I think my distaste for cliffhanger endings were born and fostered over the past ten years of reading. Much of reader response can be measured by the expectations the reader has when embarking on her reader journey. When one is a romance reader, the ending is expected to be one of certainty. Having expectations built up in this manner leads to many dents in the wall from frustrated readers not receiving the fulfilling ending for which they were looking.
Sarah Wendell, Angela James, and I talked about the cliffhanger, the series, and romances extensively at Tools of Change. We all agreed that we did not like cliffhangers. Sarah wrote about her reader expectations today over at Smart Bitches.
I agree that it has a lot to do with reader expectations but I also think it has to do with the encroachment of non romance books being sold as romances. Publishers want to capitalize on the money spent on romance books by labeling and marketing books that would not have been deemed a romance a decade ago. I don’t think that the romance genre has grown organically to embrace these books with their unresolved endings. Instead, I think these books have been pushed into the genre.
The only reason that this is bad idea is it is beginning to erode the confidence romance readers have in the books that they are buying. After being subjected to stories like the vampire series by Cameron Dean (who I maintain was a group of authors ghost writing under one pseudonym); Anne Bishop’s Jewels series (not a romance but with a heavy romance base) and other similar series, all that have unhappy endings at the end of the series, readers are more reluctant than ever to jump on the series bandwagon, uncertain whether the investment into the series will come with the requisite payoff. For instance, the Chloe Neill fans are already rising up with their pitchforks over her ending to the Chicagoland Vampire series. I bet any number of them are wishing they had waited before buying into that particular series.
Jayne decided not to read some of the Royal Wedding stories because she knew the historical context resulted in non happy endings for those couples. I know many a reader who remain dissatisfied with the reincarnated soul ending to A Knight in Shining Armor by Jude Devereaux.
There is always the danger that the cliffhanger will never be resolved. There was this concern with George RR Martin but it is very real with the Ariana Franklin series. The last story ended on a big cliffhanger and Ms Franklin aka Diana Norman passed away before the story was finished. Another not uncommon refrain are authors’ series that end on a cliffhanger but are not ever resolved because there is no publisher willing to pay for the rest of the series.
But series sell and cliffhangers work. Witness the success of Karen Marie Moning’s Fae series or the YA books by Stephenie Meyer and Suzanne Collins. The problem is that these work because of the story, not because of the gimmick. And let’s face it, sometimes cliffhangers are gimmicks, designed to get readers to buy the next book. In fact, I’ve seen authors complain that if readers don’t buy books one and two, they won’t get the end in book three.
Readers, series weary and cliffhanger scared, are telling us that they are waiting until the end of the trilogy or series, to hop on board. They want to know that the series is worth their time and investment, both emotional and monetary.
I once likened reading as a pas de deux led by the author. (http://dearauthor.com/features/letters-of-opinion/the-journey-of-reading/) When you are dancing, you have to trust that the person leading knows where they are going and that you are going to like where they are taking you. When you don’t trust that author, when that author hasn’t delivered for you in the past (either because she is new to you or her past work hasn’t worked for you), then jumping on board the cliffhanger series ride is viewed with apprehension and distrust.
I do understand that some stories are too big for that 300 page, 90,000 word count; but the predilection toward cliffhanger endings and never ending series isn’t one that is viewed with much favor by me. What about the rest of you? Like them? Hate them? It depends?
Other readers’ thoughts on cliffhangers:
Tori: I don’t mind cliffhangers myself-UNLESS- the author makes me wait 2 or more years for the next book .*are you listening Linda Lael Miller????* Waiting more then a year pretty much guarantees I will A. lose interest or B. forget the first book. Neither is appealing to me. There has to be some sort of conclusion even if it’s just a minor story plot.
As a reader I feel cheated if the story doesn’t feel resolved, or at the very least paused. Cliffhangers just feel…truncated. Like you ran out of paper before you got through. There are two possible reasons to employ such an ending. One, the story you have to tell is longer than the book you have been contracted to write. If this is the case then suck it up and figure out how to make your story tighter. Two, it’s a cheap trick to manipulate me into buying your next book.