Valuable Content Award for novel website

by Sonja Jefferson on November 29, 2012

We are delighted to present this month’s Valuable Content Award to the website of new novel Remember to Breathe. Written by Simon Pont and published by intrepid new publishing company Urbane Publications the novel tells the story of unhinged but strangely loveable ad-man Samuel Grant – think Mad Men, 1990s style. The book’s website and veritable smorgasbord of creative online content take the story many steps further, a fascinating extension of the reader’s experience over many different platforms. We’ve never seen a book website like it.

Author Simon Pont and publisher Matthew Smith kindly answer our questions on the thinking behind the novel’s online content. Whether you are promoting a book or a business, we think there is a lot to learn from this marketing approach.

1. Can you explain your approach to the website for the new book?

“The majority of book sales are now through Amazon. It would be crazy if the only online destination for a new novel was the purchase opportunity on an Amazon page. People live more of their lives online, post more of their lives online, and a novel has to follow suit – to live online, in any number of expressions.

The hope is that Remember to Breathe’s website serves as a springboard, providing additional layers of content and ‘encounter’. I look on it as creating satisfying online content that gives another slant on the novel’s main protagonist and his story world. And what’s crucial is how that content is an invitation for readers to explore that world, either before, during, or after reading the novel.

Of course, the web site is just an aggregator really, to numerous online destinations: the short film, as lives on Vimeo and Remember to Breathe’s YouTube brand channel; the teaser posters for the short as housed on Pinterest; the Samuel Grant reader questionnaire, which also lives on the Urbane site; the links to Samuel Grant’s online self, on AboutMe and Facebook; and the ‘content partnerships’ with LoveFilm and Spotify.”

2. What inspired you take this route?

“The theory, the label, is “Transmedia“, as first defined by Henry Jenkins. Transmedia story-telling proposes a non-linear approach, creating ‘entry-points’ to a story universe. No one has ever applied a Transmedia approach to launching a novel, either from a creative or a marketing vantage point. So it was naturally exciting to break new ground.

And creatively it was rewarding, taking an oblique interpretation of Remember to Breathe and Samuel Grant, and thinking, how could this work as a movie collection, or music compilation, or short film? I really loved the idea of promoting a novel by making a movie trailer!”

3. What role does your publisher take when it comes to marketing the book?

“Recently interviewed in the FT, Tim Berners-Lee described the internet as a ‘collaborative play-space’. If you put the right people, the right talent together, with a common purpose and shared view of things, then the outcome can be remarkable. I really responded to what Urbane Publications, and its founder Matthew Smith, are all about. They believe in partnership and process; they believe in collaboration, and they believe in having fun with ideas.

In terms of ‘book marketing’, Matthew starts with a yes, and he thinks on the ways it could be done, rather than reflecting first on the possible down-side. For me, it’s already been a thrilling ride, and we’ve only just pulled out of the drive-way. Urbane Publications are hugely progressive as an operation, which made going with them to publish Remember to Breathe a very comfortable decision.”

4. What types of content do you create and share? How do you share them?

“I think there are two, very simple and all-prevailing thoughts – thoughts that Matthew and I looked to marry up.

  1. People will, and always will, enjoy content that entertains and excites and intrigues.
  2. And people are social creatures, who want to interact, and share.

So the marketing solution becomes pretty clear and simple, at least at a conceptual level: give people what they naturally like and want.

Because “content” needs to entertain or inform, be for people primarily, NOT singularly be created to meet the agenda of the content-creator. And that content needs to play across a digital field, and to ideally serve as a piece of social currency.”

5. What benefits are you seeing in terms of book sales? Any other benefits?

“The bottom-line ROI question is always a very fair one. For us, it’s early days, the novel only launched in October. And of course, really pulling apart which piece of content contributed what to actual sales is going to be very hard. But flip the question around the other way: what would be the likelihood of success if the novel didn’t have such a rich orbit of content around it?  The disadvantages of not doing it could be terminal, because how does any new book get noticed and succeed if it’s not already part of a franchise or come from a place of existing consumer familiarity? How do you build faith and following as a writer? How you do generate word-of-mouth? And how do you get to a point of critical mass and sufficient awareness so that publishing a book is commercially viable? Because there are no set answers to any of these questions, you MUST innovate. I heard a line the other day, “The ROI on not using social media is that your company won’t exist in 5 years.” It’s a punchy, bullish line, sure, but I prescribe to its sentiment.”

Other benefits (from the reader pov):

“The novel’s supporting content doesn’t have a shelf-life. It will complement the reader experience whether you buy the book now, or a year from now. Of course, the content doesn’t make the book better, but then, that’s not the point. The book sits at the epicentre. It’s the über content. But the invitations-to-experience, the material and the ideas that orbit the book, these serve to help make Remember to Breathe a bigger experience. They create new value for anyone who buys the book.”

6. What’s worked particularly well?

“The film short has really drawn people in, and got them talking. It’s a very curious companion piece to the novel. Because it’s just over 3 minutes long, so it’s not “an ad”. But it’s not a full short either; it’s not 10 or 15 minutes long. And it’s not “the book done in 3 minutes”. So for a start, people are asking “what is it?” And I like the fact that they’re asking and that I don’t really know the answer. It is what it is. I like the fact that I didn’t even cast an actor that’s exactly as I imagine the main character. I cast someone who’s very very talented, who’d be able to turn a monologue into a soliloquy (the guy had been on stage playing Hamlet the week before the shoot) and who could “channel” the Samuel Grant character and some of his charisma. And by intercutting other people into the piece, associating them with the character and the VO, then the underlying idea is expressed – Samuel Grant is an archetypal figure, and there’s maybe a bit of him in all of us. I loved making the short, and I was left exhausted by it!”

7. Do you have a few tips for aspiring authors when it comes to book marketing?

“The job isn’t done when you write that final word. The invention and creative adventure starts all over again when you start imagining how you can take your story out into the world. You have to be unrelenting and openly-giving in your courtship of readers. It’s the only way, if you want to be truly heard, for readers to find you, and for them to start talking about what you do.”

Congratulations Simon and Matthew. I really enjoyed the novel and the online content and website make this a worthy winner of November’s Valuable Content Award.

[If you have any questions about the book marketing or publishing process do contact Matthew Smith matthew@urbanepublications.com or visit his website www.urbanepublications.com].

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Sonja Jefferson

Sonja Jefferson is a consultant, writer and founder of Valuable Content. She helps good businesses to create and share great content so they win the business they deserve.

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