Four years ago, in July 2019, I put out a podcast episode that went through the 9 disruptions I saw coming for authors and publishing in the next decade. It turns out that most are happening faster than even I expected. In this episode, Nick Thacker and I discuss some of the main points.
In the intro, I go through other aspects of the nine ways (notes and links below), the USA Today Bestseller list is back; TikTok moves into eCommerce [The Verge]; and Orna Ross and I discuss generative AI for authors on the Self Publishing Advice Podcast.
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.
Nick Thacker is the USA Today bestselling author of over 40 books, including thrillers, action-adventure, and nonfiction. He also helps indie authors through his courses, coaching, and also by working with Draft2Digital.
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.
- Enthusiasm for AI tools as part of the creative process
- Collaborating with AI as an author
- Using AI for tasks outside of your “zone of genius”
- How Draft2Digital may handle the explosion of content
- The future of generative search for book discoverability
- Creating audiobooks with voice clones
- Copyright issues around AI-generated content
- How to stay positive and what to focus on
You can find Nick at NickThacker.com
Overview of the 9 disruptions
Here’s the overview. These are in no particular order. Click here to read or listen to the original episode. You can also find more podcast episodes, articles etc here on my Future page.
- Non-fiction books, blog posts, and news articles will be written by AI [discussed with Nick below]
- Copyright law will be challenged as books are used to train AIs which then produce work in the voice of established authors [discussed with Nick below]
- Voice synth technology will replace human narrators for mass-market audiobook narration [discussed with Nick below]
- Voice search will disrupt text-based SEO and if you don’t have voice content, you will be invisible. [In the intro, I mention that I think generative search will likely be more disruptive.]
- Translation will be performed by AI — for books as well as other content. [In the intro, I mention my own process with Deepl.com, as well as Google's Translation Hub, and Meta's new translation model.]
- Content will explode exponentially, and AI discoverability and marketing tools will help navigate the tsunami [discussed with Nick below]
- AI-augmented creativity will develop and more people will want to be writers. I mentioned ‘centaur publishing,' and suggest you check out AI Writing for Authors to find thousands of authors already experimenting with new ways of co-creating with AI.
- Print publishing will shift into a green, sustainable model with AI-assisted micro-print-on-demand. London Book Fair 2023 focused on sustainability, and even talked about carbon emission labeling for books; plus The Society of Authors Tree to Me
- Expansion of mobile reading + micropayments enabled by 5G mobile and blockchain technology + four billion new people online = explosion of reading. Subscriptions have certainly cannibalized sales of ebooks and audiobooks, leading to the rise and rise of selling direct. On blockchain, while the crypto crash of 2022 has stopped the speculation, the work of building blockchain solutions continues. The EU IP Office launched a blockchain for registration, and the WIPO is looking at it. As discussed with Roanie Levy on blockchain for copyright registration.
Transcript of Interview with Nick Thacker
Joanna: Nick Thacker is the USA Today bestselling author of over 40 books, including thrillers, action-adventure, and nonfiction. He also helps indie authors through his courses, coaching, and also by working with Draft2Digital. So welcome back to the show, Nick.
Nick: Thank you for having me again. It's a pleasure.
Joanna: Yes, indeed. Now you were on the show three years ago talking about writing action-adventure. But tell us a bit more about what you're up to now and—
Give us an update on your author business because you do lots of things.
Nick: Thank you. I do. Yeah, I still write action-adventure. I'm still definitely pushing books out as fast as humanly possible. You’ve got to feed the beast.
But over the years, including three years ago, and before, when I first got started writing, I think you know this, I was a marketing guy. I came out of a marketing background. So I never had a very organized or formal way of putting my nonfiction, let's call it knowledge, together until about maybe six months ago.
So I've started putting all that together on a website called Book Career in a Year, which is just me teaching, coaching, training, whatever. So I have courses and books and things like that, that are all nonfiction related. Teaching authors how to be authors, teaching authors how to write, publish, marketing, market their books, that sort of thing. So Book Career in a Year is where all that lives.
As you said, I do still work for Draft2Digital. I believe I had just started then, maybe three years ago, when last we talked. I'm loving it. It's a great company full of great people. I knew this before I joined, but working there for the past, I guess it's four years now, has really showed me that they really are authors first, authors forward. If authors don't win, we don't win. So I love that mentality that they have there. Hopefully, I'll be there for a long time because of that.
Joanna: That's great. I think, inevitably, those of us who write fiction will start writing nonfiction and try and help other people at some point. It just seems to happen that way.
Let's get into the AI disruption topic of today. It's funny, you said there you put out books as fast as humanly possible, but we are talking today about collaborating with AI.
First up, at the beginning of the article that I would have talked about in the introduction, I said:
“Humans are innately creative, and in this new AI-powered world, we can create even more than we ever dreamed possible.”
And I want to talk to you because you're also enthusiastic. So why are you so enthusiastic about AI for authors and the creative process?
Nick: I think there's two main answers for why I'm so enthusiastic. One, I believe I'm an optimist. I really do think, generally, the best for humanity. I think we strive, and obviously we make mistakes and we falter, but I think we're on a trajectory taking us to better places.
Two, I figure if we're going to have robot overlords take us over like Skynet, we might as well just embrace it now and be good to them and nice to them and hope that we get killed last. That's a little bit tongue-in-cheek of an answer, but truthfully, I think it's the first one.
I think the optimism I have carries over into this realm of AI as well because I feel like we haven't even scratched the surface of what's possible. That excites me.
Joanna: Yeah. And just to give people listening some other things there.
So Marc Andreessen just recently posted an article, really long article, Why AI Will Save the World. So I'll link that in the show notes. Also, Mo Gawdat's book, Scary Smart, which really talks about we're raising the AIs on our writing. Although you and I blow things up, kill people, [in our books!] but you know, we are trying to be nice to the AIs.
Nick: Right, Right. Exactly. I think it goes back into that. I think part of the way to be optimistic about this is to realize that we're not really seeing what Ray Kurzweil calls artificial general intelligence (AGI). I mean, we're not there yet. And while I believe this could be a route toward that, I'm not worried about that. We don't have to get into the details of why or why not.
What we're seeing, of course, and this is probably what we'll talk about today, is these are large language models, these are generative AIs. They're not really artificial intelligences. They're just trained on a corpus, on a body of work, and they spit out the next most likely outcome when we give it a prompt. So I'm not terribly worried that it's going to turn into this sentient being that all of a sudden starts bossing us around, yet.
Joanna: I agree. And there are lots of them, I think this is another thing.
Today I've been playing with ChatGPT-4 and also with Claude from Anthropic, and these are two models built differently that behave differently with the same prompts. So this is what's so interesting.
But let's just put a couple of my predictions together.
Number seven on my list was: AI-augmented creativity will develop. And number one: nonfiction books, blog posts and news articles will be written —I said, by AI—but I would now change that to say with AI. So clearly this is happening, but—
What are your thoughts on AI-assisted creativity? And how are you using the tools?
Nick: I fully agree with your predictions. I think we are there in some small way, specifically with the nonfiction. I don't know why, but it seems like it's easier to use AI for nonfiction, or at least it seems more believable when we use it for nonfiction. When I say nonfiction, I don't really mean the narrative nonfiction. You know, this isn't going to write a Malcolm Gladwell diatribe, right?
It's going to write, like you said, blog posts, news articles. These things that are factual based, we can feed it a few facts, and it can spit out a news article.
And this I think becomes eventually the new kind of BuzzFeed, where it's—sorry, Buzzfeed—the lowest common denominator of writing quality, just to get information out into the internet. I think that that's an easy box to check. I think we're there already.
Joanna: I want to come back on that because BuzzFeed did win the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting back in 2021. But I know why you use that example because that's what we think when we think about BuzzFeed.
I also think this brings up what people think about AI content, which is that it is just kind of regurgitated stuff, let's say crap. But a lot of it isn't, and I guess that's what we're thinking about as AI-assisted creatives.
How are you using these tools as a writer and a marketer, without outputting a load of crap?
Nick: The way that I use these tools is adjacent to writing, is the way I think of it.
So I will use ChatGPT, it's my favorite right now.
I use GPT-4 most of the time, and I use it to produce things like book cover blurbs or marketing promotional materials.
So I can give it a prompt that says, “I wrote this book, here's the blurb that you just wrote, and I would like you to give me five tweets or a blog post about what this book is about.”
Of course, I then go and read it and make sure it is accurate, make sure it's what I want to say and tweak it a little bit.
This saves me so much time because, for me, I'm not in that headspace, I'm in fiction mode. So I want to get in there really quickly, you know. I've written this book, and I want to upload it and publish it, and oh shoot, I gotta come up with a description and all that. So I'm not in the right headspace. So ChatGPT, specifically, for me, helps do that kind of thing.
On the fiction side, I've also played around with tools like Story Engine from SudoWrite, to just help generate some creative ideas.
I think the challenge is, or the problem we run into as authors, is we kind of try these things thinking, well, once it gets better, it'll just be able to do all of this for me. We'll just say, write this book about, like you said, a bunch of people shooting each other and killing each other. And then it's going to say, okay, great, here's 90,000 words on people killing each other. But that's not where we are right now.
I don't want to use these tools like that because that takes away what I like to do. That takes away what I want out of my writing career.
I will use it to generate ideas. So for example, Joanna, in my current work in progress, I wanted to think of the book in terms of a series of set pieces, like in Hollywood when you make a movie, you have these big set pieces, these big action scenes. And I wanted to think in terms of set pieces, but I'm not very good at coming up with set pieces. My set pieces end up looking like Michael Bay, where it's just, okay, we'll get in another car and then it'll blow up—
Joanna: But we love Michael Bay!
Nick: I love Michael Bay, don't get me wrong. But again, I think he probably might write for Buzzfeed, before they won a Pulitzer.
I asked ChatGPT to come up with some possible set piece ideas, and it spit out five or six really good set piece ideas. There were 10 total, and some of them I just threw out, they weren't very good. They were like, here's a car chase and the car blows up — but some of them were really good.
I had never thought of, okay, I'm in Moscow, let's go into the subway system, which I now need to research to make sure it exists, and that they can have the chase scene in a subway car. Well, that's something I've never done before. That's really cool.
I'm going to write that personally, as Nick. I'm not going to ask ChatGPT to write that for me.
I want to use these tools to speed up the process of brainstorming and the process of planning because I want to spend my time writing.
Joanna: Great example there. I think asking these tools for lists of ideas and combining different things too.
I was doing this earlier, and I said, “I've got this character and this character and this character, and they are all of these different things. They are an archaeologist and a builder and a whatever, and they're in this situation. Give me 20 ideas for interpersonal conflict that could come up based on these backstories.” So this is an example of a complicated prompt.
It's so funny because on the one hand, we say, ‘oh, it's just regurgitating what comes next,' but actually, when you ask it for creative ideas that combine different things.
Or for example, I asked it for book marketing ideas related to nonlinear and non-obvious industries, and got ideas for things like what the fashion industry does for marketing and what all these different random industries that we don't know anything about really, and what they do for marketing.
So I guess what we're trying to encourage people to do is, yeah, I mean, let's just take away that whole thing about, ‘oh, don't let it write your book for you.' Like all the other things is what it's really for, right?
Nick: Right. I think that's what you and I have been saying when asked and when we talk about this stuff. And I go to conferences, and I can be talking about email marketing for an hour, and I get a question about AI at the end. I think it's that popular and that important for us as creatives. So you're exactly right.
I think if there's any bottom line, it's that don't ignore this tool because you think it's going to replace a job or you're worried about helping our future robot overlords.
Use the tool for the things that you are either spinning your wheels on or wasting time doing, or that you just don't need to be doing because it's not the most creative outlet for your genius.
Joanna: Yeah, I mean, even you mentioned email marketing there. I did actually earlier ask for 20 different headlines to put in an email about a particular book.
I gave it the synopsis of the book, and then I said, “Give me 20 different headlines that will make people want to open the email.” I mean, again, we are so bad at this kind of thing that asking for help is a good idea, right?
Nick: Right. And I've had it draft those emails for me, too. I said, “Great, I love number 1, 3, 7. Please write the subject line and the email first draft.” And then of course, I go back, I read it, make sure it's accurate, make sure it says what I wanted to say.
A tool like ChatGPT, and some of these other ones that have a quote, unquote, “memory,” they know based on at least that chat thread, what you've told it in the past.
You can give it a style guide, you can give it a tone. You can say, “Okay, this is who I am. This is how I write. You've read all my stuff. Can you write this email in terms of how I might sound?”
And a lot of times it gets it pretty accurately. Now to be fair, I'm no Cormac McCarthy, right? My style is pretty much just, ‘and then the man got shot in the neck.' That's not terribly verbose, I guess.
Joanna: And this is a tip as well.
I don't advocate using prompts that include another author's name [or artist's name for images].
So I will never say, “Write me this in the style of Cormac McCarthy,” or in the style of Nick Thacker. Yeah, I mean, it's the same, right? And with images, with everything, there's no need to even use anyone's name in any prompt. You need to think a lot more about the kind of output you want. You also said it's a first draft that you then edit, you check it.
We're not just generating and then publishing, right?
Nick: Correct. Correct. Never. I've tried, I would love for it to be good enough to do that. Even if it were, Jo, I think there's something about—again, it comes back to that creative process. It may one day be good enough to write a whole Nick Thacker novel for me.
And we can talk about whether that's good or bad, ultimately, ethically, whatever. I don't care because I'm still going to write my books, unless they tie me down and say you can never write again.
I think that's what I'm getting at here is I'm going to go over that stuff, I'm going to read through that stuff, not because I don't trust it—I mean, that's definitely part of it at this point of the game—but I also want my voice to be in there, I also want it to be from me. So I'm using this as an assistant, almost. I would say I use it as an assistant for things that are, I'm going to say, not important. That word probably carries more meaning than it needs to.
An email to my list, I'm not saying that my list isn't important enough to hear from me, but I am saying that it's not important enough to spend two hours crafting the perfect email because it's just going to get lost in the ether. I mean, 20% are going to open it in the first place, right?
So it's just not the most important task that I do during the day. So I'm going to use ChatGPT for something like that because it can spit out something that's very, very good. Certainly good enough with a little bit of tweaking and crafting. Then I've spent 15 minutes total, and I can send it out to my list and move on to the things that they are paying me for, which is writing more books.
Joanna: Yeah, actually, there's a good book called The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks, and he talks about the —
Zone of Genius — You should really spend the majority of your time doing the thing, not necessarily that you're a genius in, but that you feel only you can do.
And exactly what you said, writing in your voice, writing Nick Thacker novels, is actually part of your zone of genius.
Whereas—I mean, you are more market-y—I mean, certainly for me, writing email headlines and all of that, writing sales copywriting, writing ads, this is definitely not my zone of genius. So that is definitely using different tools.
So I feel like maybe that makes a difference. This applies to generative AI for images too. So I've been doing images, but then I give them to my cover designer because it is not my zone of genius to create book covers.
Nick: Exactly. I do the same thing. I've got a book cover designer these days, I used to do my own covers. But again, when we talk about things that even if I like doing it, I'm not the fastest, and I'm not the best at it. And when I found somebody who was, and affordable, then I just said, you're going to do all my book covers from now on.
When we talked about the AI thing, we came to the same conclusion that, look, I can sit over here—me, Nick—can sit over here, use something like Midjourney, and say, this is kind of what I want you to do.
I don't have to spend any of my time designing something that's going to look horrendous, you know, and then give it over to my cover designer. He can immediately see like, oh, I see what you're trying to do here, let me go take this and run with it.
Joanna: Yes, and it's so funny because with my cover designer I used to be say, okay, I've got this book coming, this is the title, this is the genre, here's like four different things that are in it that might work for some ideas.
Then she would send me like a whole folder of stock photos, and I would go through the stock photos and say, yes to that vibe, no to that, yes, yes. So I would spend time doing all that. Now what we do is, like you said, I go on Midjourney, I generate a whole load of images myself, and I send them to her. And I say this is the whole vibe, and then she puts them all together into a cover.
So this is what's so fascinating.
It's changing our processes, but we're still trying to stay in the zone of genius.
I mean, you and me, because we're action-adventure, my ARKANE series and your books, they're quite similar. We like the high-concept explosion action-adventure stuff. And it is very visual, so it's fun for us to do the visual stuff, isn't it?
Nick: It is, and I like to say that we, over time, we're in a groove, we're writing and we're producing, it's very difficult to realize that we've gotten into a rut.
And what I mean by that, which was exactly what you said, is my set pieces all started to sound the same, all of my descriptions started to sound the same, all of my action scenes started to kind of blend together. It didn't matter, you could take one out of this book and put it in another book, change the character, and it was the same thing.
AI has been a huge boon for that because, again, I can use a visual tool like Midjourney, I can use a text tool like ChatGPT, and both are going to give me some ideas that I can then use in my own book.
And again, I'm not going to lift it and put it in. It doesn't work that way. You know, that probably would be great if I could just take it and say, good, here we go. We're just so far from that, and I don't even know if I'd want to do that for reasons I said before.
Joanna: Yes, well, that brings me to my number six of my list, which is:
Content will explode exponentially, and AI discoverability and marketing tools will help navigate the tsunami.
So it really feels like we are about to enter this prediction. You and I have both said, we're not going to just generate and publish, but some people are. There are going to be a lot of these types of books.
Now, I wanted to get your opinion. First of all, you work for Draft2Digital as one of the many things you do, and Draft2Digital publishes books.
So how will Draft2Digital manage this explosion of content?
[You can also hear Dan Wood from Draft2Digital talking about this in a previous episode.]
Nick: Very carefully. I can't give details, but we are going through this daily.
We have probably the best customer support team on the planet. I mean that. They are in the front wave of that tsunami, or I guess they're on the shore as the tsunami is coming. I don't know where to go with the analogy, but you know what I mean.
The tsunami is the AI, and they're standing on the shore looking at it, trying to protect all the rest of us from it. It's happening now. It's already happening. They're doing the best they can.
Our policy at Draft2Digital is always authors first, and we want to support authors. However, we also want to make sure that we're supporting authors, not AIs. Not because we're all anti-AI there.
It's a tool, that's how we approach it, but we want to make sure that we're not getting bombarded by crap, as we said earlier.
It's just very challenging. It's very challenging because we don't have, and you know this, there is no tool that can predict something was written with AI. If there are too many false positives, up to 50%, I think, or more with some of these tools, and that gets into some people just not writing very well.
But it's also, I can put my book that I wrote 10 years ago, when AI didn't even really exist like this, through one of these tools, and it will spit out 30% of it was written by AI. So we can't trust these tools that quote, unquote, “predict” that something is written with AI.
So as a company, we don't really have an automated way to find this stuff. We have to vet it all manually. We've got some ways that we're doing it internally, and we're trying to figure it out as we go, but it is challenging. It's very challenging.
Joanna: Yeah, well, I should say, the Bible, and Jane Austen, and all these books that are massively represented in the training data definitely come out as AI-written.
Nick: Are you trying to claim that God is not an AI? Because that might actually fit.
Joanna: Well, who knows? We may be in the simulation!
Of course, Dan Wood from Draft2Digital was on the show a few weeks ago, and we were talking about this then. Basically his point was, look —
If you use AI to make good books, and you're writing them in your voice and you're using it as a tool, then we'll be happy with that.
So if you're a real author doing real things with real tools, then that's all good. If it's just another spammer, scammer uploads a load of crap, which there are those books around, then again, regardless of the tool, Draft2Digital doesn't want to publish bad books.
Nick: And that's hard because we don't also want to limit an author who hasn't quite figured out their own voice. They're not using AI, but they just sound like it. You know, so there's things like that that are just it gets a little squishy.
But we're doing our best, and the people that we've got on staff are the best at what they do with finding this stuff, and looking for this stuff, and trying to do exactly what you said, which is support authors, without supporting the race to the bottom of quality.
Joanna: Yes. Yeah and I often say —
Double down on being human.
If you are someone, including me, I have published so far as we talk, just one short story that has generative AI texts in it as part of it, and a cover as well: With A Demon's Eye, which was a few months ago now.
But if that got blocked by Draft2Digital, I would email the team and say, “Look, This is me.” And I mean that you guys know me, but if it was someone else who had never emailed you or didn't have a personal friendship, then I would do that.
I would say, look, email the team, explain the situation, explain what you did, and just connect with the Draft2Digital team as humans. And that kind of proves that you're not just a spammer, scammer uploader, right?
Nick: Exactly. Do that with Draft2Digital. Do not try that with Amazon. We actually do have humans working for Draft2Digital, unlike…
Joanna: Yes, exactly. No, you're right. I mean, the Draft2Digital team is much more approachable than the KDP help, for example. But I do think the same applies, we do just have to prove that we are humans, and they will be more of this.
I did want to come back on the AI discoverability because I have found something very cool, which is—
I'm using Bing to discover books.
So for example, I tried to compare my search on Amazon with my search on Bing. And if people don't know it's Microsoft's search engine, but it's powered by GPT-4.
I basically said, “I'm writing a book, I'm researching stone carving. Give me some nonfiction books around stone carving.” And it gave me a whole load of books. And then I said, “Okay, I want fiction books that feature stone carving as part of their plot or their setting.”
I compared these lists with Amazon and with Bing. And my goodness, the Bing one was so much better. It gave me really quality results.
Whereas the Amazon one was full of ads, and it was full of nonfiction books. It really couldn't find me fiction novels with elements of stone carving.
Nick: Yeah, Amazon has always been a search engine. And yet, I've said this from day one, I think you and I talked about it three years ago, that discoverability was the biggest sore spot I have with Amazon, or the biggest lack of development that's going on there. I love that Bing has an option. I mean, I detest Bing, but I might actually have to use it because I trust your opinion.
Joanna: It's well worth getting on. So for people, like I'm a Mac person, and I downloaded the Microsoft Edge browser.
Nick: You're less of a Mac person now because you did that. I hope you know.
Joanna: I know, but I love Bing. And actually, Bing answers the other question which people say, oh, well, there's no point using these things because it's not connected with the Internet.
But now you can do ChatGPT-4 browsing with Bing within the app. And you can also go on Bing, which is powered by GPT-4.
If you want actual citations for the things you're researching, then just go on Bing Chat and try it there.
Also, Bing chat is free, whereas GPT-4 through open AI you have to pay for.
Nick: Yeah, in order to not get throttled and that kind of thing.
With the discoverability, I've always thought, we have this device called the Kindle we read at night, and I'm talking about myself here. And because of data and my Kindle being connected to the internet at all times, Amazon knows exactly how much I read every night before I close that and go to sleep. Amazon has that data. They know what time, they know what time zone, they know what type of thing I like to read, and they know how long I read.
So this was a prediction I made probably five or more years ago, but I said I hope one day we'll have a discoverability engine that is suggestive. Like, I open my Kindle at night before I read and it says, “Hey, I know you like to read for about an hour and a half before you fall asleep. Here's a story that fits in that timeframe. You'll be able to finish it by then. And it's in the genre you already like.”
Joanna: Well, actually, as we record this, on The Verge on the 15th of May 2023, there was an article saying Amazon is building an AI-powered conversational experience for search.
They are looking to reimagine Amazon search with generative AI.
Very interesting, could definitely disrupt the way we've all been working. But equally, it's going to be what we need because I'm now using Bing.
Nick: Exactly. I think it might be too little too late, but I'm not surprised at all. That sounds exactly like what a company that is data-backed, like Amazon, should be doing.
Honestly, I mean, if you're a shareholder, this is what you want them working on. Even as a consumer, I don't have a problem with ads. I don't have a problem with somebody telling me what to buy because I just recognize that that's a reality. We just live in a reality where we're going to get bombarded with ads, fine. I'd much rather have them be things that I want. Hockey gear or new phone or something like that, that's interesting to me.
We're certainly at a point, at a juncture where the data that the world has on Nick Thacker is enough to suggest things for me to buy that I'll actually like. So I'm sort of eagerly awaiting that moment. And that goes to what we're talking about with Amazon.
I would love to get on Amazon, and actually have the recommendations be things that I want, not just, “Would you like to reorder this, that you ordered these sponges three months ago? You can reorder that, and then also here's eight new books in the genre that are from authors you've never heard of.”
Joanna: I think the difference is really this chat mechanism. So with the Bing experience for finding books to read, it's going backwards and forwards. It's like, “No, actually, that's not quite right. How about…”
So I did it with action-adventure, and then said, “You've given me a list of only male authors.” It was a classic Clive Cussler, and all this, Wilbur Smith and everything. And I was like, “Okay, I need female authors with female protagonists, written in the last decade, and with archaeological elements.” Obviously, I was trying to fish to see if it would bring up mine, and it did. And also, I found some other authors to read I've never known about.
So I kind of have this hope that this will disrupt the—and I know a lot of people do write to market. I don't, but also I don't want to read to market. I don't want to just get a whole load of books that have been written to the same things. And I'm kind of hoping that this type of generative search will help readers find different kinds of books. I'm not sure how that's going to disrupt things, but as a reader, I'm pretty excited.
Nick: Sure. Yes, I think there are definitely some downsides to any new technology, but I think I'm with you. One of the big upsides here is discoverability seems to always have been largely missing for us, as indie authors, especially. Hopefully this will help.
Joanna: Yes, absolutely. So we kind of talked there about how Draft2Digital is going to deal with it. But you're also Nick Thacker, author.
How worried are you as an author about this tsunami of content? Are you thinking of changing the way you're marketing?
Or how are you thinking about this? Because many people are just worried their books are going to be drowned out.
Nick: Sure. I think that is a big concern. I'm not worried about it.
Look, I think the key here is if you're starting this now, you're starting this journey now, you hear me say all this stuff and you might think doom and gloom, it's not. I think the key is the same key that was true for all of time, and that is engaging with your reader. And that's not tongue in cheek, that is literally the strategy that I still use. That is all you have to worry about, ultimately, is engaging with your reader.
Finding readers is going to look different, and how you might talk to them is going to look different, but if you have nothing else to go off of, start emailing people who read your books, and start building relationships with these people, because they're humans just like you.
And there is a connection point that you can make through email, social media, whatever it is that you decide to choose, whatever works for you. And by strengthening that relationship, you are going to be successful as an author.
Of course, you still have to write books, you still have to publish and do all those things.
All the marketing tactics will change, and all the tools will change, but what won't change is writers are writing books that readers want to read.
If you are one of those writers, there will be readers for you. It just all starts and ends with engagement.
Joanna: Yeah, and also, I'm going to call it. I think write to market is done as a business model. Not right now, but in the next couple of years.
Because if you do write to market, generating a book to market will be easy.
But something that's your own voice, that is your own unique idea that is based on just your creative, unique brain that comes up with stuff.
I actually think that this will mean a renaissance in far more original work because we will have to stand out in different ways.
Then you will find, like you said, you start your email list. And yeah, it's going to take some time, but—
I think I trust in the discoverability tools.
I mean, I've always said, and again, we're using Amazon because they're the biggest data driven kind of company, but Amazon has had our books, has had the text of our books since as soon as we published.
So why the hell do we have to put in seven keywords? Why do we have to do these ridiculous things when with sentiment analysis and with all of this, they could deliver books based on much more granular and interesting things than just keywords.
I kind of see this as a disruption, and therefore my call to people is, yes, connect with people, but also write the books really of your heart and the things that are driving you to do this. And yeah, I think that will make people stand out.
Nick: I think it will. Here's my prediction, I don't think it'll be Amazon that comes out with this discoverability tool. I think you're exactly right, because the content is going to explode exponentially, really the only way forward is for discoverability to also explode exponentially. Because otherwise, then we have no idea how to wade through any of this tsunami of crap we've been talking about.
I do believe that we will find discoverability tools. I don't think Amazon is the one that's going to push that forward, at least with books. It doesn't seem to me like they're interested in innovating anymore in the book side.
We've seen Kindle Unlimited payouts changing, sometimes going down over time, when we predicted they might go up, things like that. I don't know that it's going to end, I'm not saying again, doom and gloom, but I would love, personally, and this isn't just me as a Draft2Digital guy,
I would love another store to build something that actually works as far as discoverability goes.
Joanna: Well, I'll give you another one. That is the Shopify plugin for ChatGPT. So I also did these experiments with the Shopify plugin.
And for example, I asked it for books on how to write a novel and then used the generative search on the Shopify app within ChatGPT. Woohoo, it came up with my books!
You can click on them, and it goes straight to Shopify. So it was another reason I went with Shopify, because of the sort of future-facing stuff they're doing.
[You can find my books at www.CreativePennBooks.com]
I think there are going to be some very cool new ways of doing stuff. And hey, look, it's about time, because I feel like our business model has been stagnant really for a while.
I know disruption is hard, but I think there's going to be a lot more cool stuff ahead, rather than being worried about it.
Nick: That's really what I want people to hear because as I said, I'm an optimist.
Yes, I can acknowledge and recognize that there's downsides to any new technology, but I'm not focusing on those things.
I'm focusing on the future and what is possible for my career, for your career, for anyone who's getting started in this.
I love authors, we need more books. And this is a tool—I say this, meaning AI and whatever comes in the future—will be a tool for us to be able to do that. And I'm hoping, again, we've been talking about the discoverability side, I think that needs to come with it.
I think what you said with Bing, Shopify, some of these tools that are already out there experimenting with this, we're getting closer that every day.
Joanna: Indeed. So let's talk about three on my list. I said:
Voice synth technology will replace human narrators for mass-market audiobook narration.
And I did expand this and basically say, that's for mass-market audiobook, but that there would be more of a stratification of audiobook rights.
So you might have a human-narrated edition, and then an AI-narrated addition, which is what I've done for my own books.
You are doing some interesting things with AI audio. So tell us about that.
Nick: I'm doing the same thing you're doing. I saw this technology become a way for me to get books produced that never would have been produced in audio format. That was it.
I'm not anti-human narration, I'm not saying I don't like human narrators and they should all be out of jobs, but I would never have produced some of my books because they just weren't cost-effective.
AI technology gave me the ability to do that, and to offer that to my readers for a much lower price than what I would have to charge for a human-narrated version.
So just like you, I said, well, I'm going to have two different price points. I don't think one necessarily will cannibalize the sales of the other. Meaning somebody can pay for the bespoke premium human-narrated version for $15, $20 $25. Or they can buy the AI-narrated version for $7 or $5 or $1, or whatever it is. I have found that both sell just fine.
Joanna: Well, that's interesting.
Tell us what tools you are using for that because there are a number of different options. And also, how are you selling them?
Nick: Yeah, so I was working with a company called ElevenLabs. I say was, I'm still working with them, I still use them. Early on in their development, I was—I wouldn't say consulting—but chatting with the owner and the main developer of that company, trying to build a tool where I could upload an entire manuscript and have it spit out a book narrated in AI format. They're not quite there yet, but their tool is still very, very good.
One of the things that they were heavily developing was the ability to vocal clone.
Similar to like, I think you taught me about Descript having their vocal clone feature. ElevenLabs has one as well, it's better though. It's very, very good.
And so I tested it with my own voice, they gave me like a vocal clone premium version or whatever that would be called with them, and I've been producing a lot of my books read by Nick Thacker, but it's my AI audio voice. It's been really cool, because it's certainly good enough. I mean, it is me. It's based on tiny little pieces of audio files. It's literally my voice, I just didn't sit down in front of a microphone for eight hours to produce it.
Joanna: That is really interesting. Give us a title of one that people could go find and where they can find it, and if there's a sample so they can have a listen.
Nick: Yeah, so if you go over to where I publish all my books on Conundrum Publishing, conundrumpub.com is the website. Go find my book and there's a sample right there on the page.
You'll be able to hear what this sounds like, you can compare it to how I sound right now, because it's again, it's my voice reading it. I'm sure we can drop it in the show notes if you want.
That's my voice, but I didn't sit down and read it for eight hours. I think that's really powerful because, again, and I'm going to get into the whole don't be exclusive, especially with something like ACX or Audible, because now I can also produce a version of that read by a real human narrator, somebody I like and that can do voices and can really act, you know. That's what's missing from something like this, and they can go do that. So I can sell both of those, as long as I'm not exclusive to Audible.
Joanna: Just to explain that to people, and it also is the same if you've signed a contract with a publisher, that it's story rights. You're often signing story rights.
Whereas what we want to do is if you sign a contract, you might want to sign human narrator rights or a specific, you know, just stratify the rights instead of all audio.
So yeah, if you've signed an exclusive contract with ACX, you cannot produce an AI version, even though it might be a different voice, it will be a different voice, because you've signed away the whole project, essentially.
So this is such a good point, and I love this stuff. I'm going to go listen to a bit of that because I'm very interested. Now, I have said to people I've been excited about a voice clone too, but then I have also said it, and this is me, this is real you, real you and me, that this is not voice cloned. And at the moment I'm kind of like —
I don't want to do a voice clone now, because this is me doubling down on being human. If you hear my voice, it is actually human me.
Even though originally I said I wanted a voice clone. So I'm actually quite conflicted about this because of kind of protecting that, but you're clearly over that.
Nick: Well, you know, it was never an issue for me, but I can completely respect that it is. And that's what I think the challenge is, is we want everything to be so black and white. You know, black or white, it's either this or this. It's unfortunately, or fortunately, it's both. I understand that there are ethical concerns with the way a lot of these bodies of work get their body of work. That's something that we're dealing with, that's something that in the United States, Congress is looking at.
So there are certainly ethical and moral concerns here. But, for me personally, and I do think this is a personal choice, I don't have a problem with having a vocal clone of my voice. That is not the same as Nick Thacker saying everybody should go have a vocal clone of their voice. That's a totally different thing.
I can absolutely respect that you don't want one or that you're still dealing with the pros and cons. Go for it, absolutely. Have those concerns. For me, no, it was never an issue. I don't have a problem with it.
Joanna: That's interesting. And I know ElevenLabs have updated their terms and conditions where you have to warrant that you own the voice that you want cloned, because of course, all of these technologies can be used in bad ways. I have heard a lot of people say existing law protects us from bad actors, as in people will do bad things, but existing law actually covers it.
So one of the other things I said, my number two in my list was:
Copyright law will be challenged as books are used to train AIs, which then produce work in the voice of established authors.
And the same with images. And of course, that is actually happening right now. There are lots of court cases on it. But yeah, how were you thinking about this? Because obviously, we're both using these tools.
How do you feel about the whole copyright law?
This is not a legal discussion. This is just our opinion, obviously.
[For a discussion with a lawyer, check out this episode with Kathryn Goldman on AI and copyright.]
Nick: Yes, thank you for saying that. I am not a lawyer. I'm not even adjacent to lawyers in any way. I'm not a lawyer.
Here's the deal, I was a musician. I still am, but I went to school to be a musician, trained as a musician. I was neck deep in all this copyright discussion as it came to things like sampling, taking a song from someone else that has been recorded already and using a small bit of it in music. In the United States, at least, that was about all I could keep up with, there was constantly a debate about whether you could use this amount of somebody's music or this amount or this or that.
My takeaway from all of that was, and still is, copyright law will always be challenged. That's why we have copyright law.
The goal is to protect the integrity of the intellectual property and the copyright that that copyright holder has. That's a good thing, I believe that it should be challenged.
That doesn't mean that all AI needs to be banned or all AI needs to be allowed. I think it's a gray area, and that's the really challenging part is that until we have some not just laws and legal structure, but some court precedent, some case precedent, about how we're handling individual situations.
We, you and I, who aren't lawyers and who are just using these tools, can't really make—I don't want to say uneducated, we can make educated guesses—but we can't really make a good prediction as to where this will all land 10 years from now, or 15 or 20 years from now.
Joanna: I mean, the US Copyright Office essentially says it's how much of your project has your authorship. So for example, I am saving pictures of my prompts, I'm saving my edits, I'm saving my drafts, I'm saving my versions, I've got evidence that this is my authorship.
Also, I do for AI voice stuff, I have banners that say this is AI-narrated, I have author's notes. So I feel like there's a lot you can do to show that you're trying to be on the right side of the law. Plus, as we said earlier —
Do not use anyone else's name or IP in your prompt.
Nick: Have some integrity, of course. That's baseline. I would ask you, how will you prove that? Because you have the screenshots, those can be faked. You have samples of prompts that you use, those can probably be faked as well. And I'm not saying that you're doing any of that, of course.
Joanna: I have actual photos of my actual handwriting because all my edits I do by hand.
Nick: Well, still. Again, that's why I said case precedent. We can have laws that say you have to have a statement if we're using more than 50% of AI tool to create it. but how do we define 50%? Is it that you prompted an AI tool, and then edited the feedback?
Well, how much of it did you edit? Or did you just use it copy/paste? And how do we prove that? Because again, we don't have a good tool to detect AI use in fiction, and I don't think we ever will.
So there's all these questions that I think will be very challenging to answer. I'm not saying you're doing anything wrong, I love that you do that. And we've had this conversation before, you and I, about how much of this to be open about and not. There's all kinds of things going into this, and it's a very, very squishy gray area.
That's why I say I just I don't think we can make a decision on whether or not to use it 100% or 0% at all, until we've got not only case law and legislation, but also the court case precedent. People have been tried and accused, basically, and more than one, because it's going to make a difference.
Joanna: Yes. I think at the end of the day, we're saying:
Use AI tools responsibly and ethically.
Nick: Yeah, don't be a jerk. If you wake up in the morning and go, I'm going to go be a jerk today and I'm going to use AI to do it, you're going to go to jail.
Joanna: Nobody listening is going to do these things, anyway. We all want to do the right thing. But also being part of the change, if people like us in the community are part of the change, we can actually shape things around what is ethically correct and good for the community, I guess. So we're almost out of time, but—
Any final thoughts and encouragement for people in this time of change? Because there is a lot of fear.
Nick: I want to encourage you, actually, and hopefully this will encourage people listening.
But last time you and I talked, we were at a conference here in Colorado Springs, actually, and you are at the forefront of this, and you are someone we should all look up to because you're doing these things in an ethical way as much as you can, as much as possible. That's visible, we see that, and that is the way forward. So anyone listening, follow Joanna. Obviously, you are because you listen to this podcast.
People like you are going to be, just as you said, the ones at the forefront of how do we approach this stuff ethically, legally even, and you are setting a good example as a role model in this community of authors. So I appreciate you for that. I think more of that is what we need from every indie author on the planet who has a platform.
Joanna: Thank you for that. I do think people are afraid, potentially, of putting their head above the parapet because then you get shot at.
Nick: Of course. It's messy being on the top, for sure.
Joanna: It is. I appreciate you, and obviously Dan Wood was on the show from Draft2Digital, and everyone who is talking about this. As I said, I think —
If we can be part of shaping the future, this is going to help a lot because we care about creative quality. We care about authors and creatives making a living.
So as you said, we just care about authors first. That's the way forward.
Nick: Absolutely. And when it comes time for legislation in whatever country to look at what's happening, they're going to look to what's actually happened.
So if we're not talking about this, if we're not showing how we do this, they're not going to have anything to go off of. But I believe they will. They're going to see you, they're going to see me, they're going to see Draft2Digital, all the people that are doing something and talking about it in the industry. Hopefully, they'll listen to us, but that's all we can hope for.
So where can people find you, and your courses, and your books, and everything you do online?
Nick: Thank you. I am at NickThacker.com. And that is in a constant state of disarray, but I think I've got the homepage nailed down that has links to all the other stuff that I do.
So if you're interested in my fiction, it's all there from one link away. And if you're interested in the nonfiction, The Book Career in a Year stuff, that's all there too. I would recommend starting there. And of course, I'm on all the places. If you like Facebook, I'm on there as well. You can find me on any of those.
Joanna: Brilliant. Well, thanks so much for your time, Nick. That was great.
Nick: Thank you for having me again. Hopefully we'll do this again.