"What if you’re writing a book and the audience already had a relationship with the content when the book came out,” said Alex LeMay, CEO of the Shadow Gang, a firm that creates on- and offline social communities. LeMay and Shadow Gang have partnered with YA novelist Michael Grant to create an immersive transmedia project called GoBZRK, around Grant’s next novel that does just that.

“Publishing is more than books,” LeMay said during an interview at PW’s offices about BZRK, the title of Michael Grant’s new thriller, scheduled to be published in February 2012 by Egmont. “Storytelling is key, and a story can be anything from an author’s notes to, well, whatever,” LeMay explained. “So how do you unlock the story from the book?”

GoBZRK is a six-month-long interactive transmedia prequel to Grant’s novel; it began in August and uses everything from multiple Web sites to social media, incorporating an elaborate layering of fictional subplots, character blogs, Web comics, role-playing games, videos, and mobile device apps in an intricately scripted gaming experience, aimed at fueling online interest in Grant’s book before it appears in stores. It’s a born-transmedia project, plotted out by Grant and LeMay, an experienced film, TV, and commercial director, who has organized a team of writers, game developers, and social media experts to produce the project. GoBZRK is being paid for by Shadow Gang, Grant, and Egmont.

LeMay said Grant approached him in 2005, “looking to do something different.” Grant, author of the Gone and Magnificent 12 series, said he was looking for new ways to tell a story. “I saw my own kids reading my manuscripts on their iPhones, and I thought, wow, I need to go there, to create a story that stretches across multiple platforms.” Grant said it was important “each element contribute, that they not be just copies of the books.” Indeed, BZRK is a three-book series, and Grant said, “I wanted each element to be unique, yet enhance the books and then pick up the story and carry it between books.”

The series was launched in August with a single tweet from a Shadow Gang developer. That tweet initiated a story that revolves around an ominous cult called Nexus Humanus and plans for “sustainable happiness,” and quickly attracted fans interested in GoBZRK’s mix of shadowy organizations, conspiracies, and a far-flung network of obscure clues and story-related Web sites. Fans become an agent in the story looking to stop an evil organization. GoBZRK sites like NexusHumanus.com, DeathorMadness.com, and SocietyTwins.com fuel the combination of fun and paranoia (the society twins are searching for a missing brother, but they’re also a hoot); in addition there’s Gobzrk.com, a central site that collects all the clues and data for fans who fall behind or just joined the fun.

So far, LeMay said, the project has drawn more than 80,000 unique visitors to the Bzrk site, and 53,000 views of video content with participants from more than 90 countries around the world. Fans have even created their own content in response. “Kids get to wander through the game at their own pace and have a stake in the game,” LeMay said. “It’s like a movie taking place in 30 different places.”

GoBRZK will also feature a variety of downloadable videogames and apps tied to the narrative for iOS and Android platfrom devices. LeMay said, “We’re absolutely going to monetize” these downloads. He said they’ll use a “freemium” model, featuring free initial download and 99 cents for upgrades and new content. LeMay said there would also be “other revenue streams” as well.

LeMay emphasized how the transmedia experience fuels interest in the story between books in the series. “YA readers hate the publishing cycle of waiting two years between books,” LeMay said. “We’re giving them the prequel and the sequel at the same time, and we’re attracting new readers and new audiences.”