Friday, March 31, 2006

Victoria Strauss -- News of the Weird

People in and around the writing world are always trying to invent a better mousetrap. No, I'm not talking about the advent of POD or harebrained schemes for "new and better" distribution or would-be groundbreaking ideas about self-promotion. I'm talking about the fringey stuff, like the plot patent.

Here's an example I ran across the other day. Granted, it's not as bizarre as the plot patent, but it's still pretty strange. Jim Bildner, whose previous professional credits include the creation of a chain of grocery stores and running a technology consulting company, has established a "venture philanthropy" endeavor called the Literary Ventures Fund, intended to apply the principles of venture capital to book publishing. "Using a venture philanthropy model," the press release says, "the LVF will support small presses book by book, granting both funds and expertise...Over the course of a two to five-year horizon, a selected manuscript may be granted writer advances, specialized marketing expertise, funds for participation in targeted marketing programs, and money for author tours and related activities. Projects will be selected based on their literary merits; those books that do produce a profit over time will pay back a percentage of profits to the Fund to help support future projects."

In other words, the Fund invests in a book, and in return owns a piece of it. Good news for some authors. But will it work?

The notion of making enough profit from small-press literary books to support a "venture philanthropy" fund sounds pretty farfetched to me. Maybe the Fund will find another Audrey Niffenegger (whose book, by the way, became successful without any philanthropical assistance)...but given the very unpredictable nature of bookselling, not to mention the extremely subjective process of choosing books "based on their literary merits," it seems more likely that it won't. The Da Vinci Code and The Traveler prove that cash can create a bestseller; The Jessica Lynch Story and numerous celebrity-authored children's books prove that in some cases, no amount of money is enough.

In January, the Fund geared up for its first round of grants, which will range from $5,000 to $200,000. According to an article in PW, some of which is readable here, one of the chosen books is a first novel: Firmin: Adventures of a Metropolitan Lowlife by Sam Savage, "the story of a rat living in a bookstore that learns to read." (Hey! I didn't know bookstores could read!) Coffee House Press, the publisher, will get $10,000 to provide marketing support for the book (as any publicist could tell you, $10,000 is a pittance). Promo plans include sending 500 gummy rats to booksellers, participating in Baker & Taylor's and Consortium's galley programs, marketing on Amazon, and advertising in trade magazines. It'll be interesting to see what happens.

Oh, and Mr. Bildner? I know a writer of literary merit who could sure use a grant right now...

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Edited to add: The folks at the Literary Ventures Fund got in touch to let me know that they now have a website.

3 comments:

lorra laven said...

I find this concept kind of intriguing; venture capitalists have been funding film projects for decades. Why not books?

PS I love your blog -it's informative, witty and well written. Keep up the good work.

eamerz said...

Is there a website that lists the small presses/books chosen to receive grants?

Victoria Strauss said...

Not that I'm aware of. The Literary Ventures Fund doesn't even seem to have its own website. I'll keep an eye out, though.

- Victoria