Memoirs have always been less then satisfying for me, and I would perhaps lump travel books in there too. I feel like I’m the curious cat of readers, I want to see the tumbling waterfall and the gnarly Aunt and there are never enough pictures. The photos included are never wide enough to show you everything, and certainly there are never any images of the person you find the most intriguing. I think I shall blame this dissatisfaction on Harry Potter; it is J.K.Rowling’s fault that my mind believes books should have pictures that move. It surprises me that very few publishers seem to acknowledge this need for exploring further than the pages, they seem more interested in flogging a dead horse and giving nothing away unless someone gives them a quid. The battles some authors have gone through with publisher to try podcasting their books are epic; editor and author body parts scattered across the battlefield and not a reader in sight. Yet transmedia, as mentioned by one of my other esteemed Meanland writers, is not a dirty word, and even if it was, publishers and authors should be getting their hands filthy. Books aren’t only going through a revolution in their digital form but their print form too (Albeit at the pace of a snail, riding another snail, riding a tortoise). I have been advocating for over twelve months that the print book is a fantastic place to explore a multimedia experience, yet only a daring few are moving into the print/transmedia realm. In fact, as far as I’m aware, only one print book has taken that step into interactivity using my favourite free technology, the QR code, and that book is Awake by Joel N. Clark (see the trailer below).
Awake is a transmedia extravaganza, combining memoir writing with QR codes linked to films showing extra footage and interviews that allow you to meet the characters mentioned in Joel’s stories and see the places he has visited in his crazy, adventure filled life as a film/documentary maker and story teller. I feel I should put a disclaimer upfront that there is a bit of God stuff scattered throughout Awake, which normally turns me off in a big way. Yet while the book starts off with Joel’s thoughts of God and the meaning of life (Insert Monty Python Joke here…), the book is not preachy, and my dislike for strongly Christian protagonists gave way to the fantastic stories, thoughtful (and often hilarious) film footage and the simple brilliance of how Joel and his publisher have integrated the QR codes into full page sketches.
Some sketches from Awake written by Joel Clark. Note the blank spaces on the left picture reserved for the QR codes linked to that story. For the print book, the movie screen is where the smart phone would sit.
Joel was kind enough to chat with me about Awake and his work in helping authors integrate transmedia into their books. What I found to be one of the more fascinating points to come out of our conversation was how the transmedia component of the book was there to enhance the story, not to replace it (as he mentioned in this section of the interview below). The aim of the QR codes was to add a deeper level of exploration and the reader was not expected to diligently click or scan each one of the forty-eight extra elements in the book. Because transmedia is such ‘uncharted’ territory in the publishing industry it is easy to forget that just because you can add a hundred links or extra features to a book, doesn’t mean you should. Readers have lives to your know… While many may use this as an excuse to continue to do things as they have always done, I hope that the true leaders in this industry will see it as an opportunity to dive in head first. Yes, you need to hold the Hands of Common Sense out front as you hit the water (to avoid knocking yourself out on unnecessary content), but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t explore unknown depths.
Part of the stigma attached to transmedia in print books seems to involve perceived cost and the notion that the enhancing of the story will be a complex task. Yet it’s clear that the enhancements that work best are ones that are simple and show an understanding of the audience. Joel, as well as creating his own multimedia print books, guides other authors on how they can build an experience around their words, particularly around fiction narratives. The enhancements he devises are those that require only small production costs. One example includes some simple films he shot for author Michael Albert, using iPhone and security camera footage to explore other character view points. As the story is told in first person this allows the reader to explore another side to the minor characters they wouldn’t have seen had the novel been entirely text based. In Joe’s latest project, a young adult fantasy novel, he plans to include a basic interactive website which allows young readers to post tales speculating what happens to the character of a mouse between his appearances at the beginning and end of the novel. Having the courage to play with format is key in creating a great transmedia experience and below Joel talks about the transmedia projects he is involved with and the three things an author needs to get their transmedia project off the ground.
“Is it a modern day story you’re trying to tell? Then you can use modern day technology to help tell it.“ It’s true that some stories lend themselves more to transmedia then others, just as certain cheese lends itself better to a good bottle of red. For my recently released e-book, ‘The Grand Adventures of Madeline Cain: Photographer Extraordinaire’ a comedy set in Facebook, try to avoid adding interactive Facebook pages into the mix was akin to avoiding chocolate, it just wasn’t going to happen. Not if the people around me wanted to keep their heads. In the end it was a win-win for me as I was able to tap into the transmedia possibilities of the book at zero cost. However, if you’re creative enough (like Joel), it doesn’t matter if your novel is set in the 1900’s or in the era of Facebook, transmedia can be used effectively to enhance both. But first the idea that print can be as interactive as digital needs to be accepted and made the norm.
By allowing readers the option to partake in interactivity if they choose, I can see publishers once again forging ahead of the print and digital pack. Publishers need to lead the industry. So don’t settle for being a book factory, move outside print and become storytellers.
Emily is an emerging author of fantasy and YA fiction. Here most recent novel a comedy set in Facebook, The Grand Adventures of Madeline Cain, is available at http://emilycraven.bkclb.co/the-grand-adventures-of-madeline-cain. In 2011-2012 she undertook a 12 month writing mentorship with Isobelle Carmody, for her manuscript Priori-The Power Within . You can read about her mentorship experience and the lessons she learnt at http://theoriginalfantasy.blogspot.com.au or visit her blog on e-books & author marketing at http://ebookrevolution.blogspot.com.