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Playing Author

We have a publisher!

Amazingly, to me, it has been a year and eight months since that last blog post. I have not been asleep. A lot has gone on and adding to the blog was just not the highest priority.


In Fall of 2022, my agent, Regina Ryan, began sending out the proposal and faced some resistance. A common theme was "why publish on book on AI when the author is not an expert on AI?" I think my book is about more, but you have to face the world as it is. I tried submitting a couple of opinion pieces to the New York Times to garner attention. No luck. We kept revising the proposal. By November Regina decided to halt her sending out the proposal for the season and pick it up again in the spring. I rearranged the order of the chapters putting those on biological issues, including the evolution of humankind, in one group later in the book.


Looking back, one huge disruption was the announcement of Open AI's LLM ChatGPT in November of 2022. I'm trying to publish a book on the technological future of humanity and a revolution just occurred in the digital aspect of all that! Is my book now too late? I had intended it to be a primer. My response was to think (hope!) that with all the attention on ChatGPT, a significant piece of the world would appreciate a book that helped to explain what was going on and that a primer was just the thing. Of course, I had to go through the book and add some description of ChatGPT and its progeny.


In the meantime, Regina and I were discussing the structure of the book. She had always had an issue with the first chapter that was, frankly, somewhat pedantic. It was a remnant of the first lecture i gave in my class in 2013 outlining the astronomical background that lead us to today. That was relevant material, but it better belonged elsewhere in the book. I finally threw out that chapter and wrote a new one giving it a more "hair on fire" aspect suggesting how close we might actually be to development of an artificial general intelligence, designer babies, and mind-probing.


In spring of 2023, Regina and I continued to wrestle with how to revise the book and proposal in the new world of ChatGPT. We worked with the title "Wild Ride Ahead: The Future of Humanity and Technology." The New York Times began writing essentially daily articles on AI. I checked that ChatGPT and others did not seem to have absorbed the full texts of my novels. They did seem to have digested online commentary about them. Otherwise, I have not used LLMs. I signed the letter calling for a hiatus on AI LLM work, knowing the letter was pointless. Regina and I debated the last sentence of the book. I ended up with a judicious use of quotation marks to enunciate what I was trying to say. We settled on a revised proposal in May 2023 and Regina began sending it out. She got some more declines. Finally, on June 29, she got a positive response from Jonathan Kurtz at Prometheus books. I enjoy the irony of publishing a book about the new era of promethean developments in technology with a publisher of the same name. We rapidly decided that we would sign with Prometheus despite a somewhat lean advance. That began a whole new phase of hurry up and wait as contracts were interated and signed and the production process lumbered into action. I submitted my draft on October 20, 2023. I heard nothing until December 12 when it was summarily accepted. The title was changed to "The Path to Singularity: How Technology Will Challenge the Future of Humanity." I can work with that. A cover was designed. I reviewed the copyedited version in April, 2024. The book is scheduled for release in November 2024. Pre-orders available now.


I had known Neil Tyson since he was in graduate school here at the University of Texas. I watched with delight and amazement as he became Neil DeGrasse Tyson through talent, hard work, and his natural charisma. I had not been in touch with him for a long time, but in August 2022, I succumbed to pressure from Regina to see if he would write a foreward to the book. To my pleasant surprise, he graciously agreed. After the sale to Prometheus, he carefully read the whole book in detail and sent insightful comments on sentence structure, punctuation, and the functioning of the publishing business. Just before the new year, he sent the text of his foreword. He captured exactly the spirit of why a scientist, and especially an astrophysicist, is entitled to write on topics of general interest beyond their specific technical expertise. This was the heart of the discussion I had had with Regina for two years.


Throughout this interval, I continued to fiddle with this website. There is no question that Google and other search engines know about it, but it does not come up in a generic search on my name. Not enough traffic, I guess. I don't know what to do to imporove the situation. I have to become an expert in search engine optimization when I would rather be writing.


I'm looking forward to the publication of the book, but feeling some trepidation about marketing and publicizing that needs to be done before then.


Meanwhile, I'm about 2/3 through my dad's biography. I need to get back to that.



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About that proposal...

What happened to the book proposal mentioned in that post of April 25? Ah, well you might ask. Despite the aid of the Author's Questionnaire and a fair amount of work, my agent, in her quest to make the strongest case we could, kept thinking of new additions and refinements. We need a punchy Sales Handle to lead off. A couple of sentences that will make an acquisition editor hunger for more. Refined sales points. Can you get Neil deGrasse Tyson to accede to having his name used as at least considering to write an introduction? You say it is important that you have the broad perspective of space and time of an astronomer? Justify that in pungent prose. Say something about the James Webb Space Telescope, a hot new topic that is in the public's eye. Iterate on the title and explain your choice. Name some "comparable books," not necessarily on the same topic, but related best sellars to imply that my book is too, if only given the chance. Expand the list of competitive books, sort them into old and newer, explain how your book is different. Compile a list of of potential blurbers. Among a dozen others, I listed Elon Musk, an Austin businessman, and Jeff Bezos, a Texas businessman. If anyone has contact info, please let me know. List all 107 companies you mention by name in the book in case some might want to buy copies. Do you have as many Twitter followers as Beyonce (answer: no)? Write an annotated table of contents giving a synopsis of each of the 15 chapters. Re-write all that; you sound like a college professor! This is a sales pitch. Title all the subsections in each chapter and hence in the sample chapters.


This may sound like I'm complaining, but the fact is while the work was taxing, it was also stimulating. My agent made me dig deep into what I was writing and why. In any case, it took several months of intense work that then slacked off in midsummer and continued until today. In the meantime, I found bits and pieces to add to the book, another 8000 words. The draft is now 128,240 words.


My agent debated whether to submit the proposal over the summer or wait until after Labor Day when people were back at work. She finally elected the latter. When things slacked off on Brains, Genes, and the Cosmos, I worked on the biography of my father, tentatively entitled Eniwetok. There is a connection. I mean this to be not just the story of one man, but a reflection on the technology that developed over his lifetime. He worked on inertial navigation and ICBMs, a solar eclipse, the first hydrogen bomb, a proposed atomic airplane that could fly forever (at 200 mph 200 feet above the ground; it was destined to be heavy and slow. JFK cancelled it), weather satellites, and finally on the Apollo Program.


We are now in what I hope are the final iterations on the proposal. Double spaced with now four sample chapters, it comes to 41,000 words and 147 pages. There is some chance it will go off to publishers next week.

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Book Proposal Sausage Making

I have just sent off to my agent a draft of a book proposal for my book tentatively entitled Brains, Genes, and the Universe: the Technological Future of Humanity. The notion is that she will use that to approach publishers, trigger a bidding war, and the book will end up a New York Times bestseller. I'm not holding my breath.


It has taken quite a while to get here. I finished a draft of the book, 120,000 words, last November after two Covid years of regular effort. My agent then had me prepare an Author Questionnaire with all sorts of information about me, the book, and how we might sell it. That took me a couple of months of steady work, an hour or so a day, with iterations with my agent. That then led to filling out a template for the formal book proposal, making judicious use of the material from the Author Questionnaire. One portion of the proposal calls for an annotated Table of Contents that was forbidden from using any actual text from the book. I confess, I cheated and pulled some text from the book in my first pass through summarizing 15 chapters, but then I went back and edited to remove any self-plagiarizing. I'm not sure what the point is, but rules is rules.


The proposal also called for three sample chapters. I have to pick only three chapters from 15, each my precious baby? I picked the introductory chapter and two on brains, one on artificial brains, and one on the real thing.


I'm sure there will be more iteration with my agent, but we are getting closer to making the pitch and maybe getting out of the extensive spec work phase.

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Book to Film

I wrote The Krone Experiment long ago, its sequel, Krone Ascending, more recently. I still have aspirations to write at least a third book in the series. My son, Rob, is a film maven. He and I wrote a screenplay of The Krone Experiment, and Rob made it into a micro-budget full-length film here in Austin. It did not open the doors we had hoped at the time although we both tried flogging it in various ways. We remain convinced that it would make an exciting film if done with a proper budget and special effects. While the project lay fallow for many years, the development of streaming represents a new market and new domain for material. The Queen's Gambit was a successful streamed film based on a decades-old novel. "Why not us?" I thought.


I stumbled on a connection to the agent who represented the estate of Walter Tevis, the author of the original novel, The Queen's Gambit. We seemed to have a constructive Email conversation until she asked for our specific aspirations for what we would want from a production company; payment for the rights to the novel and screenplay, and perhaps an opportunity to write a treatment for a series. She dropped us like a rock and suggested we talk to one of the big artist agencies in LA. I still do not know what happened.


I poked around on the Web and came up with some possibilities for LA film agents while being basically leery of the prospects of a cold call. I drafted a pitch letter and was on the verge of sending it to one agency when Rob thought about it and suggested we be cautious. We have a substantial intellectual property (IP); books, screenplay, film. Are we sure we have the rights in place? What about the Japanese translation?


That led me to contact a local attorney, the spouse of an astronomy colleague, who has connections to the local music industry. I had tried to talk to her a decade ago, but she had felt our film project was too far from her expertise at the time. Since then, it turns out, she has had considerable experience with TV and streaming. To our pleasant surprise, she agreed to meet us last Friday at a pleasant hole-in-the-wall bistro for a pancake and coffee breakfast to talk, pro bono. She completely agreed with Rob. We really need to get our ducks in line before approaching an agent. Make sure the rights to the books (hardbacks, paperbacks, Ebooks, foreign rights), the screenplay (which was optioned twice), and the film (actors were unpaid, but promised a share of future profit) are secure. Do formal copyrights with the Library of Congress. Maybe form a limited liability corporation to hold all the IP rights. Establish and activate a fan base. Many people have read the books and seen the film, but how to draw on that? Update The Krone Experiment website (www.thekroneexperiment.com). Hire a generalist attorney, maybe a literary lawyer in Austin, to handle the IP. Beware publicists, there are a lot of bad ones out there.  


That's a heavy lift. We'll take a deep breath and have at it.

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