First, the short answer to this blog post’s title: NO.
And now for an answer with a little more detail.
Sure, some authors and publishers might use cliffhangers or incomplete story arcs to essentially trick or “force” readers into buying an additional book. But a whole lot of book series aren’t about tricks. Not everything that happens in certain characters’ lives, or in certain worlds authors create, can be contained in a single book.
Of course, some book series are linked by a common theme while the books stand completely alone, sharing no characters. The Women of the West series by Janette Oke is a good example. Historical fiction about—you guessed it!—women in the west, and that overall theme is the only link the individual books share.
Then there are series that have some characters in common, but each book is a separate story featuring different main characters taking the lead. The Atlanta Justice series, legal suspense by Rachel Dylan, is the first such series that popped into my head.
Nevertheless, even when a series features the same lead characters in each book, or the different books take on different phases of an overall story arc, it doesn’t mean the series is a trick or a sales gimmick.
Especially for particular genres, rather blatant cliffhanger endings are major suspense builders that, believe it or not, some audiences actually enjoy. They love the thrill of seeing a hero or heroine jump out of an airplane thousands of feet up in the sky, the book skidding to a stop while the character is still in midair, and the audience holds their breath in anticipation of the next book.
Hey. It’s not my favorite thing as a reader, personally. But I can’t knock other readers for thinking it’s fun. It’s like the season finales of a lot of TV shows, when fans wait for the new season to find out what happens next.
I mean, one of my favorite TV cliffhangers ever had a literal cliff, back in the ’90s on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. When Sully and that crooked army Sergeant What’s-His-Name got into hand-to-hand combat and tumbled off that cliff to free fall into a canyon, Dr. Quinn arrived later only to find that Sully had disappeared, and Dr. Quinn, with a mix of fear and uncanny conviction, whispered, “He’s alive. I know he’s alive.” [End of Season Five.] I’ve never enjoyed hanging off a cliff more!
But, *ahem,* back to the present.
There are other book series with returning characters that don’t have cliffhanger endings at all. Each book is a complete story with a natural conclusion, and then the characters come back in a new book with another complete story about new events or another phase in the characters’ lives.
It’s kind of like how we live in real life. Everything doesn’t happen all at once, but we live in different years and seasons. If our lives were novels, too much would happen to many of us to fit in just one book. Life takes time. We’d need additional books to show how our additional seasons unfold.
One series that immediately comes to mind for me is the Seasons of the Heart series, more historical fiction by Janette Oke. The series follows an orphaned boy, Joshua, from childhood to young adulthood to manhood, and each book is a complete story in itself.
I’ve not yet read all the books in a newer, sci-fi series by Steve Rzasa, featuring Captain Vincent Chen. Yes, there are some overarching themes that aren’t tied up in a neat and tidy, “Happily Ever After and That’s All Folks!” bow at the end of each book. Yet, the two books I’ve read so far each contain a complete story, intriguing me to read more about Vincent, even without him dangling off galactic cliffs at the end of the books.
And then, sometimes a series continues simply because an author finds out new stuff about previous characters. Take two of the series I’ve written so far, the Movement of Crowns and When It’s Time. Neither series was a series at first. The Movement of Crowns was one book, Love Unfeigned was one book, and that was that. Done!
Or so I thought.
Months (in one case, years) later, new stuff involving the characters came to my attention. So, I wrote more books.
The two series I’m writing now, the Crowns Legacy and Eubeltic Realm series, have returning characters, too. But it’s not a gimmick to “make” people buy more books. I love the characters, I keep writing as I learn more of what happens to them, and each individual book is a complete story with a natural conclusion.
No tricks. Not a marketing ploy. Just a continuation of characters’ lives, their seasons, and more about the world they live in, revealed in more than one book.
Similar to how my life would be if someone were to write about it.
No, I can’t speak for authors or publishers who may really be trying to bamboozle or essentially force readers into something by publishing books as a series. But don’t let that fool you into thinking that’s what all book series are about. The honest, creative, and useful purposes for series in literature are much bigger than any author’s or publisher’s supposed gimmicks.