One of the things I did with Trust was go to great lengths to make it accessible to someone who hadn't read Trang. Since I haven't been able to write this week, I've put a lot of thought into how to do that with Trials, because the current opening would be of zero interest to someone unfamiliar with the other books, and I wanted to fix that.
It's been surprisingly difficult to work out (although I think I have a fix now), so I've been wondering if it was even worth doing, since it is book three of four--shouldn't people who haven't read the first two books expect to be left behind? But that line of thinking was recently debunked for me by a fellow author. This person is writing a VERY long series, and there was a production glitch with, oh, let's say book #23 that didn't affect the text, so they gave the defective copies away to a random group of people that included me.
It's not necessarily the kind of book I'm interested in, but I'm always on the lookout for presents, so I tried giving it a read. And it reads like this:
MO: Did you hear about Jo?
BO: Jo? You're asking me about Jo?
MO: Well, I thought you had a right to know--Jo is thinking about visiting Akron.
BO: Mother of God!!! Not Akron!
MO: I know it sounds crazy.
BO: Especially now that--he can't be thinking of Akron!
BO: And--he's not thinking of taking Ko to Akron, is he?
And on it goes. There is never any attempt to explain to the reader the nature of Bo, Mo, Ko, and Jo's relationship, or why going to Akron is such a big deal.
I'm planning to struggle through, but I have to say I'm not optimistic that it will get better for me. Since I'm not enjoying the book now and probably won't be able to, the chances of my buying the first book in the series for someone else are quite slim.
So much for that working as marketing.
In contrast, take Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin books. I have read the entire series, and in every one last one O'Brian manages to 1. tell you who the major characters are, and 2. orient you to the world of the 18th-century British Navy.
By book #18, did I need this information? No, I did not. In fact, I'd skim or skip those sections. Did that put me off the books? Oh, hell, no. I was hooked. It didn't matter to me if I had to jump over most of pages 3-4 to find out what those two were up to!
Likewise the Vorkosigan Saga--when, say, Miles' cousin Ivan gets introduced, I'll breeze right over the part that explains who he is, exactly, because I already know. I know it because I've read all the Vorkosigan books, so clearly, I don't resent it.
My point is, you never know how someone is going to get into your books. (And even with series I really like, often I'll let a year or two lapse between books, so refreshers are welcome.) A paragraph I skim over hardly even qualifies as a minor annoyance. Feeling like I've walked into a party and no one will give me the time of day, because they're all so excited to be talking to each other again? That's a lot more irritating.