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We’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.
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!
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!
QUESTION: Have you ever written or excerpted a stand-alone piece based on a book?