|Why invest all that time writing a book if people aren’t going to actually read it???.
I’m not referring to people buying your book, I’m referring to people who have already purchased it but then never get around to reading it.
I open some books and immediately, my eyes roll back in my head and I get sleepy. I can’t even start.
You know what I’m talking about.
The Internet Is Giving Everyone A Mental Disorder
At the end of 1999, I began working for the American Bible Society’s website ForMinistry.com (if you click on the link it won’t take you anywhere). They tasked me with repurposing (rewriting and reformatting) web content for their audience and writing a monthly email newsletter for 25,000 people.
At that point, I had almost two years under my belt as a professional writer and three years surfing the Internet. But for the first time, I was broadening my experience into web writing.
The first thing I did was buy a book on how to write for the web. Writing for the Web by Crawford Kilian was the only book of its kind on the market. Looking back, I chuckle because he was probably only two or three years ahead of me on the subject. But I digress…
While indulging myself in this new sensation people called the “World Wide Web,” I learned that web writing wasn’t at all like book writing or any other kind of writing:
- You needed to get to the point much quicker because you only had a few seconds to garner the readers’ attention before they jumped to another site
- The headlines were different
- The word count on a web page needed to be, at most, 250-300 words versus 3,000-5,000 words in a chapter of a book
- Every web page was filled with links to other pages
- Bullet points were effective in getting the readers’ attention
Most importantly, I learned that web readers SCANNED and SKIMMED the text rather than read it word-for-word.
Basically, you had to jump up and down to get the readers’ attention and then you had to keep doing it in order to keep them on the page.
As I researched the differences between book writing and web writing, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that the Internet is going to change the way we read.
And it did.
So I changed the way I wrote books. Always begin, I told myself, with the assumption that your audience has ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder).
Fast forward to 2015. I downloaded an eBook to my Kindle app titled The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains by Nicholas Carr. It was a finalist for the 2011Pulitzer Prize.
And to my amazement, he confirmed my suspicions from 12 years before. He even dedicated a chapter to how the internet has changed our reading and writing.
So How Do You Write A Book People Will Actually Read?
Here’s the abridged version of what you need to do to keep your reader engaged in your book…
Don’t overwhelm your reader with a lot of words. Long extended books are self-defeating. Do whatever you can to be as clear and concise as possible.
Aim for 40-45,000 words for your nonfiction book. Or even less.
Aim for about 60,000 words for your fiction novel. Or even less.
And trust me. Trying to pawn a 100,000+ word manuscript on your reader is cruel and unusual punishment, worthy of the pit of misery.
You need shorter books, shorter chapters, shorter paragraphs, and shorter sentences (interspersed with longer sentences). Believe me, not all words are created equal.
I can’t tell you how often I advise authors on this reality, and yet they stubbornly believe they’re the exception to the rule.
They’re not–and I’m not.
If you’re a fiction writer, avoid long, extended descriptions that will lull your reader to sleep. Also, don’t wait too long before getting to the action.
If you’re a nonfiction writer, you need a strong hook at the beginning of every chapter, interspersed with hooks throughout, and then a hook leading into the next chapter.
Speaking of hooks…
Employ the use of hooks. A “hook” can consist of a short story (with lots of dialogue), an inquisitive question written directly to your readers, a little-known fact or statistic—anything that grabs your readers by the collar and pulls them into your book.
Reflect the changes in your subheads. A subhead is a short clause or statement that introduces a new section. These are vital in keeping your reader from being distracted by any squirrels in the vicinity.
Opt for subheads that are short, descriptive statements rather than sentence fragments.
For example, here’s the old style subhead:
The Key to Good Writing
Here’s a more effective subhead:
Begin with the Assumption That Your Reader Has ADD
Which is more compelling?
You see, if your readers are SCANNING your manuscript, they want to know what they’re about to read so they can decide whether or not to continue or move on to the next section.
Leave your chapters unresolved. In the old style, a chapter might begin with a hook and then reach its conclusion at the end of the chapter.
Don’t do that.
Instead, if you can do it, leave your audience hanging at the end of the chapter and conclude it in the next chapter. This works especially well in fiction, memoirs, and story-based books.
It’ll drive your readers crazy because they won’t be able to put your book down.
If your book is topical, conclude each chapter with a short promise about how your reader is going to benefit by reading the next chapter.
For example, instead of tying a neat and tidy ribbon at the end of your chapter on the reader and ADD, you can conclude with something like this:
“Beginning with the assumption that your reader has ADD is crucial—but it won’t mean a hill of beans if you don’t move beyond that. In chapter three, I’m going to share three crucial questions you need to ask when developing your avatar. If you don’t know what I mean by an “avatar,” keep reading…”
Only YOU Can Stop the Epidemic
We may be getting better at scanning and skimming, but in the process, we’re losing our capacity to concentrate, contemplate, and reflect.
My reading on the subject leads me to believe that our addiction to technology in its various forms has resulted in an epidemic of undisciplined minds.
For the vast majority of people in the western world, our minds have become breeding grounds for any idea or practice that comes along.
But all is not lost. That means fertile soil exists everywhere for people to read your innovative ideas and stories.
We have coaches who can help you write to your ADD-induced audience.