By: Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg and Brian Steinberg
Attention, budding romance novelists: HarperCollins wants to hear from you.
In the latest example of how book publishers are using the Web to connect with readers, the News Corp. book publishing unit is teaming up with FanLib, which runs Web sites for consumer-generated content, to run an eight-week online writing contest for fans of romance novels.
HarperCollins's Avon Books romance imprint plans to use the contest to promote its existing stable of authors. HarperCollins Publishers and FanLib also hope the venture will generate revenue through sale of ads on the Web site hosting the contest, www.avonfanlit.com. The two companies will share in advertising revenue, while FanLib will also earn fees from the project. FanLib is a unit of closely held My2Centences of Los Angeles.
Dubbed "Express Your Desires," the contest will work like this: Readers will vote on one of six story premises, then submit chapters based on the premise that gets the most votes. Fans can discuss and comment on the chapters. Once a week, a panel made up of fans and Avon authors, such as romance writer Julia Quinn, will vote on one chapter to be used in a story. Avon will publish the final, six-chapter, story as an ebook original. The contest starts Aug. 23, with two weeks set for voting on story premises.
To build closer ties between Avon authors and their fans, authors who are on the voting panel will send emails to some of the people contributing chapters.
"We're creating an online community that will bring the fans closer to the authors we publish," said Jane Friedman, CEO of HarperCollins. "If you are a fan and you get a communication from Julia Quinn, somebody you've been reading for years, then you'll be a fan of hers for life. And I think you'll become a fan of Avon's for life." This fall, HarperCollins will launch a site that will enable teenage girls to collaborate on original fiction.
The romance-novel category could use a boost. Market researcher Simba Information estimates sales this year will decrease to $1.37 billion, down from $1.4 billion in 2005. The reason? Grocery stores are widening their mix of titles, women's fiction is more diverse, and it's been difficult for publishers to convince romance readers to buy pricier formats.
FanLib is hoping advertisers are interested in using the contest Web site to reach romance-novel fans. Advertisers could be offered a variety of ways to reach readers, ranging from page graphics to participating in weekly email updates. "This is about creating one-to-one relationships with fans," says Chris Williams, CEO of My2Centences.
FanLib earlier this year offered a similar contest in connection with "The L Word," a drama about lesbians that airs on CBS's Showtime. Advertisers on the site included Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide's W Hotels and the Saks Fifth Avenue department-store chain.
But that venture wasn't a slam dunk success. One advertiser involved with "The L Word" contest says it has seen better results from Web ads placed elsewhere. Bridget Smith, a senior marketing manager at IAC/Interactive's Lending Tree, says while the Web site's users were engaged with the show, it was less obvious that "we were relevant to them."