Could AUTHORS's AI-driven platform herald the end of the slush pile?

Could AUTHORS's AI-driven platform herald the end of the slush pile?

This Texan startup is using data science, machine learning and a new sort of platform to connect writers, agents and publishers.


The pitch

AUTHORS.me offers artificial intelligence-powered software for the entertainment industry that streamlines workflows, amplifies development opportunities, and improves creative decision making.

For studios and publishers, the AI predicts market fit, determines bestseller and box office hit potential, identifies target audiences and delivers marketing recommendations through keywords, metadata, comparable titles and audience psychographics. For writers, the AUTHORS cloud-based submissions platform offers a new route to getting their work read, and helps those on the other end to regulate the slush pile.

"Our goal is to deliver artificial intelligence and adaptive technologies that advance human creativity," says Monica Landers, AUTHORS c.e.o.

The team

AUTHORS was founded in Austin, Texas in 2014 by three co-founders with backgrounds in media, television, and technology. Monica Landers is an innovation and corporate strategist with over 20 years experience in content-based businesses such as Good Morning America and Demand Media. Chief technology architect Henrik Kjallbring is a software engineer focused on big data and machine learning. David O'Brien is a writer and platform designer who heads up the creative direction of the company.

Among the rest of the team are former acquisitions editors, writers, phD data scientists, domain experts, maverick back-end engineers, and meticulous designers. 

What's the gap in the market?

Landers identifies two main areas which AUTHORS set out to own: efficiency and opportunity.

"There’s no shortage of manuscripts to evaluate, but there is a shortage of time," she explains. "So one gap was an answer to that problem: how can we make sure that writers don’t waste time submitting to places that aren’t looking to buy what they are selling, and how can we ensure that editors and producers are able to capture all of the information they need to make their decision quickly?

"The other gap was that of artificial intelligence and machine learning implementation before market. Countless industries have benefited from the simultaneous adoption of standardized evaluation systems and machine learning insights to their industry, so we thought: why shouldn’t editors and producers reap that same benefit?  As Macmillan CEO John Sargent said this year at Digital Book World,  “It can’t be instinct alone. Data can be used to improve every decision, every day, from acquisitions to marketing and sales."

"AUTHORS’ technology is able to handle more manuscripts than an individual could read in a lifetime. Because of this ability to scale, we don’t have to limit the insights to post-release. We deliver insights to publishers before the tremendous investment of time and money is made, which ultimately opens up a world of possibilities for every title and every acquisition. Our platform and insights free up more time for the editors, marketers, producers, and publicists to focus their expertise."

Success so far?

The AUTHORS team report that the platform drives a minimum 20% increase in productivity of evaluation of submissions, depending on the level of submissions received. Through the platform, over 200 writers have been contracted for publication and around 20 books have been published so far. 

"But that's only what we can confirm," adds Christen Thompson, director of business development. "Since it is a workflow tool, the publishers and agents have to self-report when they make a deal with a writer, so with 40 publishers and agents online, and over 16000 writers, it’s hard to say what the upper limit on that number could be... but we’re thrilled with the confirmable ones. " 

The company is part of Techstars, the global startup accelerator and development program which provides mentoring, networking and support.

Biggest challenges?

Unsurpirsingly, the slow movement of the traditional publishing beast. "Publishing is a venerated industry that plans their products a minimum one year in advance if not two or three," Landers says. "So, as with many technology startups, the personality of the industry and understandable hesitation to adopt new technologies can stymie, but within the past six months we’ve seen a dramatic change in tide."

Ultimate ambition?

AUTHORS has big ambitions that encompass the entire entertainment industry. "We’re a company of story lovers and storytellers," Thompson insists. "We want to empower creators and their champions to develop their message to be the most impactful, most accurate to their intent, and reach the right audience at the right time, every time. We will continue to build technology and algorithms to support not just every publisher, imprint, and agent, but studios and production houses too. Our technology can work independently and plug into other platforms and dashboards via an API which means it’s not limited to just AUTHORS.me."

Advice to other publishing entrepreneurs?

"Since we’re a Techstars company, I work closely with many startups that aren’t in publishing," Landers says. "So I can say that startups in publishing face an additional hurdle, in that the startup process is just not part of the publishing landscape. There seem to be fewer early adopters in publishing than in other verticals like consumer marketing or fintech. When AUTHORS first launched, I spoke to a reporter at one of the industry publications who basically said that they don’t even want to cover publishing startups until they’re around for a few years because the death rate is just so high.

"This isn’t meant to be negative about the industry, just something to keep in mind: If you’re trying to break into publishing, you need to have a long term plan for funding or revenue that allows you to stick around long enough to prove yourself.  

"And if I can squeak in one other thing that I’d advise: have a team that love books and stories. Readers, editors, and writers can tell if you’re not genuinely passionate about the product they work so tirelessly to elevate, and the work is more fun and more productive if you have a knack for books and people around you that share that. "