Happily ever after?

So, I’ve finally decided to move from being a romance reader to a writer! Yay I’d love to get some opinions from you guys though…

Generally, with the research I’ve done, everyone says romance books should end with a “happily ever after” or “every after for now”.

I’m writing a romance trilogy, and I can’t seem to wrap up book #1 on a happy note! Personally, I love when books end with a cliffhanger.

What do you guys think?


I don’t mind a cliffhanger as long as the next book is already available (I have no patience). But it’s always nice to have at least something wrapped up nicely at the end of the first book.


That’s good to know! Seems like I should plan to release all the books together. Thank you!


One of my favorite romance authors, KJ Charles, writes series. She hardly has a stand alone book. What she tends to do is make the next in the series about a different set of characters. However, there are a few where she has made a continuing story and what she does...and what I would be satisfied with as a reader...is a 'happy enough for now'. I love strife, drama, tension, conflict in my romance stories. It's especially important to me as I read a ton of queer romance, so knowing that the main characters won't die or suffer terribly for plot is essential to my enjoyment. So if you're going to do series, I would focus on WHAT conflict you end on the cliffhanger, and are they 'happy enough for now'? Is there hope? A way forward? Has the suffering paused, but conflict not resolved?


Which subgenre or niche are you considering (if you don't mind sharing that online)? In some niches, especially fantasy romance and PNR, I've come across cliffhangers with the HEA at the end of the series. The books follow the same couple through their relationship, with OR without lots of steam in book 1, depending on heat level, slow/fast burn, etc, with lots of external plot/ fantasy action happening. I don't hate this setup, as long as I know that's what I'm going into. If I read a book expecting an HEA and got a cliffhanger instead, I'd rage-quit that author. I think you need to make it clear in your blurb/ front-facing material that book one ends on a cliffhanger--and clearly spell out when readers can expect book 2. Do market research and determine what other authors have done to make this work for them.


This is the kind of advice I was looking for, thank you! I’ve been writing historical (very spicy) romance. I love fantasy but man the world building is killer for a first book, lol. I guess the cliffhanger would involve a love triangle, one of those ‘will she, won’t she?’ situations. Market research, good call! How the heck do I find that? Sorry, I’m very new to the world of publishing!


Spicy historical is fun, and there's a market for it. However, I should note that you'll have an uphill climb to publish cliffhanger endings in historicals. I don't think I've ever encountered an example in that subgenre. I'm not saying it can't be done, but the market is filled with big name traditionally published authors and readers have certain expectations when they pick up a historical. For market research, check out the FAQs over on the erotica authors subreddit. Their how to's and guides are applicable to basically any genre of fiction, but will be especially helpful for erotica and romance. Good luck!


Cliffhanger is ok (not my preference) but please please warn the reader in the blurb!


I think it needs to end happy with unresolved plot points. Think, stereotypically, twilight. She didn’t die, she’s not a vampire, but she and boy are together. Or other books I’ve read are- they are together but one MC’s kink/magic/backstory hasn’t been revealed or fully explored. Or perhaps, if you want to get controversial- it’s Happily for now with the guy that won’t be forever. Like there’s a whole new love interest that comes in in subsequent books. Romance readers don’t love cliffhangers, though they don’t mind that fiddly little unresolved plot element that ends up being the main feature of book two. Others do series by focusing on different characters love stories, so the whole series isn’t about the same two characters.


Oh Twilight. Sometimes I’ll reference it in my brain to remember what people like! Thanks for the pointers. ☺️


I mean, it’s one of those things that’s kind of awful, but somehow seems to hit a whole bunch of things that scratch people’s itch. Just, you know, maybe avoid excessive instances of your MMC watching his leading lady sleep?


I personally love cliffies! Go for it ❤️


I don't write romance, but there is nothing wrong with a cliffhanger as long as you pay it off for the reader in the next book. And when it comes to happy endings or not, the most satisfying endings are the ones where the characters have fairly earned their fates, either for good or bad.


Cliffhangers are legitimate literary devices. I happen to detest books that end on cliffhangers, although I do believe chapters should end on cliffhangers to motivate the reader to turn the page. That's not to say that each book in a series must end on an HEA with all loose ends tied in pretty bows. Not at all. Nora Roberts' *Key of Light/Morrigan's Cross* trilogy ends each book in the trilogy with an HEA for the starring couple, but each book carries the overarching story forward until it's all wrapped up at the end of the third book. Simply cutting a story off in the middle of action to force the reader to purchase the next book may very well be perceived as nothing more than a money grab. If you do end your books on cliffhangers, then be sure to warn potential readers in the book descriptions/cover blurbs. Readers who expect a complete story and receive a cliffhanger become disgruntled and leave scathing reviews.


Personally, I don't like true cliffhangers. Too many burns from TV series doing this to only not be renewed and then I'm stuck with the cliffhanger forever I guess. Instead, to drum up excitement for the next book in my series, I've been ending my books with the MC asking herself a series of questions as a form of introspection about what just happened over the previous plot arc, and as a means to allude to the potential things to come. So we've got our HFN for the plot arc, and a reminder that the couple still has more they could do before their final HEA. As I haven't published it yet, I don't know if this approach works, but I like the way it reads, as did my one Alpha Reader. If you want, I can message you what I've written for a couple of them.


I think a cliffhanger is less of an issue for KU books (if all the books are finished) because you’re not having to dish out more money with each book. Regardless, it’s best to have at least one part of the plot resolved by the end of each book. It’s more satisfying to the reader that way. If you’re just splitting up one very long book into three parts, it just doesn’t work as well.


How many pages are you thinking for each installment of the trilogy? I’ve read a few books with cliffhangers but the book wasn’t that long. I feel like the author should have just made it one.


That’s a great question! I’m aiming for about 70,000 words per book.


Definitely enough at 70K. If you were ending on a cliffhanger at 50K, I’d say just finish the story in one book. If a book is really well written I don’t mind a cliffhanger. I’d read the author’s next book anyway if it’s good. But I do agree with some other commenters that it’s like a breach of expectations to end with a cliffhanger without a warning. Personally, I don’t care if a book has a HEA or HFN, but I think the definition of romance requires it.


Yes, this was the answer I was looking for. Lol! Basically I’m writing a romance with a love triangle. So, I’ve decided to stick to a HFN ending for book one. I don’t want to disappoint readers!


Do you actually read books in the romance genre? If no one else in your niche is doing it it’s because readers don’t want it. Multi book romance series are more common in mystery adventure and fantasy romance genres where there’s a plot to sustain the story with the romance wrapped up in subsequent books. I think it would be highly unusual and I think misguided in historical romance not to end the first book with a happy romantic ending even if there is a second book with the same couple and a new plot.


You're never going to please all the people with your stories. Write what you want, and the right audience will love it. Personally, if there's a cliffhanger, I will wait for all of the books to be out before I start the first one.