Do Excerpts Work?

People debate the wisdom of including excerpts of other books at the end of a book the reader has purchased. While some readers say they like them, others feel they are “advertisements” and don’t like having “paid” for a book that includes that extra content. It’s especially bothersome, it seems, when the excerpts “pad” the apparent length of the story that was bought and paid for, making a novella’s page count appear to equal or exceed a category-length novel.

Despite what I perceive as fairly strong dislike of excerpts in some quarters, I decided to include them at the end of my ebooks anyway. I figured they couldn’t hurt and might help. I am very careful to disclose the excerpts and their word count/page length in my product descriptions to avoid misleading readers as to the length of the promised work. So far, I’ve heard no complaints and now, three months after the release of The Lesson Plan, I’m prepared to offer an unqualified answer as to whether they work or not.

Do excerpts work? HELL YES!

Here’s how I know. At the end of The Lesson Plan, I included the first chapters of both of my Spice Briefs, Grace Under Fire and Taking Liberties. These two stories are “related” to The Lesson Plan. Grace has been out since April of 2011 and Taking Liberties came out about three weeks before The Lesson Plan. Both had Amazon ranks that bounced between the 20k and 60k marks before The Lesson Plan came out. And now, because a picture is worth a thousand words, here’s what the ranking charts for those two books look like since December 1. (The Lesson Plan released on December 18.)

Grace Under Fire

Taking Liberties

Up until mid-January, when The Lesson Plan picked up more sales momentum, the rankings for the other two stories are still pretty erratic, but it’s absolutely clear to me that around about mid-January, the peaks and valleys became less dramatic (meaning more steady sales) and the average ranking trend is downward.

Moreover, I’m not seeing similar trends in the rankings of any of the rest of my backlist. It’s not just that readers who buy The Lesson Plan are liking it and then going out and seeking my other titles. If that were the case, I’d be seeing similar movement in other books, including Carnally Ever After, which has a lower price point than either of the Spice Briefs. (It continues to hang steady in the 5k-10k rank range as it has since December. That story did, however, double its sales when The Reiver went free and included an excerpt from Carnally at the end. Another data point in my conclusion!)

So, if you’re wondering whether excerpts will turn off readers, all I can say is that the readers they <i>do</i> turn off would appear to be wildly outnumbered by those who like getting a taste of your other books so they can decide whether or not to buy them.

The Story of My Mom’s Stroke

I figured I should probably write out this story, not only because it will save me the trouble of explaining to multiple people who’ve followed the saga on Twitter and Facebook, but in tiny increments, exactly what happened, but also because it might help someone else out there who has a similar type of event.

As you know if you follow me on Twitter or Facebook and were around this weekend, my mother was transported to the hospital by ambulance on Saturday morning after arriving at her volunteer “job” as a tax preparer. Shortly after she came in, the people she was working with realized she was extremely confused and disoriented and couldn’t communicate, so they called the ambulance. They also called her home number, where they reached my best friend (aka “my other sister”) who is living with her. Debbie called me to let me know what was going on and I immediately headed to the hospital.

My first thought when I heard she was “confused” was that her blood sugar might be low. She’s gone on a diet and lost about 30 lbs in the past 6 months, and while this a great thing, it sometimes means her Type II diabetes meds tank her blood sugar. I’ve seen her when she’s getting “low” and she’s mildly disoriented, so I thought if it was really low, that could be a lot worse.

Anyhow, I met her at the hospital a short time later, a little after 10am, I think. By the time I got there, they’d already done a CT scan and it hadn’t shown anything, but CTs are fairly crude and I was told this didn’t mean she HADN’T had a stroke. They ruled out possible low blood sugar as soon as I let them know she is a Type II diabetic.

However, her symptoms didn’t seem to fit classic stroke. She had no muscle weakness on either side of her body. She had no noticeable visual impairments. She wasn’t slurring her words. But she also wasn’t able to communicate at all. She would start talking, but after a few words she would start “speaking in tongues.” That’s really the best way I can describe it. The first few words would be completely comprehensible but the rest were gibberish syllables–things that SOUNDED like they could be words, but weren’t. She seemed to know that she wasn’t saying the words she wanted to say, but I don’t think she realized then that the words she was saying weren’t words at all. She also couldn’t always understand what we were saying to her, and many times we had to answer the same question multiple times within a few minutes.

Debbie arrived at the hospital shortly after I did with Mom’s medications so the hospital would know what she was taking and stayed for an hour or so with us in the ER, but then had to leave to go to a wedding. My sister was making her way down from her home in the mountains with a stop to pick up her nineteen year old daughter on the way. (My niece can drive and has a car, but my sister was afraid to let her drive because she was so worried and upset.)

Around noon, the ER doctor told me they suspected a small stroke and that she would be admitted for further tests, including an MRI. My sister, her husband, and my niece arrived as they were settling Mom in her room, so I left because I had kids who were home alone.

And after this, things at the hospital got, in my opinion, a little weird. First, the nurse told my sister that my mother wouldn’t be on that floor if they thought she’d had a stroke. Huh? But didn’t the ER doctor just say she’d probably had a stroke? And hours and hours passed. No visit from an attending physician. No visit from a neurologist. And apparently, no MRI order.

I was finally able to get back to the hospital at about 5pm and I was AMAZED. My mother was no longer speaking in gibberish and, when she couldn’t think of what she wanted to say, she would pause, searching her memory for the right words. There were a lot of pauses, some of which we could fill in and some of which we couldn’t, but we were able over the course of the next several hours to arrive at a sequence of events for the morning.

She woke up at about 5:30 with a headache, but realized she didn’t need to leave right away, so went back to sleep. When she woke up again at 7:00, she still had a headache and knew she didn’t feel “right” but she figured she didn’t have time for this nonsense and that she had to get to the Center to do her volunteer work. She took a shower, but she couldn’t figure out how to take her meds (and she’d inadvertently forgotten to take them the night before) or how to make herself breakfast, so she didn’t do either. She did, however, get together all the laptops and paperwork she needed to do the tax preparations, got in the car, and headed off to the Center, which is about 12 miles from her home. On the way there, she couldn’t figure out how to turn on the windshield wipers, yet despite the fact that it was raining and difficult to see, she continued to drive and did eventually make it to the Center despite driving past her exit the first time. (Can you hear me having palpitations? Of all the things that happened, this one scares me the most!) Fortunately, the folks at the center immediately realized things were not right and called the ambulance.

They didn’t actually get around to doing an MRI until Sunday morning, and that was AFTER the neurologist had come in and (IMO) basically dismissed my mother as a slightly dotty old lady who was overreacting to her symptoms and me as an overprotective daughter who doesn’t want to admit that her mother is getting a little senile. He said her symptoms didn’t “fit” stroke and he suspected it was a confusional migraine. And I would almost have bought that if it wasn’t absolutely clear to me as he was speaking to her a full 24 hours after the event that she was STILL having memory and word-recall problems that were WAY outside the realm of normal. He also told me I was wrong when I said she was having aphasia. He claimed that word only means a complete inability to speak and comprehend speech. Um, the Mayo Clinic begs to differ with you, sir.

ANYHOW, it turns out she DID have a stroke. The neurologist called this morning and explained that the type of stroke she had is very rare, but “makes sense” with her symptoms. (Yet, apparently, he couldn’t think of this before. But maybe, as my sister said, that was because he was looking for horses, not zebras.) What the MRI showed was small pockets of damage in about 10-15 spots in the left hemisphere of the brain. This indicates that she had a clot but instead of blocking all blood flow for any period of time, it quickly broke into several pieces and disbursed to different parts of the brain. That resulted in these scattered deficits (like being able to drive a car but not turn on the windshield wipers!) rather than huge areas of disability.

The good news is that these types of strokes have a very quick recovery and we’ve certainly seen that. She went home this afternoon and I just spoke to her on the phone and she sounds like her normal self. There are still a few things that aren’t “quite right,” but she’s just so much better, I couldn’t be more relieved and thrilled. The next few weeks will involve follow-up care, and we’re all a little nervous about leaving her home alone for long periods of time for at least a few more days, but wow, I never thought things would be this much better this quickly.

To everyone who offered thoughts, prayers, and good wishes, thank you so much. I am so blessed to have so many friends from so many different parts of my life, and I appreciate you more than I can say. With friends like you all…well, I’m just blessed. That’s all.

Beginnings

I love starting a new manuscript. It’s a bit like opening up the chocolate box of your ideas and characters and figuring out what’s inside. Yesterday, after a few weeks of dithering and thinking, I wrote the first few paragraphs of Hot Under the Collar. The opening is always a big hurdle for me to overcome whenever I’m starting a new book. It sets the tone for everything that follows and helps me find my way “in” to the characters and the story. Usually, the first few hundred words I write end up in the final version of the book, although not always. In this case, I have a feeling they’re going to stick with only minor modifications.

Cumbria, England, 1803

The good Lord had a devilish sense of humor. That was the only possible explanation for the series of events that had led, inexorably, toward Walter Langston’s current predicament.

To be fair, there was nothing amusing in the accident that had brought an abrupt end to his nascent—albeit not terribly promising—military career. If he had been shot in the arse or even the foot, the story would probably have made good fodder for post-prandial gatherings, but when the errant bullet struck one’s collarbone and left one with less than full use of the adjoining arm, there wasn’t a great deal to laugh about.

He could, of course, have continued in the army despite his disability, but the truth was, he hadn’t wanted to. Having been shot once by mistake, Walter had little inclination to put himself in a position where he was guaranteed to be shot at on purpose. A single encounter with a projectile was enough to last a lifetime. It had certainly come close enough to ending that lifetime.

Unfortunately, he had been equally disinclined upon his recovery to return to the life he’d led prior to purchasing his commission. It was one thing to live off the largesse of an older, titled sibling at twenty three or twenty four and quite another at nearly thirty. Walter had required a profession, and with the military option now closed and murdering both his older brothers—not to mention two nephews—in order to come into the viscountcy out of the question, there was only one remotely acceptable option. The one to which he, as the third son of an aristocrat, had purportedly been born but had misspent his youth proving himself unfit for.

He was a vicar.