Dear Author had a lively discussion of cliffhangers in romance last week. The conversation ranged beyond cliffhangers to series books (how self-contained should each installment be) and serialized novels, i.e., ones in which the story unfolds over several volumes. On Twitter, Jane asked whether readers would buy a serialized novel and there didn’t seem to be much support for the idea.
I thought about this for a while and wondered why people aren’t interested in serials anymore. Some of the great 19th-century authors published novels in installments, and one of the great pleasures of reading the San Francisco Chronicle in the 1970s was waiting for the next installment of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City.
While we eagerly watch mini-series and season-long drama arcs on TV, romance readers seem less willing to make the transition to serialized novels. And I realized I was just as reluctant: I’d been hearing good things from a variety of sources about Ginn Hale’s new m/m fantasy serial from Blind Eye Books, The Rifter. It comprises 10 volumes, each about 100 pages and each issued monthly. You can buy them individually or buy the entire series at once (there’s a 25% discount if you choose the latter, with corresponding discounts if you’ve already purchased single installments). Even with the discount, it’s not an inexpensive series, but it’s not crazy prices either.
Almost fail-safe, one might say. But still I dithered. Could I stand having to wait if I liked it? If I didn’t, would I just keep buying new installments thinking they might change? Oh, the uncertainty.
How ridiculous. I buy entire novels on spec for more than the first installment costs. So I bit the bullet and bought Part 1. I sat down to read it when I had a free hour and was instantly swept into her world. The writing was just as wonderful as people said, and the worldbuilding looks to be first-rate. I won’t review it here, for a variety of reasons. There are several helpful reviews out there if you want more details; I find it difficult to review one-tenth of a book; and that’s not really the point of this post.
My point, and yes I do have one, is that I’m actually enjoying the serialized aspect of it. I knew when I started Part 1 that I would probably feel as if I’d only read a tidbit. It was definitely more than that, but the installment ended at a spot where I would have loved to keep going. And, had I chosen to, I could have immediately started reading Part 2, since it was available. But I didn’t. Oh, I went and bought the whole series and I did download the next installment. But it’s sitting on
my TheHusband’s NookColor, waiting for me him (I’ll have to give the NC back when he returns to town and he’s an even bigger SFF fan than I am. But it’s not DRM’d and I can switch to my Kindle).
I’m waiting to read Part 2 because I’m still savoring my reaction to the first installment. I think I’ll read it again, and after that I’ll go on to the next one. And since Part 3 releases tomorrow, I’ll have one in the on-deck circle until next month. At some point I’m going to start going crazy waiting for the next installment to show up, but that happens with every serialized form of entertainment (The Wire, anyone? Buffy cliffhangers in Seasons 1-4)?
Maybe cliffhangers don’t work in straight romance novels as well. I haven’t thought deeply about the differences. But while cliffhangers and the wait for the next episode in some kinds of fiction and TV can be hard, they’re accompanied by a delicious sense of anticipation when they’re well done. No one enjoys being jerked around. But stretching out the suspense, under the right circumstances, enhances my enjoyment rather than diminishing it.
The unexpected bonus of the serial form is that it forces me to reflect and relive what I’ve read, rather than rush to the next chapter. Romance readers especially read so many books, so quickly, that we don’t always savor the moment. At least I’m guilty of that. With The Rifter, I’m reminded how much fun it can be to delay gratification, and how often does that happen?
Ginn Hale will be interviewed over at Jessewave’s site this Wednesday. I’m looking forward to hearing more about what I’ll be reading for the next year.