When you read a good book – and I mean a really good book – sometimes you are a little sad at the end. You have become close to the characters and you feel like you are losing a friend. You have walked many miles in their shoes, faced their challenges with them, until they triumphed against the odds, got the girl, or died a noble death.
Don’t you wish sometimes that you could step back into that world again?
Today I want to talk about Book Extras, whether readers enjoy them, if it’s worth an indie writer’s time to produce them, and what I’m going to do with my as-yet-unpublished historical novel A Storm Hits Valparaíso.
When you buy a DVD, it often comes filled with all sorts of bonus material – deleted scenes, director’s commentary, and other background material which can enhance the entire experience and deepen your bond with the work.
Some people don’t bother with them (especially if they didn’t enjoy themselves); others devour them, immersing themselves in the entire world of the movie and its creators.
Extras aren’t as common with books. Sometimes you get an author interview or essay at the back, but often it’s a generic thing done by the imprint, and isn’t tailored to the content of the book.
You do see it sometimes with a successful series like Harry Potter or His Dark Materials, but these were produced after the books were already hugely successful. Also, I suspect they were created (and conceived) by a large publisher’s marketing team.
An indie writer doesn’t have these kinds of resources at their disposal. Any money spent comes out of their pockets. Any time spent eats into what they have available to write new books or promote existing ones.
Should they spend a couple of months putting together a website to deepen the readers’ connection with their book? Or would readers prefer a few new short stories out or another novel underway?
Is the writer better off spending money on web design, hosting, editing, domain names, and copyright for photographs, or, book promotion?
These are choices a large publisher doesn’t have to make, if they decide to really back a book, and only a small number of books get this kind of backing. But an indie writer needs to weigh this up.
A Storm Hits Valparaíso
My first novel is set during an amazing period, and the history books read like thrillers, with these amazingly colourful figures just leaping off the page. Here’s the blurb:
A STORM HITS VALPARAÍSO is a fast-paced historical adventure, solving the mystery of why José de San Martín – who led a bloody, twelve-year campaign to liberate South America – resigned and allowed Simón Bolívar the glory of the final victory.
In 1810, San Martín deserts the Spanish Army and returns home to Buenos Aires. When he joins the independence fight, he clashes with his superiors and wrestles with an increasing dependence on laudanum. The revolution falters as the rebel army fails to advance; San Martín is transferred to a provincial backwater, far from the front. His career seems finished, but San Martín has a secret plan. Enlisting the help of refugees, freed slaves, ex-convicts and mercenaries, he scales the snow-covered Andes and liberates Santiago in a surprise attack. As enemy reinforcements land again and again, San Martín realises that to break Spanish power he must take Peru, and hires a disgraced British officer to launch an attack by sea.
After the fall of Lima in 1822, the two greatest South American generals, Bolívar and San Martín, finally meet. Neither army is large enough to finish the Spanish; they must come together. To the consternation of his men, San Martín resigns, leaving Bolívar to immortalise himself in the final battle. For two hundred years, San Martín’s motives have remained a mystery, until now.
Sounds pretty good, right? Well, I think it still needs a bit of work (both the blurb and the novel), but more on that tomorrow. Today, I’m focusing on extras.
Since I read The Hobbit as a kid, followed by The Lord of The Rings series, I have had a huge thing for maps in books. I always skip to them first, as well as any pictures. Sometimes I’ll scour the internet – while I’m still reading – seeking additional information on one point or another.
If the maps were pretty, sometimes I would just stare at them, imagining what the book was going to be like or – if I’d read it already – creating new adventures for my heroes.
While I was writing A Storm Hits Valparaíso, I collected a lot of old maps and sketches. I used to stick them to the wall above my desk; they were inspiring. But at the back of my mind the whole time was creating some sort of additional reader experience.
I envisaged a website with additional stories on minor characters, alternative scenes, some first drafts of certain chapters, pictures, maps, historical articles, old advertisements for slaves or departing ships, and newspaper articles.
It’s fine to dream of such things when you are pursuing a contract with a major publisher, but if you are self-publishing, you have to ask yourself if it’s worth it, especially for a book that is not part of a series.
Some self-publishers have done it very well, producing limited edition hardbacks (for a much larger price) that contain all sorts of extras. That’s one way of going about it, but you would need to know there was a minimum readership for your novel and organise the print run yourself, which is extra initial cost (and risk).
I think there can be some middle ground. A lot of the stuff I already have and wouldn’t take too much to make it presentable, and I know where to find the rest. I already have the website and domain so I think I can put together a website – on a budget – that will provide the reader with a deeper experience.
Some writers might consider it a waste of time, but I think the deeper a bond you can create between a reader and your work, the more likely they are to champion a book.
In any event, I think it’s always something you can add to over time, as opportunity and resources allow.
What do you guys think? Would you pay extra for extras? Would you consider purchasing a high-cost limited edition hardback from one of your favourite writers? Do you even check the website of authors you like? What would you like to see there?
Or do you think this is all a waste of time and money and writers should stick to creating new worlds for you to enjoy?
Thanks to Asia for sending me today’s idea. If you have something you would like me to write about, let me know in the comments (or send me a message). If you are interested in reading the first chapter of A Storm Hits Valparaíso you can do so on my website. Just be warned that it’s an old draft and needs a bit of work. The first line is a killer though.