I just finished reading a book on my Kindle. It was only $.99 and the plot and characters were interesting. Sure, I thought the author used way too many exclamation marks and had a few too many “telling” moments, but I wanted to find out what would happen with this story.
You know how it ended? Neither do I. Because it DIDN’T end. The last sentence of the book was something to the effect of: “She glanced between him and the door in indecision. Then, taking a deep breath, she walked over to…” And that was it. The next page advertised the next installment in the series that would continue the story.
This author used a cliffhanger. And yes, it’s a cheap trick! Because I had to tolerate some factors of that book that I already didn’t like, and then the author used such a cheap trick to try and keep me reeled in to buy more books from them, I was mad.
I’m a busy person. My reading time is so very precious. It’s rare that I have a lot of time to sit and relax while I read a book. And most times that I have a chance to read, it’s only a few hours out of the entire week. So if I’m taking the time to read a book at all, I don’t want my time wasted with a cliffhanger that used to be practiced in periodicals in Victorian times. So that author just lost a reader by using that cheap trick.
Don’t get me wrong; I wrote a trilogy. So the first two books of the Blood Inheritance Trilogy are open-ended. But the difference is that the books still followed a decent story arc. There was a beginning, a middle, and mostly an ending. However, some larger issues weren’t resolved until the final installment. That is an example of a series that has open ends that can keep readers wanting to buy more without tricking them into it.
A cliffhanger, on the other hand, usually ends in the middle of a plot climax. Then, when you get around to reading the next installment, you find out what happens with that particular climax, but the overall story still gets dragged out. Since these stories with cliffhangers are written in such a way, you never know when the final installment will ever come out. The author could drag it on for years before finally putting the wretched characters to peace.
There have been a few exceptions of authors using cliffhangers and making it work. If you’ve ever read the Fever series by Karen Marie Moning, you know that her first two books followed the natural story arc while the end of the books were open-ended. The rest of the books (5 total) were cliffhangers at the end. Though, in Moning’s defense, her overall story was so big, that I doubt she had room to end the books anywhere else except at the cliffhangers they were at. So I’m sure that as you read this, you can think of examples where you were alright with cliffhangers. (Feel free to list them in the comments!)
However, if an author can avoid using them, it’s probably for the better – especially if they’re not a fully established author yet.