With BookMachine Unplugged, our event which celebrates the culture of collaboration in publishing, kicking off in a couple of weeks, we’ve been thinking about the collaborative process and how this works from an author’s perspective. Maggie Eckel interviewed Rob Weston (children’s and YA author) about publishing trends back in March; and we thought we’d interview him again, to find out why he says that ‘collaboration has been a great experience’.
1. How much has your collaboration with your publisher influenced the direction of your writing?
It’s there all the time. Every book I write goes through stages of editing—substantive, line-edit, and copyedit, and sometimes more—which is always an intimate collaborative process. I’m inclined to say the influence lies somewhere between infinite and not at all. What I mean is that, as a novelist, your publisher generally has right of first refusal. So if you’re writing fiction, you may produce a manuscript that doesn’t fit with their idea of you as a writer and they’ll simply say no. That’s a fairly weighty influence. On the other hand, during the first draft phase, there’s almost no collaboration at all. In fact, the weeks or months writing that first draft is quite solitary.
2. Your newest project, The Creature Department, is being called a “trans-media novel.” Can you explain what that means?
It’s not my term, and I think it’s more in use in the U.S., where my publisher is based, but yes, I think it’s apt. Basically, it refers to a novel that exists in more forms than just words on a page. To be honest, as a bit of a bibliophile, I was wary of the term at first, but the process has been very exciting, and ultimately, at the core of things, The Creature Department is a novel, a physical book. Yes, there may be smartphone apps, or spin-off, animated stories, or even the possibility of a film, but at the centre of everything is a book, a story—which is important to me. I’m collaborating not only with my publishers, Penguin/Razorbill, but also with a company called Framestore, who are the largest special effects company in Europe and one of the biggest in the world. They’re based here in London, and they’ve done effects for Skyfall, Avatar, the Harry Potter films and a bunch of others. They’re a huge company.
3. What role did Framestore play in the book collaboration?
Right from inception, Framestore was involved with the visual elements of The Creature Department—which can be substantial with children’s novels. They’re doing the cover design, the imagery for sales and marketing, and all the interior spreads for the book. But more than this, having them along for the ride means there are some really innovative marketing strategies. For instance, this year at Book Expo America, the Penguin booth will offer the opportunity for people to talk—really talk—to one of the characters, via an animated, fully interactive demonstration. It’s something only a collaboration with Framestore would allow.
4. How did the collaboration with Framestore differ from your previous experiences as a writer?
It was night and day. Usually, the only visual element associated with a novel is the cover. I often don’t see artwork until quite late, at least after the first draft is complete, but in this case, I saw character sketches and cover design options while I was still sorting out the plot. In fact, there’s at least one character whom I only wrote into existence after seeing him sillhouetted in the background of one of Framestore’s sketches. Also, unlike what I said earlier, about first drafts being a lonely business, having other people involved, giving me visual feedback on certain key passages of the novel, was extremely heartening. It really changed the psychological character of what it means to write. I might liken it to writing for drama, with feedback coming from actors and production designers. It’s been a very gratifying process.
5. Do you see projects like The Creature Department taking off in the publishing world?
I certainly think it’s possible, especially with respect to books for young people. In a way, they already have taken off. We all know multimedia projects in which a toys or a video game is produced concurrently with a spin-off novel. However, nine times out of ten it’s the toys or the video game at the centre of the enterprise. With The Creature Department, it’s a book at the centre, in a project hatched at Razorbill/Penguin, a publisher, in collaboration with Framestore, an effects company interested in storytelling. All of that makes for a crucial difference, I’d say.
You can hear Rob talk further about this project at BookMachine Unplugged, London on 23rd May.