Amanda Havard On Four Ways To Connect With Readers

Last week we got the inside details about debut author Amanda Havard's paranormal series starter The Survivors in this video interview. The book has elicited an amazing response from fans. Not only is it a genuinely unique story, but the Amanda came up with a four-pronged plan to help readers connect with the story through a variety of media outlets. (We promise, it’s much more interesting — and less technical — than the fancy words make it sound.)

A week or so ago, in a conversation with my publisher at BEA, I heard that over 3 million books were published in 2010. In a conversation later that day with my editor, she said that 10 years ago, that number was 44,000. Needless to say, a lot has changed, and it’s getting harder all the time to get noticed. To me, this doesn’t mean visibility is impossible. Instead, it means you have to get creative.

So when I started writing The Survivors, I thought from the ground up. When I started with the story, I worked pretty hard to think of how I could connect the reader to the experience in unique ways. We’ve done a few things that will hopefully make us stand out from the crowd, and I hope they can inspire you too. Here they are, presented to you… in the form of the weird looks and questions I get asked all the time.

Your characters…tweet?

Yeah, my characters tweet. In fact, they tweet along with the storyline. What’s more? The storyline doesn’t start until this year, and two of the characters have been tweeting since 2009. Not only can you go back and get a story from before that you never otherwise get on the page, but now you can interact with my characters, ask them questions, or maybe just get a little better idea of who they are, what they do, and why you should love them.

As time goes on and it becomes relevant to the story, more characters will join. There are four tweeting now—Sadie and Corrina, Mark and Ginny—and though the pairs don’t all know each other yet, they will.

To me, putting my characters on Twitter now seems like a great way for fans to interact. I love that people @ reply to them, make comments on their choices, their conversations. This is, really, why I did it.

But before it was any of that, it was a great way for me to get to know my characters inside and out. I hear constantly that the dialogue between the Winter siblings in my book is one of the highlights, and I know that that came from Twitter. For a year before the books came out, knowing it would eventually get deleted to fit the story timeline, I wrote from the point of view as four of my characters on Twitter. My very good friend and co-conspirator (to whom the book is dedicated) wrote as two of my other characters so that organic conversations could arise. If you have to answer, in character, on the spot in a real conversation, you all the sudden become your characters. It made me fall more in love with each of them, know how to write each one more authentically, and definitely gave me ammo for dialogue.

This is not exactly a tool you think of (or that I’ve ever heard of anyone doing), but I’ll tell you this: I’d never write another book without it.

You write music… for books?

Yeah, I do! We are producing music and even music videos for the series. There are several reasons for this. For one, writings songs to better understand my characters was an instrumental tool for writing The Survivors. I found myself sitting in the middle of the night, wondering what the core problems for Sadie, my protagonist, were really going to be. Writing these core conflicts into a song forced me to understand the problems in just a few short lines of text.

I wrote the first song just a week after I came up with the idea. Though it’s changed a lot from point A to point B, that song went on to become “Pretty Girl,” which you can listen to here, or download here.

This is another great example of how I used an alternative form of character interaction to connect to my book in a way that would ultimately be great for my (then-future) fan base. Now we have songs—there’s “Pretty Girl” sung from the point of view of one of our leading men to Sadie, and this summer we’ll release “Breaking” from Sadie’s point of view. There will be more songs. The songs will be an integral part of the franchise because they’re an integral part of the story to me. And now I love that people who connect to music more than they connect to books can find the series through this song. We’ve heard from a number of people that they heard the song or were a fan of Chris Mann (one of the Warblers on Glee!) and heard the song and then got into the series. I love this. I want you to be able to access my characters in any way you’d like. I want you to fall for the story in the way that makes the most sense to you.

The music video is an added bonus for me. I wanted to produce it as alternative to a book trailer. Book trailers seem to really excite people, and to me, sometimes they say too much or not enough, or they convey things in a way I don’t relate to. So we’re making music videos instead.

Why do you keep talking about music? And why do you keep calling it a soundtrack?

Because music wrote these books. Truly. If I didn’t have the music I listened to, they would not exist. Coldplay’s “Violet Hill” practically gave me the idea for the book all by itself. You can go here and listen to or go here and download what I refer to as the soundtrack for book one. Just like with the original music, I want you to connect to the Survivors world in whichever way you want to, in whichever way you need to. I call this a soundtrack because, to me, the songs I’ve chosen are not generally themed for the story. Instead, they’re the soundtrack for a scene. Though I listened to thousands of songs while writing, in almost every scene, I’m able to connect a single song, a single musical theme, or even just a line of lyrics to that experience my characters are having. This music—songs from giants like Coldplay and Muse to indies like Ingrid Michaelson or, in later books, Peter Bjorn and John, or The Bravery, or Lykke Li— is everything to me. And I’d like to think it so carefully reflects the story that you could listen to just the soundtrack, without having read the books, and get a sense of the story.

Your story is going up…for free?

Yeah it is! Well, kind of. My publisher, Chafie Press, and I are super-excited to announce that we’ve made a partnership with Wattpad, the world’s most popular eBook community, where we will publish The Survivors in pieces—like watching episodes of your favorite TV show instead of the DVD box set—on the site for all to read for free. I wrote a blog telling the full story about why this is so important and exciting for me, but it mainly boils down to this: I want people to connect to my story. This is why we wrote songs, kept a soundtrack, produced music videos, why I dedicate more hours than I can count to Twitter, why I include meticulous pop culture detail—like real clothes, real cars, real hotels—and historical and mythological detail. It’s why I do everything I do in The Survivors. I want you to connect to my story.

And if you’re writing, you should want the same. Whether it’s just trying out your ideas on Wattpad or having a serious conversation with your publisher about how you’re going to make that happen, you should want the same thing—and fight for it. You can read The Survivors on Wattpad here, but if you’re too impatient to wait for it to come up piece by piece, you can order it in hardback, paperback, and eBook for most any reader.

­- Amanda Havard

If you are interested in learning more about The Survivors you can check out RT’s video interview with the author, read the *Web Exclusive Review* or pick up your own copy of this new series starter!