First-Time Novelists Make a Splash on the Web It's more and more common for debut novels to have elaborate homes on the Web, complete with blogs, chatrooms, videos and games. Often the sites are richly illustrated, almost cinematic.
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First-Time Novelists Make a Splash on the Web

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First-Time Novelists Make a Splash on the Web

First-Time Novelists Make a Splash on the Web

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Now, the dust jacket of a novel usually includes a plot summary and author bio, blurbs from a few rave reviews. These days there's usually a Web address too. As NPR's David Gura reports, many writers, especially debut novelists, are using elaborate Web sites to attract readers and interact with them.

DAVID GURA: After Marisha Pessl finished her first novel, "Special Topics in Calamity Physics," she got to work on a new project. Not another book but a Web site, Pessl wanted it to be a window into the life for young protagonist, Blue van Meer.

Ms. MARISHA PESSL (Author, "Special Topics in Calamity Physics"): When the Web site finally loads, you come to her Harvard dorm room. It's really the location where she writes her autobiography. You're really in her room at her desk, and the desk is, of course, filled with photographs and notes and things that are really from the book.

GURA: It's an elaborate pen and ink drawing brought to life with Flash, a Web animation tool. Marisha Pessl did the illustration herself, and Mark Ferdman, who's the creative director of a company called Freedom Interactive Design, built the site.

Mr. MARK FERDMAN (Creative Director, Freedom Interactive Design): What we really try and do is use sense of humor a little bit and sort of deliver the unexpected right up front, to just capture the immediate reaction of an audience and hopefully engage them enough that they're curious to continue poking further.

GURA: Visitors of the Web site are click around to pick things up, to zoom in on pictures and newspaper clippings. A distracting Junebug buzzes around a bright blue desk lamp.

(Soundbite of buzzing)

GURA: There are books by Lord Byron and Greta Garbo. If you click on Blue van Meer's Blackberry, you can visit her MySpace page. You can unfold a map of the great Smoky Mountains where Pessl's story takes place and you can flip through a copy of Cliff's Notes to "Special Topics in Calamity Physics."

Marisha Pessl says that the Web site gave her a chance to add more to her story, after it was published.

Ms. PESSL: There are always things that you get in hindsight, oh, I should've made this clearer, and, oh, perhaps I should've highlighted this clue. So the reader, you know, has a sort of grasp on exactly what happened. So, the Web site was really a way for me to fill in a few of those blanks that as the writer, you know, I missed that first time.

GURA: It's more and more common for a debut novel to have a home on the Web, and not just a place for a book excerpt and a photo for the author. Book Web sites have blogs and chat rooms, videos and games. They're not bland or traditional. More often than not, they're richly illustrated; they can be almost cinematic. A published book with a beginning, middle and an end can grow online. An author can get feedback from his readers and he can answer their questions.

Designer Mark Ferdman says that the Web can change how writers tell stories.

Mr. FERDMAN: I think that we're just scratching the surface in publishing. And as writers get to understand that they can use this medium to basically further their art and their craft in terms of storytelling, then I think we'll see things that go a lot further than Marisha's site. I think Marisha's site just one of the very first that haven't even explored the territory.

GURA: Many first-time novelists that have Web sites for their books. "Mergers and Acquisitions" by Dana Vachon, "Last Last Chance" by Fiona Maazel, and "Heartshaped Box" by Joe Hill to name a few.

Charles Bock made an elaborate Web site for his debut novel called "Beautiful Children." is full of links, short films and loud music.

(Soundbite of music)

Bock asked several of his favorite musicians to write and record songs based on his story. Visitors who like what they hear can follow links to the musicians' Web sites.

Avideh Bashirrad was the deputy director of marketing at Random House, oversaw the publicity campaign for Bock's first novel. She says that a book Web site has to be dynamic and attractive. Readers should be able to find information there that isn't in the book and the writer has to keep the site up to date.

Ms. AVIDEH BASHIRRAD (Deputy Director of Marketing, Random House): We don't want to throw the flap copy that's on the back of the book on the Web site because, you know, they can find that anywhere else. So, you know, a letter from the author, for instance, directly to the readers, or even an invitation to e-mail the author directly, that kind of thing is really important to readers. And to be able to reach out to them makes readers feel really special and also builds loyalty.

GURA: Bock, who refers to himself as The Bockstar, updates his site frequently. He adds links to reviews and interviews and he comes up with gimmicks. There was a viral video, and in February for three days, anyone could download "Beautiful Children" for free - all 432 pages. In 72 hours, 15,000 people did.

Marisha Pessl sees possibility in the Web but she doesn't think that every author has to embrace it.

Ms. PESSL: I hate to think of a day where a compelling book or a compelling authorial voice would be lost simply because that person doesn't have a Web site. And I don't think we're quite at that point yet. But I think to use the Internet in a positive way, to turn people on to reading, is something that authors shouldn't really shy away from necessarily.

GURA: Many writers may be ambivalent about the Web or disinterested in it but Avideh Bashirrad of Random House says that her imprint is dedicated to having a Web presence for almost every book it publishes.

David Gura, NPR News, Washington.

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