From M.C.A. Hogarth:
This issue comes up often enough that I think having a permanent post about it would be good. Here it is then: “Why does Jaguar write so many cliffhangers! It’s annoying!”
I feel your pain, my readers. I, too, dislike cliffhangers. (Actually, I hate them.) But as Business Manager Jaguar implies, this is an economic issue, not an artistic one… or rather, a place where art and practical reality collide, and art loses.
Physical books have a presence. We know this because when we rhapsodize about them, it’s what we talk about: their weight, their heft, their smell, the sight of them, the sound of the pages whispering as we ruffle them. But in particular, I want to talk about weight, because this is a primary point of interaction between the reader and the material. The weight of a book will influence how long you want to hold the book, how comfortable you are while reading it, and the ability of the book—the physical object—to disappear and the story to seem to form in your head without aid. If the book is too large or too heavy, you will get dragged out of the story when your wrists or arms start complaining. Likewise, if the book is too small, eyestrain will pull you away.
. . . .
Here, then, is the takeaway: If you write big stories, stories that take hundreds of pages to unravel, you will quickly run into the problem that they don’t fit into a comfortable-sized print book.
What do you do, then?
Some publishers handle this by decreasing the font size and the whitespace of the layout. You can squeeze a lot of text into a “four-hundred page” book if you mess with those variables. For a while, in fact, this is what I did in order to make my books more handy. But I had one reader tell me one day, “I really wish you would make the font bigger on your print books. I find them hard to read.”
. . . .
So here’s the rock and the hard place: my choice is to fit an entire story into a single package and have it be impossible to read and uncomfortable to hold, or to break up a story into bits that might not have satisfactory endings. If you’ve read commercial series fiction, you know the choice that publishers have historically made: they chop the books up. (Lord of the Rings is a famous example.) Despite hating cliffhangers with a passion, I too found myself making the same choice, and consoling myself that at least I wrote fast enough that my readers wouldn’t have to wait long for the conclusion of the story.
But wait! you say. E-books aren’t affected by length at all! Why don’t you break up the story into pieces for the print books, but have the e-book sold as a single story?
Would that I could! But unfortunately, when you post books for sale, they’re linked to their various editions. This is not just a computer/sales/data issue, but a reader issue. Say you’re a reader who read the (enormous uncut) e-book version of The Godkin Saga, a story that was cut into two volumes, Flight of the Godkin Griffin and The Godson’s Triumph. You enjoyed that book and want the print book because you’d like to see the illustrations on paper. You go to Amazon and there’s no print edition linked to the e-book edition that you bought. Confused, you search for ‘godkin hogarth’ and discover there are two other books with different names (Flight of the Godkin Griffin and The Godson’s Triumph) with print editions but no e-book editions. Are these sequels? If you buy Flight, does that include everything you remember from The Godkin Saga? Or do you need Triumph as well? You try buying one of them, receive it, and are extremely irritated to discover that it’s not the entire book. Now you feel Extremely Cheated.