by Regina Lynn
Honestly, it can't be. Children's series have had numbers on the volumes all my life, and probably long before that. I believe there were 54 Nancy Drew novels in my elementary school library, and I was able to read them in order because they were so easily sequenced.
I can't even estimate how many times I've picked up a new fantasy or science fiction (or mystery!) novel that looks interesting, only to read the back jacket and find it's the second or third or ninth in a series, and now I've just learned something that happens. Now I can't believe any death threats or risks to any character in the previous books, because their names on the jacket of the nth book tell me they'll make it through.
Slightly less often, I've picked up a book in haste, only to find -- once trapped on the airplane, or the dentist waiting room, or home at midnight with no bookstores open -- that it's not the first volume in a series.
Publishers do sometimes list titles in order in the front matter, but I have never seen those titles numbered, and sometimes they don't list in series order or they exclude books printed by other publishers.
Amazon.com doesn't even have a "sort by series order" filter! You have to figure it all out on your own, based on publication dates, which is difficult because of the whole reprint and hardback/trade/paperback version thing. Then you end up reading the synopses to try to put things in order which means you risk reading spoilers on volumes you've not yet read.
Once we do figure it all out, we try to help fellow readers by creating an Amazon List, but we don't always have time. And frankly, it's not our job.
Publishers have an obligation to readers -- and authors -- to make it as easy as possible for us to buy the books. Publishers have cover designers and marketing departments and databases that make it simple for them to add that one little hint, that one little bit of communication that inspires us to go Ah-ha! There's one I don't have yet! and buy the dang book.
Authors with multiple series are cash cows for fiction publishers. Anne Bishop's front covers are great, with banners right along the top: Book 1 of The Black Jewels Trilogy, Book 3 of The House of Gaian Trilogy. How simple is that? Now I know she has two separate series, and what order the books are in, and I can buy all six without any additional sleuthing on my part.
The Dresden Files or Lemony Snicket, same thing: the series name and the volume number. The paperbacks I have of Guy Gavriel Kay's Fionavar series does too. Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time covers all say what order they go in; it would have been impossible for fans to keep everything together otherwise.
I cannot believe this is the exception rather than the rule.
Please, publishers, take your cue from Harry Potter. Every version of that book, regardless of media, has the volume number on the cover or case or digital listing. And it's the best-selling series of all time, isn't it?
Regina Lynn is the Sex Drive Columnist at Wired.com and the author of The Sexual Revolution 2.0. You can read her blog at reginalynn.com
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