Selling Amanda Abroad: How Transmedia Storytelling Challenges Foreign Publishers, Licensees

In Europe by Siobhan O'Leary

The Amanda Project

By Siobhan O’Leary

Translating and adapting a book to a foreign market can be a demanding enough task, but when it comes to transmedia storytelling, the process of “translating” a story world and attracting a following can pose even greater challenges — even if a book or series is already a proven success in its original language. It’s not so much a question of translation, as much as it is one of transference: you’re taking an entire project and sending it abroad, where it surely will be changed — much as a person is — as it integrates into the foreign culture. But how much do you cede creative control? Who contributes? What happens?

Take The Amanda Project, a collaborative transmedia YA mystery series and interactive website developed by Fourth Story Media and published in book form in the US by HarperTeen. The first book in the series, Invisible I, was released in September 2009, with the beta site launching six month earlier in March.

It has since been licensed to nine foreign publishers in France, Canada, Norway, Turkey, the UK, Brazil, Spain (both Spanish and Catalan) and Vietnam. Most of the licensees have acquired rights to all eight titles planned for the series, with a few opting for only the first four in the series. All of the licensees are planning to develop an interactive component for their readers.

Though the publishers license the books directly from HarperCollins, they license the interactive site and content from Fourth Story Media and negotiate separate fees for a variety of other options depending on how much tech support they need to get their Web sites up and running. The splitting of licensing and advertising revenue is subject to negotiation on a project-by-project basis.

“So far we’ve worked directly with Norway, France, and Spain to help get their websites started — walking them through how the site works technically and conceptually,” said Ariel Aberg-Riger, Creative Development and Marketing Director for Fourth Story Media. She added that Fourth Story Media would also be sharing things they’ve learned in terms of user engagement and community management.

Foreign licensees will be starting with some of the same interactive concepts — from puzzles to clue hunts to writing contests — that were implemented for the US launch of the site. They will also use some of the same stories as seed content for their sites.

“From there, we encourage them to hire their own Web writers and follow their readers, since the whole point of the site is to react to the girls,” Aberg-Riger said. In the US, majority of the content that has appeared on the site is a direct result of what readers have commented on and contributed to the storyline, from theories about the disappearance of title character Amanda Valentino to their own fictional characters.


At the same time Fourth Story Media is open to the idea of foreign publishers implementing their own mystery arcs as they see fit. But since some of what will be published in the US editions of the remaining books in the series will be user-generated, the biggest question remains how and if that will be reflected in foreign editions.

For example, the Norwegian publisher of the project, Aschehoug, will most likely publish subsequent books in the series as direct translations from the US editions, though they plan to communicate some of their own user-generated content to HarperCollins in the process. The Norwegian edition of Invisible I is slated for publication in mid-August of this year.

Most of the parties involved are taking a wait-and-see approach when it comes to how foreign publishers will incorporate small user-generated details into the rest of the series, particularly as this is relatively uncharted territory for most everyone involved, including HarperTeen.

“There is an element of the packager/publisher relationship, but this is really the first project of its nature for HarperCollins,” noted Jean McGinley, manager of foreign rights for HarperCollins Children’s Books.

And while the book manuscript convinced foreign publishers that this was a compelling story that would interest readers, McGinley adds that the online content developed by Fourth Story Media played a big role in helping to selling the rights.

“The book trailer was submitted to foreign publishers right out of the gate, and was their first glimpse at what a unique project this was,” she said. Harper also brought a complete breakdown of the site with visuals to international book fairs and gave foreign publishers password protected access to the beta site to give them a better understanding of how the site worked and to demonstrate how integral it was to the project.

Camilla Eikeland-Sundnes, editor of the Norwegian edition of The Amanda Project at Aschehoug added that this is the first time the publisher has worked on a project where social media components constitute a genuine part of the editorial process, as opposed to just the marketing strategy.

“Having access to the US beta site was absolutely necessary for observing and understanding the potential of this project, including the opportunity of including user generated content,” she said. “We wanted a transmedia touchstone, and this was simply it.”

As far as the foreign publishers’ interactive content is concerned, FSM is planning to be flexible in terms of allowing licensees to do what will work best in their own markets — be it on the interactive site or perhaps even in mobile campaigns that might be better suited to European markets.

There are no immediate plans to moderate the foreign interactive sites, “but we’d definitely consult with them — let them know what we’ve found most successful here, and what we’d suggest,” said Aberg-Riger.

DISCUSS: How will transmedia storytelling change narrative?

READ: A profile of Fourth Story Media from Publishing Trends.

About the Author

Siobhan O'Leary

Siobhan O’Leary is a literary agent, translator and writer based in Berlin. She previously worked in the Foreign Rights department of the Crown Publishing Group (Random House) and at the publishing consulting firm Market Partners International.