Transmedia Romance: Expanding & Extending The Story Universe of Traditional Romance Novels

Transmedia Wallflowers

As any true lover of the romance genre, I think we can all agree that there’s something a little sad when we finish a book or a series and have to say good-bye to characters we have grown fond of (and maybe even fallen a little bit in love with). Ever since I got caught reading picked up my first romance novel (Julie Garwood’s The Wedding) I’ve always wondered what happened after the epilogue…then I stumbled across trilogies and series and a whole new world opened up. More characters to love, more stories to devour, more information about other characters/stories I had once read…more everything! It was a dream come true.

But as a romance junkie this only satisfied me for a short while. And with romance readers being some of the most vivacious readers of them all, I was constantly looking for new books and authors. (My secret? A Google Doc that tracks new releases by date and another that tracks by author. Yes, the project manager in me had to make some kind of organized chaos with the amount of romance novels I consume.)

However, what may be even harder than letting go of your favorite characters, is the usually very, very, very long wait in between books in a series. Every so often I find a new series that all the books are out and then I consume them all in a three day period – much like I did with the books we’ll be talking about today, The Wallflowers Trilogy by Maya Rodale. But most of the time, I’m just bidding my time, twiddling my thumbs, and constantly checking Amazon pre-order links until the next book is out.

In my opinion, while the wait in between books can bring a certain anticipation (I literally was jumping up and down on release day for the final book in Sarah MacLean’s Scoundrels Series), it also causes several interruptions and frustrations as a reader.

So, here’s why long release dates cause problems for readers and authors and what we (yes, we) can do about them….

Where Did the Magic Go?

Long wait times in between books cause readers to lose touch with the magical story world authors have built. You know – that special place where you can taste the punch in the ballroom, hear the first notes of a waltz playing, see the gorgeous dresses…THAT place! The wonderful, warm place called the story world, where authors expertly transport me and I become deeply engrossed in their writing and characters. I LOVE that place.

But I tend to lose that sense of wonderment and immersion when there’s a long waiting period between books. This is by no means the author or the publisher’s fault – authors can’t produce quality stories in a time frame that would align with how readers consume them. But as a reader, I end up consuming anywhere from 2-3 books a month, which means I’ve read anywhere from 24-36 additional books from when I read the first book in a series until the next comes out, assuming a series has a year-long waiting period for the next book. (Which, many do.)

That’s a lot of books. A lot of characters. A lot of love stories. Don’t get me wrong – I adore them all. I will always read faster than authors can distribute. But it makes it more difficult for me to jump back into the magical place of each series when I’ve waited for such a long time and consumed a large amount of additional stories.

Was She a Duchess or a Countess? 

In addition to losing the magic of the story – I forget the story when there is a long wait between book releases. I know the general plot. I know the characters. I don’t remember the details. And sometimes it’s the details that make the thing.

Especially if it is an author with either a very long series (more than three or four books) or an author with similar stories, I struggle to remember all the jokes and nicknames and plot points. Right now, I’m totally struggling with this for Julie Anne Long’s Pennyroyal Green series. I LOVE those books. But I am trying to remember what happened in the last few books, especially since they go back and forth between characters in two families (brilliant, by the way).

With so many books, so much in-between-time, I can’t fully appreciate when authors weave in characters from another story (or series if they are really good) to the next. I can’t appreciate the smallest details that hint at the next heroine or hero. I can’t remember the jokes! A lot of time goes into the jokes!

So, yes, sometimes I forget part of the story or I get the characters mixed up with ones from other series…and then when I’m reading in the back my head I’m going Where have I heard that name before? Is that the same Duke? So she’s his sister…right. Or his cousin. Dang it, they’re related, right? Maybe she knows his sister…

Okay, it’s not as bad as I’m making it out to be. But I do find that when I can consume a series or trilogy in short order, I remember more. I appreciate it more. I even think I fall a bit more in love.

It’s Begins and Then It’s Over

As we’ve determined, romance readers can make their way through a large stack of books in a very quick time frame. We love to read. We love to read romance. Ain’t no shame.

But because we love it so much, it’s over as it’s just beginning. I turn on my kindle and dig into Chapter 1 and the next time I look up it’s 3am on a week day and I’m debating calling in sick so I can finish the last six chapters. A blessing and a curse.

Of course, reading a series we know it’s not over for good. There’s at least one more story to tell! But after consuming a book in eight hours we are right back where we started. Waiting. For the next book. Oh, the torture!

So what’s the solution here? As readers, we can’t expect authors to meet this demand. We can keep piling up on our author lists (although many of us already keep track of 15 to 20 of our favorites…hence my Google Doc). We can keep trying to remember certain elements of the story. We can re-read. OR. We could expand the story world in a number of ways. Authors, publishers, readers – together we can create a transmedia experience to keep readers engaged, knowledgeable, and in that magical place in between waiting for books to be released.

What is this Transmedia You Speak of?

Transmedia storytelling is the technique of telling a story or expanding a story experience across multiple platforms and formats with each addition contributing value and meaning to the overall story world. Transmedia storytelling isn’t the retelling of a story such as turning a book into a movie. Transmedia is the addition or continuation of story worlds and characters through different platforms with the viewer/participant gaining new information and insight with each element that unfolds.

If you’re looking to learn more about the basics, here’s a white paper I put together on the subject. It talks about transmedia from both a storytelling and marketing perspective.

I think transmedia storytelling would be an amazing addition to the romance genre and in helping solve The.Long.Wait.Period. in between books. How would this work in romance? Let me give you an example…Maya Rodale’s The Wallflowers Trilogy. (Read the review here.)

In addition to her historical trilogy that follows three young Regency-era ladies as they look to land husbands before a very important ball, Rodale has incorporated transmedia elements that enrich her story and give her readers something to look forward to during the wait period in between books.

The first is that she wrote a contemporary series that cannons the historical one. These contemporary novels feature the “author” of the Wallflowers Series, Jane, and her love story. Through this contemporary series, readers learn more about the Wallflower series – what events influenced it, how Jane wrote and completed the novels, the inspiration behind plots and characters. While not traditionally transmedia as it doesn’t expand directly on the Wallflower world, it would still be considered a transmedia element as fans of the books could consume this new expansion of the story world and still relate it back to the historical novels.

TransmediaWallflowers_current

The second transmedia element is Rodale published a version of The London Weekly, the fictional London newspaper that plays its own starring role in all three Wallflower books. Fans of the book can read a digital version of the newspaper that so influences London society within the Wallflower books. Through this channel, readers can experience another element of what Ladies Emma, Olivia, and Prudence experienced during the season including the Fashionable Intelligence column the girls read religiously. Additionally, Rodale even promotes one of her books, The Rogue and The Rival, to “ecstatic reviews” and touts the book as “suitable for ladies” within the newspaper’s pages. Gotta love it.

Fans of the story can consume this new piece of content and gain new insight into the world of The Wallflowers. They can read about news that would be relevant in that time such as marriage and death announcements, theater reviews and so much more – giving them new details into the world as well as gaining a new experience that expands their understanding of the overall story.

While this doesn’t seem like much, perhaps, to the average romance reader, imagine Rodale promoting this a month after the first or second book came out? Imagine it held a teaser for the next book such as a piece of gossip that the Mad Baron was coming back to town and rumor has it he’s looking for wife #2. (How juicy, right?)

Rodale also has a Pinterest board, which includes inspirations for her Wallflowers books and its contemporary counterparts. A fun idea here might be to pin from Jane’s perspective (contemporary book) or to use it as a “digital wardrobe” for one of the girls in the historical books.

Another transmedia element could be the publishing of The Mad Baron, a gothic tale referenced in several of the Wallflower books and loosely based on Lord Radcliffe (aka The Mad Baron).

Another transmedia element could be a brochure or advertisement for Lady Penelope’s School for Young Ladies of Fine Families or other promotional materials the girls and their families may have received when deciding whether or not to attend. Even a virtual tour of the school, the ballroom, or one of the girl’s (or hero’s) homes. Perhaps Jane (again contemporary novel) could have a blog that she posts to once or twice a month to keep readers engaged and attach them to the contemporary novels while waiting on the historical ones. What if Olivia’s mother kept a diary or there was a blog of “overheard statements from so and so…” Maybe readers receive emails that contain the gossip columns or an announcement of the Duke’s new machine or a flyer for its first showing.

TransmediaWallflowers_additional

See? Lots of really interesting and fun ways to keep readers engaged as they become more involved with the story. These transmedia elements would only serve to enhance the story giving readers a taste of that magical story world every so often.

What’s really great about creating a transmedia experience is that it helps with all of those pesky audience problems listed above. Readers can continue to indulge in the story world and can build upon their knowledge. Transmedia can also introduce sub story lines and plots, new characters, and new experiences outside of what the books have to offer. It’s important to note that transmedia isn’t simply just about creating online content, the content can be physical such an event or a mailer, but no matter the medium, transmedia content must have a purpose and drive the story forward in some way. Reference content is wonderful (and we so appreciate it!) but we have a hunger for more about the story. TV shows and movies like The Matrix and How I Met Your Mother are current examples of how transmedia storytelling expanded and enhanced those story worlds. From graphic novels to blogs to websites to so much more.

It’s my belief that romance readers crave the more. And it’s to everyone’s benefit to give “the more.” To give readers a chance to continue to explore the story, to learn about new characters, and to keep falling in love even while they wait for the next big release. And what’s great for authors is that it builds buzz and excitement for a series over an expanded period of time. It gets fans and readers talking about the books early and often and sharing their transmedia experience with each other and, even perhaps, with new readers, introducing them to the work.

The argument could (and should) be made that readers couldn’t possibly follow every transmedia story for every author they read. Totally true. Participating in transmedia does require some effort on the part of the reader. However, spaced out appropriately and feed to readers via social media, email, author websites, direct mail and other mediums that they normally seek out or opt-in to, it would be very feasible for readers to experience several or more stories of their choosing.

Additionally, my counter argument would also include that the transmedia experience doesn’t live on forever. It lives on for as long as the series lives on. Once the final book is written, unless an author wants to continue the experience or end the story on a different channel, readers have come to expect that eventually the final chapter will be written and read it’ll be time to move on. Every great story should have an ending so another great story can begin. And of course, let’s not forget fan fiction. While an argument can be made for the pros and cons of fan fiction as transmedia storytelling, I think in certain cases, such as Amazon’s KindleWords, it could fall into that category as writers must write within the story boundaries and then expand the story.

As for authors and what they can produce – the beauty is that it can be small, it can be digital (cost-effective), and as long as it’s consistent, it doesn’t have to be all-consuming. Transmedia is all about sharing the story, even the smallest details or the larger ones, if an author is so inclined.

So – to all my romance readers, authors, publishers, fans, and more…would a transmedia experience be of interest to you? Would you participate and what would you want to see? I can just envision an MTV Cribs episode featureing Jane and her millionaire hunk, can’t you?

Contact me about turning your story into a transmedia experience!

 

 

 

 

 

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4 thoughts on “Transmedia Romance: Expanding & Extending The Story Universe of Traditional Romance Novels

  1. Pingback: The Pre-Order Rush | Millennial Musings

  2. Pingback: Romance Authors Expand Their Story Worlds | Romance Digest

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