Reading a Series: In Order or All Over the Place?

Usually, I read series in order. I want to get to know the characters the way the author developed them. It’s like growing close to friends over many years of shared experiences. Starting late in the series doesn’t let me build the same relationships. Once in a while, I’ve borrowed an audiobook from the library that was far along in a series I’d not yet read, and while I enjoyed the books, I often didn’t go back to the beginnings. Some authors write their series so there are virtually no spoilers if you discover the books out of sequence. A few others provide what I feel is such an excess of backstory that I turn off that audiobook and lose interest in how the series began.

Needless to say, this makes me cautious with backstory, trying to give as little as possible. With each new book, I find a new beta reader to join the team, one who hasn’t yet read my other books. That person’s fresh perspective helps me present the small doses of necessary backstory at the moment they’re needed—for new readers, for readers who’ve forgotten elements of earlier books, and for those who are zigzagging around in the series.

I’ve heard from people who started my series somewhere after book one, The Calling. One wanted to start with Shaman’s Blues, because it’s the book in which Mae Martin moves to New Mexico. Another started with Ghost Sickness because of the setting on the Mescalero Apache reservation. Others started with book six, Death Omen, because of its theme—fraud and exploitation in spiritual healing. And they liked the books out of order. I never asked if they went back to book one, though.

I wrote the suite of six short mysteries, Gifts and Thefts, to bridge the year and a half between the end of Shadow Family and the beginning of Chloride Canyon. Because it’s numbered book 7.5, Amazon doesn’t list this book on my series page. They have Gifts and Thefts off by itself as it were a stand-alone book. The other major online bookstores, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, and Apple, are more flexible about numbering and include book 7.5 on the series page. So, if you are a read-it-in-order person and buy from Amazon, heads up. There’s a book between seven and eight. It’s short, and you can finish it before book eight, Chloride Canyon, comes out at the end of the month.

Do you only read series in order? If you start with a later book, do you go back to the beginning? I’m curious how others relate to series.