As promised in yesterday’s post, this is an example of using the capabilities of the internet to not only keep your first book alive, but to connect with readers of your next even as you write it.
Laird Harrison is a novelist and multimedia journalist who has written for Reuters, TIME, Audubon, The Nation, the Chicago Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Salon, MSNBC, CNN.com and others. He has produced video for websites including Smithsonianmag.com, and audio for WUNC radio. He has taught writing at San Francisco State University, UC Berkeley Extension and Mediabistro. Laird grew up in Berkeley, California, and studied creative writing and politics at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He lives with his wife and their two sons in Oakland, California.
You can talk to the characters in my new novel, Fallen Lake.
I imagine that sentence will be enough to choke a lot of writers — especially those who are already fed-up with ebooks and publish-on-demand and the rest of the trends shaking up what used to be a technologically quiet profession.
So I should quickly add that I wrote the book in a pretty conventional way. You can read it on paper and never think about interactivity, or electronic anything.
A traditional format suits the book, which is set in the 1970s. It tells the story of two couples falling in love with each other, and none of them even owns a computer.
But the course of publishing a book never does run smooth, and along the way I accidentally wrote a second novel about the same characters 40 years older, living in contemporary times.
Eventually I decided that the second story didn’t belong in the same volume with the first one. But I hit on an idea for giving a new sort of life to this material.
Over the same years that I was working on the book off-and-on, the internet overtook my journalism career. I learned concepts like user-generated content and search engine optimization. I began to wonder if the technology that was creating a new kind of journalism might also open up new avenues for fiction.
Around the same time I was hearing from other book authors about the new pressure they felt to publicize books online.
Putting these two thoughts together, I came up with the idea of creating blogs for my characters. The idea isn’t completely new — there have been a number of experiments along these lines before — but so far as I know few if any involved the kind of interactivity I imagined.
On the Fallen Lake website, you can comment on the characters’ blogs, offering advice that influences their story as it unfolds. For example in one blog entry, a character discovers that her husband is flirting with another woman online. Readers gave advice about how she should deal with this discovery, some of which she has followed.
Of course I’m hoping this interactive aspect will distinguish my novel from the herd. As Eric Olsen points out, this approach could also keep the book alive past the initial publicity blast around its publication date, a challenge for so many books (it will always be available through print-on-demand). Creating interesting content on the website could draw people to it as they surf in months and years to come. In that way, it could slowly build a following.
That’s the theory at least. Check back with me in a few years to see if it worked. In the meantime, I’m having fun writing, and I hope my readers are enjoying it as well. If they are, then it’s accomplishing the main thing that fiction is supposed to do. I’d love to hear your reactions.