Guest Post: How Transmedia Storytelling Can Kickstart Your Stagnant Writing Project

Hello, hello!  Welcome to my first quarterly (March/June/September/December) guest post.  For the inaugural edition, please welcome my friend and fellow Stonecoast alum, Derek Hoffman!

Borrowed from Derek’s Facebook page.

How Transmedia Storytelling Can Kickstart Your Stagnant Writing Project

By Derek B. Hoffman

You have a story. Yes, that one. It’s the one you know you’re supposed to write, but you can’t seem to crack it (or regain inspiration to continue) and you cringe each time a friend asks how it’s going.

Yet it still calls to you. Whatever else you try to fill your time with, creative or otherwise, it’s the thing that won’t let go and won’t move forward. So what do you do?

Think sideways.

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Think outside of the screen, the pen, the shuffled stack of drafts you’ve shoved in a half-crushed Amazon box. Think transmedia.

I know, what does that really mean? To put it simply, it is a way of telling a story across multiple media. But it’s more than that, it’s also using multiple types of media purposefully because “each medium makes its own unique contribution to the unfolding of the story” (from “Transmedia Storytelling 101” by Henry Jenkins). You can find the wiki here, a couple great resources here and here, and a slew of academic articles here and here. It’s a lot to take in, but what it boils down to is a call to think in 4D about the story you need to tell.

If you aren’t familiar with the book, you can scroll through Amazon’s “Look Inside” option to get an idea of what’s inside.

Transmedia storytelling uses technology and media to broaden the story and engage a greater audience. In House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski, the main book is a series of nested narratives that tell a story about a story, about an event. As a family unpacks in their new house, they discover it contains a mysteriously expanding labyrinth that holds more than a few secrets of its own. The narratives mimic the labyrinth, with text twisting and winding through the pages. Footnotes are peppered throughout, giving it a more academic and researched feel, though only 25% of the references are legitimate.

To give the story credibility, Danielewski published a website before the book release. The Internet was still capitalized back then, and the website played to the interests of an audience seeking hidden truths, long before the doubts of Fake News and strategic disinformation. There were also rumors Danielewski helped the manuscript go viral by dropping it at tattoo parlors and bars as a loose collection of papers tied with a string. The musician Poe (Danielewski’s sister) released an album of songs alongside the novel. Suddenly, readers could actually hear the echoes down the five and a half minute hallway.

More simply and more recently, transmedia storytelling can be seen in the 2017 show Thirteen Reasons Why, about a set of cassette tapes left by a girl who committed suicide. Jay Asher published the book in 2007 with hints to lead readers to, you guessed it, a set of audio tapes he had posted on a website.

The book can be found here.

So, how does this make your writing easier?

Well, maybe the reason your book isn’t writing itself is that it is more than just a book. Are there:

  • different entry points into your story?
  • multiple audiences you want to engage?
  • different perspectives, voices, or subplots that lend themselves to audio, video, blog, or website?
  • supplemental facts, graphics, maps, or historical details that could add dimension

Let go of the pencil and pick up the keyboard, microphone, brush, or camera to give your story new life.


What next?

Set yourself up for success 

First, take a moment to set achievable goals. Unless you have an amazing amount of free time, and/or resources, be real with yourself and your story.

  • Spend a weekend breaking down your story to see what areas could benefit (or not) from a transmedia approach and our thinking sideways experiment.
  • Then think about your creative resources (e.g. your own talents, friends and family, and local schools and artists).
  • Take account of how much time and money you may be willing to put toward this endeavor (consider crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter as well).
  • Lastly, remember to think about any ethical impacts your project may have during execution. Don’t worry, I’ll talk more about this in a couple sections.

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Get uncomfortable

It’s time to break your story. What’s left inside when you peel back everything else? What is it that made you want to write it in the first place? A character’s tale that had to be told? An image that haunts you? An intimate, whispered conversation? A political or religious allegory? Or are you determined to buck every trope in a given genre? Whatever it is, find it (or remember it).

Anatomy of a breakdown

Since everyone’s results from this will vary, I’ll throw down first. 

A girl stands in the shallows off the rocky coast of Maine. Her long nightgown is soaked up to the frilled collar. She walks forward into the ocean, grim and at peace.  

Seventy years later, a reporter on hiatus because of a major screwup at her job visits her friend in Maine. Out of her morning newspaper drops a microfiche news story about the girl’s disappearance.

That’s all I had, but it bugged me for a year and a half while I attended my graduate program (in Maine). Every time I watched waves crash against the rocks under a foggy sky, I saw the girl. Six months left in my MFA. It was time to get this going. I thought about:

  • What was in the news story for the girl on the microfiche?
  • What did the reporter’s online newspaper look like? What stories had she written before?
  • Did the girl have a diary? What was her story? Why did she likely kill herself?
  • Maybe the girl had letters from a secret love???
  • Did the reporter have a personal blog?

Alright, that’s a good start for different ways to approach or enhance the story. What else? Since I was in this program with other creatives, could I directly engage them? During the winter, we stayed at a cool, old inn. A ghost story, perhaps?

  • Maybe “accidental” audio or video of the girl from the reporter’s cellphone/camera.
  • Find out the history of the inn. Would it fit with the girl’s story?
  • An evidence bag from the old missing person’s case left at the front desk or someone’s room?


Whoa. Hold on, now we are moving into ARG territory. ARG? Alternate Reality Gaming. It can totally be done. Check out some cool stuff from Lance Weiler here, but there are some major ethical considerations in going down this path:

  • What if someone believes your story is real? What kind of emotional/psychological impact could it have? Could they miss work or school? Could they report findings to the police? I know this sounds extreme, but you need to consider all of this.
  • Is there a way for people to opt-in/opt-out?
  • If you are performing research while executing your story (e.g. by using analytics on websites) are you obtaining permission? Is there a notice on the site that clearly states what is being collected?

Again, the above isn’t to scare you out of incorporating some really cool ARG into your transmedia project, but you need to be conscious of its potential effects and the rights of those involved behind and in front of the story.

Speaking of those behind the story…

Creative Role Call

Now you have an idea of what can be done. How do you do it? Well, there are several options depending on your social and financial resources.

  • You can form a creative collaboration with one or more trusted creative friends. These should be people whose work you know is solid, even if they aren’t professionals. You don’t want to have to manage people’s egos or confidence. Depending on what the work is, if it will be profitable, what kind of friendship you have, and more will determine how you might be able to compensate your team. Personally, even though I have some friends working with me on a transmedia project, and some have offered their services for free, or at a great discount, I want to pay them what their work deserves. It’s not that I have the financial resources, but I don’t want my creative friends to get burned or short-changed just because they are my friends. How will I pay them? We’ll get to that in a moment.
  • You can go it alone. If you have the skills to perform/create in multiple media, good for you! Make sure you have the time, and that it is worth the “life cost.” And whatever you plan for time, double it.
  • You can find creative resources online and locally. Do you need photos? Check Unsplash. It’s a great resource for free, hi-res photos that can be used however you like. They don’t even require attribution (though I highly recommend it). There is Fiverr for freelance design, translation, video, and more. Check out Artstation for inspiration and some freelance conceptual, environmental, and 3D artists. If you want to build a website for your project, check out Squarespace, Hugo, and WordPress/Themeforest. Also, contact your local community colleges and universities to see if they have a way for you to post what you’re looking for to students who might want some more real world project experience (and please pay them).
  • If there are self-publishing components to your project, check out Lulu and Blurb.

Now that you are finalizing your project plan and team, how are you going to pay for it all?

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Show me the money

Short of your own financial resources, or those of a publishing/media company, you need to crowdfund. And for this type of project, the only option really suitable to the task is Kickstarter. If you have to go this route, you need to look at their tips for creating a successful campaign, and you need to do some math to make sure that your project funding goal includes fees for using Kickstarter, shipping, production, taxes, etc. It’s not just about paying your creatives. And whether you use a crowdfunding site or not, you need to prep your mind for selling your project. Whether it is to people who have cash they are looking to invest in a cool enough story, or people you want to pick up your book, think of how to pitch it, how to package it, and how to sell it. This is the story that won’t let go. Now’s the time to push it out there. You got this.

Which brings us to the why…

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So what?

Maybe you’ve read though this anxiously waiting for the secret to reveal itself on how to move forward with your project. Maybe you found it, but more than likely you are half-pumped, half-scared, half-apathetic, but fully convinced I can’t do math. No, this is about thinking sideways to move forward. It doesn’t matter if you create the most amazing project plan and gather the most talented team of artists, if you can’t finish the story, you’ve got nothing.

You are a writer. Transmedia, whatever you may think of its use to you and your project, is just a tool. One you can put in your rusty, blue, metal box with the squeaky hinges. Put it beside the Passive Voice Detector and whichever Manual of Style you despise the least. But put it in there.

Transmedia can refine how you pitch and define your story by forcing you to communicate with a creative team, and the world at large. It is a storytelling tool as much as it is a marketing tool. And this alternative thinking allows you to more easily evolve your narrative regardless of whether you continue down the transmedia path or simply use bits and pieces of the methodology from your toolkit.

Now, get back to writing.


Derek B. Hoffman is a writer, designer, technologist, husband to a scientific wonder woman, and dad to two awesome boys. He can be found online at and is happy to respond to your transmedia-project-induced cries for help at

That Thing I Said I’d Never Do…

Howdy, howdy!  Apparently, March arrived when I wasn’t looking.  The problem with that is, it forces me to make a confession.  I still haven’t finished the shitty first draft of my current novel attempt.  There’s no real excuse for it.  Sure, I could blame the killer headaches my allergies decided to unload on me.  I could blame the general blahs I’ve been feeling for the past few months.  But the truth is, I didn’t even push it with my writing on the days when I felt normal.  I’d start writing and let myself get distracted by stupid things.  I just haven’t been able to find the right rhythm for this particular novel.  I’ve struggled with this one all along.  So, I decided to do something I said I would never do.


I decided to write every single day (which is totally not as impressive as it sounds when done my way).

It’s one of those golden writing rules that writers say they live by in order to sound like they’re doing a ton of work every day, but in reality, most are lucky if they write a few days a week.  Then, they throw a word count on top of it that makes it even more daunting.  Like 1,000+ words a day is some easy task they can pull off in ten minutes.  It’s not.  In fact, writing 1,000+ words in a day can be exhausting.  And it’s why I swore I would never be one of those people who even attempts it when I already know I’ll fail.

That being said, when my usual writing techniques failed me (repeatedly), I decided it was time to give this whole every day thing a go.  BUT!  I promised I wasn’t going to kill myself with 1,000+ words a day.  Even 500+ words was too high for me to consider.  So, I made my daily goal ridiculously low, with the caveat that four days a week I would shoot for my usual 1,000+ words.  Otherwise, my goal is a measly 50+ words a day.

I’m going.  I’m going.  Chill.

It might seem stupid, but I can knock 50+ words out in ten minutes before I get ready for bed.  And I’ve actually averaged about 100 words a day.  I’m still struggling with my 1,000+ words days, but even those are getting a little easier.  People will say that I’m building a habit and that’s why it’s getting easier, but for me, that’s not exactly true.  I’m very much achievement oriented, so when I fail to meet my goals, I get stressed and upset.  Setting super easy goals helps me build my self-esteem back up, which motivates me to tackle harder goals.  And so far, it seems to be working.

Close enough.

I suppose it’s important to try new techniques when old ones stop working.  Hopefully, I’ll finally finish that draft this month.  What about you?  Do you have any projects that might benefit from setting super low goals?  What do you do when your standard techniques stop working?  As always, feel free to share your thoughts and comments here or on my social media pages!


Hello, hello!  We’ve reached the final Wednesday in February, so you know what that means.  It’s book review time!  Instead of grabbing an advanced reader copy of something, I decided to scroll through Amazon’s suggestions for me and pick a recent release.  This time, I went with The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin.  It was released on January 9th by G. P. Putnam’s Sons and has received fairly high praise from what I’ve seen.  I try not to look at reviews until I’ve formed my initial opinions, so I picked it up solely based on the cover and the blurb.  Let’s get on with the review.

I really like the tree, but there’s no tree in the story unless you look at it as a family tree or the tree of life or whatever.

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin follows the Gold siblings on their journeys through life.  What’s so special about them?  Well, it all starts when they go to a seer who takes them into her apartment one by one and tells them the date of their deaths.  After that, the book is divided into four sections (one for each sibling) that reveals how they choose to live in spite of or because of having this information.

We start off with Simon, the youngest, who drops out of high school and moves to San Francisco in the late ’70s with his sister Klara, the only family member who knows he’s gay.  He leaves behind a life where he’s expected to take over the family business and take care of his mother after his father’s death, a life he knows will make him miserable.  He chooses to live the life he wants.  And despite the way he dies, he’s happy at the end.

From there, things get progressively more depressing.  Klara has always been the oddball of the family, wanting to be a magician and living in a world in her head where anything is possible, even overcoming death by dying.  Daniel let’s his rage fester until it drives him to hunt down the seer as someone to blame for all of the death he’s had to deal with.  And Varya spends so much time trying not to die that she forgets to live.

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A good summary of my thoughts as I read this book.

All in all, I really enjoyed the story and the characters.  My only complaints with the book come from more of a writerly point of view than a readerly one.  For instance, there was a ton of telling in this book.  Instead of showing me the places that were important to the characters, it was as if the author wanted to cram in as many place names as possible.  As someone who isn’t from New York or California, many of the places were unfamiliar to me and felt like filler.  Instead of telling me every single club Simon went to or Klara performed at, it would’ve been nice to get a more in-depth view of those two characters.  Their arcs felt really rushed whereas Daniel’s and Varya’s felt dragged out.

Another thing I noticed was that the story seemed to randomly change between present and past tense.  It didn’t detract from the story, but it was something I noticed.  I’d go back to try to figure out why the shifts occurred and, a lot of the time, I’d find no real reason for it.  Couple that with random changes in character points of view (Mom taking over a scene in Klara’s section, the niece taking over part of Varya’s section, etc.), and it made for some awkward reading moments.

Me trying to figure out the tense and POV.

Ultimately, I enjoyed the book and am happy I bought it.  It’s a quick read.  It only took me about six days to finish it (I’m a super slow reader).  Despite my issues with it, I thought it was a nice reading experience.

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Overall, I’d give it 4 out of 5 stars.  If you’re into slice of life stories or literary fiction with a hint of magical realism, I’d definitely recommend picking it up.

Seven Things I Believe: Then And Now

Howdy, howdy!  I was cleaning out the notes on my phone yesterday, when I came across something from one of my workshops at Stonecoast.  This particular group was led by the lovely Theodora Goss.  Just about every day, she would send us off with questions to think about and we’d discuss our answers the following day after we finished our critiques.  One day, she asked us to list seven things we believe.  There were no guidelines beyond this, so things went in a lot of different directions from what I remember.  Anyway, I thought I would share my old list and make a new one.

It’s just a pretty picture.

The old (2014) version, in no particular order:

1. I believe music keeps me sane while inspiring me.

2. I believe growing up and acting your age are scams created by people who are jealous of the young at heart.

3. I believe in priorities: food, sleep, and eye candy.

4. I believe life is too short to be serious all the time.

5. I believe family is more than blood.  It’s the people who love you and keep you around because of your flaws.

6. I believe coffee and booze were created to be mixed together.

7. I believe the angels punted my soul into the wrong body at birth.  I should’ve been Japanese.

I just found this, so I thought I’d put it here and save it for later.

As you can see, I wasn’t very good at the whole introspection thing back then.  Spoiler alert: I’m still not.  I still completely believe in all of those things, especially the boozy coffee one.  But I thought I would give it another go now that I’ve graduated and have no one to ask me these weird questions anymore.

Here’s the new (2018) version, also in no particular order:

1. I believe there is more than one way to be a professional writer.  As long as you get words on the page and out into the world, it doesn’t matter if you write every day or not.  Find your own rhythm.

2. I believe binge watching anime (or whatever makes you happy) is good for the soul and cleanses the mind.  Not every day, but once every couple of months, just to give yourself a break from reality.

3. I believe puppy kisses have magical powers to perk people up.

4. I believe it’s important to surround yourself with people who have different viewpoints/backgrounds than you.  Along with the understanding that we don’t always have to agree, but that we can have civil discussions if we put in a little effort.

5. I believe in a thing called love!  Please tell me I’m not the only one who remembers that song.

6. I believe it’s perfectly reasonable to buy a book just because the cover is pretty.

7. I believe in myself.  This is not something that even crossed my mind when I was originally asked to list things I believed.  Despite all the rejection and failure, I’m finally at a place where I can say that I believe in me.  I will succeed.  Eventually.  At something.

Yeah.  That song by that guy.

There you go.  Seven things I believed back then and seven more from now.  What are seven things you believe?  Feel free to leave your list here or on my social media pages!

Love Is All You Need

Howdy, howdy!  Happy Valentine’s day!  Or Singles Awareness day, or VD day, or Chocolate Appreciation day, or Wednesday, or whatever.  Since it’s a special, lovey-dovey day and I’m sitting over here all single, I thought I would take a moment to treat myself.  I know I’ve said it before, but self-care really is important.  And I’ve kind of been neglecting myself lately.  Sure, I’ve been playing my mindless games, but Sunday was the first time I’ve watched anime in at least a month, probably closer to two.  I can’t even remember the last time I read manga.  Honestly, I’ve just been a bit blah towards everything lately.  I need to change that.

Sounds like a good plan to me.

So, after I write my words, I think I’m going to take the day off from my usual routine.  I won’t worry about reading the things I’m supposed to be reading.  I might even put writing on the novel to the side and write a random flash fiction piece or something.  Instead of worrying about my goals, I’ll write whatever I feel like writing.  But I’m coming up to a good part on the novel, so it’ll probably be that (I’m boring, I know).  Then, who knows where the day will take me.

I might rewatch some Ouran High School Host Club.  That’s about as close to romantic as I get, and it’s mostly because I adore the twins.  There’s also Yuri on Ice.  I could probably rewatch all of those episodes if I don’t procrastinate on my writing.  Maybe I’ll just find something completely new to binge watch.  On the other hand, I still haven’t finished rewatching Cardcaptor Sakura, which means I haven’t had a chance to watch the new episodes either.  I was super excited when I first heard about the new episodes, but I even got blah over that.  Shame on me.

I totally squee-ed a little the first time I saw this, so I’m not too far down the blah road.

Then again, I might not watch any anime.  I might decide to read some manga instead.  I’m so far behind on it all that no matter what I choose to read, I’ll have to start over again.  I could always just stick with some old favorites.  It has been a few years since I reread Angel Sanctuary.  That’s always super fun.  There are a couple of other titles I’ve been thinking about recently too, so I might try them again.  Who knows?

This gets all the d’awwws!  By Paluumin.

The point is, I’m actually starting to miss some of the things that used to entertain me.  What better day to get back to some old loves than Valentine’s day?  What are your plans for the day?  I know it’s a Wednesday, so many of you are probably working, but do you have any tiny (or huge) plans to pamper yourself or your loved one(s)?  Feel free to comment here or on my social media pages.  Even if you don’t like the holiday, I hope you have a wonderful day full of all kinds of good things!

Goals Vs. Allergies: The Struggle Is Real

Howdy, howdy!  Welcome to February.  Today, I want to share my goals for the month, but I also want to talk about allergies.  Down here in Texas, the trees are getting ready for spring by spewing pollen everywhere.  Depending on which way the wind’s blowing and which trees are shaking off their dust, this can create a miserable environment for people with allergies.  People like me.  Which, in turn, makes completing goals hard.  So, along with my goals, I’ll talk about how I work them around the worst of my allergy days.

Pretty picture.

So, here are my goals:

1. Finish DS1’s shitty first draft.  Writing in general is super hard when your head feels like it’s going to explode and your mucus can’t decide if it wants to hole up in your sinuses or pour all over your face (spoiler: it decides to do both).  Sure, you can take a bunch of allergy meds and hope they don’t knock you out before you get your words done, but we both know that won’t work.  Instead, I try to make sure I work as much as possible on the days I feel okay, so that I don’t feel too guilty for slacking on the days I feel like crap.  That’s really all we can do to get the writing goals done during allergy season.

2. Submit stuff 8 times (2 every Monday).  This is the kind of thing I do regardless of whether allergies are kicking my ass or not.  My cover letter is already written and my manuscript is properly formatted.  All I have to do is double check submission guidelines, make any formatting tweaks, and send stuff out.  It doesn’t take much energy or time, so if I’m feeling really bad, I can put it off until the initial medication drowsiness has faded.

Just add some snot and drool and it’s close enough.

3. Write 1 flash piece OR short story.  For those days you feel good enough to write but don’t have the brain function to focus on your novel.  I don’t know about the rest of you, but sometimes I just need something quick to distract me from all the plot lines I have to keep straight in the novels.  Especially when my brain already feels fuzzy from allergies.

4. Read 2 books.  I tend to save reading for the days when I just can’t bring myself to write, but feel like I should be doing something productive.  If  it gets too hard to focus, I can always switch to Netflix.

5. Make time for people/leaving the house.  I’m always bad at this whether allergies are involved or not.  But I do have a tendency to say yes to leaving the house (running errands with Dad) when I don’t feel up to writing.  It makes me feel productive in a different way and I don’t have to worry about the allergies making my words come out weird.

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It really is.

Those are my goals for February.  I figure it’s easier to stick to a few just in case my allergies get evil.  What are some of your goals this month?  How do you work around your allergies?  Or do you prefer to push through them?


Howdy, howdy!  It’s the last Wednesday in January, which means it’s time for another book review.  This time, I decided to go for something I wouldn’t usually pick up.  It’s called The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen, and was released on January 9th.  It received a lot of hype and a friend recommended it to me as she had also been able to pick up an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC).  Yes, I got another ARC from NetGalley, so I must thank them and St. Martin’s Press for allowing me access to the book in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.  Let’s get to the reason you’re here now!


The Wife Between Us is a domestic suspense novel that follows a woman, Vanessa, as she stalks her ex-husband’s (Richard’s) new fiancé and tries to prevent their marriage.  Sounds simple enough, right?  It’s not.  The blurb on the book tells us all the things we’re supposed to assume as we’re reading, then tells us to assume nothing.  That was a huge red flag for me, basically saying “hey this book is going to be convoluted and annoying!”  But I chose to read it anyway.

I admit that by the end of Part One, I was really disappointed.  I had figured out the big reveal within the first few chapters and kept telling myself I couldn’t have guessed it that easily.  The book promised twists and turns and unimaginable things.  So, when I turned out to be on the right track, the book became less fun, because the “aha” moments became “yeah, and?” moments.  Part Two was a little better with the twists, but it was still pretty easy to decipher what was going to happen.  Though, I admit that the last big reveal was something I didn’t see coming.  But at that point, I had stopped caring about the characters I was supposed to care about.  I mostly wanted to know what was going on with Richard and his sister (the one connection the authors didn’t over-explain).  That was the creepiest relationship in the whole book.

Pretty sure that was the face I was making the whole time.

Even though I mostly figured things out ahead of time, I admit that it was a fun, quick read.  The writing style was able to draw me in and the conversational tone allowed me to stop and let the narrator know she was being an idiot (yes, I talk to other people’s characters too) without interrupting my reading flow.  So, I’m not say it was bad, just predictable.

The major thing that I didn’t care for about the book was that it felt like two different stories mashed together.  It was as if one author wanted to write about a woman escaping an abusive relationship while trying to prevent her ex from abusing anyone else (a good premise), and the other author wanted to write about a woman whose mistakes in college haunted her the rest of her life (another good premise).  But, instead of trimming things away to make a nice, cohesive story, they just stuck everything together and hoped it worked.  Most of the time, it was okay, but there were parts that I kept looking at and asking myself what the point was.

Not an uncommon reaction while reading this.

Ultimately, The Wife Between Us was an okay book.  I’m not upset I read it or anything, but I’m not going to rush out and look for everything else by these two authors.  It simply wasn’t my cup of tea for the reasons listed here.

starstarstarstar outlinestar outline

Overall, I’d rate it a 3 out of 5.  If you’re into books like that, you will probably love it.  If you’re not, skipping it isn’t going to hurt your reading list.