If you’ve written a book and are trying to get published, Writer’s Relief would like to suggest the following strategy to get literary agents and editors excited about your book:
Publish an excerpt.
That’s right. Create a stand-alone short story or essay from within your book.
Creating a short story or essay from within your manuscript may seem time-consuming and counter-productive, but many writers have used this strategy to great effect. Often, when you crack open a book, you’ll notice in the copyright section that the publisher wishes to acknowledge other small presses that previously printed selections from the book. Professional writers will frequently convert the first chapter of a book into a story or essay and then publish it in a literary magazine years before the book is even done.
But, you’re thinking, how can I turn part of my book into a story?
A short story or essay is easiest to place when it is shorter than 3,500 words (here’s why). If you decide to create some stand-alone prose from within your book, keep in mind that you are allowed to revise your text. Your story does not need to match the portion of your book word for word. Feel free to play with your prose in order to give your excerpt the best shape for the medium. Also, if you’d like to write a story that is very loosely based on an event in your book—or maybe even a spin-off—that’s fine too. The point is to be able to say in your query letter:
My story “Footsteps in the Hall,” which is [based on/excerpted from] my novel The Monster Keeper, was published in The Name-of-Magazine-Here Review.
Why do writers want to see their excerpts published? There are a number of reasons excerpts can get you where you want to go.
Book excerpts generate enthusiasm. When a literary agent or editor sees that a portion of your book has been published in a reputable literary magazine, you are immediately bumped to the head of the class. Literary agents and editors like to see that you are actively publishing—and it’s even better if what you’re publishing is from the book that you’re pitching.
Published excerpts indicate that there is a pre-existing audience. If a literary agent doesn’t have to hem and haw over how to position your book within the larger market, then you just might strike gold. When you publish an excerpt, you hint that there is already interest out there for your writing. You indicate that the masses are ready and eager for a writer like you.
Excerpts build up your bio. We’ve already discussed how extremely important it is to build up your bio when you’re approaching literary agents with a book project. Publishing an excerpt of your book demonstrates that you are a writer who is serious, professional, and capable. Skip this step at your own peril.
Writer’s Relief often recommends to our clients that they publish excerpts of their books in the literary magazine market, and we can help you submit your excerpt for publication. If you’re not ready for our intensely effective Full Service program, check out our A La Carte services. We can do as much or as little as you like to help you build up your bio and get your submissions to the literary agents and editors who will be most likely to enjoy your work!
Definitely! Checking out lit mags is a great place to find emerging talent! It’s like when you love this alternative indie band that no one knows and then all of a sudden you hear their song on the radio and are like “Hey! I was a fan before they were famous!!”
Not only do excerpts indicate a pre-existing audience, but they also provide a public portfolio to potential readers and fans. Without readers, writers wouldn’t write.
What about online literary websites and magazines rather than print?
I would prefer to publish an excerpt in a print magazine. But if an online
magazine might accept to publish the excerpt, does it give away too much or make part of the book too easily accessed for free? On what criteria would this depend in the case of an online publication?
While it’s nice to see your work in print, it’s actually great to have work published online, since you’ll be able to share it more easily with friends, agents, etc. It’s also good to have an excerpt published, since it shows agents that there is interest in your book. In any case, you’ll be able to consider yourself a published author!