Goodbye, Slush Pile!
Authors, and ChatBots, and novels, oh my!
He knew me well enough to accept my call.
“I couldn’t help but notice that your Imprint is no longer accepting submissions.”
“That’s correct. We are no longer looking for authors.”
“Are you going out of business?”
“No, not at all. In fact, we expect to become one of the largest, if not THE largest publisher in the world.”
“Without new material?”
“We already have plenty. In fact, we have more than we could possibly publish. We’ll need to be quite judicious about what we will be publishing. But I assure you, it will all be top quality. Superb.”
“I’m not following.”
“We have a new process. What we do is take the compendium of all an individual has created, written, video, whatever, and amalgamate that into something more. Something greater.”
“What do you mean?”
“Take Hemingway for example. We have taken all of his published writings, his letters, everything available, and used them as a guide, if you will, to allow our AI to create something beyond that which already exists.”
“Wait, you mean that …”
“Yes, we’ve created a brand new ‘Hemingway’ novel with the backdrop of gang violence in El Salvador.
“Wait, I think I’ve read that novel. There is no mention of Hemingway.”
“Of course not. It’s our proof of concept. If Hemingway is one of the gold standards of writing, and an original novel is generated using our process, and that novel is embraced by the public … well, I rest my case.”
“Several million readers don’t think so. You enjoyed it, no doubt. Admit it, you enjoyed the novel.”
“I won’t say I didn’t, but I’m not sure it would be accurate to label ‘Young No More’ a Hemingway novel.
“And we didn’t. At least not that one. However, in the future …”
“There will be more?”
“Of course there will! Pick an appropriate topic, provide a setting, and we’ll churn out a Hemingway novel.”
“This is ridiculous.”
“Why would you say that? It’s a tried and true formula. Hemingway will be writing again. And any number of other deceased authors with work in the public domain. Cicero, Cervantes, Shakespeare, Jane Austin, Mark Twain, Poe, Tolkien … and I’m only hitting the highlights. It’s a new literary age!”
“With all these new AI-assisted novels, it will be hard for any new writer to compete.”
“So you think something new and different will still have merit?”
“Yes, as long as one of the greats is ‘behind’ it. No, I wouldn’t say it will be difficult for new authors. It will be impossible. Why read your stuff when the new Salinger book is available? Are you wittier than Oscar Wilde? Do you think you have a better imagination than Lewis Carrol or Jules Verne? Don’t kid yourself.
“And if that’s not enough, we can generate hybrid novels. Imagine Dante collaborating with Dickens.”
I shook my head. I grasped for some flaw in his argument but found none. Failing with logic, I wished this was not a virtual meeting so I could punch him in the nose. Several times.
But I let the urge pass and mused, “I don’t know what to say.”
“No need to say anything. We’ve run your stuff, and have some interest. Wait! Don’t cut the connection! We have a proposition for you. While you won’t be creating the next great novel, we have some use for your style in other publications.”
“So you want me to write for you?”
“Not exactly. Like I’ve said, we’ve run your stuff, and think that your AI-assisted writing will fit quite nicely in a few blogs and websites. But since you’re not long dead, your content is not in the public domain. We need you to sign, and you’ll get royalties from writing generated on the basis of the content you’ve already created. The UBot will do the writing for you. We just feed it the topics, and out pops the copy, in your style.”
“Let me get this straight. I sign, the Bot writes, and I get paid. Is that the deal?”
“That’s it! You sign, the Bot writes, and we use the content in appropriate publications. And, of course, we get to use your name if we decide it makes sense.”
“The Bot uses my name?”
“No, definitely not. The Bot writes under a pseudonym. But in the future, when the public becomes more receptive, we think it will be important to humanize the content with real names and faces. But we’ll never claim you wrote something you didn’t.”
“But what if I want to keep writing?”
“Go right ahead. Please. We want the Bot to mature along with you. We just need to make sure you give us a copy of your new stuff. And we’ll decide what the Bot uses for input, depending on topic and tone.”
I stared, thought a moment, and then said, “OK.”
“Great! Sign there, there, and there, and initial these boxes.”
The screen was blank. I pondered what I’d just done. Getting paid for his style just might be a good thing. Getting paid for no effort was definitely a good thing.
But the ongoing writing was going to be a lot of work. Because now I’ll need to write twice as much. On the radar, connected to the bot, it would be my same old self. But below, a new writer would emerge, unencumbered by the whims of the marketplace.
Or maybe I’ll use the Bot, too.