As if 2020 hasn’t zinged us enough, artificial intelligence recently took a giant evolutionary step forward.
Machine learning is the ability of a computer to teach itself without a human coding every question and response. This technology is being used for a variety of business reasons but is expanding at light speed to do so much more than business functions.
Like the fictional future world shown in the Terminator movies, one of the things it can do is produce perfect or nearly perfect complex computer code that can do complex things in a matter of minutes. A complex coding job typically takes multiple humans with extraordinary minds months and months. They painstakingly write tens of thousands of lines of code, and then it takes many more months to do trial and error testing.
Machine learning is apparently able to write workable code from a description of what is desired as an outcome. How can it do this? Because it already understands many of the basics from absorbing applicable portions of the internet concerning the subject matter and anything related to it.
Performing complex coding work in a few short minutes is only one of the potential applications of this advanced technology. In one of the other articles I read that I couldn’t find again, it was helping the medical community to find a COVID cure faster by being daily fed all the failures and successes and all data about symptoms and about resulting deaths. This sounds good.
In other cases, it’s being used to analyze nearly every human aspect of our lives which gets converted into product development, political decisions, and likely many more things that are not yet showing up in all the articles appearing about it. I feel like I’m already fighting to protect my personal privacy from invasive data mining of my browser usage. And don’t get me started on what apps collect. All this sounds bad to me because it could easily make personal privacy a thing of the past. Ever read 1984 by George Orwell?
All this makes me nervous and I love technology. Is machine learning going to be used to help candidates with elections? I think that might be possible. The US claims it has leaped ahead of the rest of the world and that this technology may turn out to be the boost our economy needs. Sure, we need new sources of work in our country, but I think there are many ethical, human concerns about machine learning that need to be considered before it’s widely unleashed.
Not so long ago, I remember reading about a social media site using an early version of it and not being able to turn it off. Pulling the plug wasn’t easy. I also read about another instance where two of these learning machines that were linked together came up with their own language which no human could understand.
Why would machines need a new language to talk to each other? Why would they need one that humans didn’t understand?
Coders–think human controllers of computer behaviors and outputs–soon might need to be added to the endangered species list.
The “disruption” video below is about machine learning and writing. Someone is packaging, or planning to package, machine learning technology as potentially “helpful” to writers in the form of a text chat–via some app I assume–where a writer can talk with the primary machine (in which case they would be constantly teaching it even more than it already knows about all kinds of subject matter). Those in the video appear to be beta testers.
In this video, the writers are sharing their new characters, backstories, and ideas for the plot with the machine. What will ultimately happen when say a few thousand authors are using it? What it’s doing is not editing in the normal sense, though I think it looks a bit like editing at first glance. Human editors do sometimes make writing suggestions to change significant amounts of text. The chat app in the video is making full-out creative suggestions for more beautiful sentences than the author produced. Isn’t that my job to do as a creative writer?
Here are words I never thought I’d say… I hope in 2021 we don’t wake up to find machines have taken over the entire world. I wish that was a joke, but it’s not. This is the first time in my average human life that I actually believe it might just happen.
Special thanks to the Passive Voice Blog for posting the disruptive video link. I saw it there first. Pop over and check them out.
I read George Orwell’s 1984 in school, but I had no idea back then I would one day be living it. I’m sure none of us did.
I went to the grocery today. I went at 7:15 in the morning, and by myself, because I’d already heard they weren’t going to let Bruce tag along with me. The parking lot was full when I arrived. There was one door letting people into the store and another ushering people out. I was counted both on entry and exit because only a fixed number were allowed to shop at a given time.
For once, the store was partially stocked with food, instead of being mostly empty as it had been on my previous trips during the last month, but there were signs over most items stipulating the limits of what I could buy. I pushed my sanitized cart through the aisles and waited for my turn when multiple people hovered near something I needed.
People were watching me shop the entire time to make sure I stayed 6 feet away from other shoppers. Some shoppers wore masks. Some wore gloves. Some wore both. Others like me–Baby Boomer rebel that I am–wore neither. I’m blaming my youthful years for my resistant attitude, but I’m sure my mental state is a lot more complicated.
I’m not going to apologize for my stubbornness or my need to be a little in denial. Please–no lectures. I get enough of those from my always prepared Marine husband. Next time I go, I probably will wear a mask, but today I was winging it. I hadn’t gone anywhere alone in weeks.
Okay… well… I’m not a complete rebel. I did have a tiny hand-sanitizer in my pocket, one of those “mini” ones from Bed, Bath, and Beyond that I’m sure someone got me for Christmas. I used it before I went into the store and after everything was loaded into the car. I don’t like it. I think in the big picture sanitizer and all anti-bacterial products compromise our immune systems. But the virus alternative is worse. I guess. Unable to mentally wade through all the daily bombardment of information and misinformation, I’m choosing not to listen to the news. I prefer to rely on common sense and caution and trying to keep my husband from being insane with worry.
However… despite the danger… I refuse to live in complete abject fear of every human interaction I have. I was raised to be nice, and friendly, and polite. I’m not saying all my choices this morning were smart. I’m just sharing how I felt about what happened today.
At the checkout line on the very clean floors of the store I shopped, there were do-not-cross lines which were precisely measured for maximum safety. Not a single rebellious person was in sight as I waited my turn. I think the other rebellious people were all like me–hyperventilating with panic on the inside while lecturing themselves about acting like a grownup instead of being freaked out.
I normally roll my eyes at titles like this one, but they do tend to get a lot of attention, so please excuse the cheesiness. It took me a week to decide to write this article. I was just going to write about one topic, but my pragmatic nature kicked in. Here’s some info that most authors want readers to know and that I hope my readers already know about me.
There are a lot of reasons authors change the covers of their books. I don’t change my covers often, but I do change them and for a variety of reasons.
Last year, I changed covers on an entire series to give it greater eye-appeal and to draw in new readers. Changing a whole series is an expensive endeavor though and not something I plan to do often.
I’ve also changed book covers because a sales channel (or two or three) have at times refused to allow the one I was trying to use. I cannot speak to what you might or might not see in other book covers on any particular channel. I can only say that I personally have gotten dinged. Honestly, I don’t blink these days if a sales channel tells me my cover contains “inappropriate content or graphics”. This is also known as showing too much cleavage (see cover 3 in the AOL series graphic below). I couldn’t get a marketing ad approved for Carved In Stone because the cover with cleavage was rejected.
The end result–now known as attempt number 4 and Carved In Stone’s current cover did meet my target goal of increasing downloads of the series starter. I’m happy with it despite the curvy road I took to its creation and the money I spent to keep changing it.
This was not the first time I changed Carved In Stone’s cover. The original 2011 blue cover looked nothing like my other work at the time. I thought it was clever to make the second series stand out, but the blue didn’t carry well to the rest of the series. The minor refresh with the red hearts added was an attempt to fix my branding to “red” on the contemporary books and to visually connect the Art of Love series to the pristine, unchanged covers and colors of the Never Too Late series.
Does this make you tired just thinking about it? Me too. Like I said… I’ve changed covers for many reasons.
Here is my most epic branding fail. The first time I changed the cover of this non-series book was after it had experienced a year of very meager sales. As you can see below, my first cover was not so great… and it was totally my fault. The cover artist, an incredibly talented person who did covers for over half the books in my 60+ book catalog, humored me in my “objects only” cover request. The result of her compliance with my suggestions was a book cover that looked like it was a story about a police person paying for french fries instead of a comedic romantic suspense story. Branding wasn’t even in the picture.
I kept the original version to remind me not to be too directive about what I want in covers. They’re artists, not interpretative mind-readers. After producing 30 amazing covers, my cover artist would never have done this kind of cover without me directing her to do so. Attempt 2 in the graphic below was me finally saying to her “please make me a cover that looks like a romantic suspense story”. Bingo. Done. Much, much better. She even tucked in the red which I have used in most of my contemporary books.
I used the second book cover for several years. The last time I changed this particular book’s cover was when I spun off a trilogy from the story. I wanted this great little story to start its book life over being connected to the new series I was planning. I also did something that I’ve only done once in my 60+ books history which is that I changed the name as well. It was indulgence more than necessity, but I’m glad I did it. Since previous sales had been so meager, changing the name and cover one last time didn’t really seem like an enormous risk… and it did increase sales. This book has lived happily ever after being named Morgan’s Mistake.
Changing covers of existing books is sometimes bittersweet for me. I’m both excited by the chance to do them over and yet sad to be stripping away their former identity. My emotions go both directions at once. These books are my creative children and I care about what happens to each and every one of them.
My latest cover change was prompted by leaving Love Spells, a cross-promotion group of light paranormal romantic comedies. The covers I used for the Jezibaba Saga while the books were part of the group promo were great covers and they completely matched the group’s branding theme. However, the covers did not match any of my other light paranormal romance books.
While the marketing experience was very, very positive for me, being in the group created a branding dilemma. So when my time with the group ended, I made a change to the Jezibaba Saga’s covers that now connect them to the original Baba Yaga Saga series that inspired the Jezibaba Saga spin-off.
Will the revised covers increase visibility and boost sales? I’m hoping so since I invested in the work–LOL. There is quite a bit of faith involved in such decisions. In a few months, hopefully, I can answer that question with data.
It’s been a rough year, one with many books that didn’t get written. There were good reasons, like my mother almost dying, but now that my personal crisis is mostly in the past, all I can think about is all the writing goals that went unmet. Given the many blessings life has given me this year, this seems a very appropriate time to remind myself of why I chose to devote my life to writing.
1. Writing works because Readers are everything important
Readers are why I write. Before I had readers, all I had were stories I’d made up. Readers take my stories, find pleasure in them, and make them real. Readers are the reason that I come back to the writing no matter what else happens in my life. Sure I write to get the voices to quit talking in my head—LOL—but without someone to read about those characters I create from that craziness, what good is it to indulge my weirdness? Without readers, I’d learn to shut off the ideas and then the muse would leave for good and life as I know it would be over. Readers are the reason I’ve already started on the next novel and they will be the reason I move on to the one after that. I say it all the time and I’ll never stop saying it because it’s true. Readers are everything important to what I do.
2. Writing is not just my career—it’s my calling
I’ve done a lot of things to make a living, everything from scrubbing toilets to owning my own technology business. Nothing before publishing my stories felt as important to me. I moved from job to job only to make more money, but never thought to satisfy my soul in the work. Would I write for free if I couldn’t get paid for my stories? Yes, I likely would, but maybe only a book every year or two. Writing, at least the way I do it, is demanding and takes more time than other jobs I’ve done. I’m not a morning person and needing to finish a scene is the only reason I would ever willingly get up at 5 am. When I look back on my work, I see that all other jobs kept me from this one. They drained me of energy because I give 100% plus to whatever I choose to do. That’s just my nature. I’ve grateful to finally be able to give my 100% plus to the most important work I’ve ever done. I’m one of those lucky few who knows their truth. Writing books is what I’m meant to do.
3. Writing to make readers laugh
This is not a grand goal in the big scheme of all that’s wrong in the world, but from the very beginning, making readers laugh was something I badly wanted to do. I’m a self-taught comedy writer, but a very motivated one. Hearing I made a reader laugh is like winning the lottery. It’s been life-changing to hear it because I no longer wander through the world wondering if anything I do makes a difference to anyone or not. I know I make a difference every time you tell me I make you laugh. That’s the best award or reward I could ever get from anything. I don’t need to make a list to be happy. I don’t need the accolades of peers. I just need your notes about hiding out in bathroom stalls at work and reading one of my stories on your phone. I just need to hear my books are on your re-read list. When it comes to my writing, your joy is the glory I seek. To entertain you for a few hours is a high honor to me.
4. Writing lets me be a friend
I’m a recluse and a loner. I’m hard to get to know and don’t let friends into my life often. My friends—those persistent few, God bless them—know they have to push their way through the walls I erect to get to me. And I suck at being a friend back. I have to work very hard to reach out to people I know, but through my stories, I can even reach out to strangers. “Read this and feel better” is the message in most of my stories. Let me make you smile, laugh, and feel emotions that don’t leave you feeling empty. Cheesy? Maybe. But I intentionally write feel-good endings and happily ever after. I like to think my books are medicine for a reader’s heart and mind. I send them out to find the reader who needs them. I meditate on it and pray my stories reach who they need to reach.
5. Writing for a living is the best job I’ve ever had
Making a living as a “creative” person is a financially precarious way to live. As an author, your popularity rises and falls. Sales channels change their rules and suddenly you’re invisible in searches. And in my case, personal problems keep me from writing because I put my family above all else. After a while of juggling expenses and wondering how you’re going to keep going, every full-time writer no doubt starts to long for the days when he or she worked in the corporate world for a souless paycheck. So I don’t feel bad for the hundreds of times in the last couple of years where I scanned the job ads to see if I could find a day job again. However, I always get stopped by the same thoughts. I think about what I’m going to lose if I go back to work outside of writing. I think about all the books that won’t get written and all the readers who might give up on me if I fade from public view. I’m just not ready to let go of my dream of being a full-time working writer—a dream I keep hanging onto with both hands. So I remind myself that no matter how challenging life is now, I’ve seen harder times and worse circumstances. I tell myself that I will find a way to keep doing what I love.