Posts tagged with: Ava Blackstone

The Same…But Different: Using Popular Tropes to Make Your Romance Novel a Familiar Favorite With an Exciting Twist

Romance novels are all about the tropes. What’s a trope? A premise / plot device so popular a bajillion (that’s a scientific term) books have used it. Like an accidental pregnancy. Or a woman who falls for her brother’s best friend. Or a secret baby.

Maybe this is one of the reasons people sometimes criticize romance novels for being formulaic. And, sometimes, they can be. I’m a total sucker for a good brother’s-best-friend story, but I don’t want to read the same brother’s-best-friend story over and over. I want the same trope, but a different story.

As writers, it’s important to make sure that, if we’re using a familiar trope, we’re putting a unique spin on it. But how do we do that?

There are all kinds of strategies, but here are a few ideas to get you thinking:

  • Take a familiar trope into a new time period, location, or world.
    • Example: The Selection by Kiera Cass
      •  The Trope: A Bachelor-style competition where a prince will choose his wife
      •  The Twist: Make it dystopian
  • Turn the trope on its head: 
  • Blend two (or more!) tropes together:
Free Falling in Love by Ava Blackstone

How many tropes can I fit into one romance novel? Let’s see: (1) Mistaken identity, (2) Opposites attract, (3) Friends to lovers, (4) Office romance

When I sat down to plot Free Falling in Love, the fifth book in my Voretti Family series, I knew I wanted the hero, Alex, to switch places with his brother Matt. Because—come on. They’re identical twins. You didn’t expect me to write an entire book featuring a hero who had an identical twin without the two of them switching places a couple times, did you?

The problem was, I watched waaaay too many versions of The Parent Trap growing up, so the idea of Alex and Matt deciding to switch places felt predictable and stale.

Not to mention that, over the course of the previous four books in the series, I’d given Alex, a responsible, color-inside-the-lines personality. Why would this Type-A rule follower choose to switch places with his unreliable twin?

He wouldn’t.

Time to scrap the whole idea?

Not quite, because putting the twin-switch trope together with Alex’s rule-following personality gave me an idea. I could make the twin switch an accident. So, through a combination of a flat tire and bad timing, Alex’s coworker, Nikki, mistakes him for his twin. And he doesn’t realize what’s going on until after she blows his mind with the Best Kiss Ever.

Poor Alex.

Don’t feel too sorry for him, though. He gets the girl in the end.

What about you? What romance novel tropes have you used in your books? How have you made them your own?

The Book Description and Ad Copy are Your Friends

A while ago, I wrote a blog post about why I had (reluctantly) embraced the synopsis. You can read the whole thing here, but the basic idea is this: by writing the synopsis before I started to write the book, I could make sure I had a story that was properly structured, with turning points in all the right places, so that it built to a satisfying climax.

Now that I’m self-publishing, I don’t write synopses anymore, but I do still outline my key turning-point scenes before I start writing. That’s a whole lot easier than writing a polished synopsis—yay!

Unfortunately, I’m not off the hook. The synopsis hurdle has simply been replaced by two others. Now I have to write the book description (that blurb you find on the back cover of the print book and on the book page at Amazon, iBooks, Kobo, etc.) and the copy for any ads I want to run to promote the book.

I could save all this fun stuff (yes, that was sarcasm) for after I finish the book, but just like with my synopsis, I’ve found that it makes more sense for me to write them beforehand. Why? Because, left to my own devices, I write these convoluted plots that I absolutely adore, but that take pages and pages to explain to a reader. And, in a Facebook ad or book description, I don’t have pages.

By writing the ad copy and book description first, I know whether I can distill my hook down to a couple of short, compelling sentences. If not, no problem. I simply tweak the concept until I can—and I don’t have to rewrite a single word of my manuscript.

I start by writing my ad copy, because it’s the shortest. With only a couple of sentences to play around with, I stick with my hook rather than trying to give the reader a detailed description of the plot. I like to start with any popular romance tropes I’m planning to include in the book, and then show that I’ve put a unique spin on the tropes.

Example Facebook Ad - Pretty in Ink by Ava Blackstone

For example, the third book in my Voretti family series, Pretty in Ink, has both friends-to-lovers & fake relationship tropes. To put a unique spin on these familiar tropes, I gave my heroine an inconvenient tattoo of her ex-boyfriend’s name. Her (very conservative) parents are about to get their first look at the tattoo, and to keep them from freaking out and pulling the loan they’ve promised her to start her new business, she needs a boyfriend they approve of, with a name that matches her tattoo—and her childhood crush just happens to fit the bill. So, putting the tropes together with my unique spin, I came up with the following ad copy:

Liv needs a fake boyfriend whose name matches her tattoo. But can she survive a month with her childhood crush without falling in love for real?

You might have noticed that it doesn’t have all the details of my hook, like why Liv needs a boyfriend with a name that matches her tattoo—in a Facebook ad, I just don’t have the space—but it (hopefully) has enough to interest potential readers.

For my book description, I have more space, so I can expand on the ad copy to give some more detail. For Pretty in Ink, here’s my description:


Never close your eyes while you’re getting a tattoo—even if you have a pathological fear of needles.

All Liv Voretti wanted was a small, tasteful butterfly tattoo. What she got was her (now ex-) boyfriend’s name—the worst goodbye present in the history of the universe. With the tattoo about to be revealed thanks to a strapless bridesmaid dress, Liv comes up with a desperate plan to keep her judgmental parents from pulling their loan for her clothing design business. Convince the stable, responsible, incredibly hot family friend—who happens to have the same name as her ex—to pretend to be her boyfriend.

Even with your eyes open, sometimes it’s hard to see what’s right in front of you.

The Vorettis are the closest thing to family Caleb has, and he’s not about to risk that relationship for a fling with Liv. She’d be bored with his predictable, color-inside-the-lines lifestyle inside a week. They’re just not compatible, even if she is the last person he thinks about before he falls asleep.

But when Liv comes to him for help, he can’t say no—not when he’s the reason she ended up with her jerk of an ex in the first place. But as their pretend relationship becomes all too real, Caleb must decide whether he’s going to stick to the plan, or take a chance on a woman who isn’t the person he’s looking for, but might be exactly who he needs.


Once I have my ad copy and book description done, it’s time for the easy part (yep, more sarcasm)—writing the book.

What about you? Do you like writing ad copy & book descriptions? Hate it? Any tips and tricks to share?

Writing Books With Overlapping Timelines

Stack of BooksI’ve always been fascinated by the idea that the same set of events from the point-of-view of two different people can result in two completely different stories. So it shouldn’t have surprised me that I’d end up writing books with overlapping timelines—that way I get to explore the same events from multiple perspectives. But, the first time it happened, it was a complete surprise. I’d written what was supposed to be a standalone romance novella, but toward the end, the heroine’s brother made a surprise announcement that he was getting married. I wanted to know what had brought him to the altar so quickly, so I decided to write his story. And, let me tell you, coming up with a satisfying story arc that didn’t conflict with the events of the previous book almost killed me. So, of course, I decided to do it again.

After struggling through the overlapping-timelines thing with a second pair of books, I’ve come up with a few guidelines for myself, in case I ever decide to attempt this craziness again, and I’m sharing them with you here.

Minimize the actual overlap

Be conscious of which book A scenes include / are relevant to the characters from book B, because you’re probably going to have to show them (or at least mention them) in book B.

Let’s take a birthday party. If the main characters from books A and B both attend the party, it might seem strange to show the party in book A, but not mention it in book B. But if the scene was designed to move the arc of book A forward, it might not fit well with the arc of book B.

Catching CleoBecause it’s difficult to write scenes that move both stories forward, I try to make sure there aren’t too many of them. Books 4 & 5 of my Voretti Family series start with the same scene (from the perspective of different characters, of course). But, while book 4 takes place over the course of a few weeks, the majority of book 5 takes place months after book 4 ends. So, while I have a few scenes that you see in both books, the majority of each book is unique. Thus, I could design most scenes to move the arc of their specific book forward without worrying about the other book.

Plot it out

For those plotters out there, it might help to plot both books before you start writing the first. That way, if there’s something you have to change in book A to fit with the plot line in book B, you know about it before you’ve written hundreds of pages. I note the day that each scene in books A & B takes place so that I can tell if I have any conflicts or inconsistencies between books.

Just say no

Even with all the planning and plotting in the world, it’s still really hard. So don’t do it, Ava. Just don’t do it anymore. (Who am I kidding? I’m totally going to do it again. What can I say? I’m an addict.)

What about you? Have you ever written books with overlapping timelines? Do you like reading them?

Is Short The New Long?

Writing a great short story used to be the training ground for writers. Hemingway started his career by writing them, as did Stephen King, and many renown others.

For many years, the appetite for short stories, nearly disappeared, cutting the number of magazines that included them substantially, and leaving only classic short stories on the book shelves. However, I believe the tide is changing among today’s readers. Their time is limited and there are times when they just want something worthy and short while they’re waiting in a doctor’s office or school parking lot.

Also, many are now reading on their phones, and reading a short story is more feasible on the small device.

This month, I dove into the short market with a novelette titled Perfect Moments. It released on February first. I was nervous about writing it because shorts have a totally different writing style than a full length novel. It was a learning experience, but after receiving emails from readers requesting to know whether Elizabeth and Bob Kincaid (from Perfect) made it home from their overseas duty, I decided to give Elizabeth and Bob their story. Their short.

Another reason I decided to try my hand at writing a short story was because today’s reader wants more product from an author, and quicker. I’m comfortable writing a full length novel in a year, sometimes nine months. But to write quicker, I know the quality of my work would decline. I want to continue to improve my craft, not hinder it. So to feed my fans cravings, writing short stories might be the way to go.


I asked my Ruby Sisters their thoughts on writing short stories.


Rita Henuber said she wrote her short stories because, “I have many stories bumping around inside my skull. Characters screaming at me to tell their story. Some are absolutely not full length novel material. All but one in my collection of short stories began with an experience of mine. I had to write them.”

And Jeannie Lyn said, I actually LOVE shorts and think they’re a great way to pack a punch in a short amount of space as well as introduce writers to your voice. The last short story that I wrote was meant to be an introduction to my steampunk world for new readers and a little bonus for existing readers.”

Ruby sister Ava Blackstone stated she wrote a short after reading an article in her RWA chapter’s newsletter about writing for Woman’s World. “I decided to give it a try. I found that short stories were great palate cleansers when I was sick of my main WIP. I also liked the freedom to experiment with different writing styles without worrying that I was wasting months on something that might not work.”

And Vivi Andrews stated, “I’ve always written short stories for anthologies, usually with open submission calls that provided the opportunity to get my writing in front of more readers.  My little gateway stories to lure readers into my world. 🙂  This spring I’ll be participating in the 2nd RWA Anthology.”

I then asked the sisters if they found writing shorts difficult? I know I found it challenging not to add more conflict, more points of view, more of everything.

Vivi said, “Actually, I don’t find them difficult at all.  I was nervous initially about stepping out of my comfort zone, but I wound up loving the opportunity to tell more compact romances.”


Rita stated, “Not at all. I enjoyed writing the shorts and the side benefit of stopping those people in my head screaming. I view shorts as a moment in time. A snapshot event giving the reader something to ponder.”


Jeannie started writing shorts before she wrote novels. “I have a totally different mindset when I switch back to writing shorts. They’re not just shorter novel storylines — the way I plot and present a short story is entirely different than what I do in a novel.”


Ava said, Writing that first short story definitely required a paradigm shift. I had to come up with a much smaller-scale conflict than I was used to writing so that I could wrap things up realistically in 800 words. It helped me to think about it as though I was writing a scene instead of a novel. So then it was just a matter of coming up with a compelling scene that could stand on its own.”





So why write shorts? I’d heard shorts help with sales on other books, especially if their part of a series. Perfect Moments just released, so I don’t have a track record to share, so again I questioned my sisters who had published short stories.



Jeannie stated, I actually have found it helpful bringing in new readers with shorts. Since my settings and worlds are not so mainstream, I think readers find shorts an easy way to get a feel for me without having to commit to a novel. Short stories with direct tie-ins and characters from other series are the best way to go in terms of hooking readership. Teaming up with other authors in anthologies is a also a great strategy for getting that first look.”

Ava had a different use for her short story. I give it away to readers who sign up for my mailing list, and it has worked great as an incentive to drive signups. I’m planning to write another short to go along with my next Ava Blackstone book.”





If you’re considering writing a short story, I have some advice.

  • Read short stories. There are many; The International Thriller Writers have released collections titled Face Off. And, I know the Mystery Writers also release an annual collection. Then you have classics like William Faulkner’s That Evening Sun.
  • Pick your story’s moment or moments that really matter and write about them.
  • Stay with one main character.
  • No subplots.
  • Write more words than you need and then pick the words that show don’t tell, show character’s change, and that moves the story forward.
  • Go through the same editing steps as you would for a novel.


 My sisters also offered advice or suggestions?

Rita said, “I go by what I love to read. IMO a short story is for a reader’s experience. I will also say I think there is a difference between what is considered a short story to a novella. With a novella, because of its larger word count, I expect story structure, GMC, story resolution, the whole enchilada. Shorter stories can certainly have all that good stuff but I think of them as a bite of the enchilada not the whole thing.

Vivi offered this advice, “I didn’t take any online courses or read any books on the subject.  I will strongly recommend that anyone looking to write short consider the kind of conflicts that can be resolved quickly.  If you give your characters more than they can reasonably solve in a short format, you’re going to have some very grumpy readers.”

Jeannie recommended, Rather than craft books (which I normally love), the best way to learn for shorts is to read how others do it. I think there’s MORE of an art to writing short than writing a novel. The good thing is that they’re short. 🙂

Some authors I love:  Ray Bradbury (for voice, tone, memorable setup and hook). If you can find it, read “A Laurel and Hardy Love Affair”.  Edgar Allen Poe (check out his word choice and how effective his opening lines are)

For romance, these authors’ shorts are actually novellas,  but they establish character and emotional stakes in a relatively short amount of time. Courtney Milan – The depth of characterization is amazing. They feel as emotionally complete as full novels. And Ruthie Knox – She sets up emotional tension wonderfully between hero and heroine

Thank you, sisters for sharing your experiences in the short story market. 

Please ask any questions that you might have and we’ll try to answer them for you.


Autumn Jordon is an award-winning author of romantic suspense/thrillers and contemporary romance.  Join her newsletter at And don’t forget to check out Perfect Moments.

Ava Blackstone is a winner and two-time finalist in the Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart® contest and has five short romance stories published in Woman’s World magazine. She is currently hard at work on the next contemporary romance in her Voretti Family series. You can find her on the web at:  PRETTY IN INK

Jeannie Lin is known for writing groundbreaking historical romances set in Tang Dynasty China starting with her Golden Heart award-winning debut, Butterfly Swords. Her Chinese historicals have received multiple awards and starred reviews in Publishers Weekly and Library Journal. SILK, SWORDS, AND SURRENDAR

Rita Henuber; I’ve always had stories in me and now I’m sharing them. I married a Marine, a man I’d known since I was fourteen. I’m fortunate to have lived many places and traveled to the states and countries I didn’t live. I moved back to the barrier island in Florida where I grew up and now spend time writing, weaving my experiences into my stories. My first books have heroes and heroines in the military or government service. But, I’ve started on a new series of books with collections of short stories. LET ME TELL YOU A STORY

Vivi Andrews is a Golden Heart winner & 2-Time RITA finalist. As Lizzie Shane she writes contemporary romance with a pop culture twist, and as Vivi Andrews she writes paranormal romance. ALWAYS A BRIDESMAID









Getting to Know Your Characters Through Audio

I’ve been an avid reader ever since I learned to decode strings of printed letters into words, but it’s only now that I have a smartphone that I’ve really gotten into audiobooks and podcasts. I have to admit, I’m not the biggest fan of listening to fiction—it takes me way longer to listen to a book than to read it, and once I’m into the story I want to load it into my brain as quickly as possible.
Close-up of a microphone
But I love using audiobooks to research my characters.

When I started writing Marriage: Impossible, which featured a Navy SEAL hero, I was lost. I didn’t have any close friends or family in the military, and I certainly didn’t have any firsthand experience. How was I going to get far enough into my hero’s head that his dialog and internal thoughts would sound like those of a Navy SEAL? I started watching documentaries and reading blog posts.

But audiobooks were what really helped me. To get to know my hero, I listened to all kinds of audiobooks, from autobiographies of Navy SEALS to journalists’ accounts of modern warfare. If I was working out, cooking dinner, or doing laundry, I was also listening to my latest audiobook.

Immersing myself in my hero’s world on a daily basis flipped a switch in my brain, so that the mindset and word choices I had been struggling with began to flow. Finally, my hero sounded like a Navy SEAL.

I also discovered self-publishing podcasts. My current favorites are The Creative Penn, featuring an eclectic selection of guest interviews, covering everything from using dictation to increase your daily word count to Facebook ads. Joanna is such a great interviewer that I tend to come away with useful information whatever the topic. For a more marketing-focused podcast, I also love the Self-Publishing Formula.

What about you? Do you listen to audiobooks or podcasts for fun or research? What are your favorites?

Accidental Hitchhiker: The Story Behind the Story

hitchhikerPeople often ask writers where we get our ideas. Mine come from anywhere and everywhere—a dream, a snippet of conversation overheard in a bar, a walk with my husband. After that initial burst of inspiration, I build on the idea. Expand and improve it as only a romance writer can, making it more. More exciting. More funny. More romantic.

My first published work was a short story in Woman’s World magazine. I’d decided to try my hand at short stories, and when I sat down to brainstorm, the first thing to come into my head was a decidedly unromantic incident from my college days, in which I’d managed to get into a car with a strange guy because I thought he was my ex-boyfriend.

See, my sophomore year in college, I had dated this guy, Troy, who drove a blue Toyota Camry (name, make, and model changed to protect the innocent). Things didn’t work out, and we went our separate ways, but every time I saw a blue Camry, I’d find myself looking closely to see if the driver was Troy. This got to be pretty annoying, because there were a lot of blue Camrys on the road.

One day, as I was walking home from class, I saw yet another blue Camry. I did my usual check. The car was going pretty fast, but the driver looked like he could be Troy–same color and length hair, eyes disguised by sunglasses. As the car passed me, I turned around to see if the sticker Troy had on his car was on the bumper. It wasn’t.

Yet another blue Camry that wasn’t Troy’s, I thought, and continued on my way.

A minute later, the Camry pulled up next to me. “Want a ride?” the driver asked.

Oh, I thought. It was Troy after all. Why else would the driver have turned around to offer me a ride?

I was so convinced it was my ex that I was in the car with the door closed and my seatbelt fastened before I realized that the reason Troy looked so different was because he wasn’t, in fact, Troy. He was a complete stranger who had stopped to give me a ride because he thought I’d been checking him out.

Let me stop right here to explain something–I am not an adventurous person. Take the least adventurous person you know, and then imagine someone way less adventurous. That’s me. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t even make eye contact with strangers, much less get in their cars.

Cue total freak out. I was certain my life was over. I was speeding down the road with some random guy. He could be a rapist. He could be a murderer.

But, as it turned out, he was a perfectly nice person who drove me straight to my apartment. As he dropped me off, he said, “Well, at least you got a ride home out of it.”

But, actually, I got much more, because as I thought back over the incident, my romance-writer brain kicked into gear, massaging the chain of events and the characters until I had something totally different. Something funny and romantic. Thus was born my first Woman’s World short story, in which the heroine thinks she’s getting into her brother’s car, but is actually getting into the car of the hot neighbor she had been crushing on. If you want to see how the two versions of the story differ (in just about every way possible), you can read the fictional version at my website.

And that’s one of my favorite things about being a writer. I can take a terrible real-life experience and reimagine it in a totally different, infinitely more satisfying way.

What’s your favorite part about being a writer? Are there any crazy real-life stories you’ve fictionalized?

The Accidental Series

marriageImpossible-200x300When I started writing Marriage: Impossible, it wasn’t supposed to be the first book in my Voretti family series. It wasn’t supposed to be the first book in any series. It was a one-off experiment to see what would happen if I threw all my favorite romance tropes into a single novella.

It never occurred to me that it might be the first in a series, because I’d never written a series before. After writing a book I’d always been so sick of the characters and the world that I was more than happy to go somewhere new and interesting as soon as I reached The End.

But a strange thing happened as I started writing Marriage: Impossible. The heroine had a brother, Ty. Everyone thought Ty was still in love with his ex-fiance, but part way through the book, he announced that he was marrying someone else.

At the time, I just needed a reason for the hero and heroine of Marriage: Impossible to return to San Diego from Reno, and a sudden wedding seemed as good as anything. But then I started to wonder—who was this woman Ty was marrying? Why were they getting married so quickly—practically before any of their family and friends even knew they were dating?

loveAndLearnSmallestI had to write Ty’s story, Love and Learn.

As it turned out, this was a somewhat traumatic experience. Because the timelines of Marriage: Impossible and Love and Learn were largely overlapping, I had all kinds of constraints before I even started writing the book. This resulted in revisions. Lots and lots of revisions for both books.

But, finally, I had two books that worked on their own and together. And, for the first time, I wasn’t ready to let go. I wanted more of the Voretti family. And, thus, my first series was born.

I have the first three books written. I’m working on books four and five now—and hoping that by plotting both at the same time I can pull off the overlapping-timelines thing without so much rewriting this time.

What about you? Do you prefer to write series or standalone books? Any tips on how to plan ahead to minimize rewriting when working on connected books?

Marketing Your Book: Play to Your Strengths

Long before I decided to self-publish, I attended my first workshop on marketing at an RWA national conference. After an hour of PowerPoint slides about engaging with readers on social media, I wanted to hide in a dark, quiet corner with no computer or internet connection. (Have I mentioned that I’m the introvertiest introvert in the world?)

After five or six more marketing workshops with different names, presented by different authors, all of which focused on various social media marketing techniques, I’d had more than enough. So when I saw that the next speaker for my local RWA chapter was going to be talking about—you guessed it—marketing—I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic.

But it was a good excuse to see my friends, so I went to the meeting anyway. And was blown away by the speaker. Her talk was on marketing, but it wasn’t all social media. She talked about things like generating back matter for your book that would help drive reviews and Amazon keyword optimization. For the first time, I realized that there was a way to market my books in addition to the social media strategies I’d heard so much about. And some of those things I was actually excited about doing.

And that made me stop and think. I’d heard a ton of people talk about the importance of “finding your process” for writing, the idea being that some people write most effectively when they plot extensively beforehand, some people prefer to jump straight into the manuscript, and others are somewhere in between. But I’d never heard anyone talk about finding your process for marketing.

I’d love to be a marketing superhero and make optimal use of every single technique out there. But I’m not. There are only so many hours in the day, and let’s be honest—I’m going to spend most of them writing. So I need to make sure that the little time I have for marketing is used most effectively. For me personally, that means focusing on the non-social side of things. I have friends who are just the opposite—they love meeting readers in person or on social media, and can make a new best friend (and a dedicated fan) in minutes. That’s not me.

Will narrowing my marketing focus be an effective strategy for me? My first book came out two days ago, so it’s too soon to tell. But I certainly hope so.

Okay, I also set up my author Facebook page. Just don’t make me sign up for Twitter.

What about you? What marketing strategies do you find most effective? Are there any you find particularly enjoyable or unpleasant?

Happily Ever After. And After. And After.

The idea for this blog came to me as I was reading a book by my newest favorite romance author. This was her fourth book, and just as awesome as the first three. But one thing that stuck out for me in the not-so-awesome category was the guest appearances by couples from books 1-3. They didn’t have any reason to be in the story, but that didn’t stop them from strolling onto the page for a minute or two to assure the reader that—yes—they were still blissfully happy together.

Now, granted, I may be a bit biased on this topic. I’m one of those people who lose interest in a couple as soon as I’m satisfied that they’re going to live happily ever after. No epilogues with weddings or babies for me, thank you very much. Yet, there are some authors who manage to keep me interested in their characters even after they find true love.

Take Suzanne Brockmann. Her Troubleshooters series is structured in a fairly nontraditional way compared to the typical romance novel. Rather than one main romance plot, her books tend to have three or four plot lines—romance and/or suspense—that get approximately equal page time. It’s not uncommon for a couple who found their Happily Ever After in one book to show up in a later book as one of these major plot lines. Their conflict might be romantic or they might be working together to fight the bad guy, but because they’re always vital to the story I never feel like the author is simply parading old characters across the page to say hello. I love that these characters still have problems to deal with, just as in real life, instead of being stuck in some mythical HEA-land where every day is sunshine and rainbows. Because, while sunshine and rainbows might be great in real life, on the page, they’re pretty boring.

What do you think? Do you like to revisit characters from an author’s previous books? As an author do you ever bring back old characters for guest appearances? Do they have major roles in the plot, or just a brief walk-on?

Hooks vs. Cliffhangers: Don’t Break Your Promises

I’ve been reading a lot of New Adult romance lately. I’ve read some great books and some terrible books. I’ve also encountered something I’ve never seen before—books with what I’m going to call a cliffhanger ending. These books seem to stop half way through the story, like the author took their completed manuscript, chopped it into two or three pieces, and called each one a novel. Cliffs 1 Now, if a book is part of a series, the author had better end book one with a good enough hook to make me preorder book two. But the hook ending differs from the cliffhanger ending in significant ways. In a hook ending, though the reader is dying to know what happens next, the primary story arc of the book has been completed. In a cliffhanger ending the primary story arc hasn’t been completed. Let’s look at a few examples. THE HOOK ENDING: In book five of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series, Stephanie is investigating her Uncle Fred’s disappearance. By the end of the book, Stephanie has figured out what happened to Uncle Fred—the primary story arc has been completed. But the book ends with a great hook. Stephanie puts on a sexy dress and invites one of the two hot guys she’s spent books 1-5 of the series flirting with—but you don’t know which one. You have to read book six to find out. THE CLIFFHANGER ENDING: In a New Adult book I recently read (which will remain nameless) the primary story arc involved the romantic relationship developing between the hero and heroine. But it didn’t end in Happily Ever After. The “novel” seemed to end somewhere in the middle, before the hero and heroine had really acknowledged their feelings for each other, with a to-be-continued. I was too annoyed to buy book two, but I was curious what other readers thought. A quick examination of the reviews showed two camps—those who simply had to buy book two so they knew what happened, and those who refused to buy book two or anything else by the author because they were so angry about the book’s ending—or, perhaps I should say, lack of ending. I couldn’t help but feel that a hook ending rather than a cliffhanger could have enticed all those readers who had to buy book two without alienating the portion of the audience. Now, that’s not to say all books that include a romantic relationship have to end in Happily Ever After. A few months ago, I read a fabulous New Adult book—Deeper, by Robin York—where the hero and heroine, West and Caroline, don’t end book one together. But, because the story arc of book one was completed, I was satisfied. Impatient, but satisfied. As Caroline would say, it’s totally a thing. So how did the author pull that off? Well, the book doesn’t start with Caroline and West meeting. The book starts with Caroline and her problem—her ex-boyfriend has posted their sex pictures on the Internet, destroying her reputation and her hopes of becoming a judge. She’s so overwhelmed by the knowledge that everyone is gossiping about her that she has trouble sleeping. All she can think about is wiping those pictures off the Internet. By starting the book this way, the promise I saw the author making to me was that, by the end of the book, Caroline would have figured out how to move on with her life. And, indeed, she does. Does her journey involve her developing relationship with a super hot guy named West? Yes. Yes it does. And though book one doesn’t end in HEA, Caroline and West’s relationship develops over the course of the book, ending at a very different place than it begins. Was I impatient to know what would happen between Caroline and West in book two? I may have shouted something along the lines of, “What? I have to wait until July?” at my poor, innocent computer, after checking the release date for the next book in the series. I was impatient, but it was the good kind of impatient. The kind of impatient that causes me to check the author’s website weekly, in case the release date for the book has been moved up. (What? It could happen.) Not the kind of impatient that causes me to write angry one star reviews complaining about how the author has written half a book. Okay, I’ve never actually done this. But other people certainly have. And I have taken to scanning the reviews of books I’m considering buying to make sure they don’t have a cliffhanger ending. So, authors please don’t break your promise to me. Leave me satisfied—but impatient for more. It’s totally a thing. What do you think about the cliffhanger ending? Will you rush out to buy the author’s next book because you have to know what happens, or will you refuse to buy any more of their books? How do you end your books?

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