I’ve been skirting around AI for weeks, referring to it indirectly and implying that it would become increasingly important that we indies deal with it in the near future.
In my prediction post for 2023 (that wasn’t really a prediction) about the year ahead, I did grasp the nettle…a little, and very gently.
And I also made it very clear that nobody knows anything about where the indie publishing industry will end up this year, because we’re on the cusp of so many evolution’s and major changes.
Then Chat GPT blew up.
It seemed to happen the moment I hit publish on the post.
Chat GPT was released in November last year. By January this year it had 100M users.
One hundred million.
David Gaughran put that rather neatly in perspective in one of his emails:
“The explosion in popularity of ChatGPT has caught everyone by surprise. A few days ago, it passed 100m users – the fastest growing consumer application in history. For context: it took Instagram two years to reach 100m users. TikTok did it in 9 months, the pace of its growth throwing all the other social networks into a panicked redesign. ChatGPT hit that milestone in 2 months.”
I sat up and paid attention. And I started a long investigation into AI everything and how it might help or hurt writers and their businesses. AI art, AI writing, AI dictation, AI foreign editions, AI audiobooks, AI editing. And just in the last couple of weeks, AI dictation (speech to text, both live and using audio files) has also hit my list.
The feat surrounding AI is enormous. Authors are afraid of what AI will do to their livelihoods, and instead of trying to learn more about AI and how to harness and use it to enhance their business, they are hitting out at anyone who sounds even a little bit positive about AI.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Here’s my impression of the explosive, Mach-10 AI wave we’re all trying to surf right now.
First of all: no one knows what else is coming down the pipe.
AI anything is developing so fast, it’s breaking records. (See Chat GPT above, and read about all the gpt-based tools that are conning, charming and lying their way into major headlines.)
So the current state of affairs in AI could (and most probably will) change radically before the pace of development and release of new tools slows down at all. Stability is a long way off.
Plus, there are thousands of people trying to cash in on AI in ways that are beyond stupid. Clarkesworld SF magazine recently shut down all submissions because they were flooded with AI generated (and just awful) story submissions.
AI-written (and also just awful) genre fiction books are starting to appear on Amazon and other retailers, along with their poorly executed AI art covers. They’re bad enough that most readers and all writers can spot them from a hundred paces away. But how long will it be before the quality improves enough to fool most readers?
And the thousands of tools based upon AI generation cores are all for “a small monthly fee”, that, added together, will send you broke very quickly.
For several weeks now I’ve been hanging out in author groups that are open to AI discussions. That openness to discussing AI is critical, I’ve found.
Try to talk about AI on “normal” author groups and the fear reaction and vitriol heaped upon you will make you want to curl up and whimper. (I speak from experience, alas.)
I’ve been doing a lot of talking, reading and experimentation with AI as a result of these groups. My publishing company’s latest Kickstarter project, which funded in less than 12 hours and reached two stretch goals, was built using nearly all AI generated artwork, which has got lots of thumbs up and positive comments.
Many of the conversations I’ve been having are about the legalities and ethics of AI, and how best to utilize AI, if you use it at all.
There’s a lot of fear to off load in order to do this, but I don’t think any of us can afford to put our fingers in our ears and hope it all goes away.
Because it is absolutely not going to go away.
So the sensible thing is to harness it to enhance one’s business, instead of letting it (and indie creatives who use it) reduce our business to nothing because they can offer services that are quicker or better or both.
And that’s where I, and you, and most indies get indigestion.
There is so much AI whatever out there, it is overwhelming. You could spend hundreds of dollars a month paying for AI services for this and that and the other.
Although in one respect, the major decision has been made for us. As AI isn’t going away, we no longer have a choice about whether we should use it or not. We’re already using it, although you may not be aware of it.
If you use Microsoft Word’s editor and spell checker, you’re drawing on AI.
If you use Google’s Translate program, you’re using AI.
If you buy stock images for covers from many of the stock sites (except Getty Images, who are suing AI Art tool makers), there’s a good chance that the image that is perfect for your genre is AI created.
AI is threading its way into more and more of our work processes. Google search will soon be AI driven, Microsoft’s Bing is already there.
Now we just have to figure out strategies for how to use it in a way that genuinely assists or enhances our businesses.
For right now, that might just include a few free or cheap AI technologies that help with productivity, while keeping a watchful eye upon AI developments.
There’s a lot of churn right now, while the early adopters and the early developers fight to be the first, or the best, and grab market share. If we let that settle out and wait for the lumbering big boys to get their acts together and see what they come up with, then we might save ourselves a lot of time and energy learning and paying for an app that dies in a year because everyone abandons it when something better comes along.
For example, there are a lot of super-early-adopter writers using tools like Chat GPT and Sudowrite to help them write their books, market copy, emails, blogs and more.
However, Microsoft are making an announcement this month about the roll out of an AI assistant within Microsoft Word. How that AI assistant works might be close to how Chat GPT and Sudowrite are helping authors now.
I would rather wait for the MS Word version as I am already a Microsoft 365 subscriber, instead of spending money upon a separate, secondary AI Writing tool. Both Chat GPT and Sudowrite are SaaS, too — which means monthly payments that, if you stop paying them, you lose the tools.
There will be something better than comes along. There will always be something better that comes along.
This is the wild west we’re in, in AI terms. Developers are throwing up AI apps they wrote in three days. Or 48 hours.
But now that every man and his dog is using AI something, that feedback will bounce AI into the next generation super fast.
Then, the railway will come through (or maybe two lines will be laid down – Google and Microsoft, for example), and that will change everything all over again, and will bring in users who are not early adopters.
So, if you can stand it, a bit of strategic waiting now will pay off in the long term. Play around with the cheap and free tools to get a feel for how they work and figure out how you might use AI for your writing business.
But don’t invest heavily in tools right now. Just wait a bit.
For now, I’m using AI art from MidJourney, which is still a reasonable price.
I use Chat GPT to help me with story concepts, but not plots, because what it comes back with is cliched. It’s getting there, but it’s not a genuine help with plotting yet.
However, the last time I asked it for plot suggestions or to plot from a basic concept was two months ago, and I’ve learned since that the prompt you use is critical, and now Chat GPT 4.0 has been released, so it’s possible that Chat GPT’s plotting skills have advanced in the meantime. Two months in AI terms is an ice age.
I’ve tried using Chat GPT for posts here on PIFW, but GPT-anything is merely pulling from dozens of other sources, rather than creating ideas or suggesting original concepts. (And see all my prevarications in the previous paragraph and apply them to non-fiction, too.)
It’s usually quicker and easier to outline posts by myself, and certainly the results are more original…but in a few weeks I will try again and see what the tool can do now.
I’m also using Google’s AI for Audiobooks, in my infinite spare time.
The most recent development/change in my work process is that I’m once more about to experiment with dictation for both fiction and non-fiction.
How does AI play into that?
Once of the reasons I stopped using dictation despite the mega word counts that are possible was because I spent more time than I liked cleaning up the fouled text that dictation produced.
But Chat GPT does a marvellous job of cleaning up dictated text. (How you prompt it to do that is critical.)
And I’m curious to see what the AI embedded in MS Word manages to do, too.
Plus, I am not using the uber-expensive Dragon software anymore. (Curiously, their prices jumped sky high recently.) Instead I’m using the Dictate tool that is embedded in Windows 10 (and 11). It works just as well as Dragon, and when AI is part of the Microsoft suite, it will work even better.
Getting back into the habit of dictating just for the word count boost alone will be worth it.
I’ll report on this trial at a later date.
WordPress have announced that they’re developing a tool that will sit inside WordPress and allow you to build AI Art right inside WordPress. That will put a dent in MidJourney’s dominance.
There’s some refinement needed with all these tools, but they’ll get better very quickly.
As I’ve already said in a roundabout way; for now I would suggest cautiously experimenting using free or cheap tools, and getting to know how AI works, until the wild west days have gone and there is some stability surrounding AI.
Most especially, wait until the copyright issues surrounding AI art and the text that GPT tools produce are resolved before letting these tools write for you.
I’m not a lawyer, I don’t play one on TV and most of the lawyers in my fiction are as bent as a twig, so do not rely on my suggestions surrounding copyright. Talk to a good IP lawyer who knows copyright in your country before making any major decisions regarding AI.
And in the meantime, be cautious about using AI Art for commercial for-profit products like book covers. You cannot use the art produced by AI as is, it must be refined and worked upon and adapted in some way before there is any copyright to claim on the images.
Specifically, wait until your country of residence determines the copyright inherent in art and text (or not) before using the tools to produce the end product in your books (if you ever do). The tools can help you form ideas and concepts, but they can’t do the work of putting the words down for you…or your work may not be copyright-able.
There are copyright law suits pending in both the US and UK. What those trials decide will shape the future of AI in all countries, as their courts and governments will use the US and UK cases as guidelines to form their own laws.
But in the meantime, you can use AI to help you in all sorts of ways, as I am with dictation and concept work, and when Microsoft gets its act together, for editing and more.
AI doesn’t have to spell the end of your writing career. If you haven’t already played around with AI tools, start now. Chat GPT is free (for now), and most tools have a trial period.
Producing AI Art is fun. It’s also mind-blowingly good. And it will spark your imagination for characters, settings and whole stories.
All of the images in this article are MidJourney created images, except for the title image (and who knows, that was possibly AI-produced, too, but I paid for it on DepositPhotos).
Sample some of the jaw-dropping possibilities by scrolling through the MidJourney public gallery. Then try creating some of your own.
Try joining author groups where AI is freely discussed. I belong to three FB groups specifically for authors that are a good place to start if you’ve tried to ignore AI until now. Search for:
AI Audiobooks for Authors
AI Art for Authors
AI Writing for Authors.
There are more and more groups forming every day to discuss AI for writers, but these three I know are super-open-minded and will consider and discuss anything AI, prod it and determine if it will help with indie publishing. Some of the members of these groups are becoming AI experts, developing courses and writing books (with AI help) to assist writers in adopting AI for themselves.
Ben’s Bites on Substack (it’s free) will also keep you up on AI news, although it is not specifically for writers.
And if you join at least one of the groups I’ve suggested, above, you will quickly acquire a long list of tools, resources and more just by scrolling through the archives.