Haters gonna hate.

Charles Dickins’ Pickwick Papers made serial novels popular way before the internet

So maybe this post will end up preaching to the choir, I don’t know. I’m not sure it will change anyone’s mind on anything, but I feel it needs to be said.

Lately, I’ve seen a rash of reviews on Amazon whereby readers leave 1 star reviews for books that are serial novels or part of a tight trilogy with a cliffhanger ending. I don’t have a problem with people who dislike this form of literature. I personally enjoy an ongoing series that hooks me into the next book, as long as I don’t have to wait years in between installments. But they’re not for everyone. I get that, and I respect that.

What I don’t respect is when people leave horrible reviews criticizing authors for ‘duping’ them, ‘tricking’ them or ‘cheating’ them because the book in question is not a stand alone novel with everything fully resolved at the end, particularly if the book in question makes clear in the product description what is is. (Ie: A serial novel of xyz length, or a tight trilogy with a cliffhanger ending.)

The biggest critiques seemed to be aimed at self-published authors who are trying to be ‘greedy’. One commenter on a review of a popular serial novel (not any of my books, but an 8 part serial of 20k length ‘volumes’ priced at $2.99 that have hit the NYT bestseller chart and one of which is in the top 10 of Amazon right now) even went so far as to encourage people to read and return the books so they could read the series without paying for it.

WTF? This is stealing, just as an FYI. When you buy, read and return a book on Amazon, that is docked from the AUTHOR’s pay. You are STEALING a book as surely as if you went into a bookstore and stuck it under your shirt and snuck out with it. THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE.

Here’s my beef with these reviews. If you don’t like serials, or books with cliffhanger endings, DON’T BUY THEM. I’m not sure why this is even a problem. Most of these books are clearly marked as such. If you took two seconds to read the product description, you’d learn if it was part of a series and how long the book is and could then decide whether or not you want to part with your hard-earned money and invest your time in reading it.

If you don’t take 30 seconds to do this, but instead click and buy on impulse, then don’t come screaming back to the author when you don’t like the format the book is in.

As authors, we have very few options of how to make clear what kind of book our book is. When almost all purchases are made online, we can’t rely on you seeing the size of the book before you even pick it up to look at it. We have to assume that you, dear reader, are savvy enough to note the page number and product description so you can make an intelligent purchase.

Now, I’ve fallen victim to getting something at discount or free thinking it was one thing, then finding out it was something else because I’d failed to read the product description. Bad on me. I learned my lesson and certainly didn’t go yelling at the author for it.

This series I mentioned, the 8 part serial novel that has been such a success, it clearly states everything you need to know about it before you buy it. Maybe I’m in the minority here, but I don’t feel it’s right to leave a bad review for a book if the SOLE reason you are marking it down is because it actually IS what is said it would be. If a book says it’s a 20k word volume in an 8 part series, and it turns out to in fact be a 20k world volume in an 8 part series, why leave a 1 star review on Amazon for it? You got what you paid for, what was advertised, and now you are complaining about it. Shame on you.

What’s even more stunning about these reviews is that many of these readers loved the book, but were so pissed that it wasn’t a stand alone, they left a 1 star and said they would never read another book by this author again. WHAT? Overreact much?

As for those who complain that authors are ‘breaking books apart to make more money’ or ‘tricking readers out of greed’, I have a few thoughts about that. Firstly, let’s use this serial example again. There are 8 books out, at 20k each. That’s 160k words. Most contemporary romance novels (which is what this is) range anywhere from 40k to 85k according to the Romance Writers of America contest guidelines. Given those guidelines, this series could be anywhere from 2-4 novels, if put into full length novel form, but it’s certainly not 1 book as many reviewers suggest. The author in this case is charging $2.99 per volume, which I think is a fair amount for a novella length work. A full length novel can be priced anywhere from free to $14.99.

And herein lies the problem. There’s such a wide array of pricing options for books, that it’s no longer a matter of length, professional quality or even publisher. I’ve seen traditionally published full length novels sell anywhere from $2.99 to $14.99. But if an independent author tries to price a book much higher than $4.99 or maybe $5.99, they have a much harder time selling it. Even at these prices, it gets hard for some. People seem to expect that indie authors should be cheap to free, not considering the fact that we pay out of pocket for our cover art, editing, marketing and everything else.

It’s not cheap to publish books, not when you do it with quality in mind. So why shouldn’t an author who has worked hard on these books make a fair income from them? Few people balk at paying $4 for a cup of coffee at Starbucks, something that’s gone in 15 minutes, but they balk at spending less than that for a book that took considerable money and time to create.

I know I’m ranting here a bit, and I apologize, but to see so many authors and books under attack for making a living at their work, and for publishing in a format that’s been around since the Victorian era, makes me angry.

Many accuse indies of bringing this format into publishing, but Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers helped popularize the serial novel, and quite a few novels during that time were published in installments in monthly or weekly magazines and newspapers.

This isn’t new, dear readers. Not at all. The internet and new publishing trends are just allowing us to bring it back, and that’s a good thing.

Why This Format is So Popular

With the advent of the internet and bite-sized media, having smaller, easier to read installments of books is becoming more and more popular. People are busier than ever, and over-inundated with information. By breaking a book down into smaller bits that can be read more quickly, it makes books and reading more accessible to a larger number of readers.

Furthermore, we are a television generation, and these serial novels and tight trilogies (which I define as a three book series of full length novels that each have an arc, but also have an unresolved plot line that continues through all three until its resolution in the final book) hook people in the same way the cliffhanger endings at the end of your favorite television drama hook you and keep you coming back for more.

I’m much more inclined to continue reading or watching something that grips me in this way and makes me desperate to know what happens next, then if everything is tied up neatly and all of my questions are answered.

Is this greedy? No. But it is storytelling, and it is a business. We, as writers, want people to keep reading our books. We want people to feel a burning need to keep reading the next chapter or book or installment. And we have to compete against a lot of other bright shiny things trying to grab your attention.

Furthermore, not all story lines can be resolved in one book, even a very long book.

And here’s a sad truth, but it must be faced. Even if an author was inclined to break the mold and write a 200k word book (which is only considered an appropriate length for epic fantasy), so that all the story lines and plots are fully resolved as a stand alone novel, they would either have a hard time selling it to an agent and publisher (there are strict rules about how long certain books in certain genres should be), or they’d have to price it very low to self-publish it, because there seems to be an unwillingness to pay much for books that aren’t from big publishers or already-famous authors.

Now, if you’re Neil Gaiman, you can publish a book likeThe Ocean at the End of the Lane, which is only 56,000 words, and get away with a $12.80 price point for the ebook.

a short novel, but well worth the read

I’m a huge fan of Neil Gaiman, and I bought and read this book and loved it completely, but I also know that I couldn’t charge that for even my omnibus sets of books that include 3 books and nearly 300,000 words, no matter how well written, because I am not Neil Gaiman.


Where Do We Go From Here?

What’s the point of this article? In part to show that the trend of serial novels and trilogies is not a new thing, not something indie authors have conspired to create in order to rob unsuspecting readers, and not a bad thing.

They are fun! They are a way for fans to get books faster from their favorite authors. A way to engage in an ongoing story and become more involved in the characters and their lives. A way to live in that world for much longer than if it was just one book.

And a way for authors who enjoy writing ongoing series to make a living entertaining their fans. And a way for them to experiment with different story lines and POVs, or to play with genre tropes, or to try new plot lines out.

There are some big WIN-WINs for readers and writers of serial novels and trilogies, and I hope writers aren’t scared off by the criticism being levied against those who have been successful in this art form. Clearly, enough readers enjoy these types of books that they are making it to the bestselling lists.

I also wrote this post to encourage people to take care when writing a review. If you didn’t like a book, that’s fine. Was the writing bad? The plot weak? Go at it with your review. Did you just not like it as a story? You’re entitled.

But are you giving a 1 or 2 star to a well-written book on principle because you’re trying to make a point that serial novel and books with cliffhanger endings shouldn’t be written at all? Because that’s just silly and cruel.

Please, before you leave a review like that, go back and read the product description. If the book makes clear what it is, and you still chose to buy and read it, then think twice before gutting it publicly. You hurt the author unnecessarily. Can’t we acknolwoedge that while you might not like this format, others do, and authors have every right to engage in writing serial novels and cliffhanger books if they want? You aren’t being forced to buy or read them, but why try to drum them out of business entirely?

Instead, why not just move on? Pay more attention to the product description and buy books that are stand alone novels?

Haters gonna hate, but why? Let’s put aside this hate and find books we love. There’s no shortage of great books out there from serials to trilogies to stand alone novels. There’s something for everyone and all formats have their place in this new digital age.