Chapter length

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“My chapter isn’t long enough.”

My client has just finished working on the first chapter of her first draft. She had written the introduction, which told the story of why she was writing her book. Then she tackled the first chapter.

When she was done, we chatted. She thought her chapter was too short. She asked how long it should be. I said, “Long enough.” I wasn’t trying to be funny or flippant.

Every chapter should be long enough

I flashed back to my early career, writing direct response copy. I would ask “How long should this letter be?” My boss and mentor would say, “Long enough.” He wasn’t trying to be funny or flippant either.

A direct response letter needs to be long enough to generate a response and no longer. A chapter in a business book should be long enough to help the reader make progress and no longer.

OK, smart guy, how long is that?

Beats me.

In days of olde, when business books were all paper, we could figure it out for a book. Every book was 200 – 300 pages. Every page was 250-350 words. Some pages were devoted to front matter and back matter. The rest were chapters.

It was easy to figure out how many pages a chapter should be so you could make the page count for your book. But, that was then.

Today, you can write a short, single purpose/topic book and publish it yourself. Karin Hurt’s Overcoming an Imperfect Boss is a good example. It’s less than 90 pages. There are chapters (seven of them) but they don’t have to be a specific length in pages or in words.

Here’s what to do

You don’t have to write to a specific word or page count. Just make your chapter productive.

Write your first draft. Then go back to your first chapters. What do you think? You’ll know if you’ve got too much fluff or not enough substance. Revise to make it better.

When you send your book out to your beta readers they’ll tell you what works and what doesn’t. Revise to make it better.

Don’t worry about word count or page count

Concentrate on making your book a great one. The “right” length for a chapter or your book is the one helps your reader make progress and no longer.

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Jane   |   03 Jun 2015   |   Reply

I just happened to click on your Twitter link because I was very curious about chapter length. I have always thought it crazy to set out to have a certain number of pages in a chapter or a certain number of words in an article. This just forces the author to use words, words, words to fill up pages with dialog but without adding more value than in the first 3 or 4 pages.

I have not desire to write my own book, but now I know that it really is crazy to add fluff when it would have been just fine to stop at the truly valuable.

Wally Bock   |   03 Jun 2015   |   Reply

Thanks, Jane. I appreciate your taking the time to comment.