Bonus Features: the potential of transmedia writing

(Originally posted on Words and Things. Some of my first thoughts about the potential of transmedia, especially with regards to the publishing industry. Publishers are starting to move in this direction, but the writing of the book still comes first. 14/10/10) The publishing world is increasingly looking at the possibilities of digital media. Besides the ongoing discussion about ebooks, people are starting to look at the digital world in terms of its storytelling potential and marketing potential.

It's something that's been going on for awhile in other areas. Certainly, advertising has used cross-media campaigns and viral marketing for some time -- bus ads that simple show a website address, videos that go viral, the Dark Knight's Why So Serious campaign/series of websites, etc. Perhaps the apex of this is the Alternate Reality Game (ARG), still a relatively new form of entertainment, which was originally used as something of an ad campaign. TV does it a lot -- with webisodes, character blogs, or the comic that Heroes published online. In fact, in Canada, cross-media/transmedia/digital media is basically required of new TV shows -- there is no longer a Canadian Television Fund, having been replaced by the cross-media Canadian Media Fund. In the world of film, the Producer's Guild of America recently created a new credit, the "Transmedia Producer." And this is starting to trickle into the world of books, as people think about what digital-era writers and publishers will need to consider or do.

I think there's a lot of potential here. The concept of stories told over multiple platforms and media, non-traditional structures, and something akin to DVD bonus features for books are fascinating possibilities. They present interesting challenges for writers, but also ways to expand the worlds of their stories, explore issues or characters beyond the basic text, provide fans with extra content, and potentially draw a larger audience to their work.

It occurred to me thta for someone who is interested in these possibilities and willing (even excited) to put extra work into them and have fun with them -- like me -- this might be an extra selling point for a potential book. After all, this is the 21st century, and this seems to be where out internet culture is taking us.

In a recent #askagent session -- ok, sorry, I'll give that some more context. Some digitally-savvy publishing industry figures and especially literary agents, such as an agent I've been following named Colleen Lindsay whose insights into the publishing process (like querying an agent) have been invaluable to me (and often humourous) occasionally host brief sessions over twitter wherein writers can ask any questions they have about publishing to the agents, who will answer. The hashtag for following the discussion on twitter is #askagent.

So, in a recent #askagent session, I asked Colleen Lindsay if writers who want to have digital content should include that in a query, or along with their manuscript, or what. Her response was that extra digital content was something that the publisher's marketing department would discuss with the writer after the book has been sold to them.

This just seems like such a waste to me. I mean, it's great if a publisher's marketing department is savvy enough to think of digital extras to be part of the book's marketing, and if the writer is then able and willing to go along with it. But there's a huge potential here that could be seized from the start. And I would think a writer who wants to do that -- who has ideas for it, the know-how to accomplish it, etc. -- would be an asset a publisher (or agent) would want to take advantage of.

Now, I realize that the first and most important consideration for buying (or representing) a writer's book is, of course, the quality of the writing. But it still seems like a major opportunity is being lost.