Like most writers, I am against it. But there are a few out there who give the rest of us a bad name. Their plan is to get as much money as they can out of a reader, even if they have to bamboozle them to do it. One out and out scam that, hopefully, has bitten the dust, was the few thousand word story being hawked as a novel. Amazon caught on to this pretty quickly and now the author has to state up-front what the word count is. The author can still charge whatever they think the traffic will bear, but at least the savvy reader knows how long the book is going to be.
The latest that seems to be going around, at least in the light romance circles, is the not-quite-the-end-of-the-story scenario. This is often discovered by the reader at the last chapter of the book. Giving the reader an unfinished story so they have to buy the next book and the next and the next to find out how things end may be de rigueur in some circles. But if the reader is led to believe they are reading a book with a beginning, middle, and an end and that’s not the case, it’s just plain tacky business.
If I ever write a story that is so long it needs to be in three, four, or more books, I feel it is incumbent upon me to tell the reader. And probably several times. I’m not against long stories. Hawaii, by James Michener, has a word count of 234,250 words. Of course, he managed to get it all in one book. I spent one summer reading it and have the biceps to prove it. The book weighed in at over a pound. Sure, it’s 937 pages and I needed a wheelbarrow to get the hard copy home, but I knew what I was getting into from the start.
I have a friend who is an avid reader. Avid. For years she has been reading my manuscripts in their working stages. She is tremendously helpful in catching errors or finding parts of the storyline that don’t quite make sense. During the pandemic, she found herself reading six or more hours a day. She has yet to buck the habit. She goes through thirty, forty books a month. A perfect person to enroll in the $10 a month Amazon all-you-can-read-until-your-eyes-fall-out program better known as Kindle Unlimited. So she did.
She found herself reading a book that was — with no announcement this was the case — a cliffhanger. She got the first book for free, but the 2nd was going to cost her an additional $4.99 to find out the conclusion of the story. She bought the second book but the story still didn’t end. She would have to pay another $4.99. My friend stopped reading the ‘series’ whose style seem to be similar to the Perils of Pauline, a 1914 American melodrama film serial, shown in bi-weekly installments. If a writer wants to do that, fine. But you have to let the reader know in no uncertain terms that the book is not a stand-alone, but an ongoing story. My friend doesn’t know what happened to the hero and heroine and no longer cares. She is no longer invested. Because she feels like the author’s patsy.
The most recent thing that happened to her was a series announced as being ‘free’ actually costing her thirty-one dollars and change. She found that out when she checked her monthly Amazon bill. I told her the books could be returned, especially as she was unclear on the concept. This might even be true if she had finished reading them. My friend had no idea as to how to return Kindle ebooks but is making it her business to find out. That’s often what people who feel snookered do.
Yes, she reads a whole lot of books, and misunderstandings are bound to happen. I can’t speak for other authors, but I feel one of my jobs is to keep my readers happy. Even on the rare occasion when a reader misreads the date of one of my ebooks being free and sends me an email with ‘what-the-hey’, I will usually gift them the book then and there. It costs me a little bit of money, but I do get royalties, it does increase my numbers, and the goodwill from doing this is immeasurable.
Whether a book is offered for free or not is another story for another time. That decision is up to each writer. Some believe in it, some don’t. But whatever I write and offer up to the reader, I try to make crystal clear. The reader is above all, the main purpose of my work. This is a marriage, of sorts. And I don’t want anybody divorcing me because they feel I’ve taken advantage of them.
On another note, I am proud to say almost every writer I hang out with (present company included) feels pretty much the same way. We write. We don’t bamboozle.