Why I Hate Excerpts And Other Things

Today is one of those days that smell wonderful.  The air has this quality that makes you want to read a book with a bittersweet ending.  If I had a copy of Ptolemy’s Gate, by Jonathon Stroud, I think I would have read the last few chapters today, but I don’t.  If I ever write a really bittersweet ending to anything, I’ll wait for a day like today to do it.

I’ve been wanting to do a post on this topic, but I’ve always forgotten: why I hate excerpts.  This is why it irks me to see so many people finding my blog with things like “mark of athena excerpt”; I hate excerpts.  They’re useless pieces of a story that more often than not are utterly meaningless to the reader.  When I finish a book in a series and it says “Read on for a never-before seen excerpt from book 2”, I just close the book.  I don’t want to read it.  I don’t want to read a summary of the next book, I don’t want to read anything about the next book until I have the actual book in my hands.  Why, you ask?  Well, I’ll tell you.

Excerpts are often called teasers.  I don’t like teasers either, because they’re the same things as excerpts.  What excerpts and teasers and samples do is they give you a taste for what you aren’t going to read anytime soon.  They should be avoided by the reader because once you taste something that you can’t have, the usual result is that you go mad.  This is how people who just like a book turn into fanatics, badgering the author for the next book in the series.  The same thing can happen with a cliffhanger of an ending in a book, but not as severely.

I hate excerpts because they show you a part of a book, and you don’t know where it’s coming into the book.  Often the same part is unedited, and might contain critical information in the actual book, but not in the excerpt.  Take for instance the excerpt (the fourth chapter) from Inheritance at the end of Brisingr, both by Christopher Paolini.  I didn’t read much more than the first paragraph of that, for reasons I’ve stated above.  But just from reading that paragraph I realized when I read Inheritance that it wasn’t the same as the actual fourth chapter.  It wasn’t edited yet, and might not have the same information.  Now, this might seem like no big deal, but when I’ve already read something and I remember it fairly well, I’ll skim over it.  So if I read the fourth chapter of Inheritance before the book is out, then read the actual book, I’ll skim over that fourth chapter, even though it’s massively different.  That means I’ll miss out on information, or I’ll have a wrong idea of what the fourth chapter actually was.

Another thing that excerpts do is they make you watch for them.  This happens in other places as well, like summaries, abridged versions of classics, and more that I can’t think of.  For instance, I know the basic story of Moby Dick through an abridged version I read once.  But when I read it for real, I was looking for the climax of the novel and failed to enjoy the rest of it.  That’s what happens when you read an excerpt from the middle of the beginning of the book (like the fourth chapter of Inheritance), or a summary of the book.  The author has a special order that he/she wants the book to move in.  Summaries often preempt that order, and reveal things before their time.

Of course, summaries are great when you’re just picking up a book and want to see what it’s about, but summaries should be rather limited as to how much information you give away.  For instance, if you were writing a story that builds up slowly to one character’s death right near the end, would you want your summary to go something like “John and James were good little knife-throwing penguin-snatching aardvarks, but when John died, the book ended.”  Would you like your climax to be given away in the first sentence a potential reader reads?  No.

So I don’t like excerpts.  That’s me.  What do you think?

 

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15 Comments

  1. I don’t really care about excerpts. If it’s there, I might read it, I might not. I’ve never read one that hadn’t been edited though, and that sounds seriously annoying. And stupid. I mean, if an author is going to include an excerpt, they should do it with a finished piece of work, for the exact reasons you stated. And even if the author thinks that the excerpt s/he included was finished, nothing is set in stone during the editing process, anything could change, so it’s best if the excerpt is left out.
    I hope that made sense. I just returned from the Battlefield of Chemistry and I think it may have messed up my brain a bit.

    Reply
  2. Today is one of those days that smells like I wish I had a sense of smell in the first place.

    How that works, I don’t know. Ask somebody with a sense of smell.

    Reply

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