Why is it so hard? Don't I love my story? Aren't there plenty of scenes that made my fingers rattle on the keyboard as I wrote them? Absolutely! But without context, they might not mean a great deal to the reader who is casually scanning excerpts for their next read.
To aid me in my decision, I'm enlisting some advice (written for teens, actually) from the nanowrimo.org site. They have a nice little worksheet for selecting an excerpt, but I'll just consider each of their reminders telling what I should be looking for.
To choose the best excerpt I'll give regard to:
Character - I need to find a scene that gives the audience a good clear picture of my main character. To me this means that I want to be able to draw a reader into a deep POV with that character in just a short section of the story. I want an excerpt that'll make my reader already feel invested -- at least a little.
Action -- Whether it's done in a big way or only subtly, a scene infused with action pulls the reader along. This also means that it should show conflict (because a scene without conflict is dead). I think the scene should reveal that something is definitely at stake.
Language -- I hadn't given a lot of thought to this, but you know, it's right. I can usually decide within the first few pages of a book whether I want to hang around, because the language is compelling. It might be lyrical, simple, or outrageous. It uses imagery and metaphors that help me visualize the scene without an overabundance of telling description.
Dialogue --This one wasn't part of the nanowritmo site, but I feel it needs to be included. At the least, there should be some internal dialogue. I've read some good excerpts that don't include dialogue, but I feel that if a reader is only getting a glimpse into a story, a little bit of dialogue sprinkled into the excerpt will help attach them to the characters and get a better feel for the conflict.
Length -- There are different lengths to consider depending on what the excerpt is being used for. If I was giving a reading before a room full of people, I could choose a longer excerpt, maybe as long as 5000 words (about ten pages). But for publisher's web site, it needs to be something much shorter. I personally don't like reading more than about 500 words in a clip when I'm looking at excerpts of this nature. That should be enough to makea reader long for more. You can always put a longer clip or sample chapter on your personal web site and direct curious readers there for more if they're interested.
Stand Alone -- Yes, this is a biggy. A scene is really a mini story in itself. It's got a beginning, a middle, and an end. It needs to provide a bit of its own context or readers won't really care about it. You may know what's going to happen and why the scene is important, but if readers can't get at least a taste of that, they won't buy.
So now I'm ready to hunt for an outstanding excerpt representing my novel The Red Fury. It releases from Desert Breeze Publishing in October as Book 2 in the Empire in Pine series. I hope you'll drop by later and read my little scene -- see if I chose well.