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What are the implications of generative AI for the indie author community? How can we make choices for our own creative business while respecting the decisions of others? Dan Wood (Draft2Digital) and Michael Anderle (20BooksTo50K, LMBPN) and I discuss our recommendations for the way forward.
In the intro, Ingram Spark offers free title setup and revisions (up to 60 days); Findaway Voices cuts Spotify distribution fee; Lessons learned from selling a million books; Go Wide or Run Away or Amazon Fail by Kris Rusch; Reputation Revolution Podcast; Pilgrimage is out on every store and in every format; Cover design split testing with Pickfu; A Note from the Author by Kevin Tumlinson.
This podcast is sponsored by Written Word Media, which makes book marketing a breeze by offering quick, easy and effective ways for authors to promote their books. You can also subscribe to the Written Word Media email newsletter for book marketing tips.
Dan Wood is the COO of Draft2Digital, which helps authors self-publish alongside excellent support.
Michael Anderle is the award-nominated internationally bestselling author of more than 40 urban fantasy and science fiction novels. He's also the co-author of many more with other authors under his company LMBPN Publishing. Michael is also the founder of the 20 Books to 50 K Facebook group and community.
You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript is below.
- Why generative AI offers opportunities for authors
- Michael explains his audacious publishing goal and breaks down how it could be achieved across multiple formats and languages, along with the help of generative AI
- Tackling some of the fears and anxieties that authors have — flood of content, quality, marketing competition, copyright, and more
- Will books co-written with AI be flagged or banned from the distributors?
- Why you shouldn't use author or artist names in your prompts
- Uses for AI in marketing
- Making your own choices — and respecting others whose choices might be different from your own
You can find Michael Anderle at LMBPN Publishing, and Dan Wood at Draft2Digital and on Twitter @danwoodok
Transcript of the discussion
Joanna Penn: Dan Wood is the COO of Draft2Digital, which helps authors self-publish alongside excellent support. Michael Anderle is the award-nominated internationally bestselling author of more than 40 urban fantasy and science fiction novels. He's also the co-author of many more with other authors under his company LMBPN Publishing. Michael is also the founder of the 20 Books to 50 K Facebook group and community. So welcome to the show guys. Hello.
Both: Hello. Thanks for having us.
Joanna Penn: I'm excited for this talk. So Dan, let's start with you.
What are you most excited about in terms of generative AI for authors and the publishing industry, and what are you playing with personally?
Dan Wood: I'm very excited by the opportunity to use some of the large, large language models to help authors when they are stuck. It's like having a writing partner that you can run ideas off of.
And with ChatGPT and some of the others, you can just say, you know, I'm thinking this, give me like three or four scenarios of how this might play out. I think that's very cool. Like many other people, I've had just a ton of fun with products like MidJourney to make images and just making outrageous images and seeing how they turn out.
I think when you think about what that could do for helping authors communicate with their cover designer and help them understand their vision and then the cover designer coming in with their knowledge of how the cover should look for that genre, and typography and all those good things. I think it just makes communicating between artists a lot easier.
As far as what I'm playing with, for me, my job, I came from a very technical job originally and my role at Draft2Digital has largely been around people's skills and managing and all of that.
And so I've had a ton of fun just playing around with the way in which you're gonna help you code. I was never a programmer by trade, but I did learn it in college and so it's enabled me to just kind of play around with little projects that I thought would be fun. I've used it for helping me write marketing copy because I hate writing, like doing marketing speak. So it's helped me with my job some.
And then like I'm looking at how it might help some of our younger members of our team with things like Excel, because it's very powerful at helping people write things like macros for Excel. They used to take classes and classes to learn how to do all the different things Excel can do, and now you can basically tell ChatGPT what you want it to do and it will come up with a macro for you and that's just awesome.
Joanna Penn: I love that you mentioned fun there because I definitely have a lot of fun. And you also said ‘writing partner' and I really feel like I'm co-writing with GPT4 now for sure.
But Michael, let's come to you. So at 20 Books Seville where we all met up and for that conference you talked in your keynote about how AI developments have enabled you to think much bigger as a publishing company — and as I always say to you, your ambition is hella bigger than mine and I really appreciate that.
Tell us what you said at 20 Books Seville about the 10,000 books in a year in case anyone hasn't heard that and why you are excited about AI.
Michael Anderle: Goodness gracious. So one of the things that people probably either know or don't know about me is I got in trouble six years ago for saying that someone could put out 20 books in a year. And it caused a kerfuffle.
And now people need to understand, I didn't say necessarily the 20 books in a year. What I said was 20 books to get to 50K a year. And now I say, I have a big audacious goal of getting to 10,000 books produced. And that all of a sudden became a big kerfluffle. I guess they didn't understand some of the ramifications of that.
But when I'm looking at things, I am looking at my competition. And for me, unlike perhaps a lot of people, for me, my competition is Delray, my competition is Penguin Random House, and they have the ability to put out hundreds, if not thousands, and tens of thousands of books. And that's where I kind of look at this and I see the opportunities.
Now. LMBPN has already been down the path. We've already put out 350 books in one year. You know, we've already challenged, if you will, the mid-tiers. The next challenge for us are the biggest guys, and I believe that with what's going on, AI is going to allow us to do that. A lot of the things that Dan had mentioned before come into play.
How do we allow in all of the aspects of our publishing business to run way more efficiently? How do we get out the pieces that don't work well, whether it's an Excel spreadsheet or whatever it is, and AI is gonna allow us to do that.
I completely agree with the aspects on the creativity. I've done well over a hundred series. Not too many people can claim that. I have had to go down the path of how do I get the next idea? Stephen King talks about ‘read every day.' Well, when you're writing as much as I wrote for the first few years, you don't read every day, I did suffer the well of what the hell? What do we do next? And AI has engendered creativity and enthusiasm for new ideas.
I understand that a lot of writers have aspects of writing they don't like. One of mine is I don't like to create really engaging universes before I start writing. I tend to find the universe. However, if the universe was created before, I have learned by using AI that it engenders explosions of dopamine hits on my creativity of, that's a genius idea. I can put that into the book.
And so there are so many things that it facilitates. All the way up to other aspects, and so I think there's something for everyone in AI. If you choose not to use it, absolutely fine, but from the standpoint of going after a Penguin Random House without trying to get 5,000 employees, all of a sudden I see it as viable.
Joanna Penn: Well, I think that's maybe what confuses people about you though, because you are an author, you are one of us, and you have your books that you've written yourself and with other people. And then you also have these audacious goals that you are competing with Penguin Random House. So this goal around 10,000 books in a year — which is a goal, not an actuality right now for sure — but is that the publishing head, not the Michael author head?
Michael Anderle: Yeah, it is. Because I mean, one of the things, and let's talk about the publishing side head, and we spoke about these things. I think most people say, okay, that's 10,000 books in English. And it can be, I'm not saying it couldn't be, but I'm also saying, The whole thing I express is all stories from the company.
And this isn't LMBPN by the way. LMBPN is strictly human first.
10,000 books can be all stories and all modalities
Which means e-book, paperback, hardback. Then you go to audio, which can be synthetic audio, synthetic multicast audio. It can go to comic books, graphic novels. story scripts. It can go all modalities and all languages, all modalities everywhere, which means around the world all at once, which is obviously a digital manifestation.
And so when you do that, even if you took 10,000 books and you divided it by five modalities, which be easy to accomplish with the ones I just announced, and 10 languages, which also easy to do, that's 200 books. 200 times, five times 10 is 10,000. And a lot of people don't want to either clue into that.
And over the last seven years I've tried to explain to people at times and either fear, anxiety, or overwhelm, I mean, there are a lot of honestly justifiable reasons of why someone could react in a perhaps negative way. But I'm not here to explain everything, I'm here to provide a hint of what can happen. And some of the things that I say aren't because I think they can happen is because I know it can be accomplished.
And so, but I'm not gonna sit here and tell people, this is what we've done, this is what we've accomplished, this is what I know we can do. And after I've put that down, I watched the responses for a little while, and then I ignored them. You know, mentally, emotionally, it just really wasn't worth it.
But I did see one of them where someone was trying to ascertain, and I got a little annoyed because I'm like, we haven't put out one AI-written book yet, period. And I'm like, where are they getting off go wondering about these things when they have no understanding that this is what I'm goal oriented toward.
Joanna Penn: Absolutely. I think that's interesting. And there are a lot of fears and anxieties. So Dan, you've been immersed in the author community for so many years now, and you understand a lot of this, and we've read it in the comments around things, but we also hear it in the community.
What do you think are the main fears and anxieties around the implications of AI for writers?
Dan Wood: That really is like the heart of why I wanted to be here and why I thought it was so important when you suggested that we do this discussion that it happened is there's a lot of fear, there's a lot of uncertainty.
Some of it has to do with people being afraid that they can be replaced. We're seeing that in the artist community. We're seeing it in the narrator community, and we're now seeing it in the writer community. Because I think there was a certain assumption among authors that AI could replace jobs, but that it would never come for creative jobs.
I think people are perhaps worrying a little bit too much because I think what really, yes, the large language models can generate text, but really the things that really get to the hearts of readers are the things that are unique, like the human struggles. And that's always gonna take a human component, I feel like.
I feel like we do need to take a stand and say we're seeing the same sort of rhetoric being used in the same sort of people trying to force us into black and white of there is only one way. There's AI. You use AI and you're wrong or you are completely human and that's just not the case.
It very much reminds me sometimes of the rhetoric that was used by traditional authors about indie authors 10 to 15 years ago and they're like, ‘oh no, this is gonna ruin reading. It's gonna ruin publishing because there's just gonna be too much content.
And I think what we've seen from the indie movement is that there's never enough content to keep up with what, how much readers want, and how quickly readers can read.
I think everyone has a choice. I don't think anyone has to use AI to help them with writing, but you can. And we should be accepting of people using AI as a writing tool.
You might choose not to do that, but you might want to think about using AI to help you with your marketing copy. Cause those, they're things that people complain about all the time. They're like, I just wish I had somebody to do this.
And they don't realize that generally, that's what traditional publishing was providing. And they were having to pay a salary for people to do those things that they didn't like to do. And technology has enabled the indie movement to happen to where suddenly an author could also be a publisher and take care of all their business needs.
That's all technology. I guarantee you. I've hated that we've started talking about it and calling it AI, because I think that's very misleading. It's machine learning.
Draft2Digital, Amazon KDP, the only thing that enables us to work with so many authors is that we're using machine learning to help us with reviews. There's just no possible way our business models would work if we had to read every book to review it.
And so we're using tools and so you as an author are gaining through what we're now calling AI, and you have been, for 10 years, you've been using things like spell check and Grammarly that are AI, that took away some things for editors to do, but there were other jobs available for people.
And if you are willing to transition, jobs are still gonna be there. Like they're gonna change. There are things that we could not have dreamt of, like people getting paid to play video games on Twitch or YouTube. Those are things that technology has enabled.
And so yes, there are fears and uncertainty about all of this, but I think there's going to be room and humans are going to be a vital, important part of any creative endeavor going in the future.
Joanna Penn: Absolutely. And I agree with you on the rhetoric and it can't be AI or no AI because there is no ‘no AI' in the world that we work in online. I mean, even people listening to this right now on a podcast player, whatever they're listening on is, is all kind of AI-powered these days. So like you say, we need to dial down the negativity in the rhetoric on this kind of thing and be more accepting of people.
But let's carry on with some of the concerns because one of the things I've read from people is that “readers just won't want to read books that are AI-generated.” We are all planning on using elements of humanity in our books anyway. Like it's not, they're not AI books about AIs or anything like that. But the criticism is that people will be able to tell because the writing is somehow soulless.
But I'm co-writing GPT4 and I can tell it's not that. But Michael, what are your thoughts on this kind of anything that involves AI in the writing process will be soulless and will be able to tell?
Michael Anderle: I guess the first thing I would say is:
We already have millions of human-written books that are soulless and people can tell because they don't buy them, they don't read them, and they don't continue with them.
And so I think we've already been down this path. The question, which I think is at the heart of where Draft2Digital is too, with Dan's comment related to machine learning, crap isn't going to go up. What you're worried about is people who understand how to use the large language models and the generative pre-trained capabilities in order to create quality work.
If you can't create quality work with GPT4 at the moment, that's actually on you. It's been done. I've seen it. We've edited it, we know it can be done. So that's not the question. Crap's just not gonna get sold.
Joanna Penn: Absolutely. Well, I guess that does come back to Draft2Digital and Dan obviously representing the company as well.
So one of the other things that people are saying is, oh, “you'll be able to tell and things will get machine banned.”
So you mentioned there about the tools that you have that kind of make sure certain books get through. I know people are worried and that they're, but if the authors who want to use elements of AI, myself included, some people are worried that those books will get flagged and banned and other people would like them to get banned on the way in, or there are rumors and they are rumors about books being banned from Amazon, either with AI text or AI images.
Will books that use AI as part of the process be banned or flagged during the publishing process?
Dan Wood: I think one of the things we discussed while we were in Europe together was that we really don't think there need to be a lot of rule changes and that's something that we're communicating with our partners and they're still trying to figure it out as well.
So the retailers, the library systems, the subscription services, essentially we want good content and we don't ask someone if they use a ghostwriter. We don't ask someone exactly how they made their content.
We have tried all the different tools to at least try to identify if something was AI assisted. None of them have a good success rate. And that seems to be the academic consensus is that. There will never be a great way to detect things are written by these large language models because they are very, very good and there are a lot of humans to write very, very poorly. And so what we are looking for is just quality content.
Like I mentioned, we're scanning books to look for things that we know the retailers have told us they're concerned about. In our system at least then we have a human look at it and apply that judgment that only a human can. That's the way it scales. Like there has to be a level of scanning all of this.
Often what we will have people from, I would call the scammer community, or perhaps, and this is a separate community entirely too, the low content community or the passive income communities, that will try to just post a bunch of content. They will be very repetitive in nature and we generally will reject that kind of content because this content's readily available on the internet, like when those answers are out there. So if someone is just coming around along and using GPT to generate things that people can find easily with internet articles, we don't want that content. Our partners don't want that content.
If you're trying to make quality content and something this unique and appeals to a reader base, we will always take that. And I don't see that changing ever, and it really doesn't matter what tools we used to make it.
Joanna Penn: Okay. Well let's talk about another thing that is not legally decided yet, which is around the copyright side of things.
So, Michael, as a businessman with a number of businesses, you are very careful about these things. What are your thoughts on the copyright aspect of works created with AI, even though there is no legal ruling on it?
If we are publishing these books, then we have to think something about it. And you also do foreign rights licensing, you do all these kind of things.
So we are signing contracts or using terms and conditions that are legal contracts.
[Check out this episode with intellectual property lawyer Kathryn Goldman for more in-depth discussion of AI and copyright.]
What are your thoughts on the copyright aspect of books co-written with AI?
Michael Anderle: Well, this is an interesting aspect and I have looked at it and I've spoken to one of our lawyers yesterday, actually at length and another lawyer over in Amsterdam at the 20 Books Holland.
And so I ask them aspects of this, and I understand that a lot of people, and my belief is that some who have fear of anxiety are trying to hide behind this, but the reality is easily explained this way. Let me ask the question to both of you, we both agree that the law says right now that if you use a Midjourney image, you cannot copyright that Midjourney image. Is that correct?
Joanna Penn: Unless you change it in some way to make it more specific.
Dan Wood: It's confusing. For me, being risk averse and what I know about the law right now, I probably would not recommend people use Midjourney images on their covers. But I think it's fine to use for a number of other things like social media posts, but I think there are some very strong arguments to be made that you probably can and probably won't have a legal problem if you do.
Joanna Penn: I have a cover that is on Draft2Digital, With a Demon's Eye is a Midjourney image that my cover designer then turned into a book cover.
So I am on that side of it. So, Michael, carry on. Where are you on this?
Michael Anderle: So let me, in general, just that y'all, you actually answered this very specifically, which I think is awesome, but in general the answer is no. You can't. Right? Just in general without the specificity that you're talking about.
Now, let me ask you the question. If you as a Midjourney person say, give me Batman in this amazing pose with something behind them, and you take that image of the dozens that you do and you put it on a t-shirt and sell it, do you expect to get a takedown notice from DC comics or somebody, a very clearly worded, you have broken my copyright?
Joanna Penn: Yeah, for sure. Because that is someone else's character. Do not use Disney prompts or Marvel prompts or any of that for sure.
Michael Anderle: And there's your legal answer for all of it. It's the same for words because if you, if a human created it, you are legally protected if a human created it.
So the aspect in talking to the lawyer, and I'll go just a little bit more into this because once again, people should go and connect to their own lawyers. They should get their own. But generally speaking, the individual words that are in your book right now, you may not copyright. If I pull out three, bush, building, you can't copyright those.
So at that level, or even concepts, tropes, you cannot copyright tropes. If you have a book that basically says a woman went here, she got attacked, and then this guy came in, tried to save her, but she kicked his — you know, whatever. You cannot copyright the overview of what's going on.
It has to be what they call materially, materially similar. So even in those aspects, you can't copyright those things. But you actually, when you start creating a character, right? So why don't you as a human, create your character?
Dan Wood: I think it goes back to that idea that we have laws for all this already.
There's still things that have to play out in the courts. There are, I think at a certain level there are things that are problematic about the image generators because they did just scrape the web in general without a lot of supervision against scraping content that is copyrighted.
So that's kind of some of my qualifications earlier was why I don't necessarily trust it to use it on covers is because there are a few prompts where there's such a small number of images that fit that, that it's trained on, that it will generate something that's almost identical to an image that is under copyright.
But yes, I think what you're saying as far as we've already got loads of precedent and case law for those things that are created by a human. And then it doesn't really matter what tools they use to put that out in the world. And I can't come along and make something that looks like a character of yours.
And I mean, it does get squishy with, if I come along and give a prompt that is “give me a book in the style of this particular author,” if they are in the public domain, that is certainly legally fine. Is it ethical? Maybe not.
Michael Anderle: To clarify that one, the way I understand where we are at the moment is if I try to build a large language model on the aspect of James Patterson, which is completely doable right now. And then I try to build thrillers and compete with James Patterson, I am going to be probably screwed in the courts period.
Now, if I were to say, not try to train something and I go in there and I build a thriller and I say, Hey, write this in the voice of James Patterson, I'd probably still be incredibly shaky ground if I chose to say something like, all right, I have this thriller, and give me the dialogue of Elmer Schnitz and the description of J R R Tolkien, it's a little bit vague.
However, if I come in and say, and this is what the lawyer kind of said yesterday, he said, but if you go in there and say, “Hey, write me a thriller in the style of the 1950s bestselling pulp writers,” you are really not gonna have that much of a problem, cuz what are they gonna say?
Joanna Penn: Well, and this is what I wanted to come back on.
My overwhelming recommendation with people for images and text is: Do not use any names in your prompts. Do not use an artist's name for images. Do not use an author's name in writing.
So I'm using like you are an award-winning horror writer, although I've also used my own name and my own name brought out some pretty cool stuff for me.
But ethically, just in general, and coming back to the Midjourney image where my book with the cover is selling on Draft2Digital and elsewhere, that is a character cover. And again, no artist's name was used in the prompts. It's a combat photographer, a female combat photographer that then my cover designer edited and changed. So, I don't see any problem in that.
This is a really important point because one of the reasons people want to use these images is because there are no stock photos of some of these things. So for example, fantasy characters of color, or for me, like a female combat photographer, there was no such character existing in stock photography.
I know images are slightly different to words, but I think our whole point here is don't use names in your prompts. Don't use other people's IP in prompts. I mean, that's what it comes down to.
Dan Wood: Yeah. I very much agree with that.
Joanna Penn: Right. Well. Let's come on to another fear that people have. Now, we have mentioned that, Michael, you said that the good stuff will rise to the top and Dan said the same thing. Things won't be rejected because of AI, but let's think about marketing because I mean, People say, oh, there's no competition, we're all here being nice to each other.
But let's face it, more books means more competition. And for example, bidding on keywords is a very specific example where there is a clear winner for every auction of keywords on a platform. So in that case, there is some competition.
What are your thoughts on how AI might impact marketing?
Dan, you said it in a good way in that we can do social media posts and blurbs and stuff like that. What are some of the other potential ramifications or things that people are worried about?
Dan Wood: I do think very much that people are worried about there just being too much content and that is, making it very difficult for their marketing and very difficult for them to stand out in the content.
I think that they're underestimating how the different retailers will use AI to help them curate and help readers find books that they really love. And so I think generally, when people are very scared about how it's gonna impact marketing visibility, it has to do with the idea, there's just gonna be more content without thinking about the ramifications of the technology and how it will improve discovery in general for marketing.
I feel like there are very few places in our industry where it is truly like a fixed pie, where, you know, KU by far and by KU, I mean Kindle Unlimited. If one author's doing better, then it does mean like there's only so much money in the pool.
As far as the general book community goes though, the more authors the better because authors are readers and authors read a lot more books than your typical non-writer.
So the more people we get into the author community, the more people are buying books, the more people are reading. And so I think that is all good.
I think AI will make your marketing spend go further. The AI tools will probably be able to help people do Amazon ads better. They'll probably help people be able to do Facebook ads better.
We'll have new tools that we've never seen before because the different language models right now help people with a moderate understanding of coding and programming develop things very, very quickly. And that's something that within the industry, there's just not enough developers because developers tend to go on to jobs that pay a little bit better, and there's just not as big of the margins in books to draw the top talent.
And so now I think we're gonna see people like people like me and Michael that have some knowledge of how to write programs, but didn't love it and had a problem just sitting down and writing a program from scratch that we'll be able to make new and exciting, innovative things.
Michael Anderle: I meant thought about this a while ago when Dan was saying something.
Using ChatGPT for sales descriptions / blurbs is useful for book marketing.
For all of you authors who hate to do blurbs, please raise your hand. You know, you can physically do it in the safety of wherever you're at at the moment. If you have not tried any of the large language models, try this. Go in there. Grab three blurbs from bestselling authors that are in your genre. Tell GPT I want you to take these blurbs and let me know when you are ready.
Paste the first one. Hit enter. Paste the second, hit enter, paste the third. Hit enter. And then say, write me a blurb where and give it information about your book. And then you can thank me in the morning. Now, if you don't wanna use AI, you won't be able to do this because you're not for it.
But I hate blurbs. I created a methodology to write blurbs years ago based on something that I'd looked at on just the way that they would do their little way. But I go and grab three of ours, paste them in, because I had this happen to me two weeks ago. I needed to do a book nine blurb. I hadn't done anything in this particular series for two months, and could not remember what the heck was going on.
And I went and pasted in seven, no, six, seven, and eight, and I, and then I looked back and say, okay, here's the core of what this book is about. I pasted, Hey, write me a blurb, blah, blah, blah. This is what happens. Go. And I had my blurb in a minute and I'm like, fantastic. Looked at it, made sure it was right, sent it on. Happy camper. Happy happy camper. And so from the marketing perspective, that's just one example of how AI can help us in other areas.
Now, related to your cost-per-click things, I've come to the conclusion a year and a half ago that Amazon's taking us on a pay-to-play just like Facebook did years ago.
It's no different. Therefore, I looked at what we were doing at the time, which is about 300 books a year and still is. And so I looked at that and I said, okay, pay to play, they're going to slowly take the money that they give us. That's very similar to what Facebook did, and I'm like, we're gonna have to leave.
So the whole question, in my opinion, the whole question related to KU versus Wide is going to play out because at a certain quantity of books, you can't play in Kindle Unlimited is my assertion. So if we were to use what I just said, and the aforementioned 10,000 books, 97% of them would be wide.
Out of the 10,000 books, 97% of them would be wide.
Joanna Penn: So Dan, what do you think about that? Because obviously, Draft2Digital is all about wide publishing.
Dan Wood: I 100% percent agree. The unlimited model takes care of a lot of things and it certainly is exciting to a reader and readers have gotten used to things like Netflix and Spotify that give them kind of all-you-can-eat for a certain amount of money, but those models kind of break down.
Like the early days of Netflix were incredible, but now everyone is realizing and walling off their content and their own subscription service, and so now there are dozens of subscription services and we're all getting sick of paying. You know, I have to have a Paramount Plus account, I have to have a whatever they're calling HBM Max these days. I have to have Spotify, I have to have Netflix, blah, blah, blah.
I think we're also seeing Amazon is under new leadership and that leadership doesn't seem to care as much about books as perhaps the previous one did. We're seeing more and more people go wide. We're seeing the pandemic really helped ebook adoption take off in markets and other languages where it hadn't been.
Most people had not tried an ebook before, and so we've seen growth outside the English language market over the years, and I think AI is just going to be more fuel on that fire as it makes it easier for both English language content to be available in some of these other markets, but also for those authors in those markets to reach the broader English language market and to to do their own translations.
I think as more as authors are able to do more formats, that helps their author career.
The great thing about the indie movement is that it allowed for much, much greater diversity of content because what was getting published before was largely groups of people from the same basic backgrounds.
You know, people who had connections to New York publishing, people who had connections to London publishing, people who had connections to Sydney publishing. Generally these were affluent people and publishing has always favored the affluent.
Even within the indie community, you have a leg up if you've got the money to spend on a good cover, if you've got the money to spend on editing upfront, you're gonna have an advantage.
And then when you have the money to spend on marketing upfront with AI, I think it will level the field even greater for all those authors who are just starting out so that they can have a competitive product that can be in all formats. They can get more bang for their buck with their ad spend.
Joanna Penn: And I think if people are concerned, what we are really saying is new tools are going to emerge. If old ones stop working, new ones will arrive.
AI will enable new marketing tools for book discovery.
In fact, what I did the other day, I really wanted some more Dan Brown style, action, adventure, religious thrillers, like my own ARKANE series. I was like, okay, so there must be more authors out there other than just the ones I keep finding. And so I went on ChatGPT and I was like, these are the types of books I like What are 20 other books and authors I should check out?
It gave me a list and they were all guys, which is normal because Action Adventure is a very traditional, it's a lot of the old guys like Wilbur Smith is dead, lots of old dudes, Clive Cussler, all of that. And so I was like, well, how about some books by female authors or books that have been released in the last decade and it gave me a whole load more.
And then I said, I want books that make me feel like this way. And talked more about the emotional side of the books I like to read and some with architecture in, and that's why I actually had a chat around finding books to read and it gave me a whole load of new authors and I was like, this is fantastic.
This kind of discovery that you can chat to book discovery is brilliant. And first my marketing brain went, how do I tell it more about my books? Like this whole thing around, ‘oh, we don't want our books in there.' Well, it's like we do perhaps, I mean there's Google Bard and there's Bing and all of this. But that's what I was thinking. I was like, there has to be something that will do this. We have to encourage people to chat to find more books.
Dan Wood: I know for me, using any of the retailers for discovery kind of got unwieldy because the way in which they list things is not the way that readers think or talk about books.
I started going to Reddit for all of my, you know, I would follow the different subreddits that were genres that I liked for recommendations. And watching how they describe books is fascinating to me. And it's like, I think every author should be looking at that.
The cool thing for us is that those large language models were trained on Reddit. Now Reddit is starting to respond and realize the data trove they have and trying to protect that, but there's a lot of information out there to help you find a particular trope or feeling or author that's much better than the discovery platforms for books that are out there right now.
Joanna Penn: So I guess what we're saying is there'll be a lot more things coming along the way.
So there was one other thing I did wanna mention because we're almost out of time and that is that we don't want to see more polarization. And we touched on this a bit before, but when we were in Seville, we were like, this feels like the first AI-centered conference that we've been to where it was a mainstream topic conversation.
Your opening speech touched on it, Michael. And then there was a session on Midjourney towards the end, so it was like a bookend of the conference.
So, how do you think the author community is going to shake out with the discussion on AI?
Because again, I remember when Joe Konrath's tsunami of crap blog post came out back in like 2012 whenever it was, and that was when the indie versus trad thing was there.
[I have an episode talking about the ‘tsunami of crap' argument and how it pertains to AI-generated content in this episode on responsible use of AI.]
And then of course there's the KU versus wide, and none of this should be so polarized. Michael, given your position in the community side of things, how can this shake out so we can all move on?
Michael Anderle: Well, that's a really good question because we do need to realize that some of the individuals that are being, what I would consider negative, have a vested purpose in being negative.
There's a value to them to be against AI, and so just recognize that sometimes the individuals that are saying things that they're trying to get you to act in a certain way that is not in your own personal self-interest.
Just read, get out there, and make your own decision, and just realize you're an adult.
You might have to go against something that people want to vilify you for. My whole purpose of saying what I did was that, you know, throw the arrows my way, it's not going to do anything to me cause I'm gonna ignore you anyway. Just like I've ignored everybody who is upset with me for the last seven years because I don't get on social media.
I'm not personally trying to ignore you. I'm just not there. I'm rarely on social media because I have a business to run. I have authors who need to be paid and I, they need marketing, and I'm in those conversations and I have Robin Cutler who grew Ingram Spark and she's running the publishing side. I have conversations with her and guess what? It doesn't leave me time to sit on social media and wax poetic about whatever's going on. I'm here to grow a business.
So if you wish to sit there and wax against something, yes, you might be hurting somebody that's right next to you who could really hear the message and it could help them grow.
And just, the reason I wanted to start 20Books is help somebody make enough money in order to feed their kid to be able to buy some Enfamil. And if I'm going to say something about AI and make it okay for them to go check it out, then so be it.
Joanna Penn: Dan, obviously you and the folks at Draft2Digital go to a lot of conferences and you go to more traditional conferences as well, not just indie.
So how are you going to deal with this, and how do you think it will shake out?
Dan Wood: Yeah, I have been going to a lot of conferences. I have many, many friends in the author community, and I have friends that are scared to let their friends know that they're using AI and that they're experimenting with AI.
And that's why I wanted us to talk and I wanted to make sure that there are people speaking out for them because —
Some of the rhetoric is awful and we should really try to give each other as a community more grace. We have the opportunity to make something much better than traditional publishing ever was.
And we've been great at sharing how to succeed in so many other aspects. But we always, there seems to be something like the indie versus trad, the KU versus wide, where we let it divide us for a couple of years and people say awful things and we need to get past that.
Something we've talked about is Draft2Digital has been working with Apple on their digital narration product. It's a great opportunity for authors that have just never had the money or the technical know-how to get their books made into audio.
Out of that, I've been in contact with thousands of authors and I have gotten emails back. They were just like, I can't believe, how dare you. How can Draft2Digital support this? I think it's fine for you as a person can decide. I don't want to have anything to do with this. Like, that is the great thing about being in indie is —
You get to control your business. Trying to tell someone else how they might run their business, I believe is neither good nor is it helpful.
I believe it's also a waste of your time, like all this time that you're spending on social media complaining, you're trying to hold back a flood and you just can't do it. This stuff is going to happen. Legal things may slow it down a little bit, but for the most part, you have to change with the times.
Things will never again be like that 2012, 2013 period where you could just put a book up on KDP and it had a good chance of getting discovered. Things will never again be like those first, that first year of Facebook ads where nobody knew how to do it and so the people that did got huge visibility. Things will continue to change.
The people that will be successful are the people that will try to change with the tide.
Michael Anderle: There there was a comment, Joanna, that I read yesterday. ChatGPT has a hundred million users. [Note: That was in January, so it's likely a lot more now.]
Just look at that right there. And they got it in four months that, you know, so the fastest growing software usage and things all across the world, it is here. If you believe it isn't. That's not actual reality.
Joanna Penn: So, I feel like part of the reason we wanted to talk was to try and make it a more AI-positive or at least AI-curious environment for people to be exploring this type of technology and be able to talk about it with other authors without being completely shut down.
And there are other communities being started because people feel unwelcome in different ones and like we don't want end up completely splintered. We've all been doing this way too long to end up with a splintered community.
I enjoyed the 20 Books Seville more than a conference I've been to in a long time. Like I felt really part of what this movement is becoming and it's very exciting.
So, Michael, I have booked my ticket to Vegas, but 20BooksVegas, as you know. I haven't been to that one before, because I'm such an introvert and it just seems so big. But I'm I want to be part of this movement.
What can we expect at 20BooksVegas around AI?
Michael Anderle: So you asked me this at 20BooksSeville, and I had to call Craig because everyone knows because I say it on stage, Craig is the one who runs the 20BooksVegas situation and he said that he already had three classes on it already.
I suspect more will be done and we can certainly do an opportunity and an Ask Me Anything with you and myself there if you're up to it and we can make something happen. And so, it's going to be part of what's going on.
Joanna Penn: Well that's great and Dan, you are coming?
Dan Wood: Yes, I will be at 20BooksVegas, and I think I've been at every 20Books event except for Edinburgh.
Joanna Penn: Fantastic. So tell us where people can find you and everything you do online — although individually, you are not particularly contactable!
Michael Anderle: Certainly for the fiction books because that's the only thing that we do, got to LMBPN.com for all of that.
If you would like to see about getting published with LMBPN, we actually hide that quite a bit, but if you look at the bottom left-hand corner of the main page, there's an opportunity there for you to get involved.
Dan Wood: Probably the best is the Draft2Digital blog, or we have our Self-Publishing Insiders Podcast that you can check out. I am personally on Twitter @DanWoodOK and I share a lot of information about the publishing and AI stuff that I find interesting that I think could be helpful to some of you if you are into that sort of stuff.
Joanna Penn: Well, thanks both of you for your time. That was great.
Dan Wood: Thank you for having us. Thank.
Milissa L Story says
Thank you for an outstanding episode. I’m a huge advocate for AI tools and this episode helped clarify some questions I still had about its application and the conversation about utilizing AI for publishing. A few months D2D contacted me, inviting me to have my Gates Point Romance series to be a part of Apple’s AI narration program. Two of the six books are not available and I think they are terrific! These tools have so many exciting possibilities to include making accessibility much improved for writers and readers.
Joanna Penn says
Thanks, Milissa, and I’m glad the Apple AI narration is working out for you!
Kirsten McKenzie says
I’m excited about AI and what it can do for us as a tool. Looking forward to seeing you at the AWF AI sessions.
Joanna Penn says
Thanks! Make sure you come and say hi 🙂
That makes amazing sense I am recommend all my friends That was so Appreciated.
CJ Anaya says
You always cut through the noise so well. Thank you for having honest discussions about the hard stuff. I listened to your presentations and panels at Superstars, and I enjoyed that positive, calm voice of reason you always interject in every discussion. This issue of AI is no different. You find the good, the helpful, and the relevant, and then you walk away from the toxic. It is refreshing.
I’ve spent a lot of time asking myself WWJD?
What Would Joanna Do?
Sacrilege? I think not!
Cheers, my friend!
Joanna Penn says
Thanks, CJ, I definitely try to stay away from the toxic and the drama 🙂
Tom Sullivant says
Hey Joanna, Iistened to this podcast this morning on my usual Sunday run. Have decided, by the way, that The Creative Penn Podcast is my favorite podcast.
Currently, I’m enjoying all discussion around AI and how authors and editors and publishers will pivot to avoid or embrace it. I am in the camp of learn it, use it, or fall behind.
But one thing I keyed in on during your discussion with Dan and Michael, is the discoverability of the genre fiction I want to find, buy, and read. I don’t recall whether Michael said it or if Dan did, but it was something to the tune of even the search for my preferred genre fiction on the big platforms doesn’t yield the results I want.
I have noticed this for years now. I used to like going to Borders Books, and then B&N, and now Apple and Amazon and sometimes others (but mostly Apple since I much prefer to read ebooks on my iPad and I prefer the Apple Books app over other reading apps).
I find I purchase much less often now because it is near impossible to sort through all the rubbish. What I mean is that even if I select sci-fi for example, I still get a lot of fantasy, manga, paranormal, and horror mixed in. On top of that are the covers. I do judge books by their covers because it’s easy to look for sci-fi covers in a mess of genre covers. Or rather it used to be. Today’s sci-fi covers are anything but sci-fi. This makes it really difficult for me to discover good sci-fi as well as new authors writing sci-fi.
It would be very helpful (and result in more purchases) if authors and publishers picked one main genre category and an obvious genre cover rather than tagging a book with multiple categories. It would also be nice if the platforms asked authors and publishers to select one main category so it can be searched by said category without muddying the waters.
Quite frankly, if a book has more than one main category, then I think the author should go back to the drawing board. I doubt I am the only one who has run into this problem.
Also, I am fully supportive of authors publishing wide. The Kindle model as mentioned on today’s show is less and less and a viable ROI for the average author. Plus, many people prefer to read on just one or their main app of choice, for me it’s the Apple Books app. I don’t want to have to sort through and remember which app I downloaded and read which book on.
As a reader, I’m much more likely to buy a book if I can easily find it on Apple Books by a simple author name or title search. Which is another issue, search. I often end up not even finding a book or author I search for let alone buying the book because the search engine gives me a page or two of unrelated results. This is super frustrating.
Okay, so those issue are going go be my mission as I get back into writing hopefully this year. I have zero influence so it may never happen, but I like discussing it.
Thank you for making my favorite podcast. May you live long and continue.