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Authors Eliminated from Publishing Process: "It was the natural evolution," says Sylvia Wiseword

In what Harken House Publisher Sylvia Wiseword says is "a natural evoution," human authors will be phased out of the book-production process nearly entirely by 2010.

"Although naturally, this is a stressful period for some, it was really the natural evolution of narrative production," Wiseword said Monday. "Since the advent of computer programs such as Final Cut and Sense and Sen-tense, we've essentially had the technology to produce clean, concise, sensible narrative without involving a third party."

While she said that authors "will always remain a cherished part of publishing history, we need to think of this in terms of a very natural and organic process. People no longer mourn for manual typewriters, for example, or for setting cold type in type trays. In the future, while authors may continue to comment on narrative, gradually they will be less and less integral to the process of delivering the product. The product, in this case, is fiction and non-fiction."

Computer-generated motivational success and inspirational literature have for some time been generated by computer programs alone "and book consumers have been aware of this, although we haven't run around trumpeting it," said Wiseword, one of the most powerful publishers in the United States. Harken is a multi-national conglomerate that has absorbed such former entities as Random House, Harper Collins, Penguin-Putnam, Grand Central and Simon and Schuster.

Wiseword said that some "virtual authors," such as business motivator Peter Bliss and others "have generated a very loyal following on YouTube and Second LIfe, as well as in other settings."

She said that, "We have a wonderful young actor who does a one-man show using the motivational words of the first Peter Bliss compubook, 'This Can B U 2.' And we see an amazing response when he tours. People still do like the human contact." Eventually, the actor will be replaced by an avatar, because computer-imaged individuals are "much more versatile and reliable."

Teen fiction was the test market for the first compubooks, Wiseword says. The first series of computer-generation Young Adult books was "The Princesses of Gossip," she said, a tale of three young women who used super powers to make their wishes come true, first influencing the school, then the town and then the nation."

"What we quickly, quickly realized was that people were purchasing and downloading a brand, like a Nestle's Crunch bar, if you will, but a much more sophisticated entity, of course. And so this year, we're working on compubooks in women's fiction, which is another genre in which so many of the themes and images are so much the same, such as the journey, the triumph, the tragedy and recovery that (we knew the compubooks) could do the same thing that we'd been paying tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars for, with much great efficiency, a great deal less emotional duress and, quite frankly, fewer typos."

Wiseword said that the last bastion of compugeneration would be men's adventure fiction and espionage novels.

"We have a very, very discriminiating market there and it may take as long as two years to find just the right voices to please that important segement of the consumer market," she added, pointing out that Harken House has "reached out" to Sebastian Junger, Jon Krakauer, Bill O'Reilly and other "respected household names" for guidance in "a creative and supervisory role."

She said the authors had not yet responded to overtures from Harken.

"We are aware know that other publishers are doing the same thing with well-known authors, or what we now will refer to as emeritus authors, who may help us in the sense that they can suggest plot lines for series, which are our biggest interest. In fact, that's basically what some do already so it's not a terrible upheaval."

Have readers expressed outrage over the extinction of the author-produced narrative?

"We honestly have not heard an outcry," Wiseword said. "We've been very, very sensitive to the issues consumers may have and frankly, our test population were of the opinion that they didn't really care where their reading material came from. They don't read reviews or become overly analytical about the things they consume. They want a good read but the issue of the hand, if you will, behind the story, is not of huge importance to them."

Readers have very busy lives and mass-producing six or eight mysteries a month by, say, a Laura Scaviano-type program, instead of only two or three a year, really serves the business traveler, said Wiseword. "In our test demography, we also noticed a trend toward erasing downloaded books after a single reading. The days of yellow highlighter and notes in the margin are dear and precious, but they are as much a thing of the past as a live show on Broadway. Frankly, the economic motivation to pay actors for what lovely computer-generated avatars can bring to the privacy of one's own home or hotel room is just not there. We learned that many years ago in the entertainment industry and frankly, reading as we know it now is just that. Entertainment."

Wiseword said that a surge in the purchase of hardcover books by well-regarded authors "mostly by collectors or for purposes of decor" had boosted the transitional market.

'Diehard fans of non-digital print units can take comfort in knowing that they will always be able to find those items somewhere, at least during our lifetimes," she said. But in the bookstore of the future, there will be comfortable "portals" where readers can plug in and download vast numbers of their favorite compubooks "or, as I prefer to call them, compugens." Before long, the ubiquitous home computer will make even that kind of travel a choice rather than a necessity.

Librarians, Wiseword admitted, were less than enthusiastic about the future of "compugens."

But the current generation of traditional librarians slowly is being outphased and replaced by media specialists who will embrace an inevitable rite of progress, Wiseword said. "The old order passes and the new arrives," she said. "King Arthur said that, I believe."

Karen Beech, director of the American Library Organization, said that an all-consuming conversion to "compugens" would happen over (her) "dead body." She added, "A book is a book is a book."

The transition will very likely happen after many currently active librarians are retired or deceased -- as well as many current book producers traditionally known as authors, said Wiseword.

A new generation of "idea producers," who are excited about the possibility of being paid a lesser amount for an idea in twenty-five words or less, without the arduous and sometimes years-long process of creating the narrative to support it, are in the starting gate.

"It's a very brave, but also very serious new world," she said.


16 Comment count
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Please tell me this is some

Please tell me this is some kind of 1984, Big Brother joke?

However, from what I know of the NY publishing world, I could very much see it all happening.

Idea producers!!


Jessica Barksdale Inclan www.jessicabarksdaleinclan.com

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No more human writers

Jacquelyn, it is almost as if you created a brillant spoof. Chilling. Swiftian. ``Ray Bradburian.'' Enough said.

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The name of the publishing conglomerate...

...made me think of House Harkonnen from Dune, and not just because of the name.

Huntington Sharp, Red Room

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Me, too. heh heh.

Jackie M.

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Dune....and over-Dune

I like it so much, I believe I said it twice. Dune has been a favorite book in my family for years and Mr. Bradbury has been my mentor for more than twenty years. If I could write science fiction and fantasy, I woud.

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good news for computer memoirists


A future of sensational computer memoirs awaits - Confessions of a Teenage Fiction Computer. "My motherboard exploded on me, 'Why have you been writing this crap? What did I tell you!' So I ran upstairs and slashed my silicon chips." It could be argued that humanity has been a failure - wars, greed, madness etc - so maybe the machine narrative is inevitable. That's not to say we must not fight against it.

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Not Just Yet

As much as I adore computers - programming them, scripting them, building them, debugging them, troubleshooting them, fixing them, and the all stress-relieving beating them to bits with a large heavy object, I don't think they have the humanity - the 'Je Ne Sais Quoi' - required to write enthralling fiction.

While I must admit I have yet to read a 'compugen' book, I would certainly like to. If the monthly paperback novels you see in the airport gift shops for those on long layovers, or looking for a cheap disposable read on a flight are any indication of the quality to be expected, I'd rather not see it go down that road.

The greats of many genres, notably suspense and horror, are so much more detailed and complex in their unravelling of a narrative that I can't imagine any form of computer doing so unguided. The computing power just doesn't exist at this point, and I don't think for a long time to come.

They say that by 202x there will be an Artificial Intelligence(as if that isn't enough of an oxymoron) capable of out-thinking a human. At that point, I would cede, some books may surpass the lesser authors' abilities. I still believe it will require a careful attention to detail and involving the author in their own story, as well as a lot of research and interviewing which I don't believe any digital system capable of alone, to fully immerse someone in an interesting read.

A documentary filmmaker, in an interview with my mother, once said about her approach to interviewing, "...you need to facilitate their art, and have them trust you, and make them trust themselves, and keep the peace, and get paid at the end of the day." This isn't something I think an electronic entity capable of at this stage or in the forseeable future. They're just too mechanical.

I don't dispute the dawning day of the digital book - it's here and starting already with the Kindle and similar eBook readers. I just don't think it's time to count the author out of the process just yet.

-Rob Allegretti
-Jacquelyn Mitchard's Son

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I hear the robots are

I hear the robots are outsourcing these mss. to people ghostwriters. Where do I apply?

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A well-crafted and harrowing

A well-crafted and harrowing wink at publishing.

I hope Sylvia Wiseword realizes that as long humans think and breathe, we will tell stories. Perhaps we'll have to revert to spinning tales around the campfires once again.

Carolyn Burns Bass

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State of the Art

Lest we forget, publishing is a business, and, as in many businesses, the product doesn't necessarily come first. Maxwell Perkins and Malcom Crowley are long gone. And the days of simply writing your heart out and sending your manuscript by U.S. mail to a publisher, or even dropping it off over the transom, are finished. Agents have taken over and their interest does not lie in the new or the unknown or the experimental or the avant garde, but in what sold best last year. Hence, the spin offs of the Da Vinci Code. And record breaking form letters of rejection.

On the other hand, computers have made self-publishing a practical alternative to the humiliation of being rejected by eyeless faces who possesses no awareness of/or interest in literature.

Why not publish your own work? Promote it online, sell it at book fairs or out of your garage. Why be at the mercy of a conglomerate? How many independent publishers are left? How many independent bookstores are left? We're at this point where publisher and outlet are close to being one and the same, and a literary revolution of sorts is in dire need.

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Nothing Can Replace the Human Heart

I agree with Carolyn Burns Bass above. As long as there are real humans, there will be real stories (even if they’re fiction). I know that some people really are just looking for that quick read—pure entertainment—while they’re waiting at the airport, but others are looking for something more. I’ve never read a book without wondering about the author, and my favorite books have pushed me to learn more and more about those authors. I feel a close bond with certain writers that I’ve never met, but that doesn’t make me question that the bond is real. I know it is because I read what came out of their heart—by putting their book out there they trusted me with that. I’m sure in the future people will also have the option of just having “compu-friends” and maybe even a “compu-family,” but it defeats the purpose of being human—to live and connect with each other, and to love. No machine can ever replace that.  

Lauren Sapala, redroom.com 

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Next time I produce a play, no author - Max Bialystock

In my redroom blog titled 'Six Word Memoirs', January 1, 2009, my last line paraphrases Max Bialystock’s immortal bleat in Mel Brooks' immortal film 'The Producers': “Next time I produce a play, no author.”

As I wrote that entry, I thought - this will come to be.

Thanks to Redroom for rerunnning this blog from last February as I'm relatively new to Redroom and could easily have missed it.




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Echoes of "The Player"

This reminds me of a scene in Robert Altman's classic Hollywood movie, "The Player" (original novel by Michael Tolkin). At one point, a studio producer waves a newspaper at his colleagues and says, basically, what do we need writers for, all the stories we need are right here.  

I can see editors everywhere rubbing their hands together gleefully at the notion of not having to deal with troublesome authors any more.  Y'know, writers who insist on seeing sales figures to make sure they aren't being screwed for royalties. Writers who refuse to tamper with their story for crass, commercial reasons. Writers who insist on composing good fiction instead of uninspired, derivative hack work.

Robots are sooo much easier to negotiate with.  "Take my offer...or I pull the plug on you".

A bit depressing though, innit?

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Driving a shake-up

Kim Hoffman has an excellent point here. Let's get into competition and see what genuine readers want to buy! (It can be done.) The consumer in this case is very much a figment of pure guesswork and equates with pre-millennium UK population 'findings' that the average citizen is married with two point four children and lives thirteen miles North West of Daventry - probably, by now, in a tent!

I really do wonder whether agents - and many publishers too - have even a nodding acquaintance with the rich legacy of English literature.

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Bring on 451

This is not a revelation in any sense of the word. It has been going on in the music business for years. It's called computer music. As well, the 'fine arts' markets. (Want to buy a Picasso?) Unfortunately, for those of us who consider ourselves to be erudite in the construction of valid reading material and teachings, the process of making a living will be sorely diminished. Let's hear it for the greed mongers and the profoundly challenged 'artistes'.