Thursday, May 02, 2013

Cliffhangers: Love Em or Hate Em?

Since writing my post yesterday about the tremendous success of some indie authors, particularly those in the “New Adult” genre, I've received a couple of emails from readers who told me something I found interesting. This is an excerpt from one email:

The first volume of the series was wonderful and it held my attention and left me wanting more. It was only .99 and, though it was a short read (about 50 pages), I loved the characters and the romance and I couldn't wait for the next volume. The second volume was $2.99 and was also about 50 pages. I liked it very much and the ending was also a cliff-hanger. I checked the author's Amazon page and discovered there were 6 volumes in the series. All but the first were $2.99. That means that thewhole series would cost $15.94! Because each story was about 50 pages that means I'm paying almost $16 for a 300 page story. It made me so mad that the author would do this tht I just quit reading.

I found that interesting and wondered if other fans of this genre encountered the same things. I have three novels that are over 300 pages long (The Old Mermaid's Tale, Each Angel Burns, and Depraved Heart) and they are priced at $3.99 each or $8.99 for all three so the reader makes a good point—is a 300 page series worth paying $15.46?

The answer, of course, is yes, if it is worth it to readers to see what happens next. And, no, if they don't want to spend that kind of money. The method that has worked for the authors of these serials is to write short, highly-appealing stories with cliffhanger endings, acquire an email list of fans, and then send out an email when the next volume in the series is available. There is nothing wrong with this sort of marketing—it seems to be very effective. It just makes me wonder how people feel about these cliffhanger endings.

I went to Amazon and looked up a few of the books I'd heard about. What I found was that while there were a lot of disgruntled readers who were angry about the endings and left 1-star ratings, there were far more happy readers who said, with absolute consistency, “I cannot wait for the next volume.” They love the suspense of waiting and are in no way deterred by price.

Of course, cliffhangers have a long and distinguished history. The great Charles Dickens published several of his books serialized in newspapers and each week's episode would end with a cliffhanger that kept readers breathless in anticipation of the next episode. Serialized television shows have always used cliffhangers to sustain suspense, and, therefore, interest.

So, it all comes down to what the fan-base will tolerate—if they are sufficiently intrigued by the story, they will wait with breathless anticipation for the next 50 or so pages and pay accordingly. These are interesting times in the publishing world and I feel like I learn something new every day.

Thanks for reading.

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