How to Write a Cliffhanger the Right Way

This week a reader was pissed after reading my perma-free book. But this isn’t the first time. What made this situation unique was, he sent me an email, stating he’d enjoyed it, but that he wouldn’t be reading the next one in the series. Why? Because I ended the book with a cliffhanger. He wrote that because I was so desperate for readers to buy the next book, he wasn’t going to play ball. He also gave me some condescending advice about how I’ll put readers off with this devious writing strategy. Before I wrote the ending, I was well aware of writers using the old ending-a-perma-free-book-with-a-cliffhanger strategy to sell the next book in a series, and have seen hateful reviews for perma-free books that ended with a cliffhanger. I had also considered how readers would react to my ending, so none of what he wrote was news to me.

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Find out what happens to the house in the next book.

I emailed back, writing that there are two types of cliffhanger. The first type leaves the reader without the conclusion to the story’s main story thread or mystery, with the conclusion in the next paid-for book. This is obviously uncool. The second type is ending a series book with the inciting incident for the next book in the series, after concluding the main story thread or mystery of the first book, like in an episode of Quantum Leap—I even gave a nod to that show by finishing with the main character’s catchphrase: “Oh, boy.” I think endings like that are fair, and, if done right, exciting, and I don’t remember people going apeshit at the end of each episode of Quantum. I told the guy the type I’d used was the latter, and thanked him for reading, anyway, etc. He never got back to me. And the ninety-nine cents he would’ve paid for my next book had I not been “desperate” for him to read it has me writing this blog post on a street corner, having not been able to pay my mortgage this month. I’m also starving, and for the life of me I can’t find a piece of cardboard to scrawl on to inform passersby of my dire straits.

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“If my story only had a beginning, middle and end, as opposed to a beginning, middle, end, and another beginning, things would’ve turned out different for ol’ Crazy Joe here.”

I was going to make this week’s blog post about differentiating between the two types of cliffhanger, and making a case for why I think they’re a good thing, citing examples in television. But I just kind of did that in—what?—three hundred words, so there’s that idea out of the window. Then it occurred to me that I haven’t written a blog post that mines the comedy from a situation in a little while, and that I’m supposed to be a comedy writer, God damn it. So without further ado, I reveal to you, three ways to sell the next book in your series that are less offensive than using a cliffhanger.

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A swarm of hot-air balloon enthusiasts using their favorite mode of transport to avoid the dreaded cliffhanger
  1. Tell the Reader the Next Book in the Series Contains the Secret of Life

You’ve just finished reading a page-turner, and it turned out it was the priest whodunit, not the chicken farmer, or the icecream man, and definitely not the mistress. It was a solid, mildly entertaining read. It didn’t make you laugh, and the writer could’ve found ways of putting humor into their ridiculous but semi-serious mystery work, but it was a decent read nonetheless. With only five minutes to go of your train ride to work, you figure there’s no point starting the next book on your Kindle, so you start scrolling through the back matter. You read about the author, and he proclaims his undying love of the mystery genre, and tells some silly story about what inspired him to write mediocre fiction. After that, you come to the plug for the next book, and HOLY SHIT!, it contains the freakin’ secret of life. You rush to work to get connected to your workplace’s shitty WIFI, download the book, and read it over the next week or so. When you get to the end, you find out it was just another shitty story about an alcoholic detective solving a ridiculous murder mystery, padded out with an unconvincing love-interest subplot. Huh. No secret of life, which the author promised. It could’ve been worse, at least this God-awful book didn’t end with a cliffhanger. But wait…the next book promises it’s the only book on the planet that can be seen from space. Holy freakin’ cow! You’re not sure how that’s possible, with it being not composed of matter, but still. Space!

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Warning: may contain excitement intended to bring about sales of next book in series
  1. Tell the Reader the Next Book in the Series Will Somehow Feed the Third World

Despite your sales ranking revealing a different a story, tell the reader that if they buy your next book it has the potential to fund the feeding of the Third World, after it’s helped you pay for your wife’s breast augmentation surgery. If they just cough up their ninety-nine cents, celebrities having pictures taken with African infants with distended abdomens will become a thing of the past, and publicists will have to go back to the drawing board when they’re client’s clothing line isn’t selling as well as they’d hoped.

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“Does he bite?”

3. Tell Readers the Next Book in the Series Will Get Them Laid

Feel free to copy and paste the following text into the back matter of your book, changing details where necessary:

Dear reader,

Thanks for taking the time to read my high fantasy story about a wizard who comes up with a spell every time he’s caught in a situation he seemingly can’t possibly escape from.  If you could take a few minutes to leave a review for this book, it would put a really stupid, really big grin on my face. But first, I just want to take a second to tell you what inspired me to write this book. As you know from my “About the Author” section previous, for a long time, probably since I’ve been potty trained, I have held within my heart a great passion to write high fantasy. But what I’ve also held…in a different place than my heart, is the need to get laid. Probably like you, I didn’t get to bang the redhead with the big tits in my math class, and my love life since highschool has been equally underwhelming. But, like the wizard in this book, I too managed to make the love interest in my life inexplicably sleep with me. I took the time and effort to write the secret to my success into the next book in this series. All you’ve got to do is buy it. Click on this link to find out the secret and unleash your inner happiness.

Kind regards,

L.J.J Writersmith


 

So there you have it. Three great marketing tricks.

But seriously, thinking of writing a cliffhanger? Think again, if it’s the first kind. As always, if you laughed out loud at least three times, please take a second to share this post with the buttons below. It’ll get you laid, probably.

In next week’s blog post, I’ll reveal the one writing hack that’s guaranteed to make you sell more books than Lee Child, Jo Nesbø, and J. K. Rowling combined.


 

Like my Facebook page and say hi if you liked this blog post.

Wondering what my fiction reads like after this bit of neurolinguistic programming? Try it for free here.

 

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When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Grow a Mustache

I’ve been a bit down about indie publishing of late. After enjoying a little success, holding the number-one spot in Amazon’s comedy category for almost a week, sales have since plummeted. I’ve also been getting my first really bad reviews. In order to jumpstart sales again, I’ve been trying every marketing strategy I could lay my greedy eyes on, but with little success. Am I about to give up? Am I resigned to talking about publishing like a bitter wannabe piano player with stubby fingers talks about his disastrous first piano recital? Hell no. It’s time to get tough.

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“Honey, can you open the pickle jar?”

I’m not going to be overnight success. It’s not written in the stars, or at least it’s not written in my books, which are tailored to a certain readers’ taste. I might not be successful at all, but I’m not going to let that kind of negative thinking stop me from trying my damn hardest. I figure it’s going to take time, if it’s going to happen. The last couple days I’ve been putting together a plan to earn a decent living as a writer. In the absence of a comedy mother lode to mine this week for my blog, I’m going to share that plan with you.

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A prize-winning horse reluctantly sharing a carrot with its owner
  1. Perma-Free Book Downloaded by the Masses

Permanently free books make some indie authors angry. They whine and moan about free art and the future of publishing and other authors undercutting them, ad nauseam. I think that as long authors don’t make every book in their series free, it’s cool. Besides, you didn’t pay to read these words. Readers are rightfully hesitant about trying out new authors, and I think giving a little taste for free to whet their appetite is a sound strategy for overcoming that hesitancy. Besides, if it works for crack dealers—at least in old wives’ tales—then it could work for me. As long as the writing is up to scratch, which for me means as funny as balls and as exciting as a cocktail party hosted by Bill Cosby.

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This publishing industry elimination facility is cleverly disguised as a “library”

A free book to a browser is a no-brainer, but will they fly off digital shelves all by themselves? Absolutely not. But I’m pretty well schooled in giving away books already. When I ran my free Kindle book promotion, I managed to giveaway a shade under ten thousand books by running a Freebooksy ad, which is basically paying an exorbitant amount of money to some guys who’ll beg the members of their huge mailing list to download your book. If that fails, I’ll pay even more to get a BookBub ad and hope I get accepted. If I don’t, I’ll Andy Dufresne their asses until they submit. And hey presto, new readers.

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Despite repeatedly walking through this sewer pipe, this indie author’s requests for acceptance from BookBub was never granted

2. Build My Own Mailing List

How will I gain the loyalty of those readers, apart from by writing kickass books? By getting them to sign up for my mailing list. I have a few readers on there now, as a result of selling a fair few books, but in order to encourage readers to sign up, I’m offering a discount on new releases the first week they’re published. This way, readers will be more inclined to hand over their already spammed-the-shit-out-of email addresses to me, and I’ll be able to encourage readers to buy my new book during that first week, which will hopefully trick Amazon’s algorithm into thinking I write decent book-type books and expose my books to masses of unsuspecting new readers. Most of these will hate my books and leave bad reviews, but some will like my shit and hopefully…

3. Get Likes for My Facebook Page

Okay, so the whole ellipsis-leading-onto-the-next-section thing didn’t exactly work there. But you know what I meant. Not everyone signs up for mailing lists, but I’m struggling to think of anyone I know who doesn’t use Facebook. Apart from my dad. And my grandparents. And probably my doctor, now that I think about it. But whatever. Another way I’m going to encourage loyalty from my readers is by directing them to my Facebook page. I have a little message in the front and back matter of my books, thanking readers for reading, which I’m genuine about, and which directs readers who like my shit to also like my Facebook page. This has been working okay. I’ll give myself a C-minus for effort. In order to encourage it further, I’ve put in an “About the Author” section in the back matter of my books. I was a little hesitant to do so, because I’d feel more narcissistic than Prince after a line or three of cocaine, but I figure that if I can get readers interested in me after they’ve discovered they like the shit I write, then I can get more people to want to form a quirky-algorithm-dictated digital-age bond with me. I’m also going to start writing more jokes on Twitter. I figure I’ll publish the setup on my Twitter feed, and then have an ellipsis leading to a link for the entirety of the joke, which will be on my Facebook page. This way, more people will land on my page, and hopefully more people will like it, and more people will read my announcements for freshly released books, feeding into my sales-all-in-one-week strategy mentioned above.

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In a vain attempt to make people laugh, these two people each lost approximately two pounds of sweat

But all this is pointless, if I don’t…

4. Write More Freakin’ Books

It made sense that time. I’m getting the hang of this. I currently have three books in my comedy mystery series published. The fourth one is with my editor, and the fifth I’m writing the first draft of. As an indie author, I can’t get away with publishing once a year. I figure I need to write four or five novels a year to stay relevant. Last year I managed four, minus the edits of the fourth one from my editor. After I’m finished with the fifth, I’ll probably start writing a new series to keep things fresh. I’m thinking maybe a series about a hostage negotiator who has a harder time negotiating his family life than talking down crazed criminals. Sounds like an idea for a bad ‘90s sitcom, but whatever.

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Will he jump or won’t he?

And last, and definitely least, I’m going to…

5. Regrow My Mustache

I shaved off my lip weasel before Christmas. I haven’t been the same writer since. It seems that when left unclipped, my upper-lip hair follicles are the source of whatever mystical shit inspires me to write semi-decent mystery thrillers with a shit-ton of borderline misogynistic jokes. My days of trimming are over, and the days of me blow drying and hair spraying my mustache hairs into a macho style have just begun…again.

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You ladies out there will have to rely on Groucho glasses to harness this awesome power.

Thanks for reading. If you like what you read here, check me out on my Facebook page and like it.

My rage-inducing perma-free book can be checked out here. If you like that one, I’ll then expect you to pay for subsequent instalments, like a drug dealer who lives exclusively in our moms’ nightmares.

How to Not Shoot Yourself in the Face After Receiving a Bad Review

Last time I blogged I think I maybe came across a bit of an asshole. But, as I’ve written before, I don’t think it’s the first time. My intention every time I write a blog post is to discover a comedy mother lode, from which I can mine joke after joke, until I ask you to like my Facebook page or check out my books. But sometimes I fail in finding the comedy. The result can sometimes get messy. So what blog post idea have I come up with this week to make sure I stay well clear of coming off as bitter or hateful? As an indie author, what benign subject shall I blog about that has no potential for turning into a whiny, rhetoric-filled rant? Why, bad reviews, of course.

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After a receiving a bad review, this indie author went for a relaxing stroll.

If there’s one piece of advice indie authors agree on, it’s that you should never, ever reply to or comment on a bad review you’ve received. Ever. It’s sound advice, and I’ve managed to heed it so far in my short non-career as a writer. The last couple weeks I received my first really bad reviews, but I took them well, like a divorcee who had no intention of gaining sole custody of his children. I won’t be addressing the failings of the reviewers who posted bad reviews for my books directly. But it would be irresponsible of me if I didn’t use my reflections on these reviews to calm indie authors who might be worrying about their first really bad reviews. That’s my thinly-veiled excuse for writing the following advice, and I’m sticking to it.

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Veiled, thinly in parts, but in the literal sense.

While reading my bad reviews, I identified three distinct types. Two of them you can forget about. Hell, you can even make a night of it and read them with your spouse with a bowl of popcorn, reading bad reviews the same way Woody Allen thinks about going to the movies. The final one could result in you spending an evening with a bottle of whisky and a loaded gun. In order to put your mind at rest, if you’re an indie author awaiting his first reviews from non-Twitter followers and family members, I’m going to dispel the myth that all bad reviews are damaging for your potential writing career.

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A swarm of bad reviewers in their natural habitat.

Three types of bad reviews. Two you should be indifferent about. One that should make you go back to the drawing board. Got it? Good.

Let’s jump right in.

  1. The Review Written by Someone Who Got Offended by Your Book

John Locke wrote that if you don’t offend anyone with your writing, then you’re not doing it properly. I agree, especially if you’re writing comedy or humorous fiction. The book business is highly competitive, and in order to gain fans, your aim should be to tailor your writing style to appeal to a slim demographic of readers, which inevitably alienates or offends the rest. As long as you tailor your book descriptions to keep that demographic of reader who will hate your books from reading them—like I thought I had, and still do—then have at it with a writing style that isn’t cozy or appropriate for all the family. When I tell a joke, I want to surprise you. And sometimes that means shocking you. Just because one reader thought I was being sexist when I wrote a shit-ton of ex-wife jokes in my first novel, does it mean they shouldn’t be in there? Absolutely not. I bet some of those jokes are the reason for at least a few of my five-star reviews. And who knows, you could even end up with a reviewer going hyperbolic on your ass, spewing hate-filled observations that might intrigue potential readers browsing your book. Like I did.

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Popcorn time.

I bet at least a few potential readers who read the above review thought, If this crazy person hated it, then I bet I’d love it! Or it could be: Jesus, what in the world has this author written to upset this person so badly? I want to find out. I know I’ve thought both of those things when reading reviews for other authors’ books. Hell, one of my colleagues muttered the latter when I showed her the above review. If you get a review of this kind, relax. You just offended someone. I do that practically every time I write a simile. And who knows, by writing that edgy joke that made some readers want to throw their Kindle in the trash from disgust, you might just gain yourself a fan who’ll write a five-star review for your book and buy everything you write.

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Brain fuel

2. The Review Written by Someone Reviewing the Wrong Type of Book

On a number of occasions I’ve received reviews that made me think, Did this person read my book?  And one occasion, I was convinced of it—and it turned out she had. But that’s not the type of review I’m thinking about. A couple days ago, someone reviewed my book thinking it’s something it’s not. Here it is:

bad review twoThis person seems to be convinced that I attempted to write “noir detective fiction.” Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I wasn’t entirely sure what that was. So I googled it and found this definition:

noir fictionSure, my books feature a private investigator as the protagonist, but I wasn’t attempting to write “noir detective fiction.” The Jake Hancock Mystery Thrillers are throwaway three-hour reads with outrageous plot lines, silly characters, and a shit-ton of borderline-misogynistic jokes—if you ignore that women in the books run rings around the men. I could say they’re parodies of detective fiction, but that would be giving myself way too much credit. As I mentioned above, I wrote a book description for the first book that communicates that it isn’t a serious mystery thriller. There are clues left throughout the description, but the key is in the following paragraph:

“Despite having not worked undercover for a while, Hancock poses as Megan’s much-older boyfriend for a family weekend at her childhood home in Rodeo, Texas. From within their home, he will learn their secrets…and hopefully get laid in the process.”

This part of the description alone should’ve informed this reader he or she wasn’t getting Raymond Chandler. Am I worried about this review? Hell no. I did my job in writing an appropriate book description. If they couldn’t see that they were buying oranges instead of apples, then they need a new glasses prescription. And if you write appropriate descriptions, this type of review will be kept to a minimum. Will this review hurt my sales? There’ll probably be some potential readers who are put off buying, but for every browser put off by this review, I bet there are two who think, What did you expect? And ignore it.

If I wanted to be a pedantic dick, I’d point out that “noir fiction” features someone other than a detective as the protagonist. But I made a promise to myself at the start of this blog, and I didn’t have a clue either.

And if I wanted to be an even bigger dick, I’d point out that this reader is a fan of a series called Taco Bob and the Witch Sisters. I’m not dicking on that series, as I haven’t read it, but the reviewer seems to have reviewed that series based on its merits, but held my series to a literary standard I didn’t try to attain in the first place. She’s right: It is a poor attempt at “noir detective fiction.”

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Tacos minus Bob.

3. The Review Written by Someone Who Thinks Your Book is Objectively Bad or Mundane

Ready with the whisky bottle and loaded gun? Getting the above types of bad reviews is all well and good, but what you don’t want are reviews that say your book objectively sucks. That it’s riddled with errors, punctuation or otherwise. Or that it’s mundane. And the reviewer is oh so eloquent in explaining why. These reviews are book-sales cancer, especially if they make up the majority. To fix the former, you need beta readers or an editor. I use a number of beta readers to spot mistakes in my books, after I’ve done a shit-load of editing myself. But as with all books, even ones published by big publishing houses, there are probably a few errors in each of my books. But I figure the readers who love my books will forgive me for it. In fact, one reviewer wrote as much:

good review

The next reviewer, not so much:

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Four-star reviews, if they become a trend, can be equally destructive to sales. I mentioned above that you should write to entertain a very specific target demographic, and for good reason. If you try to please everyone, you could end up wowing no one. Try to please everyone, and you’re serving everyone a bland meal. Remember to open the spice drawer, even if chili powder doesn’t agree with Aunt Barbara’s irritable bowel syndrome. The only solution to avoiding mundanity is to be brave. Write books that offend the shit out of some people, but which makes fans of others.

Of course, this list isn’t exhaustive. There are many other types of bad reviews. Feel free to add your own in the comments section. Meanwhile, I’ll be writing the next Hancock book. It’s going to offend the shit out of some people. I can’t wait. Thanks for reading, and please share if I made you laugh at least four times…maybe that’s ambitious. Three? Deal. The share buttons are below.

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