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Publishing In The Early Singularity
I wrote yesterday’s story a little bit over a year ago, in early September of 2022, in preparation for the Ink At The Abby writing retreat. The people I workshopped it with thoroughly enjoyed it. Elizabeth Hand, in a focused one-on-one critique, said there was nothing she could suggest to improve it, suggested we discuss my next professional writing goals as a better use of our time, and said she’d be surprised if it didn’t find a publisher.
It hasn’t found a publisher yet, and that’s a problem, because of Time. I immediately hit my two favorite online venues, as they’d be most likely to get it out in a decent time frame, but both passed. I then submitted to the Big Three print periodicals, because even though I knew it would be over a year before the story would see print, I’m not immune to the glamour of being published in one of those. Alas, they passed as well.
Working through those five markets took almost a full year. The submissions & review process is loooooong. Even worse, it has gotten significantly longer since ChatGPT became popular. All the markets are currently flooded with far more submissions than they have slush readers for. And before you ask, no, they can’t hire more. Slush readers are volunteers as it is, because there is no money in short-story publishing and they literally can’t afford to pay them, and the volunteer supply has been tapped out for years.
In fact, several markets have shut their doors for months as they grapple with the flood of submissions and try to figure out what to do about it. AI-generated stories are about as good as low-quality story submissions by novices. This means they won’t get published (because they aren’t good enough) but the only way to tell they aren’t good enough is to have an actual human reader read them (or at least the first several pages of them) and move them to the “pass” bin.
What this means for me is that this story, already hard to place because it’s 8,000 words, would probably take 1-3 years to find a publisher, and after that it would be another 6 months to 20 months before it was available for anyone to read. I’m looking at ~2-5 years from right now if I want someone else to publish this story.
For many stories a delay like this doesn’t much matter, because their themes aren’t very strongly tied to the 2022/2023 time period. This one is. It is basically fanfic. It is a response to pop culture and internet trends, it rides on memes. The longer it goes from time of writing to time of publication, the less relevant it is. At one year from writing it’s already starting to get dated, I can’t wait years. And honestly, I’d prefer that 120-200 people read it while it’s relevant than a few thousand read it long after it’s old and stale.
I think this will happen more and more as the singularity settles in. The venerable publishers that carried the torch for so long will continue to be worn away by a million AI minds. The only way I can see them coming out of this is to limit submissions to only authors proven to have existed before Generative AI was born, or who have become popular enough afterwards that their human existence isn’t in question. My first published story was in Asimov’s SF, February 2015 issue, and that credit helped me a lot in the ensuing years. It’s unlikely any new writers will be able to break in this way again, unless they personally know someone in the industry. This is a shame.
On the plus side, more and more people will be writing for their friends. And reading their friends. There’s never been any money in writing, but the illusion that you could make money drove a lot of people. Now that the illusion is completely shattered, people will be able to write what they want just for the joy of it. They’ll put it up on their blogs and their forums, and perhaps if something really good breaks out they’ll bring a lot of joy to a lot of people. And maybe if they really luck out, they’ll end up with an invitation to Burning Man or VibeCamp out of it. Because let’s face it, the real point of all this really is the friends we make along the way. :)