Discussing their 2013 plans, Penguin Children’s Managing Director Francesca Dow said the company was focused on building “brand ecosystems” and “thinking beyond the book”. This includes, according to The Bookseller, releasing new spin-offs for classic children’s books like Peter Rabbit (written by Oscar-winning actress Emma Thompson), publishing activity and sticker birds based on the popular Angry Birds game franchise, and creating a “digital universe” for children’s book master Roald Dahl.
As writers we also need to be thinking beyond the book; carefully considering how people can connect with our work across a multiplicity of platforms and experiences. This doesn’t mean every book needs an app, or an accompanying television series to have relevance. It’s important to look at the work for what it is, and what you want it to do (spark discussion around an important topic? share little known information? educate?); then seeking the available tools to create an experience that immerses the reader in the world of your book.
Three years ago, I attended a panel discussion at BookExpo America where one panelist discussed a children’s book app which could record mom or dad’s voice so kids could have on-demand read alongs with their parents. It’s a simple solution that makes perfect sense for a children’s book. This could also work for language and elocution tutorials.
Right now, I’m obsessed with augmented reality. For their book The Human Face of Big Data, photographer Rick Smolan and Jennifer Erwitt used augmented reality to enhance their book with animation, videos, TED Talks, and other relevant info. Readers can access these extras with smart phones enabled to respond to little yellow keys in the corners of some pages. Augmented Reality would also work great for books that require visual demos like cookbooks.
Of course, there is a cost associated with thinking beyond the book. If you are self-publishing your book or not high enough on the totem pole at your traditional publisher to get them to cover the cost, creating a simple app starts at $1000 and the price climbs depending on what you are trying to do. That said, the cost amounts to what you’d likely spend on promotion/marketing anyway. Order a few rounds of full-color cards for your book, or calculate the cost of mailing out freebies to editors for press consideration and you’re quickly at the $1000 mark.
There are also free / far less expensive ways to create an experience around your book, like creating a Twitter account in the name and voice of your protagonist. Or blogging relevant news of the day as it relates to the topic of your book. When it comes to blogging / tweeting / Facebooking / Instagramming, it’s important to do anyway to build and connect with an audience before and between projects. There was a piece in this week’s New York Times about jewelry designers Jodie and Danielle Snyder who built a huge following using social media to depict the lifestyle of their Dannijo brand.
Musicians and other artists have been thinking beyond the their work forever, and continue to; there’s no reason writers shouldn’t be doing the same. With discovery of new writing and writers becoming a bigger challenge as major bookstores fold while others shrink in size, it’s critical we figure out new avenues — digital and physical — that help readers experience our stories in new ways. This doesn’t mean the actual writing takes a backseat. Bells and whistles, cool as they may be, will only expose shoddy work.