2014 Willamette Writers Conference header

Transmedia and story engineering were hot topics at this year’s Willamette Writer’s Conference in Portland, Oregon. Tom shares his key takeaways, insights, and lessons learned from speaking at and attending the conference.

In the show, we discuss transmedia and the future of media. Content is the greatest marketing tool you will ever have, and transmedia is how you maximize the impact of your content across various media platforms including books, film, TV, digital video and online digital content, social media, video games, merchandise, and more.

Tom also shares some key takeaways from a workshop by Larry Brooks on story engineering and how to craft a great story that readers will buy, read, and share. Great stories share some common elements, themes, and techniques, and learning these key concepts can help a writer go from good to great.

The future of publishing includes a lot more than just books.

An Unlikely Success Story

Look at publishing success stories like Game of Thrones. It started out as a mediocre series of novels, barely holding on to a midlist position in the publishing industry, and the franchise then turned into one of the most successful TV shows of all time (which subsequently caused sales for the novels to skyrocket as well). The Game of Thrones books weren’t successful because they were published or marketed in a unique or novel way. Rather, it was the entire transmedia marketing campaign used to market the TV show that turned the books into a massive hit.

So, what’s the lesson here?

If you want to create a serious business as an author and publisher in a world where publishing is changing rapidly, you have to be willing to change. Instead of just publishing books or novels, consider adding in interactive websites, social media marketing campaigns, apps, video games, TV shows, YouTube shows, songs, music, merchandise and apparel, and other forms of media not just to create additional streams of income, but to serve as tools to help market your books.

In the future, authors won’t think of themselves simply as the writers of a book. Instead, the authors who succeed and succeed big will think of themselves as the creators of a brand, of a movement, of a transmedia business.

Those authors who simply publish a book and call it a day will fade into obscurity along with the millions of other books published every year, but those who create engaging and powerful transmedia content will be able to earn significant incomes, create jobs, change the publishing industry, and exert a massive positive influence on the world through their work.

There has never been a more exciting (and profitable) time to be an author.

Transmedia Storytelling

Luke Ryan is a successful film producer. He is very talented, and his talk at the writers conference was about Transmedia Storytelling.

Our readers are consuming content in all forms. If they’re reading our books they’re obviously reading text. But people are also:

  • Watching movies
  • Watching TV
  • Listening to podcasts
  • Playing video games
  • Browsing websites
  • Streaming video on other sites
  • Using social media platforms
  • Buying merchandise on other websites

They are experiencing stories in an ever-growing number of forms.

The entire idea of Transmedia storytelling is taking one intellectual property like a book, and developing all kinds of products around that intellectual property. Star Wars and Harry Potter are great examples of this. In 2017, the Harry Potter theme park opened—an entire theme park based on a book!

Publishers use these Transmedia products as marketing tools and extra streams of income.

Another way to look at it: your book is both an income generating tool and a marketing tool. Every new book you write has the potential to attract new readers to your author platform. Every book you write has the potential to sell every other book you’ve ever written. This is why authors who write multiple books have the best chance to make a living as a writer.

If you have book and a movie, every person who sees your movie has the potential to go buy your book, and every person who reads your book has the potential to go see your movie.

Expand Your Content

“The concept of Transmedia is that our customers are consuming media on a variety of platforms, and the better job we do of getting our content out on these various platforms, the better our business is going to do. Not just in generating additional revenue on these platforms, which can be huge, but also in the fact that we’re engaging our customers more and building a deeper relationship with them. Each content piece we have out there is doing marketing for us.” – Tom Corson Knowles

This is also true in the online marketing world. Every piece of content you create is not only a potential income generating tool, it’s also a great marketing tool. That’s why I do this podcast. It’s totally free to you, but it increases my author platform, because it increases the number of people who know what I am doing, and what I’m about.

The podcast also allows me to communicate with my listeners on a deeper level than I can in my books or other content. You allow me into your life once a week to talk about marketing and publishing books. That means we have a much stronger relationship than the customers who choose to only read my books, and I appreciate that.

The concept of Transmedia is huge, and you can see it in a lot of the things that are going on in the marketplace today.

If you’ve been on Netflix or Amazon instant video lately, you’ve probably seen a bunch of media based movies that come from the video game world or the book world.

One prime example of this is the Lego Movie that just recently came out. Kids love this movie, but it’s based on the Lego brand and nothing else. A lot of companies are realizing now that media can be one of their greatest investment tools.

If you look at a company like the company that owns Lego or Coca-Cola, a lot of these massive companies worth billions of dollars spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year on marketing and advertising.

What they’re starting to realize is if they can invest just $20 million on a movie that markets their brand, and connects with readers and their audience, and provides an additional source of income (because they can sell tickets, licensing, and other products based on the movie) that’s an incredibly smart business and marketing move.

Industries go through change, especially in the realm of technology. If you look at the music industry, we used to listen to music on records, then tapes, then CDs, and now we listen to most of our music digitally. The history of entertainment is constantly evolving technology that allows consumers to experience entertainment in several different forms.

Use Free Media to Build an Empire

If you’re just starting out and you can’t bankroll a movie, you can start by creating free media outlets that people can experience you through.

Free Transmedia outlets include:

  • Your website
  • Your social media channels
  • Apps
  • YouTube
  • A podcast
  • Books
  • Merchandise. There are a lot of websites that will allow you to design T-shirts for your audience for free (like Cafepress)

Digital Content and the Future of Publishing

Digital book sales are growing while physical book sales are declining. There’s going to be a $10 billion decline in physical book sales in the next five years. That decline is going to be eclipsed by the growth of digital book sales over the same time period.

That doesn’t mean physical book sales are going to disappear. There are still going to be $60 billion of physical book sold in 2018, but it is a market in steady decline.

Digital content is going to be easier to create at a lower cost in the future. We can see that even today on platforms like YouTube. On YouTube it’s easy and free to create a video and put it online for the world to see. You only need access to a webcam to record yourself. Almost every phone today has the capability to record video.

What you want to do to maximize the effectiveness of your Transmedia strategy is to make sure all of your media campaigns tie in together. You want to make sure that each piece of content ties into all of your other content. You want the people who read your books to watch your YouTube series, listen to your podcasts, download your app, buy your T-shirts, and sign up for your movie premier. Not only are they learning more and having more interaction with your brand, they’re developing a deeper connection with you as the creator of the content.

A Case Study: East Los High

East Los High is a show on Hulu. Each of the main characters on the show have their own blog and they connect with readers.

The show is also connecting with nonprofit organizations to teach teenagers about sex, sexually transmitted diseases, and pregnancy.

Their transmedia marketing campaign has been incredibly effective in attracting more viewers for the show and in selling additional products and merchandise.

Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones is another example of Transmedia strategy done well. It started out as a series of epic fantasy novels by George RR Martin. It’s now a show on HBO.

The series of books was moderately successful, but it wasn’t a breakout hit like Harry Potter. They turned the book series into the #1 show in America today by using an effective Transmedia strategy.

Do an Audience Challenge

The purpose of an audience challenge is to appeal to a wider audience. You want to find your target audience, and then figure out ways to connect with people outside your target audience.

The target audience for the Game of Thrones series was men 25 and younger. Their audience challenge was to get women over the age of 35 to watch the show.

The reason why doing this audience challenge was important is that anything that’s going to be big needs to be mainstream and appeal to a wide audience. If you want to be successful with a story of publishing, it’s a lot easier to do so if your book appeals to a wider audience.

One thing HBO did to promote game of thrones was send food trucks to large metropolitan areas with food that would have been eaten in the fantasy world of Game of Thrones.

What this did was allow people who didn’t know about the brand to interact with the world in a tangible way. It allowed people to become aware of the story, and have a personal interest in watching it because they’d actually interacted with the story themselves.

People took pictures and shared stories on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook about interacting with these food trucks. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t cost much to do this type of marketing, but it can lead to a huge word-of-mouth influx of new fans.

Connect Directly with Your Audience

The best promotion you can do is to personally connect with your readers. By connecting with your readers on a personal level, you make them more invested in the success of your book and your own success.

If you look at Starbucks, they never talk about making a good cup of coffee. They always talk about creating a good experience for the customer. That’s the point of marketing in the 21st century. Connect directly with your audience.

You want to create a good experience for your audience. That’s why your book cover and the formatting of the material inside your book are so important. If your book is poorly formatted, very few people will read it, because it’s a poor experience for the reader, and they’re not going to share it with other people.

An Example of Transmedia Strategy

If you’re a sci-fi author who has:

  • A series of books
  • A YouTube series
  • A podcast
  • Merchandise
  • An email list where you directly connect with fans

You’ll have a much better chance of selling more books because you have more ways for fans to interact with you. You also have more ways for fans to find you and decide to start reading your series.

Also focus on building a better customer experience for the fans you have, and the fans you will attract with love all of this new content you’re creating.

Marketing Lessons from the Movie Business

The formula for having a successful movie launch is awareness and interest. If people are aware your movie exists, and they are interested in seeing it, they’ll buy tickets.

What a lot of movie studios are doing today is buying films that already have some element of awareness in the marketplace. So they buy movies based on best-selling books or well-known brands. If people are already aware of the brand, all you have to do is generate interest in the movie and it’s a much quicker path to ticket sales.

Studios are profit driven. They aren’t necessarily interested in just creating the best art possible—profit comes first. A lot of people in Hollywood do want to make good art, but at the end of the day you have to make a profit to survive in the industry. And it’s a lot easier to make a profit if you’re selling a story that already has brand awareness.

The same sort of marketing mechanics work when marketing your work. You have to make people aware of your writing before you can generate interest.

That’s why a properly executed Transmedia strategy is so important. It gives people more ways to be aware of you as a creator so that you can move on to the next step and generate interest in your work.

Marketing Your Story

“Usually the author who has the most awareness in the marketplace is going to sell the most books.” – Tom Corson Knowles

You create author awareness by making more content and distributing it on more platforms. Creating more content and distributing it on more platforms is the quickest, easiest way to build author awareness.

Of course you can spend a lot of money on advertising, and that might do well for you. But you can do as much or more by developing a really smart Transmedia campaign.

How Indie Authors Can Use This Transmedia Strategy

A transmedia campaign is all about having multiple pieces of content and distributing them on multiple platforms.

As a new author there are several channels that you can make use of for free, or at a low cost, to implement a Transmedia strategy. You can:

  • Have your own blog
  • Create YouTube videos
  • Post on social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram
  • Post on medium.co

How to Engineer a Compelling Story

Another big lesson from the conference was the idea that great stories are designed to be great—they’re not just accidents or works of genius!

The first thing you have to understand is the difference between the story concept, and a story promise.

A story concept is a one sentence overview of the world that explains what’s going on in the world.

The story concept for the Divergent series is: it’s a post-apocalyptic world where people are divided into five factions depending upon their personality traits.

The important thing about a story concept is it has to be a world that people really want to read about. You want an intriguing, interesting, or wish-fulfillment type of world.

Another example of an interesting story concept is the movie Top Gun. Top gun is about fighter pilots, and hey F-52’s are pretty darn cool. It’s important when coming up with a story concept that you create a world that people actually want to be a part of and read more about.

People enjoy post-apocalyptic stories because it’s different than their everyday life.

Your premise is your story.

Let’s look at Breaking Bad as an example.

  • The concept for Breaking Bad is a world with a chemistry teacher who has an average family.
  • The premise for Breaking Bad is what happens when this guy gets cancer? How does he handle it?

The answer is he uses his knowledge of chemistry to start making meth to create income for his family after his death. A bunch of really entertaining adventures occur.

  • Your story concept is the world your characters live in.
  • Your story premise is what’s happening with your characters.

You have to be able to articulate both elements in order to write a good story.

More Takeaways from the Writers Conference

You need to attend writer’s conferences. They expose you to cutting-edge ideas you wouldn’t otherwise be aware of. (We have a huge list of the top writer’s conferences you can browse to find one near you).

You need to attend business conferences. They allow you to organically build your network.

Conferences allow you to learn from the top experts in your field and connect with industry influencers.

When you go to a conference, remember to be coachable. Be open to new ideas. It’s much easier to level up your game if you’re willing to learn new things.

It’s the stuff we don’t know that can be the most damaging to us and hold us back from being successful.

Be willing to listen to new ideas. You don’t have to take everyone’s advice, but at least be willing to hear a new point of view.

The experts in your field are going to know more than you do. You should at least be willing to let their advice in and consider it.

If you decide not to take the advice of experts, you should at least ask yourself this question: “If their advice was right, how could I improve my book?” This exercise in lateral thinking will help you come up with ideas that might significantly improve your book or marketing plan.

The editing and rewriting process is crucial to making a successful book. You have to be willing to go through the process if you want to achieve success.

People and Resources Mentioned in This Podcast

Luke Ryan is a successful film producer.

http://eastloshigh.com/ – as an example of a properly executed Transmedia strategy.

Larry Brooks is a story expert who focuses on story engineering.

Links and resources mentioned in this podcast.

Cafepress – a website that allows you to design merchandise for your customers for free, or at a low cost that you can then sell to your customers through their website.

The East Los High Marketing Campaign Strategy

The Game of Thrones Marketing Strategy

Story Engineering by Larry Brooks