Updated October 2023
Querying literary agents/publishers about your book and publishing short prose in literary journals are two very different things—but they can both have the same result! Many book authors are so focused on the hunt for a literary agent or publisher that they completely brush aside the idea of spending time submitting work to literary journals. But here’s an insider’s tip from Writer’s Relief: Submitting small parts of your book—or excerpts—to literary magazines and having them published is a great way to grab an agent’s/publisher’s attention! Yes, publishing excerpts can actually help get your book published.
Why You Should Consider Submitting Stand-Alone Book Excerpts To Literary Journals
You may be thinking, “I’m concentrating all my efforts on getting my book published—why should I take a detour and submit to literary journals?” But savvy writers know that publishing excerpts isn’t a detour; it’s a stepping-stone. Here’s why:
Publishing excerpts will create buzz for your book. One of the biggest considerations for literary agents in deciding whether to take on a project is the book’s marketability. Literary agents look through journals in search of up-and-coming writers. Seeing that you have excerpts published in literary journals will show there is already interest in your writing, story, and characters.
Excerpts will build your audience. Publishing parts of your book as short stories will get the ball rolling on creating a readership for your book. And literary fans are incredibly loyal—if they love your excerpts, they’ll be more likely to read the entire book when it’s published. Having a built-in audience shows agents that your book has sales potential.
Excerpts look great in your author bio! In the hyper-competitive publishing world, it’s imperative that you set yourself apart with an impressive bio in your query letter. It’s important for any hopeful book author to demonstrate a strong publishing history—but even better when you can show that the publication credits are from your current book project! Having an excerpt published speaks to the quality of the writing—obviously, an editor felt the writing was strong enough and the story intriguing enough to publish it. The fact that you’ve published excerpts will also show literary agents how serious you are about doing the necessary work for your book as a whole.
How To Create An Excerpt From Your Book
Now that you know the great reasons why you should publish excerpts from your novel or memoir, your next question may be: What’s the best strategy for creating an excerpt? Here are our best suggestions:
Make sure your excerpt can stand alone. Many writers choose to take the first chapter of their books to market as an individual story—it often has the best potential to stand on its own. However, you can choose an excerpt from any point in your book—even the very end! (Interesting fact: The novel Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk got its start as a seven-page short story.)
But the most important factor is that the excerpt MUST be able to stand on its own as a story. Literary editors aren’t interested in the fact that the story is part of a book—they’re interested in giving their readers a great story. Look for a place in your book where the tension builds and character development shines.
Choose a fairly short selection. Make sure the excerpt is about 3,500 words—or fewer. These days shorter pieces continue to be the most desirable for literary journal editors (and readers!), so make sure your excerpt is as marketable as possible.
Revise your text as needed. There’s no rule stating that your excerpt needs to be taken verbatim from your book! So if you need to add in background context, create a more satisfying conclusion, or only want to take small sections from your chapter, go right ahead. Remember, your goal in creating an excerpt is to make sure your piece will work for literary journals.
Consider an excerpt based on your book—not directly from it. Are you having trouble finding a good snippet of your novel or memoir to market on its own? Consider writing a story or essay that’s inspired by your book! Publishing a “deleted scene” from your book can also serve as great buzz—and that extra work could really help you get to know the characters and events in your book better!
The book you excerpt from doesn’t need to be finished. Just as you can publish an excerpt from your book before it comes out, you can publish an excerpt before the book is even completed! This can be another great writing tool and help you get a better sense of which plotlines and characters are going to be most popular—so you can revise your book as necessary!
Excerpts Make For A Great Publishing Strategy!
Even if you’ve never written short prose before, it’s a smart marketing strategy to submit excerpts while you’re querying literary agents. Being able to say in your query letter, “My short story, ‘XXX,’ an excerpt from this novel, was published in XXX Magazine” will be a great confidence booster about the potential success of your book—and is sure to intrigue literary agents! After all, your query letter is the time to brag as much as you can (humbly!).
If you’re having trouble navigating the ins and outs of literary journal submissions, Writer’s Relief is here to help! We have 25+ years of experience in targeting the best journals for every writer’s work, as well as pinpointing the right agents to query for book writers. Submit your work to our Review Board today!
Question: Have you written a book? If so, how would you choose an excerpt from your manuscript to submit to literary journals?