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J.K. Rowling Should Try the Voting Algorithm 128

Posted by timothy
from the magic-voting-algorithm dept.
Frequent contributor Bennett Haselton proposes a new use for online, anonymous voting: helping sort skill from luck in the cheek-by-jowl world of best-selling (and would-be best-selling) authors: "J.K. Rowling recently confirmed that she was the author of a book she had published under a pseudonym, which spiked in sales after she was outed as the true author. Perhaps she was doing an experiment to see how much luck had played a role in propelling her to worldwide success, and whether she could recreate anything close to that success when starting from scratch. But a better way to answer that question would be to strike a deal with an amateur-fiction-hosting site and use the random-sample-voting algorithm that I've written so much about, to test how her writing stacks up against other writers in the same genre." Read on for more. Update: 07/20 01:23 GMT by T : Note: An editorial goof (mine) swapped out the word "confirmed" for "revealed" (above) in an earlier rendering of this story.

Rowling confirmed (after the information leaked accidentally) that she had authored a new book, The Cuckoo's Calling, under the male pseudonym Robert Galbraith, which went on to sell only about 1,500 copies before she announced that she was the real author and sales of the book spiked 150,000%.

Stephen King actually tried something similar in the 1970s, publishing a series of books under the pseudonym "Richard Bachman," which he later said was partly an attempt to answer the question of whether his success was due to talent or luck. (The Richard Bachman books sold 10 times as many copies after King was revealed as the author.) Rowling has not said whether she was attempting a similar experiment, having issued a statement that before the revelation, it had been "wonderful to publish without hype or expectation, and pure pleasure to get feedback under a different name."

But if either J.K. Rowling or Stephen King really wants to find the answer to the question of talent vs. luck, the solution lies in the random-sample voting algorithm that I've been advocating in occasional articles for years now, going back to "Censorship By Glut" in 2006. Here's how the experiment could work, for evaluating the quality of fiction writing:

  1. Rowling or King could approach a pre-established amateur fiction hosting site with a large number of registered users. Or they could create their own fiction hosting site and announce it to the world for the purpose of running the experiment, which would almost certainly attract a large number of users to sign up. (The experiment only works if the site has a large number of users, for reasons that will become clear.)

  2. When a user submits a new short story to the site, the site randomly selects a small subset of other users on the site (say, 20 other users), emails them a link to the new story, and invites them to read it and rate its content. There are several ways you could incentivize those users to read the link and rate the story on a scale of 1 to 10. You could bill it as the "civic duty" of registered users of the site (in the same way that it's the civic duty of registered Wikipedia editors to maintain the quality of articles, even though the editors are working for free). You could require registered users to read and rate any stories that are emailed to them (although of course there'd be no way to stop someone from lazily submitting a rating without even reading the story). You could actually require payments from users who submit stories, and then use that money to distribute small payments to the raters as compensation for reading the story (although that seems like it would be the biggest headache, since you'd have to jump through legal and logistical hoops to set it up, and it would attract cheaters who would try to abuse the system just for the free small payments). But in any case, you don't need every user who gets emailed a story, to actually click through to read the story and rate it. All that matters is that out of those 20 users, enough of them click through to read the story, that you get a statistically representative sample of what users think of the quality.

    Optionally, the story raters could also submit written feedback about why they liked or did not like a story. But the important part is collecting the numeric ratings so that they can be averaged into a single overall rating for the piece of content.

  3. If a story gets a high enough average rating in the first round of voting, then it gets emailed out to a larger random sample of voters, say, 200. The ratings given by this larger sample can be used to distinguish the very best stories from the merely good. (We expect that for good stories, the ratings would tend to cluster around the high end of the scale, so with that smaller variance, it would take a larger sample size to find a statistically significant difference between the quality of two stories.)

  4. The stories that get the highest ratings can be featured on the front page of the site, so that everybody can have the benefit of enjoying the "best" stories. Meanwhile, J.K. Rowling and Stephen King have the benefit of finding out how their stories compare against stories written by unpublished amateur writers.

It all sounds deceptively simple, but the important feature is that you've taken the arbitrariness out of the outcome. As long as your sample sizes are large enough, the rating that a story obtains in this system, will be approximately equal to the average rating it would get from all users across the site. "Luck" is no longer a factor, because you could re-run the experiment twice with the same set of stories, and get approximately the same outcome.

This is important, because numerous experiments and real-world studies have shown that in any environment where users can recommend content to each other and browse content that is already known to be popular — in other words, how most of us discover content in the real world — luck plays a much greater role in which content becomes wildly successful. The generally accepted explanation is that an initial stroke of luck can have a self-reinforcing snowball effect — if a few key influencers happen to discover and recommend a piece of content at the same time, their friends and followers will be drawn to that content as well, and once it crosses that threshold, the content has now become "popular" enough that even more users will be drawn to it just because it's popular.

This is also why any of the existing fiction-rating sites would not work for this experiment — because most such sites allow authors to invite their friends to sign up and give high ratings to their stories, or to form cliques that all give high ratings to each other's writings. It's usually in the site's best interests to allow these tricks, because it gives authors the incentive to promote the site to their friends in order to get them to sign up. But it also means that (a) authors can easily game the system, and the highest-rated stories may not be the highest-quality ones but the ones whose authors simply play the game the best, and (b) even without "gaming the system", the fact that users can see other users' ratings and can seek out "most popular" or "trending" stories, creates the snowball effects discussed above, and introduces a huge amount of arbitrariness into the process.

Duncan Watts' excellent book Everything Is Obvious (Once You Know The Answer) is an excellent introduction to the arbitrariness phenomenon, but if you don't have time to read the whole book, just read about the Matthew Salganik 'many-worlds' experiment", which Watts co-authored and which I've linked to in pretty much every other article I've written about the random-sample-voting algorithm. The gist was that if you divide users into multiple artificial "worlds," where users can recommend content only to other users within those worlds, and seed all artificial worlds with the same content (in this case, songs), then songs which become wildly popular in some worlds will become duds in others.

The whole of Everything is Obvious is at least as insightful as anything ever written by Malcolm Gladwell, and would appeal to the same people, but it never became a bestseller, because — well, probably because we live in one of the many possible worlds of a Salganik experiment, and in the world we happen to live in, the luck of the draw meant that book didn't take off.

But back to the proposed experiment. It is true that the votes of the average users would not tell us anything about whether the winning stories were "artistically" good, however you define that. But in King's case, he was not trying to answer questions about artistic merit. he was trying to find out if his bestselling-author status was due to talent or luck, so the average rating from regular readers would be quite on point. Rowling said that she wanted to write without any hype and receive honest feedback, and it's hard to imagine a better place to do that than writing under a pseudonym for a fiction site that distributes your content directly to the public.

Both King and Rowling deserve some credit for even addressing the question of whether their success was due to talent or luck. It would have been easy for them to assume that their global success was due to their innate skill and hard work, and 99% of the world would have accepted that explanation, so it took no small amount of courage to even raise the question of how luck might have played a role. (We all know plenty of successful people who take umbrage if you even mention "the L word".)

But King did say that he thought he was outed too early to obtain any conclusive results from the experiment (and Rowling also said she wished she could have kept writing under the pseudonym, although she didn't say whether she had any similar "experiment" in mind). The random-sample-voting algorithm would provide instant feedback, not just to King and Rowling, but to any other writer who wanted to see how their writings would stack up against others in the field, from unpublished amateurs to worldwide bestselling authors.

My prediction, if such an experiment is ever conducted: King's and Rowling's writings would be rated very good, but so would many other writers' stories, including struggling writers who have never been published. Or as economist Daniel Kahneman put it: "success = talent + luck; great success = a little more talent + a lot of luck." (That took a certain amount of modesty on his part too, having achieved "great success" himself in the form of a Nobel Prize.) If J.K. Rowling or Stephen King ever launched such an experiment, the biggest favor they'd be doing for the world would not be to boost the egos of a few struggling writers, but to call more attention to the role that luck plays the world.

It's not as if their own egos would have to be bruised in the process. Donald Trump, the last person in the world that I would have guessed to have uttered these words, actually said that "Everything in life is luck," but it didn't seem to deflate his opinion of himself. You don't have to be a jerk like Trump, but just because some unpublished author's story gets a higher rating than yours, doesn't mean you have to let him come live in your mansion.

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J.K. Rowling Should Try the Voting Algorithm

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  • JK Rowling! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by i kan reed (749298) on Friday July 19, 2013 @12:26PM (#44328847) Homepage Journal

    Now that a famous person's name has gotten your attention, please use our website and give us money!

    • Re:JK Rowling! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by girlintraining (1395911) on Friday July 19, 2013 @01:03PM (#44329335)

      Now that a famous person's name has gotten your attention, please use our website and give us money!

      More or less, yeah. It's "Hey, here's a famous artist who could have used something I wrote my thesis about, but didn't." And we're supposed to gloss over the why they didn't. Here's the thing... algorithms and voting mechanics are fine for thesis projects, but this is an author. She makes her living selling books. And the best litmus test for whether it's the name, or the work itself, that people are buying, is to put it on the market under a pseudonym and find out.

      Which is what she did. Shame on her for doing the same thing so many famous authors have done for thousands of years instead of opting for little college boy's pet thesis project!

      • by bennetthaselton (1016233) on Friday July 19, 2013 @02:51PM (#44330769)
        But my argument is that releasing a second book under a pseudonym is *not* a good test of whether your success was due to "the work itself", because there's so much luck involved either way. If your first book is a hit but your second book (under a pseudonym) is not, it could be that you're a bad writer who got really lucky the first time, or it could be that you're a good writer who got unlucky the second time.

        The random-sample-voting algorithm takes the luck out of the equation and actually measures what the average reader thinks of your writing, when they're not biased by hype or expectations.
        • That's stupid... you're taking a sample size of 1 and drawing conclusions (voting), as opposed to an experiment with a control of 7 and a sample size of 1... which is only slightly less stupid.

          • If the goal of the experiment is to measure the merit of a particular piece of work, then the "sample size" is not 1, it's the number of people rating that piece of work -- 20 people in my example, but it should be large enough that the average rating represents what you think would be the average rating given by the general population of the site's users.

            If you're trying to measure the author's *overall* skill level, then yes looking at that one story would indeed be a sample size of 1, so you're correct
            • by DedTV (1652495)
              The first problem is you assume publishers don't already use similar methods. They do. But instead of limiting themselves to users of a single website they cast a much wider net by sending copies of their books to public libraries, book store owners, book clubs and critics as well as using social/sales driven websites that already do similar things to what you propose like Goodreads, Amazon, LibraryThing, etc....

              The second problem is your method limits the potential audience to fans of a particular website
              • Actually they did submit The Cuckoo's Calling to Goodreads and apparently it got very favorable reviews -- the problem was that there was no system like this one in place to promote highly-rated content to a wide audience.

                I would argue that *within* the ecosystem I'm proposing, there would be no "luck" involved in becoming a success with the users of the system -- if your initial submission is highly rated by a representative random sample of the users, then it will be highly rated by the users as a whole
    • JK Rowling should come over to my house for some sexy-time.
    • The word you're looking for is Slashvertisement lol

  • tl;dr (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 19, 2013 @12:30PM (#44328897)

    no ones going to read all this you huge nerd

  • Fud (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 19, 2013 @12:30PM (#44328905)

    "But a better way to answer that question would be to strike a deal with an amateur-fiction-hosting site and use the random-sample-voting algorithm that I've written so much about"

    If you've developed a method to distinguish the difference between luck and skill then you should really be talking to some scientists, not trying to get Barry Potter and the Sea of Bees to join your amateur-fiction-hosting-hour.

  • Name dropping BS (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    J.K. Rowling was doing nothing of the sort.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-23366660

    I appreciate the the autors may havea neat Idea they want to push but name dropping like this and creating false image of proceedings suggests they're not the brightest or most observant bunch.

    • by tnk1 (899206)

      And it would be a stupid idea to begin with.

      People buying your books isn't all about your talent. It's also having built a reputation.

      Why would I read Stephen King over Richard Bachman? Because while Bachman could be a genius, I already know that I like most of what King puts out. There is still a risk that this latest venture by King is not one of his best or even sucks, but when it comes to actually spending money, it is less of a risk than buying something that J. Random Author has put out. The King

      • King is the USA today of authors. His stories aren't good, but they don't have any annoying 3+ syllable words to confuse you.

      • Well this one *didn't* sell, so apparently even the influence of a smart publisher wasn't enough to break the "luck" barrier.

        But back to the question of "Why would I read Stephen King over Richard Bachman?" -- this is actually quite an insightful point and highlights the difference between scenarios where the random-sample-voting algorithm would be beneficial and scenarios where it wouldn't. The key point is, do you already feel like you have enough good books in your life, more than you have time to rea
  • by minstrelmike (1602771) on Friday July 19, 2013 @12:33PM (#44328943)
    I don't care about voting, blind or not.
    Socially, the New York Times is supposed to be representative of American media and literacy.
    In reality, the National Enquirer is the most _popular_ 'news' paper in America.

    imo, you should decide what you want to measure first. Not measure (vote) and then say that is the highest quality because quality is not what is being measured when you count popularity.
    • Exactly. One only needs to browse the frontpages of reddit and digg (does anyone still read digg?) for even more examples.
    • by khasim (1285)

      You're absolutely correct. Let's look at recent publishing history. From TFA:

      (We expect that for good stories, the ratings would tend to cluster around the high end of the scale, so with that smaller variance, it would take a larger sample size to find a statistically significant difference between the quality of two stories.)

      Look into the critical reviews of Dan Brown's books.

      Or the Twilight series.

      Or the 50 Shades of Grey series.

      Now compare those statistics to the Hunter S. Thompson or William S. Burroug

    • For the last 20 years the National Enquirer has shown itself to be an independent journalistic institution. The New York Times is just the print division of the DNC's press arm.

    • by tnk1 (899206)

      Even if that was true, the fact is that the Times is not entertainment, but the Enquirer is entertaining.

      Everyone knows that the shit in there is about useless people being photographed in compromising situations, but you can still like gossip and be intelligent as well.

      I watch HBO more than I watch any news channel, does that mean I don't keep up on the news? Hardly.

    • Well yes I did say in the article that the experiment would not measure true artistic merit, just appeal to the average reader.

      However Stephen King specifically had said that his own experiment was an attempt to find out whether his popularity was due to luck or talent, without regard to "artistic merit", whatever that means. So the random-sample-voting system, to measure the appeal to the average reader, would be relevant.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    This summary is longer than her book.

    tl;dr;dc

  • by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Friday July 19, 2013 @12:36PM (#44328983) Homepage Journal

    I went looking for the older reviews on Amazon [amazon.com], and while they were generally positive, it looks like this 'experiment' lasted a month and a half or so. If it were a year or more, that would seem like an experiment. A month and a half seems like a publicity stunt. The reviews there seem to indicate that everybody knew it was a pseudonym and suspected the author had significant publisher backing, so it's hard to even call it a fair experiment in the first place.

    • by khasim (1285)

      A month and a half seems like a publicity stunt.

      Yep. Since they already know who leaked this the real question is whether he will be fired for breach of trust or whatever. If he's not fired then this is more likely a publicity stunt despite what anyone claims.

      Anyway, she can always create another pseudonym and start writing under that name.

      Or submit a manuscript to a different publishing company under a pseudonym and see if she can get that published.

    • A month and a half seems like a publicity stunt.

      Agreed. Rowling started from nothing, I'm sure most of us have heard the story of her spending late nights in Scottish coffee shops rifling through her box of notes to put together the Potter Mythology and produce those 7 books. Sounds to me like both luck and skill played important parts in her success, which is vary similar to the story of almost all successful people. Experiments like this smack to me of a bit of narcissistic thought-gamemanship. If Rowling is really curious about how she got her success

      • The fact that so many wildly successful authors had such an amazingly hard time getting their first books published is one of the many, many reason why I've never tried my hand at writing. Ok, if I'm being honest its relatively low down the list, but if something as approachable and universally loved as Harry Potter is has trouble being published I can't help but think I wouldn't have a chance.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Plus it's hard to sell run-on sentences to editors.

      • I don't really like the way that Rowling is held up as an example of a rags to riches success against the odds. According to Wikipedia she completed her university education and gained a degree in French and Classics. She then travelled the world a bit, got married, had a kid and then got divorced. When she returned to the UK, she moved into a flat and had all of her bills paid by the state. She then lived the (expensive) coffee shop lifestyle while she was writing her book. At one point, she received a mas

        • I don't really like the way that Rowling is held up as an example of a rags to riches success against the odds.

          Well, she was educated. If nothing else she's an example of how education can give you an advantage. Most people on the dole have none.

  • by slimdave (710334) on Friday July 19, 2013 @12:37PM (#44328995)

    Speaking as someone who shares a sofa of an evening with a publisher, I can vouch that almost every manuscript submitted to any publisher will be dreadful in almost every single department. It starts with embarrassingly poor spelling and punctuation, and moves on through dreadful grammar, choice of paragraph size, layout, and on to issues with plot, characterisation, and general readability.

    The average quality hovers somewhere between execrable and toe-curlingly awful, and they get dismissed after a glance through the first page. Sometimes the covering letter is enough and the manuscript can be spared its cursory eyeballing, because if you cannot correctly spell and punctuate in your covering letter then you're wasting everyone's time -- thankfully only 15 seconds of it was the publishers, and two years of it was yours.

    Based on that alone, a very useful algorithm with a high degree of accuracy in judging a manuscript's quality is to just throw it straight in the bin -- you'd only be wrong one time in a couple of hundred, which is a pretty good average.

    • by MickLinux (579158) on Friday July 19, 2013 @12:54PM (#44329195) Journal

      Actually, that's a lousy average. If the standard is 1 good, money-making book per three-hundred, then you can expect to waste 250 hours sorting through trash to find a good moneymaker. Then, assuming that you don't miss it -- which I suspect happens at least 3 times in 4, putting you up at perhaps 1000 hours now -- you can capitalize on it, and make some money.

      That 1000 hours has to be split with other duties, so you're talking about one new find every 3 or four years, per reviewer.

      Throw each and every one in the waste bin, unopened, eand you're down to one new find every, what, 100 years? 1000 years? 10000 years? You haven't given a criteria of acceptance, and therefore it'll take however long it takes for you to learn that it was you, yourself, who was stupid.

      Here's the criteria that publishers use, according to one respected, published, source [tinaja.com]:

      A book publisher is more likely to publish something by someone who has already written a couple years' of articles for magazines.

      A magazine publisher is more likely to publish magazine articles if the topic meets the criteria of interest of their special magazine.

      There are over a million special interest catered to by magazines. Write for those.

      A magazine publisher is more likely to publish something by a person with a higher degree (MS or PHD) in the field of study, or who is earning that higher degree.

      They are also more likely to publish something by someone who has a venue in another media, like radio. Nowadays, possibly a blogger with a huge twitter following might also get published.

      There's your algorithm. It works pretty well.
      It increases the hit rate.

      The parent's post only increases the hit rate of egos. Which, admittedly, in this day and age is great for getting government funding, which in turn is more and more critical to the appearance of success, since the economy is going away.

      • by vux984 (928602)

        A book publisher is more likely to publish something by someone who has already written a couple years' of articles for magazines.

        Or if you are some sort of celebrity. I mean, that's all I ever see doing book tours anymore... politicians, and pundits and whatnot peddling their ideas of what is right or wrong with some aspect of america in, now in book form for some extra cash.

        • by slimdave (710334)

          Celebrities get ghost writers to at-the-very-least correct their spelling etc, because the cost is covered by the guaranteed sales into the hands of the mouth-breathing hordes. It's not an expense worth going to for a book that is a gamble for the publisher.

        • What do they care? If people buy it, they will publish it. The point is to make money not create great literary works. Thats why I doubt slimdave's story is absolutely true. Maybe for the no names, but definately not for the big names. The good thing Rowling did here for her defence was defuse the expectation that her new book would be similar to Harry Potter which her last book got a lot of.
      • by slimdave (710334)

        Ah, but you're missing some crucial points -- that the primary role of a publisher is to actually make money, and that the most effective way to avoid losing money in publishing is to shutdown immediately and never publish another book.

        Therefore I guarantee that the bin-toss method will make you more money than than 50% of publishing companies.

    • by radtea (464814)

      The average quality hovers somewhere between execrable and toe-curlingly awful, and they get dismissed after a glance through the first page.

      And yet 99.999% of the remainder still gets rejected.

      Why don't all publishers move to purely electronic submissions with simple algorithms to spell and grammar check each incoming MS? There are even well-researched, validated reading-score algorithms that might also be used for further filtering.

      This would instantly reduce the role of human readers to almost nothing, according to the definitive statement of virtually every publisher or editor who has ever written anything about submission quality.

      That is,

      • by slimdave (710334)

        It's quite common to only accept submissions electronically, and it really takes only a second or two to delete them. A spell checker would be interesting but would trip up over books with a lot of dialect in them.

        Oh you still get giant parcels of scribblings (or "kindling", as we call it) nevertheless.

  • Out of date info (Score:4, Informative)

    by ZephyrXero (750822) <zephyrxero AT yahoo DOT com> on Friday July 19, 2013 @12:39PM (#44329019) Homepage Journal
    She did not purposefully release that this was her pseudonym, so kind of a bad example. There have been numerous news posts today about how she's mad at the PR firm that leaked the info... http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2013/07/19/203548818/book-news-j-k-rowling-very-angry-that-law-firm-leaked-her-name [npr.org]
    • nm...just ignore that, I see where the OP mentions now. Stupid slashdot, why can't I delete posts >_
    • She did not purposefully release that this was her pseudonym, so kind of a bad example. There have been numerous news posts today about how she's "mad" at the PR firm that "leaked" the info...

      http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2013/07/19/203548818/book-news-j-k-rowling-very-angry-that-law-firm-leaked-her-name [npr.org]

      FTFY, you forgot the scare quotes.

      Funny side note, from the article you linked:

      The saga has a strange parallel with one of the plot lines in The Cuckoo's Calling — a supermodel, Lula Landry, hounded by press and fans, is driven into a paranoid panic wondering which of her friends was leaking her secrets to the press.

      What a coincidence, at least to people who believe in such things.

  • after all the first harry potters weren't amateur published, but as pushed books with a publisher with some faith into it to publish in that format.

    besides, the quality wasn't the question here, it was if people would buy the books. that's not what was the question in if they had luck in getting the status of a famed author or not - the sales act as the indicator.

    a single book though hardly serves as any indicator.. so kings bachman experiment serves more as a guide.

    payments.. just forget it and go write a

    • more than that amazon ALREADY has a review pushing system similar to this, doesn't it?

      I believe Amazon lists authors' names.

    • by Applekid (993327)

      after all the first harry potters weren't amateur published, but as pushed books with a publisher with some faith into it to publish in that format.

      besides, the quality wasn't the question here, it was if people would buy the books. that's not what was the question in if they had luck in getting the status of a famed author or not - the sales act as the indicator.

      a single book though hardly serves as any indicator.. so kings bachman experiment serves more as a guide.

      There were initially no Harry Potter books, plural. There was a Harry Potter book, singular. That it became a sensation and prompted additional books is purely business, all it takes is one.

      The truth is, most books don't make a whole lot of money, and, in turn, most authors have real jobs (occasionally referred to as side-jobs, which is interesting when the side-job is what's making the rent and the author royalties are just covering replacing light bulbs). Having your name (aka brand) get a following attac

  • Why are you mentioning this here? As you say, you've already posted this idea many times to /., and gotten a good amount of feedback. There's nothing new in this latest incarnation that wasn't in the last one. You're not even asking us anything this time; you're just kind of talking at us. Yes, slashdot has insightful people you can bounce an idea off of, but eventually it stops being "bouncing an idea" and starts being "bashing your head repeatedly into a wall".

    So instead of rehashing this idea on /. t

    • Why are you mentioning this here? As you say, you've already posted this idea many times to /., and gotten a good amount of feedback.

      I'm developing the impression that Bennett Haselton is one of those people who talks, at length, but seldom says anything worth listening to.

      After his anti-Fifth Amendment diatribe, [slashdot.org] taking this pontificating narcissist seriously has become impossible.

      • by u38cg (607297)
        I can't recall a single point he's made that I thought was interesting enough to remember. Shaky premises get developed not entirely rigorously ending with a sweeping conclusion that will never, ever be implemented. 2/10.
        • I can't recall a single point he's made that I thought was interesting enough to remember. Shaky premises get developed not entirely rigorously ending with a sweeping conclusion that will never, ever be implemented. 2/10.

          Not to mention, my experience is that he is incapable of handling the slightest criticism, evidenced by many of the childish and nonsensical responses given in the thread I linked to in my last post.

          Personally, I think you're being quite generous with your 2/10.

          • by u38cg (607297)
            One for grammar, one for being able to spell. Points for everybody that wants 'em.
        • John Katz is back! And who says /. ain't what it it used to be?
  • This already exists. It's called Lulu Helix review.

    http://www.lulu.com/services/helix-review [lulu.com]

    "The Helix Review provides a detailed analysis of your submitted manuscript by comparing it with all published works within The Book Genome Project as well as making specific comparisons to titles in your chosen genre. "
  • by m00sh (2538182) on Friday July 19, 2013 @12:53PM (#44329177)

    This is silly. If they had luck back then, it would be wrong to assume they haven't improved their skills. Remember the Matthew effect. By getting that luck, they are now professional writers who spend all day honing their skills while the other mundane details are taken care by others. Those who didn't have luck have to find other way to make money and on top of that manage everything else in life which leaves very little time for developing their writing skills.

    • by steelfood (895457)

      You don't need luck to write well. You need talent. You don't need luck to afford you time to hone your skills. You have that time (assuming you live comfortably in the first world). It's called leisure.

      If you aren't willing to spend your leisure time honing your skills (in which you are talented), you have no business trying to make a living off of it. Not to say that you can't, just that you'd have to be very lucky. And that's the only place where luck comes into play.

  • "J.K. Rowling recently revealed that she was the author of a book she had published under a pseudonym, which spiked in sales after she was outed as the true author."?

    No, she didn't.
    Some blabbermouth at her solicitors (american, look up lawyers), did.
    She's pretty peeved about it, in spite of the extra sales.

    • The editors changed that. My original summary block of text began with: "J.K. Rowling recently revealed that she was the author of a book she had published under a pseudonym, which spiked in sales after she was outed as the true author..."

      For some reason the editors changed "confirmed" to "revealed", which I agree is less accurate, since it implies some deliberate choice on her part. I have no idea why they did that.

      And then in the first sentence of the actual body of the article, I used "confirmed" a
      • Sorry, I meant to say that my original summary block of text began with: "J.K. Rowling recently CONFIRMED that she was the author of a book she had published under a pseudonym, which spiked in sales after she was outed as the true author." (emphasis added just now, not in the original). The editors changed "confirmed" to "revealed".
  • when your lawyer can't keep his fucking mouth shut?

    "In a statement, it said one of its partners, Chris Gossage, had told his wife's best friend, Judith Callegari, that Robert Galbraith was really Rowling."

  • by jd.schmidt (919212) on Friday July 19, 2013 @01:06PM (#44329385)

    But Luck makes you a superstar. J.K.R. is certainly talented, no doubt (no book I wrote would get even 1,500 people to buy it!), but there are lots of talented people. Too many for the average person to keep track of, in fact too many for experts in most cases. There are thousands, maybe millions of great works of art I will never have time to appreciate.

    Also, there is a certain amount of luck in creating a classic. The number of artists who can create more than one true classic is extraordinarily rare! Even the best have many mediocre works besides their great ones, if you want to produce more than once classic it requires an insane amount of dedication and time devoted to it along with accepting that most of your work will not really be great.

    • by EvanED (569694)

      ...there are lots of talented people.

      There's also this factor [theonion.com]. Which if you think about it too hard, is actually really depressing.

      • What's depressing? I hope I make it to 97.

      • by MickLinux (579158)

        Not depressing at all. That Onion piece is excellent irony.

        The obituary describes someone who showed true greatness in the life she lived, having missed what society wrongly discerns as greatness.

        "I want to play the ukelele just like Granny."

        • by spyke252 (2679761)

          I just read the article, and I didn't reach that conclusion until I read your post. Thanks for your insight!

    • by steelfood (895457)

      Harry Potter is as much of a classic as Twilight.

      Classics withstand the test of time. Neither of these have been tested yet.

      • That's a bit too harsh, but if you had said Hunger Games, Interview with a Vampire or The Borrowers you might have been in the right neighborhood.

        As is your are just being cruel!

      • by MickLinux (579158)

        Can't read any of them.

        They've already failed the test of time.

        Stephen King had the potential, but probably blew it. Tolstoy probably succeeded. Tolkien, Lewis, McDonald, and Chesterton might be: might have one or two of those four.

        The Epic of Gilgamesh is a classic. Verne is a classic. Bertrand is a classic. Xenophone is a classic. Definitely Homer.

        But the best classics? All Bible. For use of language in translating, the authors of the King James top Shakespeare. But the original authors outrank the tra

        • Well, I was about to go there myself. If you set the bar high enough, there are very few classics. So if you are going to say the Hobbit and LoTRs are not classics, then fine, bur a rose by any other name... well they are still great books.

          Still I have to take issue with Gilgamesh, it is more interesting for historical reasons than quality. There is a reason the Odyssey keeps getting remade and adapted WAY more often than Gilgamesh! (and that reason is not everyone is stupid)

          So, Harry Potter is not the

          • Good points, those. But the Epic and the Anabasis are both classics precisely in conjunction with their historical contexts. The first is tied to Zoroastrianism, but also records as an asteroid strike Noah's flood. Physical evidence helps confirm that.

            The anabasis tells the amazing story of 10000 Greek mercenaries who fought their way out of Persia against --what was it, a million ? -- and then, not wanting to be split up after all they had gone through together, waited to be hired in a group. That did happ

  • She was outed, and she's pissed about it.

  • Meta-Vote (Score:5, Insightful)

    by coinreturn (617535) on Friday July 19, 2013 @01:51PM (#44330023)
    And if we used your voting method on this article, it probably wouldn't have hit the front page.
  • Perhaps she was doing an experiment to see how much luck had played a role in propelling her to worldwide success, and whether she could recreate anything close to that success when starting from scratch.

    Perhaps she wanted to release a novel under a different name so that it could be more serious and not be tied to her image of Harry Potter. Perhaps she was just dicking around. Perhaps you could have presented this differently, so you didn't frame the whole thing as if your premise were true so that you could jack it all about your sample-voting blah blah blah geezus get on the front page using a story about an author who probably didn't do what she did for the reasons you suggest.

  • From what I've heard she did it under the pseudo name so people would buy it on its merit as a good book or not. She didn't want people to buy it because it was written by "JK Rowling zOMG MUST BUY!!!"

  • I can tell JK Rowling if her success was based on luck or talent after having read her books. Seriously, it's pretty immediately evident.

    Oh and I didn't read the last 2? 3?.
    That might be a hint at the answer.

    (Not to mention she already has the result. If she sold 1500 total copies before she outed herself, then she knows.)

    • They get better toward the end of the series, except the last.

      I think I enjoyed 4, 5 and 6 the best. 7 was obviously "omg I need to end this".

      I suspect the difference was that the editor began to care after the success of the first few.

  • An amateur fiction site will probably have a readership nothing like a broader audience. For one thing, you have to assume that most of the readers are themselves amateur writers, so you have to assume upvotes would skew heavily toward those writing attributes that appeal to what they like to (or would like to) write. The members of a broader audience, however, are generally not interested in being writers themselves and place less value on "writerliness" than they do on simple enjoyment.

  • Perhaps Bennett Haselton should use an anonymous blog instead of Slashdot to pour out all his half-baked novel-length thoughts. That might be a better way to see how much luck plays a role in determining whether anyone cares what he's blathering about.
    • While he's at it he should get a name that doesn't sound like a law firm or a place that sells rice watered by the scrotal sweat of a Buddhist monk for 30 bucks a pound.

  • We need another experiment:

    We need to determine whether the present luck-and-influence-based system leads to a greater total commercial success for the system than would a voting-based-on-perceived-merit system. Remember the current system exists to make money, not good art or social justice. If an experiment can show that the voting system leads to more total money made, then the opportunity might just be seized upon.

    In the past modes of publishing that relied on manufactured product distribution (pri

  • That's really a terrible voting algorithm. For many, many reasons:
    • First, there's the whole issue of averaging 1-10 ratings. First, those number will not be uniformly distributed. Rather, they'll be clustered in the 1-2, 5, 8-10. Second they aren't ratio quantities, so you just can't average them. By this I mean that 1/10+2*10/10 = 21/30 scores the same as 3*7/10. That really doesn't make sense. A reddit style voting system will address this, but requires a larger sample size.
    • Ignoring the first issue
  • She could just get a job with the NSA, and find out what people are really saying about her book.

  • If you want the "Best" books, just use Amazon's "Best Products Based On Reviews" feature.

    It takes into account momentum, average and weighted reviews and they even do a pretty reasonable job of removing most fake reviews ( eventually ).

    It's also genre-specific with a much larger sample than the OP uses... This is far more important to me as an author ( "Turing Evolved" - #1 Best Technothriller on Amazon, December 2012 to May 2013 - 4.6 average review ) because despite being #1 in the "best" list, the book o

Truly simple systems... require infinite testing. -- Norman Augustine

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