Book Extras – Are They Worth The Trouble?

When you read a good book – and I mean a really good book – sometimes you are a little sad at the end. You have become close to the characters and you feel like you are losing a friend. You have walked many miles in their shoes, faced their challenges with them, until they triumphed against the odds, got the girl, or died a noble death.

Don’t you wish sometimes that you could step back into that world again?

Today I want to talk about Book Extras, whether readers enjoy them, if it’s worth an indie writer’s time to produce them, and what I’m going to do with my as-yet-unpublished historical novel A Storm Hits Valparaíso

When you buy a DVD, it often comes filled with all sorts of bonus material – deleted scenes, director’s commentary, and other background material which can enhance the entire experience and deepen your bond with the work.

Some people don’t bother with them (especially if they didn’t enjoy themselves); others devour them, immersing themselves in the entire world of the movie and its creators.

Extras aren’t as common with books. Sometimes you get an author interview or essay at the back, but often it’s a generic thing done by the imprint, and isn’t tailored to the content of the book.

You do see it sometimes with a successful series like Harry Potter or His Dark Materials, but these were produced after the books were already hugely successful. Also, I suspect they were created (and conceived) by a large publisher’s marketing team.

An indie writer doesn’t have these kinds of resources at their disposal. Any money spent comes out of their pockets. Any time spent eats into what they have available to write new books or promote existing ones.

Should they spend a couple of months putting together a website to deepen the readers’ connection with their book? Or would readers prefer a few new short stories out or another novel underway?

Is the writer better off spending money on web design, hosting, editing, domain names, and copyright for photographs, or, book promotion?

These are choices a large publisher doesn’t have to make, if they decide to really back a book, and only a small number of books get this kind of backing. But an indie writer needs to weigh this up.

A Storm Hits Valparaíso

My first novel is set during an amazing period, and the history books read like thrillers, with these amazingly colourful figures just leaping off the page. Here’s the blurb:

A STORM HITS VALPARAÍSO is a fast-paced historical adventure, solving the mystery of why José de San Martín – who led a bloody, twelve-year campaign to liberate South America – resigned and allowed Simón Bolívar the glory of the final victory.

In 1810, San Martín deserts the Spanish Army and returns home to Buenos Aires. When he joins the independence fight, he clashes with his superiors and wrestles with an increasing dependence on laudanum. The revolution falters as the rebel army fails to advance; San Martín is transferred to a provincial backwater, far from the front. His career seems finished, but San Martín has a secret plan. Enlisting the help of refugees, freed slaves, ex-convicts and mercenaries, he scales the snow-covered Andes and liberates Santiago in a surprise attack. As enemy reinforcements land again and again, San Martín realises that to break Spanish power he must take Peru, and hires a disgraced British officer to launch an attack by sea.

After the fall of Lima in 1822, the two greatest South American generals, Bolívar and San Martín, finally meet. Neither army is large enough to finish the Spanish; they must come together. To the consternation of his men, San Martín resigns, leaving Bolívar to immortalise himself in the final battle. For two hundred years, San Martín’s motives have remained a mystery, until now.

Sounds pretty good, right? Well, I think it still needs a bit of work (both the blurb and the novel), but more on that tomorrow. Today, I’m focusing on extras.

Since I read The Hobbit as a kid, followed by The Lord of The Rings series, I have had a huge thing for maps in books. I always skip to them first, as well as any pictures. Sometimes I’ll scour the internet – while I’m still reading – seeking additional information on one point or another.

If the maps were pretty, sometimes I would just stare at them, imagining what the book was going to be like or – if I’d read it already – creating new adventures for my heroes.

While I was writing A Storm Hits Valparaíso, I collected a lot of old maps and sketches. I used to stick them to the wall above my desk; they were inspiring. But at the back of my mind the whole time was creating some sort of additional reader experience.

I envisaged a website with additional stories on minor characters, alternative scenes, some first drafts of certain chapters, pictures, maps, historical articles, old advertisements for slaves or departing ships, and newspaper articles.

It’s fine to dream of such things when you are pursuing a contract with a major publisher, but if you are self-publishing, you have to ask yourself if it’s worth it, especially for a book that is not part of a series.

Some self-publishers have done it very well, producing limited edition hardbacks (for a much larger price) that contain all sorts of extras. That’s one way of going about it, but you would need to know there was a minimum readership for your novel and organise the print run yourself, which is extra initial cost (and risk).

I think there can be some middle ground. A lot of the stuff I already have and wouldn’t take too much to make it presentable, and I know where to find the rest. I already have the website and domain so I think I can put together a website – on a budget – that will provide the reader with a deeper experience.

Some writers might consider it a waste of time, but I think the deeper a bond you can create between a reader and your work, the more likely they are to champion a book.

In any event, I think it’s always something you can add to over time, as opportunity and resources allow.

What do you guys think? Would you pay extra for extras? Would you consider purchasing a high-cost limited edition hardback from one of your favourite writers? Do you even check the website of authors you like? What would you like to see there?

Or do you think this is all a waste of time and money and writers should stick to creating new worlds for you to enjoy?

Thanks to Asia for sending me today’s idea. If you have something you would like me to write about, let me know in the comments (or send me a message). If you are interested in reading the first chapter of A Storm Hits Valparaíso you can do so on my website. Just be warned that it’s an old draft and needs a bit of work. The first line is a killer though.

David Gaughran

Born in Ireland, he now lives in a little fishing village in Portugal, although this hasn’t increased the time he spends outside. He writes fiction under another name, has helped thousands of authors build a readership, and has created marketing campaigns for some of the biggest self-publishers on the planet. Friend to all dogs.

26 Replies to “Book Extras – Are They Worth The Trouble?”

  1. I wouldn’t bother with it. Your story should be complete as is. If it isn’t, then maybe you’ve deleted too much in the editing. I’d just write a new novel or story.

    1. Spending time in this which could be spent writing is definitely the strongest point against doing it.

      But then again, there’s always time when you don’t feel like writing. I might do it as a side-project, not 100% sure.

  2. I’m ambivalent about extra content sometimes, but your example above put a finer point on it for me. If a book has a real life historical aspect to it, I wouldn’t mind the extra content at all. Other times, it would depend on the content. In fantasy or sci-fi for instance, I wouldn’t mind artwork regarding setting, but sometimes too much information that conflicts with what I’ve imagined (especially how the characters look) takes away from the experience. That’s one of the big differences for me with books versus movies. With books, I really want to be able to fill in certain things with my imagination.

    Would I pay extra for additional content? Maybe if I already *really loved* an ebook and the author was releasing a print copy with extras, or if it was a beloved series and the next installment was going to have a hardback run.

    I suspect you saw the guest post on the Konrath blog about the people who pre-sold copies of a limited edition hardback book to come up with the money to do the print run? I think it can work with an established audience.

    1. To build on Margo’s point:

      These things have been very effective when tailored to an existing fan base.

      I’m less convinced that they do much to attract a fan base to a new author. It’s harder to know what your fans might value, and there’s more chance of spending a lot of time (or money) on something that has only a marginal impact on sales.

      A website with background information would be great, but if there are no additional books to sell, it might not bring in much money.

      Costly extras seem most effective with devoted fan bases (often small) who want additional ways to support the work.

      1. Good points.

        Even the bigs only tend to do it for a smash. I’m sure they’ve done their sums.

        I think I could do something for little time/money. I wonder if I could crowdsource suggestions after the book release, see what people would want, if it is something they would value.

        Of course, if the book flops that means the website will be pictures of Bruce Springsteen. My mom loooooves The Boss.

    2. Was that Scott Sigler? I think I read that but Blogger deleted it from my memory, so I can’t be sure.

      I don’t think I would pay for extra content. My fanboy days are over, and the book budget is squeezed as it is.

      I’m totally with you on the pictures – it’s terrible when you are confronted with an image of a character that’s very different to your own, and when that image is in place before you start reading (e.g. by watching the movie version first), it can be difficult to build the same connection with the work because you are not creating your own pictures.

      I’ve always hated writers that described every last detail of their characters, not trusting you to draw your own pictures. I try and always do the opposite, but maybe sometimes I go too far. A blank canvas can be very cold.

      1. Mur Lafferty, a fantasy writer best known for her podcasting, also had success using limited edition hardcovers and Kickstarter.

        But she’s been building that fan base for years.

  3. I would never pay extra for additional content. I’ve never bought a brand-new hardback novel, and the idea of a “special” edition is ludicrous (from my point of view, of course.) The majority of novels are “read once” only, and I’m perfectly content to wait for a used paperback (or a free or reasonably priced ebook). I check author’s websites now and then, usually to see if there’s anything new, if it’s an author I already enjoy, or to find something free that will help me judge whether I want to pay for that author’s work.

    It isn’t at all a bad idea to give readers more than just the novels, but I think it should be separate from the novels themselves, not something that’s going to cost them more. A blog or website is the easiest and most useful way to do that. Either one will allow you to keep readers up on what’s happening, give them tempting excerpts, and maybe offer some background on the books.

    1. I think a combined blog/website approach could be best. A blog for your latest news (on anything), and a static page for the book that never needs to change.

      Oh, and free.

      1. That’s why I use WordPress. I can use a combination of static pages and occasional blog posts in a format that looks fairly professional. (And free 🙂 )

  4. When I’m enough of a fan of an author, I’ll buy copies of both an original and revised versions of their books, when I can. One such author just came out with an annotated version of one of their trilogies, too, which I’m planning to buy.

    Extras are great. I’ll even look for them for authors I perhaps didn’t care for too much but was fascinated by a character or world. I’m generally good at picking up on implications and hints, and it’s fun to get official confirmation of what I notice.

    That said, I’m an indie author, myself, without any extras available—yet. I have some neat ideas that are on the back burner, but that’s probably where they stay until I have the core for this series written. (Or until I get writing burnout and code the website or web game as a breather. Oh, do I have a fascinating idea for that!)

    Most of the ideas, though, I’m not in a position to be able to set up—yet. Lord willing, I will be someday.

    1. I love extras too.

      Maybe it’s a genre thing.

      I know people who read historicals can get as obsessed as fantasy fans about the world the author built. Maybe that’s not as true for other kinds of books.

  5. Normally I wouldn’t see the point. But then, I was thinking of Fantasy novels, where often all this stuff is a bit too much of a good thing. With Historical Fiction though, I’m often willing to go along with the author’s version of events but am curious after finishing the book as to what really happened and how closely the author’s version tallied with events.
    So maps, photos etc would come in useful. That said, I think this very much depends on the publication format. I assumed from the start that your intention was to publish ‘A Storm Hits Valparaiso’ as an e-book. By extension, the bonuses would be part of the package, just like a conventional dvd (although I gather the dvd is already on its way out). In which case including all this stuff as a sort of virtual glossery would improve reader experience, and by extension help sales.

    1. If I was to self-publish it (and I probably will), it would be as an e-book first. Print would follow, but whether that would be as POD or some other way is still up in the air. Probably POD.

      I was thinking of having a dedicated website to the book rather than trying to shoehorn the content into the e-book (not easy).

  6. Extras can be good, if you the reader don’t have to pay for it (Otherwise it’s going to achieve the same what the DLCs in the gaming industry. Ultimate hate as every publisher is aiming for first day DLCs, which is about a small rip off content from the original one what you buy already for 49.99USD.).

    I also like to read extras, but I also like when the story is whole and complete as it is, without any extras. Extras should be a plus, nothing more. A stand alone add-on. But never ask the readers to pay for extra contents, especially when they should be in the original work. Extras are usually a plus for the readers to show our appreciation to them.

    Personally I’m also going to add some extras into my work’s third episode as that’s going to give an ultimate plus right as the story ends. I also added some extras to my website where the reader can learn a different, not so serious side of the MC (The “real life” side, what is a bit different then in the novel.). There, the reader get some arts “created” by the MC, and the MC is also telling few things about herself. So, simple extra, free content what is serving one purpose, to show my appreciation to the readers.

    Extra content usually has two purposes; #1; Generate more fan prior they buy and read your work, while they get to know some additional info, some plus. #2; To give more for loyal readers after they read your work, to give a better picture to those who really want to know more.

    The third purpose is to generate more income with additional contents, but with that you’re going to loose fans as no one is going to pay for little add-ons that are not serving any true purpose and they had a chance to be in the work, but you took them out because of some business reason (The customers feel this.).

  7. I like extras in books on websites that are book related. I like learning more about the story. I occasionally like author interviews, but once I’ve read one or two about an author I’m usually not interested unless it is about a specific piece of their life — for example Barry Eisler mentions his time being an undercover operative, but there isn’t much about that out there. If he were to talk about that I’d be interested, but I don’t really need to read more about how he writes (or monkeys with frogs ; ) ).

    I like maps too and in some fantasy fic and history you really need the maps because you need to see terrain.

    I’ll be honest my biggest peeve with ebooks is that they are visually sterile on the inside and sometimes downright ugly. The ambiance, for lack of a better word, is missing.

    BUT if the writing is good it can over come that easily enough and I’ve picked up one too many books at the bookstore that didn’t live up to their ambiance.

    I wouldn’t do a special hardback. Look at other historical fiction books and see what the norm is. Zoe Winters has at her website a publisher who offers matt covers, Joe Konrath had the author with the civil war book who’d probably talk to you about maps, and I’ve got to go because my son needs me.

    1. I wouldn’t even consider a hardback unless I had serious numbers reading my books. Too much risk.

      I know what you mean about author interviews – and every reader is different here. When Louis de Bernieres talks about learning to play the mandolin, I’m not really that interested. I want to hear about how he writes such engaging characters and keeps so many narrative strands under control.

    2. Dave,

      Sorry about that my son woke from his nap with a vengeance. I think I zoned out when I was writing my response, I forgot I was writing for a public format. I didn’t mean to take up so much of your space.

      Two years ago I covered Simon Bolivar with my kids (we homeschool) and I remember reading about San Martin and wondering why he just turned everything over at that point. Your right about there being lots to the story and I look forward to reading about it.


      1. I just became a huge fan of homeschooling. Bolivar & San Martin? These kids are gonna take over the world.

        It’s amazing, because it’s probably the most momentous moment in South American history, and there is no record of their conversation. There were no witnesses. Just the two of them in the room, and neither spoke about it afterwards. When I first read that, I went crazy. I started researching more and more, making notes as I went, just trying to understand why he gave away all his power (and before I knew it I was writing a book).

        What actually happened in that room is HUGELY contentious in South America.

  8. There’s another vital reason to give extras, especially for an ebook producer, from a marketing stand point. If you put a link (or a non-live URL) for your website at the end of your ebook, you drive traffic to your site. Potentially. If you offer extras on your website, you make visiting that site a much more tempting proposition for readers. If your website has a free mailing list that people can opt in to to access the extras – ideally on the landing page they get to by following the link in the ebook – then you’re collecting the email addresses of a big chunk of your customers, AND the permissions from them to send them updates every time you release a new ebook or story!

    If half the people who buy the book visit the site, they’ll likely be interested in your stuff enough to join the free mailing list and see the extras. Then every time you publish something else, you have a captive audience to sell to, all of whom have specifically requested it! Good chance they’ll all buy the next installment!

    Extras are easier with a non-fiction book or (like Dave’s) one based on factual events. Many of your readers would like to know about your research process, so a couple of thousand words on that in a PDF document illustrated with maps makes a great extra. Free to make and distribute. A video of you interviewing an ‘expert’ on the South American rebellion would be another, and it’s never hard to find someone happy to be interviewed on their area of expertise.

    My book is basically anecdotal and during the most recent edit I had to cut out over 50,000 words to make it a salable length. Loads of great comedy stories were lost at this point, so I’m looking forward to not only getting them read (without turning to main book into an unwieldy behemoth) but also to using them as an incentive to get my readers to sign up to my mailing list. I won’t spam them – EVER – but I will tell them when I have something new they might like to buy! And best of all this list will only grow, so after a few years and a few product launches I could have thousands of people reachable with a click, a taylor made marketing list of pre-screened customers. Total cost, assuming I already own the site to send them to: zero.

    So I think extras are a great idea!

  9. I loved the maps in Lord of the Rings as well. And Robert Louis Stevenson is said to have drawn the map before writing the novel.

    I understand when people say that the novel should speak for itself. However, I think that if I as the writer needed certain things like a map, a time-line and a list of all my characters then would it hurt if the reader could access this as well?
    I think this is particularly the case with historical novels. I am a great fan of the Flashman books and the author’s foot-notes add to the background of the book and seem to add additional veracity.

    My wife has just finished my historical novel ‘The Lost King’ and asked, ‘Can you please add a map to the next in the series.’ Easier said than done, but I’m trying.

    Martin Lake

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *