Thursday, March 27, 2014

Out of Order!

Posted by: R.L. Naquin
My whole life, I have lived in ignorance of the ways of others. In fact, I didn’t even know such things were possible.

People read books out of series order.

Seriously? We’re allowed to do that? I thought there was some kind of law. No?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a book that looked really good, but it was the second or third in its series. The first book was nowhere to be found. With a sad heart and a full wallet, I put the book back on the shelf.

Golem in My Glovebox, book four of my Monster Haven series, comes out next month. Writing a longer series has forced me to really think about this idea of reading out of order. Sometimes I see reviews of book two or three and people say they really liked it, so they went back and read the rest of the series.

I’m thrilled! I’m grateful! I’m so pleased they liked the book all on its own! But I still don’t understand how the books were acquired this way. They’re digital, so anywhere someone got book two or three, they could’ve bought book one instead.

I’m not complaining. Honest. I’m trying to understand. I’m also kind of mourning all those books past-Rachel put back on the shelf and never read because of a deeply held belief that if you read out of order, demons will eat your soul.

Mine aren’t meant to be stand-alone books, so it worries me. Yes, you can read them alone, but they’re written with a story arc that goes chronologically through the books and grows in tension with each one until the finale of the last book. It seems to me that book one would feel kind of wimpy and disconnected if you started with book three.

And yet, it seems to work for some people. I’m wondering if I’m trying too hard to build tension in increments. Or if maybe I should write less books in my next series. Or if maybe I should stop taking the whole thing so seriously and just chill. My readers are awesome. They’re chill. I should be chill.

But what about reviewers? With book four coming out, I hesitate to go on a blog tour and try to attract new reviewers—book four is a terrible place to bring someone in. We’re more than halfway. How can they possibly like the book if they don’t know how the characters got to that point from the previous three books?

I’m at a loss. Do any of you read books out of order? Does it work? Are you still satisfied?

Should I try it?

Rachel's head is packed with an outrageous amount of useless Disney trivia. She is terrified of thunder, but not of lightning, and sometimes recites the Disneyland dedication speech during storms to keep herself calm. She finds it appalling that nobody from Disney has called yet with her castle move-in date.

Originally from Northern California, she has a tendency to move every few years, resulting in a total of seven different states and a six-year stint in England. Currently, she's living in the Heartland, planning her next grand adventure. Rachel has one heroic husband, two grown kids, a crazy-catlady starter kit, and an imaginary dog named Waffles.

She doesn't have time for a real dog.

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  1. I'm not sure I have ever intentionally read a chronological series out of order. I know there are some series of books that chronological order isn't as important in (Xanth) and others where there are several arcs within a world (Pern, Discworld). But even with those, I still attempt to follow each story arc in sequential order.

    There have been times where I've accidentally started reading the second or third book in a series and didn't realize until I was halfway through it that it wasn't a stand-alone novel. If I like the book enough, I'll go back and read the first books. My general exception to this rule is with my regency romance novels, since usually there are only references to the other books and not knowing the full story doesn't detract from the experience overmuch.

    But usually I do the same thing as you and put the second book back on the shelf until I can find the first one. At least now in the age of smartphones I can log into my library account and put the first book on hold. Or add it to my ever growing Goodreads "to read" list.

  2. Now that you mention it, I have read some Xanth books out of order. Still, I tried to keep them sequential within a generation, since that's generally how the arcs in that series go. Been a long time since I read them, though, and he's still spitting them out.

    I kind of wonder what my books are like as standalones. I know what happens before and after, but to someone just coming into the middle of it, I wonder what it would be like. Makes me think maybe I should've had a new-to-the-series beta reader for each book, just to get their reaction. Something to think about for a future series.

  3. I hate reading books out of order in a series. That said, some series (such a romance series with connected characters, or a mystery series where each book has its own separate plot) are more out-of-order friendly than others.

    Then there are the series such as the Narnia books or Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan saga or Anne McCaffrey's Pern books where the order the books were written and published in doesn't match the series' internal chronological order... The Vorkosigan series is much beloved by me and my husband--when we reread it, we do so in chronological order.

  4. I hadn't thought of that, Nicole. I do read the Narnia books in a different order than they were published, and the Pern books can be cherry picked, since main characters change. I haven't read far into the Vorkosigan saga, but looking at them, they change, too. (I'd probably still want to go in order the first time, though.)

    After I read Ender's Game the first time, I nearly had a meltdown. Do I read Ender's Shadow and follow Bean's series or continue with Ender first? What I did was get more attached to Bean and went with him, then doubled back for Ender.

    Really, we just need more reading time.

  5. My friend who knows my reading quirks sent me a link to this blog because she knows me and she understands how I am. She also knew I would appreciate this.

    I am a book reviewer and I read series out of order. I often go slumming around in book blurbs trying to find that one special thing that jumps out at me. Often, the first or second book in a series does not intrigue me, but maybe the sixth book down the line has this amazing synopsis. Unable to help myself, I buy that one. If I try to read the first few books in that series, it feels like punishment until I get to the one that I really want to read. I do this recognizing that I might not understand everything, but I do feel like I should be able to pick up any book in a series and at least get the idea of what's going on. I don't have to understand every nuance, but I shouldn't have to backtrack through the entire series to care about the characters. That may not be very fair, but it's how I am and it's unlikely that I'm changing anytime soon.

    I really like the Mercedes Lackey approach of writing a series of books and then filling in her timeline by publishing more books that talk about the past. For example, I fell in love with the Arrows trilogy, but I gave myself the challenge of reading in accordance to the timeline. If I never read her before, I would have never tried out Valdemar if I had to snooze my way through the Black Gryphon.

    As a reviewer, I don't mind getting an arc of a series I've never read. If I like the book, I'll just backtrack. I only feel a mild twinge of sadness that I didn't get to see the growth of certain characters, but it isn't enough to make me stop, necessarily. It's a bad habit, but those of us who read out of order are out there. And chances are that if we like book number 10, we're going to glom books 1 through 9.

  6. First time through the Vorkosigan series, I read them in publication order, for some reason...partly because I knew, that way, everything would make sense. And I still think of the Narnia books in chronological order, because the set I had a child numbered them that way. The Ender books...well, when I first read them, the Bean books weren't out yet, but considering that the two sub-series' timelines are forcibly separated by FTL travel, it doesn't really matter.

    Trying to read some series in chronological order meant I ended up starting with the later-written prequels, which is often a bad idea. Darkover Landfall is an awful place to start the Darkover series, and ditto for Dragonsdawn for Pern, because they're really just setting up the later series, so it'll be full of references that will mean nothing to you, not to mention spoilers...

  7. Meka, I'm so glad your friend sent you over here to explain it to me. The way you describe it makes me think reading the book you want to read rather than pushing through all the prior books is perfectly reasonable. I know the feeling of slogging through a book I don't want to read because I want to get to a book further along in the series. Next time, I think I'll try it your way.

    Also, I appreciate your giving a reviewer's point of view on this. I need to relax and trust the reviewers to know what they're doing. Part of being a writer is supposed to be worrying about stupid things though, right?

    Alfvaen, my Narnia set was numbered chronologically, too. That helped. I was late to the Ender/Bean series so they were almost all out by then. And yeah, once you get past the initial parallel books, their timelines are completed separated. I didn't know that when I started though, so I worried.

    The Pern books were where I totally screwed up, and they're probably responsible for my neurotic need for order now. I grabbed my first one in the dead center of the series and was completely lost. The world was confusing, the characters made no sense, and I felt like the whole thing was meant to make me feel dumb. To be fair, I was about 12. I went back later and sorted it all out when I was older, but man, that was a tough read for a kid.

  8. It doesn't bother me to read out of order. If I like the book a lot, I'll go back and start from the beginning. There are a few series I love where I wouldn't have gotten past book one if I'd read them in order.

  9. I find it irritating if, say book 3 is on special offer, but books 1 and 2 are not. I'm like you, can't read out of order because how can you understand the nuances of a series family of characters if you don't know the beginning of their journey?


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