think authors should have them available for all of the people who don’t have a digital reader. I think they are one of the most powerful selling tools available right now.

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  39. library addict
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 14:12:47

    I only read excerpts for new-to-me authors. And sometimes if an author has disappointed me in the past, but the blurb catches my eye. When I am looking at a new-to-me author, I usually look for their website, so agree 100% the info should be there.

    I am still amazed at how many authors don't have websites at all. And of those that do, how many are basically useless to new readers.

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  40. DS
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 14:23:57

    blurbs: Having one year transcribed a bunch of romance blurbs, I firmly believe that they were all written by interns– except for some written for older (mid 1980′s) Loveswepts that I thought were intentionally snarky about the books.

    Samples: One of my favorite thing about the Kindle. I download the sample and if I reach the end of the sample and need to know NOW! what happens next, I can buy it at once and keep going. If the book is $2.99 or less and I have a recommendation I might not bother with a sample.

    WebsitesI don’t usually bother with author’s web sites unless I have never heard of the person and am curious about their background.

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  41. Courtney Milan
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 14:55:19

    Thanks for the really interesting comments about this. I’ve considered putting up different download format versions of my excerpts, but ultimately, it’s hugely time-consuming, and more importantly, I have no PC to test their viability on…and I know that format-differences between Macs and PCs can make what looks great to me unreadable for someone else.

    I just haven’t seen a lot of demand for it.

    I always do the first scene of my book–and if that is short, the first chapter.

    Since we’re talking excerpts on websites, does anyone mind answering a separate question–namely, how do you feel about excerpts in excerpt books? At this time, I’ve produced three separate excerpt books. People seem to like the concept, and some people even read them… but if the same people would read it on my website anyway, I haven’t really come away with a positive.

    Does anyone mind telling me how you feel about excerpt books, and if you read the ones you get?

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  42. Vi
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 15:44:15

    I love excerpt books. But they are hard to get a hold of, unless you are attending an event. If the author mailed them out, that would be awesome.

    Regarding excerpts, I love it when authors post excerpts before the book is released. I especially love thus when it is a book that is highly anticipated.

    Quick question, what is the reasoning behind publishers limiting the excerpt amount?

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  43. Ridley
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 16:41:12

    @Vi:

    I think it boils down to old people being afeared of The Internets.

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  44. SylviaSybil
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 17:07:05

    I like excerpts, but I’m wary of authors who use short stories in their place. A short story is a very different animal than a novel and those skills don’t always transfer. Some of my favorite novelists can’t write short stories well at all. And I’ve bought crap novels based on a glowing short.

    @Courtney Milan: I like excerpt books but I notice I only read the ones I’ve heard of before. I have a stack of five or so, including one of yours, sitting on my nightstand because I keep meaning to go back and read the ones I haven’t heard of. And then I feel guilty for not reading them and for “hoarding” them when I should be giving them to someone who will read them. :P I prefer excerpts on websites where I don’t have to worry I’m wasting the author’s promotional money.

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  45. di
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 17:26:27

    I may be an anomaly, but I often don’t read excerpts. If I do read them, I would like them to be the 1st couple-three chapters and not be a separate file I need to download. I also don’t want an excerpt that’s going to change too much from the published story…or never be released (which has happened to me before).

    Since I don’t have a kindle (or reader more tied to a store) and buy a lot more smaller press directly from the publisher, I’m willing to take a chance on a new author based on the pub’s reputation. Often I want 1 book, but don’t want to just put $5 on my card, so will pick up a couple others.

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  46. Carin
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 17:39:56

    Downloading excerpts – I’m guessing this is only something Kindle users (or others with wifi/3g) do. I have a Sony pocket and no *way* would it be worth plugging in to download the sample and then unplugging to read and then plugging in again to download. I can see how it would be different if you could buy right there on your device, though. (It’s probably saved me some money, not being able to do that!)

    blurbs – it’s wierd to me to hear that some of you don’t even read blurbs. I know they can be wildly inaccurate, but I feel a little lost starting a book without that basic information, no less buying one.

    excerpts on authors’ sites - For me, I like excerpts I can read right there on the author’s site. Shannon Stacey nailed it – if you send me to the publisher, I’ll end up reading about lots of other authors’ books. Keep me on your site and I’ll be looking at *your* books.

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  47. Merrian
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 18:03:26

    I really agree with Keishon. Excerpts are important to me because I want to hear the voice of the author. This means they must be long enough – at least a chapter. I also want them to drop me into the story so I have a sense of the pace and flow of the book. These days I don’t buy a book online if I can’t read an excerpt. They are a must for online retailing because we can’t pick up a book and glance through it. The blurb makes me look more closely at a book but the excerpt sells it to me.

    I also agree with Ridley’s points. I have a Kobo so I don’t download excerpts but read online when I am shopping for books. The excerpts I read on author websites are mostly me searching for a fix between books in a series. I shop via publisher sites so that is where I want to read the excerpts.

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  48. TKF
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 18:32:23

    I have a CyBook, and I don’t find it all that much trouble to download Kindle samples, strip the DRM, and load them into my reader. In fact, I never thought about it as a hassle at all. I usually do them in batches once a month. Then I delete the ones that don’t grab me and buy the ones that do.

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  49. Lucinda Brant
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 19:00:11

    As a reader I always want to read the first 2 or 3 chapters of a book before I buy, so, as an author, I thought it a good idea to do the same for my readers.
    So I offer the first 3 chapters of all my published ebooks (and also the first 3 chpts of two forthcoming books) together in one “chapbook” so that readers can get a good idea of my writing style and content before they buy. The “2010 Chapbook – a degustation of 18th Century romance and mystery” is free to download from Smashwords https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/27378?ref=lucindabrant

    The 2010 Chapbook contains ecoupons so that if you like what you read you can download a book/s for 50% off the retail price. A sort of gift for taking the time to download and read the Chapbook. Unfortunately the 2010 Chapbook ecoupons are only available until 31 December (it’s been out for a few months now), but another Chapbook is planned for early 2011.
    The Chapbook and excerpts are also available via my author website http://www.lucindabrant.com
    And each of my books contains the first 2 chapters of my other books, so you can read excerpts that way too.
    Enjoyed this article, very interesting! Thanks, Jane.

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  50. Author On Vacation
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 19:00:14

    For me, as a reader, excerpts and sample chapters are the primary element in my selection process. The sample demonstrates the author’s ability and style.

    I agree with Ridley that a full chapter (at least) should be a standard excerpt size.

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  51. Jayne
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 19:10:34

    @Jane: I do not want to have to download an excerpt. I download enough stuff to my computer without adding that.

    And I also wish Harlequin offered excerpts for their ebooks since otherwise, you have to wait a month until the book comes out in print to read it.

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  52. Andrea K Host
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 19:39:14

    I have a straight-forward “Read the first page” link (to text displayed on a web page) and a “Read the first five chapters” link (to a downloadable PDF) for each book.

    I tend to buy books based on author/back copy blurb/recommendations, but if I’m uncertain or borderline, it makes a big difference to be able to glance at the first portion of the book.

    I have no problem making anything up to 50% available – that gives the undecided reader more chance to get hooked on the story. :)

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  53. Heather Massey
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 20:48:54

    I really appreciate having excerpts available and I read a lot of them. I’ll read them primarily on author and publisher sites.

    I strongly prefer reading the first few pages in order to avoid spoilers. Excerpts plucked from the middle of a story lack context, and I worry reading them will give away too much.

    I avoid quite a few movie trailers for that same reason. They reveal too much about key scenes these days.

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  54. Jane
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 20:52:02

    @Vi I have no idea. I guess they don’t want to give away too much of the book? But that is a complete guess. I have no idea.

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  55. Jaclyn
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 21:41:36

    I read an excerpt before buying roughly 90% of the time and hate downloads. I just want to click, read, and close the window.

    When an excerpt isn’t avail at the publisher, bookseller, or author site I sometimes check to see if it’s on Google Books because so many books are there and browsable. If I can’t read an excerpt, I often just move on and look for something else to read.

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  56. brooksse
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 21:42:14

    @Ridley: “I can't figure out the value add of a downloadable excerpt.”

    For me it’s a time shifting thing… if I hear about a book or author that sounds interesting, I go to Amazon and read the blurb. If I’m still interested after reading the blurb, I send a sample to my Kindle.

    I have enough books on my TBR pile that I tend to not buy new books when I first hear about them. So I don’t waste time reading samples if I’m not going to buy right away. Instead, I accumulate samples and wait until I hear about a sale, like the 30% off this weekend at Kobo. That’s when I read the samples and decide if I want to purchase any of them.

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  57. Author On Vacation
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 21:43:33

    @Andrea K Host:

    I have no problem making anything up to 50% available – that gives the undecided reader more chance to get hooked on the story. :)

    I’m not sure I agree with that. To my mind, an excerpt’s purpose is to demonstrate an author’s competencies and provide the reader with some sense of the storyline. At least, that’s what I’m looking for when I read an excerpt.

    If the first chapter or first 2-3 chapters haven’t engaged me enough to know I’d probably enjoy the author’s style and storytelling, I’m not going to read 50% of the book to see if those extra chapters change my mind.

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  58. Castiron
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 21:55:50

    I’m starting to download Kindle excerpts, even for books that I’m more likely to check out from the library than buy. It’s handy, and I suspect I’ll start doing it more often in the future.

    For a novel, chapter 1 is a bare minimum. Two or three chapters is even better. (Or more! If I’m hooked enough to read chapters 1-10, I’m most likely going to buy your book to read chapters 11-20. And if you lose me on chapter 5 of the excerpt, I might still check out another book of yours to see if I like it better, but if you lose me on chapter 5 of a book I bought, I’m not going to risk my money on your work again.)

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  59. MaryC
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 22:05:53

    I love the B&N and Amazon sample chapters or author website previews. They allow me to sample new authors or books I’m not sure about.

    My pet peeve though is when the sample is taken up with the acknowledgments, quotes, chapter listings, etc. I read one the other day that ended up with about 2 pages of text because all the pages were used up with other info. That’s not going to convince me I want to read the book.

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  60. Ridley
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 22:13:15

    @brooksse:

    I’m not talking about Kindle or Nook samples. I’m referring to having a downloadable excerpt on a website.

    Most people looking for excerpts online aren’t Kindle/Nook readers. You guys can shop from your device after downloading a sample wirelessly.

    For those of us shopping for ebooks we read on our PCs/laptops or Sony readers and those shopping for paper books online, downloading an excerpt doesn’t add anything but extra time to the process.

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  61. Susan
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 22:17:59

    @Vi: I’m a publisher of non-fiction. Many of us (publishers) limit the amount of viewable content to 20% or less (some as little as 5%); the driver on that limit was concern that if the entire book was viewable for free people wouldn’t buy it. On average about 80% of our titles have pages (excerpts) viewed each week by readers.

    The publisher I work for allows between 10 and 20% of a book to be viewable. We have never done testing or analysis to see if more or less than 20% viewable content impacts sales in any meaningful way, and we don’t receive complaints from readers about the limit to 10-20%.

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  62. scooper
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 22:20:41

    @Milena: I agree with you. I can’t count the number of books I’ve bought lately where the blurb didn’t even match the story. It drives me nuts. I don’t read even read blurbs like I used to. Now I use blurbs as little flags of books I might want to read. But for the most part, blurbs on the backs of books are almost as useless as Amazon reviews.

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  63. SylviaSybil
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 22:29:40

    I never, ever download excerpts when I’m browsing online. I get that it’s different for Kindles, Nooks, etc. but when I’m browsing the webpage I need the excerpt in a form of instant gratification. It takes up to two minutes for my computer to download a PDF and scan for viruses. By that point I’ve found something more interesting to do than watch the progress bar of my download.

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  64. Roxie
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 22:58:09

    Unless an author is an auto buy, I read the blurb. If the blurb is interesting, I hunt down an excerpt. I prefer to get that excerpt straight from the author’s website; after all, that’s where all the information I want on a book or author should be. If I have to click an extra couple links just to get an excerpt, I start to get impatient. Besides, publisher websites tend to be very “busy” and I just want to know if I like the author’s voice and the main character. BTW, I won’t buy from a new author unless I can find an excerpt.

    As for excerpt length, a few pages is usually enough to tell me whether I’ll want the book. A full chapter is a treat. :)

    I usually don’t download excerpts either, I just read them online. I have a Sony 300, and it doesn’t make it super easy to download excerpts like the Kindle does, and honestly, one less thing to download on my computer is always nice.

    As for excerpt books, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one, so I can’t comment on whether I’d like them or not.

    Something else that’s neat are little snippets of an upcoming book – they’re just enough to whet the appetite and make me even more desperate for that book.

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  65. Elizabeth
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 23:56:41

    Like others, I really use excerpts to see if I like the voice and the feel of the story. I almost never rely on the blurb – as many have said, they often give the wrong impression of the story. At the Harlequin site, I read the excerpts on the print site and then buy the ebook on their digital site. I appreciate when authors put excerpts of their latest work on their website, but I would not look at a publisher’s website, apart from Harlequin.

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  66. Sami Lee
    Dec 13, 2010 @ 05:00:45

    I read excerpts from authors I’m not already familiar with to get a feel for their style. I often buy based on that–or don’t buy as the case may be. If I already know and like the author I don’t bother with their excerpt–if I like the premise I’ll buy the book.

    I’ve never downloaded an excerpt. It sounds completely lazy but that’s a whole other click and then waiting time for the download, all for an author I’m not even sure I’m going to like. I once downloaded a free read from an author I had already bought a book from and liked, but I just never read it. Once I saved it elsewhere for ‘later’ the immediacy was gone and I lost interest. Short attention span, me. I think downloadable excerpts might suffer the same fate.

    Each of my books has one page on my website, with the blurb, buy links, reviews and excerpt available on that one page via ye olde fashioned scroll down method. I did this simply because I built my own web space and my skills are limited, but from the comments it seems like I needn’t bother doing anything fancier. Time saved, yay.

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  67. Fia
    Dec 13, 2010 @ 07:41:47

    Pretty much everyone here said my piece, but I would like to point out a type of excerpts that until recently, I hadn’t seen before: a sampler of an author’s entire book list.

    Like KS Augustin's sampler*, for example. I thought this was a fantastic idea, particularly when I’m not familiar with an author’s works. It resolves the clutter issue, too. I hate seeing excerpts cluttering up my PC desktop so it’s good to have it all in one.

    I wish authors could have this available at their sites. Even better if it’s in epub format. It doesn’t have to be first chapter each. Five pages per title is good enough for me.

    *This particular sampler (PDF) does have a flaw: the table of contents aren’t hyperlinked. It takes a lot of scrolling to find a story you want to try. (I think this will be amended soon, though?)

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  68. Karen
    Dec 13, 2010 @ 07:57:06

    OMG!! I clicked because of the cute kitties!! Soooooooooo cute!! Anyway, continue…

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  69. Genevieve
    Dec 13, 2010 @ 11:34:08

    I’ve had a Kindle for a couple months and have learned that reviews and recommendations are not nearly as reliable as an excerpt. I’ve got multiple unfinished books now because I didn’t “taste” before I bought. It’s true what agents say–you really do know in the first couple pages if that’s a voice you can live with for a few/many hours.

    Don’t know if anyone mentioned this yet, but self-pubbed authors (and possibly trad-pub) don’t have much control over what is excerpted on Amazon. There’s some computerbot that slices it up (at least for the folks doing Amazon Digital Services).

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  70. Anna Marie
    Dec 13, 2010 @ 11:40:35

    Not so much what I like to see in an excerpt but rather how to access one. I do not like having to join an author’s freaky cult message board to be able to read the excerpt of their book. I seem to be coming across way too many authors that now require you to join their message board(overrun by crazy fangirls who refer to the author as their goddess)to find the excerpt. Just put it on the website for us to read.

    I also don’t like having to play “where’s waldo” to find the excerpt on an author’s website. Please just give me a link, don’t make me click on a million pictures trying to find which picture leads to your book.

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  71. Kerry Allen
    Dec 13, 2010 @ 11:48:19

    @Genevieve: Amazon slices off the first 10% of the file as a sample. Self-pubbed authors actually have a great deal of control over what is shown in that 10% because they can move the copyright page, acknowledgements, author’s note, and all that miscellaneous front matter to the end of the document if they prioritize providing a good sample of the story. Traditionally published books will probably continue to have front matter in the front for the next 30 years, which will cut into the amount of story you’re able to taste test.

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  72. Monday Morning Stepback: The Location of the HEA | Read React Review: Rethinking romance and other fine fiction
    Dec 13, 2010 @ 12:30:54

    [...] Jane at Dear Author changed gears on Sunday to do a non-tech post, All About the Excerpt. I don’t even read excerpts, but I was very interested in the post, and the many [...]

  73. Moriah Jovan
    Dec 13, 2010 @ 12:52:12

    @Genevieve:

    Don't know if anyone mentioned this yet, but [...] authors [...] don't have much control over what is excerpted on Amazon.

    True.

    @Kerry Allen:

    Amazon slices off the first 10% of the file as a sample. Self-pubbed authors actually have a great deal of control over what is shown in that 10% because they can move the copyright page, acknowledgements, author's note, and all that miscellaneous front matter to the end of the document if they prioritize providing a good sample of the story.

    True again, and I’ve blogged on this.

    I think, though, that that might not occur to the random self-pubber and/or micropress until they run smack-dab into the problem (or are told, as now). Front matter’s been arranged the way it is for so many years, it takes running into the limitations of ebooks to start doing things differently and/or innovating.

    I will say that most of my clients are *very* resistant to putting the front matter in the back, especially for those (nonfiction) authors who have gone to great lengths to gather endorsements. Not only do they want them in front, they want the book to open to those automatically.

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  74. Shelley
    Dec 13, 2010 @ 13:25:40

    Ditto on most everything. I absolutely WILL NOT buy anything unless I read an excerpt. Also like when erotic romance authors post a “hot” AND “not hot” excerpt.

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  75. Fiona McGier
    Dec 13, 2010 @ 16:59:49

    When I first got published almost 2 years ago, the e-publisher asked me to write the blurb and choose the excerpt. That’s when I began to realize that though I thought getting published was the hard part, the real work was about to begin! Publicizing your work is a full-time job, and since I work 2 other jobs and have a family, finding time to publicize is hard…finding time to write is becoming impossible! But at Jane’s suggestion in the article above, I stayed up late last night adding links to excerpts I chose on my publisher’s website, but they take you directly to the page, not to where you can “shop around” other books. I also have “buy now” icons that take you to the purchase page directly. Of course my books are on Fictionwise and Amazon also…maybe a couple of other sites. I have put the first 3-4 chapters on Watt Pad and provided a link to them for 2 of my books. Is that a good idea? I don’t know how to load PDFs on my website, and personally I don’t like to download stuff…takes too long and I worry about viruses. AS for the heat level of the excerpts, I feel that sex scenes are hotter when you know how long the persons involved have wanted this to happen, and what has kept them apart. A sex scene divorced from context always leaves me feeling like a voyeur. But I have an entire novel as a free download on Smashwords.com, so readers can see if they like my style. I’m not as much of a newbie as I was 2 years ago, but I still feel like I have so much to learn about promotion.

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  76. Ros
    Dec 13, 2010 @ 17:47:25

    @Jayne: I know it’s not an ideal solution, but the Mills and Boon website does offer excerpts of about ten pages to read online. So if the book you’re interested has been published in the UK (and in my experience the Presents often come out as M&B Moderns a month or two before they are out in the US), you can check the samples there.

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  77. KeriM
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 12:55:53

    @CortneyMilan
    First off, I just wanted to say I am a new fan and love your writing voice.

    Second, I don’t have an ereader of any sort, except for my Kindle App for my PC. So for myself I appreciate the excerpts in the back of books, because that is where I do 99.8% of my reading.

    But I am very author specific and will do alot of research on a new author with GR, DA, SBTB and AAR before I go buy somebody new. I very rarely go download an excerpt to read.

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  78. Links: The Storm before the Quiet 2010 Edition
    Dec 17, 2010 @ 11:08:16

    [...] All About the Excerpt: Key to convincing people to buy the book. [Link: Elizabeth Craig] [...]

  79. Writing Links Around the Web, writing books, publishing | How To Write Shop
    Dec 18, 2010 @ 07:04:09

    [...] This gave me pause. I thought an excerpt was an excerpt. I never thought about how much, or in what [...]

  80. Excerpts: A Selling Tool for Books, writing, book marketing | How To Write Shop
    Dec 20, 2010 @ 06:04:34

    [...] Writing Business, Writing Tools by Edie Ramer I'm an excerpt slut, and I'm not the only one. A recent post on Dear Author led to a lively discussion about excerpts in the comments.  I know I've been burned too many [...]

  81. MaryK
    Jan 03, 2011 @ 11:22:39

    Hmmm, I didn’t remember this conversation being almost a month ago. Anyway…

    On the subject of how readers use websites, I had an experience recently that was eye-opening. I was actually here at DA browsing the Coming Soon catalog and one of the book covers I was interested in had a dead link. Now, a logical person would say “just copy+paste the title into google and check the book out that way.” It wouldn’t have taken any time really, but apparently I was in brainless user mode because I didn’t think of that ’til later. I futilely clicked through the link several times just to prove that it didn’t work (insert eyeroll here) and moved on.

    Because I’m a regular DA reader, I tweeted @DearAuthor to let them know about the dead link. On a stranger’s website, I wouldn’t have bothered and I wouldn’t have found out anything about the book unless I encountered the cover a second time and it caught my attention again.

    I guess my point is that surfing the internet is just that – surfing – constant forward movement. I’m usually very persistent and don’t give up easily when I’m looking for something particular. But apparently when I’m in surfing mode, it’s instant gratification or “so long.”

    ReplyReply

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