What is consumption obstruction — and more importantly, what can you do to overcome it?
Our Goal as Writers
Your goal as a writer is not to impress your friends, or to carry around this air of arrogance so when you meet people at a party you can tell them that you’re an author in hopes that you appear more sophisticated (I’ve met plenty of these people).
Your goal is the same as my goal, which is also the same as every other content creator — it’s to capture consumer attention.
That’s the asset we’re all vying for.
We want someone to take time out of their busy day and consume our content whether its a blog or a YouTube video a film or a book, and let’s be honest, there are a lot of other things trying to compete for that attention.
When you write a book and bring it to market with the hopes that it gains an audience and a loyal fanbase, you are essentially asking someone to forgo all the other options they could be doing with their time from hanging out with friends and family, exploring the world, listening to music or podcasts, watching YouTube videos, movies, online shopping, playing sport, practicing an instrument, creating art… there are a million ways people can entertain themselves.
And let’s be fair, reading a book isn’t an easy thing to do.
My guess is that most people read less than 50 book in their entire lifetime and there are millions of books already in existence, and every day new books are entering the market, competing for that limited resource known as attention. In most cases, let’s say the average person can read a book, cover to cover, in 10 hours.
They maybe get 30 minutes to an hour per day, usually before bed, to escape the stresses of the day, be entertained, be engaged, fall into a world, and be so consumed with the story that they forget about their troubles for a moment and don’t want to put it down. This is the so-called page-turner effect. This is what we want to create.
So why did I go on this big rant and what does it have to do with consumption obstruction?
The reason is simple.
Our Jobs as Writers
Our jobs as writers is to:
- Write a book that stands out amongst all other entertainment options. To do this, we must, at a minimum, have an:
- Interesting premise
- Intriguing title
- Captivating cover art
- An opening line that hooks the reader’s attention
While all of this is extremely difficult and becoming more and more difficult everyday, let’ assume we are able to do that. A reader has one of our books in their hand and they are interested in exploring it further.
Our job is not done. We still need to:
- Keep the reader’s attention all the way until the end, and then have the book payoff in such a meaningful, uplifting, inspiring, life-changing, perception-altering way that they recommend it to their friends, leave a positive review, buy our next book, become advocates for us.
That’s the business we’re in.
Avoiding Consumption Obstruction
How we do all this is to understand what I call consumption obstruction.
In other words, evaluate your book and ask yourself — what, if any, obstructions or barriers are there for someone reading my book?
The first step is to identify them, the second step is to eliminate as many as possible.
Now, I’ll admit, I’m guilty of breaking some cardinal consumption obstruction rules obstruction rules in some of my novels. In my book Prodigy, I open with a lengthy introduction setting up the world, and it’s also written with very academic language. I mention things such as “Pyrrhic victory”, which most people probably aren’t going to know what that means.
After the introduction, I still don’t get into the story, I have a prologue, which is additional story setup.
However, I felt that the intro and prologue were necessary to establish context and that information didn’t really fit anywhere else in the story.
Nevertheless, despite all this, Prodigy is by far my most successful book and I think it’s because it has a number of things going for it that overcome consumption obstruction.
- Short book length
- Short chapter length
- Intriguing premise
- Interesting title
- Captivating cover art
- Initial hook
- Gets into the story as quickly as possible
- Not overly heavy handed on descriptions
- The plot isn’t overly complicated — it’s easy to follow
- Not too many characters
- Recaps to calibrate the reader
I’ll go some of the items on this list in a little bit more detail and explain what I mean and why it’s important.
Short book length — I try to write short digestible books, usually around 60,000 words. I feel attention spans are getting shorter and I don’t want someone to be put off with an 800 page epic. That’s be an obstruction for a lot of people. If I have more story to tell after 60,000 words, I’ll just write a sequel.
Chapter length — people don’t always have loads of time to read. They may be waiting for a bus, or have 20 mins before bed. If you have super long, complicated chapters, that can turn a lot of readers off. I try to aim for 800 – 1500 words. I feel that is a reasonably digestible chapter length.
Getting into the story as quickly as possible — ask yourself this, “What if I removed chapters 1 and 2 (or 10) and my book started on chapter three, would I lose anything necessary for the story? I try to get as deep into the story as possible and anything relevant can always be brought up later. Any time there’s a lengthy, convoluted set up where the reader has no idea who the main character is and what’s at stake (we’ve all read books like this), that is a consumption obstruction and is going to turn a lot of people off (me included!).
Also, try to avoid opening with an intro and a prologue — get to the exciting stuff as soon as possible and hook your reader. Make them invested and care about your characters or plot.
Initial hook — your opening line or paragraph should pull them into a world. It’s generally recommended not to start with dialogue or cliches such as — the alarm clock blared and so and so woke up…
Descriptions — this is obviously personal preference, but I tend to go a little lighter on descriptions simply because I feel the reader’s brain is pretty good and filling in details that aren’t on the page. I don’t usually describe how the character looks with the exception of name, gender, and age. Other details such as height, weight, race, hairstyle, clothing, attractiveness, etc. I let the reader fill that in.
Once I received a comment about my book The Art of the Hustle from this black guy and he was like, “I love your book, especially since the main character is black.” In the book, I never mention race, but in his mind, that’s what he envisioned.
Interesting concepts — have a plot that pulls people in and continues to deliver. Show the reader something they’ve never seen before. Keep them guessing, keep them anticipating what’s going to happen. Books with boring, predictable, flat, uninteresting, uninspired premises are a consumption obstruction.
For the last two points, I’ll briefly say this:
Reading fiction actually requires more work from the reader than non fiction.
Fiction isn’t a passive thing that you can read casually. It requires balancing many different characters, anticipating where the author is going, following along on this journey and juggling various plot points that may not be fully revealed until later. Therefore, your job is to know your audience, what their comprehension level is, and to find that balance between not having it too simple and predictable where they get bored, and not being overly complicated. If you have a too many characters, they have weird names that are hard to pronounce, their relationships are complex, these are all barriers.
In some of my books, I’ll go back and recap what has happened. Before I move on to the next part, I’ll have one character explain the past ten chapters or so in a few short sentences. I’ll have one person say, “Hey, wasn’t it crazy when that happened, then this happened, we met that guy, and he gave us this crucial piece of information that’s going to help us go there and do that.” Having these recaps is a way to get everyone is on board with what’s happening so that we can all move onto the next bit together. In other words, the reader is calibrated to the story. I may even do this several times through the book, just to really make it easy for the reader.
Notice in this very blog post you’re reading, I made it easy to consume. I have short, inviting sentences, add bolded phrases to make certain text pop up and be highly scannable. I created numbered lists with bullet points to avoid large blocks of text. Headings further separate the wall of text, inviting the reader into smaller scannable and digestible chunks. Heck, I even included a video!
You can incorporate this same philosophy in your writing as well.