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Publishing Idea #4: Maps

March 25, 2010
Maps – Yeah Yeah Yeahs
David Anthony Durham’s Acacia

Isn’t it awesome when you open a book and find a detailed map on the inside? I love that.

The problem, though, is that you don’t want to look at the map too closely or you ruin the story. I’m wondering if there’s a better way.

I have a solution for both paper books and e-books. For paper books, you actually include a map at the beginning of each chapter that reveals all known information up until that point. It doesn’t even have to be a fantasy book–if you have several characters doing different things in separate locations, track their footsteps (if that information adds to the experience of the book). As you progress through the book, the map gets bigger and bigger until you get to the back cover, and you see the full map of the newly revealed world you just discovered.

With ebooks, you essentially incorporate the same function into the book as often as you’d like. The map can be a drop-down option that you can access at any time. The key is that it wouldn’t show the entire map. Remember the original Warcraft computer game? When you’d start a new map, you could only see the area that was directly around your little orc until he explored. Same with the ebook map widget. The more your characters explore, the more of their world you can see.

How would you use a map in your book?

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. bigwords88 permalink
    March 25, 2010 1:48 am

    I’ve thought about the possibilities of e-books a bit (here, for example, I tackle the comic-book implications), and yet everyone seems intent on looking at the “book” part of e-books as being sacrosanct – it ceases being a book and becomes a game, or a concept album, or whatever. Like it or not (and a lot of people hate it), the digital future of books lies in adapting to the limits of the technology, then pushing the boundaries further.

    For maps specifically, I would like to see the ‘fog of war’ feature used in RTS games, where the image is revealed as the story progresses, maybe even with a small video accompanying the clearing up of the map a little. The old Microsoft game Rise Of Nations made the feature one of my favorite parts of the RTS genre, and because it fits so well with the fantasy genre (where most maps are placed) it seems best utilized in those works.

    And while I’m thinking on this, the digital format opens up a whole new way of thinking about maps. Geo-positioning capabilities on phones could be incorporated into readers at some point, so merging the book (which has a map) with something along the lines of Google Earth (to provide real-world reference) could – major supposition here – be a way of opening up an ARG (or TINAG). Again, probably too radical.

    • March 25, 2010 11:32 am

      I like the way you’re thinking about this stuff. A constantly updated map on an ebook could definitely work (if it weren’t distracting), especially paired with the fog of war.

      I’m intrigued by the idea of having the reader’s position play an active part in the book. How would that work if you just wanted to read the book in the comfort of your home without moving around? I guess even just your set, unmoving location could factor into the book, or even just interaction with other readers of the book in your area.

      Great thoughts! And thanks for that link too–those ideas are awesome.

  2. bigwords88 permalink
    March 25, 2010 12:32 pm

    I used the term fantasy, but I should have properly used the term Urban Fantasy (big capitalized letters), because that is where the nexus point for reader interaction would be at its’ greatest. Imagine having a book set in (f’r example) New York – a pivotal scene takes place in Grand Central Station, and if you’re carrying the book with you when you are at the location it could trigger a Unique Event – something simple, but which would add value to the story. Personal experience is more lasting than passive entertainment, so the ability to unlock new content, or to activate something interesting (a ‘phone call or e-mail) would be a beginning of novel/TINAG crossover. The idea of pointing your ‘phone at a location mentioned in the book to unlock a photograph or video of the protagonist – as if he is standing in front of you – would probably be asking a bit much of current software compatibility, but soon…

    One of the arguments I like to start amongst the old hands is that of promotion. currently we see the impact timeline of a book being a couple of months at most, and only for bestsellers. There will come a time when the active life of a book is measured in years rather than months, as new content is discovered, more people come to the work, begin discovering the depth of the created world, and so on. Looking at a novel in isolation is an erroneous way (to my mind) of seeing story – story should bleed off the page and into the real world as much as possible. Granted, with SF properties this is a major problem as far as RL interaction is concerned, but for a substantial sector of the market the isolation between different media will shrink as new capabilities are introduced.

    There’s even RFID tagging to consider – which isn’t just thinking outside the box, but smashing the box to smithereens and throwing the pieces around. If even 10% of the current technology is put to use in making a real e-book (which only a handful on the market can truly call themselves), then the possibilities will be blown wide open. There are already apps which allow people to find others using the same network, or who are into the same music scene, or are of a particular subculture. Even for people sitting at home, and who have no intention of traveling to the locations mentioned in the narrative, there is always MMO interaction, which could replicate the real world environment which other readers will take the opportunity to visit. If you have played at all on The Matrix MMO (not the best game ever made, but still…) there is a correlation between events in the movies, places in real life and elements found elsewhere on the net. Fictitious companies get their own websites, there are bios of characters scattered across domains… Plenty of secret elements to keep people occupied.

    There is so much untapped potential that the hostility to various suggestions I have made broaching the subject always comes as something of a surprise. People seem to like the fact that a ‘safe’ medium (such as a book) is merely that… A book. I can’t remember the name of it, but there was a computer game released a few years back which actually e-mailed the player. This, naturally, drew condemnation from the mainstream media, but it was the first inkling I had that people were really trying to think of ways to approach an audience in a more meaningful manner. The only stumbling block for all of the above ideas is budget, but a company only has to have one major hit and it would be set financially for a decade. The MMO would have advertising hoardings (just like the real locations), there would be premium ‘phone numbers… the array of possibilities is truly staggering. None of this would take anything away from the printed edition, it would merely accentuate the inherent value of a possible franchise.

    I really have thought about this quite a bit. 😀

    • March 26, 2010 12:47 am

      I really, really like the way you’ve thought about the future of books. I was just talking about this with a Blank Slate Press board member the other day–it seems like the only way people can wrap their minds around the idea of an “ebook” is to add video and color to the book. And maybe some advertisements (I saw a cool video of the Wired Magazine iPad app).

      And yes, if a book could really benefit by adding video to a specific scene (maybe an author video on the back “flap” instead of an author photo, or a security tape in a key part of the book), by all means, do it. But like you said, you’re barely tapping into the potential of an ebook if you do that. I’m going to be discussing a lot of these ideas on this blog.

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