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Comment author: DataPacRat 20 October 2014 11:07:57AM 2 points [-]

Does anyone here know anyone (who knows anyone) in the publishing industry, who could explain exactly why a certain 220,000-and-counting-word RationalFic manuscript is unpublishable through the traditional process?

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 21 October 2014 07:59:02PM 0 points [-]

Is there a good reason to go through a publisher these days? At least assuming that you're not certain you'll get a big publisher who's really enthusiastic about marketing you?

Yes, if you manage to find a publisher they'll get your book in bookstores and maybe do some marketing for you if you're lucky, but as others in the thread have indicated, getting through the process and into print may take years - and unless you manage to get a big publisher who's really invested in your book, the amount of extra publicity you're likely to get that way will be quite limited.

Instead you could put your books up on Amazon as Kindle and CreateSpace versions: one author reports that on a per-unit basis, he makes three times more money from a directly published ebook priced at $2.99 than he would from a $7.99 paperback sold through a publisher, and almost as much as he would from a $25 hardcover. When you also take into account the fact that it's a lot easier to get people to buy a $3 book than a $25 or even a $8 book, his total income will be much higher. As a bonus, he gets to keep full rights to his work and do whatever he wants with them. Also they can be on sale for the whole time that one would otherwise have spent looking for a publisher.

One fun blog post speculates that the first book to earn its author a billion dollars will be self-published ebook. Of course you're not very likely to earn a billion dollars, but the same principles apply for why it's useful to publish one's work that way in general:

Prediction #1: The first B-book will be an e-book.

The reason is that you can’t have great sales without great distribution. There are roughly a billion computers on the planet connected to the internet and all of them can read e-books in numerous formats using free software. There are roughly four billion mobile devices, and most of those will soon be able to read e-books.

The sales channel for e-books is growing rapidly and has global reach. That’s why the first B-book will be in e-format. [...]

Prediction #2: The first B-book will be self-published.

Self-publishing is the best way to get the royalty rate high enough and the retail price low enough to make the B-book a reality.

The fact is that most publishers aren’t going to price your e-book at $2.99 or $3.99. They’ll want it at $9.99 or $12.99, which is probably too high for the market. And they’ll pay you only 25% royalties on the wholesale price, which is too low. If you want an aggressively priced e-book and a high royalty rate, you’ll almost certainly need to publish it yourself.

I feel like if you want money, you should go for self-publishing. If you're more interested in getting a lot of readers, you should again go for self-publishing. Of course the most likely outcome for any book is that you won't get much of either, but at least self-publishing gives you better odds than a traditional publisher. (Again, with a possible exception for the case where you get a big publisher to put up a massive marketing campaign for you.)

Comment author: vollmer 19 October 2014 06:22:56PM 7 points [-]

I'd appreciate greatly if I could fill in the second part of the form at a later date, maybe ~3 months prior to the weekend.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 19 October 2014 06:54:02PM 1 point [-]


Comment author: sixes_and_sevens 13 October 2014 11:18:12AM 17 points [-]

It seems like quite a few people on Less Wrong are interested in improving the quality of their writing. "Writing" obviously covers many different pursuits, and perhaps every unhappy document is unhappy in its own way, but I'd like to share my own frustrations in this area and see if this is similar to others. If it is, maybe we can do something about it.

I can write well enough to get distinctions for undergraduate-level essays, but this doesn't seem like a very high bar. If you can comprehend an essay question, form a reasonably coherent answer to that question, and put forward this answer as a structured argument which the reader can follow, you're pretty much set. I understand these are exactly the features an undergraduate essay is testing for, but I want to be better than that. George Orwell didn't get his work back with "96%, Well Done". He got tears and accolades and enduring respect. While I don't want to be George Orwell, I'm not ashamed to admit I'd like those things.

I've read a few introductory-level books on subjects like written composition and rhetorical technique. It's given me a broader vocabulary to describe what's going on, and a selection of tips, tricks and patterns. I can say what's good about a piece of writing I like, but I can't fit it into an overarching coherent theory. I can steal elements of style that I like, but I don't really know why they're stylish.

I don't know to what extent this is a skill you just have to work at, or a body of knowledge I don't know where to learn. I'm lacking general support and feedback. Is anyone else in this position, and would they like to offer mutual constructive criticism? Alternatively, is anyone a secret gatekeeper of the arcane lore I seek?

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 18 October 2014 07:09:43AM *  2 points [-]

It's given me a broader vocabulary to describe what's going on, and a selection of tips, tricks and patterns. I can say what's good about a piece of writing I like, but I can't fit it into an overarching coherent theory.

My experience is that writing isn't a field that would have an overarching coherent theory - instead it only has an endless selection of "tips, tricks and patterns", as you put it. Becoming a better writer is just about constantly expanding your toolkit of tricks, by being explicitly told tricks, taking apart other writers' work to discover theirs, and experimenting with inventing new ones. Read a lot and write a lot.

(Stein on Writing is my own favorite collection of tricks, covering both fiction and non-fiction writing.)

In response to Improving the World
Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 11 October 2014 04:27:36PM 9 points [-]

Helping get Effective Altruism Helsinki on its feet. To copy the report I posted on the EA forum:

Yesterday, me and two others ran the first bigger and more broadly marketed introductory EA event in Helsinki, Finland. We advertised it mainly on Facebook and on the mailing lists of a few student groups. Around 30 people showed up in total, many if not most of them new to EA.

The event consisted of two parts: an introductory lecture, where I compared PlayPumps with Deworm the World (borrowing the story from Will MacAskill's upcoming book) to help drive home the concept of EA and illustrate what the slogan "effective altruism combines the head and the heart" really means. Then I said a few words about different EA organizations, about how it's not just about charitable organizations but also things like 80,000 hours evaluating how to directly make the biggest impact on your life, and how I thought that EA is a really exciting idea.

The talk seemed to be well received and I got positive feedback of it later on. Then we ran a Giving Game, with my co-organizers having contributed 200 euros and The Life You Can Save sponsoring us by 5 euros per participant. I had picked Schistosomiasis Control Initiative, GiveDirectly, and Fistula Foundation as the three organizations to compare, on the basis of TLYCS having ready materials for them and them being sufficiently similar but also sufficiently different to make it meaningful and interesting to compare between them.

People seemed to find this an interesting question and quickly started talking about it. We used a format that had proven successful in our Less Wrong meetups, where we first told people to form groups of three or four, and then after some time asked them to new form new groups of a similar size to get new perspectives. In this case, it meant 15 minutes of discussion for the first groups, reform, and then another 15 minutes of discussion. After that we had people make their decisions and pick their favorite charity by filling an e-mail form on one of the two laptops brought by the organizers; they could optionally also give us their e-mail address if they wanted to stay in touch. People who were short on time could also leave earlier and make their decision as they left (we had placed one of the laptops by the door).

Another organizer has the exact figures, but as I recall, the results of the Giving Game had SCI as by far the most popular pick (around 80% support), with GiveDirectly the second (around 15%) and Fistula Foundation coming in third.

Altogether I'm quite happy with the event, and looking forward to organizing more local EA activities.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 09 October 2014 09:02:15PM 8 points [-]

Last month: held a birthday fundraiser that ended up raising $500 to effective charities, mostly MIRI.

In response to On Caring
Comment author: VAuroch 08 October 2014 09:01:54AM *  14 points [-]

I accept all the argument for why one should be an effective altruist, and yet I am not, personally, an EA. This post gives a pretty good avenue for explaining how and why. I'm in Daniel's position up through chunk 4, and reach the state of mind where

everything is his problem. The only reason he's not dropping everything to work on ALS is because there are far too many things to do first.

and find it literally unbearable. All of a sudden, it's clear that to be a good person is to accept the weight of the world on your shoulders. This is where my path diverges; EA says "OK, then, that's what I'll do, as best I can"; from my perspective, it's swallowing the bullet. At this point, your modus ponens is my modus tollens; I can't deal with what the argument would require of me, so I reject the premise. I concluded that I am not a good person and won't be for the foreseeable future, and limited myself to the weight of my chosen community and narrowly-defined ingroup.

I don't think you're wrong to try to convert people to EA. It does bear remembering, though, that not everyone is equipped to deal with this outlook, and some people will find that trying to shut up and multiply is lastingly unpleasant, such that an altruistic outlook becomes significantly aversive.

In response to comment by VAuroch on On Caring
Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 09 October 2014 09:00:30AM 8 points [-]

This is why I prefer to frame EA as something exciting, not burdensome.

In response to On Caring
Comment author: shminux 07 October 2014 06:50:49PM *  22 points [-]

I agree with others that the post is very nice and clear, as most of your posts are. Upvoted for that. I just want to provide a perspective not often voiced here. My mind does not work the way yours does and I do not think I am a worse person than you because of that. I am not sure how common my thought process is on this forum.

Going section by section:

  1. I do not "care about every single individual on this planet". I care about myself, my family, friends and some other people I know. I cannot bring myself to care (and I don't really want to) about a random person half-way around the world, except in the non-scalable general sense that "it is sad that bad stuff happens, be it to 1 person or to 1 billion people". I care about the humanity surviving and thriving, in the abstract, but I do not feel the connection between the current suffering and future thriving. (Actually, it's worse than that. I am not sure whether humanity existing, in Yvain's words, in a 10m x 10m x 10m box of computronium with billions of sims is much different from actually colonizing the observable universe (or the multiverse, as the case might be). But that's a different story, unrelated to the main point.)

  2. No disagreement there, the stakes are high, though I would not say that a thriving community of 1000 is necessarily worse than a thriving community of 1 googoleplex, as long as their probability of long-term survival and thriving is the same.

  3. I occasionally donate modest amounts to this cause or that, if I feel like it. I don't think I do what Alice, Bob or Christine did, and donate out of pressure or guilt.

  4. I spend (or used to spend) a lot of time helping out strangers online with their math and physics questions. I find it more satisfying than caring for oiled birds or stray dogs. Like Daniel, I see the mountain ridges of bad education all around, of which the students asking for help on IRC are just tiny pebbles. Unlike Daniel, I do not feel that I "can't possibly do enough". I help people when I feel like it and I don't pretend that I am a better person because of it, even if they thank me profusely after finally understanding how free-body diagram works. I do wish someone more capable worked on improving the education system to work better than at 1% efficiency, and I have seen isolated cases of it, but I do not feel that it is my problem to deal with. Wrong skillset.

  5. I have read a fair amount of EA propaganda, and I still do not feel that I "should care about people suffering far away", sorry. (Not really sorry, no.) It would be nice if fewer people died and suffered, sure. But "nice" is all it is. Call me heartless. I am happy that other people care, in case I am in the situation where I need their help. I am also happy that some people give money to those who care, for the same reason. I might even chip in, if it hits close to home.

  6. I do not feel that I would be a better person if I donated more money or dedicated my life to solving one of the "biggest problems", as opposed to doing what I am good at, though I am happy that some people feel that way; humanity's strength is in its diversity.

  7. Again, one of the main strengths of humankind is its diversity, and the Bell-curve outliers like "Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela" tend to have more effect than those of us within 1 standard deviation. Some people address "global poverty", others write poems, prove theorems, shoot the targets they are told to, or convince other people to do what they feel is right. No one knows which of these is more likely to result in the long-term prosperity of the human race. So it is best to diversify and hope that one of these outliers does not end up killing all of us, intentionally or accidentally.

  8. I don't feel the weight of the world. Because it does not weigh on me.

Note: having reread what I wrote, I suspect that some people might find it kind of Objectivist. I actually tried reading Atlas Shrugged and quit after 100 pages or so, getting extremely annoyed by the author belaboring an obvious and trivial point over and over. So I only have a vague idea what the movement is all about. And I have no interest in finding out more, given that people who find this kind of writing insightful are not ones I want to associate with.

In response to comment by shminux on On Caring
Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 08 October 2014 07:28:32AM 5 points [-]

I feel like I'm somewhere halfway between you and so8res. I appreciate you sharing this perspective as well.

Comment author: AshwinV 27 September 2014 02:34:32PM 1 point [-]

I have a suspicion that one of the factors holding back donations from big names (think Peter Thiel level), is the absence of visibility. Both from the point of view that it isn't as "cool" as the Bill and Melinda gates foundation (i.e. to say there isn't already an existing public opinion that issues such as x risk are charity worthy, as opposed to something like say donating for underprivileged children to take part in some sporting event) and that it isn't as "visible" (to continue with the donation to children example, a lot of publicity can be obtained by putting up photos of apparently malnourished children sitting together in a line, full of smiles for the camera).

The distinction I have made between the two is artificial, but I thought it was the best way to illustrate that the disadvantages suffered my FHI, MIRI and that cluster of institutes are happening on two different levels.

However, the second point about visibility is actually a bit of a teeny bit concerning. The MIRI has been criticized for not doing much except publishing papers.That doesn't look good and it is hard for a layman to feel that giving away a portion of his salary just to see a new set of math formulas (looking much like the same formulas he saw last month) a good use of his money, especially if he doesn't see it directly helping anyone out.

I understand that by the nature of the research being undertaken, this may be all that we can hope for, but if there is a better way that MIRI can signal it's accountability, then I think that it should be done. Pronto.

Also, could someone who is so inclined get the math/code that is happening and dumb it down enough so that an average LW-er such as yours truly could make more sense of it?

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 29 September 2014 05:14:52AM 15 points [-]

The MIRI has been criticized for not doing much except publishing papers.

Really? Before, MIRI was being constantly criticized for not publishing any papers.

Comment author: brazil84 25 September 2014 05:04:41PM 1 point [-]

I don't actually remember who the people who downvoted you are. I'd have to look them up again.

Having chosen a flattering explanation for your conduct, I am not surprised that you would have difficulty remembering facts which might support a less flattering explanation.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 26 September 2014 01:48:06PM 0 points [-]

This conversation makes me even more happy that I don't need to deal with downvote moderation anymore.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 24 September 2014 04:03:43PM 5 points [-]

Anyone who's interested in consciousness should, IMO, know at least about Global Workspace Theory: a good summary can be found in these two short papers; here's a paper on how it might be implemented neuronally, though it's longer and more dense than the previous two.

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