It’s every author’s worst nightmare:
A reader picks up their book, skims through the first few pages, and thinks…
…this book is so boring.
They’ve failed to capture their reader’s attention and lost a potential customer as a result.
So how do you intrigue a reader from the get-go?
Write compelling book chapters.
Of course, the actual chapter-writing process is much more complex.
Don’t worry—I have a foolproof chapter-writing process to share.
But more on that later.
First, it’s helpful to understand the basics of what goes into a great chapter.
How to Write a Book Chapter That Grabs and Keeps Your Reader’s Attention: My “Open Loop” Process
Here’s the secret to writing compelling nonfiction book chapters:
Learning how to successfully open and close a loop.
This is the strategy we use during our Enhanced Ghostwriting process to turn authors’ ideas into bestsellers.
And I’ll share it with you for free.
But before you learn about chapter content…
…you need to understand chapter structure.
Let’s go over the components of a powerful chapter outline:
- A list of chapters—this is how you’ll break your main idea down into ideas you can explore separately with your audience.
- A list of relevant anecdotes—you’ll use these at the beginning of every chapter to follow the “open loop” process.
- An in-chapter outline—an expansion of every section listed below for each chapter.
- A hook for every chapter—a brief and alluring intro that introduces the subject of the chapter.
- Your chapter goal—a statement that explains what the reader can expect to learn in this chapter (and how you’ll transition to your thesis from your hook).
- A thesis statement—a one- or two-sentence summary of your main argument for the chapter.
- The key points of your chapter—a chronological list of every point you’ll need to make in order to support your thesis (backed by data, research, testimonials, etc.)
- A chapter round-up—a summary of your key points from the chapter and any additional takeaways from them.
- Your closer for each chapter—a powerful conclusion that wraps up the chapter (and your thesis) neatly.
You need to develop a solid chapter outline for your book before you consider the chapter-by-chapter content structure.
You’ll make changes throughout the writing process, but this way you have a rough outline of where your book is headed and the points you’ll make to get there.
Once you have your chapter outline, it’s time to consider your content strategy.
The concept I’m about to share with you is called the “Open Loop” Process.
Here’s the step-by-step process:
How to Write a Book Chapter: The 4 Main Steps
Remember the collection of relevant anecdotes you made in your chapter outline?
Now’s the time to use them.
These stories should be experiences from your industry that relate to the content in each chapter—stories you can use to further illustrate your point.
Go through the ones you wrote down and assign one to each chapter.
2. Open Loop
The “loop” simply refers to the story you’ve chosen for the chapter.
To open it, you’ll simply start telling the story.
But instead of telling it all at once, you’ll stop before the climax—keeping the loop open.
This provides both a natural hook and a segue into your content to keep your audience turning the pages throughout your key points.
You’ll hold off on the end of your story until the conclusion.
This is the part of the process where you make your argument.
You’ve set up the subject of your chapter in the loop, so now it’s time to pull in your data, research, and key points, and expand on your thesis.
Because you opened a loop in your audience’s mind, they’ll be compelled to keep turning the pages until they reach the conclusion.
It’s like getting a song stuck in your head—it plays on a loop over and over again until you finally hear the end.
4. Close the Loop:
Once you feel like you’ve successfully asserted your point, it’s time to give your audience the satisfaction of closing the loop (or finishing your story from earlier).
This will solidify the chapter in its entirety and allow you to bow-out with a natural, relevant conclusion.
Remember: each chapter is like a mini-book connecting to form the bigger picture. Your endings should be powerful enough to stand on their own.
FAQs About Book Chapters
1. How many words in a chapter?
There’s no hard and fast rule for chapter word counts for nonfiction books.
However, there is a “sweet spot” that most authors follow to keep their readers interested…
…which is around 3,000-4,000 words per chapter.
But my advice?
Use whatever word count you need to effectively convey and support your thesis statement.
(And, of course, to open and close your loop.)
At the end of the day, it’s about keeping your readers interested more than meeting some arbitrary word count.
As long as you can keep your audience hooked, you’re doing something right.
2. How many paragraphs are in a chapter?
If there’s no hard and fast rule for chapter word counts, then there’s really no hard and fast rule for paragraph counts.
Here’s what I’ll say:
It’s probably more important to focus on paragraph length than the number of paragraphs you have in any given chapter.
Your paragraphs should run on the shorter side in order to keep readers hooked.
That’s not to say you can’t write a long paragraph now and then to drive home a point, but as a rule of thumb, you want to account for the shortest attention span in your audience.
Line breaks will help give your reader’s eyes (and brain) a quick rest before moving on to the next paragraph.
3. How many chapters does a nonfiction book need?
Generally speaking, you probably don’t want your book to have less than 7 or more than 20 chapters.
There’s not a widely accepted rule here, either, but I’ll repeat my point from earlier:
Use however many chapters you need to effectively tell your story.
If you’re looking for more specific advice, we have a post that breaks down average nonfiction chapters counts by genre here.
But in the long run (and as you’re creating your chapter outline), don’t worry too much about how many chapters are in your book.
Write down the most necessary ideas for your thesis and add or subtract as needed.
Write Compelling Book Chapters with the “Open Loop” Process
Remember: all you need to complete a successful open loop is a relevant anecdote and compelling content.
In combination with your chapter outline from earlier, you’re in a good position to write a truly captivating book chapter.
And if you’re looking for more book writing tips from industry professionals, check out my Wall Street Journal bestseller, Publish. Promote. Profit. (completely free with the price of shipping!).