I have recently been talking to a publisher about a minisite for a children’s book, which has led me to think more generally about what websites for children’s books are for, why they are there and what people want from them.
I don’t know about you, but when I am immersed in a book, particularly one which successfully creates a world for you to inhabit (think Northern Lights, Mortal Engines, Harry Potter), the end of the book comes as a kind of mini bereavement. That is what creates the desperation for the next instalment - the door to the world has closed and, though you can reread the book, there’s no more discovery or exploration of that world until next time. You sit and look at the cover for a bit, willing it to be new again, and then maybe, maybe you go online. You are looking to be allowed into the world again, even if it can only be for a jaunt, an excursion, rather than the prolonged stay you would get from another book.
This is where the minisites that publishers produce for their books come in. They need to be a comfort to the reader (and yes, the people who come to these sites, big and little, are still readers, not users) and to take away that sense of loss and exclusion by being as much a part of the world of the book as possible. Too often these sites are slightly jarring because they contain too much marketing, or don’t feel like they are part of the book’s world and are more of a vehicle for selling more books. The readers need the voices of the characters they are missing, rather than the voices of the publishers or even the author. They want to know about the author, yes, but most importantly, they don’t want to be reminded that the world of the book isn’t really real.
The most successful site concepts, to my mind, are ones which either explore the world geographically, e.g. www.septimusheap.com, or are a continuation of the voice of the book, e.g. www.thenameofthisbookissecret.co.uk. Both of these sites are highly interactive too, of course, which helps keep the reader engaged and feeling like they are playing an active part in the world, but it is the continuation of the world which sets them apart.
Of course J.K. Rowling understands this and is taking it to a whole new level in the world of Pottermore. Sadly I am not one of the lucky million who have access to the beta, so I can’t comment on how successful the site is. Rowling is trying to keep the magic alive by literally creating the world of Harry Potter online, and so doing trying to provide consolation to the millions upon millions of Potter fans who feel an intense kind of that end of book bereavement from the end of such a popular series.
Obviously not every book has the kind of finance to make a full online world to keep readers happy, but something of that aim of keeping the magic, or mystery, or adventure, alive can be translated into even the smallest microsite by focussing on that aim of making the site feel as much like a part of the world of the book as possible. Extending the world of the book onto the web can provide readers with somewhere to go and visit the characters and place they are missing until the next book comes out.