Do Million Dollar Debut Authors Help or Hurt Publishing?

Million Bucks

Point One: Book publishing, like the entertainment industry at large, relies on a few breakout successes to overcompensate for the projects which don’t succeed. Point two: We as humans are wired for “narratives” in our lives-thus we seek opinions which confirm our pre-conceived notions, rather than being challenged.

For book publishers and authors, nothing beats a “rags to riches” narrative, given the struggles of pretty much every author who has a book, many who may live in poverty or low-income conditions, who see their work come to life via publisher. They watch the book become a hit, get rich, and stand tall as the next wave of eager beavers send in their manuscripts, in the hopes that their book might be the Next Bit Thing (NBT). The desire to stand on top of the mountain and shout to everyone behind you “yes, you can do it. See me? See me? I did it and perhaps it could be you.” Whether that desire is eager optimism to help fellow authors or a cynical ploy to sell “services” or “advice” to wannabes, depends on the author.

The desire to find the next breakout story drives publisher to seek the NBT. The problem is, it’s not really clear why some books do phenomenally well and others don’t. If it were, publishers and agents would only accept authors with a 95% chance of that book hitting the bestseller’s list. (Subscribe to my blog for a future post on this 95 percent confidence interval and what it means). But since determining those books is difficult without market research (which I don’t see them do for most books), they are left to what we used to call in grammar school “educated guesswork” or “guesstimates”.

The Wall Street Journal had a recent article about the “millionaire debutantes”- authors who got $1 million or more for their first book. This is like the legendary City of Gold or Shangri-La for authors, since it’s so rare to ever hear of an author receiving an advance this big. Or is it?

Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, a former marketing copywriter in Los Angeles, dreamed for years of becoming a novelist but never had any illusions about earning a living from it. Her goal in writing her first novel, “The Nest,” which she tackled in her early 50s, was merely to finish it.

In a whirlwind week as publishers read the manuscript last December, HarperCollins’s Ecco editorial director Megan Lynch made a pre-emptive offer to publish the novel for at least $1 million. “I never imagined people would respond that way in a million years,” said Ms. Sweeney, 55. The book, about four adult siblings whose anticipated inheritance has all but evaporated because of one brother’s bad behavior, is scheduled to be published next March.

Literary fiction, long critically revered but poorly remunerated, is generating bigger and bigger bets by publishers. Thanks to a spate of recent runaway hits such as “The Goldfinch” in 2013 and “All the Light We Cannot See” last year, publishers are increasingly willing to pony up enormous advances to secure potential blockbusters.

Social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads have contributed to a culture in which everyone reads—and tells their friends about—the same handful of books a year. It’s increasingly a winner-take-all economy, publishing executives say.As a result, publishers are competing for debut literary talent with the same kind of frenzied auction bidding once reserved for promising debut thrillers or romance novels. “If they feel they have the next Norman Mailer on their hands, they’re going have to pay for that shot,” literary agent Luke Janklow said. “It’s usually the result of a little bit of crowd hysteria in the submission.”

“They’re basically betting on the book establishing itself as an important book in the canon,” Jane Friedman, co-founder of e-book publisher Open Road Media and former CEO of HarperCollins said of Knopf’s deal for “City on Fire.” “You’re betting that this is going to be the most-read book of the year.”

The lack of a sales track record is one of the factors that makes debut authors most appealing, publishers say, because there is no hard data to dampen expectations. “You can pin all your hopes and dreams and fantasies on a debut novel,” said Eric Simonoff, an agent known for negotiating seven-figure advances.

Some worry that large payouts for debut novels could do more harm than good. They put pressure on first-time authors and consume resources that otherwise might go to authors who have posted moderate sales, some agents and publishing executives said.

“It’s not that they’re betting on the wrong writer, it’s that the bet’s too big,” said Morgan Entrekin, publisher at the independent house Grove Atlantic, who noted that Grove can’t afford seven-figure advances.

Moreover, if the book doesn’t turn a profit, the relationship between the author and publisher can sour. And those disappointing sales figures are available for any other publisher to peruse when the author tries to sell her next novel. “That is a scarlet letter that you don’t get out from under,” Mr. Janklow said.

Indeed, million-dollar investments in debuts often don’t pan out, publishers and other industry experts say.

Read that quote by Eric Simonoff again and scratch your head. Is that how a business should operate? Committing millions of dollars to unproven projects because you could project your fantasies onto them?

Authors, unlike musicians or actors, are generally not public figures and rarely have the extroversion needed to build a massive social media or TV following to sell books. Whose fault that is you can argue all day. But the point is, you don’t see any reality TV shows featuring the writer’s life or asking aspiring writers to read their best flash fiction on-air for judges. Just imagine if publishers took most of that over-sized advance and instead committed it to marketing their books. Might they not sell more, especially of the ‘midlisters’?

The whole point of an advance is to provide authors with a source of income for their writing while they waited for their books to sell and collect royalties.But how can you justify handing one author a million bucks, probably 20 years’ of pre-tax pay for their job, when other authors barely get enough to pay their mortgage or rent? Or get nothing at all? Especially when who gets what is based on guesswork and not data.

The bottom line is, in an age where Amazon and self-published authors are taking market share from the traditional publishers of all sizes, the last thing the Big Five need is to spend millions on “guesstimates” of which books will succeed, enriching a tiny, tiny number of lucky authors while leaving the 99.999% out to dry, and focus on marketing the titles they already have. Then they might not need to rely so much on blockbuster titles.

photo: http://mymoneycounselor.com/net-worth-how-are-you-doing/million-bucks

 

Seven Things I’ve Learned Using Social Media

Anyone trying to build a personal brand knows you have to use social media. All of us are increasingly spending more and more time online, whether from a desktop or mobile device, so being where people are is important if you want to reach folks.

The question is though, how many social media sites does one need to be active on to be successful? I’m not just talking about Facebook, etc., but blogs and “hang out” places like Kboards.com or whatever it is in your field you like. I’m still learning but here are seven things I’ve learned from trying to create my online platform.

1. Contrary to popular wisdom, you really don’t need to be a star with every site Conversely, you should be using more than one. I would say if you can use 3 social media sites and stay active on at least 2 blog boards (your personal blog counts for this, as does someone else’s blog) that’s more than sufficient. Stretching yourself too thin will dilute your impact but too few limits your ability to find new fans for your brand.  There are so many social media sites (Do you use Keek? Vine? Tumblr? Instagram? Snapchat? Flickr?) you just can’t star at ’em all unless you either a) use social media like a full-time job or b) hire someone to manage your social media full time. Ignore anyone who says that if you’re not on dozens of social media sites you’re “missing out”. There are very few people or businesses which can use that many sites and all of them have social media managers.

B&B: I use Facebook for personal use, Twitter (personal), LinkedIn (professional), Google+ (both), my blog (both), and I just signed up for Pinterest (which you can visit at https://www.pinterest.com/samfriedman100/). Check out my blog this Thursday for some great Pinterest tips. I also have a Vimeo account but it’s inactive at this time.

2. YouTube is a great tie-in to your other sites, but useless without a strategy Unless your direct objective is to be a YouTube celebrity or to get just enough viewers to collect a little ad revenue, producing even basic quality, simple content is time-consuming. It takes me about an hour to make a 2-5 minute video, edit it, add a free music soundtrack for intro and outro music, and publish with keyword rich videos. If I need photos it could take a little longer given my computer’s age and hard drive speed. Absolutely use YT to promote your brand but make sure YT fits into your overall platform plan. Otherwise your random videos will be drowned out by gamers, sketch comedians, DIY celebrities, and anyone willing to do basically anything to become famous. Hmmm…..

3. Visit blog boards in your area of interest and post, but don’t be worried if you aren’t a heavy poster I’ve been a registered member of Kboards for about 6 months and I have maybe 30 posts. Working a full time paid job and managing several other part-time jobs and volunteering keeps me too busy to post a ton but I do try. On at least one occasion a woman on Kboards snarkily commented how I had been on 3 months but had 8 posts (at the time) when I tried to post a topic question. Get your name out there but focus on your brand first and foremost and don’t feel bad if you’re not a board addict.

4. Identify the best posting times for each site Not all social media sites are created equal when it comes to posting. Did you know the best times to post to YouTube are Wednesday-Friday from 12-3 PM, but Saturday and Sunday 9-11 AM? Did you know some Pinterest brands in areas like cars and fashion do better if Pinned Friday afternoon, which is a total dead time for LinkedIn posts? Experiment and measure your data to see how you’re doing and when you find the times which work best for you, get those posts in as consistently as you can.

5. Experiment with different ideas per site, and keep track of what works and what doesn’t For LinkedIn I found that posts about social media were my most popular, giving me hundreds of readers and followers at a time. In contrast, posts about anything else had far fewer hits. Twitter does well when I follow accounts tied into writing but less so tied into other things. I agree that branding only works when you follow a somewhat consistent pattern to make yourself identifiable with a brand, so in my case writing and personal branding tips. But I disagree with anyone who thinks you have to use the same concepts for all your social media platforms. So long as you stay within your brand image, it’s OK to post one type of post to LinkedIn and then a variant of that post, or a whole new one, to your personal blog.

6. Consider using Hoostsuite or Buffer to manage posts Eventually you will discover just how difficult it is to post to all sites consistently. Do I write a LinkedIn Influencer post today or post for my blog? Should I post a photo of my uncle’s adorably kitty to Twitter or Pinterest? Why not both? Eventually you will outgrow your ability to manage all posts so look for a social media manager like Hootsuite or Buffer. I use Buffer for personal stuff and Hootsuite for CRI which allows me to test which one is better, and there ARE other options as well. Find one you like and stick with it. Post as consistently same time/day as you can, but don’t get alarmed if you aren’t 100% consistent. You’re only human, even if your scheduler isn’t, and those who insist you manage half a dozen sites at the same time every single day fail to note this. Anyone who stops reading or following you because your post is a day late isn’t worth your worry, anyway.

7. Your Search Engine Optimization improves with your relevant online use Have you ever been contacted by someone promising to get you on the top page in Google’s search engine for your category? Obsessed over how to be found? The truth is, your total online presence and relevance is the top driver for SEO. The more relevant posts and publications you have which can be identifiable by you, the higher your SEO ranking will go. Don’t spend money on these “experts” who offer to boost your rating if you give them a lot of money. They can’t do anything productive for you and money you could have spent on Google AdWords to advertise your brand (or similar services such as Bing Ads) will be swallowed in the black hole of worrying about your SEO ranking.

Coming up next: National Pancake Day! Why I’m getting involved

Coming up soon: Some Pinterest posting tips I’m learning about.

The Problems with Children’s Lit in 2 Graphs (Super Bowl Edition)

First off, let me say American Sniper is a 5/5 movie. Bradley Cooper surprised me by playing the part of Chris Kyle well, naturally, as though it really was Kyle and not an actor playing a former Navy SEAL. I HIGHLY recommend this movie to anyone who wants to see war through the eyes of a person who actually went to Iraq and fought.

Second, Children’s lit. Publisher’s Launch is a project of Michael Cader of Publishers Lunch and PublishersMarketplace.com and Mike Shatzkin of The Idea Logical Company to provide better data analytics on the book pub world to publisher’s. Such as, who’s buying what and what the trends are for literature and literacy, two big issues I care about. Education is so important to me that I do a lot of grassroots work to improve education but that’s a post for another time.

Jonathan Nowell of Nielsen Book had a presentation at Publisher Launch’s Launch Kids session at the most recent Digital Book World conference called “A look at the US Children’s book Market”. He posted his slideshow to the ‘net, for those of us who couldn’t go.

As someone who read a fair amount of kid’s books, and who just finished manuscript #1 for a middle grade novel, here is what’s wrong with children’s lit in 2 graphs: 

The takeaways:

1. Notice the book is missing from graph #1 for kids 14-17. For most American children once they turn 11 books drop off and YouTube and TV take its place.

2. By 14 social media and mobile devices are more important. Reading drops out of the top 8 slots and even sports drop towards the bottom. I was surprised that gaming was less interesting than Facebook and YouTube among teens. This must explain the rise in watching strangers on YouTube play video games and “commentate” rather than actually picking up the controller yourself like I did when I was a teen. Let me note: They are watching random strangers just play games and talk. Whenever I wanted to watch someone play a game and talk, I would go to friend’s houses and do the same thing! But I digress.

This sadly means it’s tougher to get kids and teens to read, which is noticeable when 80% of Young Adult books are bought by adults, for adults. Unless..

3. Graph #2 shows the rise in getting YouTube (and presumably other) internet celebrities in “writing books”. Now to be fair I’ve never heard of any of the celebrities listed on graph 2, but I found this tidbit on “Girl Online” by Zoe Sugg, who goes by the name “Zoella” online. The article notes that Zoe’s debut novel outsold other major authors like J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown, and E.L. James. Apparently, though, her first week accounted for nearly all of her sales as she has since petered out near the 100,000 mark, surprising given that she has close to 7 million YouTube subscribers. She apparently did not actually write the novel; it was ghostwritten, a rather unusual thing for fiction novels, unless you’re bestselling author “Snooki” from the Jersey Shore.

No doubt the internet was a useful tool to help these YouTube stars, of which I am not one of them (I think I’m too old), sell books. However, in the long run, whose books sell better? The three authors Zoe beat, or Zoe? We all know the answer. Now in the short-term, getting celebrities of all stripes (internet, reality tv, etc.) is a better way of selling books than relying on little-known debut novelists with smaller platforms and fewer social media followers. You fans will go buy a book because it’s “you” and, like, you’re famous. BUT again, what are the odds of these books becoming the next Harry Potter/Twilight/Hunger Games/Stephen King just because they have a celebrity’s name on it? Want to place a bet?

I can tell you why. At the end of the day it’s the product quality, not the person/people endorsing the product, which determines a product’s success. While I acknowledge I am a bit envious of my far-fewer social media follower status in promoting anything I have, I can say in the long run relying too heavily on poor-quality celebrity books, even to get kids to read, is not the answer. The kids who are not fans of these celebrities just won’t read or will go back to reading other things by established authors. I love Lord of the Rings, I consider it one of the all-time greatest fantasy series ever, but it’s a little sad to me when 2 of the top 5 best-selling Fantasy novels for January are by a man who’s been dead for 42 years, as though literally no one in the world can ever write a good fantasy book again.

Please share your thought about whether you think it’s a good idea for book publishers to rely heavily on celebrity-driven books, or take risks on little-known or unknown debut novelists. Remember. celebrity books are nothing new or bad. They can certainly boost sales at least in the short run over non-famous persons. My argument is that relying on internet & reality T.V. celebrities to “write” kid’s books is not a good long-term trend for brand development and literacy improvement.

The full report is here

SUPER BOWL PICK: I will be rooting for New England with my Pats shirt on at the bar tomorrow. Initially I had Seattle 27-16, but I’m more torn on it now. New England plays very well with the “us against the world mentality” and for that reason I leaned towards NE. But Seattle has shown the ability to do their best no matter what the other teams do, and can the Pats defense stop Lynch and Wilson?

The key players are Gronk vs. Wilson. I’ll go closer but I say Seattle 26 New England 23. Seattle’s defense has been very good at shutting down good offenses and even with the injuries in the back 7 I don’t know how good New England’s defense will be at slowing down the Seattle run game, even IF their WR’s are mediocre.

My First Query Rejection

Anyone who has submitted work to be represented in the traditional manner (by an agent, who then tries to convince editors at a publishing company to buy your work) knows how daunting it is for first-time noncelebrity authors to get representation and publication.

Now I know a lot of you who are authors, writers, or aspiring professionals in this regard have self-published material and I know there are some very opinionated bloggers on the web who are very passionate about this issue. There are pros and cons to both self- and traditionally- published books but we’ll save that for another time.

I’ve redacted the name of the agent I heard back from since it isn’t relevant for this blogpost. First off, I appreciate her very quick (1 day) AND her personalized response, even though it wasn’t what I wanted to hear:

“Dear Samuel,

Thanks so much for thinking of me for your book.
Unfortunately, this is not quite right for me. However, I really appreciate the opportunity to see your work. I’m wishing you the very best in 2015!”
Warmest Regards,
xxxxxxxx
We know the reading market has slowed down growth as it’s increasingly less likely people will sit through an entire book as opposed to watching videos or going online. This is actually not an insurmountable challenge, and stay tuned because later I will explain why we can’t give up on literacy and getting people to invest more time in reading. It isn’t just good for the industry, or for someone’s bottom line, but also for society: a more literate society is a society with less crime and poverty.
I also, having read books on publishing by publishers and on agent representation by current and former agents, know it’s tough to find that one person out of (tens of) thousands whose idea and marketability is solid enough for a publisher to put in serious effort to market and distribute a book. Sometimes we as aspiring professional authors wish there was less clutter in the agent’s e-mailbox to give ourselves a better shot, but this is unfortunately not true.
But here’s the question: How much of an eye-catching query letter is based on the plot of the book versus the author’s ability to sell it? I have a feeling your credentials or “platform” matters more than the actual book itself. Otherwise Snooki could never have gotten a contract. In other words, was the problem that she isn’t “the right fit”, or that I do not yet have a few ten thousand social media followers whom I can tweet or post about this book to get traction? (speaking of, please follow me on Twitter @sammydrf and I will follow you too). Speaking of social media, as your friendly “Millennial” social media “expert”, I have written, and will write again, about why social media platforms are overrated when judging the value of what is salable or not.
I sent out a few other representation requests, highlighting my active use of social media across multiple platforms AND my experience speaking on live commercial radio, tv, and being printed in newspapers. I actually have been published before as an author in both printed and online newspapers, but not as a fiction author. Sadly, I get the impression this does not have much bearing on my publication history for Big 5 book publishing.
If anything interesting happens with this, I will let you know. Any ideas? share ’em too. I love feedback (and I will subscribe to your blog!).

Happy New Year! My Blog’s Resolution

Happy 2015! I want to end the year with one final blogpost to welcome in the New Year and mention what I will be writing about more of in 2015:

  • More social media tips. I’m becoming more of an expert on this from my work and from reading books from industry experts. Check these out if you’re trying to build a personal platform and boost your online presence.
  • Tips on how to use data analytics (Google and otherwise) to better measure results and find out what works and what doesn’t.
  • Better ways to market and advertise.

Whether you follow my blog because you’re an author looking to build an online platform, or a social media/PR professional looking for more tips on branding and using data analytics for work, you should expect more posts from me and more things you can take away.

As always, please subscribe to my page and follow me on Twitter @sammydrf.

Happy New Year!

Are you Addicted to Social Media?

First off, Happy Holidays to all this December, no matter what you celebrate.

For this post I’ve decided to look at social media addiction. In an article written by Jess Ostroff at Spin Sucks, she talks about how lots of us are not only internet addicts, but social media addicts.

womenonthefence.com

Do you care what your friends, family, and favorite celebrities are up to all the time? Do you frequently check you social media pages to see new statuses, tweets, pins, keekbacks, vine posts, etc. etc.? Could you go an entire day without social media? How about a week? a month?

Jess writes: “Some people are addicted to social media the same way others are addicted to heroin.”

The summary of the article is this: There is a chemical called dopamine which, when released, provides you with the feeling of pleasure. For many people the constant need to read what others are posting {you can be excused for my blog- I love it when you read my posts :)}, post new content yourself, or struggle with Fear Of Missing Out syndrome (FOMO) which for some people is a real disorder, is a direct result of our brains being retrained by our internet browsing habits to crave the internet and get annoyed when we aren’t around it.

under30ceo.com

For me personally I don’t dispute that I do monitor social media during the week, as for my job I am required to update and post new content at least once daily. However on weekends I am pretty good about turning off the social media and picking up a book or at least continuing the books I’m working on now.

This is an important point for those of you trying to complete projects, especially books, film projects, etc. One way I find I’m able to write better is to put my phone in another room so I can hear it but I’d have to get up to answer it. This removes at least one distraction.

What about you? Are you or someone you know a “social media addict”?

How “The Shazam Effect” changed music- and could change book publishing

There was an interesting article in The Atlantic earlier this week called “The Shazam Effect.” For those of you unfamiliar with the term, Shazam is a tech start up founded in 2000 by a Standford Ph.D. named Avery Wang who wanted to develop a service which could use a cellphone to identify any song within the phone’s range using an algorithm which created a unique acoustic fingerprint for each track, turning each song into a piece of data which could be read by the Shazam program. 500 million downloads later the program is used by music industry executives to determine not merely what songs are popular, but which songs will be hits with the right marketing effort in the future based on early-detection. Read the following (edited for length) and for those of who who like reading substitute “music” for “books”, “songs” for “self-published novelist” “artists” with “authors”, “hear” and “listen(er)” with “read(er)”, and “labels” or “music executives ” with “traditional publishers”:

“By studying 20 million searches every day, Shazam can identify which songs are catching on, and where, before just about anybody else. “Sometimes we can see when a song is going to break out months before most people have even heard of it,” Jason Titus, Shazam’s former chief technologist, told me.  Last year, Shazam released an interactive map overlaid with its search data, allowing users to zoom in on cities around the world and look up the most Shazam’d songs in São Paulo, Mumbai, or New York. The map amounts to a real-time seismograph of the world’s most popular new music, helping scouts discover unsigned artists just as they’re starting to set off tremors.

Shazam searches are just one of several new types of data guiding the pop-music business. Concert promoters study Spotify listens to route tours through towns with the most fans, and some artists look for patterns in Pandora streaming to figure out which songs to play at each stop on a tour. In fact, all of our searching, streaming, downloading, and sharing is being used to answer the question the music industry has been asking for a century: What do people want to hear next?

It’s a question that label executives once answered largely by trusting their gut. But data about our preferences have shifted the balance of power, replacing experts’ instincts with the wisdom of the crowd. As a result, labels have gotten much better at understanding what we want to listen to. This is the one silver lining the music industry has found in the digital revolution, which has steadily cut into profits. So it’s clearly good for business—but whether it’s good for music is a lot less certain.

Next Big Sound, a five-year-old music-analytics company based in New York, scours the Web for Spotify listens, Instagram mentions, and other traces of digital fandom to forecast breakouts. It funnels half a million new acts through an algorithm to create a list of 100 stars likely to break out within the next year. “If you signed our top 100 artists, 20 of them would make the Billboard 200,” Victor Hu, a data scientist with Next Big Sound, told me.

Last year, the company unveiled a customizable search tool called Find, which, for a six-figure annual subscription, helps scouts mine social media to spot artists who show signs of nascent stardom. If, for example, you wanted to search for obscure bands with the fastest-growing followings on Twitter, Find could produce a list within seconds.

To get a song on the radio in the first place, music labels confront a paradox: How do you prove that it will be a hit before anyone has heard it? DJs consider unfamiliar songs “tune-outs,” because audiences tend to spurn new music. In the past, labels sometimes pressured or outright bribed stations to promote their music. Songs became hits because executives decided they should be hits.

But radio, too, has come to rely more on data, and now when label executives pitch a station, they’re likely to come armed with spreadsheets. The search for evidence of a song’s potential has become exhaustive: you can’t just track radio data, or sales, or YouTube hits, or Facebook interactions, or even proprietary surveys and focus groups. To persuade a major radio station to play a new song, labels have to connect all these dots.

The Hot 100 matters because it doesn’t just reflect listener preferences, it also shapes them. In a groundbreaking 2006 study on the influence of song rankings, three researchers at Columbia University showed that popularity can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. The researchers sent participants to different music Web sites where they could listen to dozens of tracks and download their favorites. Some sites displayed a ranking of the most-downloaded songs; others did not. Participants who saw rankings were more likely to listen to the most-popular tracks.

The researchers then wondered what would happen if they manipulated the rankings. In a follow-up experiment, some sites displayed the true download counts and others showed inverted rankings, where the least-popular song was listed in the No. 1 spot. The inverted rankings changed everything: previously ignored songs soared in popularity, and previously popular songs were ignored. Simply believing, even wrongly, that a song was popular made participants more likely to download it.

Everyone I spoke with about the Hot 100—label and radio executives, industry analysts, and other journalists—agreed with Jay Frank’s assessment that consumers have more say than they did decades ago, when their tastes were shaped by the hit makers at labels. But here’s the catch: if you give people too much say, they will ask for the same familiar sounds on an endless loop, entrenching music that is repetitive, derivative, and relentlessly played out.

Because the most-popular songs now stay on the charts for months, the relative value of a hit has exploded. The top 1 percent of bands and solo artists now earn 77 percent of all revenue from recorded music, media researchers report. And even though the amount of digital music sold has surged, the 10 best-selling tracks command 82 percent more of the market than they did a decade ago. 

And not only are we hearing the same hits with greater frequency, but the hits themselves sound increasingly alike. As labels have gotten more adept at recognizing what’s selling, they’ve been quicker than ever to invest in copycats. People I spoke with in the music industry told me they worried that the reliance on data was leading to a “clustering” of styles and genres, promoting a dispiriting sameness in pop music.

In 2012, the Spanish National Research Council released a report that delighted music cranks around the world. Pop, it seemed, was growing increasingly bland, loud, and predictable, recycling the same few chord progressions over and over. The study, which looked at 464,411 popular recordings around the world between 1955 and 2010, found that the most-played music of the new millennium demonstrates “less variety in pitch transitions” than that of any preceding decade.

The problem is not our pop stars. Our brains are wired to prefer melodies we already know. (David Huron, a musicologist at Ohio State University, estimates that at least 90 percent of the time we spend listening to music, we seek out songs we’ve heard before.) That’s because familiar songs are easier to process, and the less effort needed to think through something—whether a song, a painting, or an idea—the more we tend to like it. In psychology, this idea is known as fluency: when a piece of information is consumed fluently, it neatly slides into our patterns of expectation, filling us with satisfaction and confidence.”

You can see what data analytics can do for music, you can imagine what they can do for books.

Imagine major publishing companies using data algorithms to predict what self-published author or book might be the next big hit. Rather than let the market decide, they take someone with potential and make sure he/she is shot up to the top based on data and the assumption people want more of the same. Since most people prefer things they already know, they will support whatever is considered “popular”. So if the major publishers decided a particular book should be popular, they can simply bump it to the top, knowing the book-buying public will buy a print or e-book copy because they think everyone else is. The power of peer pressure, combined with people’s comfort in seeking out things we are familiar with and enjoy, could continue moving the literacy world in the same direction as the music industry: Authors will be chosen based on potential popularity and fitting their books into a formula for what people want, which means make sure your books look like everyone else’s with only minor differences. Those who are “chosen” will earn even more of the take on book revenue because they will perpetually be near the top. Only now people will be chosen by data analytics rather than someone reading the slush pile.

This could be a boon to self-publishers, who with a little marketing, social media presence, and luck, could be plucked from relative obscurity and made into the next big thing. Agents will have an important, but diminished, role in finding new talent because the publishing companies will just pay a tech company for this service. In this system agents would focus more on the contract and business side and less on presenting an author to the editors and publishers.

However, this system would further increase the disparity between the top and the bottom, as anyone showing even a modicum of talent will be whisked to the top just as the music industry has been successful at doing. And we all know there is a reason authors on a major bestsellers list stick that achievement on their books.

What do you think about this article? Could reading become like listening? Books treated like the music industry treats authors? the gap between the wealthy few mega best-sellers and everyone else continue to grow? Or are reading and listening too separate for this ever to happen?

The image is owned and copyrighted by The Atlantic.