July 11, 2012

An unwritten masterpiece


MobyLives recently reported on the new espionage in literature: Amazon and other ebook-sellers harvesting information about our reading habits and passing it to publishers, some of whom use it to inform editorial decisions. Writer and filmmaker Daniel Perlmutter is crowd-sourcing editorial in an even bigger way, by offering paid input on his novel:

$10: Pick an object. You get to choose one object that will appear in the book (for example, a telephone pole or a scuba tank).

$15: Write a sentence.

$20: Pick a place. You can name a location where some of the action of the novel will take place. It can be either a geographical location (like Houston, Texas) or a fictional establishment (like Shirley’s Umbrella Shack) that’s up to you.

$30: Create a character. You get to come up with a character who will appear in the book. Give the character a name (it can be your name if you like, as long as your name isn’t offensive), one physical attribute and one biographical detail.

$50: Name a chapter.

$100: Then what happens? You get to come up with a plot point, one thing that can happen in the book (eg, someone is eaten by a shark, someone wins the lottery, someone wishes on a star. Whatever you want.).

$250: Who’s the star? You get to create the Main Character! Who are they? How old are they? What do they do? It’s all up to you.

$500: Write the first sentence.

$750: Choose the genre.

$900: Name the book.

$1,000: How does it end? You get to choose how the book ends! I will send you the nearly completed manuscript and you will determine how it all wraps up.

Note that there’s no provision for more than one person buying the ending, name, or first sentence. Though perhaps it was sensible for Perlmutter not to waste too much time fretting about the possibility of more than one person stumping up $1,000.

I said in an earlier post that crowd-sourcing editorial on romance and erotica didn’t seem a terrible thing to me, the books being more about projection and fantasy than Literary Integrity. Perlmutter’s use of crowd-sourcing is interesting for different reasons: some of these purchases — objects, characters, plot twists — will function a little like constraints. And for the purposes of this exercise, the more the better: Perlmutter’s challenge will be to put them all together in a convincing way. I mean, that’s not to say that the book won’t be crap: who’s to say that his imagination is up to it? And there’ll no doubt be a ton of random suggestions. But the experiment’s the point here, not the end product.


Ellie Robins is an editor at Melville House. Previously, she was managing editor of Hesperus Press.