This last year I've spoken with several enterprising authors who are shaping a blog around the main characters of their novel....who have yet to meet their book jacket, editor or even an agent! Of course, this foresight on behalf of the writer excites this former agent. What agent wouldn't LOVE to bring on an author who's already built up their book's audience? Talk about platform!
But only one, so far, has totally captured my attention, as it takes a good deal of organization, solid creative direction, persistence, foresight and market savvy on behalf of the author to keep the blog moving forward and relevant to the reader who has yet to fully connect with the characters and their world - it's tricky business, make no mistake, and you should only attempt this after considerable research and organization on your part. Suzy Vitello's blog, The Empress Chronicles, based on her yet to be published YA novel with the same working title, is one to watch as Suzy has masterfully created her blog around one of the main characters in her novel, Princess Elisabeth of Bavaria (Princess Sisi who would later in life marry Franz Joseph and become Empress of Austria and Queen consort of Hungary). I'm a sucker for the Royals anyway, but what is totally captivating about this blog is its voice - fun, chatty, at times a little bit catty and always very informative. Suzy has a knack for bringing history to life in a fun and timely way and once her book is published, readers of the blog will be totally connected to the tale through the rich context she's provided via the blog.
I had several questions for Suzy about the blog:
TLC: Has the blog helped you shape the story?
SV: I originally began the blog as a research tool. It helped me organize historic tidbits while developing aspects of Sisi’s voice, so in that way, writing the blog has offered texture and background and a bit of moxie to character development.
TLC: Do you feel your audience is hooked on Sisi?
SV: I do! And, being a pleaser type person, I don’t want to let my audience down by lulls in posting or a break in voice or spirit.
TLC: Will you open the blog up in the future to include Liz's story? (Liz is a parallel character in the novel)
SV: Well, I’ve been playing with Sisi’s comments on all things popular culture (the royal wedding, for instance) as a way to create contemporary relevance. At this point, I don’t see Liz herself working into the mix of the Empress blog, because I don’t want the blog itself to become too plot-centric, rather, I think of the blog as a “value-added” component, and because of the historical component in my book, the look and feel should not stray too far from that. That said, I foresee a very cool website that embraces the duality of the characters and time periods. My latest favorite author website is recent Pulitzer Prize winner Jennifer Egan’s site. The little “extras” she tucks in here and there. The delicious meanderings. I’d like to do something similar geared a bit more to YA, but keeping in mind a potential crossover audience.
TLC: Do you foresee any changes to the blog when the book publishes?
SV: Yes. I see an organic evolution depending on my editor’s vision. Author-publisher partnerships that utilize digital social media tools are simply going to become huger and huger in selling books. Hopefully, within this model, authors will be invited to tap into the same level and spirit of creativity that created the book rather than simply morphing into rote sandwich boards for Amazon. I think the overarching idea here would be to intensify the “dream” for the reader—bring the reader closer to the characters and/or world of the story.
TLC: Considering your blog is for a YA audience, has creating it inspired you to find other creative ways to reach your target audience?
SV: I’ve been spending a lot of time on this lately. I finally bit the bullet and subscribed to Publishers Marketplace and I can’t believe I didn’t do this earlier (even though I remember you advising me to, Erin). What a treasure trove! Following the breadcrumbs from deals to books to authors in the YA market, I’ve gotten quite an education on various strategies. I think the key will be to take part in more online conversations with authors and readers. Expand my Twitter and Facebook and blog following, in order to find, as they say, “my people.”
But, too, I need to heed the tipping point, where I’m burning cycles and hitting cul de sacs that are so time-consuming there’s no time for the actual writing! I have a great idea for help with this though, come summertime. My wonderful schoolteacher husband, Kirk, is a gifted spreadsheet maker and research assistant!
I'm excited to watch this blog continue to grow...and even more excited for the book!
A few caveats for those who would like to create a blog for their yet to be published character(s):
Blogs centered around fictional characters are best suited for genre novels.
You MUST have a strong hook (the blog itself and every post) to grab your intended audience's attention. In Suzy's case she's taken the historical figure from her novel, posts consistently in her voice about timely topics and loads of other fun, light, relevant material.
Don't forget, your NOVEL is first priority, the blog, a secondary priority. Not every writer needs to blog, facebook, tweet, etc. And certainly not every writer yet to publish a book or even find an agent needs to capture their audience before they have something to sell. Craft always comes first - without it, you've got nothing to sell, so plan your time and energy wisely. Blogging and writing a novel are two completely different animals. If you're 100% sure your characters could support a compelling blog and you've got plenty of material lined up, go for it. Just remember, you're making an impression and agents and editors will be able to tell if it's a good one or not.
Capture the interest and attention of your audience but be clear that the book has yet to be published. Do not attempt to collect pre-orders for your yet to be published novel. Highly problematic and ethically questionable.
Now you tell me...do you follow blogs centered around fictional characters? How are they successful? What draws you in?
About the Blogger
Suzy Vitello, (a past TLCG contributor) has been making up stories since third grade, and currently splits her writing time between marketing copy and fairy tales. Her latest project is a young adult teapunk mystery with the working title THE EMPRESS CHRONICLES. Suzy is represented by agent, Melissa Sarver of Elizabeth Kaplan Lit.