As a writer, I want people to buy my book. Once they’ve bought it, I then want them to read it… all the way to the end. Only then can they assess it effectively and review it, recommending it to others as they go. There’s now evidence to show that readers are more likely to get to the end of a book if it has shorter chapters. But, how do we know the inner workings of a reader’s mind? Is it some kind of dark magic? No, it’s the future.
With the advent of ebooks and ereaders it’s now possible to extract data relating to people’s reading habits. There are subscription services like Oyster and Scribd which provide online libraries to readers in the way that Netflix does for film. They’re now able to analyse reading behaviour.
“The longer a mystery novel is, the more likely readers are to jump to the end to see who done it. People are more likely to finish biographies than business titles, but a chapter of a yoga book is all they need. They speed through romances faster than religious titles, and erotica fastest of all,” says a NY Times article commenting on data from Scribd.
From the same analysis they have concluded that readers are 25% more likely to finish a book if it has shorter chapters. This makes a whole lot of sense to me. Reading habits have changed and more people are now reading on the go. This means more book sales but it also means a different kind of audience who like to read in short bursts.
Personally, I prefer reading books with shorter chapters because psychologically it feels as though you’re getting through it quicker. On a tablet, or ereader, you only have a percentage to indicate how far through you are, and the chapter break becomes even more important. My Kindle Paperwhite tells me how many minutes until the next chapter which often results in one of two things happening; 1) if it’s 15 mins away then I put it down, but 2) if it’s 4 mins away then I keep going and then I do another 4 etc.
The modern age of information processing has distilled everything into its smallest parts. Articles are often 100 words long. Tweets often provide enough info. Blogs are encouraged to write less and break it up. Politics is reduced to sound bites. Films rarely dwell on one scene and prefer to skip from one to another. Films themselves are being equalled now in quality by TV serial programmes, enabling viewers to watch a bit at a time. Hugh Howey’s Wool series was released in a collection of novellas.
Small and often, seems the mantra for getting straight to the reader’s heart. I’m definitely going to be taking this seriously in my next novel’s structure.
Until next time…