Will we be reading crime novels written by AI next year?
There's been lots of buzz around AI, and lots of authors getting a little nervous thinking about. Here's my hot take on the hot topic of AI and books.
Thankfully, no. At least, not yet, anyway. AI is capable of doing many amazing things, and with the release of ChatGPT, Dall-E, Midjourney, and lots of other crazy AI tools, many jobs have been changed paradigmatically, and practically overnight. My day job, for example, as an SEO Copywriter, has suddenly changed because of this. Whereas I used to write all the content myself, and use tools like Grammarly and Fraise to help tighten up the finished product, I’m now (in part, at least), using AI to generate content, and taking on the proofing and editorial role myself instead …
But, being fans of fiction, you may be wondering how AI is set to affect authors, and the publishing industry at large. Well, there have certainly been rumblings that AI books are the future, and there are some pretty [annoying] people out there who are trying this; generating entire books using AI, and throwing them out into the world for a low, low price or for free, and just scooping up readers looking for dirt-cheap fiction of any calibre in their preferred niche. Things like fanfiction and other more unique blend-genres have certainly been exposed to a massive glut of this generated fiction, produced by writers with little experience specifically for readers without concern for quality.
Thankfully, for the most part, this hasn’t affected the wider industry, and us indie authors aren’t really being hit too badly by it all … yet. This is mostly down to the fact that AI is still incapable of generating good fiction. Its ideas are fine, but the execution is lacklustre. I’ve checked! It always reads like it was put together by a 13-year-old who’s taken a creative writing class online. I know, because I took an online class when I was 13 and what ChatGPT spat out was eerily close to how my writing looked in my teenage years!
For those who aren’t aware of what ChatGPT is; it’s an AI chatbot of sorts, where you type a query or request, and it gives you an answer. It’s brilliant at fact-finding, organising and formulating ideas, and at producing accurate non-fiction. It just spits it out like magic. But when it comes to actual fiction … well, it doesn’t carry water.
And yet, despite it not being able to take our jobs entirely, it is certainly going to have a huge impact on the way the industry works as a whole, streamlining many parts of our jobs that otherwise take a very long time. I’m sure you’ve already seen your favourite authors producing AI-generated images of their characters, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. Playing to AI’s strengths, there’ll most certainly be a trend towards much of the surrounding content being generated. Book covers, for example, are one area that’s already being affected, heavily. Stock images are expensive, and you always have to compromise. No more. AI can produce that perfect image of a woman walking away down a forest path wearing a bright red trench coat with the trees eerily leaning in over her, a thin fog spread across the ground. All you need to do is type that in and *boom*. You have your image. Graphic designers are both rejoicing and lamenting over it.
AI is also powerful when it comes to things like book descriptions, and ad copy. Its ability to produce fifty variations on something you give it, or based on a prompt, is just mind-boggling. Something that would take hours now takes seconds. And this is where AI really becomes a friend to authors, rather than an enemy.
People look at AI with trepidation, naturally. Hell, it is scary, and it’s set to really disrupt a lot of industries. Ours included. There will always be opportunists who seek to undermine hard workers — those who’ll try to use it to write books and profiteer — and to them, I say: you are ruining fiction. You are a terrible person who is trying to cheat your way to something that people have fought their entire lives for. Look at what you’re doing, and stop. If you want to write a good book, bleed for it, like the rest of us.
Luckily, Google and other big tech companies are always coming up with new ways to combat AI-generated content, and soon will be de-ranking it from search results to help stem the use of AI and the culling of copywriters in favour of it. And I believe that in the next so many months, Amazon will announce something similar that will preclude people from publishing AI-generated books. How quickly that will happen, I don’t know. But it will. If it doesn’t, they risk the integrity of their platform. Amazon are actually pretty dedicated to preserving quality where they can, and I hope that this tech comes in quickly, before there’s too many AI-written books out there. Or at least, they’ll make it mandatory to outwardly state that it wasn’t written by a human.
Jeez, I never thought I’d actually have to compete against machines in fiction. It’s bad enough writing against indie authors, most of whom are machines themselves! Anyone who’s sustaining 3–4 books a year, you have all my respect. It’s a grind! And I don’t think that this kind of hard work should be cheapened by AI.
I resisted as much as I could, but I’ll be honest, I use AI to help me with time consuming tasks, freeing my hands and mind to focus on putting together great stories and getting them down. As a tool to improve efficiency, and to help teach authors, I think it can have positive effects. But as with all things, it will be abused by the few, and that will detriment the many. A quick buck is there to be made, but for those who want to skip to the front of the line to make a 30p profit off a 99p book without doing the legwork, well, the ride will be short-lived, and the payoff disappointing.
I do wonder how crime writing will be affected. As it’s such a popular genre with so many recycled themes and ideas, I hope that AI can be used to generate new ideas, or to help authors find new routes into existing ones. AI is not able to think creatively, it can only take little bits from here and there and re-arrange them. In this way, the burden of creation will always be on writers. But using AI correctly will allow writers to up their games, will allow them to write with more accuracy and detail, will allow them to fact check and ensure they’re not re-treading old ground.
So, the question on our lips: will AI have a big impact on crime writing? I don’t know, yet. Ask me in a few books time, and I’ll have a clearer answer for you. For now, I’m cautious, yet optimistic that it can be used to good effect. Though, like you all, I’m pretty terrified of it, and, despite its current shortcomings and limitation … well, I still can’t help but look over my shoulder.