Should Authors Worry About AI Replacing Us?

Will Authors Be Replaced by AI?

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine asked if we were worried about AI-generated content taking over for human authors and pushing our content out of sight in the stores.

It's certainly a valid concern; AI-generated content is already starting to fill the stores, and the pace of adoption is only going to increase leading to less and less visibility as more and more books (or novellas or short stories) are published.

In fact, some magazines (such as Clarke's World) have already had to shut down submissions for a time so that they could better filter the incoming submissions!

All of that being said, I’ve decided I’m not going to worry about it, and here’s why:

The Tsunami of Crap

Nothing has changed since J.A. Konrath named the influx of self-published authors a “Tsunami of Crap” back in 2011. Scammers, marketers, and bottom feeders have been producing junk forever, and Amazon’s systems are designed to be gamed and to be taken advantage of from Prime Reading to KU on up to now. 

Amazon doesn’t care; you need to send them traffic or buy their ads now, and that’s how they want it and how they’ve always wanted it. The new leadership at Amazon since Jeff Bezos stepped down cares less about books because they are honestly one of their less profitable pipelines. Now that they have people in charge looking at bottom lines, books are going to get even less attention than they have been.

If you publish crap, it’ll get bad reviews and refunds, and will stop being shown to customers. Amazon doesn’t make money off of that. Good books will rise up, and as ever, the more human you are and the more that you build a relationship with your readers, the better you’ll do.

1000 True Fans

Kevin Kelly’s 1000 True Fans theory from 2008 becomes more and more relevant as time goes on; it’s why direct sales became “the thing” in our space in 2022 even if people don’t realize it.

And honestly, I don’t care if readers enjoy AI “crap”…if they are getting a good experience for their dollar, I don’t begrudge them that. I can’t imagine it’s a good enough experience (or at least a consistent enough experience) at this point that they’ll follow an individual “author” of AI produced books, but if they read one they like, hey, more power to ’em, they’ll continue to read more, and hopefully they’ll find my books going forward.

I forget exactly who said it, but “there’s a lot of AI junk that’s better than a lot of human written crap.” Slush piles at magazines and book publishers get a funny name for a reason…sure, it sucks for folks like Clarke’s World who had to pause submissions and put in filters to take out the obvious junk when 3ish dozen monthly submissions turned into 500+, but that’s the business model. I hope for new authors that want to go that route that they can continue to keep their magazine going without charging a submission fee, as that’ll cut out a lot of new authors that do deserve that byline in their magazine. (It’s a great magazine; if you like sci-fi it’s worth subscribing to them, especially since Amazon just cut out a good chunk of their monthly revenue by killing their magazine subscription program.)

What Will Sell Going Forward

I’m off on a tangent…the point is, there was a lot of questionable content before, and there’s going to be even more going forward. The vast majority of those books are going to sink to the bottom and pull down anybody with them that isn’t willing to put in the effort to build a relationship with their readers.

But those that are willing to build that relationship with their readers will have the word of mouth that has always been the important thing that got your true fans connecting with one another, and that’s going to be the thing that provides us with our incomes in the future.

An honest recommendation from a friend, or an email recommendation in a newsletter for an author you like, or a stranger gushing on r/books or in some obscure GoodReads book club or FaceBook group is going to pull a lot more weight than you’d ever get by just throwing your book into Kindle Unlimited and hoping Amazon sends an email about you, or that your TikTok video is going to take off, or that Elon Musk is going to publicly throw shade at your book on Twitter. (Well, that last one might work better in the short term at least.)

How To Protect Your Books From Getting Buried

So…here’s the action steps that I’d recommend:

  • Write something worth reading. If not, why bother writing?
  • Provide a way for readers to connect with you, ideally a mailing list so you can always reach back out, but even a social media page is better than nothing (though by itself or as a default option isn’t really a great idea.)
  • Actually reach out to your readers on some sort of regular basis. Once a year, once a month, every 2 weeks, once a week, every day…find out what works for you, what works for them, promise it, then stick to it. People like consistency. Hell, get fancy, and offer options (after they go through your welcome sequence, though: get rid of the riff-raff first and don’t confuse them when trying to get them to sign up and become engaged.)
  • Recommend things worth reading. Then write more things worth reading and recommend those too. (How many people forget to promote their own books or only promote their own books? Sure, you can be successful with both “strategies” but for the average author there are certainly better ones.)
  • Don’t stress about competition, just find your co-opetition. (A fun term that was created by Sealshipt Oyster System in the early 20th century!) Readers can read more than we can write that’s worth reading, even with AI help. We should find like-minded authors in the same or at least adjacent genres and work with them to point our readers to other books they are bound to like.
  • Keep repeating all of the above, as long as you are still enjoying what you are doing.

So, the ;TLDR is that junk will get published as it always has been, readers talk, and if you provide a way to stay in touch with them and they’ll get you in touch with other readers that will enjoy you then you’ll see more success no matter how much junk does get published. So…don’t lose any sleep over it.

As a bonus, if you are interested in staying ahead of the curve yourself, there are ways that you can improve your own workflow and processes using artificial intelligence and produce a better book. Join us in Training #480, the Promise and Perils of A.I. (scheduled for next Wednesday as I write this on June 7th of 2023) where we will talk about how authors can take advantage of AI.