How to Annoy Readers: Ending a Book Without Ending the Story

As part of my effort to whittle down my pile of books waiting to be read, I chose one to read last week that had been sitting on my Kindle for probably more than a year.

It started off strong, but got pretty bogged down in the middle with a rather sedate plot and characters that thought about, talked about, and did the same things over and over. Nothing quite bad enough to set the unfinished book aside and the subject matter interested me, so I kept on. As I got closer to finishing the book, I eyeballed my “% remaining” and wondered how on earth the author was ever going to wrap up all of the plot lines that she had going on before I got to the end. The short answer: she didn’t.

I must confess that this annoyed me quite a lot. The book is the first in a series, so I understand setting things up for the next installment in the series and I get the need to have plot and character arcs that span a series. But each book should be able to stand on its own as a complete story with complete arcs. To me, deliberately leaving every major plot line involving multiple characters dangling at the end was not a cliffhanger, or a way to stimulate interest in continuing the series. It’s like getting to the end of a mystery book and having to read the next one to find out whodunnit. To know how this particular book ends, I have to read the next book. It felt manipulative.

After a reader has devoted hours of their time reading your story and (hopefully) has become invested in the lives of your characters, I think an author owes the reader the satisfaction of a complete story. To do otherwise risks leaving the reader feeling cheated or frustrated. If you’ve created compelling characters and set up an interesting premise for the next book, most readers won’t be able to help themselves from picking up the next book in the series. Seems to me to be much better to have a willing reader than one who has been dragged to the next book through trickery.

Out of curiosity, I looked at the next titles in the series and saw comments in several reviews that the author continued this pattern in the next four books (which I don’t plan to read, partly because the pace of this book was so slow and my TBR stack is still so large and because I’m annoyed with the ending-that-wasn’t-an-ending).

Is it just me, or would this annoy you as a reader also?

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