I just sent off a short story to my writing group in preparation for our critique meeting next month. And now I’m ready to tackle something else. When I started thinking about my writing as a job, it ramped up my productivity even more than I imagined. Each time I finish a project, I find it easier to jump into the next one. This milestone had me thinking about ‘finishing’ in general both from a reading perspective and a writing perspective. There is something so powerful in finishing. Doesn’t matter what we’re talking about, finishing ‘it’ is sometimes the best part. The finish line of a race, savasana at the end of a yoga practice, a big project completion, birth after pregnancy, summer after a school year is over, ‘The End’ of a good book…
So why is it that so many stories I’ve read recently DO NOT HAVE ENDINGS? It seems like the current trend in genre fiction – or maybe I just picked all the wrong books to read lately? Either way, it couldn’t turn me off more as a reader. So you’re writing a series and you want me on the hook to read all of them? Guess what, you better give me satisfaction with at least some kind of conclusion to the conflict central to that specific book or I’m never going to pick up the next one. No matter how good the writing was or how interesting the characters are. I understand wanting to leave some kind of a hook at the end so I want to keep reading but don’t end on a cliffhanger with absolutely nothing resolved and expect me to pick up another thing you’ve written. Ever.
One of the themes at LTUE and asked in panels over and over again was how to sell a series if you’re not a published writer yet. Without fail, every publisher and agent who was asked this question said (and I’m paraphrasing) that you write the first one, query it as a standalone “with series potential” and then move on to other projects. Those other projects they all said should not be the second or third book in the series. It makes sense. Why spend all that time and effort of novel writing if there’s no market for the first one. (Of course, if you are going the route of independent publishing one could argue differently. However, I would still say it’s safer to write one and see if the demand for another is out there before I spent another year on a series.) Never once in any of these panels with professionals did they say, just write half or almost a novel, sell it and hope your readers will pick up the “series potential” in the second one. No one wants to read a book that doesn’t have the ending. So why then are there no less than five novels (most of them young adult but not all) that come to mind that got professionally published without endings? I won’t name names but pressed to do so I could rattle them off. Why? Because I was SO MAD when I read them that the lack of ending is what stuck with me. For all of them.
When it comes to writing, it is harder than I thought this finish something then move on to a new project. I’m taking my own advice right now as difficult as it is. The story I just wrote started as an idea for a novel-length work but I decided to write it as a short story. Why? So I can submit it to writing contests and other market avenues that may go further in progressing my career toward publication. I can always go back and add the rest of the story in later if there is a market for it. Or I decide I want to because I’ve finished something else and have no new ideas for the next project. It may be that this fabulous world and characters with tons of things I alone know about them right now may never get written by doing it this way. I’m looking at it as working smarter not harder and, for the moment, I’m trusting the professionals and gambling a bit for the payoff.
Tell me, how do you feel about unfinished books when you read them? Are others more indulgent of their favorite authors or am I one of the few readers who find this an unforgivable offense? As an author, I vow I will never publish a story without an ending! (I know, never say never will probably come back to haunt me but I will be surprised if it ever does in this regard…)