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The gauntlet is thrown. I challenge you all to 24 hours of serious posts, starting... now!

I half considered going on a writers strike for the next 24 hours but I can't resist a free gauntlet.

 

In the April 14th, 2008, edition of US News and World Report, the Money & Business section ran an article called "Publish or Panic: The credibility of books is in a million little pieces. The Web is stealing readers. But publishers are fighting back" (click here) By Diane Cole (originally posted 3/5/06).

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I half considered going on a writers strike for the next 24 hours but I can't resist a free gauntlet.

 

In the April 14th, 2008, edition of US News and World Report, the Money & Business section ran an article called "Publish or Panic: The credibility of books is in a million little pieces. The Web is stealing readers. But publishers are fighting back" (click here) By Diane Cole (originally posted 3/5/06).

Oops. Forgot to log in. (Gauntlets do that to me.)

 

The article concerns the future of the novel and novel publishing. Given that it was written two years ago it's surprising how accurate it is. All the more reason to read it. It may just change your mind about what you want to write and how you want to publish.

 

Serious enough for you, Isaac?

-Thoth.

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The article concerns the future of the novel and novel publishing. Given that it was written two years ago it's surprising how accurate it is. All the more reason to read it. It may just change your mind about what you want to write and how you want to publish.

 

Serious enough for you, Isaac?

 

Serious? Yes. Depressing? Probably. You'd think with all the people sitting around, what with the obesity epidemic, some of them would find some time to pick up a book. I look forward to broader digital distribution, lest we end in only writers reading each others' works.

 

I think there is a light at the end of the tunnel, though. There seems to be some sort of strange generational gap going on, and I think the youngest generation will learn to embrace books, though probably in their ultraportable digital paper form.

 

This will likely have a similar effect to the digital distribution of music: a more level playing field for all entrants.

 

IF

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You'd think with all the people sitting around, what with the obesity epidemic, some of them would find some time to pick up a book.

It's easier to pick up the remote control for the TV. Besides, reading is active. Watching is passive. And between DVR (such as TiVo) and cable companies offering hundreds of channels including dozens of movie channels (I particularly like TCM and IFC) there's little reason to ever pick up a novel but for its portability. And digital video display glasses may even put an end to that advantage (after they work a few bugs out).

 

I think there is a light at the end of the tunnel, though. There seems to be some sort of strange generational gap going on, and I think the youngest generation will learn to embrace books, though probably in their ultraportable digital paper form.

I agree about the "strange generational gap going on". The Harry Potter phenomenon among pre-teens and young teens was heartening. But it could have been a fluke.

 

This will likely have a similar effect to the digital distribution of music: a more level playing field for all entrants.

Maybe. Remember, listening to music is passive, like TV. It's not like reading. But I agree, the distribution methods may evolve the same way. Still, a "level playing field for all entrants" has disadvantages too: less filtering means more s**t to sort through. This could dishearten even the most stalwart of readers. I read somewhere that the average acquisitions editor has to plow through 50 manuscripts a day! Of course they typically reject a manuscript in the first few pages. This may seem unfair but imagine what the market would be like if everything was published. Chaos, perhaps. Or perhaps a more democratic method of populist review via the Internet. Who can say?

 

Still serious,

-Thoth.

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It just occurred to me that books may take an entirely different evolutionary turn. Given the success of books on tape (now disk) and the low cost of creating an audio version of your story on your computer for upload (face it, Mac Speech is getting better and better), perhaps, in the future a significant number of books will be downloaded from the iTunes Store in audio form and played on people's iPods. You could fit a lot of downloaded audio books on a high-end iPod. Of course, you could fit even more text. So maybe the speech program should be on the other end (in iPod or Kindle or whatnot). To push this concept further, markers could be added to the text by the author to introduce different character voices and, someday, inflection. There's a tiny bit of punctuation-guided inflection in Mac Speech now.

 

Don't laugh Isaac. This could be closer than you think. (Speech markers could be my next Feature Request.)

 

Prognosticating,

-Thoth.

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It just occurred to me that books may take an entirely different evolutionary turn.

 

I posted something about this on my blog yesterday. The New York Times ran a story about someone who is using AI techniques to automatically generate books for sale on Amazon. Talk about damaging the credibility of books. The kicker here is that one of the first markets he is tackling is medical information. Unbelievable!

 

-Steve

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I posted something about this on my blog yesterday. The New York Times ran a story about someone who is using AI techniques to automatically generate books for sale on Amazon. Talk about damaging the credibility of books. The kicker here is that one of the first markets he is tackling is medical information. Unbelievable!

 

-Steve

I just read through your links and I don't think "unbelievable" was the word you were looking for. It's very believable. Totally credible. Lazy writers and have been looking for a "writing genie" since before the computer. (The whole "million monkeys eventually turning out Shakespeare" scenario reeks of it.) Frankly, I've read computer generated literature back in the 1980s and it works no better than automated Web page translators do today. Which is to say, badly. Emoticons notwithstanding, computers have no talent for rendering the subtleties of emotion and culture. At least not yet. Steve, the word I'd go with is "horrifying." Consider:

 

And he is laying the groundwork for romance novels generated by new algorithms. “I’ve already set it up,” he said. “There are only so many body parts.”

 

Only so many body parts? I don't think this man understands romance novels at all. I can only imagine what Marguerite or Fictionista would make of this. (Calli?)

 

When the A.I. Wars finally come I'll be on the side of the humans. And until then may I suggest that the Truth In Labeling Laws be extended to the written word: if a book is written by a soulless machine then it should be so labeled. (Is this bigoted? Who knows, it might just improve their sales.)

 

Still serious, Isaac.

-Thoth.

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It's easier to pick up the remote control for the TV. Besides, reading is active. Watching is passive. And between DVR (such as TiVo) and cable companies offering hundreds of channels including dozens of movie channels (I particularly like TCM and IFC) there's little reason to ever pick up a novel but for its portability. And digital video display glasses may even put an end to that advantage (after they work a few bugs out).

 

There are a lot of times that I just want quiet.

 

I agree about the "strange generational gap going on". The Harry Potter phenomenon among pre-teens and young teens was heartening. But it could have been a fluke.

 

Harry Potter was some kind of fluke. I couldn't stop from reading all of them. I still haven't figured out what magic formula makes them attractive to both adults and young'ins.

 

Maybe. Remember, listening to music is passive, like TV. It's not like reading. But I agree, the distribution methods may evolve the same way. Still, a "level playing field for all entrants" has disadvantages too: less filtering means more s**t to sort through. This could dishearten even the most stalwart of readers. I read somewhere that the average acquisitions editor has to plow through 50 manuscripts a day! Of course they typically reject a manuscript in the first few pages. This may seem unfair but imagine what the market would be like if everything was published. Chaos, perhaps. Or perhaps a more democratic method of populist review via the Internet. Who can say?

 

I find reading pretty passive, but maybe that's just me. If anything, my problem with reading is that I can't do it fast enough.

 

As far as a level playing field, you will still have filters. There will just be more of them. Unestablished authors who try to direct sell their works will still be less likely to find a fan base.

 

I have not figured out how libraries will work yet.

 

IF

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It just occurred to me that books may take an entirely different evolutionary turn. Given the success of books on tape (now disk) and the low cost of creating an audio version of your story on your computer for upload (face it, Mac Speech is getting better and better), perhaps, in the future a significant number of books will be downloaded from the iTunes Store in audio form and played on people's iPods. You could fit a lot of downloaded audio books on a high-end iPod. Of course, you could fit even more text. So maybe the speech program should be on the other end (in iPod or Kindle or whatnot). To push this concept further, markers could be added to the text by the author to introduce different character voices and, someday, inflection. There's a tiny bit of punctuation-guided inflection in Mac Speech now.

 

When I used to have the commute from hell, I listened to a lot of audio books. The biggest barrier to popularity there is the quality of the actors. Some actors, like Jim Dale (Harry Potter series) keep the listener's attention with a wide variety of voices and enthusiasm. On the other hand, when I listened to Lord of the Rings, I almost fell asleep at the wheel.

 

The speech markers are an interesting idea for a robotic reading, but then you are essentially becoming the director of your own book, and I think a real, qualified actor could probably do a better job.

 

IF

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I posted something about this on my blog yesterday. The New York Times ran a story about someone who is using AI techniques to automatically generate books for sale on Amazon. Talk about damaging the credibility of books. The kicker here is that one of the first markets he is tackling is medical information. Unbelievable!

 

You know, when I heard about this the other day, I thought, Damn, I had that idea and did nothing with it. Who knew?

 

IF

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And he is laying the groundwork for romance novels generated by new algorithms. “I’ve already set it up,” he said. “There are only so many body parts.”

 

Only so many body parts? I don't think this man understands romance novels at all. I can only imagine what Marguerite or Fictionista would make of this. (Calli?)

 

It sounds crazy, but when I was in college, for fun I implemented a random insult generator (I wonder if I still have the code somewhere). It worked by stringing together sentence fragments of various insults I've heard in the past, and liked. That took me less than a day to write. Taking a similar approach, I could generate novels. My idea was to use a similar method and a game engine I've worked on off and on to generate fantasy novels. The game engine would be required to maintain context through the story. It's sort of the reverse of my original idea for the technology. Basically, I wanted to make games with dynamic, realistic sounding story lines, then I realized the technology could be extended to generate entire novels.

 

IF

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You know, when I heard about this the other day, I thought, Damn, I had that idea and did nothing with it. Who knew?

 

Surely you thought better of it ;)

 

Seriously, I don't have a problem with the spidering/assembly of content (I read Google News every day). I do have a problem with spidering medical information, assembling it without review, and publishing it in book form where people will make unwarranted assumptions about its accuracy because it is in a "book". I know. Caveat emptor and all that, but in this case, I'm glad there are ambulance chasing lawyers around.

 

-Steve

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There are a lot of times that I just want quiet.

Same here. But I don't think reading necessarily creates a quiet mind. Perhaps I'm reading the wrong things.

 

Harry Potter was some kind of fluke. I couldn't stop from reading all of them. I still haven't figured out what magic formula makes them attractive to both adults and young'ins.

That's why JKR is a billionaire and you're not (I'm assuming). But it suggests that there may not be a formula. So much for all those "How To Write A Best Seller" books (some of which were best sellers). Perhaps it has more to do with the public mood at any given time. Sales statistics from Publisher's Weekly suggest that the public succumbs to fads and fashions in books as much as anything else. Once upon a time fly fishing books were all the rage. Imagine.

 

I find reading pretty passive, but maybe that's just me. If anything, my problem with reading is that I can't do it fast enough.

I didn't mean physically passive and active. I was referring to the fact that reading involves more of the brain than watching or listening. Reading demands more of the imagination. To use a famous example: If you read the word "chair" what kind of chair do you imagine? An overstuffed Victorian Wingback? An Early American Rocker? Beanbag? But if I show you a picture of a chair then there it is. There's no imagination involved. No part of you is in the story.

 

As far as a level playing field, you will still have filters. There will just be more of them. Unestablished authors who try to direct sell their works will still be less likely to find a fan base.

That will depend on how good the book search engine is designed. If a book's tags are set right it could show up on everyone's search list. Remember the problem Google had/has with the keyword stuffing of Web pages? Where did that lead us? To marginally better search engines and a policy where you can pay to have your site/book turn up at the top of a search.

 

I have not figured out how libraries will work yet.

They have. As NYC libraries shut down, more and more of their content turns up online. Remember the Gutenberg Project? It's still going on.

 

-Thoth.

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When I used to have the commute from hell, I listened to a lot of audio books.

On my own commute from hell (88 minutes from one end of the #6 line to the other in tunnels that smelled of rust and urine half the time) I listened to my Walkman (the CD had not been invented yet, much less the iPod). I had the same complaints about some books-on-tape readings being much better than others. So I stuck to stand-up comedy tapes and music.

 

The speech markers are an interesting idea for a robotic reading, but then you are essentially becoming the director of your own book, and I think a real, qualified actor could probably do a better job.

True. But can you afford to hire an actor for the job? I think most writers who can't would prefer to do the readings themselves, with some friends playing other parts. Make a party of it.

 

-Thoth.

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It sounds crazy, but when I was in college, for fun I implemented a random insult generator (I wonder if I still have the code somewhere). It worked by stringing together sentence fragments of various insults I've heard in the past, and liked. That took me less than a day to write. Taking a similar approach, I could generate novels. My idea was to use a similar method and a game engine I've worked on off and on to generate fantasy novels. The game engine would be required to maintain context through the story. It's sort of the reverse of my original idea for the technology. Basically, I wanted to make games with dynamic, realistic sounding story lines, then I realized the technology could be extended to generate entire novels.

Yes. It sounds crazy. All of it. See my comments on A.I. novel generation.

 

Dubious,

-Thoth.

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And he is laying the groundwork for romance novels generated by new algorithms. “I’ve already set it up,” he said. “There are only so many body parts.”

 

Only so many body parts? I don't think this man understands romance novels at all. I can only imagine what Marguerite or Fictionista would make of this. (Calli?)

Still serious, Isaac.

-Thoth.

Yes, I saw this article in the Times yesterday. It's nonsense, of course. People confuse romance novels with erotica, but in most of them (even the "hot" romances), the physical relationship is subordinate to developing emotional bonds. Whole categories of romance have no or little sex. There's no reason that a computer could produce the complex characters necessary for a romance any more than it could produce the complex worlds or technology necessary for good SF. (Not to say that SF or mysteries can't have complex characters, too.)

 

We shouldn't forget the previously mentioned Barbara Cartland writing program, but while she produced lots of books, they ranged from bad to abysmal—and the more she wrote, the worse they got.

 

Not a model to emulate, electronically or otherwise! ;)

 

On a previous comment in this thread about there being no reason to pick up a novel given the range of movies available, I disagree. People who aren't accustomed to reading may not know that they could get something different from a novel, but they can. I read novels to experience how someone else thinks and feels about the world, something that films can't portray in anything like the same depth.

 

Trying hard to stay serious, Isaac!

Marguerite

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On a previous comment in this thread about there being no reason to pick up a novel given the range of movies available...

No good reason. But directors will tell you, loudly, that movies are written too! And that the watcher is experiencing their vision. And they are doing all of this in a 90 minute window (typically). The lack of depth and plot development you see in most movies are largely do to this 90 minute constraint. Well, that and bad writing. But it's not just a matter of "people who aren't accustomed to reading" not knowing what they're missing. They must be coming away with something worthwhile or they wouldn't keep doing it. The fact that watching is easier than reading (usually) and it doesn't require a dictionary at hand (for some authors) is likely viewed as a welcome tradeoff.

 

Still serious,

Thoth.

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Same here. But I don't think reading necessarily creates a quiet mind. Perhaps I'm reading the wrong things.

 

For me, it's about changing direction. The only time I try to quiet my mind is when I'm going to sleep. You can think of it like carrying a heavy bag in your right hand and then switching to your left to give your right arm a break for a while.

 

 

That's why JKR is a billionaire and you're not (I'm assuming). But it suggests that there may not be a formula.

 

A friend once told me that he thought the HP books were formulaic. He said the formula is that you have a main character who you know is a hero, but bad things keep happening to him, raising your sympathy. I can see that.

 

That will depend on how good the book search engine is designed. If a book's tags are set right it could show up on everyone's search list. Remember the problem Google had/has with the keyword stuffing of Web pages? Where did that lead us? To marginally better search engines and a policy where you can pay to have your site/book turn up at the top of a search.

 

I think it's possible to do right. There will be reviewers who opinions you respect. If you can filter by things that they've given a positive review, keyword loading will not be an issue. Think more IMDB than Google.

 

They have. As NYC libraries shut down, more and more of their content turns up online. Remember the Gutenberg Project? It's still going on.

 

I'm so glad to hear that they're working feverishly to deny the poor access to books. *dry sarc*

 

True. But can you afford to hire an actor for the job? I think most writers who can't would prefer to do the readings themselves, with some friends playing other parts. Make a party of it.

 

Anyone can afford an actor. College students are cheap. ;-)

 

I would probably do the reading myself. I like making up voices.

 

Yes, I saw this article in the Times yesterday. It's nonsense, of course. People confuse romance novels with erotica, but in most of them (even the "hot" romances), the physical relationship is subordinate to developing emotional bonds. Whole categories of romance have no or little sex. There's no reason that a computer could produce the complex characters necessary for a romance any more than it could produce the complex worlds or technology necessary for good SF. (Not to say that SF or mysteries can't have complex characters, too.)

 

I disagree. Given the right database, it is possible to randomly generate a plausible story. It may not be as good as what a good author can produce, but it could probably fool a lot of people into thinking a human wrote it.

 

I have a feeling that my technical approach to this task is different from this other guy, though (it usually is).

 

On a previous comment in this thread about there being no reason to pick up a novel given the range of movies available, I disagree. People who aren't accustomed to reading may not know that they could get something different from a novel, but they can. I read novels to experience how someone else thinks and feels about the world, something that films can't portray in anything like the same depth.

 

My problem with movies, even good movies, is that I can only stand watching them so many times. The selection of the kind I like is too small, and too expensive to maintain. I can easily afford the 2-3 books a month I might read, and get more detail and more story from one of them than a whole trilogy of movies.

 

As for people not knowing about what they're missing, I think there's something to that. Growing up, I was greatly turned off by reading for a while because family kept pushing detective stories on me. I was expected to like them, but I found them slow and boring. My schools very rarely let me read science fiction for book reports because, "It's not real literature." It wasn't until college that the shackles were removed and I could read anything that I wanted, but by then, it took a while to ramp up. I seem to recall taking over two years to read one book at one point. The other thing I learned, though, was that you don't have to finish a bad book. Since I've started chucking books that don't draw me in after the first couple chapters, I've been much happier.

 

IF

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A friend once told me that he thought the HP books were formulaic. He said the formula is that you have a main character who you know is a hero, but bad things keep happening to him, raising your sympathy. I can see that.

So can I. But you can find a formula for any series. What we were talking about was a formula for a Best Seller. But consider; how many Best Sellers have withstood the test of time? Tastes change. The JKR formula might not work ten years from now. And the formula itself does not exist in a vacuum. It is not only time and culturally sensitive, how it interacts with the writer's style is crucial. My formula might not work for you. Yours might not work for me.

 

I think it's possible to do right. There will be reviewers who opinions you respect. If you can filter by things that they've given a positive review, keyword loading will not be an issue. Think more IMDB than Google.

Have you read the IMDB reviews lately? They're dominated by egotistical blabbermouths like...well, us. But keep a good thought.

 

I'm so glad to hear that they're working feverishly to deny the poor access to books. *dry sarc*

You misunderstand. NYC's libraries and schools are providing free Web access. So not only can the poor still come in to keep warm they can also download porn (for the time being). (Is dry sarcasm a gauntlet violation?)

 

Anyone can afford an actor. College students are cheap. ;-)

***WITHHOLDING "CHEAP & EASY CO-ED" JOKE FOR GAUNTLET PURPOSES***

 

I would probably do the reading myself. I like making up voices.

Very enterprising. As long as your not hearing them in your head you'll be fine.

 

I disagree. Given the right database, it is possible to randomly generate a plausible story. It may not be as good as what a good author can produce, but it could probably fool a lot of people into thinking a human wrote it.

Are you proposing a Turing Test for A.I. Novelists?

 

My problem with movies, even good movies, is that I can only stand watching them so many times. The selection of the kind I like is too small, and too expensive to maintain. I can easily afford the 2-3 books a month I might read, and get more detail and more story from one of them than a whole trilogy of movies.

I don't know if you've checked out the price of DVDs lately but they are easily comparable to books in price.

 

As for people not knowing about what they're missing, I think there's something to that. Growing up, I was greatly turned off by reading for a while because family kept pushing detective stories on me. I was expected to like them, but I found them slow and boring. My schools very rarely let me read science fiction for book reports because, "It's not real literature." It wasn't until college that the shackles were removed and I could read anything that I wanted, but by then, it took a while to ramp up. I seem to recall taking over two years to read one book at one point. The other thing I learned, though, was that you don't have to finish a bad book. Since I've started chucking books that don't draw me in after the first couple chapters, I've been much happier.

My condolences on your difficult childhood. My father was a voracious reader. His mother had bought him the entire Harper And Brothers Authorized Edition Collection during the Great Depression at 2¢ a book for a grand total of $1. He read them all but never expected me to. So I did. Now he's in a nursing home so I kind of inherited them. I never got that "sci-fi & fantasy & comics are bad for you" rap. I think that's why I always enjoyed reading. (But my Mom did toss my comics collection, including a Detectives #1, when I was young. I never got over it. "Oh how carelessly we scar the tenderest flesh.")

 

Weeping over my misspent youth,

-Thoth.

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Have you read the IMDB reviews lately? They're dominated by egotistical blabbermouths like...well, us. But keep a good thought.

 

The problem you describe is caused by a lack of filters. When I used to play Diablo in college, I would hang out on the chat boards and "squelch" (filter out) any other people who were obnoxious or rude. Made the boards much more enjoyable. I'd like to do that to certain reviewers.

 

(Is dry sarcasm a gauntlet violation?)

 

Dry sarcasm is more akin to humorless irony. Very serious, I assure you.

 

***WITHHOLDING "CHEAP & EASY CO-ED" JOKE FOR GAUNTLET PURPOSES***

 

Will Thoth last another 45 minutes?

 

Very enterprising. As long as your not hearing them in your head you'll be fine.

 

I sense bait. I'm not biting.

 

Are you proposing a Turing Test for A.I. Novelists?

 

Absolutely not... unless someone else is going to write it. I'm all booked up.

 

I don't know if you've checked out the price of DVDs lately but they are easily comparable to books in price.

 

Yes, there are a lot of cheap DVDs, but not of movies I'd necessarily want to watch.

 

"Oh how carelessly we scar the tenderest flesh."

 

I'm doing my best not to do the same to my kids. I think a solid start involves bedtime stories.

 

IF

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Okay, here's what happened. Marguerite asked why I did this. It was a trap for Thoth. I didn't actually expect anyone else to participate, though I hoped it might attract a lurker or two out into the open. I thought it would be funny to see what happens when Thoth tries to be serious with everyone else setting out such wonderful bait for him. You all did admirably. :D

 

Now I expect the big T to make up for 24 hours of lost time. :lol:

 

IF

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Now I expect the big T to make up for 24 hours of lost time.

Absolutely not. I think this serious thing works for me.

:lol:

-Thoth.

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