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5 Tips For Creating A Strong Excerpt From Your Novel Or Memoir

book excerpt tipsWe’ve already discussed how publishing an excerpt from your book in a literary magazine can be a powerful marketing tool. It’s a great strategy to generate enthusiasm about your book among literary agents, editors, and prospective readers.

But where to start? How long should an excerpt be? Should authors pick a random chapter—or should they specially create a story or essay based on the novel? Before you panic, check out these tips to create a strong, buzz-worthy excerpt:

1. The first chapter of a somewhat literary or fully literary novel often works well as an excerpt for literary magazines. For other types of novels, the first chapter might make a great stand-alone piece if it’s a place of tension. But if your first chapter is fully devoted to setting the scene or introducing a character’s backstory, choose something else. (And consider revising your first chapter!)

2. There’s no rule that says you have to use the first chapter. An excerpt can be pulled from any portion of your book or memoir. Look for scenes that offer strong conflict, spirited action, or climactic tension. Slice-of-life moments or character sketches can also be great places to start. Keep it simple and compelling, and make sure you aren’t devoting precious space to long explanations of plot or backstory.

3. The excerpt doesn’t have to be cut word-for-word from your book. You can change it any way you want to fit the parameters for a short story. NOTE: Keep in mind that the short story/short prose market has its own rules. By keeping your excerpt under 3,500 words, you’ll open up the greatest number of markets available to publish the work.

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4. You can also write a piece that’s not in your book but one that is based on it. You may draw from material that didn’t make it to the final cut or start from scratch and create a brand-new story—perhaps even a spin-off featuring a secondary character. Whatever the source, this piece should maintain the integrity of the characters and stay true to the overall theme of your novel (or memoir). The goal is to generate interest in the work that inspired it!

a stand alone
A Stand Alone (get it?)

5. Choose the right ending. Compelling doesn’t necessarily mean neat and tidy. As long as your excerpt finds some resolution, or a stopping point that hints at resolution, you’re fine.

Writer’s Relief Expert Tip

Submission strategist Kriste says: “Many editors of literary journals do not like to consider book excerpts because excerpts that are not meant to stand alone can feel awkward and incomplete. However, if your excerpt can stand alone and feels more like a short story or character sketch or slice-of-life piece, then more markets will likely be open to publishing it as a short story.”

Writer’s Relief specializes in helping writers build publishing credentials. Our submission strategists know the market intimately, and they know that if you’re trying to get the interest of an editor or an agent, a strong bio is essential. Publishing a stand-alone portion of your larger work, whether it’s a novel or a memoir, can lead to great things!

Writer QuestionsQUESTION: Have you ever written or excerpted a stand-alone piece based on a book?

18 Responses to 5 Tips For Creating A Strong Excerpt From Your Novel Or Memoir

  1. Hi Susanne,

    Having a book excerpt published should not have any negative effect on getting the book published. In fact, getting an excerpt published in a literary journals shows that an editor thinks your writing is good enough to be published. It also shows there’s an audience for your story. Of course, the book excerpt shouldn’t give away too much of your overall story. We’ve heard from publishers who are now thinking about other options of reaching audiences with published books, rather than solely relying on excerpts.

  2. I read somewhere that publishers would not be interested in a novel if any of it had been published previously, even on a blog. Did I misunderstand this no-no? I’d be overjoyed to know that. In fact, Writer’s Relief advised me to publish an excerpt while I continued to revise my book to add length, but I was doubtful.

  3. This is great information. I am greatly inspired to go to work immediately. Thank you so much, as your ongoing thoughtfulness is greatly appreciated.

  4. Hi Vicki,

    Yes, you can publish an excerpt for an unpublished manuscript. In fact, getting an excerpt published can help garner interest when you query literary agents, because it shows there’s a market for your writing and the work.

  5. Does the book have to be published first to submit an excerpt elsewhere? In other words, can you call it an excerpt from a book when there is no book available, only a manuscript?

  6. That’s great but my question, ‘s you use the same title for the stand alone excerpt or change it slightly to reflect the bigger piece?

  7. I’m on the last chapter of my suspense novel. I’m almost ready to send it to a professional editor once I have finished my editing. The information here about sending an excerpt for a contest is a wonderful idea. Like many other writers, I never knew how to create an excerpt that would sound like a complete short story, but I believe with this book I can do it. Thanks Writer’s Relief.

  8. I think I’ll look into doing an excerpt – I had been playing around with a short story, but this sounds like a much better idea – but now the hard part – which book and which part???!

  9. I plan on pitching my novel this weekend at a conference, I will be reading the first chapter at open mic night. I like excerpts. They work. KC.

  10. I published an excerpt of my novel LOSING KEI in a literary journal. The piece caught the eye of a literary agent, who contacted me, and later sold the novel.

  11. I wrote a novel that was widely (and probably accurately) criticized as “too episodic.” By mining the manuscript for stories, I gave it new life and also developed ideas for revision. I wonder, though– In the cover letter, should we mention that the story is drawn from a novel-in-progress? What are the pros and cons?

  12. I’ve been considering submitting stand-alone stories from my manuscript since it has yet to catch an agent’s eye. I was thinking about writing a little vignette about one of my secondary characters who I love but doesn’t have a huge part in my novel. Who knows, maybe it’ll turn out that he’s the more interesting character after all!

  13. I’ve heard about submitting an excerpt but was never sure how to go about finding the right part of my novel to submit to literary journals. I think I’m going to try a spin-off story. And who knows? Maybe it will be inspiration for my next novel :)

  14. not yet! but every time I read an article like this it reminds me that I really need to. I’ve heard it’s good to have a few publishing creds in your letter and I think that’s important.

  15. Oh boy; I’ve never even thought about an excerpt! I’m already throwing around a bunch of ideas for my main character, Skylar.

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