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.
In 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 www.delivr.com) 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 (http://www.dansl.net/blog/?p=256), 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 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 http://ebookrevolution.blogspot.com. 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 http://emilycraven.bkclb.co. 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