Artificial intelligence (AI) has been both hailed and panned by critics. Critiques range from a necessary evolutionary step for mankind to robots overtaking our world. Over the last decade, it appears to have touched all fields of endeavor, including the book publishing industry. Today we explore Inkitt’s foray into AI with its predictive data-driven software fueled by a proprietary algorithm that is designed to select best sellers.
With over a half-million users globally, this platform provides self-publishing authors with a bigger bang for their self-publishing efforts. They can publish on Kindle, iBooks or Smashwords and also submit to Inkitt. In so doing, that same eBook has an opportunity to make it into print with top publishers that Inkitt seeks out for those manuscripts that their reader-driven algorithms identify as potential bestsellers.
Last year, in my post titled, “For Indie Authors, 21st Century’s Watson is no longer Elementary,” I noted that IBM’s supercomputer, Watson, had entered the publishing arena by introducing its stylistic writing tool known as the ‘Watson Tone Analyzer.’
As an artificial intelligence muse of sorts, this new feature went leaps and bounds beyond the elementary spell check tool of the past to actually assess the “tone” of one’s work.
Inkitt Goes Beyond Tone
While Watson may have enhanced the tone of literary manuscripts, to date it hasn’t been able to predict best sellers. To that end, Berlin-based Inkitt—marketed as ‘the world’s first data-driven publisher’—steps in to seize an opportunity.
Most recently this one year old startup developed an artificially intelligent algorithm to analyze users’ reading patterns and determine the best of the best. Then once identified, the firm works diligently to transition a book from manuscript to approval from major publishing houses—basically cutting out the middleman, the literary agent [but more on that, later.]
Ali Albazaz and Linda Gavin launched Inkitt in 2015. Albazaz's background is in development and sales. He started coding when he was 10, while Gavin is a designer whose corporate work includes such distinguished artistic endeavors as designing the Twitter logo.
The Readers’ Choice
As technological enhancements such as Inkitt’s predictive data detector has shown, there needs to be a lot of data points to determine a best seller. In interviewing Albazaz today, I asked what key triggers were baked into his algorithm to reach that goal.
“Our artificially intelligent algorithms collect millions of data points from every reader on Inkitt to identify what type of literature people are most engaged and interested in. This process starts immediately once content has been uploaded to Inkitt and we approach an author once we see strong traction from our readers,” he noted.
Based on the number of users perusing the uploaded content of authors, Albazaz reinforces the importance of large samples: “The algorithms are constantly evolving and developing as more readers and writers join Inkitt. Our software can detect trends out of a small pool of data but what has been incredible to see is the amount of content being discovered as we track over half a million users worldwide.”
Interesting enough however, the human factor is still the integral component factored into this technology.
“There is a lot of research on what factors make a best selling novel but my advice for new writers is to publish your work through an online writing community and focus on readers’ responses. Your readers’ insights will be invaluable to developing your writing and in a publishing model like ours, readers determine what is chosen for publishing.”
Technology vs. Literary Agents
While the traditional publishing world use to require a literary agent to get in front of top publishers, that introduction might no longer be required in this brave new world of predictive data analyses.
Albazaz describes that evolution this way: “The difference between Inkitt and agents is that our algorithms allow us to make objective decisions based on the preferences of the market (our readers).”
There’s Always a First
Fantasy-fiction author Erin Swan wrote the first novel selected by Inkitt’s artificially intelligent algorithm. Her novel Bright Star was initially submitted to one of Inkitt’s writing contests called “Hidden Gems.”
“I guess what I learned from that is that you should never give up on your stories. No matter how long they've been finished or how long you work on them, you should keep trying, keep pushing to find a way to get your stories out to more people, even if you don't think anything will come of it from a publishing standpoint,” she said.
As a result of her experience, Bright Star was presented and picked up by Tor Books, an imprint of Macmillan Publishers.
Inkitt & Publishing Houses
In addition to the A-list publishers (e.g. Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, MacMillan and HarperCollins), Inkitt also works with niche publishing houses around the world.
“We prioritize selling our authors’ works to an A-list house, but in some cases there may be a better fit with a more niche house. In these situations we consult with the author to make the best decision for their work,” says Albazaz.
Indie authors are welcome to join Inkitt, even if they’ve self-published previously using any of the existing platforms (e.g. Kindle, iBooks, Smashwords, etc.). “As long as authors have the ability to freely enter a publishing deal, then everyone is welcome to join,” assures Albazaz.
Albazaz affirms that their contractual agreements with writers are transparent and equitable, where the breakdown of commissions and services rendered are as such:
Inkitt takes a 15% commission rate on every publishing deal they sell to other publishing houses and 50% if they publish a book themselves. And if and when they self publish, they will offer an in-house marketing campaign and a guarantee if they are unable to sell at least 1,000 copies within a year, all rights are returned to the author.
Not a Content or Editing Site
While I’ve written a lot about content and editing platforms such as Medium, Reedsy, Fast Pencil, Widbook and others in the past, it’s important to note that Inkitt doesn’t fall into either one of those categories per se.
As Albazaz explains it, “on the surface our platform is where writers come to share their novels and readers get the chance to discover new content for free, but underneath the hood we’ve developed algorithms that allow us to analyze reading patterns and predict future best sellers.”
And while “content sites are great for visibility and discovery, for a writer looking to have their work published they aren’t built to drive initiative,” he adds as a point of distinction.
As a startup that offers both a subsidy-publishing option and the possibility of connecting to a traditional publishing deal, it will be interesting to see how this new algorithm-driven hybrid platform performs for its authors.
Readers & Writers: I look forward to your feedback, comments and critiques, and please use BookWorks.com as your resource to learn more about preparing, publishing and promoting self-published books. My blogs appear bi-weekly on the 1st and 3rd Fridays of each month.
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