A Transmedia Plan

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

Last weekend I attended the Willamette Writers Conference in Portland, Oregon and there were some great speakers who really helped open my eyes regarding the nature of the media and publishing industry today. 

One such speaker (Luke Ryan) gave a terrific presentation on what he termed  ‘transmedia’ and the need for writers to think beyond their ‘box’ (be it novel writing or screenwriting). He defined the term ‘transmedia’ as (and I paraphrase) ‘a narrative built across multiple platforms that grows exponentially with little repetition of content’. In other words, as writers, we need to be aware of all the different forms of media that could carry pieces of our narrative/story and which engage audiences in their own unique ways. We are in essence world builders and, as such, given the current state of the media and publishing industries, we need to think ‘outside the box’ if we are to grow our brand/story and readership. 

Makes sense, right? It’s also pretty daunting when you think of all the media platforms available. For writers like us some of the key media platforms might include things like:

  • Film
  • TV
  • Graphic Novels
  • E-books
  • E-book ‘shorts’/or serialization (see Jim’s post yesterday)
  • Graphic Novels
  • Apps
  • Social Media
  • Audio books

That’s a vast array of options for a writer but the key message I took away from Luke’s presentation is that we need to consider our work across these forms of media and identify ways in which these other elements might factor into building the ‘world’ we have created in our novels. 

The other key message I took from Luke’s presentation is that this does not mean merely reproducing or repeating content across various forms of media – because readers are hungry for fresh, unique content. An author should therefore look at their work across a continuum of media opportunities. You might have written a thriller but then produce a series of unique e-book shorts that focus on a minor (yet intriguing) character within that book. You might also work with a graphic artist to produce a series of graphic novels that involve stories from the main protagonist’s past. In each of these different mediums you are producing new content which nonetheless feeds into the core story (your thriller).

After listening to Luke’s presentation I was both excited by the myriad of possibilities for my own work and also (I admit) overwhelmed by them. However, I learned that, as writers, we must always be thinking about unique opportunities to bring readers to our stories, to rise above the ‘noise’, and to provide great, unique content that supplements the main stories we write. So I wanted to ask all you TKZers, how do you envisage tackling a ‘transmedia’ platform for your own work? Too overwhelming or are you already ahead of the curve and have a ‘transmedia’ plan of attack?


18 thoughts on “A Transmedia Plan

  1. I am writing a short story featuring the main character in my unpublished novel. If nothing else, it forces me to give readers a feel for my character and her unique mystery-solving abilities in just 2,000 words. I plan to use it as a contest piece, maybe submit it as a mystery short story, even sell it or give it away as a short. Best case it might be useful as a marketing piece for my novel.

    • Faith, that sounds like a great idea. From what Luke said, it’s all about coming up with fresh angles to gain readers and a short story is a great way to do that.

  2. First and foremost let me say that with all this ‘Trans’ talk… its a KILT…NOT a Skirt! I bloody well don’t wear skirts! That being out of the air…let’s talk writing.

    I have already had experience in ebook, paperback, podcast and audiobook formats and see nothing but more opportunity for more. I’ve talked with a radio station locally that may be willing to post my audiobooks as weekly serialized audios, 30 minutes at a time, in the late night hours. This sounds promising. I nearly sold two to a movie producer, but due to unfortunate illness issues with my agent, that fell through. Oh well…God’s will.

    My future alter-media plans … podcast / youtube series videos. Need money and time, once my money and time machine arrives (currently on order from Amazon) I will be set for all avenues of story telling to come to life at once.

    • Basil – can you order one for me on Amazon:) You are already way ahead of the curve compared to me and you seem definitely aware of all the great opportunities that now exist. I feel like real ‘historical’ writer sometimes!

    • Great idea, doing 30-minute segments on local late-nite radio. You could get local celebs to guest-read various segments: the mayor, chief of police, etc.

  3. The key, though, is to drill down on that comment “Without repetition of content”.

    That is to say that you have multiple angles of a story all working together and each one bringing something unique to the table.

    The prose (your classic book) will have your core story line.

    Then you add a set of YouTube Video Diaries of the secondary characters and how they react to the storyline.

    Then you add a podcast of people in the world of the story talking about issues that relate to the story itself.

    Then you add some kind of app game that allows players to try their hand at whatever challenges the protagonist faced and see how they fare.

    While none of these are required for the reader beyond the initial prose, each layer draws them deeper into the world and it engages them more. It gets them just a little more into the “story” and makes them want to see more, read more, buy more.

    The big challenge is figuring out how to best communicate that these are there for the audience. TV has gotten to running their specialty “second screen” apps with pop ups and polls for you during the show, or with the follow ups like True Blood’s “baby vampire blog”.

    But as a content creator it basically implies that for a given “work” not only do you need a 120k word manuscript you should plan another 30k words in supporting material, and plan it in a way that it can be ingested when the reader is ready for it.

    • What a terrific summary Rob – you’ve hit all the salient points. I suspect you know more about transmedia opportunities than I do!!

    • I think the thing everyone wants is “engagement”. I remember when it was a big deal on Heroes that the paper mill that the Hornrimmed Glasses guy worked for had an actual website you could visit and even appear to place an order for. It gave people something to talk about.

      What I don’t see, though, is how to really leverage it into something for novels and traditional writing. Steven King did something with the mini series for Rose Red by publishing the “Diary of … ” as a companion to it. Sadly the book was often shelved as “non fiction” which created all kinds of other drama.

      Perhaps this is where the solitary art of writing connects with others to create and maintain these personalities.

      Imagine if your hot “Gets a new novel every year” detective also had a Facebook page, twitter feed and blog to keep readers going between books? I’d do that job happily.

  4. Transmedia plan? Yikes. (Runs away screaming). Seriously, though, I’m not nearly there yet. I’ll add a transmedia plan to the gigantic pile of Things I Should Be Doing, But Am Currently Only Angsting About. It’s a long list. 🙂

  5. These are great ideas but I’d need a few clones and a generous advance to be able to take advantage of them. It’s hard enough to write the book and get word out to readers.

  6. Related to Rob’s comment on Facebook pages for characters, a few years ago I made a FB page for two of my characters, Kharzai Ghiassi and Marcus “Mojo” Johnson. In the end I didn’t really have time to make posts for them on a regular enough basis to truly promote the pages. The key to all this trans-media is time. Take the time to create the character’s presence, and you’re probably not writing enough of the main story.

    • Basil – that’s what really overwhelmed me – how to find the time and energy to do all this and write the novels!

  7. Clare–
    “Daunting” seems a good word to apply. In a way, several of the options sound like invitations to authors to become their own fan-fiction writers. OK, I suppose that equals more possibilities for monetizing what is originally written. If that’s what writers want to do, so be it.

    • Daunting indeed but at least authors get to have a bit more control and can pick and chose the options available based on time, energy and money:)

  8. Wow, I wish I’d attended this session at the conference. Glad to read your recap–thanks! I submerged myself in Web Warrior guy’s sessions until my head about exploded off my neck. 🙂 Overwhelming, too true!

    I, too, wrote up my recap on my blog…

    • Thanks Lisa – I’ll go and check out your recap as I went to most but not all of the web warrior presentations – my head almost exploded too!

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