Where Authors Fit into Multi-Channel Publishing

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

multi-channel publishing authors multimediaIn many ways, some authors already excel at multi-channel content development. I recently argued that the digital publishing ecosystem is creating ever more lucrative, practical opportunities to deliver content across a wide range of media formats. Now I’d like to turn to consider how authors fit into that picture.

Consider an illustrated children’s title, whether print or digital. Publishers routinely turn imagery from popular picture books into physical toys, games, apps and animated video content, including licensing the rights for feature-length movies.

Yet that’s hardly an aftereffect of the publishing process; many children’s authors think about their stories in such a multifaceted way from the get-go, and for young readers part of the joy is in the rich imaginary world it inspires. The digital environment has multiple facets, too, where such imagination finds a natural home.

Publishers tend to approach this idea as part of a branding strategy to take advantage of a book that is already a success. But trying them out on a small scale is possible, too, with no wider purpose than publicity— stimulating interest and inspiring loyalty among a target readership.

The cost need be no greater than that of producing a poster or even a cover design, but it’s spent on something to help spread the word (virtually) through the social web. And, who knows, if one of the ideas takes off, it could be a route toward multiple monetization opportunities as well as the promotion of the original book itself.

But first publishers must recognize that the very diversity of digital media all but necessitates authors’ deeper, ongoing involvement in the publishing process.

Not all that long ago, authors would deliver a manuscript and, many months later, be asked to make the publicity rounds, giving interviews and book signings. Nowadays authors are expected to have much deeper involvement in creating and maintaining their online platforms as well as in developing and promoting their work alongside editorial and marketing staff.

All of these new authorial functions draw on their original creative visions; J. K. Rowling’s Quidditch through the Ages builds on her invention of the rules of the game, which was essential for consistency in the original Harry Potter series. In the ancillary title she expands that subject into a gloriously diverse investigation of the fantastical game, which in turn has spawned clubs and even non-magical, real-life (i.e. “muggle”) versions, too.

If publishers’ relationships with authors encourage such creative innovation from the outset, and look also at multiple channels for exposure (perhaps particularly video), so much the better for both.

Multi-channel publishing is increasingly attractive to readers, too. Using the web to share information about the book, author, topic, genre or any related themes and content associated with these, publishers can increase their opportunities to get readers to engage with them. This generates multiple points of contact with those all-important customers. And on a more tactical level, it multiplies the potential opportunities to gather email leads, for instance, for future direct-marketing purposes.

Authors will be heartened by the understanding that from practical and commercial points of view, their stories and images perforce come first; diversifying the media follows. Only then does development into a branding campaign become an option, but not a necessity; multi-channel experiments can kept small-scale and low-cost, aimed simply at giving consumers more things to enjoy.

Secondary and further commercial benefits follow: expanded audiences, shared publicity, diversified demand.

Perhaps most valuable of all is spreading the word through community connections on the social web, the new, cacophonous home of ‘word-of mouth.’ Also of value—to publishers commercially and to authors creatively—even if it’s not quantifiable, is the potential to learn more about who readers are and what they like.

Whatever the increased costs of generating additional imaginative, creative and experiential content in multiple forms of media might be, the investment is likely to pay increasing dividends as the multi-modal project rolls out.

Of course, that’s something that’s easier to assert than it is to prove, but the process can be made both more manageable and cost-efficient if the paths targeted for diversification are identified at the outset. And needless to say, publishers can later decide not to pursue certain opportunities at their own discretion.

And at the very least, authors and publishers may both find they can reduce risk through diversification: a multi-channel approach means not everything will stand or fall on one throw.

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