I have a special treat for you today. I’ve invited an incredible writer who has authored more than 55 books. Last count I believe the number was closer to 59! Caleb Pirtle III has an amazing career that’s spanned decades. Two years ago, as digital publishing was surging to the forefront, he and his wife, Linda, joined with attorney and author Stephen Woodfin to found and build Venture Galleries, working with authors across the country and helping them publish, promote, market, and sell their books. He even interviewed James Patterson, and today will share what he learned.
Let’s take a breath here a minute and just think about what it means to have authored 59 novels. Can you imagine the creativity and skill that takes? I am so honored to have him visit my little murder blog, and to call him a friend. Caleb is a kind, generous person and a fantastic storyteller. We can all learn from a hybrid author like Caleb. So grab your popcorn, sit back and enjoy the ride.
Take it away Caleb…
We are, I believe, living in a world of brevity. Newscasts are two-minute sound bites, and that’s for the long news stories. USA Today wants more stories and shorter stories without any jumps to inside pages. Why? Readers don’t jump anymore.
Because of the digital eBook revolution, novels are shorter than ever before. Those previous 150,000-word books have now been whittled down to 60,000 words, and most readers never miss the missing pages.
But, so often, chapters in a book remain as long as they ever were. Some habits are just hard to break. Is that wise? I’m not so sure.
Several years ago, I interviewed James Patterson for a magazine article. He was the first big-time, mainstream author to dramatically shorten his chapters, working to keep each of them down to three or four pages.
Patterson knew a secret that other writers hadn’t figured out yet. Patterson was playing a game of psychology with the imagination of the reader. He had been the creative director for a major New York advertising firm. He knew the importance of short copy and the art of delivering copy with a punch.
Grab their attention. Tell them what you want them to know. Then get out. It worked in advertising, and Patterson was convinced that it would work in literature as well. He was right.
This is the way Patterson explained it: “Let’s say a reader is sitting around at night reading one of my books. He comes to the end of a chapter. It’s late, but he thinks, well, the next chapter is only four pages long, and I have time for that. And the next chapter is only three pages long, and he certainly has time to read that. Pretty soon, it’s midnight, and he’s finished the book. If the next chapter had been twenty pages long, the reader would think, well, that’s too long to start tonight. I’ll read it later, maybe tomorrow. And it might be days or weeks before he picks the book up again. Of course, he may get busy and never get back to the book. I can’t afford to take that chance. My goal is to keep the reader reading. Short chapters keep him reading.”
It makes sense.
Patterson also makes sure that each chapter is similar to a miniature book. It has a strong first paragraph. It has tension. It has conflict. It has a hook at the end. Frankly, it works.
I don’t think James Patterson is a great writer of literary prose. He doesn’t either. He told me so. But he is a great storyteller. And great stories are told one chapter at a time. Patterson keeps his short. It’s not a bad way to write.
Thank you, Caleb! That’s wise advice from a man who knows. Two men who know, really. To learn more about Caleb and his books go here, or click on any of the book covers you’ve seen along the way.
Well, folks, any questions or comments for Caleb? Don’t miss this opportunity. I’m sure he’ll answer almost anything, so fire away.
To help get you started: What do you think about using short, easily digestible paragraphs and chapters? Do you use them in your work?
As always, if you’ve enjoyed this post please take a minute to share on your favorite social media site. It’s only a click or two. Thank You!