3 S.R. Johannes: The Amanda Project - Marketing an Interactive Story (Part 1)

Monday, March 08, 2010

The Amanda Project - Marketing an Interactive Story (Part 1)

Note: This will be a 2 part series. Comment on Part 1 or 2 to be entered into a random drawing for one of two books of Invisible 1 (book 1 of The Amanda Project). You must be a follower and in the US to win.

Today, we have Ariel Aberg-Riger, the Creative Development & Marketing Director at Fourth Story Media to discuss The Amanda Project.

The Amanda Project is the first collaborative, interactive fiction series for girls aged 13 and up. The story unfolds across an interactive website and is the story of Amanda Valentino, told through an interactive website and book series for readers aged 13 & up. On the website, readers are invited to become a part of the story as they help the main characters search for Amanda.

Hi Ariel. Will you tell us idea for an online story series come to play?

The Amanda Project came out of a bunch of different, seemingly disparate threads. We were interested in inviting talented authors to collaborate on an ongoing narrative; we wanted to see if we could publish a story that would allow interactivity and reader participation, and we were thinking about how girls use technology to express themselves.

How did the idea of creating an online interactive story start?

Well, we all know that the publishing landscape is changing. It’s evolving to incorporate aspects of the inevitable move to new forms of media, and we wanted to embrace that by giving our readers a way to harness all of the resources and possibilities that are offered by the Internet, ever-increasing connectivity, social networks, etc. The Amanda Project appeals to all different kinds of readers. It's, at heart, a fantastic story with appealing narrators, mystery, suspense–even some romance. So, it was our hope that any girl or boy who loves to read would devour it. At the same time, we know that our core audience is online all the time, and there is also the draw of the interactive nature of the project - we don't just create a story and tell it, we invite our readers to come in and create the story with us.

What was the most fun and most challenging aspect of doing interactive books online?

Some of the most fun aspects of working on The Amanda Project are also some of the greatest challenges. The creative process of working on an ongoing, transmedia narrative is an amazing experience because it is ever evolving. Each week we get to unravel more of the story bit by bit, and there is always something to explore - building off of their responses, digging deeper into the text of the book, learning what they are most drawn to and what they find less engaging.

The most challenging part was building a structure that would allow a fantastic story to be both told by our gifted authors, and be flexible enough to be reactive to the incredibly creative ideas and directions our readers developed. We spent a lot of time exploring various frameworks that would allow such interaction to take place. As we said before, the story itself is every evolving, but we're confident now that we have a model in place that can handle the deep, layered creation.

Readers are invited to become a part of the story as they help the main characters search for Amanda. How does that work?

Well, after a user creates their account, they are encouraged to start filling out their profile as a character - the barista at the downtown Orion coffee shop Just Desserts, a kid that sat behind Amanda in trig class, etc. We assign each new member a "guide" (much as Amanda asks Hal, Callie, and Nia to be her Guides when she comes to Endeavor High) - someone they can email with any questions they have about the story, or how the site works, or anything at all. We emphasize that although the site operates in the framework of the story (the main characters "build" it at the end of Invisible I), it is all fictional, and we encourage them to think creatively about their “experiences” with Amanda.

There are a number of places and ways that members can interact on the site. The core of the site is the Our Stories section where we post weekly stories written by the main characters. The stories are structured as mini mystery arcs - each anywhere from 2-5 weeks long - and each story ends in a specific question. We've found this specific call to action is an extremely important part in both encouraging and focusing the conversation in a way that is most conducive to moving the story forward. We are highly reactive and responsive in Our Stories - constantly following leads and details the girls submit, and using their ideas to build the next week's story.

In addition to Our Stories, there are the individual member profiles (where everything they contribute on the site is aggregated and linked so they can watch their character develop in real time), the Debate Club (where readers are invited to participate in discussing everything from which classes they had with Amanda, to what her favorite outfits were, to picking apart various details in Invisible I), to the Zine where they can submit their own original fiction, to the Gallery where they can upload photography and artwork. Like any community, we have some incredibly active members who write intricate fictional accounts every week. Others are quieter, but as we look at the analytics of the site, we can see that they’re there reading and observing.

Come back tomorrow for Part 2 and learn why The Amanda Project is so successful with teens.


Danyelle L. said...

This sounds like an awesome idea. I love the fact that it's interactive!

Robert W. Leonard said...

I really enjoyed this post. I've been developing a very similar concept in the form of a weekly podcast of fantasy tales. I've been at it for many months eager to find fun ways to draw in readers and listeners, and get them to post ideas for how the story might evolve every week.

I hope part two has some focus on how they drew in an initial following and some marketing tips they used to get started. I've already had some good ideas for adding user accounts from reading part 1. Thanks for the tips, Ariel and Shelli!

lisa and laura said...

Wow, this is so cool, Shelli and right up our alley. Can't wait to read part 2!

Susan R. Mills said...

That is so cool! I can't wait for Part 2.

Stina said...

This does sound cool. Like 39 Clues for teens. Can't wait to read part two. :)

(I'm in Canada so you can exclude me from the contest, Shelli. Darn it!)

Kelly Polark said...

Cool, innovative idea!!

Jessie Oliveros said...

Very creative. Things are changing so much from when I was a teen- Books are online. Everyone is Internet savvy. My hips are bigger.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Awesome idea! Bringing the "Choose your own adventure" concept to the 21st century. WTG,Ariel!

Janet Johnson said...

I agee with Stina . . . reminds me of the 39 clues. Very Fun reading. Can't wait to learn more.