This episode offers 5 tips for navigating today's publishing landscape. Also in this episode we are talking about writers on strike, men reading romance, and AI disrupting everything.
Music licensed from Storyblocks:
“More Jam Please” by Raighes Factory
"9 AM: Hurry Up!" by bzur
"Obsessing Over You" by Humans Win
If you have plot bunnies coming out of your plot holes, it’s time for a writing break.
This season we are discussing the road to publishing, and a few of you have let me know that some of what I’ve said has been disheartening. Yet, here you are once again. You are the boxer Simon & Garfunkel sang about. I see you, standing in the clearing. Get ready, though, because I’ve got my sparring gloves on, and I am coming in swinging for Round 3 of things writers need to know but do not want to hear.
Also in this episode we are talking about writers on strike, men reading romance, and AI disrupting everything. The Writing Break cafe is open, so let’s have a seat at our usual table and get into it.
Amidst an ongoing labor dispute between the Writers Guild of America labor union and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, Warner Bros Discovery CEO David Zaslav decided it was a fine time to give a commencement speech and accept an honorary degree at Boston University. In protest, some students formed a picket line, and many booed, chanted, and turned their backs on the CEO when he took the stage.
Members of the Writers Guild haven’t had to walk the picket lines in 15 years, but they have been on strike since May 2nd, with almost 98% of members voting in favor of this strike. Among their list of demands, writers are seeking “better pay, streaming residuals, mandatory staffing, employment duration, and AI technology safeguards. As for the latter, though the WGA can’t stop the development of AI, assurances can be made to guarantee basic standards of human involvement and fair pay.”
In April, Geoffrey Hinton, known as the godfather of AI, left Google, citing concerns about the potential dangers of artificial intelligence. He says he regrets his life’s work and is worried about the potential for AI to be used for malicious purposes, such as creating autonomous weapons or spreading misinformation. Talk about not going down with the very ship you helped to build.
Well, now Google is about to change the online publishing industry with its new "Top Stories" feature. This feature will allow users to see a curated list of articles from a variety of publishers, without having to go to each individual website. This could be a major disruption to the online publishing industry, as it could lead to a decrease in traffic to individual websites and therefore a decrease in revenue for publishers. Some are concerned that publishers will be less likely to invest in quality journalism if they know that people are getting their news from Google's "Top Stories" feature.
If you are also concerned about AI in fiction, you can join a new advocacy group called Humanity in Fiction. “Humanity in Fiction is an open advocacy group comprised of publishers, editors, first readers, authors, agents, academics, developers, data scientists, and others concerned with the ethical development of AI in creative spaces.”
According to their mission statement page, Humanity in Fiction is seeking to work with AI developers and publishers to refine existing systems.“AI in fiction is here now. But that’s not a bad thing, and AI is not our enemy. When used with care, AI can be of great use to a writer. As with any tool, the effect that AI can have on the writing and publishing process has equal potential for benefit as well as harm.”
After Phillies right fielder Bryce Harper told GQ that he enjoys reading romance novels, the Wall Street Journal did some groundbreaking investigative work and reported that more men are now reading romance novels, or at least admitting to it. At The Ripped Bodice—we visited them back in Season 1, I believe—one bookshop keeper said she has noticed an increase in men shopping for themselves at the romance-only bookstore, estimating that about 30% of the shop’s clientele are men.
This is good news, but join me on the Overthinking Couch for a minute while I tug at a loose thread in this article.
Romance readers enjoy this art form because of the reliable happy endings. No, that’s not a euphemism. The characters are going to go through some things, but in the end, they’re going to be happy with their significant other, or significant others, plural, in some cases. This is why every romance reader, he, she, and they, pick up a romance novel once in a while or exclusively.
In the Wall Street Journal article I just mentioned, one military personnel said, “you like what you like, and you can’t let anybody knock you for it.” So far, so good.
But the article also said that men are reading these books to better understand relationships. First of all, I don’t think that’s a good idea, primarily because a lot of the conflict in these books is based on a misunderstanding that could be cleared up with a phone call or even a text, but romance characters are not the best at open communication.
But secondly, and most importantly, this is exactly what people have been giving women grief about for ages. Women minding their own business reading a romance novel get accused of having unrealistic expectations about relationships. That has never made any sense to me because it indicates that romance readers cannot tell the difference between reality and fiction. Does watching NASCAR races give you an unrealistic expectation about driving to work? You understand the difference, right?
So, okay, women have put up with these false accusations for as long as romance has been a genre. But now that a man has said he looks to romance novels to understand relationships, suddenly these books have value. They’re manuals, you see, not fiction. Included in my feminist outrage is the fact that we want men to give a reason for reading romance. They are not allowed to just enjoy the art form. It has to have purpose, and what better purpose than improving your odds of getting laid?
I am glad that men are saying they like to read romance novels, and I hope we can stop making romance readers justify their actions.
Links to all these stories can be found in the show notes of this episode and on writingbreak.com.
We’re skipping the bookstore today to have a bit more time for the writing tip. So, take out a notebook while I freshen up that drink. You’re gonna need both.
As we venture into the nitty gritty of what happens after you’ve written and polished your manuscript, we should make sure we have a clear view of the ever-changing publishing landscape as it stands today. Here are 5 unpleasant things about today’s publishing landscape to keep in mind, but maybe at the back of your mind—way, way back.
A professor once told me that more than 80% of people say they have a book inside them. I’m not sure where that statistic came from, and I like to say that 70% of statistics are made up on the spot. But it’s probably safe to say that many people feel that they have a book inside them. That means there is a lot of human competition, and now we have to factor in the possibility of AI as competition. Understand that the odds are you will be rejected. Not because you are not a good writer but simply because of the volume of submissions. The rejection rate is high, so you need to be ready to be rejected and keep going. You need to be committed.
Writing is an art; publishing is a business, and that is how we must think about it. Approach the publishing process like a professional and not a high-maintenance celebrity. In addition to building your readership and promoting your book, which authors have always had to do, you also have to be ready to accept feedback and act upon it in a way that improves your writing and helps your career.
You need to write because you think it’s a good idea, not because people tell you to write. Haven’t you ever been sharing something about your life and someone says, “You should write a book?” Do you think that if you stopped, dropped, and wrote a book, that person would even read it? It’s just a thing people say. You are not obligated to obey. If you decide to write anything, it ought to be because that is what you want to do with your time and energy.
Be careful when you encounter publishing advice from established authors. Those starting their career now have different obstacles to overcome than established authors had when they were starting out.
Your best shot at selling a book is to write about what you want to write about. Think the manuscript out thoroughly, and make sure that the final version is the best you can do.
Next week I’ll begin the traditional publishing versus self-publishing discussion. Until then, remember, you deserved this break.
If you would like us to visit your favorite independent bookstore, feature your favorite independent author (even if it’s you), or discuss something you’re overthinking about, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for making space in your mind for The Muse today.
Writing Break is hosted by America’s Editor and produced by Allon Media with technical direction by Gus Aviles. Visit us at writingbreak.com or contact us at email@example.com.