Monday, March 19, 2012

How Not to Turn Readers Against You as an Author of Series Books

I think a lot of authors don't seem to understand SERIES books and what they are about. They are not about selling a book with no ending. I keep coming across books that are well written until I get to the end and then feel cheated because they're so completely not finished. That just makes me too angry to buy the next book in the series, strictly on principle.


Look at Harry Potter books. Each book had a complete story. Yes, the Harry Potter books had an over-arching story that carried on through all of the books but you never felt cheated at the end of one of the books.

Or you can look at books like My Dead Boyfriend by Barbara Rose. In this book, you get a complete story. Then, if you choose to read the excerpt from the next story that is in the back of the book, you find out that things change in the second book and something new happens to the main characters. The first book has a resolution, and then, in the second book, a new adventure forms from there. The new adventure might be related to the one in the first book, but you are not left, at the end of the first book, feeling as though the story is incomplete.

I don't mind if there is something that carries over in the book. I just don't think EVERYTHING should be left hanging. The book has to have an ending that leaves the reader feeling like they've finished the book.

If the book is well-written and the characters well thought-out and portrayed, then the reader will WANT to buy the next in the series. You don't need to end the book on a cliffhanger with no resolution in order to get the reader to buy the next book. Doing that smacks of manipulation and, as a reader, I can say, it turns me off from wanting to buy any more books from that author.

20 comments:

Kate said...

I feel the exact same way. I usually decide against reading the next book in the series for this very reason. I feel so cheated!

Dionne said...

Hmm, interesting. I am just about to release my first book and it's the first in a fantasy adventure trilogy. I have left the readers hanging which is common for this genre, but now you're scaring me, lol! I hope I haven't got it wrong. It was interesting to see your point of view :)

moonduster said...

Dionne - Some of my daughter's favorite YA authors write series books but each book is a complete story with an ending. She loves such authors as Meg Cabot, Elizabeth Chandler and Ally Carter. The trend of leaving the reader hanging is only a very recent one, and I think it is going to start to backfire.

Joanna K Neilson said...

Great post making an important point. This applies to films, TV and video games, too.

It's fine to leave readers wanting more, but honestly a 'then it just ended' ending is pretty frustrating, unless there's some extremely well implied future for the characters. You can also get away with a lot if you foreshadow it.

I think it's why the 'full circle' ending is a safe bet. Joe Abercrombie made good use of that.

But there are always exceptions!

Diane Dawson Hearn said...

I completely agree with you about this. Frankly, I think when we are left hanging with no resolution at all it is the mark of unskilled writing. It is much harder to have a complete story within the larger continuous story, but to me that is lazy. The best series have resolution of some kind to a plot that is specific to that book, along with an overarching story that continues. The Percy Jackson books are good examples of this.

Lissa Clouser said...

I'm the same as Dionne, only not at the release point yet. I think it really depends on genre. Look at lord of the rings? Definitely not resolved! I think this is especially common on high fantasy trilogies. I know there is no way to end some of the storylines in my trilogy just to give "resolve" at the end of my book 1. If I do, it will be forced and throw off the pacing of absolutely everything. It's pointless. I'm not forcing a cliffhanger though either. It falls natural in the pacing of the story.

That being said, I think there is a time and place for it. Some books naturally fall that way. Some books the author is just doing it to keep you going. In that case, if I'm not already invested in the characters, a cliffhanger won't help. I think this is one of the cases of a tactic being overused rather than something that should be done away with.

I know in my case I never even thought about leaving a cliffhanger. Didn't seem necessary. But the final scene of book 1 (and book 2, but in a different way) will naturally leave the reader unsettled and in search of that final resolve.

And finally, this seems to work well naturally with certain trilogies, but longer series is where it starts to feel like it's falling apart. Time and a place for everything! =)

rjtraxel said...

I'm actually okay with cliffhangers as long as the story has been good. I get mad when the story is just okay and has a cliffhanger.Sometimes an ending makes up for the book being average. Although I liked the Percy Jackson series I think the endings in his book are too long. He tends to explain everything to death. But he is well liked by many so it doesn't seem to be a problem for him. I think the same applies to writers who use cliffhangers. There are a lot of people who like it and a lot who don't.

Melissa said...

I completely agree. I much prefer when books in a series are self contained, then it doesn't matter where in the series we pick these books up, or if we can't find the next book, have to miss one, and then go back to it.

Lyn Horner said...

Totally agree! I'm writing a series and have a lot of character carry-over from one book to the next, but each book is a complete story. I hate cliff hangers and would never subject my readers to them. Come visit my blog for a taste of my work.
http://texasdruids.com

foregoreality said...

It definitely depends on the genre. As a few pp have mentioned fantasy is built on the trilogy and they usually don't resolve much until the end. You could get cranky and stop reading fantasy or just accept that's what often happens. It's not a recent thing at all. However you do get reader fatigue when you start dragging the series out for no good reason (I gave up on a series when I realised the huge novel I'd just read covered 3 days worth of events. Poor storytelling, too many pov characters.)

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

I am with you on this! I love a good trilogy, but I think each book should have a story of it's own.

Jane Isaac said...

Wonderfully put! I am currently writing a sequel to my debut crime thriller, but firmly believe that every novel should have it's own story.

Justin Bogdanovitch said...

I don't run across this problem of unresolved plot much. The Empire Strikes Back Star Wars Film stopped right at the largest Cliffhanger & that was a plus and it's considered to be the best of the trilogy. Same with the book/film versions of LOTR. Smaller battles are won or lost by the end but the overarching storyline is still in place. In a current blog weekly serial I love, the cliffhanger is part of the weekly genre, to get readers to come back the next week to see what happens. There is a pattern there, and I don't expect a resolution with that kind of format (even if the sections are gathered up as Part 1 of a series) . . . I do love having a resolution, that being said, but I like it that there is always more than one way of doing things in series writing, and those who like the work will continue to read, and those who don't, won't. What I dislike is too much time passing before the next book in a series is published because I tend to forget what transpired and this makes me less excited to pick up the next book because I don't want to go back and read the previous novels again. Scott Lynch's game-changing series that began with The Lies of Locke Lamora is an example of this . . . 2 brilliant books in a projected 6-part series are published, but it's been almost 5 years now and no book 3 has dropped.

Barbara Ebel said...

Thanks for your article. As a writer and a reader, I agree 100%.

I have a children's book series about a dog and his 'brothers' and what I tell people is that each book stands alone, but yet, make a lovely series. That's because the characters are in place and yet with each new book their personalities are developed more and there is a separate storyline.

I think your comments could be extended to great movie sequels, too!

SM Johnson said...

This is absolutely my pet peeve. There needs to be a primary story problem that is completely resolved in each book of a series. Some side plots can be left unresolved, but for a satisfying read a story needs to have a clear beginning, middle, and end.

Erica Lucke Dean said...

I'm writing a weekly serial fiction and I left a wicked cliffhanger at the end of the first "volume/season/book" how ever you want to categorize it. But I think of the story as like a TV show in print. I love to hate the cliffhanger that makes you want more. But at the same time, I do think you need to resolve the storyline you build from the beginning. I hope I've managed to find that balance in the Tales of the Daywalkers. (free on my blog ;)

Victoria Boulton said...

I am totally with you on this- I feel like sometimes authors are just trying to cheat me out of money. I mean, there's no reason at all to leave me hanging if your story was good- I'll come back for the next one.

As a reader of high-fantasy, there's often the issue that the novels are just too enormous and sprawling to end the first book (or second, or third, or sixteenth) in a satisfactory manner, but I think that may also be a case of poor planning. You can tell an over-arching plot while still having a contained story, just as in your example of harry potter.

A great post, and thanks for voicing it!

jambalian said...

I think the reason this came about was that some authors had long books (circa 150k words or more) but couldn't sell them at the asking price, so they chopped them into three books and made the first episode free or really cheap. They used that as the hook to get the readers to buy the rest of the series and they ended up paying the same price or more.

My first novel was supposed to be a one book deal, although I admit I did leave it open for a sequel. Look at the original Italian Job with Michael Caine - classic example. It wasn't until the reviews started coming in that I realised how many people wanted to find out what happened next, so I started work on the sequel.

I didn't want to leave the second book on a cliff hanger but I guess I did, and realise now that it wasn't the best approach. Having said that, the sequel has been purchased by people who loved the first book, and reviews have been positive. Once I finish this trilogy I will be sticking to complete stories from now on. I will also make the next protagonist a lot younger so that he can span more than two years of action.

Andrew Harding said...

I have my feet in two camps. I have a trilogy, the first is out now with the other two being edited for release as soon as each one is ready. (I couldn't do that without an ending to the book)
I also have a series, two of which I've published and must wait for the public to read those first. I have written the next two in the series and am relieved after reading all these comments that I've left each book with an ending, even though they run on from one to the other.
The Series is Crime Fiction (in the erotic section as it's graphic in more ways than one) and some things do drag on with the police force. Saying that, each book can be pulled as a stand-alone book. I feel the same about cliff-hangers and also want the reader introduced to the characters already in the series, in the next book with others that are brought into the story. I write mainly in dialogue and they read fast but would hate to leave a reader feeling they've been conned into buying the next. I want them to buy it because they're interested in the story and my style of writing.
The trilogy is the same as regards an ending to each book. I also have the first two chapters of the next book at the back, for readers that are interested, to get a feel of the continuing story of the trilogy.

Angela Donner said...

I agree!! One of my favorite adult authors is now writing YA series books and does this. I absolutely refuse to read the books now until they are all out because absolutely nothing was resolved in the last one I read. I don't mind if there are some things that are left open for another book but to just cut off with nothing feeling finished was incredibly frustrating!