People are Flooding Magazines With AI-Written Fiction Because They Think They’ll Make Money
Neil Clarke, editor of the science fiction and fantasy magazine Clarkesworld, recently reported an unsettling trend: a huge increase in the number of fiction submissions plagiarized using AI.
The essay Clarke links to goes into more detail about would-be contributors using AI programs to scrape existing published stories and repackage them as original works. AI writing tools have proliferated in recent years, claiming to write original stories but delivering mixed results. In one Clarkesworld submission, Clarke writes, someone submitted a story with the following sentence: “Sitting on its three years’ experience, the fittest Shell was originally the size of more android subliminal observations than any other single subject in the Grandma.” The submission was reconstituted from a story published in 1956.
Clarke writes that he bans plagiarists from submitting again, but at least one has complained that they “need the money.” As his graph shows, the amount of Clarkesworld submissions has ballooned over the past few weeks, and many of them are AI-generated.
Woof. Where to start?
Readers want fiction, not formulaic gobbledygook
It’s hard to get inside the heads of people who use AI to pump out fiction for them, especially when the results are as bad as the example above. Why on earth would a magazine would buy a mushy, nonsensical word salad, when it could buy an actual story that its readers can enjoy? Have you never actually read a story before? What do you think people are doing when they run their eyes over a page or screen?
Of course, it’s possible that these submitters don’t worry too much about whether one story they generate will make any sense. Their strategy might be huge submission blitzes, with the hope that one of the many stories they send out will be a) legible and b) good enough for publication.
It’s also possible that the rise of AI generators has emboldened aspiring writers who see the software as a way to get their ideas onto paper without actually doing the work of writing them. The problem, though—as I discovered myself when I sat down one day to play with an AI generator—is that the results are laughably bad, even when they sound coherent. If you think your AI can write a better story than a skilled writer who cares about their craft, then you’re dreaming.
The phenomenon also hints at a lack of understanding of how fiction markets work. The idea that writing short stories is a lucrative side hustle is propped up by myths about rich and famous writers that just won’t die.
You won’t get rich selling short stories
When you submit a story to a journal or magazine, it enters what’s often called the slush pile: a huge queue of stories that editors, interns, and volunteers read through to find something that they might want to include in a future issue. For every published story you read, there are hundreds of stories that didn’t make the cut. You know all the books you don’t buy when you go to a bookstore? It’s like that, except in the form of thousands of manuscript pages.
Short stories are, simply put, a terrible way to make money. It can take months or years to get a 15-page story in good enough shape to submit. After that, you’re looking at months or years of submitting it to market after market—sometimes dozens—before one editor decides to publish it. That’s if you’re lucky. Countless well-written stories never find homes at all.
And if you’re one of the fortunate few to get your story in print? You might get a few hundred dollars for it, if you get paid at all. Most small magazines are volunteer-run, with budgets that go entirely into getting your work out into the world. Well-paying markets are fiendishly competitive, and rich authors are a rarity. The idea that you “need the money” you’re hoping to get from badly-produced, plagiarized AI fiction is absolutely delusional.
So what does this new trend mean for actual writers?
Things might get harder for real writers
In his essay, Clarke speculates that editors might begin to shorten their submission periods, institute regional bans, or close their submissions to unknown writers entirely, instead relying solely on established authors to submit work. Fiction markets are already forbidding enough for writers who don’t have a big platform or strong network. For writers sending their work to the slush piles, getting a bite might become even harder.
Look, if you’re a writer who’s experimenting with AI in your writing process, I won’t judge you. I love remixing exercises like blackout poetry. I’ve heard about aspiring writers using AI to get over blank page syndrome, and then editing the resulting text to make it their own. If you’re using your own skill to produce original work, then that’s great! Do what works!
But please stop telling yourself that using a robot to rearrange someone else’s text is a quick way to make money. It’s not. It’s plagiarism, and it makes life harder for writers who are actually willing to put in the work.
(featured image: picjumbo.com via Pexels.com)
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