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A book series is a sequence of books having certain characteristics in common that are formally identified together as a group. Book series can be organized in different ways, such as written by the same author, or marketed as a group by their publisher.
Reprint series of public domain fiction (and sometimes nonfiction) books appeared as early as the 18th century, with the series Poets of Great Britain Complete from Chaucer to Churchill (founded by British publisher John Bell in 1777). Later British reprint series were to include the Routledge's Railway Library (George Routledge, 1848–99), the Oxford World's Classics (Oxford University Press, 1901- ), the Everyman's Library (J. M. Dent, 1906- ), the Penguin Classics (Penguin Books, 1945- ) and the Penguin English Library (1963- ).
Reprint series were also published in the United States, including the Modern Library (Boni & Liveright, 1917- ), in Germany, including the Universal-Bibliothek (Reclam, 1867- ), and in most other countries of the world.
The early 19th century saw numerous improvements in the printing, publishing and book-distribution processes, with the introduction of steam-powered printing presses, pulp mills, automatic type setting, and a network of railways. These innovations enabled the likes of Simms and McIntyre of Belfast, Routledge & Sons (founded in 1836) and Ward & Lock (founded in 1854) to mass-produce cheap uniform yellowback or paperback editions of existing works, and distribute and sell them across the British Isles, principally via the ubiquitous W H Smith & Sons newsagent found at most urban British railway stations. These paper bound volumes were offered for sale at a fraction of the historic cost of a book, and were of a smaller format (110x175mm) aimed at the railway traveller. The Routledge's Railway Library series of paperbacks remained in print until 1898, and offered the traveling public 1,277 unique titles.
In 1841 the German Tauchnitz publishing firm launched the Collection of British and American Authors, a reprint series of inexpensive paperbound editions of both public domain and copyrighted fiction and nonfiction works. This book series was unique for paying living authors of the works published even though copyright protection did not exist between nations in the 19th century.
Fictional series typically share a common setting, story arc, set of characters or timeline. They are common in genre fiction, particularly crime fiction, adventure fiction, and science fiction, as well as in children's literature.
Some works in a series can stand alone—they can be read in any order, as each book makes few, if any, reference to past events, and the characters seldom, if ever, change. Many of these series books may be published in a numbered series. Examples of such series are works like The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and Nick Carter.
Some series do have their characters go through changes, and make references to past events. Typically such series are published in the order of their internal chronology, so that the next book published follows the previous book. How much these changes matter will vary from series to series (and reader to reader). For some, it may be minor—characters might get engaged, change jobs, etc., but it does not affect the main storyline. Examples of this type include Tony Hillerman's Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn books. In other series, the changes are major and the books must be read in order to be fully enjoyed. Examples of this type include the Harry Potter series.
There are some book series that are not really proper series, but more of a single work so large that it must be published over two or more books. Examples of this type include The Lord of the Rings volumes or the Dark Tower series by Stephen King.
Some authors make it difficult to list their books in a numerical order when they do not release each work in its 'proper' order by the story's internal chronology. They might 'jump' back in time to early adventures of the characters, writing works that must be placed before or between previously published works. Thus, the books in a series are sometimes enumerated according to the internal chronology rather than in publication order, depending on the intended purpose for the list. Examples of this series include works from the Chronicles of Narnia, where the fifth book published, The Horse and His Boy, is actually set during the time of the first book, and the sixth book published, The Magician's Nephew is actually set long before the first book. This was done intentionally by C. S. Lewis, a medieval literature scholar. Medieval literature did not always tell a story chronologically.
Academic and scholarly publications
In scholarly and academic publishing, scientific and non-fiction books that are released serially (in successive parts) once a year, or less often, are also called a series. (Publications that are released more often than once a year are known as periodicals.) The connection among books belonging to such a series can be by discipline, focus, approach, type of work, or geographic location. Examples of such series include the "Antwerp Working Papers in Linguistics", "Early English Manuscripts in Facsimile", "Garland Reference Library", "Canterbury Tales Project", "Early English Text Society", and "Cambridge Companions to Music".
- John Feather, A History of British Publishing, London: Croom Helm, 1988, p. 117.
- Michael S. Suarez and H. R. Woudhuysen, eds., The Oxford Companion to the Book. Oxford University Press, 2010. Vol. 2. p. 1194.
- Peter Harris. International Companion Encyclopedia of Children's Literature. London: Taylor & Francis, 2014.
- Frank Arthur Mumby. Publishing and Bookselling: A History from the Earliest Times to the Present Day. London: Jonathan Cape, 1930. Revised edition, 1949.
- Frank L. Schick. The Paperbound Book in America: The History of Paperbacks and Their European Background. New York: R. R. Bowker, 1958.
- John Spiers, ed. The Culture of the Publisher’s Series. 2 vols. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.
- Jack David Zipes, ed. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Children's Literature. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 2006. 4 volumes.
- PublishingHistory.com - List of hardback and paperback book series with titles listed in each series
- A Series of Series - List of hardback publisher’s book series with detailed historical commentary on each
- Vintage Series Books for Girls . . . and a Few for Boys