Friday, September 9, 2011

5 Points to Ponder on Pottermore (for Writers)

JK Rowling's Pottermore site has been open almost four weeks now to a few lucky beta-testers. I was one of the very lucky early entries getting in on the second day, and thus have had time to thoroughly view the site and watch the reaction of people getting in as well as those still anxiously awaiting their owl.

In an earlier post, right after Pottermore opened, I speculated on what JKR's new endeavor would have to offer for other authors in the way of an example of how to interact with readers online. Now that I've had more experience with the site and its visitors, I'd like to share some concrete thoughts and examples.

Let me acknowledge from the start, as I did before, that most writers, myself included, will in no way be able to afford the kind of money I'm sure JKR has put into the site for design, administration, and publicity. Still, there's always creative methods of manipulating someone else's examples to suit your own ideas and purse strings.

So, here's some tips to get you thinking.

1) Engage Your Reader (or follower, or visitor):

As in everything else Rowling does, reader engagement is the key. The Pottermore site is fully interactive. It does not have the gaming power of a MMORPG, nor all the gadgets of a massive social media site. What it does have is enough elements across several formats to keep members happily engaged for a few hours and enough planned into the future to keep them returning.

Points to Ponder:
What have you done in your site to actively engage your readers or followers?
How many different formats have you implemented to do so?
What are your plans for the future to keep them coming back?

But let's get specific and look at these engaging formats in detail.

2) Presenting the Story:

The heart of Pottermore is a visual, interactive presentation of the Harry Potter series, book by book and chapter by chapter, with only the first book active to date. Viewers navigate from one chapter to the next, one scene to the next, exploring special moments of interest along the way.

Points to Ponder:
For most writers applying this to themselves, it would seem to be limited to books that have already been on the market for a while. However, I can envision other possibilities.

What if my upcoming story involves a backstory that may entice new readers to give the book a try? Or, what if I've spent a huge amount of time in world building? Could I slip some of this stuff to the reader in an engaging manner ahead of release to entice them further?

Or, if I'm writing a series, the possibilities of using a site like this to keep one book alive and hint at those to come are endless.  The goal is to find a creative, new method of engaging readers AROUND your story without simply repeating your story.

3) Visual Stimulation:

The graphics on Pottermore are luscious and detailed. One of the most appealing aspects is that we know these graphics were overseen by JK Rowling directly, which gives them a sense of authority even over the movies. Of course, I'm sure they also cost a ship-full of galleons.

Points to Ponder:
Maybe you have artistic skills yourself. However, even if you don't that doesn't mean you can't offer visual insight into your own stories. Many authors are designing their own trailers and discovering sources for free or cheap art online as they do so. Tap some of these sources to make your website more visually appealing for your reader and to bring them into your world.

Or, if you have older kids, check with their friends or school art teacher and see if there's a budding young artist in the community who might be willing to share some of their talent with you. My daughter and her friends sit around drawing pictures all the time just for the fun of it, and a couple of them are incredibly talented.

Finally, there's massive communities of young artists online who may be willing to do some artwork tailored to your site for a reasonable price of for trade.  Check out DeviantArt for a start.

4) Interactive Gaming:

In Pottermore, members can brew their own potions, duel another member with spells, and search and collect special items along the way. All of these activities not only earn the member points, but also earns points toward winning the cup for their House.

Points to Ponder:

The crux here is not that you need to have a game, which may or may not be appropriate to your genre, but that you need some form of entertaining, engaging reader involvement that preferably links them to other readers as well.


  • a scavenger hunt for clues to your story you've hidden about your site
  • collectible cards of information scattered about.  These cards could relate to the research you used to build your world, or to character backstory elements that never made it into the story.
  • small snippets of excerpts that you create exclusively for your online reader to find, or bits and pieces that were ultimately cut out of the story, but your reader may still find engaging
  • use all these items in a point collection system toward earning a prize
  • better yet, have your followers/fans divided into teams to gain points to earn this prize!

5) Social Media:

Fandom is always more fun when there are other fans to squee along with. In Pottermore, fans have the opportunity to engage with other fans not only through the games mentioned above, but also through certain portions of the site set aside for fan chat and feedback. While not offering a fully-functioning social media experience, fans CAN leave short messages for each other or the Pottermore admin in either their own House or the Great Hall. Fans can also upload and share their own fanart work and receive comments.

Points to Ponder:

How many opportunities have you provided your reader to not only engage directly with you, but with each other? How can you do this?

  • A forum, or bulletin board
  • An interactive feature on your site where they can upload and share their own short stories or works of art (whether fanfiction or otherwise) for feedback from others
  • Maybe a regular interactive chat that includes items of interest to your greater fan/follower community

As Pottermore goes along, (remember it's only in its beta-testing stage), I'm sure there will be more for me to share. But would love to hear for now what you think.

How many forms of interaction have you used to engage your followers, readers, or fans? Have you got any ideas as to what more you can do to bring people into your world in a compelling, entertaining manner?

And if you're really curious about what's inside Pottermore, or already a beta-tester, be sure to check out my Pottermore Forum and Wiki for more!