Author JJ Gadd on digital publishing and marketing

JJ Gadd is a speculative fiction author, freelance editor and journalist with a keen interest in the future of publishing and staying at the forefront of new developments in digital production.

Recently we spoke to JJ about her work and in particular her approach to digital publishing and marketing.

Tell us a little about the Lunation series and how it’s particularly suited to ebook publication.

The Lunation seriesLunation, Earthshine, Lunelocked, Maraluna and Cloudstalker – is a story of seven unlikely companions out to rescue a woman trapped in the moon. I signed the publishing deal with HarperCollins’s Impulse digital-only imprint halfway through writing it, and at that point decided to make the books ‘digitally native’: that is to say, because the books are read in a digital environment it enabled me to use hyperlinks to give the reader some freedom in choosing the order in which they read some of the chapters, and if indeed they would like to read all of the chapters.

I explain this system as ‘core’ and ‘choice’ chapters: at a choice chapter juncture, readers can choose whether to read each character’s experience or just one – or none, and skip all the choice chapters and continue reading the core chapters. I like empowering people to have a say in how they’d like to receive the information, but at the same time I didn’t want to surrender complete control, as in a Choose Your Own Adventure novel. And if you’re time poor, skipping the choice chapters means you get to read the book a whole lot quicker (and it will still make sense).

The Choose Your Own Adventure Twitter game is fantastic! I don’t think I’ve ever seen Twitter used that way. How did it come about and what reactions are you getting?

Full credit there to the brilliant Brendan Mays, digital marketing manager at HarperCollins. He was inspired by the Choose Your Own Adventure approach of the Lunation series to take a similar approach to marketing. It’s called Choose Your Own Lunation (#CYOLunation). Players follow a series of tweets that tell a story, but they’re given choices along the way. The choices they make determine which character from the book they most resemble, and ideally encourages them to read the book to find out more about that character. Of course I loved this idea too, and it was fun to work on the Twitter stories, which provided a chance to give extra insight into the chosen characters. In terms of how it’s going, I haven’t heard solid figures yet but anecdotally it’s been well received.

You’re writing a series of articles for Digital Book World about how indie authors need to embrace the opportunities that advances in digital publishing offer. What are the most important things indie authors should do?

I would absolutely encourage indie writers to explore some of the opportunities for creating interactive content afforded by digital publishing. Readers are becoming more sophisticated, so there’s increasing scope for creating more three-dimensional, multi-platform, multi-media work.  That said, you have to be well aware of the market you’re targeting – not all readerships are receptive and many find it distracting (“I read books because I like to read, not watch, listen or play”, etc).

Whether to publish print-only, digital-only, or both (print-on-demand) is a vexed question, and the answer lies somewhere in the matrix of your budget, marketability and what’s going to best suit your readership. When it comes to creating enhanced ebooks, one of the things I think is challenging for indie authors is simply knowing what’s out there – let alone having the time to learn how to use those tools.

There are plenty of options for creating iPad-only books sold via apps – Zoetic Press’s Lithomobilus, for example – and that’s assuming you eschew Apple’s own iBooks Author. There are quite a few start-ups experimenting with digital technology that overcomes the hurdle of working across digital platforms (Kindle, iPad, Kobo, Android etc). One of them is Beneath the Ink, which allows you to add subtle links to audio, video and references within the text without the reader needing to be online for access. Another that’s just in the process of launching is eBooksinMotion. A more specialist alternative is InDesign.

There’s a push for web browsers to be used as a publishing tool but I’m not yet on board for that one, though I do think it’s got potential. Maybe once I get a better internet connection in my remote location I’ll become more of a fan. At the moment it would drive me nuts to read via a web browser – it could take minutes just to turn the page!

What are you working on next?

I’d really like to work on an app, as they currently allow the greatest scope for reader interactivity, but as apps can currently only be accessed on limited devices I’ll hold off and see how they evolve over the next few years.

So my next project will involve pushing the envelope as far as I can with the technology that does currently extend across a number of devices. I’m interested in exploring some of the platforms mentioned above and using them to invent different ways to deliver the written word and tell a story.

I get a real buzz out of the challenge and complexity of managing multiple character and plot strands in a way that the story will still make sense if the reader accesses some, none or all of them – to me it’s like writing amplified, if that makes any sense! So I will attempt a story that is probably complex to create but simple to read, interactive on many levels, and, hopefully, an enjoyable word adventure for readers.


Find out more about JJ Gadd and the Lunation Series on her website