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August 1, 2013

Book Series: Should We Include a Teaser Excerpt?

Child sticking out his tongue with text: Teasing Is Good When...

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?

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36 Comments on "Book Series: Should We Include a Teaser Excerpt?"

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Michelle Roberts (@michroberts90)
Michelle Roberts (@michroberts90)

As a rule, I never read teaser chapters. This is for 2 reasons. 1) I read the author’s next book based on the book I just finished. 2) I don’t want to be driven even more crazy while waiting for the next book to come out.

For me, the teaser chapter at the end of the book is like the prologue that a lot of readers skip (although I never skip a prologue). 🙂

Carradee

As a reader, I like teaser chapters best when I can immediately go buy the book if I enjoy it. And while it doesn’t need to be the sequel, it does need to be related, like a chapter from a spin-off series. (I actually suspect the “spin-off series” is the best time to use the teaser chapters—makes the reader aware of related series, gets them invested in the setup, without potentially sabotaging the story just told.)

From a marketing perspective, I like the idea of teaser chapters, but in my own experience playing with them, they don’t seem to help sales at all.

Barbara
Barbara

The best example I can think of for me is the Twilight books. I wanted to go on and on. Other spin-off books just irritate me. I don’t like reading the chapter twice and I don’t like rereading things from the previous book to catch-up readers. If I am involved with the characters and their life I want to continue onto the next book. I will not read the teaser chapter.
I love your blog and look forward to receiving it.

chemistken

Can’t say as I’ve read any books that had teasers. Then again, maybe I just wasn’t paying attention. Either way, I can definitely understand why having a teaser that presents the future in a different way than I expected them to be, based on my reading of the first book, would be annoying.

Widdershins

The only teaser chapters I’ve liked are for Mysteries that have an on-going detective/sleuth who I know is going to be around for a whole ‘nuther bunch of stories, and only partially set up the plot (just a bit more information than I would be able to find in the back cover blurb)

I guess that’s why I don’t watch the ‘next week on …’ TV trailers either They take me out of enjoying the moment and reflecting on what I’ve just seen.

… and don’t get me started on the interminable movie trailers and ‘sneak peeks’ and short clips that start being released years (only a slight exaggeration) before the movie hits the cinemas!

Taurean Watkins
My paperback copy of Janice Hardy’s “The Shifter” had a teaser chapter for “Blue Fire” second of the trilogy, and I didn’t read it, but they also included questions for book club discussion, I think those can be interesting, but I bought it purely for the price, and while I had emotional time with the book, it was a solid story, I will read the next book eventually, but I’m still recovering from the first book emotionally, and this was TWO YEARS ago. I owe the book club I sometimes take part in to my having the courage to finally read/listen to the audiobook when I got too emotionally jerked around reading solely in print. It’s easier to dive into new literary territory when you’re doing it with friends, especially when they’re reading tastes are WAY braver than mine on average. I hadn’t thought teaser chapters would undo the experience of the book one JUST READ, but I can see the issue now, and I think I’ll just avoid that tactic, especially because I don’t want my quality standards questioned unjustly. On the other hand, it could play in favor of the authors who’ve drafted all the books in a series ahead of time, so at least any teasers would be close if not highly similar to the final book, since earnest work on a sequel comes, especially if it took off. So, I can see it from both sides, but for me, the risks of undoing what I did… Read more »
Serena Yung
Serena Yung

Hmm, I’ve never really thought about this issue before, mostly because I usually avoid reading teasers because I already bought the next book so I don’t want to spoil anything for myself XD I’ll probably read it if I don’t have the next book though.

But it’s a good point about how some teasers may “unravel” the ending made in the first book, and thus ruin the experience for us. This is not quite related, but I read a very nice romance with a very happy ending. But after the ending, they included a preview script for the MOVIE they made of the book. The problem was, that preview ended on a very sad note (i.e. ended on the PROBLEM that the story will later solve). Even though I knew that all would be okay in the end, that note of sadness concluding the book really made me unhappy, such that I deliberately reread the last few pages of the STORY (not the movie script), so I end with the happy ending again, lol. That “last feeling” of the reader after they put down your book is so important!

I didn’t think about writing teasers for any of my books before, but after reading this, I think I’d rather avoid using them. (Partly because I wouldn’t even have WRITTEN that next book yet XD)

Rinelle Grey

As I’m getting near finishing the edit on the second series of my novel, I’ve been wondering this. I leave the end of the first book with a major situation resolved, but curiosity in the reader for the second book (or so many have mentioned in their reviews). Seems to me like I’ve ended it at the right place.

Then again, those who’ve read the second book say the opening is strong and grips them right from the start. So I don’t know! The problems my characters are facing are quite different to those they faced in the first book, and more environmental than internal, so it’s a difficult call!

Laura Pauling

I hate to say this but….I rarely read the teaser chapters. Most times that is not what convinces me to read the next book. It truly was the first book and how much I enjoyed/liked the story and characters. If I do read the teaser, it’s the first or second page, not the entire first chapter.

I think it would be most effective when it’s a series or the teaser is another one of the author books…and the blurb and first page really hooks me. 🙂

SBibb

Interesting. I hadn’t thought about how teaser chapters affected the previous books, but you have a point about it unraveling the ending. I think there’s been a few books like that, where I deliberately didn’t read it because I didn’t want to ruin what had been set up. Or I felt disgruntled after realizing the problem wasn’t solved.

Then again, I remember some trailers being awesome in catching my attention, but those were in series where the first story was ended, but you knew there would be another problem to solve in the next (I think it was Animorphs I read like this).

So I guess it depends on the book and the type of story it is.

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