The standard how-to and business book tomes of yesterday have become dinosaurian. Blame it on TV … the way we take in information … the Internet. The fact is, attention spans are shrinking. As a writer and author, the probability that your words need to shrink between the covers of your book is high.
In my office, I’ve now posted a new Keeper—one of my reminders to not side-step as I go through the day. I’m a non-fiction author—the majority of my published books have been in the business area with Zapping Conflict in the Health Care Workplace weighing in at 400 pages. Its follow-up and sister book, Stabotage-How to Deal with the Pit Bulls, Skunks, Snakes, Scorpions and Slugs in the Health Care Workplace dieted down to 194 pages. Most readers bought the two books together.
When I stepped away from writing and speaking in the healthcare field in mid-2000 exclusively dedicating my time to authors and publishing, two truths bubbled up.
First the need to write visually; and second, to write short … or at least, shorter.
My published books now contained fewer words. Books that a decade ago I would have thought, said, questioned, this is a book? When the run-away bestseller popped up, Who Moved My Cheese? and I counted the 16,000 words, noted the big type and cartoons and I said out loud, “You’ve got to be kidding me—this is a freakin’ article, a long one, but still, it’s an article.”
No longer. My latest book will be available in May: The CrowdFunding Guide for Authors and Writers. It weighs in at an un-massive 10,000 words … in color, with cartoons. And yes, I said out loud, “You’ve got to be freakin’ kidding me!” Maybe my 10 years as a columnist for the Business Journals paved the way—I learned to write punchier and to love the one sentence paragraph; the one word sentence. I mean, how many of you have said or thought, “Crap!” and knew that it was complete in every way?
Paragraph perpetuity is out. Short sentences are in. Snappy. Sassy. And sometimes salty.
There’s a trend here… this isn’t a fad.
Short is the new black, a necessity in your writing closet. Your reader’s attention spans have shrunk—the average professional gets over 300 emails/text messages a day and spends over 20 hours a week responding to them. Attention spans have shrunk by almost one-third according to Joseph McCormack, the author of BRIEF: Making a Bigger Impact by Saying Less.
In 2000, the average attention span in an office environment was 12 minutes; now it’s less than 8 minutes. If a lengthy email comes in, it’s abandoned in 30 seconds and if someone is long-winded, over one-third of listeners mentally check out at the 15 second mark.
I know, I know. Your words are morsels to be deliciously chewed on, even regurgitated. But… if you want them read in the first place, be on alert. For authors and writers, less is more.
For the non-fiction author, the need to practice the art of creating a bigger impact with words by using less of them will be cherished by your readers. Fiction authors get more leeway. Your readers want to be entertained and you get more space to do it within. But never undervalue the delete button—you may love every word that flows out through your fingers, but will your reader?
And for all authors, the mere nudge that one-third of listeners space out within 15 seconds has got to be the magic goose to be able to say clearly what you and your book are about in 15 seconds or less.
Practice your book pitch. Short is the new black … your book sales will thank you.
Judith Briles is a Contributing Writer for The Book Designer. She is an advocate for authors and writers and is known as The Book Shepherd. Delivering practical authoring and publishing information and guidance, she has authored 31 books, won multiple book awards and co-founded Mile High Press. Judith is the Chief Visionary Officer of AuthorU.org.
You can learn more about Judith here.
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