Linen District: Literature Illuminated

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By Jamie Dillon

Aaron Stanton knows novels. In fact, he can probably recall hundreds of details about the inner workings of stories in nearly any genre. He can talk effortlessly about the prominence of religious hierarchy in Dan Brown’s “Da Vinci Code.” He can argue with conviction that of the two vampire stories, Anne Rice’s “Interview with the Vampire” is in fact more, well, vampire-y than Stephanie Meyer’s “Twilight.” He knows the latest works of lesser-known authors, including some who call Idaho home.

The difference between this Boise entrepreneur and other bibliophiles, however, is this: He can do it without ever cracking a cover and reading what’s inside.

BookLamp.org is the home of the Book Genome Project; a concept Stanton started putting in motion a decade ago. Similar to how Pandora.com selects music based on a listener’s preferences, BookLamp helps readers find books through computer-based analysis.

Run from the high-tech incubator space in the Linen District called The Watercooler, BookLamp can be particularly beneficial to publishers looking to discover authors who have a similar voice, pace and dialog style to the latest top seller. It’s because of this compiled information that people like Boise author Raym Richards know how their novels compare to others on the market.

Categorized as a science fiction novel, the concept of Richard’s book, “An Earth Scorned” came from his concern about the environment, the collective’s increased reliance on oil and the government’s protection of it. While he was able to do research to build fictional characters and communities and a compelling story, Richards wasn’t sure how his book compared to other similar works.

But now he knows.

Because of BookLamp’s metrics, Raym learned that his book’s density and pacing is comparable to “Your Life, Uploaded” by Bill Gates. His dialog is reminiscent to “The Accidental Time Machine” by Joe Haldeman and “Timescape” by Gregory Benford. Stanton reminds authors who use BookLamp to gain a better understanding of their books’ mechanics that learning that their books are denser or slower — or lighter and faster — than the average doesn’t mean their book isn’t just as it should be.

“We’d never suggest what an author wrote or how it was written should be changed to reflect the average,” Stanton said. “How long should an author’s book be? As long as it needs to be.”

“Being an unknown and getting your work compared to recognized authors gives me plenty of data worth knowing. The report shows where I was heading in the right direction and helps validate me. If categorized by these metrics would “An Earth Scorned” be right next to the DaVinci Code? Maybe not. But would it be one shelf down and over a few feet? Yeah, maybe, and that’s great.”

More importantly, the BookLamp findings have given Richards the motivation to finish the follow-on to his debut.

“I can leap into the next one without too much worry, and what’s nice is that I have key elements to focus on. I can get the dialog tighter. I can modify my pacing and sharpen my descriptions.”

“BookLamp’s engine isn’t influenced by advertising budgets or popularity bias,” Stanton said. “Unlike social engines, we don’t punish new authors for being new, or ignore them for being unknown. We connect readers