It’s one thing to write out a story. It’s another thing to organize it. And it’s another thing entirely to create manageable chapters and subheadings!

We won’t beat around the bush: creating book chapters and subheadings for your book can be exhausting. Especially as a creative artist, it can be particularly difficult to manage the growth and organization of your story as it develops.

As you write, it’s going to become harder and harder to keep track of tangents, new ideas, and story leads. Nonfiction stories need to make sure they’re covering their subjects well. Fiction and fantasy novels want to develop their stories more concisely. In either case, it’s extremely important to organize your story for the sake of your readers (and your peace of mind)!

If you think that book chapters are impossible to create, think again. Starting organization off on the right foot will have a part to play in the success of your novel.

Let’s take a closer look at:

  • The difference between chapters and subheadings
  • Book chapter best practices
  • Creating divisions for your book
  • Chapter and subheading FAQ

Chapters Vs. Subheadings: What’s The Difference?

Chapters and subheadings are the most popular methods of book organization since, well, forever. Both of them are used throughout the publishing industry to signal where readers should stop and start, as well as denote expectations. They are also useful for index purposes, along with your table of contents.

Some people use the terms ‘chapter’ and ‘subheading’ interchangeably. However, there are some key differences to keep in mind.

  • Chapters are used to separate content into different sections and subject matters. For example, a good chapter break in a nonfiction book will separate a section on JFK from George Washington. For a fiction book, perhaps it separates the points of view for different characters or events.
  • Subheadings are subject divisions that occur inside individual chapters. If a chapter is covering multiple disciplines within the same subject, or if it plans on taking several points of view, you might choose to use a subheading. For example, it could switch back and forth between different characters in a novel. It could also be a strong way to divide tones or elements of a chapter into smaller bits.

No matter how long your book is, you will want to include either one or both of these organizational methods.

Related article: How To Create The Perfect Title For Your Kindle Book

Why Chapters And Subheadings Are Important

If you have never written a subheading before, or if you think chapters aren’t right for your story, you may want to think again.

Truthfully, there are a number of surprising benefits found in organizing and dividing up written work:

  • Chapters are a powerful narrative tool. They can help tell your story by adding elements of suspense, excitement, and other emotions into the story.
  • Subheadings allow you to adequately pace out a story. Readers can digest your material much more efficiently, and will greatly appreciate the organization.
  • Chapter and subheading placement makes your piece look more professional. Not only does it look like publication-worthy material, but it will make your readers be more willing to consume the entire work.

From nonfiction stories to high fantasy novels, every story deserves chapters and subheadings. Let’s look at some easy ways to incorporate them into your own work!

Best Practices For Writing Book Chapters & Subheadings

There are different ways to implement book chapters and subheadings within your work. While there are unique approaches prescribed to each type, we’re first going to touch on best practices for both types.

Strap in, and let’s get started!

Book Chapters

Here are some best practices for writing amazing book chapters.

  1. Book chapters should occur on a separate page from your body content. There are three different kinds of formats available: right hand (recto), left-hand (verso), and two page (double truck).
  2. The measurement of your book chapter should be easy to understand. Roman numerals, Arabic numbers, or written words should suffice. It is not normally recommended that you create a unique symbol system. This could confuse readers and be more difficult to comprehend.
  3. The average chapter opening page uses drop folio. This means that the page number occurs at the bottom of the page rather than the top.
  4. Unless you are writing a scientific research book, you will likely not use a running head. Avoid these unless absolutely necessary.
  5. All book chapters must remain consistent! No matter how you choose to name and design them, your story needs to have similar elements included for a cohesive piece.

We’ll cover more information about book chapter FAQs later on.

Book Subheadings

Below are some helpful hints for using subheadings in your novel.

  1. Subheadings can be used in both fiction and nonfiction books. Many writers in the fiction space denote subheadings through informal measures (lines, asterisks, etc). Nonfiction writers prefer to use titles or graphics to depict a change in content.
  2. Like chapters, subheadings should be used consistently throughout the body of the book. If possible, use more than one subheading per chapter. If you feel that only one is needed, perhaps you should consider creating another chapter instead.
  3. Subheadings follow a logical progression from largest to smallest. In online writing, there are generally three headings: titles (H1), subheadings (H2), and fractional headings (H3). For very professional writing, subheadings follow strict structure and typographical requirements. If you are not planning on writing something extremely formal, this may not apply to you.
  4. Subheadings only apply to complete paragraphs. They cannot and should not be used to break up the flow of writing unless there is an impending subject shift.
  5. It’s a good idea to avoid using subheadings unless absolutely necessary. It has the potential to throw your reader off-topic and out of immersion.

Related article: Mastering Self-Editing: How To Check Your eBook

Let’s take a closer look at some book chapters and subheadings FAQs.

Book Chapters & Subheadings Frequently Asked Questions

Once you have these helpful facts down, you’ll be off to the writing races in no time!

How long should a book chapter be?

All book chapter sizes depend on each type of book, genre, and writer in question. Some professional writers, including Steven King, prefer to use =shorter chapters to punctuate their stories. Others like J.K. Rowling prefer longer pieces that harness their narrative style.

According to modern researchers, the vast majority of book chapters fall between 1,500 and 5,000 words. This averages out to 3,000–4,000 words per chapter. In other words, it’s eight single spaced pages, or 16 pages double-spaced. Depending on your book format, it may even be 20 pages or more.

How many chapters does the average book have?

The number of chapters in a book is directly associated with its number of pages. The majority of nonfiction books have between 5 and 20 different chapters. Fiction books range widely, sometimes with a hundred chapters or more.

The best rule of thumb for determining your sweet spot is having a good understanding of your content. Have you written everything on the subject that needs to be there? Where’s the next logical beginning of the upcoming chapter? Using these questions, you can forge ahead in confidence.

How many words should my subheading title be?

Subheadings should be used to aid reader comprehension, not distract from your work. Professionals recommend that subheading titles should range no more than 10 to 30 words.

In terms of subheading title content, feel free to have fun with it! The style, language, and font choice of your titles are completely up to you. Just make sure they’re relevant to your subject matter, and that they match the tone of your story!

Does KDP require chapters and subheadings?

If you are planning on self-publishing your book on a site like Kindle Direct Publishing, you should know that it does not require you to have chapters or subheadings. However, KDP strongly encourages users to create consistent books with a professional feel. This helpful guide details some of the most important aspects of book chapter setup before transitioning over to the site. Plus, it includes a nifty video guide for your convenience!

How do I know if I need chapters and subheadings for my work?

The short answer: it’s a gut feeling. The long answer: it’s really up to you and your unique piece of art. If you really aren’t sure about the subheadings in your story, or if you feel uncomfortable with the way they look, ask a friend or family member for help.

Navigating where, when, and how to create chapters for your book may seem daunting at first. You may feel ill-equipped to create your own, or you may not know where to start. But by trusting your intuition, the insights of others, and many best practices in the field, you can begin to better navigate the organization of your story.

Your novel deserves to have its story told in a clean, organized, and emotionally compelling way. Harness the power of chapters and subheadings to make your book writing dreams a reality!