Catching up a series is the chore you have to face the moment you begin book number two. The problem with writing a series is that you have to begin each book as if your reader hasn’t read the other books in the series. But you also have to write it in a way that won’t annoy fans who are all caught up on all the other books so far. If you can balance yourself on this writing tightrope, you can create a great series. It’s actually much simpler to do than you probably think.
The Story So Far
I’m not going to lie: I’ve read book series out of order. It’s not my fault if book 1 isn’t available...or I don’t feel like reading it. I can’t help it if I’d rather skip straight to the last book than to start all over. Maybe I’ll get to that, eventually. The point is, I may not always be current on your book series when I pick up that book. What are you going to do about it?
No matter how you write it, you’re going to have to catch readers up on the story so far with every installment of your series, from book 2 to book 200. But you cannot simply write a prologue that’s essentially a re-cap of the story. Well, you can, but most people generally agree that this is no good whatsoever. It’s boring for readers who did take the time to read books 2 through 199, and it’s a little condescending to readers who are just starting. You can still give a re-cap. Just get a little more creative about it, and readers will hardly even notice that you’re doing it
Confusion is okay, at least a little bit and at least at first. It’s okay to throw your readers into the middle of the story and put them right inside a situation. But then, start filling in the blanks. Slowly introduce the backstory that all readers need to know, whether or not they already read it before. If you can, draw out the revelation in a natural way. Frame it around an existing scene or dialogue that’s already taking place, so you can start getting readers caught up on your series in a sensible, slow way.
Take your time revealing the backstory of the series, but not too much. Get the recap over with so you can get on with the rest of the story, and get all the readers on the same page -- pun intended.