Reader Engagement With Transmedia: How To Use QR Codes

I love our little writer’s community, and it’s always a thrill to discover the new and interesting things that people are using to market their books and engage readers.

qr codeIn this post, guest blogger Emily Craven explains how you can use one simple thing – a QR code – to give your readers a more interactive experience. I also have to confess that I had no idea how to use these little squares before I read this post – so thanks Emily!

In the modern day it seems like we equate the amount of money we spend to the quality of the experience.

Seeing the view from the top of the Eiffel Tower is more prestigious then the view from below. Yet those who have followed the tourist trails know that a picnic on the grass in front of the tower is infinitely more satisfying then the smoggy, foul aired view from above. “Not everything that is free is worthless” so the saying goes, and there is nowhere this has been proved better then indie publishing.

We are the masters of taking advantage of the free, free publicity, social media platforms, free ‘shelf space’, DIY formatting.

And yet when it comes to really taking advantage of our media, integrating other forms of storytelling with the written word we pull up short like a kid with a wedgy.

The publishers have the money for all these augmented reality sites, interactive apps and book tours, we moan. If they can do all these fancy things how can we even hope to stand out against the money circus? How can we make our book more than just words, how can we make a connection?

The funny thing is, you don’t need money to stand out from the big six …

… all you need is the ability to think outside the box, the ability to think like your reader (method acting is not recommended…) and one simple freely available image.

The QR code.

A QR code – for those perched uncomfortably between the land of the land-line and the land of the smart phone – is a 2D barcode, generally square in shape that can be read by barcode apps (on desktops and smart phones). Surprise, surprise QR codes originated in Japan and were created by the Toyota subsidiary Denso-Wave. Initially, the codes were used to track vehicle parts but today they are being embraced by corporations for marketing purposes.

You would have seen them on posters, beer/wine/softdrink bottles, ads in the Tube/Subway and even as part of the odd business card. However, it’s not their marketing capabilities which I find of interest as an author …

… it is their ability to turn an ordinary e-book into a transmedia experience.

When someone scans the barcode with their phone it takes them to a website which can contain additional information, videos, text, audio, a donation page or coupons for discounts.

You may ask how users scanning funny looking squares with their smart phones could have any impact on the writing industry. Couple YouTube and QR codes together and you may see where I’m going with this.

Free to generate

QR codes are free to generate (from websites such as and you can direct them to ANYWHERE on the web. Consider the types of content a QR code could take a reader to: sample chapters, videos, audios, Facebook ‘like’ pages and the list goes on. Take for instance the QR code below, if you have a smart phone, download a QR code app from your app store or onto your laptop using the instructions on this site (, and scan the code.

Hope the mug on the other end didn’t scare you too much, you’ve just been directed to the YouTube video I recorded thanking people for buying my book and giving them a rundown of what they will find amongst its digital pages.

As Joanna teaches and as I tell anyone who is silly enough to stand in my hearing for too long …

… audio or video is still the best way to gain the trust of a prospective reader.

It puts a face to the words, a personality to the letters, and while by its nature the video is generic, it seems personal and creates a deeper connection for the reader. They KNOW who you are, they’ve SEEN your face, you’ve reached out to them. When did you find me more personable? After reading the first couple of paragraphs of this post? Or after watching my animated eyebrows in the video? I place my bet on the video (please direct all stalker mail to Joanna).

This type of interaction between an author and a reader has never been done. Ever. Hardly anyone in the industry is taking advantage of this free technology and the digital space to connect on a deeper level. We have a chance to experiment while the publishers are frozen, a way to allow indies to come into their own and lead the field. If you follow the four-step brainstorming session below, who knows what attention-hogging-monster will rise up from your mind and take the publishing scene by storm.

Step 1: Videos

I use QR codes in my non-fiction mainly to lead my readers to unlisted videos on YouTube where I welcome people to the story, and post private step-by-step video tutorials. But imagine taking this to another level and having a QR code lead to a video of you reading out that particular scene, or a video where you have filmed people acting out the scene, or hold a competition where the best video submitted by a reader gets linked permanently to a QR code within your book. Do you write travel novels or Memoir? Describe the scene not only with your words but a video of the area.

Step 2: Audio

Imagine having a series of scannable codes throughout an e-book that unlocks extra short stories or podcasts of each chapter. Do you have a ‘sound track’ for your book, meaning list of songs that provide additional atmosphere and insight into a character? (Similar to the sound track of a movie – how dull would Jaws have been without it’s two note anthem?) Do you have a musician as one of your characters? What’s stopping you from creating some ‘original music’ from the character and leading a reader via QR code to a download page of the songs?

Step 3: Additional Activities and Images

Providing additional activities for a children’s book has never been so cheap! With e-books you don’t have to pay a fortune to print out the extra pages. Hence you can add as many coloring-in pictures and find-a-word pages as you like. Using a QR code you can link to these pages of extra fun and the parent can decide which they wish to print out for their children. For travel writers, including readable maps on an e-reader can be a nightmare. Now all one needs to do is place a code in their e-book and the reader can be taken to a high resolution copy of the map.

Step 4: Interactivity

Is there a way you can allow your readers to interact with the story? If the story is modern, why not set up social media accounts for your characters? Or even set up several to allow the characters accounts to interact with each other (such as I did with my novel Madeline Cain).  Is there a character that mysteriously disappears, not to reappear until a later sequel? Perhaps you could hold a competition allowing readers to speculate what happened to this character and as part of the prize incorporate their creativity into your novels.

I’m sure at some point during this post you have said, “Now hang on, why bother with these code things if I can just put in a hyperlink.” I would site three reasons why a QR code is preferable.

1) It allows the reader to still view your story and the additional content at the same time, rather than having the content replace your novel on a screen.

2) Many e-readers will not allow you to click on the links. For example, my Asus Android tablet will not allow me to select a link and connect to it in the Kindle/Kobo/or pdf apps. Kindles that use e-ink cannot even surf the internet. But a smart phone can. This avoids the reader having to play around with transferring the story to the computer in order to see the additional content. The third reason, I feel, is the most exciting. Because QR codes can be used to make a print book into a transmedia experience. Take a look at the trailer for the fantastic transmedia book that author Joel N Clark released this year, taking full advantage of QR codes and his backlog of documentary footage to tell a beautifully enhanced story.

Why wait for publishers to lead us into the digital future, when we have the free tools to do it ourselves?

So go forth, and let your attention-hogging-monster loose, you might be surprised how intricate your story can become.

Have you tried using QR codes? Does it interest you now? Please do share your comments and questions below.

About the Author

emily cravenEmily Craven is an author of non-fiction, fantasy and YA fiction. She blogs and presents for If:Book Australia, Meanland and the Australian Society of Authors on the future of digital publishing and also has her own blog on the e-book revolution and author marketing at In 2011-2012 she undertook a 12 month writing mentorship with fantasy author Isobelle Carmody, for her manuscript Priori-The Power Within.

Emily’s non-fiction book ‘E-Book Revolution: The Ultimate Guide To E-Book Success’ is now available as an e-book or multimedia package at If you enjoy her tongue in cheek style you may also enjoy her comedy novel set in Facebook, ‘The Grand Adventures of Madeline Cain: Photographer Extraordinaire’

 Top image: BigStock Go Social QR code


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  1. says

    Oh, I LOVE QR codes. ( You can create them yourself for free and put them just about any where.

    My favorite lately, has been printing LARGE QR Codes on a piece of paper and posting it beside my head during webcam interviews. (Example here: ) Viewers just have to click Pause and point their phones a the QR code. …takes them right to the relevant web site. :-)

    • says

      What a fantastic way to use QR codes Sherry! Putting a large QR code behind you during interviews is genius. Would love to know the stats on that (because of course, not only can you generate your QR code for free but the services tells you how many people have scanned it and what country they live in).

  2. Chris Bardell says

    Puzzled by this article.

    I can totally understand including QR codes in *print* books (or any other physical medium). But how could they be used in an e-book as suggested (“series of scannable codes throughout an e-book”). Are we suggesting that people use a QR app on a smartphone to scan the screen of their Kindle or tablet?

    I did in fact try doing this, but I can’t imagine most people fiddling around in this way. And more importantly, they may well only have one such device.

    Confused about the author’s tablet not being able to follow hyperlinks in e-books. I have an ancient Android tablet (hardware from mid-2010, running Android 2.3) which happily follows hyperlinks in books in the Kindle Reader app.

    QR codes need strong contrast to be read properly. My smartphone was able to read the large QR code in the body of the above article without problem when viewed on a PC monitor, but required a bit of moving around to read it off my tablet’s screen.

    Re: Sherry’s comment about having it in the background of an interview video. No matter what I tried, I couldn’t get my phone to read it. Has this technique been tested thoroughly?

    On an non-practicalities note, I can see the relevance of using the QR method to provide value-add content – particularly for non-fiction or reference materials. But isn’t there a danger – in a fictional work – of asking the reader to go off & look at something else in the middle of reading? Could this just jar the reader out of the world you’re trying to create in the book? Youtube is built around displaying ads and ‘liked this, why not watch this?’ links – perhaps a danger of distracting the reader & breaking the spell you’re trying to cast?

    Just my opinions, and possibly totally wrong. Appreciate any responses. Thanks.

    • says

      Hi Chris, I’m so glad you commented, because those are all legitimate questions to this article.

      It is true that not every one is going to ‘fiddle’ with the QR code as you say. However about 30% of all mobile phones in the US (they seem to love doing stats there because I can’t find any on Australia or the UK) are smart phones with the ability to scan codes. And there is a significant number of users (particularly young people) to whom QR codes are a normal part of their daily phone activity. So yes, just as a person would use their mobile phone to scan a print book code, I would argue that they would just as easily do that with an ebook on their tablet. The tablet is a physical thing, just as a print book is, so why would it not work the same way? I like that option better then hyperlinks, because I like to read the page of the book that the QR code is in while looking at the extra content, where as a hyperlink brings up the extra content over the top of the book.

      One of the things I suggest to people is to use QR codes to augment their story rather then rely on it to tell the story, so it doesn’t matter if a person only has one device (such as only a kobo but no smart phone), the QR code image will not detract from the original story and the QR code can just be an added extra for people who care to go down the Rabbit Hole (as with Joel Clark’s Awake book, which stands well on it’s own without the QR codes)

      In terms of adding a QR code to an ebook, (similar to a print book) it allows you add video or audio without exploding the size of the file. Just because the file is digital, doesn’t mean it can integrate the bells and whistles of an app easily (same as a print book).

      I definitely checked my tablet before I sent this article to Joanna and yes, in both my Kindle and kobo apps it wouldn’t let me select the hyperlinks. If anyone knows why this happens on an ASUS android tablet and not on Chris’s I would love to know.

      The contrast of the QR code doesn’t have to be black and white. Purple and white, red and white, all will work, just as long as they are contrasting colours. So normal black and white QR codes should have more then enough contrast to work. In terms of having to fiddle to scan the code on your tablet Chris, it may be because a tablet browser needs to adjust to the page size for a particular website. With an ebook, all the QR codes that I use are centred and on their own line meaning they should appear easily on a e-reader without the need to manipulate page proportions as you would the web browser on a tablet.

      I was wondering about the resolution on Sherry’s video as well, Chris. In this case I suppose a very high pixel webcam would be needed for this technique to be used effectively.

      Finally to fictional work. As I said before QR codes that augment the experience are preferable to making them essential to the experience. You can select NOT to have ads on your videos in YouTube, but also YouTube isn’t the only service, you can use others such as Vimeo which have very minimal ads. You can further circumnavigating the distraction of YouTube by creating a blog site for your videos and embedding the YouTube video into that blogsite so you can control what the site looks like around the video as Joel Clark did with Awake ( I am a person who will read the fictional work fully and then go back to look at the content. If a reader doesn’t want to be jarred out of the world they can just ignore the codes. It’s completely their choice (well, as long as you don’t make it so that they have to use the QR code for the story to make sense).

      Sorry this was so long but I hope the response helped!


  3. says

    This article has inspired so many ideas, my brain is buzzing. The idea of the QR Code in print and ebooks is inspiring. It also helps me overcome a problem I have with a converting my book, full of tables, into an ebook.

    I am also considering presenting more of my Bletchley Park Research findings in video format and you have just enlightened me with the prospect of integrating some additional research ‘behind the scenes’ iwithin the printed word. Marvellous.

    It is also worth encouraging anyone considering embarking on producing multi media products to view Joanna & Julie Hall’s introduction to their new course on producing multi media.

    • says

      I’m so glad it helped Kerry! It’s the ‘behind the scenes’ sort of content that excites me the most, I feel like books as finally able to move into the space that DVD’s have occupied for so long, were a person will buy a new edition of the DVD just to get the added features :) Well, the big fans anyway!

      Yes, I’m excited to see the final result of J & J’s new course too! Well worth a look. Also, if you want to check out fiction transmedia authors stop by the websites of people like J.C. Hutchens (and if you haven’t listened to Joanna’s podcasts with the man, do yourself a favour and go download them!)

  4. Natalie Wright says

    Thank you for this information. I think Chris, above, has some good points about jarring readers out of book. Maybe. I like the idea of having a QR code at the end of the book (or maybe beginning) that takes a reader to a video thank you message or something like that. I write YA books and I think there are many possibilities for use of QR code in teen fiction. Teens truly embrace multi-media and interactivity, and this seems like an inexpensive and simple way to add some interactivity to a novel.
    Sherry, I like your idea!

  5. says

    We just published the ebook version Toby Bear and the Healing Light where Toby Bear teaches a sick child to use meditation in order to heal. We have incorporated many of the free web / social networking concepts that you mentioned in your article. As we head into production for the print book, the QR smart phone – graphics on the printed page (linking readers to online content) seeded a multitude of ideas! Can’t wait to start creating!

    • says

      That sounds wonderful, what did you include? I tried to see an example of it on your website but wasn’t able to puzzle it out from there. I’m so glad to hear this helped for the creation of your printed version! It works particularly well when the QR codes are integrated as part of the illustration. Good luck!

  6. says

    My devotional book, Glasses in the Grass: Devotions for My Friends, was released last May by Crossbooks. It contains 366 embedded QR codes–one for each day’s devotion.

    These QR codes portal the reader to a full Bible study based on that day’s scripture selection.

    My book has been well received by both young and old. The younger folks buy it to readily use the technology. The older folks are buying two copies. One for themselves to read without particularly using the QR codes and the other for their children or grandchildren who do use their gadgets.

    You can take a look inside here:

    • says

      Thank you for this comment and for including your link. It sounds like your experience with using this technology squares with what I suspected, i.e. that younger readers will readily access the technology. Thank you for sharing and best wishes.

  7. Dave Miller says

    I’ve made a transmedia “book” that’s told over 4 days through newspapers, emails, websites and augmented reality (AR) on smartphones. I used QR codes to launch the AR in each newspaper, though I’m also using AR to recognise images, which makes QR codes a bit redundant in my view.

    Here’s the press release for my book:
    It’s a University research project, part of the UNESCO New Media Forms of the Book.

    You can start “reading” the book here:
    I should warn you beforehand you’ll get lots of emails!

    • says

      How interesting! I would have thought that the AR would have made QR codes redundant (As you mentioned above). How wonderful would it be to do this with a real newspaper, have it as a normal newspaper in print form and then have some sort of AR fiction ‘reporting’ in the background to entertain people :) Congrats on an interesting project. My understanding is that AR is quite an expensive element to set up, would I be correct?


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