The digital age has ushered in a culture of instant gratification, where people expect to get what they want when they want it. This is especially true with the advent of AI writing and self-publication tools that make it easier than ever for anyone to become an author or content creator almost overnight. But while these new technologies have made creating and sharing content faster, there are some potential drawbacks as well.
The traditional process of publication is a lengthy one. The process from submission to publication can take an average of nine to eighteen months, or even upwards of two years. This time excludes the writing and editing process, which, depending on the book, can add months or years. In the age of instant everything, that is simply unacceptable.
Self-publication has gone through many evolutions in the digital age, with each iteration becoming more accessible to the public. Desktop Publishing, was introduced in the 1970’s with the adoption of word processing software. Though this form of self-publication was easily accessible by the masses, it was still costly. “Print on demand” revolutionized the self-publishing world. Publishers were no longer responsible for mass printing costs, inventory, and distribution, which further opened the world of self-publication to the public. The blog era allowed authors to reach the masses and publish their works via PDF, with even Stephen King joining in.
Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing was introduced in 2007 to “democratize” the publishing industry. Amazon made it easier than ever to self-publish a book and offered authors 70% of royalties and has since grown to offer more incentives and opportunities to authors. In 2011, authors who gave full digital rights to Kindle were offered KDP Select. KDP Select members exclusively received a higher percentage of royalties and promotional tools. Amazon expanded KDP again in 2016 to include print publishing and has added options for hardcover and lower-cost color printing in the following years. Amazon adapted to the bite-sized market and introduced Kindle Vella in 2021, allowing authors to publish “serial” style stories.
Instant Gratification and Independent Authors
In the age of instant gratification, authors are racing against the clock to produce content before readers move on to another writer. Jennifer Lepp, a self-published “cozy paranormal mystery” writer, gets about four months to produce a new work. That deadline is doable, barring any creative setbacks. When those setbacks do happen, it could be catastrophic for reader engagement. Enter AI, specifically Sudowrite in Lepp’s case. Sudowrite is an AI writing tool specifically geared to creative writers. Before we ask if we should use AI, we should understand what it is.
AI has gained increasing notoriety in the past few years by tackling everything from editing and proof-reading to content creation in a few minutes. Most AI geared towards writing has been trained with GPT-3, a program specializing in text completion. This AI program can “understand and generate natural language.” Proofreading, editing, and even writing can be given to most AI software with relative ease. In fact, the introduction paragraph to this article was written by Jasper, an AI program commonly used for text generation. AI is incredibly useful in writing shorter bits of text and it saves writers a ton of time, which is necessary in today’s fast-paced world that demands new content at all times.
The ethical question of AI writing
Just because something is useful does not mean it should be used. The ethical dilemma of AI writing is one that has hounded its users since its inception. In an interview with The Verge, Jennifer Lepp expanded on the ethical dilemma of using AI tools that the writing community is facing. Questions concerning authenticity and intellectual ownership are at the forefront of these debates.
Many authors fear that their work will no longer be original if they allow an AI to write for them. The Author’s Guild argues that human art and literature is advanced by individual experiences, and that AI works will stagnate without human input. AI learns from other people’s work on the internet and compiles that knowledge to generate new work. It could be argued that the writing is plagiarized because it is informed by other author’s works without giving them credit; however, every piece of media informs and is informed by other pieces of media. True originality is not possible, especially in a society that is so digitally connected.
Another concern with AI writing is ownership of the piece. Should the AI program be listed as the author? According to US copywrite laws, no, and others agree. The Alliance of Independent Authors added a new clause to their code of standards regarding AI. The code calls for the author to edit the generated text and ensure that it is not “discriminatory, libellous, an infringement of copyright or otherwise illegal or illicit.” The responsibility of legal compliancy falls on the author, not the AI.
Some writers fear that the AI will take over their writing. In a Plagiarism Today article, Jonathan Bailey goes as far as to say that writers are completely powerless when using an AI. Jennifer Lepp certainly experienced this power imbalance in her writing. She would give Sudowrite an outline, press expand, and keep feeding the algorithm until it spat out a finished product. This process led to a disconnect between herself and the stories she was creating. Now, Lepp offloads certain details to the AI, like the description for a hospital lobby. With her current system, she is still seeing an uptick in productivity while still being much more connected to her work.
The integration of AI is unavoidable if self-published authors are going to keep up with the demand of readers steeped in a culture of instant gratification. Though there should be self-imposed limits to the use of AI, authors should not avoid using it entirely. It is the responsibility of the author to inject the humanity into the writing.