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On its face, the new book "Find Me I'm Yours" sounds like your standard fare about a 24-year-old navigating life and love in the big city. But "FMIY" is not merely a book -- its characters inhabit an entire universe that includes nearly three dozen standalone websites, online video series, real-world magazines and more.
Creators Hillary Carlip and Maxine Lapiduss call it "Click Lit," and it's an online and offline world that doesn't end at the last page of the book. They say it's both a new way to read and a revolutionary way to make money in the ever-evolving publishing business.
"We want to create an all-new genre," Carlip, who wrote "FMIY" and four prior books, told TODAY. "Young people are reading things differently, experiencing things in a new way. They are used to being multiplatform. We want to tap into that by creating this whole universe."
That universe revolves around young Los Angeles artist Mags Marclay. After a devastating breakup, Mags buys an "old-school camera" on Craigslist to film a video for a dating site. Inside she finds a tape filmed by a Ken-doll lookalike who is seeking his soulmate -- and he's planted clues online and across Los Angeles in a bid to find her. "Find me...I'm yours," implores the mysterious hunk, whom Mags dubs "Mr. WTF."
And so the cross-platform hunt begins -- for both Mags and her readers.
The e-book itself, published by RosettaBooks and released on Monday, includes artwork, handwritten lists and graphics littered throughout. But readers will also find embedded links to the 10 video clues Mr. WTF posts. Mags has a portfolio site and an Instagram account, which is full of artsy photos from around LA, as does Mr. WTF.
The digitally savvy Mags also mentions 33 websites in the book, and they are all standalone sites with original content. The idea, the creators say, is that a person who stumbles upon them organically can enjoy them without knowing it's a part of the "FMIY" universe. Bridalville, the wedding website where Mags works, is a real site with staff writers who produce stories and videos. Others, including Freak 4 My Pet, are interactive sites that encourage readers to submit their own artwork, videos and stories.
"It's been a big undertaking, to say the least," Carlip said.
Between the writing of the novel, the creation and design of the websites, and hiring staff, "FMIY" took three-and-a-half years to come together. In the process Carlip and Lapiduss founded Storyverse Studios, which now employs about 25 people who write content, run social media, film videos and more.
"Everyone’s a hyphenate. We can't pay you to do one job, you have to do six," said Lapiduss, a TV veteran who has won a Golden Globe and written or directed hugely popular sitcoms including "Roseanne," "Ellen" and "Home Improvement."
Staffers and content doesn't come cheaply, though. FMIY and Storyverse Studios is now a business unto itself, complete with corporate sponsors.
The parent company of Sweet 'N Low invested $1.3 million into "FMIY." In exchange, during the course of the book Mags calls herself a devoted fan, calling the sugar substitute a "party in a packet." She also tells a friend that "the FDA or EPA or whatev agency" couldn't conclude that artificial sweetener causes cancer. And one of the 33 FMIY websites, called "Worship the Brand" -- a site that calls on artists to upload brand-inspired fan art -- features a Sweet 'N Low-style logo at the top.
"We knew we would have to raise money to make this happen," Lapiduss said. "Nothing against big studios, but there's a reason something like this hasn't happened even though people have been trying for years to do trans-media projects."
It's easy to see how brand-sponsored content could turn off potential readers. But Lapiduss isn't worried, she said, saying similar moves may be new to the book industry, but they're common in movies and TV.
"We are embedding their message into ours in an organic way," Lapiduss said. "We think advertisers will be drawn to these verticals. They can support storylines or characters or their message could be interspersed throughout the book and the online content. We’re limited only by the time we have and the money we have."
Both Lapiduss and Carlip, the author, said they want Storyverse Studios' "Click Lit" approach to become a model for other authors and cross-media artists.
"I have 30 years experience in the media world, and I'm competing with YouTubers putting on makeup and getting millions of views," Lapiduss said. "That's kind of the drag of it and the amazing thing all at the same time. We all have to reinvent ourselves, and bring in different facets of what reading can be."
For Lapiduss and Carlip, who are not only business partners but also a couple of 23 years, their combined experience in book publishing and in TV helped them approach the project in a unique way.
"I had this idea and created all the websites," Carlip said, "and then Maxine came on board and said, 'We can turn this into a giant business model--'"
"'And take over the world!'" concluded Lapiduss.
Now that "FMIY" the book is available to readers, Carlip said she hopes Mags' universe will expand even more. Mags creates a 'zine in the book, and Carlip says a real-world version will be sold in bookstores. Perhaps even the book's Delhicatessen Jewish-Indian food truck will hit the streets of L.A. someday, Lapiduss mused.
"All readers know that when you find a book you love, you don’t want it to end," Carlip said. "And here, you can finish the book and then go check out one of the websites a month later to see what's new. The experience doesn't have to end."