Yesterday, Kristen Lamb ran an encore of one of my posts from last year on her blog. We both liked that post because it discusses the importance of leaving the reader room to use their imagination.
In the post, I made an aside about the danger of including a teaser excerpt for the next book in a series at the end of our story. So many people commented on my observation that I wanted to delve more into the issue.
Are teaser chapters always a bad idea? Or only under certain circumstances? Let’s find out.
Danger? What Danger?
We’ve heard that we sell this book with the packaging (cover, back-cover blurb, etc.) and this book sells the next book. A teaser excerpt, typically the first chapter of book two placed at the end of book one (and so forth), takes that sales idea to a literal level.
But there’s a danger when that technique messes with the reader’s imagination. As I shared in the post:
“I read the first book of a series where the heroine was happy at the ending. Aww, perfect.
However, the author included a teaser chapter for the next book in the series, and the heroine was facing problems left over from book one. Ugh. That teaser acted like an epilogue and ruined the entire first book for me. Instead of tempting me to read the next story, the teaser turned me off from the whole series forever.”
Yikes. That’s definitely not what the author was going for, so let’s dig into why that sales method didn’t work as intended.
Series Are Not Created Equal—At Least When It Comes to Teasers
A big element determining the success of a teaser excerpt is what type of series we’re writing. Some types of series work well with teasers, while others don’t.
Books are typically labeled a series because they share a common factor:
- Setting: These series take place in the same “world” but might each feature different characters. The characters of book two may or may not have been introduced in book one. The events of book two may or may not be dependent on the events of book one. Many romance series fall into this category, each book featuring a different couple that receives their “happily ever after” by the end of their story.
- Characters: These series feature the same characters. The events of book two may or may not be dependent on the events of book one. Many urban fantasy series fall into this category, each book featuring a different bad guy for the protagonist to defeat. However, series like Nancy Drew also fall into this category, where each book stands alone and can be read in any order.
- Story Arc: These series follow a main story over several installments. Each book usually features at least some of the same characters. Sometimes a story will end with a cliffhanger to be resolved in the next book. These books need to be read in order to make sense. Typically, these series have a definitive ending rather than going on forever (a story arc needs to end sometime), but for sales reasons, some authors have attempted to turn a story arc series into an open-ended series (to mixed results).
Obviously, series can share more than one common element. Those with a common story arc usually share common characters and settings as well. The Harry Potter series has common characters and settings (and individual book arcs) in addition to its series-long story arc.
Why Some Teaser Excerpts Hurt the Ending of the Book
Over on Kristen’s blog, Heather Button asked why the teaser chapter I mentioned in the post didn’t work for me:
“Did you know it was part of a series? Would that have affected your take on it? Or was the problem because she in the end didn’t grow?”
The teaser chapter I referred to was clearly marked, so it wasn’t a case of confusion. Book one had a good, wrap-up ending (not a cliffhanger). In other words, it read like a paranormal romance, where the hero and heroine found their happily ever after at the end.
However, the teaser chapter made it clear that it was more like an urban fantasy, in that the same hero and heroine were featured. Sometimes this would mean the same characters would fight new bad guys. I wouldn’t have had a problem with the introduction of a new problem.
Instead, the teaser excerpt felt like more of the same—at least as far as the heroine’s emotional arc. All the progress she’d made emotionally was erased. The couple’s happily ever after was broken. Essentially, the teaser chapter told me book one didn’t matter and the ending hadn’t been “real.”
If the teaser chapter hadn’t been there, I would have closed the book and basked in the good feelings of the couple’s happy ending for a while, imagining them living happily for years. Later, maybe a day, maybe a year, I would have opened book two and seen the lingering emotional issues and accepted that “better” doesn’t mean “perfect.”
With the teaser chapter, I never got to enjoy those feelings of satisfaction at the end of book one’s story. I never got to imagine those years of happiness for them. As I said above, it acted instead like an epilogue to this book, giving it a sad ending.
Teaser Excerpts Are a Good Idea When…
Let’s go back to that list of common elements. If the only common element is setting, each book acts as a standalone story. Events revealed in the teaser wouldn’t usually affect our understanding of events in book one, so teaser excerpts could work very well as a sales tool.
If the common element is character, it depends. If the next book introduces an entirely new conflict with the same characters, readers could want to learn about the characters’ next adventure. Or if the next book continues with a question left over from a subplot, readers would be reminded of that mystery.
Teaser excerpts could work with either of those cases. However, if the next book unravels the end of the arc of the current book, we’re messing with the reader’s memory of this book.
If the common element is story arc and each book ends with a cliffhanger, we have to ask ourselves if the cliffhanger at the end of chapter one of the next book is really more enticing than the cliffhanger at the end of this book. After all, we ended this book at that point for a reason. *smile*
If a story arc book doesn’t end with a cliffhanger, the answer might depend on what happens in that first chapter of book two. Do the events take away or in any way erase the gains of book one? If so, a teaser chapter might interfere with the reader’s satisfaction.
We don’t want to build interest in the next book by ruining the reader’s experience of this book. We usually want to leave the reader with certain thoughts or emotions at the end of the story. If the teaser unravels the emotions we induced at “The End” in any way, we’re effectively erasing the ending of the first story. And that’s no way to sell the next book. *smile*
Do you like or dislike teaser excerpts? Does it bug you that teaser excerpts mislead you about how much of the story is left? Has a teaser for the next book ever ruined the ending of a book for you? Do you agree with these tips for when a teaser excerpt might or might not work? Do you have other examples or suggestions?Pin It