Suspense author Brandilyn Collins has made a name for herself because of her hold-your-breath writing style and for her mentoring of other writers. What people may not know is that her background is in marketing, and she understands that side of writing better than the average novelist.
Recently she initiated her new Kanner Lake series with the novel Violet Dawn, and a unique promotional concept. I had the opportunity of interviewing her to learn more.
RLM: I understand Violet Dawn launches your Kanner Lake series and with it some interesting new promotional activities. What can you tell me about those?
BC: My main marketing idea behind the series (to support everything that Zondervan is doing) is the Scenes and Beans character blog , which blends fiction and reality. In the books, the locals of Kanner Lake hang out at Java Joint, the coffee shop on Main Street. Twelve of these supporting characters are taking turns posting on Scenes and Beans. They are telling entertaining stories about life in Kanner Lake and their own lives. They’re an eclectic bunch, ranging from the seasoned newspaperman to Wilbur, the old curmudgeon; to a couple of retired school teachers who are best friends but constantly fight; to Bailey Truitt, owner of Java Joint; to S-Man, who sits in the Java Joint corner all day typing on his science fiction novel, Starfire. The posts are written in real time according to events in the Kanner Lake novels. For example, on Saturday, July 22, 2006 when Paige Williams slipped into her hot tub and discovers a corpse—and the town is thrown into chaos (not to mention on national TV), the post on the following Monday reflected that tragedy. However, Bailey soon decided that the bloggers can’t talk about the tragedy other than indirectly (after all, the whole nation’s heard it all on the news). Bailey wants to show the nation what a nice town Kanner Lake is, and she wants to continue attracting tourists. Scenes and Beans is not the place for readers to come to gain more inside scoop on all the trauma, she declares. Therefore, the posts, while reflecting the upheaval the town’s going through, do not give away plot points in the Kanner Lake books.
The novels contain some scenes of the bloggers writing their posts for Scenes and Beans. And the blog itself (in the real world) looks totally real. You wouldn’t know just from reading it that it’s all fictional. It even links to Simple Pleasures, a real store (in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho) that I’m featuring in the Kanner Lake books. (Paige Williams works at Simple Pleasures, and its owner [the fictional one] is a poster on Scenes and Beans [in the real world].)
If you’re not too confused, I think by now you’re gettin’ the idea—Scenes and Beans blends fiction and reality. This will continue happening through all the Kanner Lake books, culminating in book #4, in which the posters and the Scenes and Beans blog will be central to the trauma of the story. And all resulting posts from that book will be posted for real on Scenes and Beans.
RLM: OK, you’ve got me intrigued. Who’s writing all these real-life posts for the blog?
BC: Not I. The marketing idea behind Scenes and Beans was to plunge readers of the Kanner Lake series into the lives of my characters, and to make that plunge beneficial to them as well as to me. The posts are written by readers. This is happening in two phases.
RLM: Two phases?
BC: Phase One: Last spring, months before Violet Dawn’s release, I announced on my own blog, Forensics and Faith, that interested writers could audition for roles on Scenes and Beans. My publisher sent ARCs [RLM: advanced release copies] to dozens of writers who wanted to audition. (First benefit to all the auditioners—a free read of Violet Dawn, and way early.) The writers read the novel, chose a Java Joint character whom they’d like to portray, and sent in an auditioning post. I received a lot of good posts! In the end, about 30 of the auditioners were assigned roles. (Some characters have up to three people writing their posts.)
RLM: You’re hinting that there are other benefits these Scenes and Beans writers gained. Tell us what other advantages they gain because of their participation.
BC: These SBGs, as they’re called, or Scenes and Beans Bloggers, are receiving publicity as a result of winning their roles. Their names and Web sites are listed on the Kanner Lake Web site. They’re also listed as “friends” on Scenes and Beans. Some SBGs have seen spikes in visitors to their own blogs/Web sites as a result. Also for their own web sites/blogs, they each received a special logo my graphic designer created that defines them as original Scenes and Beans bloggers. And I sent them all a press release to forward to their local newspapers about their winning a role in the international blog. (SBGs are from across the U.S., from Canada and one from New Zealand.) These press releases were written to feature the SBG as a local writer, using the Scenes and Beans hook to make the release newsworthy. So far three SBGs have seen articles published in their local paper about them and their writing. Now that Violet Dawn has released, we may be seeing more media hits as a result.
RLM: Will these writers continue posting indefinitely?
BC: The SBGs’ posts will continue to be on Scenes and Beans through December of this year. After that time, the posts will be written by readers of the series. Any reader can send in a post for consideration. If that post is used, the person will receive recognition on the Kanner Lake Web site and a free signed copy of Violet Dawn. Reader auditions opened in September. You can check out the Scenes and Beans page on the Kanner Lake Web site for more details.
Throughout the four books in the Kanner Lake series, my personal marketing efforts will revolve around Scenes and Beans—gaining readership and doing whatever I can to benefit those who write posts. In this way, I get people talking about my series, and they benefit as well. The more readers Scenes and Beans has, the better for the Kanner Lake series, and the more that writers of the posts will benefit through the publicity.
I ALMOST FORGOT: I have two copies of Violet Dawn to award as prizes. One will be a drawing from those who leave a comment this week.
The other will be some question … about Brandilyn or Violet Dawn or Scenes and Beans. If more than one correct answer comes in, I’ll do a drawing to decide on the winner. Stay tuned! 😉
Tomorrow, part 2.