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Random Thoughts: Can you judge a book by its excerpt?

We have all heard the question, “Can you judge a book by its cover?” And I’ve always found that can go either way. Every once in awhile a book has a stunning cover, but the story doesn’t live up to the beauty of the cover art. More common is a cover which leaves something to be desired, that doesn’t do justice to the book within. But what about an excerpt?

It is somewhat common today, at least in the young adult universe, for excerpts or teaser chapters to be released to encourage, entice or tantalize readers for what is to come. Sometimes a full chapter is revealed, and sometimes just a few pages hinting at what readers can expect coming up.

For a new book from a new author, or just a new story from an established author, these excerpts can serve to introduce the characters and give readers a peek at the new world that will be explored in the book.

For an existing series, these excerpts can help to bridge a long gap between books or can work to build up the anticipation for the upcoming books’ release, creating a feeding frenzy among fans as they snatch up each tidbit of information.

Excerpts, like film trailers, are meant to captivate. They offer up some wonderful piece of the story that highlights a particular event, showcases a specific character or, in the case of a prologue chapter, leave you dangling head-first off a cliff.

When provided with a full chapter excerpt (and whenever I can locate one I will try to read it) I find that they are an accurate representation of the story.

In a full chapter (or more) the author’s writing style, character development and storyline are sufficiently introduced so as to give you a sense of what to expect from the remainder of the book.

Yes, they generally leave you disappointed when you turn the page, click next or scroll down and find that the chapter has ended and nothing remains. But they typically give enough detail in order to make a fairly educated judgment about whether or not the book is something you will enjoy.

So, I say you can judge a book by a full chapter excerpt.

When provided with just a few teaser paragraphs or pages, things get more complicated. When they aren’t an introductory or prologue chapter, and are just a few pages from somewhere in the book, completely out of context, it is more difficult to form an opinion about whether or not the story will be to your liking and whether or not your opinion is truly based on an accurate view of the story itself.

Those hand-picked scenes or even just quotes are meant to tempt. They may be the very best moments of a story that could potentially fall flat.

Or they could give the wrong impression about the direction of the story or even what type of story it is – like it’s an action-packed tale, when it is more of a think-piece with one or two action scenes. Or that it is a story about a love-triangle when that is not its main focus. (Just look at this film trailer for a prime example – the Toys movie trailer will lead you to believe it’s a laugh out loud comedy. It’s not. Great film. Not a comedy.)

And even when meant to tease, the revealed material may not always be the best part of the story for every reader. Whether a heated love scene, battle scene or murderous plot is spotlighted, it may not be just the right thing to entice a specific reader, even if the book would be completely to their liking.

Saying you like or dislike a book based on such little information might cause you to miss out on something truly great or cause you to spend money on something you’d later regret just based on a few short pages.

So, can a book be judged by a short excerpt?

I say it depends. If you know enough about the author or, if it’s a series and you know enough about the series, then I lean toward yes.

If it’s a new author or a different genre of book from what an author has previously written, I’d say maybe not and that it’s better to withhold judgment until more you have more info. Especially if reading the excerpt has you thinking you’ll take a pass. Just like with the ugly cover, you may need to know a little more before making a decision.

Of course, if you find that you do not like one single thing about the excerpt then perhaps you should go with your gut and render judgment.

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