This is something I’ve been pondering, and seen teased at by several outlets, for quite some time now. Most books get written, published, and left alone other than some marketing. It seems like there’s a void surrounding them that could be filled with meaningful content that would enhance the likelihood of purchase, and the reader’s experience. With the public’s fascination with non-print media, it seems logical to try to attract readership through strategic use of that media. There’s two angles here: 1. increase sales of books, and 2. open up new product lines that synergize with your books.
If you think about it, books at their most basic already incorporate this idea at a rudimentary level. Almost every book has a graphical cover. This is to grab the potential reader’s attention in the sea of books. We’re told not to judge by the cover, but it would be lying to say we don’t do so, at least sometimes. Covers sell books, and good covers sell more books.
Given the success of covers, wouldn’t it make sense to expand on the potential range of hooks? This works on a very grand scale. Many readers will pick up a book if they liked the movie or television show adaptation, but those are generally too extreme for an author to consider.
So, what might be reasonable to commission at the author level? Dovetailing from covers, one thing I’ve found that I personally quite enjoy is internal art. The occasional art piece tastefully inserted into the pages of a story can really bring the story to life. A great example of this would be Walter Moers’ City of Dreaming Books. Many of the creatures and settings in the book are quite fantastical in design, and the pictures are a wonderful look into the author’s mind to see them as he did.
On top of images, City of Dreaming Books was also quite inventive in the use of text and formatting. One particular instance that really stuck out for me was a sequence of a character passing out. The next two pages where printed completely black. This was such an innovative idea to me, and it worked. Obviously jarring things like this have to be used sparingly, but I loved the creativity of it.
You might be thinking that art isn’t reasonable if you’re not an artist, but there are definitely ways to go about it even on a tight budget. A recent anthology, Far Worlds, put together by writing forum The Bolthole was a budget production. Despite that, they managed to include not only a great cover, but also internal artwork for each story.
Having sought to commission art on other projects, I know first-hand there are plenty of artists out there willing to work with you to make something happen. You have to do some leg-work to find them, but it is certainly possible.
Art can also potentially open up additional product lines. Publisher Black Library offers poster sized prints of their beautiful cover art for sale. I can’t imagine it costs very much to set up this kind of product, so it should be an easy income stream to capitalize on. I know I’m not the only one who ponders how a great cover would look in large scale.
Another interesting angle on the multimedia book experience that I saw recently was a three-track music album inspired by Ellie Di Julio’s The Transmigration of Cora Riley. It’s not very likely that someone will find the music first and buy the books (but hey, who knows?), but how many people buy movie soundtracks? Why can’t a book soundtrack become a thing? What if a book soundtrack came with recommendations for chapter/section pairings? That would be very cool to have tie-in music for specific parts of a book.
Finally we come to video. As I mentioned before, movies and television shows are pie in the sky dream jackpots for authors, but not very attainable for most. That doesn’t mean video is a barren realm. The rise of book trailers shows there is merit here, even if that’s something of a fledgling marketing tool. Another thing the creators of Far Worlds are trying to do is create short films that tie in to the stories in the book. Given the proliferation of animation and short films online, I don’t see why this isn’t a completely reasonable market expansion.
It seems to me that building a comprehensive portfolio around a book or series is a solid way to enhance chances of success. The more a book has to offer as a hook to readers will make it stand out. The more access points someone has to and from your book can only be a good thing. This list is far from comprehensive. I can think of several more ways to build interest off the top of my head: indie video games, traditional games, interactive websites, user-content platforms, etc.
If you notice, the big guys have most of this stuff. I don’t see what’s stopping every author from getting in on the action. How are you building your book portfolio? I’d be interested to hear any innovative ideas or methods.