Sell This Book. Sell the Next.

I  just finished reading a vampire romance by an author who will remain nameless, and was reminded of an old piece of writing advice:  Your first chapter sells the book, the last chapter sells the next.

There’s scientific evidence for why this is so. The last part of an experience colors your recollection of an entire event, especially if it’s emotionally intense, unique, or recalled after a delay. If you have an argument with your husband at the end of a great picnic, your memory of the entire day will be tainted. When you think about what book to buy next, your recollection of the unsatisfying end of a certain author’s book will make you veer away from the rest of her work.

The author whose book I just read  is a competent writer. She’s a New York Times bestseller. Her prose is smooth, her love scenes hot. But I won’t be buying more of her books anytime soon. Why? She committed one of the most heinous crimes a writer can: the set-up for the denouement hinged on the heroine doing something stupid. Even worse, the author didn’t sell it.

Sometimes characters do stupid things. It’s not recommended. Your book will much stronger if your characters do their very best and the villain still gains the upper hand (for a while)  because the bad guy is just that good. Nevertheless, you can have your protagonists make mistakes in judgement and action if you sell it. If you’ve laid the foundation in the reader’s mind so well that even though she doesn’t agree with what the character is doing, she understands how and why the hero is making that choice. Ideally, it’s done so smoothly the reader accepts that action as the only one the hero could make, given who he is.

How do you do that? You feed the reader bits of backstory, and show character development gradually through action (other choices) throughout the book. No info dumps, no last minute revelations to make the reasons behind the behavior plausible.

And for God’s sake, please, no blatant stupidity.  I would have thrown this NYT bestselling author’s book across the room except I’d never treat a book that way.

Actually, I’m grateful to this author, because she reminded me of a change I want to make to one of my unpublished novels to strengthen the ending. My characters aren’t being stupid, but I’ve thought of a way to increase the tension level, the intensity. The greater the intensity, the more memorable my book will be–hopefully in a good way!

Every single one of our books is an ambassador to the reader. With books staying on the virtual bookshelf forever, each of our novels could be the first and only chance we have to snag a reader and turn her into a fan.  We can’t please everyone, nor should we try. Just make your own unique story is the best it can be, and don’t rely on the characters’ stupidity to carry the plot.

Please.

8 Comments

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8 responses to “Sell This Book. Sell the Next.

  1. Awesome post! I’ve lost interest in series because of contrived plots, lazy endings and characters I could care less about. Thanks for alerting me to this pitfall too.

  2. Okay – what did the heroine do?

    • The heroine:
      1) Didn’t make the obvious connection that the hero’s abrupt behavior was due to fear that he had hurt her with the bloodlust he’d been struggling against. (She’d seen him nearly convulse with it earlier.)
      2) Left the safety of the compound in a snit and went back to her house at night while the good guys were off fighting, despite knowing that the bad guys were looking for her.
      3) Opened the door to her house without checking the peephole, to a friend she strongly suspected had been compromised by the bad guy.

      All of which resulted in her being captured. Duh!

      Even worse, her rescue wasn’t that exciting.

      The reconciliation scene was well done, though.

      • Holy pointy teeth, Batman! That’s very lame. All I can say is that Barbara Hambly’s Count Ysidro would likely be rolling in his grave at the Hero’s choice of a TSTL Heroine. 🙂 With the limited time we have to read, it’s disappointing to invest time in a plot that doesn’t have a satisfying payoff.

      • Roxy, what made it additionally annoying was that up to that point, the heroine had understood the danger she was in and accepted the need to be in a protected environment. She had also understood the hero’s emotional state fairly well. Then, for the sake of doing the woman in jep thing, the author gave her heroine a lobotomy. Too bad the author didn’t have access to my DH’s brain. He came up with a more logical and exciting ending with just a few minutes of thought.

      • Frankie, to your comment
        DH’s brain … came up with a more logical and exciting ending with just a few minutes of thought.
        I’m guessing that this indicates some bad burnout on the part of that author, and possibly too many deadlines leading to rushed work. Yet another reason self-published authors can choose to be thankful our deadlines are self-imposed and that we’re in the driver’s seat.

      • Roxy, I was thinking the same thing. As indies we can certainly put a lot of pressure on ourselves, but we are in control.

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