A few years back (2009, I believe) I was at work and got into a discussion about chapter length. An author my publishing team was working with wanted to intentionally make his chapters short. His thought was that he would retain more male readers and more infrequent readers if his chapters were short. Our publishing team agreed and we went for it. Throughout the marketing campaign of that book I heard positive comments from the reviewers about the short chapters. People generally said that it was great to have bite-sized chunks of content (relatively speaking) because they were less likely to feel bogged down by the book. Since then we’ve published numerous books that have short chapters with the same goals in mind.
At the time, I agreed with my team (and I still do) though I didn’t really get it on a personal level. At that point, long chapters had never bothered me. When I want to be finished I just mark my page and stop reading. No big deal. And I had no idea what the author meant when he said “we’ll retain more male readers with shorter chapters.” Are men supposed to be poorer readers than women? I’m a man and an avid reader, so this reason for short chapters didn’t really resonate.
A few years prior to this discussion (2007, if memory serves) I worked at a bookstore. At that time a bunch of the staff were reading Steven James’ crime fiction series, The Patrick Bower Files. One of my coworkers who almost never read fiction ended up reading the series and was completed, and unusually enamored with it. While he gushed about it each morning he would say, “You know what I love about that book? It has short chapters! Then I can get through a bunch of little chapters before bed and feel like I’ve made real headway.” As I mentioned, this man almost never read fiction. So, while I heard what he said, I chalked it up to a lifetime spent reading theology, history, and other monograph-worthy topics.
Fast forward to today. I recently started reading Jules Verne’s classic Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. I’ve never read it before. In fact I’ve not read much of Jules Verne at all. I’m only 40 pages in but I’m enjoying it so far. And do you know what? The chapters are very short. Some of them are only three pages, and I love it. More often than not I’m too tired to do much reading before bed anymore. Though I have a penchant for reading classic fiction, I must admit that I’m in a different place than I was in 2009. Long chapters, especially in older works, put me off sometimes. I grown when I see them because I know it will be ages (seemingly) before I finish them. I still doubt that my new found love of short chapters has anything to do with my gender, but perhaps there is something to that too. (Yeah, right.)
Do you prefer short chapters? What about in your own writing? Do you intentionally shoot for short chapters?
Since 2009 I’ve learned that publishers think about chapter length all the time. It’s an important part of shaping a book.