Guest Post: 'The Survivors' Is More Than Just A Good Book: Transmedia & Marketing

Today’s Ypulse Guest Post comes to us from Derek Baird, a consultant and writer on youth, education, media, and technology. He spoke with YA author Amanda Harvard about her new book, The Survivors, which she has interwoven with connections to social media and music to develop a truly unique experience for the reader. Check out Derek’s interview with the author below…and read a sample chapter from The Survivors here.

The Survivors Is More Than Just A Good Book: Transmedia & Marketing

The SurvivorsThe Survivors is a Young Adult Fiction book series by Nashville-based author Amanda Havard that tells the story of fourteen ill-fated survivors of the Salem Witch Trials and their descendants, who have been in hiding for over three centuries in rural Montana.

What makes this series really interesting — and worthy of the buzz it’s creating — is the way that Havard has woven social media and music into her own creative process and also used it to enhance the reader’s experience.

Harvard has an exciting and new vision for YA Fiction that incorporates all types of media to share the story of The Survivors. I sat down with her to discuss how her novel is rooted in history and mythology, her obsessive attention to detail, her transmedia strategy, and her collaboration with indie singer-songwriter Chris Mann on an original song for the book.

Derek Baird: Your novel opens with a prologue set in 1692 Massachusetts during the height of the Salem Witch Trials. Throughout the novel you’ve woven in historical events and make references to folklore, myths, and legends. What made you decide to include these elements? Do they serve a deeper purpose in the series?

Amanda Havard: I like to think that The Survivors is a “what if?” story in a world where obscure mythology and folklore are true and the unexplained holes in history are filled by these truths. Supernatural creatures are intriguing — they always have been — but we’ve seen a lot of the same stuff in recent years. When I set out to write this series, I wanted to come up with something supernatural and new, and so that’s how I created the concept of a Survivor.

Yet when I went looking for what a Survivor really was or could be or where it came from, it quickly became more intriguing to incorporate sixteenth century Romanian folklore or unexplained historical events to create a back story or to world-build, so to speak, than it was to solely make up things on my own. To me, there is a certain challenge in fantasy world-building where you start from scratch, but there is a wholly different challenge in fitting fantasy into the world that exists now.

By utilizing folklore and mythology, and weaving in real history, I gave myself a chance to tell a story with a rich background from the get-go, giving my readers a chance to read about the weirder, cooler, more obscure, or more overlooked stories in our history. The inclusion of this kind of content really gives a chance for The Survivors to have a more elevated, almost academic element than what you might expect — ­and that will only grow as the series continues. It also gives readers a chance to read this story in context: it’s happening in their world, as it exists now and has existed throughout time.

Plus, I’m a kid of the Google generation. I see something, and I want to know more about it, so I Google it. You can do that with The Survivors. You can read the books or websites that my characters read to research. You can see what they see. You can go on their journey with them because this stuff is real.

DB: When it comes to marketing the book, you’ve embraced all types of new media, especially Twitter. In many ways, your characters’ Tweets are the prequel for the series. Talk about your transmedia strategy and why you decided to embrace Twitter both as a marketing tool and medium to deliver the story of The Survivors.

AH: In the early chapters of The Survivors, I just threw out there that Sadie, my protagonist, had a Twitter account that her human friend, Corrina, made her get. This led me to reserve Twitter account names for both characters, just in case. But about a month later, I found myself thinking a lot about how much more goes into a character that what ends up on the page, and it dawned on me that I could really embrace Sadie’s viewpoint if I tweeted as if I were her. But if I did that, then Corrina should tweet as Corrina.

I asked my good friend and co-conspirator to take the helm as Corrina for Twitter purposes so that Sadie and Corrina could have authentic, unscripted conversations as themselves in real time. We became addicted to it, and it wasn’t long until we realized that others would be addicted to it too.

Putting my characters on Twitter has made them accessible in a way that no character has ever been before. You can know what Sadie is doing right now (or what she’s been doing since 2009), and the timeline of the story doesn’t even start until this summer! And, soon, as the timeline of the story permits, we’ll have more character Twitter accounts. Now that the book is actually out, people are talking to Sadie.

Two book bloggers recently did an interview with Sadie and Corrina, and that was just awesome. We want to see more of this. We want readers to be able to connect to these characters as just what they are: people. In this way, The Survivors extends beyond the singular medium of the book. It is so much bigger than just the words on the page.

DB: For the first book in your series, you collaborated with indie singer-songwriter (and Warbler #6 on “Glee”!) Chris Mann to record an original song based on the book. The end result is the single “Pretty Girl.” Why did you want to produce original music for the series? Tell us more about your collaboration with Chris Mann.

AH: I’ve always been a songwriter, and, living in Nashville, I’ve always been fascinated with the music industry. The choice to use music happened organically. When I first began the story, a week or two into it, I found myself wanting to get better in touch with Sadie. Songs are such a crazy juxtaposition to books: they must communicate the same emotion, characterization, and story but in so few lines. So when I had a hard time getting my head around this or that part of the story, I sat down at my piano and wrote a song to Sadie. Then, I’d write songs from Sadie’s point of view. Then from Everett’s. Then Lizzie’s. And so on and so forth. They became a huge tool in character development.

And then, after taking the bones of the first one I ever wrote and collaborating with some hugely talented people in Nashville, we ended up with the version of “Pretty Girl” Chris Mann recorded.

Chris is awesome. He’s so hugely talented, so committed, and truly awesome to work with. The fact that his look has a likeness to my darker, more brooding leading man, Everett Winter, did not hurt how glad I was that he was the one to sing the song. Chris and I are now working to market the song together. The music video for it is on his YouTube channel. He recently appeared at a huge book convention with me, signing books as Everett while we had the music video for “Pretty Girl” playing at our booth. It was fantastic.

Ultimately, the songs, like everything else, are another way to make the story and the characters from The Survivors come alive in new ways that most story characters don’t get a chance to. And “Pretty Girl” is just the first of many. We’ll actually be back in the studio in a few weeks to do the next one.

This, in my view, is how transmedia is supposed to be: content expressed as a set of experiences played out across many types of media, all of which build and strengthen the concept as a whole. The Survivors is just that. And I’m eternally grateful to Chris for having been such a willing participant in making that happen.

DB: I’ve noticed in the book you have an almost obsessive attention to detail — from clothes to hotel rooms to interstates — you’ve clearly done your homework. What is the purpose behind all of it? In other words, is there a method to the madness?

AH: I’m glad you asked this because, yes, there is a method to the madness. I get asked about the fashion all the time, for example. People assume that I picked some designers, threw their names together, and thought that conveyed something about my characters arbitrarily. Or they think I chose to make Sadie like fashion because I like fashion. That’s not it. Sadie is a non-human trying to pass as a human. In her mind, based on the people she first met in the human world, paying attention to fashion was a great way to pass for human. And noticing the things others are wearing? That’s what she would do. That’s a part of her character. That’s just one example.

I also use the real details — brands, hotels, cars — because I think there could be fun partnership with these entities down the line. Wouldn’t it be fun to see a fashion spread of Sadie, Corrina, and Ginny in Alice + Olivia or maybe Elizabeth and James or Tracy Reese looks? Or a pair of sunglasses at Tory Burch that you can buy because Sadie has worn them? Or a room in a hotel in Turkey where Sadie and Everett stayed? Or a discussion of some character’s choice to drive an Audi R8 over all other sports cars in its class? We like blurring the lines between fantasy and reality (don’t think we don’t!), and, because of it, the possibilities are endless.

But more than that, the detail adds to the legitimacy. I owe it to my readers for the details to be spot on. Every place in the book is real, down to the unmarked dirt road in the middle of a forest in Montana where Sadie leaves her car parked before venturing into the mountains. I’ve been there. You can go there. You can take the highways she takes, fly the flights she flies, wear the clothes she wears, listen to the songs she listens to. You can live out the story Sadie is telling you because, supernatural madness aside, it all exists.

And “existing” means we can play with your willing suspension of disbelief. How far-fetched is it that there are Survivors hiding on the mountainside in Montana when that particular place is unmarked, uncharted, has no trails and no people there? It isn’t that far-fetched.

The detail gives you exactly what you’re looking for in fiction: an escape to a place unlike your own and yet one you can relate to, a trip into a life you haven’t lived but could.

DB: Anything else Ypulse readers should know about The Surviors?

AH: If you like the first book and what we’ve done so far, just wait. What I’ve got coming up my sleeve is bigger than you’re imagining. I promise.

About Derek Baird

Derek Baird consults with companies and non-profits like Yahoo!, Facebook, Pearson, Kia Motors, Salt Lake Olympic Committee (SLOC), Simon Wiesenthal Center, United Nations GAID Program, Stone Yamashita Partners, PBwiki.com, Digital Outlook, Yahoo! Southeast Asia, Togetherville and others on the use of educational technology media. He also advises clients on social product development, digital and social media strategy, and conducts consumer insight research on the way that teens, kids and their parents use digital and social media in their daily lives. Derek helps his clients to navigate and market their products in the digital media, education, non-profit and entertainment ecosystem.

Derek has authored numerous peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters on new media, web strategy, social media, user-experience/design, educational technology, edutainment and online communities. His writing has appeared in journals, magazines and books in the US, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, Singapore and Sweden.

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