The New York Times had an interesting article on Monday morning titled, "A Publishing Quandary: Do Excerpts Help Sales?"
The article examined a question worrying publishers. "Although excerpts from high-profile books routinely appear in national magazines, some publishers have been having second thoughts about the strategy. Frequently, an excerpt can offer a lift to a book's sales, but there is always the risk that it might offer too much, thus stealing thunder (and revenue) from the book."
As an example, the article points to the Time magazine excerpt of I Am a Soldier, Too: The Jessica Lynch Story. Knopf sold 175,000 hardcover books but had hoped to do twice that. "I think people felt they'd had their fill."
And therein lies the problem. Publishers need to know what they have inside a book before striking a deal. If there is only one major news item in a book, it can be a huge mistake to reveal it in an excerpt because, once the public has read that excerpt, they may no longer feel compelled to purchase the book. Ideally, an excerpt should whet the public's interest for more, and make them want to buy the book.
Some magazines want to cherry pick, using bits from all over the book instead of one excerpt. This can really hurt sales because, if the readers feel they've read all the best parts in the magazine, why go out and buy the book?
Doubleday is hoping that the 8,200-word excerpt of The Diana Chronicles, Tina Brown's forthcoming book about the Princess of Wales, which will appear in the July issue of Vanity Fair, is an example of a magazine story that will lift the book's sales. The director of publicity at Doubleday is quoted saying, "The book is an incredibly rich textured portrait of Diana and all the royals, and it's our belief that readers will be anxious for more."
The magazine world has changed, too. Where years ago, magazines vied for book excerpts, today there are fewer magazines that run excerpts, and they don't pay as well. It's easier for a publisher to walk away from the sale of first serial rights when they're only being offered $1,500 as opposed to $100,000.
A television interview with an author may pay more dividends than a magazine excerpt because of the "greater reach" of TV.
The executive director of publicity for Knopf Publishing Group pointed out that it's also possible to place excerpts on the Internet. "Amazon.com has expressed interest in first serializations."
Choosing where to place excerpts or even whether to place excerpts can be a critical decision for a publisher with a forthcoming release.