Thursday, June 18, 2015

Don't Leave Me Hanging!

We’ve all been there. We buy a book that looks good. We read it and it is good. In fact, it’s so good, it’s a page turner. We turn in to wolves reading voraciously until we reach the end only to get a sharp slap in the face. Rather than get the closure that’s kept us reading, we’re left open mouthed with a cliffhanger ending and no more pages left to turn.

Cliffhangers aren’t new. They’ve been around for ages and it’s not just novelists that use cliffhangers; scriptwriters have done it too. If you’re as old as I am, you remember the most famous television cliffhanger of the eighties being “who shot J.R.” on the prime time soap opera, Dallas. Man, I just dated myself!

The idea of the cliffhanger is to get readers so invested that they come back for more. They buy the second and possibly third and fourth books in the series. Writers net more sales and make more money and readers get more of the characters they love. It’s a win-win situation. Or is it?

I’ve noticed lately that more and more readers are fed up with cliffhanger endings. This is particularly true when the author offers the first book for free and leaves it on a cliffhanger. If you want to find out what happened to the characters, you’re forced to buy the subsequent books. Some readers flat out refuse to do it, but some are so compelled to find out how it ends that they invest the money.

Some readers are not only putting their foot down and refusing to buy the books, but they’re leaving online reviews warning potential readers that the book is a cliffhanger. And of course, you know these readers are also giving one star reviews and talking about how unfulfilled they are. This dissatisfaction leads to them finding other things to pick apart with the book and post in their reviews.

I’ll be honest. I’m on the fence about the cliffhanger ending. If it’s a good book, I’m a little more tolerant, but there is one sure fire way authors get my dander up with cliffhanger endings. I absolutely cannot stand when an author takes what should easily be one, maybe two books at the most, and stretches it into five or six books. The first book is typically free and ends on a cliffhanger and more often than not, it’s less than one hundred pages long. Subsequent books in the series are released that are of equal length but priced higher. And even though there are times when I really like the characters and I’d love to know how their story turns out, I take a stand and join the ranks of other readers and say enough is enough. I’m not buying any more of these books.

I’m here to tell you it is possible to write a series of novels, featuring the same characters, and make them standalone novels. It not only can be done, it has been done by authors in every genre. When that happens, readers don’t necessarily have to buy the other books to understand what happens in each subsequent book, but they often will because they’ve become emotionally invested in the characters.

When I wrote the Time for Love series, it followed the love story of one couple over a series of four books. Each book took place at a different time in their lives. Rather than use cliffhangers, I took the approach of what many call “happy for now”. Each book had a resolution to its conflict, but readers knew there was more conflict on the horizon. Thus far, I haven’t had any complaints about that.

No matter how much you want it to, the cliffhanger ending will never go away. There will always be some writers who have convinced themselves it’s the way to go.  I would never tell another writer how to write their story, but I will warn you that more and more readers are rising up with cries of ‘don’t leave me hanging’ so proceed at your own risk.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

People Actually Read That?

I have a pretty eclectic taste in music. Oddly enough, the same can’t be said for books. I like a few genres and when I read outside those genres, I usually don’t enjoy the books I read. As a writer, I also write in only a few specific genres. Actually, I write in one genre with a few subgenres attached to it. Every book I write is a romance novel. It could be a young adult romance or a contemporary romance but mostly it’s contemporary erotic romance.

When I say that I write contemporary erotic romance that means the characters in my books have sex. For that reason, those characters are typically adults in a consensual relationship. For the most part, I’ve stuck to pretty traditional relationships for my characters, meaning a man and woman are having sex. Sure, I’ve introduced a few toys or added some element of risk for the setting, but I haven’t stepped outside that box of what’s considered typical.

My sex scenes may fall under the category of what’s expected, but I’ve certainly read plenty of authors pushing the envelope, expanding boundaries and just plain getting down and dirty. I can hear you now. Can you give us an example of what those clich├ęs mean? Yes, I can.

Lately, I’ve noticed that polyamorous relationships are cropping up in several of the novels I read. In case you don’t know, a polyamorous relationship is one involving multiple partners. It’s the pretty way of saying a three-way or a gang bang. I know, I know, it sounds like a turnoff. If you’re an uptight person, it is a turnoff.  To those of us a little more open minded, if you read a few romance novels with this plot point, you see that it works when told well. And no, the conflict doesn’t always have to revolve around the participants being jealous of one another.

I’ve also seen more and more same sex romance novels. Yes, gay romance. Some are good and some aren’t. That’s true with any book, but when they’re done well, readers can focus on the love story without getting hung up on the biology. At least, an open minded reader can. A reader who doesn’t agree with homosexuality or doesn’t care for gay romance isn’t likely to enjoy a story of this nature no matter how well written I think it is.

There’s also another trend that I have to admit falls under the “that skeeves me out” category and I like to consider myself pretty open minded in the romance novel department. I’m talking about those stepbrother romances. If you’re a romance reader, you’ve seen them. They’re everywhere with titles like Falling for My Stepbrother, I Married my Stepbrother and the not so subtle I’m Doing my Stepbrother. I don’t have a stepbrother, nor do I have any stepchildren, but I know plenty of people who do. From what I’ve seen, most stepsiblings grow up feeling and being treated like biological siblings. It’s that hint of incest that makes me uncomfortable, but these novels are popular enough to not only be sold but to become bestsellers.

Recently, I even learned about something called dino-porn. I’m not kidding. It’s real and it’s just like it sounds. The plot of the story revolves around humans and prehistoric creatures in sexual relationships. Now, that’s not my cup of tea, but it someone’s. In fact, let me just go on record now as saying the whole bestiality thing just doesn’t do it for me. Don’t read it and won’t write it.

These are just a few examples of what’s out there and before you turn your nose up at it, I’m here to tell you that people are reading it. Authors are making a living at writing these stories and some of them are making a better living than I am with my contemporary erotic romance novels.

With so much diversity in romance, it’s difficult not to be inspired to try something new. No, I’m not writing dino-porn, but I do think it’s time to grow a little as an author. I’m never going to write a student-teacher novel, but I’m thinking of trying my hand at polyamory or gay romance. There’s a market for it so why not give it a try? No, I’m not selling out or looking for a quick buck. Readers’ tastes are changing and I want to change with it. Sure, someone may read my next book and decide it’s not for them, but someone else may love it.

Music has changed with the times. What we listened to in the fifties isn’t what we listen to now though its influence can be heard. I suppose the same should be true for books. What do you say? I’m ready to write some gay romance? Who’s ready to read it? Because yes, people actually read that and so much more!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Why Are you Begging for Reviews?

Earlier this year, I made myself a promise. Rather than just using social media to promote my own books, I was going to actively seek out new authors. I wanted to make sure I was doing my part to help my peers. If I want help, I have to give it in return right? In theory, that’s true, but I’ve discovered a few things that have left me with a bad taste in my mouth and they have to do with reviews.

There are a number of groups on Facebook dedicated to book promotion, authors, reviews and the like. Authors can post links to buy their book, solicit reviews and share news about upcoming releases, book tours, and so on. Most authors tend to post a copy of their book cover with a small blurb about the book and the links to buy. I started to notice that very few were responding to requests for reviews and review swaps. The review swap is just like it sounds. Authors trade copies of their books and review them for one another, making sure to post those reviews online.

My first venture into the review swap foray did not go well. The author asking to trade reviews was a non-fiction author whose latest release was a cookbook. The only valid way for me to review the book would be to test the recipes which I did not want to do. When I politely tried to back out for that reason, the author said she also had fiction novels that she would trade reviews for. I agreed and thought we were ready to proceed only to find out that the author wasn’t interested in reading my work because my books aren’t available through the Kindle store. Okay, then! 

The second time I offered to review an author’s work, it was because she posted a request in the Facebook group that no one was responding to. I suspect no one responded because she wasn’t doing a review for review request. However, she was offering a free copy of the book. I accepted and thoroughly enjoyed the book, but I was dismayed when I logged into Amazon and Goodreads to post my reviews and found more than fifty 4 and 5 star reviews already existed for this work. Why would this author need to solicit reviews when the book was already being well reviewed?

A variation of this happened again this week. An author offered to swap reviews and said he would read any genre in return. I agreed to read his book and was even kind enough to explain that I write contemporary erotic romance so I would understand if he didn’t want to read my book in return though I’d appreciate it. Not only did he send me his book and thank me for letting him off the hook to read mine, but again I find that he has more than thirty reviews on Amazon. Only one was a 1 star review, the rest were 4 and 5 star reviews

People, why are you out there begging for more reviews? Okay, yes, I’m sure the number of reviews dictates how heavily the book is promoted, where it’s ranked, etc., but damn it, you should be lucky you’re getting the reviews you are. One year ago, the first Taking on Love book was released and it has four maybe five reviews on Goodreads. I have even fewer reviews on Barnes and Noble. My point? I would give anything to have thirty or more reviews and I would not be out there actively trolling for more without giving anything back in return.

So, I’ve come to a decision. From now on, I will not do a solicited review unless the author has fewer than ten reviews. I will happily continue to review all the books I purchase on my own as a thank you to the author. I want him or her to know how much I enjoyed his work.

I’m sure some of my peers will disagree with what I’ve said here and my decision not to review your work if your reviews are already rolling in. Maybe one day, I’ll see the other side of this coin. Until then, I keep asking myself, why are you people with double digit review numbers begging for reviews the rest of us with fewer could really use?