The publishing industry is reeling today after news broke this morning about Kindle Author, Amazon's new service that generates high-quality fiction using complex software algorithms.
It’s like Build-A-Bear for ebooks. The reader tells Kindle Author what they want in a story, and then Kindle Author automatically generates the book .
In this post, I’ll explain how Kindle Author works and I'll share never-before-seen screenshots of the service. I’ll explain the science that made this breakthrough possible, and then I'll wrap by discussing what this means for Smashwords authors and the future of publishing.
How Kindle Author WorksKindle Author is a new option for purchasing ebooks in the Kindle store. It's receiving heavy promotion on the Amazon home page, which tells me Amazon is making the service a strategic priority for their business.
|Amazon has modified all book listings pages to discourage|
customers from purchasing real books. Click image to enlarge.
At left I show how Amazon modified the book listing page for Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James. “Don’t want this book?" asks Amazon front and center on the page. "Build your own for free with Kindle Author!"
Amazon's overt move to redirect customers from human-authored books to machine-generated books is unprecedented, but it's not a huge surprise considering how other Amazon-exclusive books already receive preferential merchandising in their store.
When Amazon launched their ebook subscription service Kindle Unlimited, they modified their book listings pages to encourage readers to obtain the book for free as part of a Kindle Unlimited subscription rather than purchasing a regular copy. If the customer obtains the Kindle Unlimited version of a book, Amazon pays the author a lower royalty. Good for Amazon and its customers, but not so great for authors and publishers.
Once the customer clicks to Kindle Author, they're presented with a simple point and click interface of pull-down menus and radio buttons. It's quite easy to use. It's even fun. It’s like color by numbers, but with words.
A reader can tell Kindle Author, for example, they want to read a medieval epic fantasy of two million words that involves kings, queens, princesses, swordplay, intrigue, castles, a sexy young mother of dragons, and a stainless steel throne made out of spoons and forks.
Look out, George R.R. Martin. Game of Thrones has met its match.
Kindle Author gives readers the option of having the book written in the style of their favorite authors. That’s right, if you want your paranormal romance written in the style of Ernest Hemingway, Jack Kerouac or Jane Austen, it’s yours with the the click of a button.
You can even choose to have public domain books rewritten in the style of other authors, or in a style that blends multiple authors.
With thousands of user-configurable options, it’s unlikely any two readers would ever select the exact same combination of story options. To prevent this from happening, Amazon built in creative story randomness so that two ordered stories derived from the same characteristics will be different. No two Kindle Author books will ever be the same.
Once the reader makes final selections, Kindle Author compiles an intricate, well crafted, original full-length novel in an instant. It takes between ten seconds and two minutes for the story to appear on your Kindle, depending on length and complexity, but who’s counting. It's lightning fast.
The Disruptive Business Model Behind Kindle AuthorKindle Author is free to readers who use it to generate their next read. Each reader-generated Kindle Author book is automatically published into the Kindle store priced at $.99, and the reader is credited as the author and earns royalties of five cents per download whenever anyone else reads the book. All Kindle Author books remain exclusive to the Kindle store.
I think we're witnessing the future of authorship.
Soon, tens of millions of readers will begin publishing billions of high-quality, low-cost books written in the styles of the greatest authors of all time (and the greatest indie Smashwords authors too!). The more readers read, the more they’ll publish and earn. Lazy readers who don’t want to configure their made-to-order custom books can read Kindle Author books produced by other readers for $.99 each, or they can read them free as part of an Amazon Prime or Kindle Unlimited subscription.
Books generated by Kindle Author are almost pure profit for Amazon. It costs nothing to produce each ebook, and the five cent per copy royalty to the Kindle Author reader is covered from Amazon Prime and Kindle Unlimited subscription fees, not to mention profits from Amazon’s other diversified lines of business.
After playing with Kindle Author, I’m blown away by the quality of the produced work. I must admit I really like it, even though it's horrible news for human authors everywhere.
Judging from early customer reaction, I'm not alone in my enthusiasm for Kindle Author.
It won't be long before we hear talk of Kindle Author millionaires - those readers who configure and create the new bestsellers of tomorrow. Or today. It's already happening. At this very moment, ninety-eight of the top 100 bestselling books at Amazon are Kindle Author books, and the books are earning five star reviews on average.
Here are a couple reviews that caught my eye:
“I ordered a paranormal steampunk thriller featuring alien mongooses, blimps, trains and a Victorian clockmaker. I was hooked from the first sentence and stayed up all night until I finished the last page. Thank you Jeff Bezos. I love you!!!”
“When I first heard of Kindle Author, I was skeptical. I thought it was impossible for a machine to reproduce the creative magic of my favorite authors. Boy, was I wrong. Now that I’ve read books *I* created with Kindle Author, I’m never going to buy another novel written by a human. Human novels are so banal and tired compared to the mind-blowing experience of a Kindle Author book. I don’t know how Amazon did it. You need to try it to believe it!”
The Publishing Industry ReactsThe publishing industry, as you might imagine, is horrified by Kindle Author. For authors and publishers alike, Kindle Author is what the post-authorial apocalypse looks like.
Several publishers are considering a class action lawsuit against Amazon.
The US Department of Justice has launched a preliminary investigation into Kindle Author on the grounds it may be anti-competitive, though legal experts expect the DOJ to side with Amazon since Kindle Author essentially pays readers to read books. If the government can't prove consumers are harmed, they won't have a case.
For many authors and publishers, news of Kindle Author confirms the industry’s worst fear that Amazon is on a mission to commoditize books and turn authors and publishers into tenant farmers tilling Amazon soil. Now Amazon is cutting out the author - the ultimate middleman - by making the reader the author.
But not all industry participants are so pessimistic. At least two authors are excited by how Kindle Author will improve publishing.
|Author avatar for Hew Howling|
Critics of Kindle Author should stop their incessant whining. I celebrate Amazon for this innovation. Kindle Author drives a stake through the hearts of the tyrannical, gatekeeping, legacy publishing dinosaur blood-suckers in New York. This is what publishers deserve for over-pricing their ebooks, underpaying authors and for believing publishers - not Amazon - should set ebook prices. I commend Amazon for bringing customers the highest-quality ebooks at the lowest possible price. Rather than attacking Amazon, Amazon’s competitors should innovate like Amazon. If publisher books are so incredible, they can beat Amazon by paying readers to read their books, just like Amazon is doing now.
Joe Dothraki, a popular thriller writer I respect, and an outspoken advocate for self publishing, had this to say on his blog, The Newbies Guide to Amazon:
“Kindle Author is f****** awesome. It will crimp my earnings in the short run, but business is business and this isn't a game for wimps. Read the writing on the walls, folks. First cave painters were replaced by monk scribes, then monk scribes were replaced by publishers, then publishers were replaced by indie authors, and now authors are replaced by readers. As legacy authors, we need to evolve with the times by repositioning ourselves as readers. I’m going to start reading more books than ever thanks to Kindle Author. Kindle Author will increase my publication output to at least 30 titles per month. That's 360 titles a year I'll be releasing. For the first time ever, Amazon has made reading more profitable than writing. Thank you, Amazon!”
The Science Behind Kindle AuthorRegardless of how you feel about Kindle Author’s impact on the publishing industry, it’s difficult to not feel smitten by the science behind this important advance in artificial creativity.
The story behind how Amazon made this happen is fascinating, and it all starts with the human brain.
Our brains are comprised of about 80 billion neurons, and these neurons transmit electrical impulses. Neurons in the human brain connect via synapses to form a vast neural network. It’s from the complex interplay of these electrical impulses that humans gain consciousness, memories, desires, creativity, the biological wherewithal to breathe and reproduce, and the desire to read and write great stories.
Amazon, which operates the infrastructure that powers a lot of the Internet already, realized the human brain is simply a massive computer network made up of these billions of neural nodes and trillions of synaptic connections. When viewed in this light, it's not such a leap for Amazon to create a computer network that mimics the neurological processes associated with creativity in the human brain.
Jeff Bezos Challenges Amazon Engineers to Reinvent Books
Jeff Bezos gave his researchers an audacious challenge: If DNA contains the genetic building blocks of information that allow a living organism to function, grow and reproduce, then why can’t we decode the DNA of story-making? Why can’t we give birth to unique books that are every bit as diverse, interesting and mind-blowing as human beings themselves? Let's not just equal the quality of human-written books – let's create better and cheaper books. Let's reinvent books!
With that mandate, and operating the secret project under the code name of Project Elysium, Amazon’s researchers embarked on an ambitious project to deconstruct and map the genome of stories.
Prior to today’s announcement, many scientists believed it was impossible for computers to create aesthetically pleasing literature. Stories require massive complexity and nuance. But like all complex problems, once you break the problem down into smaller pieces, the challenge becomes solvable. And this is what Amazon did.
Their next challenge was to teach the neural network the logic and illogic of human artistic creativity, and how to string words into stories that please readers.
Amazon’s researchers started by deconstructing the book into its essential components. Leveraging their massive catalog of over five million titles, Amazon applied algorithmic spiders to scan and analyze the words of all the books.
Next Amazon hired thousands of underemployed English majors and MFA graduates who worked from home over the Internet. These temporary workers were required to sign non-disclosure and non-compete agreements and agreed to not work in any writing field for at least 48 months. This secrecy explains why rumors of Project Elysium never leaked to the press. To further ensure secrecy, team members worked solo and only interfaced with their handlers operating out of call centers in India staffed by biomechanical engineers, software programmers, behavioral psychologists, endocrinologists, and mathematicians. Workers were never told the ultimate end-purpose of their work.
Amazon divided the literary workers into multiple groups, each tasked with exploring a different aspect of the book genome.
One group was tasked with mapping the sentence structures of 20,000 bestselling books and 5,000 cultural classics. Using computer-assisted cloud-based tools, the workers diagrammed the structure of each sentence of every book in excruciating detail down to the subjects, predicates, nouns, pronouns, participles, gerunds, infinitives, passive and active verbs, adjectives, interjections and adverbs, compound subjunctives, and reverse triple superlatives. I'm an author and I don't even know what all these things are.
Another team analyzed the plots and subplots of each book, tagging each sentence's location and role within the overall plot structure.
Yet another team mapped the story’s tension, sentence by sentence and paragraph by paragraph.
Another team mapped the evolution of each character's relationships with the other characters, and each character's backstory sentence by sentence.
Another team identified the 2,000 most common plots and subplot variations found in popular and literary fiction.
And another team documented and mapped story arcs, and tied key points in each major and minor arc back to the text locations.
Several thousand linguistic experts studied the words, patterns and rules of each book that served as the connective tissue to string words into coherent sentences, and sentences into paragraphs, sections and stories. A team of mathematicians translated these rules into algorithmic equations that would enable the automated production of original books.
From this complex and multi-layered analysis began to emerge the basic building blocks of what makes a story a story.
But missing from the analysis was an understanding of the mechanics of successful storytelling. What makes a story a great story from the reader's point of view? How does a story gain spirit? Where does reading pleasure come from? For this, Amazon needed live human subjects, and they had millions of unwitting readers at their disposal in the form of Kindle owners.
Starting in early 2012, and unknown until today, Amazon secretly installed sensors around the edges of all Kindle devices. These sensors capture the reader's temperature, heart rate, perspiration rates, blood pressure, vasodilation, and neuro-electric signals in real time, and then Amazon used these factors as biomarkers to monitor the reader’s emotional state. With this data, they could identify when the brain released endorphins, the "feel good" chemical in the brain. Amazon then mapped these emotional markers to specific page and sentence locations in the book, and then cross-correlated the hormonal responses across the same trigger points in millions of other books.
From this massive store of data, they were able to identify words, sentence structures, patterns, pacing, story lines, plots, and character interplay required to deliver massive endorphin releases to the reader's brain. If this sounds like Amazon was aiming to create the books that act on the brain like heroin (and are equally addictive), you're right.
Leveraging the predictive patterns they discovered, Amazon created software capable of generating imaginative and original reader-pleasing books featuring fully realized characters and story lines.
It’s quite unbelievable how scientists, mathematicians, programmers, and English lit majors joined together to create better, cheaper, more addictive books.
What’s also interesting to me is every book’s creator – the reader – brings a different background, purchase history, and Kindle Author configuration, and this in turn shapes the characters Kindle Author creates for the book. These characters aren’t two dimensional stick figures. Instead, they’re multidimensional and always unique. It's like they're truly alive.
Just as the stories of our own lives are shaped by the chance and random interpersonal interactions we have with other people we meet, the characters and story lines of Kindle Author books are shaped by the interplay of the story’s unique characters. Not even the masterminds behind Kindle Author know how the story will end until their algorithms crank out the last word and period.
Traditional authorship feels quaint by comparison. Will writers ever want to write another book when their works will fall so short of the new perfection? Or will writers begin using Kindle Author as a tool to amplify their true potential? Only time will tell.
The final thing I find difficult to believe is that I chose April 1st to share this unbelievable news with you.
Here are my previous April 1st blog posts from prior years. Enjoy!
2013: New Smashwords WEED Service Treats Common Author Ailments
2011: Smashwords Acquires Amazon, New Company Called Smashazon
2009: JK Rowling Publishes Harry Potter Ebooks at Smashwords
Do you know a live human writer who's not yet publishing at Smashwords? Invite them to join with over 100,000 writers and publishers around the globe who publish and distribute ebooks with Smashwords. Click here to learn how to get started. It's free!
Living in Thailand, this had me for a while. I was just reading the first couple paragraphs when I realized what day it is for the USA. Wow. I was just ready to go pull the last 4 books I have at Amazon... lol. Good one. You put heaps of energy into that post!
Thanks, Vern, glad you enjoyed it! It was fun to imagine the worst nightmare of every author and publisher.
ZOMG, that was hilarious! Still grinning and snort-laughing :)
Now that was funny, you had me until I got to the pseudo names for Howey and Konrath, it was then I realized this has got to be a joke. Thankfully it is as there for a moment I was thinking "I've been replaced by a machine, what the hell am I gonna do now?"
Too good not to share.
You got me!!!
I've been waiting for something like this to come along form the "Master of the Universe". Certainly no surprise that Amazon would choose E.L. James' literary masterpiece to promote their bot written trash. They should know that no bot could ever compete with the brilliant use of adverbs and trite prose.
Fie on you, Amazon
I just wonder about the guy with a heart condition who had to pop a nitro pill before he/she got it. Too bad trust has to suffer as the result of a 'good' practical joke.
Yeouch! You had me going there - right up until the bit about the secret Kindle sensors. Still laughing as I type this. I think it fooled me for so long because it was written in such an earnest, plausible and extensive sort of way. You know what? You really should publish this!
Oh you Be-otch!
Good one! :)
"Laugh like Jeff Bezos" I found very chilling. And for some reason got all excited by a reincarnated Ted Cruz's gal blader/bladder. Still not sure it's a joke!
Brilliant. I must admit you had me going for a bit--what does that say about you, me and Amazon?!? Thank you for a good laugh on this April Fool's Day morning.
Wow! You had me from beginning to end! I have a new book coming out soon and I'm thinking, "Noooooo!" Thanks for the most imaginative read I've experienced in a long time! :)
You almost had me, especially since I've been out of the news loop a few days at a expensive writers conference!
Left me laughing. Great one, Mark!
OMG!!! You almost had me until you quoted Hugh Howey and Joe Konrath in their spoof-forms!!! April Fools! What a great satire :-)
This is absolutely the best April Fools posting I've seen.
Just be careful about what you joke about. Someone may take what you say seriously and create just such a scheme. And given the quality of some writing I've seen, it just might succeed.
--Mike Perry, co-author of Lily's Ride
Dear Mark Coker, you dear sweet stinker (said with affection), my blood pressure must have gone up at least ten points. I almost forwarded this blog to my writing friends, until I finished reading it, and suddenly it dawned on me that its April Fool's Day. Easy, sir, you liable to give some simple author a nervous breakdown. :-) <3
All right, Mark. You had me for about four paragraphs, then I scrolled to the bottom because I knew what day it was. Ha! You only caught me for a while. :-)
You totally got me!!
Ha ha, very funny. And to think, I wore green today so this kind of thing wouldn't happen.
Probably the best April Fools stunt since the Spaghetti tree report by the BBC back in the Black and White days here in the UK, had me going for a moment or three.
You had me for about a quarter of the way through, and then I thought, No, this is an April Fool joke and I scrolled to end to verify it. I was very relieved! LOL
Well done. I felt horrified, disgusted and worried, right until the paragraph about sensors fitted to Kindle devices. I'm glad I read it until the end before taking a sledge hammer to my computer.
Clever, Mark! I got it as soon as I saw that Amazon was redirecting customers away from books and to this program. But you must have put a lot of work into your joke.
Too funny! I almost panicked at the first paragraph, then remembered what day it is.
Reblogged this! Spreading the word--great catch, Mark! To arms, everyone. To arms!
OMG. I only had 5 hours' sleep last night and woke up to this. I went from feeling sick to wondering if I could use this to write my books so I could get more sleep. :) It was so well-written that, despite the April Fool's warning at the top, I wondered if it really was true.
I just hope you haven't given Amazon ideas...
You are wicked Mark, you had me going at first. Then the penny dropped. A much better April fool joke than some others I have seen. Let's hope you haven't given Jeff Bezos any ideas!
Yeah, you got me good, too! Before reading the whole post I went in search of the kindle author icon on Fifty Shades, my page, etc. I only hope you haven't given Amazon an idea. lol
Confession time ... this had me going until the concept of "sensors on the Kindle" was introduced i.e. near the end. Good job, Mark. PS You are not so far off though, as there already is an algorithm that does generate tacky text called the "fifty shades text generator" (found xwray dot com slash fiftyshades) and sadly it was not introduced on April 1st.
You had me completely until you mentioned the bestseller list. Really great post, actually got me thinking, is this a good thing? Is it a bad thing? What do I feel about it. And after realising the joke, I started wondering, when,oh when will this be non-1st-April news...
As authors, we're never going to be able to compete with this.
Unless we undersell ourselves.
I'm going to launch a new service where I will write your novel for just $5.
Just send me your title, two keywords, and the word count you want, and I'm your huckleberry.
Thanks, Mark, for bringing this to our attention. Sobering stuff. And I hate sobriety.
You are so bad. I spat my coffee all over my screen, Mark, when I got to the names for Hugh and Joe.
I admit. Was caught by this. I watch tv series which produce the same story, barely modified, week after week, and so few seem to realise it or complain.
So the idea the a computer programme could spit out fodder for the masses did not seem that implausible as I read it. ....
LOL!!! Well done ;-D Scarily plausible. Love the quotes from "Hew Howling" and "Joe Dokrathi"
OMG. I got suspicious when I saw the spelling of the well known indie author's mixed up. However, now you've given Amazon the idea............
Now that's an April Fool's joke. :)
See, I believed everything you said *sigh*
OMG! I was totally freaked out by this post. I hope that never happens.
I laughed myself silly, Mark. You're a genius!
LMFAO! You got me!!!! I was seriously into it.....
You got me...Thanks for the heart attack! Thought my career was over. LOL
On a good note, you gave me some fodder for a futuristic romance...lol
OMG! That was so mean and hilarious at the same time. I panicked for a quick second.
You brilliant bastid. OMG. I'm laughing and throwing up a little in my mouth at the same time. Kudos.
I knew it must be an April Fool's joke. Too fantastical. On the other hand, I wish you hadn't put this in anyone's mind. On the other hand, I wanted to try it. Except that I'm a writer and well, Yikes! Well done, Mark.
I was fooled for about a third of the story. Then I realised it was April 1st. Nice one Jeff.
Okay. My heart stopped. Until I realized I was reading this on April Fools' day. What a great gag! But you know what they say: "If man can imagine it, it can be done." Maybe you should try to get a start on this before Amazon picks up the post?
I am really upset that Mark has posted about this so-called new Amazon service. I have been using it for over a year and have made a lot of money. It saves me the agony of writing and I let my favorite robot(Robbie) do all the work for me. Shame on you, Mark, for trying to destroy my source of income. Note: so far I am the only one using this author service.
Signed: Pally Newman
I wish i had read to the end of this blog post before i burnt down amazon hq! Very funny, i was gullible enough but i have been awake for nearly 24hrs. I only hope they do not see this or they will have their tech team working through the night to make it so!
Of course i had just ordered my Dr Suess bible.
I was outraged and ready to toss my Kindle when I read about Amazon using secret sensors! OMG you totally got me!
Mark, you're brilliant.
I still believe this even now that I realize what day it is.
The mad, creative AI, wasn't that the premise of Gibson's Neuromancer?
Brilliant! At first I am horrified. Halfway through I am thinking maybe this isn't such a bad idea. Pity the will I wrote yesterday giving my good friend all my rights is now worthless. By the end when I remember it is one of those terrestrial bad habits called April Fools Day, I don't want to believe it. In fact, I don't. You're just softening us up for the bad news, by this time next year machines will be better at everything.
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!! The saddest part is even while I thought "This would be horrible" part f me thought "But it would be fun to play with" LOL!
When I first started the post, I wondered is this for real? Then I thought: Wait a minute. No. It's April Fool's Day.
You can't fool a woman whose wedding anniversary is April Fool's Day!
Not being familiar with your previous April Fool's posts you had me going for a while. Only problem is, you just gave Jeff Bezos an idea you'll be writing about for real in about 3 years.
That is a terrifyingly good science fiction type of prank. Wow.
Brilliant post. But the scarier thoughts is that these are all possible.
You will be laughing out the other side of the pen when someone makes this a reality...Come on they make body parts on printers these days...can this technology be so far behind? Think Star Trek and all the things that were "predicted" on that show...you have opened Pandora's Box with this post Mark Coker and I, for one, can't wait to see who picks up the baton and runs with it making this nightmare a reality...
If you were sitting close to me I would dump a bucket of ice water over your head and squirt you with a whole bottle of mustard.
It was funny, though. I went to Amazon and started checking it out.
I was already to bish my keyboard across the room ... forgot it was April 1 in the States when we are April 2 downunder ... but isn't this the fear of all authors?
I'm such a sucker! Thanks for the heart-stopping laugh.
This is not as far fetched as you might believe. In the last year, I saw an article about AI based software that was writing high quality books. Cost was 20,000 a copy for the software. Several big companies were testing for writing some of their white papers. A novel is a kind of white paper. (this is not a 4/1) joke.
Oh my goodness! You nearly gave me a heart attack! (And now I'm afraid that this will become TRUTH not FICTION in the near future...)
But, no! I was doing this in my basement, although at a much slower pace.
I'm the owner of Clean Reads and I have to admit...I peed a little. However, I'm not very happy that you gave Amazon ideas now...
Oh my stars, I nearly had a heart attack! It didn't click till I saw Hugh Howey's name misspelled. Brilliant!
Had me going too for while and because it was already the 2nd of April here in Australia when the blog arrived in my inbox it took me a while to realise that it was 1 April in the US. Still laughing thinking about it all. Brilliantly done.
Nice one Marc. I knew it was April Fool's, but darned if I didn't Google it. Eventually, Robots will be writing stories, if they are not already.
What a fun joke and brilliant criticism of Kindle Unlimited and its supporters.
Good one. You had me right up to the point you said you thought were witnessing the future of authorship. Thanks for a great start to my day.
Thanks everyone for being such great sports today. I appreciate the comments here and elsewhere as well as the many private messages I received. This post touched a lot of nerves today, including my own. I'm glad most of you came to appreciate it as the satire that it is. My apologies to anyone who experienced this as a War of the Worlds moment. For the next 364 days we'll return to our regularly schedule programming of non fiction.
I updated the headline and the start of the story so future readers are warned to read it as satire. No more fooling! Thanks all.
Mark Coker! You naughty man! Next time you're in Sydney, remind me to hit you over the head :) You really had me going!
You had my heart in my throat. The more I read the more I exclaimed, "I can't believe this! I can't believe this!" I was sooo relieved when I reached the end of the article and realized it was only a nightmare with no substance...so far.
I would like to offer my two cents here. I would like to offer that, for authors who aren't enslaved to the industrial model of production, any such program that creates novels wouldn't be a threat, and would, in fact, be welcomed. I know I would welcome it with open arms; so would my partner.
But we are in a tiny minority. We don't write for popularity, for clicks, for cash, for fame, or for glory. The vast majority of authors do. Like modern-day pop music artists, they compose, if you can call it that, to a tried-and-true formula. They concern themselves not with the art of writing, with its soul, with their own unique individuality, with the Muse (or whatever they may call that little voice inside their head, if indeed they have one; indeed, assuming they haven't destroyed it utterly), but with the business of selling, with increasing their SEO, with social media, with yelling to the masses as loud as they can via any and all channels, with Amazon's latest corporate outrage, with contests, with "making first impressions," with converting files to various formats, and on and on ad nauseam.
Don't believe me? Pop by any self-publishing blog or "community" and look for yourself. I took several of those examples above directly from the top of one such community on G+. Go check it out for yourself: https://plus.google.com/u/0/communities/106426489682108553998
The vast majority of authors, if they were at all honest, would rate the art of writing well down the list of priorities, if it appears on that list at all. Then again, honesty wouldn't be very high on that list either, so I don't expect many would bother owning up. There you go.
Industrial authors, the lot of them. Get that conveyor belt crankin'! Get that content out there, and in huge quantities! Isn't that what you advise authors, Mark? Bam! Bam! Bam! Writing is a business. Isn't that in fact the first Commandment of all you popster industrial authors? Isn't that the model we're all supposed to subscribe to, and if we don't we're naive, we're failures, we're useless? I've seen blog posts from popular authors saying just that. And don't you encourage this thinking, Mark, by focusing exclusively on your top moneymakers at Smashwords? Aren't you in fact upholding the very same capitalist/industrialist model that you've condemned legacy publishers for enshrining? That is to say, only a very tiny few are worth mentioning; only a handful are worth promoting? I've seen this before: the George W. Bush version of democracy, now applied to self-publishing: only the haves are worth a damn; the rest, the have-nots, can languish in obscurity.
Ah, heck. All the industrial authors are going to cite one of your Commandments at me now, the one that says: Be nice. I'm not kissing ass, you see; I'm not commenting, "ZOMG, that was hilarious! Still grinning and snort-laughing!" Damnit!
So let's say a program like the one you made up is produced. Who's going to suffer for it? Who's going to suffer with a computer program that produces novels via inputs to a formula? Hmmm. That's a tough one. Such a program would clear out all the human-produced dross, wouldn't it? Ironically, it would make it easier, I believe, for real writers to find each other and actually commune; and it would make it easier for readers to find us, for the simple reason that computers will never achieve the creativity of a human being, regardless of what AI apologists and materialists think. Garbage in, garbage out, baby. Human beings have souls. Computers have algorithms. Human beings are conscious (well, some of us are, at least). Computers aren't, and never will be.
So let me finish here.
ZOMG! I have no idea what the Z stands for, but wow! ZOMG! Double-ZOMG! I am so hoping Amazon really does create this program, because if it does it will put people like EL James out of business! Hells to the yaz!
Hi Shawn, thanks for sharing your perspective. I agree with some points but disagree in a few places.
From my experience, the vast majority of writers - including the bestsellers - write for the noble reasons you identified.
To the extent any author writes to formula, yes, they'll be threatened first by machine-generated fiction if and when this becomes a reality. But formulas aren't necessarily a bad thing. I love Tabasco sauce. I hope they never change the formula. I can add it to other things to make other things better. Is it formulaic to say that stories work well with a beginning, a middle and an end? Is it formulaic that most romances have an HEA? Even within formulas, there's much room for creative expression.
I don't advocate production above all else. In my November post, Things Get More Difficult from Here - Here's How to Succeed I made 20 recommendations for how indies can do well in this environment where we face a glut of high-quality low-cost books. Only one of those 20 points directly addressed production, and in that context I talked about how the more you write, the more opportunity you have to improve your craft. Craft matters. To the extent you combine production with ever-increasing quality, you'll reach more readers.
Many times on this blog and elsewhere I've talked about how every book is valuable regardless of perceived or actual commercial merit. It’s a founding principle of Smashwords, and it’s a core tenet (#9) in the Indie Author Manifesto".
I created Smashwords so I could say yes to every writer, something trad pubs can't do. Trad pubs see poor sellers as a problem. I see them as an opportunity. Every poor-selling author has the opportunity to evolve their book and grow their writing and their business smarts to the point where they can finally start reaching more readers.
The most common theme you'll find in any of my advice is best practices. Best practices are the myriad things you must do to connect with your audience. Best practices matter whether you're writing literary fiction, popular fiction, nonfiction or poetry. They’re the connectors that make your book more accessible and more desirable to your target readers. Writers write for many reasons, and not all writers publish. For those who publish, the desire to reach readers is almost universal. Best practices help you reach readers.
Most authors don't fully adopt best practices, which is why authors who do embrace best practices have such a significant advantage when it comes to reaching audience.
Take a look at preorders, one of the many best practices I recommend. Our bestsellers make much more use of preorders than our poor sellers. This tool is available to all, yet most authors don't birth their books as preorders (they should!). Authors who use it gain advantage.
Few of our bestsellers design their own covers. They know they’re better off hiring a low-cost professional.
This is a business where the author's decisions determine their odds of success.
You mention you believe that Smashwords values bestsellers exclusively above all else? I'd disagree. We lose money on the vast majority of our writers, and that's okay. It's by design. It's a necessary part of what it means to truly take a chance on every writer. Our bestsellers emerge from our poor sellers which is why we’ll always invest to give every writer a chance. It’s why we’ll continue investing in tools, knowledge and channels that benefit every writer.
As I point out in the last tenet of the Indie Author Manifesto (#10), we should celebrate the success of all indies, because their success is your success, and your success is theirs. We're all in this together.
Thanks for your comments.
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