Weighing my way through Jerome de Groot’s The Historical Novel, I read of an interesting phenomena which he calls ‘extratextual elements’ designed to serve a community of faithful readers.

“The books of O’Brian and Cornwell, for instance, are marketed as part of a series, branded so that the readership can purchase familiar books and collect the entire set. There are numerous official fan clubs, and those who are interested in Cornwell’s creation can read Mark Adkin’s Sharpe Companion (1998) and his Sharpe Cut (2006), an introduction to the television series. Adkin’s text is an historical guide to the military elements of each Sharpe novel … with images, maps, factual narratives and biographical accounts.”

Apparently, another writer offers similar materials to augment O’Brian’s naval stories. De Groot goes on to say that “these secondary materials buttress the authenticity of the novels, ascribing them a gravitas and a meaningfulness … crucial to the male historical novel”.

Often writers do this with blogs and websites – for free – but what I thought interesting was the opportunity to bring such material together as a product to be sold alongside your novel. If companion materials work for a writer leveraging the novels of someone else, would they not also work for the original author?

Just wondering. What do you think?

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6 Responses to “Augment your novel with companion materials”

  1. Deb says:

    Aw, Mary, you’re a woman after my own heart. I’ve been compiling a project to carry out in Finland (and over the Russian border in what was Finnish Karelia) over the next year, to document my characters’ journey. I’m meeting with an agent in a couple of weeks and was planning on running it by her, to market as a companion book to the novel. Cannot wait to sit down and catch up on your survey. It’s so interesting. Hope you are enjoying your writing these days!

  2. Mary says:

    Great to hear from you, Deb. And good serendipity in our thinking. I hope you enjoy the survey – look out for more details over at awriterofhistory.com

  3. Kirstie says:

    I’ve seen this done with some popular fantasy series, eg/ the Wheel of Time has ‘The World Of The Wheel Of Time’ and the Belgariad/Mallorean has ‘The Rivan Codex’.
    I think with fantasy there is a lot of world building, and often some facts aren’t all in the books and fans would love to learn more. Not to mention the writer would love to know they didn’t waste all that time world building for nothing!

  4. Mary says:

    That’s interesting, Kirstie. In this cases, did the author write these ancillary books or did someone else? I imagine fantasy lends itself to things like maps and pictures of costumes and so on.

  5. There are several benefits that companion materials give to the reader: background information about a time period or culture; the backstory on a character or characters; in-depth exploration of a technology or equipment referenced in the story but not explained; or, something totally out of the box, such as The Nancy Drew Cookbook.

    Not to mention another possible income stream for the writer…Good post, Mary!

  6. Mary says:

    Thanks, Ron. Looks to me like you have lots of good ideas on possibilities.


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