Clusters in creationspace

Why does each genre of communication have so many characteristics? Like, there are lots of books that are all roughly the same length and have a similar style. But if you wrote a 20-page textbook in verse, I think it would be considered an improper contribution and not taken very seriously.

8 responses to “Clusters in creationspace

  1. Most of the clusters seem justified.

    Undergraduate and below textbooks are optimized to be about long enough to cover what’s taught in a quarter / semester / year. They do vary somewhat – I recall some very short and very long math textbooks. Textbook style also seems to be constrained by “makes the material understandable to students”.

    Novels have variable lengths. There seems to be a lower bound on setting up a plot. If you do a short story you can certainly publish that though. Short story vs novel is a cluster because you don’t really get into the world or characters for a short story.

    Probably there is a constraint on not physically printing really short things. But, we have bundling (short story or poem collections, periodicals).

    • Classes I’ve taken normally only used about 1/4 of the material from a textbook. So why are textbooks not 1/4 the length? (Perhaps every class uses a different 1/4?)

    • There is an interesting fact that short stories are more common than novellas or novelettes, and novels are way more common than short stories.

      This is possibly due to publishing constraints (the demise of the literary magazine means that novels are more common, and you don’t have to plan an entire magazine issue around a short story the way you do around a novella or novelette). Evidence in favor: Internet fiction seems to have a more even distribution of sizes than print fiction. (And also more extremes on either end– more drabbles and more Worm.)

  2. Robin Hanson has suggested that this is due to signaling that you have mastered the customs of the associated group. In this view, the clusters are mostly about whether people who have written things like yours will accept and recommend your work, which readers will probably look to when deciding whether or not to read it.

    Eg http://www.overcomingbias.com/2008/02/against-polish.html

  3. Philosophy treatise in verse: http://classics.mit.edu/Carus/nature_things.html
    Alternate-universe science fiction in the form of revisionist history: http://www.julianjaynes.org/bicameralmind.php

  4. Once lots of things with shape X have done well in the (literal or metaphorical) market, making your new thing have shape X makes it less likely that it flops because people dislike its shape. This seems sufficient to explain these clusters.

  5. Steven Gould has written about evolution’s tendency to drive organisms and artifacts to converge toward a mean in any given niche. I suppose for literature, mass media is the niche and editors and readers provide the selective pressure and surviving authors evolve forms that survive competition.

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