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March 18, 2010

3D Makes Money; Books Don't

Publish Yes, this title is my way of roping together two unrelated topics. But it's still true.

First, 3D.

I reviewed Alice in Wonderland at the Majestic 10 its first weekend. On Friday, when we arrived at about 6, every evening show had already sold out. We bought tickets for the next afternoon, came back and stood in a line to enter the 4:30, which by then had also sold out. A few weeks before that, I heard a Majestic employee say Avatar was still selling out every weekend.

So, yeah, it's official. Three-D — at least while the thrill lasts — is the best recession vacation value around.

And a Vermont tech company is getting in on the action. The Celluloid Junkie blog reports that Brattleboro's Omega Optical  — which makes optical filters — has teamed up with camera maker Panavision to produce a new 3D system that projects both digital footage and 35mm film.

This could be important because it makes 3D projection more versatile, and, um, that's all I can say, since the tech talk in this post is over my head. I gather that making the screen look brighter is one goal — if you've seen digital 3D, you know it's like gazing into a slightly darkened room. This wasn't such an issue for me with Avatar, but it was with Alice, which was converted to 3D after being shot in 2D and didn't do much with the technology. I would have taken enhanced brightness in exchange for the occasional thing jumping off the screen any day.

But on to the books. This week I received not one but two press releases for a book promotion that is original, to say the least. It's described here on the website of the publisher, Sourcebooks.

So, here's the deal. A Chicago guy named Stephen Markley was trying to get his novel published, but kept getting rejection letters. So he wrote a memoir about trying to get his novel published — called, yes, Publish This Book —  and got that published instead.

Markley's PR material calls it a "hyperkinetic, high-concept memoir ... about the maddening Kafka-esque nightmare of trying to break through as a writer in the cutthroat world of publishing." The author himself is described as "a plugged-in, hyped-up, idealistic, ambitious, arrogant, audacious, unyielding young writer, who's tired of waiting his turn."

Yeah, I think "hyperkinetic" is the right word for that prose. But Markley's website suggests that he applies gushing praise to his own book with a certain sense of humor.

Anyway, here's why it's interesting. Markley's publisher — and yes, it's a real indie publisher, not a self-publishing outfit — is marketing the book to ... all the unpublished writers out there with a one-of-a-kind promotion. Send them a receipt to prove you purchased Publish This Book along with a small chunk of your own unpublished manuscript, and they'll critique it for you.

They're promising to do this until May 9. And, if the flood of self-published books we receive here at the paper is any indication — I'm thinking just of the books by Vermonters, mind — they will receive a vast quantity of submissions.

Now, this is an interesting strategy to sell a book to its target audience. It's certainly a better deal than the editing-for-pay services that certain unscrupulous "literary agents" offer. Even if the critique ends up having no value to you, all you've spent is the cost of the book — and, who knows, the book may be a good read. Buying books to support a flailing industry is a good thing, especially if you patronize your favorite local indie bookstore.

But on the other hand... if the hosts of repeatedly rejected writers are the target audience of this memoir, will anyone else want to read it? If you do want to read epic sagas of literary rejection, you can do it for free all over the web, most notably at a droll little blog called Literary Rejections on Display.

And if you want a free manuscript critique, you can get one from your friends, from the helpful folks at online forums like this, or perhaps, if you persist in sending out those queries, from an agent. (Most agents get so many submissions that form rejections are the order of the day, but now and then, out of the goodness of their hearts, they offer some useful, individualized feedback.)

My experience tells me that every critique of your writing, whether it comes from some random person on the internet or a publishing professional, could be helpful. Or totally not. You have to figure it out.

After all, random people on the internet are the ones who can start good word of mouth about a book and make it sell — even when the author isn't Lauren Conrad of "The Hills." (She has two bestselling novels to her name. Read it and weep.)

That seems to be the assumption behind Sourcebooks' promotion. And, as I already noted, anything that makes people buy books that aren't by Lauren Conrad is good.

Speaking of buying books, I just bought this in hardcover and read it in about three days. It's awesome, and yes, it's YA. And they're going to make a movie. And there's a sequel coming. It's not at all like Harry Potter; it's more like the Philip Pullman trilogy with a faster pace and less philosophizing, which means the movies could actually sell tickets.

Seems I'm part of the trend of grownups reading YA, even though when we actually were "young adults" we couldn't ditch those books fast enough in favor of "real literature." But you know what? When they're good, they are real literature. And any writer who can get allusions to Milton's Paradise Lost and Bentham's Panopticon into a book for the 12-and-up crowd has my support.

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