July 2023

Being hyper-independent cuts you off from essential creative support.

I’ve just come back from a couple of weeks off, a break I really needed and which successfully recharged my batteries. Whilst I was away, I got to thinking about hyper-independence and how bad it can be for a writing career. My husband has more than once joked that if there’s an easy way to do something and a hard way to do something, I’ll always pick the hard way. Except it’s really not a joke, it’s just a statement of fact.

I have no doubt that I have at least a little hyper-independence, which can be defined as “unhealthy and excessive need for self-reliance”, having been bullied a lot as a child and teen. And I also have no doubt that it has led me to making my life more difficult than it needed to have been.

Growing up in a household with self-employed parents in a family where half my relatives were self-employed also emphasised the idea that the standard path of graduating and getting a job was undesirable. Independence was everything. Indeed, I lasted just a few years in employment and became self-employed in 1998. In retrospect, that was an error of judgement, but that realisation came about 20 years too late.

There’s a lot I could say about how hyper-independence has affected my professional life, how I tried to tackle it before I really knew what it was, and how I’ve become less hyper-independent as I’ve  grown older, but that will have to wait for another post. This one is about how the book industry unintentionally encourages hyper-independence and why we need to be aware of it and work to ensure that we don’t become creatively hyper-independent.

The obvious source of creative hyper-independence is the myth of the lone genius slaving away over a hot typewriter to write their Great Novel, which is perfect on first draft. (Perfectionism, by the way, can be a result of the same circumstances that produce hyper-independence.)

Most novels are indeed written by one person, which means that one person gets all the attention if it does well. When a book becomes an explosive bestseller, it’s only the author who’s applauded, profiled and photographed, despite the fact that the book will have been a team effort, from agent to editor to cover-designer, typesetter and beyond.

Some novice authors can learn the wrong lesson from this narrative, believing that their writing should be done in isolation, which in turn leads them to put unnecessary pressure on themselves. Excessively self-reliant people already have a problem delegating work or trusting others, which makes it harder to bring in external help during the creative process and starves them of valuable insights into how to improve their work.

This level of self-sufficiency is not just emotionally exhausting, it can also cause burn-out. Talk to any author the day after they’ve handed an early draft over to their agent and they’ll tell you how wiped out they feel. But authors with a healthy support structure around them will bounce back faster than those who have completely drained the well and are having to start again from rock bottom on their own.

Books can be, and frankly should be, a more collaborative endeavour than many people imagine. Even before you have an agent and publisher, whose job it is to help you refine your manuscript, you can find story editors or development editors to provide feedback on improving structure, pacing and character. Beta readers can be great for soliciting useful insights into how your work is being read and a copyeditor can help you pick up typos that have somehow slipped through that eleventy-billionth edit. Hyper-independent writers, however, feel that they ought to be doing all this themselves.

Another way that book-writing culture damages hyper-independent authors is the set of norms we have for soliciting feedback: Editors, beta readers, agents are all brought in after the novel is complete and has at least had a bit of a polish, if not several redrafts. This is poor practice for a couple of reasons: It’s harder to accept feedback, and that feedback can come so late that fixing the problems becomes harder than it needs to be.

I have certainly struggled to accept substantive feedback when I have reach the point of feeling that the work “should” be “finished”. At that point, my feeling emotionally done with the story combines with my hyper-independence to make it almost impossible for me to hear that major changes need to be made. And I know I’m not alone in that. I’ve felt bad giving feedback to friends when I’ve sensed that all they really want to hear about are easily fixed typos.

And, as I’ve written here before, getting feedback towards the end of the writing process for Tag and discovering that I needed to make some pretty major changes was really disheartening. Had I realised 18 months ago that I needed to rethink the structure of the series, it would have been much, much easier to do.

But rarely do authors solicit feedback at the idea generation stage, when everything is still malleable. Perhaps we would benefit from doing so.

Of course, this ties in with another problem that (not just) hyper-independent people have: Trust. How do we trust that our ideas aren’t going to be stolen by the people we share them with? We could ask them to sign an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) but firstly that doesn’t engender trust and secondly it’s impossible to enforce if you don’t have lots of money for lawyers.

But as with anything in life, trust is earnt, either through developing a relationship over time or by social proof, ie seeing that others have trusted a person and not been burnt by them. We develop trust in all sorts of people and institutions in the rest of our lives, yet creative trust seems particularly hard to come by. And if you’re hyper-independent, it’s even harder.

Yet if you look at some of the very best storytelling around, it’s on TV and it has come to us via writers rooms, where a group of people bat idea around until they have honed them down to a sharp point. Why don’t we do this with novels? Why isn’t story development in the very earliest stages of novel writing a more common thing? I know some people like to write to find out where the story goes, but thrashing out the basics before you put fingers to keyboard doesn’t preclude that.

Part of it, perhaps, is that hyper-independence comes with another more insidious trait: The desire to feel that one has conquered the mountain entirely on one’s own. It’s not just that we feel that we can’t depend on or trust other people to help us, it’s that we feel that our achievements are made lesser if we’ve accepted help. And I say ‘we’ because I know that this is something that I’ve been guilty of, and it’s especially true when it comes to creative work. The desire to be able to say “This masterpiece sprang fully formed from my brain, and my brain alone” can overwhelm any feeling that perhaps we might actually need some help, or that we might produce better work if we collaborated.

But no man is an island, and no writer’s work is entirely original. We are all standing on the shoulders of the giants whose work we’ve read before. It’s impossible to write without reading, and everything you read goes into your head where your subconscious mushes it up with everything else that’s ever happened to you and it all comes out in your writing.

The healthy response is to accept this. It’s not just OK that we are influenced by others, it’s good. It’s normal. It’s an essential part of being a writer. Indeed, it makes you a better writer. So trying to control your creativity and keep it entirely separate from your influences is a task that can only end in failure. Know that, accept it and move on.

One piece of advice on dealing with hyper-independence is to “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable” and to practice relying on people. So perhaps the next time you start to feel isolated and lonely as a writer, ask who you can bring into your creative process. Who can you trust? Perhaps it’s only to bat about a single plot point or read a single page, but start nibbling away at your phobia of relying on other people.

Because in order to really flourish, you have to let people in.

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De-aged Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones

I don’t know whether to make a joke about wishing I could de-age myself or wishing I could do a de-aged Harrison Ford. I guarantee both would have been hilarious.

The actors are striking and it matters for all of us.

Note: I’d already written this week’s newsletter, because I’m technically on holiday, but this all felt rather time-sensitive, so you’ll get that newsletter next time. I’m also really jetlagged so any incoherency is because of that. Honest.

Hi there,

Well, it happened. Last week, the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) went on strike after it failed to reach an agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), ie Netflix, Amazon, Apple, Disney, Discovery-Warner, NBC Universal, Paramount and Sony.

As I said back on 9 May about the WGA strike, this isn’t a localised dispute that non-Americans can safely ignore. The outcome of these negotiations will have knock-on effects for actors around the world because these studios have global reach. What happens in Hollywood will become the template for what happens in the UK and elsewhere. If AMPTP can reduce the amount of money they pay actors and writers in the US, then you can be your bottom dollar they’ll gut contracts in other territories as well.

But what if we aren’t actors or writers? Or at least, not actors or writers in Hollywood. Should we still care?

Well, apart from the obvious fact that we should all care about people who aren’t us getting treated fairly just as a matter of principle, if these strikes fail, anyone who watches anything from any of the AMPTP studios should care, and particularly about generative computing (still refusing to call it AI).

One of SAG-AFTRA’s beefs with the AMPTP is about the studios’ proposal that they should be allowed to scan an actor’s likeness and voice, and keep that data forever.

When asked about the proposal during the press conference, Crabtree-Ireland said that “This ‘groundbreaking’ AI proposal that they gave us yesterday, they proposed that our background performers should be able to be scanned, get one day’s pay, and their companies should own that scan, their image, their likeness and should be able to use it for the rest of eternity on any project they want, with no consent and no compensation. So if you think that’s a groundbreaking proposal, I suggest you think again.”

AMPTP denied that they wanted to hold this data in perpetuity, but we all know that given the chance, they will. They’re already doing it do voice actors, and that’s a cow path that will only turn into a seven lane highway when it’s paved.

Now, as much as I love a de-aged Harrison Ford – and I really do love a de-aged Harrison Ford – the last thing I want is an industry dominated by established stars being de-aged to feature in endless sequels and prequels. Industrial Light & Magic, who did the effects for Indiana Jones & the Dial of Destiny, emphasise that it’s not easy to de-age an actor.

ILM used a set of tools it calls FaceSwap. Like the the purpose-built tech ILM developed to let Martin Scorsese de-age actors for The Irishman, Dial of Destiny utilized a proprietary system called Flux that used two infrared cameras perched on either side of the one filming Ford to gather information from his performance. Unlike The Irishman, it also involved what the actor called “dots on my face” that captured even more data. All of that info was then combined to create a “CG mask” that could be placed on Indy in every frame.

To ensure Ford looked like his younger self, the ILM team used machine learning tools to scour years of footage of the actor that Lucasfilm had in its archives. The team also worked with VFX tools from Disney Research and a “smattering” of other sources to fine-tune the de-aged shots.

But that’s where we are now. In a year, or three years, or five years, where will we be? Obviously, de-aging is only going to get easier, as will constructing entirely new sequences from scratch. (Or removing the clothes from an actor who didn’t want to do a nude scene. Just think about the ethics of that for a second.)

Hollywood already has an unhealthy obsession with sequels, prequels, reboots and existing IP. The ten highest grossing movies of 2022 that were released in the US were all sequels or reboots, without a single original film in the list. (If you include non-US titles then Water Gate Bridge, a Chinese propaganda movie, comes in at no 9). The next ten are all based on existing IP, whether novels, computer games, short films, other movies, or comics.

This over-reliance on the familiar may be backfiring. Arash Amel, the Welsh-Iranian screenwriter, has a great thread about how this summer’s blockbusters aren’t doing as well at the box office as expected. Amel puts this down, correctly I think, to a loss of creative risk-taking caused by the need to make big profits to satisfy Wall Street. And it’s only going to get worse, as he points out, because of the destruction of the talent pipeline – if movies are dominated by established names and franchises, how do new actors and new ideas get a foothold?

I’ve heard the same point made by writers with regard to their experiences in TV. Young writers aren’t getting the security of, say, a 13- or 24-episode contract, and aren’t getting to learn and grow. And they aren’t being given the opportunity to go to set and see how a TV show is actually made and learn how to be that on-set writer.

This is all storing up trouble for the future because the big names are not going to live forever. Or are they? Is generative computing going to be able to replicate both writers and actors, to the point where we don’t need anyone new?

How fucking dull would that make movies and TV?

It’s not just SAG-AFTRA members who are worried about this. Equity, the UK acting union, are also concerned.

Liam Budd, of UK acting union Equity, said: “We’re seeing this technology used in a range of things like automated audiobooks, synthesised voiceover work, digital avatars for corporate videos, or also the role of deepfakes that are being used in films.”

But as film-maker and writer Justine Bateman points out:

“Tech should solve a problem and there’s no problem that those using AI solves. We don’t have a lack of writers, we don’t have a lack of actors, we don’t have a lack of film-makers – so we don’t need AI,” she said.

“The problem it solves is for the corporations that feel they don’t have wide enough profit margins – because if you can eliminate the overhead of having to pay everyone you can appease Wall Street and have greater earnings reports.

“If AI use proliferates, the entertainment industry it will crater the entire structure of this business.”

Another pain point for actors, as with writers, is money. Residuals – the payments you get when an episode is repeated – are tiny for streaming because the last time writers’ and actors’ contracts were negotiated, streaming was still new and the studios argued to keep residuals low. Now, of course, streaming is the norm and both writers and actors are struggling to make a living from their work.

The Guardian has a depressing piece about just how hard it is for actors to make ends meet, with stories from the actors on Orange Is The New Black:

Kimiko Glenn, who played Brook Soso, posted a video to Instagram in which she opened a Sag-Aftra foreign-royalty statement and, despite starring on a huge, award-winning series that helped pave the way for the current glut of streaming originals, discovered she had been paid just $27.30 (about £21). Another cast member, Matt McGorry, replied to the post revealing that he had to keep his day job throughout filming, because he couldn’t support himself on his acting salary. A further star, Beth Dover, revealed that, after deducting travel expenses, she lost money on the show.

Residuals from cable/terrestrial TV repeats used to be enough to keep an actor going between jobs, but that is no longer the case. Again, if actors can’t earn a living, the talent pipeline will completely hollow out, and the only people who’ll become actors (or writers) will be those who are independently wealthy. It’s the same with novelists, by the way, whose advances have cratered over the last decade or so.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Hollywood has the money. Mostly.

“Arts and cultural economic activity” accounted for 4.4 per cent of the US’s GDP in 2021, which is $1.02 trillion. The net worth of Hollywood as an industry is $95.45 billion as of 2022 and it employs around 2.1 million people.

The picture is a bit more complicated than that, however, as Billy Ray explains in this episode of Deadline’s Strike podcast. Some streaming services are losing money hand-over-fist, whilst others are doing OK, and others yet (guess which ones) can afford to lose money because they’re sitting on piles of cash from other arms of their business.

And, I’ll note, that the CEOs aren’t hurting for cash either, with eight major Hollywood studio CEOs collectively earning $773,000,000 last years.

So why not just pay up? The cost of the proposals from the WGA, SAG-AFTRA and Director’s Guild of America are estimated to be between $450 million and $600 million per year, which is frankly peanuts for an industry the size of Hollywood.

But this really isn’t about the money for the AMPTP. It’s about union busting.

Disney’s CEO, Bob Iger, made that clear when he said that writers and actors weren’t being “realistic” in their demands and said he found the strike “disturbing” and then went on to blame the strikers for the impact that the strike is having on associated workers, such as the Teamsters and IATSE members.

This is basic abuser talk. DARVO stands for “Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender”, and we have much of that in Iger’s response:

Deny: “We managed, as an industry, to negotiate a very good deal with the directors guild that reflects the value that the directors contribute to this great business. We wanted to do the same thing with the writers, and we’d like to do the same thing with the actors.”

Attack: “There’s a level of expectation that they have, that is just not realistic. And they are adding to the set of the challenges that this business is already facing that is, quite frankly, very disruptive.”

Reverse Victim and Offender (sort of, but you get the idea): ”It will have a very, very damaging affect on the whole business, and unfortunately, there’s huge collateral damage in the industry to people who are supportive services, and I could go on and on. It will affect the economy of different regions, even, because of the sheer size of the business. It’s a shame, it is really a shame.”

This is not good faith talk.

Worse, insiders are saying that the AMPTP’s intention is to let the strike drag on until writers and actors start to go broke.

the studios have no intention of sitting down with the Writers Guild for several more months.

“I think we’re in for a long strike, and they’re going to let it bleed out,” said one industry veteran intimate with the POV of studio CEOs.

And that’s been the game plan all along:

Receiving positive feedback from Wall Street since the WGA went on strike May 2, Warner Bros Discovery, Apple, Netflix, Amazon, Disney, Paramount and others have become determined to “break the WGA,” as one studio exec blatantly put it.

To do so, the studios and the AMPTP believe that by October most writers will be running out of money after five months on the picket lines and no work.

“The endgame is to allow things to drag on until union members start losing their apartments and losing their houses,” a studio executive told Deadline. Acknowledging the cold-as-ice approach, several other sources reiterated the statement. One insider called it “a cruel but necessary evil.”

Oh look, it’s late stage capitalism again.

It’s no coincidence that three members of AMPTP are big anti-union tech companies. As Bette Midler tweeted, tech has a long history of “destroying an industry by devaluing the product in the name of growth, and then realizing their business model doesn’t actually work.”

Unfortunately, massive amounts of damage will be done to the industry and, much more importantly, the people within it, by this Wall Street-focused approach. The AMPTP is going to kill their own business, because if you don’t pick up and nurture talent now, you’ll have no big hitters in 10 years time. And as much as people seem happy with prequels and sequels now, they will get bored of them. I mean, fuck, have you seen Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania? It’s a mess.

Everything goes in cycles, and there is going to come a point where people are going to want more original stories made by new talent, and that talent won’t exist.

Right, well, fuck, this was supposed to be a short round-up of the SAG-AFTRA situation, but 2,200 words later and I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. And I’m supposed to be on holiday. But if you want more strike news direct from the front lines, subscribe to StrikeGeist, who are doing a grand job of keeping everyone up to date.

Obligatory cat picture

Three farm catsThese three, clockwise from top left, are Sativa, Custard and Archibald, whom we met at the Twin Brooks Farm near Union, IL. It was a gorgeous place to stay, and I’m gutted we only got one night there, not least because these were three of the friendliest barn cats you could ever hope to meet. Archibald was a real cuddle monster, Custard just flolloped in my husband’s arms when he picked him up, and Sativa was constantly coming over for fusses.

Right, that’s it for this week! If you reached this far, well done and a gold star for you!

All the best,



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Does impostor syndrome really exist?

by Suw on July 12, 2023

What if the majority of impostor syndrome is just a normal, sensible response to living an uncertain and precarious life in a challenging industry rife with rejection and poor communication?

Thanks to everyone who left comments or voted in the poll in my last newsletter. It was nice to hear that I’m not alone and to receive a little moral support! Writing can be a lonely business, so it’s nice to feel a bit more connection with you all.


As for the poll, most people either wanted me to do what works for me, or to see a roughly equal mix of posts drawn from the research and from my own experience.

So I’m going to this week kick off with a more research-oriented post.

As it happens I have some existing areas of interest that I’ve been reading up on for another project I’m involved with: The International Collaboration on Mycorrhizal Ecological Traits, or i-COMET. If you subscribe to Word Count, you might recognise that name – we’re using the tail end of our grant to fund work on a short film, Fieldwork.

My original contribution to i-COMET was to provide a year of mentoring for early career ecologists, and collect data on their experiences to compare with a control group who didn’t have any mentoring. As part of that project, I started reading up on four attributes that we felt might affect career engagement and wanted to gather data on:

  1. Mentoring efficacy
  2. Career satisfaction
  3. Self-efficacy (ie self-confidence)
  4. Impostor syndrome

I think all of these have some relevance to writing and writer’s block, but I’m going to start with impostor syndrome because it’s something that many of us are familiar with. But before we can get deep in the weeds, (which I will do in future newsletters), we have to ask:

Does impostor syndrome really exist?

Now, why would I go and ask a question like this? We all know impostor syndrome exists, and that it particularly – but not exclusively – affects women, people of colour and other groups that are subject to prejudice. What value is there in throwing doubt on its existence? That just makes it harder for those of us fighting for equality.

That, or something rather like it, is what I thought the first time I read Stop Telling Women They Have Imposter Syndrome by Ruchika Tulshyan and Jodi-Ann Burey in the Harvard Business Review. But the more I read and re-read it, the more I had to admit that Tulshyan and Burey are right.

Much of what we think of as impostor syndrome is actually the impact of systemic barriers put up to keep us out of whatever industry, organisation, or group we’re trying to exist within. And this is as true of writing as it is of being a woman in science or technology. In fact, the publishing industry seems to have been designed to make people feel like impostors.

The first point Tulshyan and Burey make is that when women are subjected to workplace bullying, racism, and other forms of bias on a regular basis, any self-doubt, anxiety, or feeling like a fraud isn’t and shouldn’t be labelled impostor syndrome, but is instead “workplace-induced trauma”.

Writers regularly face rejection and, increasingly, ghosting when they submit their work to agents, small presses, competitions and the like. Many will say that learning to live with rejection and ghosting is just part of the job, but however you spin it, being on the receiving end of so much negativity is very likely to have an impact on our mental well-being. For many people it’s going to increase self-doubt and anxiety. That’s not impostor syndrome, that’s an impact of the wider environment we’re trying to exist in.

Tulshyan and Burey also talk about the medicalisation of impostor syndrome:

Imposter syndrome took a fairly universal feeling of discomfort, second-guessing, and mild anxiety in the workplace and pathologized it, especially for women.


The label of imposter syndrome is a heavy load to bear. “Imposter” brings a tinge of criminal fraudulence to the feeling of simply being unsure or anxious about joining a new team or learning a new skill. Add to that the medical undertone of “syndrome,” which recalls the “female hysteria” diagnoses of the nineteenth century. Although feelings of uncertainty are an expected and normal part of professional life, women who experience them are deemed to suffer from imposter syndrome.

When we take normal emotional reactions to challenging experiences – such as the uncertainty and difficulty of trying to develop or maintain a career as a writer – and pathologise them, we’re taking systemic problems and individualising them. That results in us looking inwards for solutions instead of seeking to change the actual causes of the problem, which are to be found in the way that the industry is set up.

There’s a parallel here with a strain of hypercapitalism which seeks to nationalise risk and debt and privatise profits. The publishing industry individualises risk, debt, and emotional burdens, which are all carried by writers and low-paid entry level employees, whilst profits are disbursed to execs and shareholders.

This doesn’t mean that impostor syndrome, which was conceptualised by Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978, doesn’t exist. What it means is that the way that we use the phrase “impostor syndrome” both in our day-to-day lives and, frankly, in academic research, needs to be re-examined and refined.

If someone has by all measures a stable professional life, if they are well-supported by their colleagues and management, if they are not having to deal with other people’s prejudice, bias or poor communication skills, if they are successful in their work, if they are praised and recognised, and yet still feel as if they are about to be ‘found out as a fraud’… Then we can talk about a syndrome of imposterhood.

For the rest of us, maybe we need to rethink things a little. Maybe we don’t suffer from an impostor syndrome which requires us to chant affirmations into the bathroom mirror every morning. Perhaps anxiety and doubt are just a normal response to the stress of being a writer, and we need to develop better coping strategies the same way we would for any other negative emotions we experience.

And perhaps we need to change the industry to remove some of these stressors.

Just a thought.

PS… As I’m currently absurdly busy with work and unable to give my lovely premium members the exclusive content I was hoping to, I’ve just gone ahead and made everything free. Which means that anyone who has taken out a paid membership is an even more generous and marvellous person now than before. Thank you for your support – it means the world to me.

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Just two main topics this week but one is important and the other is mindboggling.

Lots of articles about so-called AI have crossed my field of vision over the last two weeks, so I thought now might be a good time to do a round-up. It’s really, really hard to keep up with all that’s going on, and I’m not even going to pretend this is a comprehensive look at everything that’s happening, but it’s a taster.

Is the wave of AI shite breaking? 

Generative computing company OpenAI is being sued over copyright infringement for training it’s first large language model (LLM), GPT-1, on unpublished but still copyrighted novels hosted on Smashwords. The suit also claims that GPT-3 was trained on “‘notorious shadow library websites,’ like Library Genesis, Z-Library, Sci-Hub and Bibliotik”. Lawyers are “seeking to represent a nationwide class of hundreds of thousands of authors in the U.S.”.

This is only one of several challenges for generative computing companies. OpenAI has also been “hit with a lawsuit alleging the company stole and misappropriated vast swaths of peoples’ data from the internet to train its AI tools”. That suit claims that OpenAI scraped as much personal data as it could from the internet, thus putting everyone affected at risk (I assume at risk of identity theft), and seeks an injunction preventing commercial use of OpenAI’s products.

Artists are suing generative art companies Stability AI, Midjourney and DeviantArt for copyright infringement after they downloaded “billions of images” from the internet. And Getty Images is suing Stability AI in the UK for “illegally copying and processing millions of its copyrighted images”. Stability AI is claiming that their scraping was fair use.

Surprising literally no one who’s been paying attention, it’s now possible to use an LLM to generate a whole novel. There have been plenty of guides to generating a novel chapter by chapter, but now there’s a GitHub script that generates an entire book in one go. Emphasis original author’s own.

This project utilizes a chain of GPT-4 and Stable Diffusion API calls to generate an original fantasy novel. Users can provide an initial prompt and enter how many chapters they’d like it to be, and the AI then generates an entire novel, outputting an EPUB file compatible with e-book readers.

A 15-chapter novel can cost as little as $4 to produce, and is written in just a few minutes.

With a novel costing just $4 to create, you don’t need to sell many copies to turn a profit. It’s quite affordable to create and upload 10 books, or even 100 books, and flood Kindle with crap in the hope that people are stupid enough to buy a few copies.

It’s an extremely simple grift, but we’ll have to wait and see if it becomes a probl… oh, hang on, no, we don’t have to wait at all.

Amazon is drowning in LLM-generated shite. Last week, Vice reported that:

Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited young adult romance bestseller list was filled with dozens of AI-generated books of nonsense on Monday and Tuesday. As of Wednesday morning, Amazon appeared to have taken action against the books, but the episode shows that people are spamming AI-generated nonsense to the platform and are finding a way to monetize it.

“The AI bots have broken Amazon,” wrote Caitlyn Lynch, an indie author, in a Tweet on Monday. “Take a look at the Best Sellers in Teen & Young Adult Contemporary Romance eBooks top 100 chart. I can see 19 actual legit books. The rest are AI nonsense clearly there to click farm.”

I hate to say I told you so, but I told you so.

Amazon appear to have to taken most of these books off the bestseller lists, but they remain available to buy. The company has a long, long history of not giving a rat’s arse about quality, either of content or reviews, but this flood of nonsense books might force them to take the issue a bit more seriously. If customers get stung too often by LLM-generated crap, they’ll start to look elsewhere for their cheap ebooks.

If only they’d try their local library.

Meanwhile, Google’s automated display ad system is placing ads for “top brands” on “spammy, fake, and chatbot-written sites that egregiously violate Google’s own policies”.  Programmatic ad systems automatically put ads on websites that supposedly fit parameters defined by the advertisers, but the lack of humans in the process means that there’s nothing to stop LLM-generated “news” sites signing up to earn money from “a wide variety of blue chip advertisers”. Not a good look for Google.

On the other side of the Atlantic, German tabloid Bild, which is owned by Axel Springer, is making 200 people redundant in as part of a reorganisation, and is replacing some editorial jobs, including “editors, print production staff, subeditors, proofreaders and photo editors,” with AI. This is despite the fact that LLMs are horribly unreliable, frequently making stuff up out of whole cloth, as CNET found out the hard way earlier in the year. Even when LLM-generated content isn’t wrong, it’s dull. Witness BuzzFeed’s travel section which is chock full of places that are “hidden gems”.

And as if the current unreliability of generative computing models wasn’t bad enough, it’s getting worse as new models are being trained on an internet already polluted with junk from previous models. Researchers from the UK and Canada are warning that the “use of model-generated content in training causes irreversible defects in the resulting models.”

That basically means that as more and more content on the internet is generated by computers, more and more of it seeps into the training data used by new models, with the obvious result that those newer models degrade horribly.

learning from data produced by other models causes model collapse — a degenerative process whereby, over time, models forget the true underlying data distribution … this process is inevitable, even for cases with almost ideal conditions for long-term learning. … We were surprised to observe how quickly model collapse happens: Models can rapidly forget most of the original data from which they initially learned.

The researchers suggest that the only way to prevent model collapse is to just avoid pulling computer-generated content into training sets (duh), or refreshing models on datasets that are human-generated. Question is whether so-called AI companies care enough to do that.

If you want to read more, The Verge’s look at the impact of generative computing on the web has enough links to keep you busy over lunch. It’s a good piece, charting the degradation of the web from a “place where individuals made things” to one of “slick and feature-rich platforms” made by companies that chase scale to make money, and taking about how parasitical computer-generated websites could “potentially overrun or outcompete the platforms we rely on for news, information, and entertainment”.

Indeed, Reddit, Wikipedia and Stack Overflow are all being polluted by low-quality LLM-generated content. Reddit and Stack Overflow’s management are both at odds with their users about how to deal with this problem, with management keen to find a solution that involves them monetising access to their APIs and users going on strike.

However these situations resolve, as Wired says, the internet will never be the same. The log has been removed from users’ eyes and they can now clearly see just how much valuable work they’ve been doing for free.

AI’s rise has caused a revaluation of what people put on the internet. Artists who feel their work was scraped by AI without credit or compensation are seeking recourse. Fan fiction writers who shared their work freely to entertain fellow fans now find their niche sex tropes on AI-assisted writing tools. Hollywood screenwriters are currently on strike to make sure AI systems aren’t enlisted to do their work for them. No, TV and film writers don’t write for the internet, but so much of what they create ends up online anyway, ready to be plucked.

To go back to Google for a moment: They are now pushing to use AI in their search engine, a move that has been described as turning Google search into a “plagiarism engine”. Google controls 91 per cent of the search market, making them by far the most powerful force on the internet – if your website doesn’t show up in Google, it might as well not exist.

Tom’s Hardware reports that Google is:

testing a major change to its interface that replaces the chorus of Internet voices with its own robotic lounge singer. Instead of highlighting links to content from expert humans, the “Search Generative Experience” (SGE) uses an AI plagiarism engine that grabs facts and snippets of text from a variety of sites, cobbles them together (often word-for-word) and passes off the work as its creation. If Google makes SGE the default mode for search, the company will seriously damage if not destroy the open web while providing a horrible user experience.

Could the tsunami of AI shite turn out to be a flash flood? Might the models rapidly degrade into uselessness or soon be sued or blocked out of existence? Will users rebel as their experience of the internet is degraded?

In my most optimistic moments, I find myself hoping that the whole AI edifice will come tumbling down as tools disintegrate, people realise how unreliable they are, and how valuable human-generated and curated information really is. But it’s not a safe bet.

Indeed, the UK’s Society of Authors has drafted advice for authors and audiobook narrators on how to protect themselves from the uncompensated exploitation of their work by companies running LLMs, and how to responsibly use computer generate content.

They suggest that authors explicitly state in their contracts with publishers how their work may or may not be used with respect to machine learning and AI. It’s well worth talking to your agent/publisher about this, because if you don’t explicitly forbid stuff, you may as well be giving them the green light.

In other shitshow news

Goodreads has been a toxic dumpster fire for a while, has have other corners of the book reviewing world, but it’s now turning into a key weapon in what appear to be co-ordinated harassment campaigns.

Cecilia Rabess’s debut novel, Everything’s Fine, was review-bombed with one-star reviews six months before publication because people didn’t like the premise. Says the NY Times, “The story centers on a young Black woman working at Goldman Sachs who falls in love with a conservative white co-worker with bigoted views.”

Now, that might not sound like a fabulous basis for a relationship, fictional or otherwise, but in reality it is possible to fall in love with someone with whom you do not always agree. The whole point of fiction is to take these ideas and push them to an extreme and see what happens. The idea of review-bombing a book because you personally don’t like the premise is ludicrous.

This comes not long after Elizabeth Gilbert pulled her upcoming book, The Snow Forest, because of a flood of negative Goodreads reviews. Once again, the book hadn’t been published and reviewers weren’t interested in the book itself, but were objecting to the fact that it is set in Russia in the middle of the last century.

Again, this is utterly ludicrous. The reviewers’ cover story is that they feel it’s inappropriate to write anything featuring Russia whilst its invasion of Ukraine is ongoing. But I’m pretty sure that the folks in Ukraine who are doing the fighting don’t really care about a book. The idea that pulling The Snow Forest in anyway helps Ukraine is facile, and it’s disappointing that Gilbert caved to the pressure.

Goodreads is, of course, owned by Amazon who, again, don’t care at all about this kind of furore. As Lincoln Michel says, Goodreads has no incentive to be good.

I think the fundamental problem with Goodreads is the same of social media in general: they care about engagement not accuracy.

Just as Twitter is happy to be filled with ragebait trolls and Facebook is fine being flooded with misinformation that generates engagement, Goodreads is presumably happy to have fake reviews. Hell, what better way to get engagement than having one-star review campaigns provoke fan campaigns to bring up the rating and so on and so forth. The more clicks the better.

Amazon/Goodreads could, of course, take steps. But they won’t.

Obligatory cat photo

Copurrnicus dreams of being Superman.

I wish I could be this relaxed when I’m at my desk.

Finally, an update on Grabbity’s eyes. We went to the vet again yesterday and whilst her corneal ulcers haven’t improved, they haven’t got any worse either. So we’re moving to steroid drops to see if that helps. She’s a real stoic and put up with the vet sticking swabs in her eye without complaining once. Next vet visit is in about a month, so fingers crossed!

Right, that’s it for now. See you again in a couple of weeks!

All the best,


PS…. As I haven’t really been able to produce a lot of content for premium members of late, I’ve decided to make all existing content free. I’ll revisit premium content when I have a few more subscribers, but in the meantime, a huge, huge thank you to everyone who has upgraded to paid. You are all marvellous human beings!

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