Keep ‘em Reading

Feb 22, 2022 | Better Writing

Today, it’s harder than ever to keep your reader engaged and reading. Phones buzz. Social media alerts flash. The demands of work insist on being satisfied.

If you’re a business author, you must have compelling material. That’s table stakes. It’s not enough to keep readers moving. Here are some things you can do to keep your readers engaged and reading.

Pay attention to the elements

Think of your book as a collection of scenes and elements. Elements are developed thoughts. The chapter is an element and so is a subsection of a chapter. A single point might be an element if it is developed with a story or example and research support.

Beginnings and endings keep people reading

We love beginnings and endings. The perk up our attention. One way to keep readers moving forward is to increase the number of beginnings and endings. That’s a matter of increasing the elements.

Don’t go on too long

Long stretches of prose cause readers to slow down, bog down, and stop reading. Attention starts to flag at about 6 minutes. Most business readers read at about 350 words per minute.

Multiply six minutes times 350 words per minute. That yields 2100 words. It’s about the maximum length for any element. That is unless your goal is to put your reader to sleep.

Stories are everybody’s friend

Human beings love stories. We’ve been using them to communicate and share complex information since we first crawled out of caves. Increase the number of well-told stories and you’re more likely to keep people reading.

Cliffhangers pique readers’ curiosity

Charles Dickens and other Victorian writers serialized their books. They used cliffhangers at the end of every section to leave their readers craving more. Here’s a good working definition of a cliffhanger.

“A cliffhanger is a plot device in which a component of a story ends unresolved, usually in a suspenseful or shocking way, to compel audiences to turn the page or return to the story in the next installment. A cliffhanger can end a chapter of a novel, a television episode, a scene in a film, or a serialized story (book or movie).”

You’re a business author, so you don’t have a Little Nell to save. But you can tease your readers at the end of a chapter, for example, with what they’re going to learn or discover in the next chapter. All they have to do is turn the page.

Subheads help readers scan

Sometimes, a reader’s attention will flag through no fault of your own. Perhaps he or she already knows something about the material and isn’t interested in what’s in front of them just then. Help that reader out by making it easier to scan ahead.

Subheads can help the reader understand what’s ahead. They also highlight points of ending and beginning.

If you use subheads in your table of contents, a reader can scan for the place in your book that will answer the question he or she has. There’s a bonus for you when you have a detailed table of contents. The table of contents becomes a selling document. Most r book buyers check out the table of contents to determine if a book might be for them. Lots of details are good here.


In the Age of Distraction, you’re challenged to keep your reader engaged and moving forward.

Compelling material is table stakes. You must do more.

Increase beginnings and endings to keep people reading.

Don’t go on too long.

Stories are everybody’s friend.

Cliffhangers pique readers’ curiosity.

Subheads help readers scan.

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