Many of you have approached me about writing a nonfiction book about your trade, area of expertise, family history, social and political views as well as a myriad of other topics. I receive requests for such consulting every day.
Non-fiction books tend to be shorter, and written in a way that they can be read in chunks; with good section structure and use of bullets and numbers. Author Unlimited has a great article about this topic.
And you need to consider the medium. Books that are written specifically for kindle (or other digital platforms and e-readers especially) can be shorter than print books. At least for non-fiction. Such books (especially non-fiction books) are easier to read when they are shorter. From a marketing perspective, if they’re easier to read then it can also be easier for your reader to take action.
Here is a simple rule: Each chapter should be as long as it needs to be to communicate your message. Someone might look at the table of contents and just flick right to the chapter that captures their imagination. Let them. Don’t try and control the flow — your reader get the most out of your content if you let them read section by section, out of order.
If you take the advice on book length, then a 50,000 word book might break nicely into ten chapters — about 5,000 words per chapter. 5,000 words isn’t much more than the length of a couple of blog posts and something you can easily write over a weekend.
Short chapters vs. long chapters.
Using lots of very short chapters creates an impression in the reader of very rapid pace and lots of movement. For some genres (such as Patterson’s thrillers), this accelerated pace is exactly the effect that you want.
Short chapters are a gift to readers who may not have the time or stamina to handle 70 pages at a sitting. For a young reader, reaching goals is important. As their eyelids get heavy and their mind starts to wander into the dreamlands, they struggle to read just a little bit further. If only they can make it to the end of the current chapter, then they will have accomplished something.
By keeping the end of each chapter within reach of even the most tired juvenille reader, an author facilitates little victories in the lives of those same young readers. Those victories, as much as marvelous characters and unexpected plot twists, can fertilize a budding love of reading.
And that love of reading, in time, can lead to increased revenues for the author, when subsequent sequels and new series are released.
Having long chapters creates the opposite effect: it slows the pace down and gives the author time to expand more fully a given section or theme. This doesn’t preclude fast-paced action, but it does allow for more breathing space and a sense of epic scope.
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