What would it be like to buy your way into a book?
A Toronto writer is offering the public a chance to find out. Writer and filmmaker Daniel Perlmutter is mixing crowdsourcing and crowdfunding to create a novel with paid contributions – the more you pay, the greater the play.
For $15, you get a sentence. For $20, you can pick a location where some of the story takes place; $30 lets you invent a character. On it goes, to $750 for the right to determine the book's genre (sci-fi, romance, whatever); $900 for the opportunity to name the book; up to $1,000 to decide how the whole thing ends.
Authoring by crowd seems like an inevitable step in an era of running dialogues composed on social media and Twitter-based fiction. Chicago artist Willy Chyr, for instance, recently created The Collaborwriters, a novel to be written by contributors in Twitter-sized, 140-character bits (see it at thecollabowriters.com).
Perlmutter says all those who pay to contribute to his novel will be included in the finished product, barring any contribution infringing on copyright or that's derogatory or "anything weird like that," as he says. So he doesn't see this as an easy solution to the dreaded white page. It might be hard labour.
"There could be hundreds of characters suggested by people by the end of this thing," he says, in much the same tone as a promotional pitch on the novel's pledge site: http://www.indiegogo.com/unwrittenmasterpiece.
Perlmutter is primarily a filmmaker, having co-written the 2010 feature-length comedy Peepers and recently received the Governor-General's mentorship award, in which he is being paired with comedian Eugene Levy. And the novel will be as much a multimedia piece as a written work. He hopes to document the assembly and writing process with a blog and to maintain the interactive flavour by keeping the whole thing open and public.
"It's a legitimate project in the sense that I'm going to write this thing. But no matter what the project ends up being, it's going to be comedic in nature, just because of the very process."
No, wait, pretend he didn't say that. For Perlmutter, who looks like a young Woody Allen, also says in his best salesman voice that "a successful end product would be a truly great novel seen as a classic of literature and to give the people, the contributors, a sense that they had a hand in that. They are not getting any financial reward. They are not profiting from it. But they can brag to their friends….
"Yeah, well, my name is going to be large on the cover still. [But] Authors are always stealing ideas from all over the place. This is just going to be a little more explicitly done."
In the video pitch on the website, Perlmutter feels the need to go to great lengths to remind people of the power of the novel: "When you open a book, you get transported to faraway places. You flip open the pages of a novel and all of a sudden you're in Pittsburgh. Or anywhere in Pennsylvania! It's incredible!"
Monday, the first in a 30-day campaign, saw Perlmutter's attempts to publicize the project gain some notice on Twitter. "I just got retweeted by Margaret Atwood, so we're off to the races here."
And was Eugene Levy, Perlmutter's mentor, part of the project's birth? "No, this is a separate thing, although I'll probably hit him up for a contribution."
Still, what of the undeniable feeling that this is a send-up of crowdsourcing, that the $6,000 Perlmutter has to raise for editing, printing and publicity costs is more of a lark than art?
"I would hope that people [get] the sense of fun and humour that was intended. Although if someone wants to create a character that they are deadly serious about, I'll just have to find a way to work it into this book."
He sees it more as a celebration of mass creative production than a criticism. "I think crowdsourcing is incredible. I think it makes so much sense being able to really cut out any middle man and just have a direct relationship between an audience and a creator. "It's a fantastic thing."