Basically there are two types of series books:
Option A: The books are dependent on previous ones. You have to read the books in order to understand the story, or
Option B: Each book is an independent story linked by a common thread.
There are two ways for an author to approach a dependent series (Option A). One, each book has its own story arc with a beginning, middle and end, so that it feels complete, but an unfinished story continues throughout the series, and the series overall has a beginning, a middle and end. Example: Harry Potter.
A second option of Option A is for an author to write one long saga and serialize it, slice it like a pie into multiple parts. To be continued… One book serves as the beginning, another book is the middle, and the third book wraps it up. Example: Kahlen Aymes’s contemporary romance series The Remembrance Trilogy. The first book ended on cliffhanger without closure. The reader had to read the second one to continue the story. (I am assuming Kahlen Aymes treats book 2 the same; I didn’t read that one).
Another example of Option A is the BDSM Passion series by Livia Grant. Grant does not leave the reader hanging and offers closure at the end of each book, but she weaves multiple H/h relationships throughout each book, so to get each couple’s complete story, you need to read the books in order: Wanting it All (book 1), Securing it All (book 2) and Having it All (book 3 not pubbed yet).
In the independent series (Option B), there is no doubt that each book stands alone and you can read them in any order, but some aspect links the individual books. It can be the characters, the setting, or a theme. Sue Grafton’s alphabet mystery series (A is for Alibi…) is a good example. Kinsey Milhone is a private investigator who solves a different crime in each book. In the Corbin’s Bend spanking romance series, each book is written by a different author, but each story is set in the same Colorado town of practicing spankos.
Between polar opposites like The Remembrance Trilogy and Kinsey Milhone lies a large gray area. At what point do series books become too connected to be enjoyed as a stand alones?
You can certainly pick up the early books of the Harry Potter books and enjoy them. JK Rowling does a good job of grounding the reader with backstory. But as the series progresses, the books become more dependent on the earlier ones. To a small degree, I noted some of that occurring in the Corbin’s Bend series of stand-alone novellas. For example, as a secondary character, single-gal-on-the-make Carla Methon wreaks havoc with other people’s relationships in some of the Season One Corbin’s Bend releases, but then in the Season Two release of His Forever Summer by Tara Finnegan, she finally gets her own man.
My Rod and Cane Society domestic discipline series is written as a collection of stand-alone novels about the various characters who belong to an organization of men who spank their wives and girlfriends. Each book follows a couple’s domestic discipline journey. However, the Society evolves as the series progress. Sooper sekrit in book 1 (Unexpected Consequences), Rod and Cane is outed in the press in book 2 (False
Pretenses), which then allows non-members to enter the Society in books 3 (Body Politics) and 5 (Reasonable Doubts). The publicity the members receive in False Pretenses affects the plot of Reasonable Doubts (to be released in Jan. 2015).
And characters appear and reappear as the main characters and secondary characters in the various books.
I intended my science fiction romance Breeder trilogy to be a hybrid between Option A and B. An overarching story more strongly connects the books of the series than it does in Rod and Cane, but Breeder book focuses on a different hero and heroine and how the male-dominated culture of their planet affects their relationship. They meet, they fall in love, and they risk losing that love in each book. A beginning, middle and end. Complete separate story for each H/h in Breeder, Terran and Warrior.
Author Lisa Medley handles her urban fantasy Reaper series the same way. Each book, Reap & Repent, Reap & Redeem, Reap & Reveal, focuses on a different couple and how their relationship is impacted by the continuing battle to save the world from evil.
What do you think is the deciding factor in whether a series book can stand alone? Which type of series books do you prefer? Those that can stand alone? Or those that are meant to be read in order? Do you ever read series books out of order or do you feel you have to start at book one even if the stories are independent?
And now, a word from our sponsor:
Warrior (Breeder 3)
On a planet where women are chattel, Anika is to be delivered to become the mate of an Alpha Commander. Secretly in love with another, she is unable to accept the arrangement and flees. Bound by his duty, her lover Urazi intended to bring her back to fulfill her function. But war intervenes, and as their planet fights a desperate battle against a villainous despot, Anika and Urazi become united in their determination to save their people. But with their lives on the line, the love they share may become the biggest risk of all.