I came across two articles this week which had me doing what I always tend to do – stepping back to analyze, search for connections, and find the bigger picture. At first glance, these two articles are about completely different topics. Together though, they have interesting implications.
The first is an article over at The Guardian hailing the self-pub mega-sellers and their ability to cash in on markets once dominated by trad pub. It’s been circulated widely throughout self pub circles in a highly positive light – as it should be. There are some seriously talented writers out there who have also learned how to grab a complicated and fickle business by the horns and tame it to their will.
That is a feat worthy of an epic. A renaissance for publishing. How can any of this possibly spell doom and misfortune?
The single quote that stood out for me most was this:
“For an industry that is supposedly the playground for risk takers, it is a sad thought that self-publishing may in the future be dictated by the same thinking that drives the traditional publishers: prioritising risk avoidance over experimental and unique writing, always scrambling to keep up with rivals by pumping out imitations of every “surprise” success: Gone Girl, Fifty Shades, The Da Vinci Code and The Girl on the Train.”
If you’ve been following along on my sporadic blog posts, you’ll know I fully agree with this sentiment. Why go around the gatekeeper only to lock yourself in the same pen?
I realize at this point many are going to dismiss this as literary snobbery. But I hold no grudge against anyone who chases after the market. It makes perfect sense and is about the only way you can call this grind of rejection and fleeting success into a pay-the-bills career.
As I talked about in my last post, there’s been a big push toward this very thing in the speculative fiction markets in particular. Self-pub writers are laser-targeting markets and churning out books faster and faster in an attempt to stay relevant in both the minds of readers and in eyes of the mystical Amazon algorithm.
Everyone wants to share in the same success as the authors profiled in the Guardian piece. Millions of books sold. Buying houses with cash. I absolutely would not turn that down.
But then there’s this article from the MIT Technology Review: Experts Predict When Artificial Intelligence Will Exceed Human Performance. In it, they predict an AI will pen a NY Times Bestseller in less than 40 years.
Yes, I know, these are predictions. Prophesy. There’s no reason to believe they’ll ever come to pass. But it was just last year a Japanese AI passed the first rounds of judging for a literary prize. So is it that far-fetched?
If this is even a remote possibility, and I believe it is, the first to fall will be formulaic fiction. It’s this type of story which is most conducive for humans to hammer out on their keyboards in a few weeks. Establish a few guidelines, make an algorithm, maybe even one which Amazon itself creates using it’s proprietary data to predict market trends, and then set the processors loose.
You’ll never write faster than they can.