The July 31,2008 issue of BusinessWeek put the spotlight on social media as an effective force in helping to drive book sales. In the article, The Online Fan World of the Twilight Vampire Books, Heather Green chronicled the manner in which Stephanie Meyer, a 34-year-old mother of three from Phoenix, built a huge fan base for her work using a variety of social media sites and tools. Meyer has written four books (the Twilight Saga) featuring two star-crossed lovers, Edward Cullen (a handsome vampire) and Bella Swan (a teenage girl living in Forks, Washington). The final book in the series, Breaking Dawn, was released August 2. The book has an initial print run of 3.2 million copies. Overall, sales of books in the series have topped 7.5 million copies. The film adaptation, Twilight, is due to be released in theaters December 12, 2008. In the meantime, numerous Twilight videos (including the official movie trailer) have appeared on YouTube and other video sites.
Her story and characters were inspired by a dream. She describes it on her website:
In my dream, two people were having an intense conversation in a meadow in the woods. One of these people was just your average girl. The other person was fantastically beautiful, sparkly, and a vampire. They were discussing the difficulties inherent in the facts that A) they were falling in love with each other while B) the vampire was particularly attracted to the scent of her blood, and was having a difficult time restraining himself from killing her immediately.
Her location for the saga was somewhat less inspired – the result of some research on Google.
For my setting, I knew I needed someplace ridiculously rainy. I turned to Google, as I do for all my research needs, and looked for the place with the most rainfall in the U.S. This turned out to be the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. I pulled up maps of the area and studied them, looking for something small, out of the way, surrounded by forest… And there, right where I wanted it to be, was a tiny town called “Forks.” It couldn’t have been more perfect if I had named it myself.
But it was her efforts to build an audience for her books that was truly inspired. Here are some of the extra steps that Meyer took to develop this community.
- Personal website – She created a website for her novels separate from the publisher’s book site
- Fan access – Meyer gave readers her personal e-mail and shared family photos on her website.
- Active community sites – Enthusiastic readers have built up a large number of fan sites that help drive sales of Meyer’s books. On her website, Meyer lists over 100 fan sites, including 5 in languages other than English.
- Fan content – Allowing, even encouraging fans to play with the content.
- Events – For the launch of Breaking Dawn, Meyer helped organize a kind of vampire prom night in multiple cities. These kind of events reinforce the community experience for fans.
In terms of community building, Stephanie Meyer does many of the same things as J.C. Hutchins (Seventh Son) and Frank Warren (Post Secret). What lessons can writers draw from her success? There is no magic formula for the mega success of the Twilight Saga. Many genres may have the networks of inspired enthusiasts necessary to match Twilight’s level of success. But here are some things that could probably benefit any aspiring writer.
- Engage potential fans early and often; access is important though it may not be sustainable if you become hyper successful
- Go to the sites and forums where your readers hang out
- Let your fans play a role in defining your brand
None of these steps is easy; all are time consuming. But an author’s most important job is building an audience. The good news is that these days there are plenty of good social networking tools to make that job easier.
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