By Mari Mancusi
When I was a teen, you read a book, you reached the end. You put it down and started the next. The experience ended at "The End." But for today's teens, "The End" is just the beginning.
The DVD extras generation is looking for an entire multimedia experience when he or she delves into a book. They want the world the author created to live and breathe, and they want to become a part of it. And as an author, you can build an incredibly loyal fan base by taking steps offer that enhanced experience to them.
These days, when a tween or teen finishes a book they enjoy, the first thing they do is Google the author or series title. They're looking for author websites with cool downloads, fan sites with forums they can chat on, videos on YouTube to watch, Facebook pages they can "like," and secret inside information about what's coming up next. In short, they're looking to become a part of the world in any way they can.
Publishers have been slow to realize this, and a lot of initial multimedia/online content originated with the authors themselves, using their own budgets to enrich the reading experience. Now publishers are starting to catch on and will develop websites and videos for their top-selling authors. But mid-listers are still going to have to go it alone.
Don't worry--you don't have to spend a ton of money to create these multimedia extras. For example, while fancy book trailers can cost thousands of dollars to produce, a local college student might produce one at a big discount--or even free--just for the experience and exposure they get from being listed on your website. And don't think that free necessarily means inferior quality--I've seen fan videos with way more sophistication than some of the professional ones. Just make sure you supervise where they get their images and music from. They need to be royalty free to use or you might get in trouble down the road.
As an alternative, a simple webcam video with you chatting one-on-one with readers can be just as effective as a full on book trailer, if not more so. Mainly because this is what teens do themselves.
Look up "haul videos" on YouTube sometime to see what I mean. There are thousands of teens just sitting in front of their webcams, chatting about what they bought at the mall. They talk right into the camera and there's little, if any editing.
Since most newer laptops come with cameras already installed, this could be an easy, completely free way to promote yourself and your book. In these videos, you can talk about what's going on with the books. Give readers top secret advanced information or just chat about the plot of the next installment or even your life or writing process in general.
The key is to be natural and lighthearted and make the videos fun. (And not too long--three-to-five minutes is perfect.)
Other things that teens love? Widgets which can provide countdowns to your book release. Widgetbox.com has a free service or a pro service for $29.99 a year. You can also create (or have your webmaster create) AIM icons, Twitter Icons, Blog Avatars and wallpaper downloads--all with your book covers. In addition to allowing teens to become a part of your book's world and remember your series between releases, you're also getting free advertising to all their friends when they stick your book cover on their AIM or Facebook page.
One thing I did--which has been time consuming, but instrumental in pushing my series--was creating a fan club. On my website, www.bloodcovenvampires.com, I have a "Want to Join the Blood Coven?" page where kids can sign up to become Vampires in Training. The kits I send contain a welcome letter from the vampire master, Magnus, a plastic "Vampire in Training" card to stick in their wallets (like a credit card--so much cooler than paper and you can get them made overseas pretty cheap - like $200 for 2,000 cards). They also get a magnet (I have those designed for free at VistaPrint and just pay shipping) and an autograph sticker they can place in their book. And lastly, I include six bookmarks. One to keep and five to give out to potential vampires in training that they deem worthy of the coven. There's also a forum where they can role play with the other vampires in training or just chat about the books.
Overwhelmed yet? Well, don't be. You don't have to do everything yourself. The thing is, readers don't just want to hang out in your world, they want to contribute to it. Encourage them to create fan videos and put them up on YouTube. Or draw pictures and post them to DeviantArt. Since a lot of kids will do this on their own and not tell you, you should regularly search these sites for content based on your books. If you find some, write to the user and ask them if you can post it on your blog. You can guarantee they'll say "yes" and send all their friends to your website to check out their stuff.
This is something teachers and librarians can help out with too. Buy a cheap webcam or a netbook with webcam installed and have kids do their own "book haul" videos by speaking into the camera about their favorite books and why they like them. Then upload the videos to YouTube (free) and send a link to the authors they mention, asking if they would consider embedding the video on their blogs or Facebook pages. How cool would it be to see your students' videos featured on their favorite author's page?
And lastly authors--communicate with your readers. When they write to you, answer them. When they post on your Facebook page, reply. I know it can be overwhelming, but even a one-line answer can build a relationship with a reader that will last a lifetime. They want to feel valued, important, part of the world. And sending a quick reply will make their day. They'll tell their friends and family and that's the kind of advertisement that money can't buy.
Because at the end of the day, it's not what medium you provide the "DVD Extras" in--video, podcast, website, downloads--it's how those extras make your readers feel about the world you've built for them. Draw them in, make them feel a part of things and let them know they're valuable to you. Because let's face it, the world couldn't exist without them!
Anyway, I could go on and on, but the point is this. Building a successful teen series and cultivating lifelong fans depends on a well-written book, a good publisher/distribution, and a whole lot of luck. But you can tip the scales in your favor by taking simple steps to build an online world that compliments your series. Not only will it spur sales and keep the momentum going between books, but it'll bring you closer to your readers and you'll all have a lot of fun!
Here are examples mentioned in the text:
webcam video to readers
reader-created book trailer
See also fan art, the Blood Coven Vampires official website and facebook fan page.
Mari Mancusi used to wish she could become a vampire back in high school. But she ended up in another blood sucking profession--journalism --instead. Today she works as a freelance TV producer and author of books for teens, including The Blood Coven Vampire series.
When not writing about creatures of the night, Mari enjoys traveling, cooking, goth clubbing, watching horror movies, and her favorite guilty pleasure--video games. A graduate of Boston University and a two time Emmy Award winner, she lives in Austin, Texas; with her husband Jacob and their dog Molly. You can find Mari online at www.marimancusi.com.