Choosing an Excerpt

Last month, I did my first reading for Baby Grand as part of the Summer Gazebo Series in Oceanside, New York.

And when I was deciding what excerpt I would choose for the event, I just thought I’d start from the beginning and read Chapter 1 — seemed like a logical place, right?

But I began watching some YouTube videos of authors who had been featured at the Gazebo over the years and realized that Chapter 1 was going to be a poor choice. Why? Well, even though Baby Grand is a thriller, there’s really not much action right off the bat, and my main characters don’t appear until Chapter 2 and beyond. Yes, Chapter 1 is a wonderful beginning to the novel, but, by itself, is by no means suitable as a representation of the entire work. As writer-friend Roz Morris wrote in a recent post about how she went about selecting an excerpt for a reading, beginnings are “for settling down with, not standing up.” I needed an excerpt that not only featured a few of my major players but one that had a little more suspense, something that grabbed listeners and made them want to know more, without giving too much away, of course.

Profanity was also an issue. There are characters in Baby Grand who have a penchant for the F word, so those scenes were out, because I had been instructed to select an excerpt that was more basic cable than premium channel.

What to choose? What to choose? I mean, there are 62 chapters in Baby Grand!

I began to narrow down the possibilities. The excerpt had to be a chapter that was early on in the novel or else too much of the plot could be given away. But it couldn’t be too early, because I needed things to be set in motion to make it more interesting for the listener. There was the profanity issue, yes, and I also had to think about timing — I had been given a ten-minute slot to fill and was told I could not go over, because there would be four other readers (two poets, a fellow fiction writer and a nonfiction writer) there that night as well.

In the end, I decided on Chapter 9, which featured both my hero and villain, was a bit dark and ended on a mysterious note. I timed myself as I read it, and it was approximately seven minutes, which was perfect — I had enough time to introduce myself, my novel, and set up the chapter. Now all I had to do was read it, which gave me heart palpitations the day of the event (I’m more of a behind the scenes kind of girl).

In the end, the reading went fine, although apparently I was the only one — being the newbie — who had taken the time limit seriously. Compared to the others, it seemed as if I was done in the blink of an eye!

Even if you are not scheduled to do a reading, it might be a good exercise to choose an excerpt from your book to use as promotional material on your website or elsewhere. I am currently working on the audiobook of Baby Grand, and when I needed to come up with a retail sample for the book that was five minutes in length, I knew exactly what chapter to use, having already prepared for the reading, and just sliced off a couple of minutes from the beginning of that excerpt to fit the allotted time.

And, no, I’m not narrating the audiobook. Although I let it out for selected special events, I like my reading voice to stay where it belongs. In my head.

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6 thoughts on “Choosing an Excerpt

  1. This was such an interesting post, Dina. I had to go back and re-read Chapter 9, and I have to say I think you made an absolutely perfect choice! And re-reading the chapter reminded me how much I loved the book. :)

  2. It’s funny how our minds were working along the same lines, Dina – although my characters don’t drop swear-bombs all the time! Until I had to choose an excerpt, I assumed it would be easy but there’s a lot to think about. It’s very telling that you went as far into the book as chapter 9!

    • Hey, Roz! Yes, there are, like, 10 narrators in BABY GRAND, believe it or not, and I found that although we pretty much jump into the story right from the start, most of those early chapters were introductory in nature, where readers were meeting each narrator for the first time. Chapter 9 seemed to fit the bill. Also, and I didn’t mention this in the post, I felt very strongly about not changing a word of the text that I read, not even omitting an idle expletive — the appearance of which, as I did mention, cut out quite a few choices. I too thought choosing an excerpt would be easy, but it proved challenging — which is just the way I like things anyway. :) Thanks for commenting!

  3. I have yet to read your book but I know you’ve made the best decision for your reading and, by doing so, for your readers.

    I think we are too nervous when we first approach something like this and need to take a step back as the author and remember the story as a fan. Although I’m sure most of us deal with things better behind the screens than on them, it is a part of the business we need to consider.

    Great tips!

    • Sarah, I totally agree. Stepping out of your author shoes and looking at your book as a fan is extremely helpful. And, yes, behind the scenes is where I like it best too, although I’m happy to step in front of the scenes too from time to time. :) Thanks for stopping by!

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