Michael Grant is a bestselling author of young adult fiction. His Gone series of novels has sold over 150,000 copies in the UK alone. BZRK, his latest novel, has just been released as a hugely ambitious multi-platform behemoth, comprising print, apps, online games and more. We sent him some questions via e-mail about his thoughts on this epic undertaking, and he was good enough to answer them via audio file.
Book Machine: Can you tell us a little about the release of BZRK?
Michael Grant: There are gonna be three books, actually, and it’s a story about nanotechnology set in the either near-future or late-present, I suppose you could say. It involves two factions fighting for control of the human race, and particularly the human mind, both using different kinds of nanotechnology to get in and rewire the brain. On one side you have folks who believe that we’ve had too much war and hatred and bigotry and conflict in the human race, and that we need to turn the human race into a sort of giant hive mind, a sort of extended Facebook, if you will, voluntary or not. On the other side is BZRK, the group dedicated to keeping things more or less as they are with humans as screwed up as they’ve always been, but with their individual liberty intact.
BM: Could you tell us a little bit more about the unique publication of the book? Was there any trepidation about leaving traditional publishing methods behind?
MG: Well, we’re incorporating both traditional and non-traditional methods, so the books will be books as books – they’ll be made out of paper, and you can pick them up and read them, and if that’s all you want to do with it, that’s great, because that’ll be a wonderful experience and I think I can say that you have never read anything like BZRK. I’ve been telling people that and then they’ll be sceptical, and then after a while they’ll write me back and go ‘you know what? I’ve never read anything like BZRK.’
So they’re books first and foremost, but they’re also a transmedia experience, they exist across other digital formats. Obviously there’ll be an e-book, that goes almost without saying at this point, but there’s also an ARG, which is an alternate reality game, which had a bunch of different sites connected to it and it was a sort of puzzle you assemble online to find out more about the BZRK universe. Then there’s the website, gobzrk.com, where there’s more interactivity and more detail on the series’ world. Of course we have an app, that’s a free download you can get online.
And I guess the capstone to it all is it looks like we have a movie deal, for making a BZRK movie, with Sam Raimi, who the geeks and nerds in the audience – of which I am one – will immediately recognise as the director of Spider-Man and Evil Dead 2, and the creator of Xena: Warrior Princess and, yeah, just my kind of stuff.
BM: So would it be fair to say that BZRK represents an all-encompassing media experience?
MG: Well, yeah, now with the addition of the final movie component – and of course we aren’t quite at the point where we can guarantee a movie, but it’s looking very good – but at that point we will have covered as much of media as we think we know how to cover. It will exist across all platforms, and we’ll probably continue to expand on that if we find new ways to expand on the story. You know, as long as it’s fun for people, as long as we’re having a good time and telling an interesting story, we’re going to try and do it.
BM: What kind of level of control did you have over the additional content on the different platforms?
MG: Well, I had a great deal of control. I didn’t create the stuff. As a matter of fact, the ARG, for example, was written by a guy named Rich Silverman, who is a great ARG writer, and I deferred almost entirely to him on that, because he knows how to write ARGs and I don’t. And there are other contributors as well came in and helped us out with different elements of the story, but overall I’ve been the guy responsible for making sure that the story is the story, I should say.
BM: Now that you’ve released this book this way, is it something that you see yourself always doing for your future books, or is it specific to BZRK?
MG: I don’t know how much more we’re gonna do of this, to be honest with you. We’re gonna see how this works. This is a great experiment. Egmont, my publisher, publishing under the Electric Monkey imprint, has been absolutely magnificent in supporting this effort. They’ve been as enthusiastic about it as I have. But it’s also a lot of work, so we’re going to see how this works out for us and see whether or not we’re doing this in future books, but if not then there’ll be variations of this, iterations of it. There’ll still be cross-platform and still be digital to enhance and expand the book experience.
BM: The book’s been touted as something that could maybe engage readers who have lost their passion for traditional platforms of reading. Would you subscribe to the notion that a generation of younger readers who might have been raised on the internet might be turned on to this kind of medium?
MG: Well, I’d like to think that the internet components of this help make it easy for people who don’t feel comfortable reading a book, or as comfortable as they used to, but I still think that fundamentally my communication with a reader is through the book. This is still inherently about the book, and the book created the website, the book created the rest of the experience. It all starts with the book, and I’m still the book author, at my core that’s what I do. So I think that the best way to reach readers who may be turned off by reading is by giving them a story they find interesting, and to the extent that I can use other media to tell them ‘look, this is a story you might find interesting’ and kind of point a giant finger at it, then that’s what I want to do.
BM: What about self-publishing? Do you think you could have managed the project yourself, or did you need the backing of Egmont?
MG: It’s interesting that self-publishing used to have this terrible stigma attached to it, and you didn’t self-publish unless you were some sort of loser, but that I think is becoming less and less the case. Amazon’s deal and other online publishers are making it very attractive to self-publish, but in this case I’m very lucky to be doing business with Egmont. I love doing business with those guys, and will be published by them as long as I can be published by them, let me put it that way.
BM: Looking back, for example at the Gone series, do you reckon that you would have had this kind of flexibility regarding the publication?
MG: No, I think that even a few years ago when I was starting the Gone series, that’s when I would be writing letters to my editors in the States and elsewhere and headlining the e-mail with ‘It’s another crazy screed from Michael!’, and I would talk about this stuff, and I would talk about the need to go transmedia, I would talk about the future of enhanced e-books, which I’m still very interested in, and now Apple, thankfully, has created the software that we can use to make that a reality. So when I started in on this, I think I was treated with a certain politeness and condescension by publishers who thought maybe I was nuts, and then a couple of years ago that changed, and when I sat down to talk to Cally Poplak, who is my boss at Egmont Publishing, it was two geeks just completely geeking out over dinner and understanding it all and talking about it and having a great time with it, so they were extremely enthusiastic and ready to go.
BM: What do you think is the best approach then going forward for reaching readers? You’ve talked about how cross-platform makes it easier for all readers, no matter how good their literacy skills are, to get involved – do you think the future is in this kind of total amalgamation of all the different forms?
MG: I think the future is that all of these different types of media are going to survive. I think that we’re going to have books as books, on paper, between covers, and I also think we’re going to have these extended multimedia exercises. I think we’re gonna have all the various iterations of books as they appear in movies etc. I would note that I spent part of my day today talking to people over the radio, and now I’m talking to people on a podcast, and these are all interesting types of media that are going to survive. I have a phone in my pocket that has TV, it has movies, it has music, it has podcasts, it has books – it has it all, and the fact that it’s all digital doesn’t change the fact that a book is still a book, and the story, more importantly, is still the story.
BZRK is available now in all good bookshops, physical and digital. All further information, apps, ARG etc. can be found at gobzrk.com
He was chief hack and music editor of webzine Brazen from 2006 to 2010, and hosted Left of the Dial on Subcity Radio from 2008 to 2011.
He can be heard semi-regularly on the podcast of Scottish cultural blog Scots Whay Hae ('20th best website in Scotland!' - The List), and in 2011 founded Seen Your Video, a film and music podcast and blog based in Glasgow. He has a Masters degree in Scottish Literature from the University of Glasgow that will never have any practical application. You are on a hiding to nothing if you follow him on Twitter expecting any kind of hot publishing scoop.