Yes. But first, no.
This post is in response to a question from a newer author:
“I just published my first book and am working on Book 2. It will be in the same “universe” as Book 1. Even though both are standalone, I would prefer readers to finish Book 1 first since Book 2 will reference Book 1’s characters (who have had their HEA). My questions are . . .
1. Should I now add a series name to book 1? If I do, will it confuse people?
2. When I publish book 2, where are the places I need to mention that while this is a standalone, it’ll be better to read after book 1?”
Before I go on, I want to make it clear I am speaking ONLY from my experience.
I write interconnected standalones within a particular setting (anywhere from 3-5 books) with a recurring cast of characters. EVERY book in the series will stand alone (the couple gets their HEA), and I am a Kindle Unlimited author. So if you write a traditional series (all books follow one couple) or you’re wide, this advice might not be as practical for you.
Okay, so the yes part is this: Readers love series! Especially in our “binge” entertainment culture, readers love a world they can really sink their teeth into.
However, there are many readers who will wait until the entire series is complete, whether the books are branded as standalones or not. They don’t like waiting for the next installment, and many feel like they have been “burned” before with cliffhangers. (Some authors delight in the cliffhanger thing and swear it sells books even though readers complain… I prefer not to annoy my readers. I don’t like risking hate mail or negative reviews that take away a star because they hated the cliffy ending even though they loved the book. This frustration is real.)
So here’s my answer to question #1: You COULD add the name of the series to the branding of both books 1 and 2 (on the covers, for example, or in the metadata), but I would not promote it heavily as a series until the series is done.
All of my Cloverleigh Farms and Bellamy Creek books are like this. I release and market them as complete standalones. I do not connect them as series in the marketing or in KDP until the series is complete. Amazon sometimes does it on their own, but not much I can do about that.
The ONLY places I connect them as a series are in the branding (covers will match, the CF covers actually say “Cloverleigh Farms Series” just beneath the titles) and the title page of the book. Actually, I did not even put “Bellamy Creek Series” on the BC covers yet. I will do it once the series is complete.
Here’s my answer to question #2: Nowhere LOL. Not only will some readers avoid BOTH books until they’re assured the series is complete, but there are also the readers who just want a standalone right now. They’re not looking for a long-term investment. (If you must, you can put something at the end of the book blurb like this: “MAKE ME YOURS is part of the Bellamy Creek Series but can be read as a complete standalone!”)
So make it a complete standalone. Write and market it that way, and optimize your back matter to let them know that if they loved Book 2, they won’t want to miss Book 1! Then link it right there. (I cannot overstate the importance of back matter. It is the most precious real estate in your book.)
Example: “Did you love Cole and Cheyenne’s romance? You won’t want to miss Griffin and Blair’s story! Find it here!” (Then link it. Once Book 3 is done, you will have to update this.)
The smartest thing you can do to make sure they actually WANT to go back and read it is put your Book 1 characters in your Book 2. That way readers will be curious about them.
Even MORE important? Your characters from Book 3. Put them in and hint at how perfect they’d be for each other and what might be ahead. Readers love cookie crumbs! (I get TONS of comments from readers who can’t wait for Book 3 in the Bellamy Creek series–Enzo and Bianca–because I set up their romance in Book 2.) This is why it’s important to plan out a series ahead of time, so you can add those crumbs as you go along.
Once the series is complete, you can market it differently and do lots of things to get readers invested in the binge. You will also update your back matter to lead them to the NEXT book in the series, rather than the previous. But until the rest of the books are done, keep leading them to Book 1.
A note about this feeling: “Even though both are standalone, I would prefer readers to finish Book 1…” Honestly, it doesn’t matter what you as the author prefer. Readers don’t care. I think MAKE ME YOURS would be better if readers start with DRIVE ME WILD, but many of them didn’t, and that’s okay. They’ll find it, because I optimized my back matter (and my mailing lists, but that’s another post.)
JUST MAKE SURE THE BOOKS WILL ACTUALLY STAND ALONE. NO TRICKS!
You need to create goodwill for the long term here. Building a readership is about trust. It’s not just about this one book or even this one series.
One option, if you really want people to read Book A, is to do your 5 days free in KU (or if you’re wide, simply make it free for a limited time) or a 99 cent sale right before the release of Book B. Have that Book B sample chapter and preorder in the back matter!
Hope this helps!