Please welcome Gabrielle Bisset. I asked her to write a post about series reading.
Thanks to Laurie here at Bitten By Paranormal Romance for asking me here today to talk about series. As an author and reader, I know the idea of a series can mean different things to many people. To some, it means a group of books that can be read in any order but all have something in common. My Victorian Erotic Romance Trilogy is like that. All three novellas are set in the Victorian period, but that's the only thing that binds them together. One is paranormal, another is BDSM, and the third is a regular historical.
However, to others a series is a group of books that is meant to be read in a particular order, first to last. My Sons of Navarus series is like that. For a reader to come in on Blood Spirit, the third book in the series, means they'll be confused because the series begins with Blood Avenged and then builds on that book in Blood Betrayed. By the time the reader gets to Blood Spirit, there are references to events, characters, and details from the earlier books that are integral to understanding the story.
It's quite popular now, especially in indie published books, to have a series that can be read in any particular order because each book is essentially a stand alone. There's nothing wrong with an author making this choice, in my opinion. My guess is that it's a marketing choice rather than a writing choice, but it certainly can be because an author may not want to get tied down to a continuous storyline throughout as many as seven or eight books. I can attest to the fact that it's a lot of work to keep a series storyline going while making each book focus on a particular couple, as I have to in my erotic paranormal romance series. The author must have the entire series mapped out when he or she begins, and the non-romantic plot (in my case) must be parsed out carefully in each book so as to not give away too much before the culmination of the plot. At the same time, the author must juggle that storyline with the individual one for each book. And when I say juggle, I mean it in every sense of the word.
I like to explain the idea of the series this way: if there's a number after the title of the book, then the series is supposed to be read in a particular order. For example, my Sons series always has a number in the title, such as Blood Avenged (Sons of Navarus #1) and the Harry Potter books on my bookshelves have numbers identifying them as to be read in a particular order.
However, if an author indicates clearly that a series can be read as a group of stand alone books, then readers should feel free to jump around. What's important to remember is that as authors, we have a vision for our stories and series, and if we make sure we let readers know the order of that vision, the experience with our books will be a far more enjoyable one.