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.


 

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

 

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Author: Dan Taylor - Crime Fiction Author

Crime fiction author and silly man.

6 thoughts on “How to Write a Cliffhanger the Right Way”

  1. Normally I hate a cliffhanger as a gimmick, especially when I’ve read a .99 50-100 page booklet/pamphlet that is poorly written and ends with a cliffhanger. I get mad and I leave a review saying so.

    But when done correctly as you pointed out…it doesn’t leave me feeling ripped off.

    That being said: I read an amazing book, the writing was great, the story was awesome, I gave it 5 *’s but then it ended with a cliffhanger after 75 pages. Grrr… still I wanna know what happens next so I’m like.. eh, it’s only another .99 I can handle that for another 75 pages.

    BUT… when I found installment number two? It was priced at $4.99. What in the actual-? For another 75 pages? Are you freaking high? I pay that for a full-length paperback that I can hold in my hand and feel pages turn! There were 4 installments all priced at the same amount.

    So let’s get this straight, you want me.. to spent $15 for a 300 page EBOOK?? Sorry… not happening. You’re not JK Rowling/Stephen King/ Anne Bishop/ etc signing hardback books or even a paperback for that matter. I know your time is important, but you’ll never get the return on your investment with money, you’ll get the reader’s loyalty, you’ll get to share your story and you’ll make some money in the process. If you’re in it for the money, you’re in it for the wrong reason.

    Don’t gouge your readers, don’t betray them.. You want them to come back. That’s just my 2 cents, for what it’s worth.

    Like

    1. Hi Kawanee,

      I’ve also come across authors using the same tactic to try and hook readers. It’s a dick move for sure, and they give perma-free books and cliffhangers a bad name. Done right, I love cliffhangers. I have fond memories of Quantum Leap and I really liked the cliffhanger at the end of season one of lost. As I mentioned in the blog post, I think the distinction between a good and bad one is that the former comes after the main plot has been concluded.

      I put the cliffhanger in not to try and swindle readers, but to give them a series-long story thread as well as the mysteries Hancock solves. ☺

      Like

      1. I LOVED Quantum Leap. It’s awesome.
        Yeah, I kinda ended with a cliffhanger too, but the conflicts inside the book were wrapped up. Only the main character which would be carrying through to other books was left with a cliffhanger.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It needs editing… but yes. It’s about homeless people and one guy that helps others get off the streets before they end up like him. 🙂

        It’s called Alleys and Broken Dreams, and I’ve got book 2 finished but am revising/editing it too.

        Grammar are not my friend. 😛 Got a grammar program, need some beta’s.

        Liked by 1 person

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