Have you ever come across a piece of writing that caught your eye and made you want to read more?
Chances are, it was an excerpt — but what exactly is an excerpt?
In this article, we’ll explore the definition and meaning of an excerpt, including what makes a good one and how long it should be.
Let’s dive right into it!
What Is an Excerpt?
An excerpt is simply a passage or segment taken from a longer piece of text, such as a book, an article, a speech or an essay.
It’s usually created to provide readers with an idea of what your work is about by showcasing some of its content in order to hook them. The key, though, is to do so without giving away the store.
Is an excerpt a summary?
No, an excerpt is not the same as a summary.
An excerpt usually focuses on one or two key points from the text that are most relevant to pique the interest of the reader.
A summary, on the other hand, provides a comprehensive overview of all the main ideas in a work and summarizes them into just a few sentences or paragraphs.
Is an excerpt the same as a passage?
Yes and no. While some passages can be excerpts, not all excerpts are passages.
A passage must have meaning in its entirety (e.g. a beginning, a middle and an end.) It must make sense to the reader from top to bottom.
An excerpt, on the other hand, doesn’t have to be fully developed text, it’s simply created to showcase aspects of the writing to entice people to read further.
So, for example, if you take a passage of a book and then cut out the bottom half you no longer have a passage, but you may end up with a good excerpt!
What Makes a Good Excerpt?
A good excerpt captures the essence of the text and provides readers with an idea of what your work is about.
Although, as stated earlier, an excerpt doesn’t have to stand on its own like a passage, it should include relevant details such as characters, plot points or important information so that readers can get a better understanding of the overall work.
You should always select excerpts that leave readers wanting more.
How Long Should an Excerpt Be?
The length of an excerpt depends on what you’re using it for. If you’re excerpting from a book, it should typically be no longer than a few short paragraphs (100-200 words). For articles or essays, the excerpt should be much shorter (50-100 words).
For blogs or online publications, even shorter. In fact, online excerpts are usually specified in characters, not words (e.g. 100-200 characters.)
How Do I Choose a Good Excerpt?
Choosing the right excerpt depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. For fiction books, pick out passages that feature key characters or settings but don’t reveal important elements of your plot.
For nonfiction books, choose passages that capture the essence of your work without revealing your secret sauce (otherwise people won’t feel the need to buy your book.)
And for blogs and other online publications, focus on excerpting a sentence or two from your introductory paragraph.
Book excerpts are typically used as a marketing device to help your readers get a better understanding of your work and entice them to make a purchase.
For articles and essays, they’re a way to engage readers with your piece so they get an idea of what the content is about in order to prime them for further reading.
It takes practice to get good at finding a solid excerpt. Remember to ask others to check out your choices and give you feedback. Then, rinse and repeat.
Harry Wallett is the Managing Director of Cascadia Author Services. He has a decade of experience as the Founder and Managing Director of Relay Publishing, which has sold over 3 million copies of books in all genres for its authors, and looks after a team of 50+ industry professionals working across the world.
Harry is inspired by the process of book creation and is passionate about the stories and characters behind the prose. He loves working with the writers and has shepherded 1000s of titles to publication over the years. He knows first-hand what it takes to not only create an unputdownable book, but also how to get it into the hands of the right readers for success.
Books are still one of the most powerful mediums to communicate ideas and establish indisputable authority in a field, boosting your reach and stature. But publishing isn’t a quick and easy process—nor should it be, or everyone would do it!
A professional grade book takes 250+ individual tasks to complete. Cascadia is an expert in every single one of them. Do you want to harness our expertise to launch your book into the stratosphere? Chat with us!