Thursday, August 18, 2011

Pottermore IS for Writers (but mostly in the subtext): Part 2

(May contain minor spoilers!)

Yesterday I posted the first half of a breakdown on how I see Pottermore benefitting writers.  Pottermore IS for Writers (but mostly in the subtext) Part 1 focused on the craft we can learn from new information revealed inside Pottermore.  Today's second half will focus on the business insight we can gain.

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, I approached Pottermore with a bit of fan interest, but mostly with a writer's desire to gain greater insight into JK Rowling's thoughts and process in creating Harry Potter.  I also hoped for new understanding regarding how she managed the business aspects that helped to make HP the pheonomenal success it became.

In turning Pottermore's pages toward a business discussion, I have two main areas I'll cover: 1) engaging our reader electronically, and 2) who are we focused on serving?

Engaging our Reader Electronically:
Unless you've been hiding out in the Chamber of Secrets, you know that change is afoot in today's publishing world.  You can't be on Twitter more than 5 minutes without a Tweet foretelling the end of traditional publishing and the rise of the e-book.  It's a tidal wave of change, they all say, and those on the crest are shouting back at the rest of us to grab a boogie board and hop on.

It seems JK Rowling has caught the surge as well, but is riding the e-book challenge, as always, in her own very unique style.  Not only is she self-publishing her electronic editions of the Harry Potter series, but she's developed this fully functioning, visually enchanting online universe to encase her stories and entice her readers.

Although use of the Pottermore site is and always be completely free, it will also be the ONLY portal to buying the electronic Potter books.  And she controls it completely.  SHE pays her prior publishers royalties rather than the other way around.  Genius, right?

Inside the Pottermore pages, the eager reader can once again follow the course of each of Harry's years as they are released, but with a whole electronic world of game and gadgets and social connections to enjoy along the journey (and keep them riveted within those e-pages).  For now, Philosopher's/Sorcerer's Stone is the only one available.  Readers follow the story chapter by chapter, participating in what Harry does along the way.  Shop in Diagon Alley at Flourish and Blotts.  Let your wand choose you at Ollivanders.  Then on to Hogwarts where through a series of questions and answers, the Sorting Hat decides your new home at Hogwarts -- a quiz that JK Rowling created herself.

Here and there are hidden items to discover, points to be earned for your house, duels to be challenged and won with other wizards, and best of all, new material to be read from JK Rowling.

As a fan, what's not to love?

And yet, most authors are thinking right now--such a website comes at a tremendous price!  There is absolutely no way 99% of us could afford such an investment.

I know I couldn't.

And yet, being inspired by what JKR has done will once again force me to challenge my boundaries.  Even though I cannot incorporate a Flash-driven, professionally designed website for my fiction universe, perhaps I CAN do something more creative than a simple webpage with book cover and story blurb.  Perhaps, if I really put my imagination into overdrive, I can devise a way to engage my reader in my electronic  world beyond the mere paper experience.

Could I create simple games for them to play that work within my universe?  Maybe I can share images of my magical elements and include further information on backstory not revealed in the text.  How about a scavenger hunt for continuing mysteries of the series?  And what can I do to make the site more interactive between me and my readers? Could I incorporate chatting, forums, and other social media so that my readers can talk together and with me?

Like it or not, the reading experience is continuing to race faster toward the electronic. Even now, for those readers who still cling to their paper and ink, once they close the covers of a favorite story, the first thing they will do is hop online to stalk the author, share with other fans, and delve further into that story's world.  Will you be there to meet them? And can you use engaging, interactive media to keep their interest ensnared in your world as thoroughly as JK Rowling has done?

These are the questions today's author is challenged to face.  And seeing how well Jo fares with her new magical experiment may inspire us along the way!

Who are We Focused on Serving:
Of course, all these questions above are based on one primary assumption: our work online will be focused on our reader.

The one thing that most struck me when I started writing this post happened when I tried to fit a title to it before I'd even started writing.  I wanted to say "Pottermore IS for Writers," and leave it at that.  The article would point out all the great insight I'd learned in the Pottermore pages to help me with my writing techniques.

But as I drew near the end of Philosopher's Stone, I knew such a title would be misleading.  Pottermore is 99% geared to fans! And, as writers, we need to learn from this!

Maybe the hoards of extra words JK Rowling has written for Pottermore are only half revealed at the moment.  Maybe more thoughts behind the writing process will come as the beta session nears its completion.  But at this stage, Pottermore is obviously a gift designed for fans...not a lesson for writers.  And I daresay that's how it's going to stand.

While frustrating as it may be as a writer that Jo rarely speaks directly to us to answer our specific questions about her processes and styles, perhaps that's one of the things which have made her such a success.  Her websites, her interviews, her outreach is always focused on her fans. She seeks in every way to give the reader what will keep them hooked on her world.  And thus it is true with Pottermore.

You wouldn't see Jo running a blog focused on writing.

So, where does that leave us as writers? How much attention are we paying to the audience of readers we are either currently serving or hope to have gained one day?  I know this question has been asked recently among many blogs, including Jami Gold's and Kristen Lamb's and Laura Pauling's.  But, as writers, if we utilize only the relative comfort and safety of a writing blog, are we really doing what we need to build our audience?

(P.S.) I know it's truly not fair to compare the resources and abilities of a mega-selling author to a beginner or even mid-list author, but I do hope you'll catch my point -- we need to seriously consider our audience.

Analyzing Me:
For myself, I have two audiences because I write both writing guides and fiction (coming soon!).  So, for me, this writing blog definitely fits one of my reading groups.  For the fiction, well that's part of the reason I've expanded recently into other worlds, which I hope to eventually enlarge to cover my own fiction as well.

What do you think about writing and blogging? And, even if you're still locked outside Pottermore's gates, how do you think you can learn from Pottermore to better suit your readers' needs?