Is the series king?
Common wisdom in the fiction world tends to back this up. And it’s certainly understandable. If your readers grow to love your characters, what better way to keep them excited about your next book than to continue telling tales with the people they are comfortable with? Provided that the stories are still fresh and that you aren’t dishing out too much of a good thing, this can be a useful tactic to keep your fans where you want them – poised over the one click button.
Series also provide for some unique marketing opportunities. You’ve probably heard the oft-repeated gem that some authors swear by: offer the first book for free. Obviously, this works much more effectively if you’re already a few books in and can hook your readers into continuing on right away. Even if your first book isn’t perma-free, you might still enjoy this “I’ve got to know what happens now!” phenomenon. Chances are, if someone raves about the first book, they’ll eventually pick up at least the second one. Maybe they’ll even get around to reading it one day.
Something that isn’t talked about quite as much? The difficulty that comes with gaining exposure for subsequent books – especially when you’re relatively obscure. When you’re trying to gather reviews prior to release, it can be a daunting task to try to convince someone that: a.) It’s worth their time to read Books 1-3 in order to catch up and be in the loop, or b.) You don’t have to read the other books to enjoy this one.
In my series, I took a hybrid approach to this. My books do go in order, building one upon the other. I think it’s because of their genre. Since I categorize them as a mix between contemporary romance and chick lit, they deal with relationships – both romantic and platonic. Things that occur in Book One still get mentioned in Book Four. Characters grow and react to things that have happened in the past. It’s not like a mystery – for instance – where the character development isn’t the point, it’s the plot. That being said, while Books One and Two are joined at the hip, Books Three and Four could be read as standalones.
I’ve had readers successfully pick up the series at both Book Three and Four (and a couple even at Book Two) and be perfectly happy with the experience. Most of the time, they indicate that they are so intrigued by the hint of what came before that they need to go back and read the others. Which is a win in my book for sure.
Occasionally, I do hear from someone that wishes I would have held their hand a little bit more and led them through the forest. These are the people who I haven’t won over, who won’t continue on (or go back) for whatever reason and that’s fine, too.
In a perfect world, readers would start at Book One and go forward in order. That’s the ultimate experience, no matter what book I’m marketing that day. And if you listen to the fans that have read from the beginning, they’ll tell you the same thing.
I’m not the type of writer who wants to bore people with 100 pages of backstory in every book. And considering that there are now four of them, that’s over 1,200 pages and 400,000 words to recap.
For that reason, my marketing plan for Book Five will be drastically different. It can’t be a standalone by design, since it’s the end of the series. For it to make any sense, you’ll have to read all the others before it. Which renders a blog tour relatively useless, because there have only been two blogs that have featured reviews on every single book. I’ll likely open up ARCs to those readers that have read and reviewed all the others and call it good.
Me being me, I’m already planning out what happens next. After this series is said and done (with a companion book very likely), I’m moving forward with a few true standalones, which I plan on marketing the hell out of.
My hope is that the standalones will impress new readers enough that they’ll check out the series. And read it from the beginning.