Attracting the Reluctant Reader: Haarsma has it all

big Damn Zine oct 2007

“Reading is a form of entertainment and should be presented that way, not like sour medicine that’s going to make you better,” says children’s author, PJ Haarsma. His online site blasts like colorful fireworks through the bland shadows of most book promotions. He offers everything from a trailer with a sibilant alien on video to an online game with enough blinking lights, eerie audio, and intriguing art to entice any kid.

The author of The Softwire: Virus on Orbis 1, Haarsma is also a former movie producer and a consummate promoter of his book series. He has linked up with NASA to build a vibrant 50 minute on site author visit to schools and he worked with friend and actor, Nathan Fillion (Firefly, Serenity, Desperate Housewives) on a audio recording of the first 3 chapters of The Softwire.

He believes that publishers are going to have to expand their ideas on how to capture readers. “They are going to have to change the way they deal with rights and build vertical companies around the brand. This will allow readers to enter a brand from many different levels whether it be the book, game, movie, comic book, downloads, interactive elements – whatever it takes. By leveraging these rights properly they can increase their income and hopefully spend it on ways to make their titles more attractive to begin with.”

Is he concerned that gaming will detract from his message that reading is entertainment? Not at all, a parent himself, Haarsma is aware of the dangers of excessive gaming. However, he says, “…There is so much opportunity that’s left on the table when people broadly dismiss video games. Whether it’s simply to engage the child by playing with them or reveling in the game’s imagination you cannot deny there are some benefits: the complex problem solving required for most games, the social communities, the art… and your kid is not going to be out robbing a liquor store when their Guild needs them! I’m not trying to make light of some of the serious issues that parent groups bring up but I honestly believe video games can be used as a powerful tool to engage children, not isolate them.”

Any author trying to promote their work should look at what Haarsma has accomplished. His sites are an exciting glimpse into the way the publishing world must move in order to engage readers.

For more on Haarsma and to see an interview I did (Yes, shameless self-promotion) go to the October issue of BIG DAMN ZINE. There he talks about his association with the non-profit, KIDS NEED TO READ and exchanges some snide comments with his friend, actor Nathan Fillion.

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