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).
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?