Monday, May 3, 2010

I Need Your Help

I have a phobia about online excerpts.  I could have convinced myself it was just some quirky aesthetic decision on my part until last week.  There was a tweet with a link to a website sponsored by Avon Books; the particular post invited readers to write something and leave it in the comments.  Something fiction.  In effect, excerpts.

When I figured this out, I clicked away from that site with the same nervous determination I would exhibit if I saw a snake in our pool enclosure.  Not freaking out, just deciding that I needed to be someplace else.  Like NOW.

Needless to say, I am afraid of snakes.  Which tells me that my, uh, reluctance to read writers' excerpts is more about fear than it is about anything rational.

Now, I'm not going to ask you to tell me what I'm afraid of and why.  I suspect I am afraid of reading something bad, something painfully ill-advised, something I could have written.  (I shudder just to imagine it.)

But I was just reading Justine Lee Musk's post about social media, authorial brand awareness, and so forth.  It's a bit cerebral, even for me, but it reminded me of my excerpt-phobia.

I'm working on my own website, which I daresay will include excerpts.  And if I hadn't already convinced you that I'm completely bonkers, this will:  I am not afraid to post excerpts of my own writing on the Internet.  Not at all.  Not even if I imagine someone reading them.  Not even, incredibly, if I imagine someone reading them and hating them.  (Of course, this may be like trying to recall specific physical pain.  There's a good reason why our brains can't easily remember pain.  Perhaps the same synaptic failure is keeping me from really comprehending the humiliation of having people read an excerpt of my work and hating it.)

Here's where you can help.  Do you read author's excerpts?  Only published authors you like, or authors you don't know yet?  How about unpublished writers?  And if you do read excerpts, how do you feel about the good ones, the bad ones, and the stuff in between?  Does it help you decide whose book(s) to read, or do you do it solely out of curiosity?

I can't assume other peoples' reactions are like my own.  After all, the one thing I will never have to do is read my own excerpt as if I'd never seen it before.


  1. The only time I read excerpts is when I'm "on the fence" about a book/author. I'm tempted, but something is holding me back for one reason or another. In which case, I'll read an excerpt to help make up my mind. And to be honest, I don't do this all that often. Literally, a couple times a year? Maybe?

    I just don't "do" excerpts normally. I know some readers love them, I suspect because they like that anticipation of waiting for, and finally reading, a really good book. Me? Not so much. Excerpts are a bit of a tease, and I'm not a fan of teasing. There's nothing more frustrating than reading a really great excerpt only to discover I can't get my hands on the whole story until X months down the road. But I'm a freak, and fully acknowledge my freaky-ness.

    All that being said, I think all author web sites need to include excerpts. It's just good policy IMHO. Lots of readers love them, and it's an easy way to showcase you and your books.

  2. I'm extremely unlikely to buy a book by an author who's new to me unless I've read an excerpt (either online, or by flicking through it in a bookshop).

    This is because

    * I have limited amounts of money to spend on books (which is no doubt true of most of us) so I choose books carefully in order to maximise the likelihood that I'll enjoy the reading experience. I don't want to pay for something I'll end up hating.

    * I have yet to find any reviewer who shares my tastes, so I can't rely on reviews.

    * I know blurbs can often be misleading (and even if one isn't, it's unlikely to be able to indicate much about the quality of the writing)

    I love the fact that Harlequin/Mills & Boon now let you read the first chapter of every book online.

  3. Oh, and even if I have read and enjoyed previous books by an author, I still prefer to read an excerpt of any new ones. After all, I can't be certain that I'll like the characters in the new book, and a good excerpt will tend to give me a sense of what they're like.

  4. I'm on the fence. It seems often that an excerpt will be the best writing of the book and then much of the rest of it doesn't have the sparkling wit or joy that one excerpt showed.

    Of course, sometimes it saves me from a narrative voice I know I would hate.

    I do buy books based on excerpts, blurbs, reviews and friend recommendations.

  5. Rarely. But reading this has made me think I should do so.

  6. Thanks, everyone -- this is very helpful.

    Your comments remind me of something, though. I can't remember where I read this -- some agent's FAQs explaining the top ten reasons she doesn't end up repping an author after having asked to see the full manuscript, I think -- but she made the point that sometimes the first chapter (or first three chapters) is so polished (for contests, etc.) that the rest of the book is a let down.

    I wonder if an excerpt from a point slightly along in the book might be better. Hmm. Much to ponder.

    Thanks again for helping me out!


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