Business Musings: Random Thoughts (A Partial Process Blog)
I’m writing this on Monday late which, here in the States, is Presidents Day, a federal holiday. I had planned to have two blog posts done by now, but I hadn’t even had a chance to start this one until a few minutes ago.
Events conspired to prevent my best-laid plans.
I had a severe allergic reaction to something I ate last weekend (SuperBowl weekend) and was sick for the front part of the week. When you lose more than 5% of your body weight, it takes a while to rebuild stamina. (Still working on that.) Which has an effect on mental clarity, as well as the time it takes to finish something.
So rather than try to write anything, I finished assembling a nonfiction book that will appear in June. That was easy enough. I also did some promotion on the Kickstarter we’re doing for my latest Diving novel, The Court-Martial of the Renegat Renegades.
I also realized I had better start promotion for my newest Fey novel, The Kirilli Matter, which came out on Tuesday. So I did some preliminary stuff there.
I had planned to research AI Audio and work on the website last week, and I did neither. I’ve learned that when I’m working at half or quarter speed, I’d better not try anything new. I’ll either break it or decide it’s stupid or think it’s beyond me.
So today was the first day I had to investigate a few things audio-related.
My plan had been this: I was going to research as much as I could on AI audio, and then put a blog into one of the text to speech programs. I want to provide audio versions of each week’s blog. I’ll do that through Patreon, and also as a subscription on my website and on the Shopify store.
I had hoped to have much of the preliminary research done as blog #1 and then present the first attempt as blog #2. Which meant I hadn’t written anything up this week.
But that’s too much work to cram into an already busy Monday. I’m hoping to have part of that done next week.
The reason I’m calling this post half a process blog is because I am describing what I’ve been doing, but I also have been watching the events unfold at Clarkesworld.
I am thanking my lucky stars that I no longer edit a magazine with a slush pile. Until Neil Clarke blogged about what’s going on at Clarkesworld, I hadn’t given the whole AI writing thing any real thought at all.
Why hadn’t I given it any thought lately? I’d already written a post about AI for the year in review, and saw that the changes are fast and furious. It’s hard to stay ahead and blog about anything, when change is that rapid.
I’ve done enough research to know that the chatbots are a new tool. They’ll be used in different ways, by different writers. The problems will get resolved, or things will change, and we will become accustomed to the changes.
What I find a bit ironic is that as all of the news about AI writing was hitting, I was reading a book of essays by Teju Cole called Known And Strange Things. All of the essays were written before 2016, but I can’t tell you exactly when or where because his traditional publisher screwed the hell up on the copyright page. (Previous publications are vague if they exist at all.)
Anyway, in an essay titled “Gueorgui Pinkhossov,” Cole writes about photography as it existed in 2012 or whenever that particular piece was written. (He mentions 2012.) Back then, there had been a debate about the value of photography now that everyone has a camera phone. I remember that debate. Everyone thought the world was ending. But, over time, we learned how to discern the difference between professional photographers and the rest of us.
In the middle of the essay, Cole writes this:
But the problem with the new social photography isn’t merely the postprocessing: after all, photographers have always manipulated their images in the darkroom…[T]he rise of social photography means we are now seeing images all the time, millions of them, billions, many of which are manipulated with the same easy algorithms, the same tiresome vignetting, the same green wash…In other words, the photographic function, which should properly be the domain of the eye and the mind, is being outsourced to the camera and to an algorithm.
Sound familiar? Change the words from photography to writing and writers, and you get the idea.
Fascinatingly to me, Cole goes on to discuss the work of Pinkhossov after Pinkhossov started using his camera phone. (At that point, Pinkhossov had been a professional photographer for 60 or so years, with his first famous shot appearing in 1952.) A photograph taken with the iPhone is in the book, and it is nothing like the photos I take of the cats or the races or my dinner. It is clearly a work of unique eye, something I never would have considered shooting with my own phone.
An example of art, after all, using a new tool.
That’s how I’ve been thinking about the AI writing algorithms. I’ve also been shaking my head at the dumbass writers who continually say they like the AI writing tool to help them plot. Those writers simply do not understand how fiction writing works. Plot comes from depth, by going deep into characters as individuals (real living people…who just happen to be fictional). If you approach plot as an exercise, something separate from the story creation done by your own fingers at your own computer, then you haven’t learned your craft yet, and no AI writing tool is going to help you.
I had only given the writing side of things thought. I hadn’t considered slush piles at all. I’m relieved not to be in charge of a slush pile, even though I haven’t had one since 1997. I’m still scarred. I only work with professionals, and then only trusted folk.
But editors like Neil Clarke are in the thick of things. Slush piles are good things, at their heart. They enable new writer discovery. They make it easy for writers outside the genre to find their way into the genre, without requesting a meeting.
That, however, might change.
In his post from the 15th, Neil writes that spam submissions—which is what he calls AI-generated fiction (in any capacity)—grew to 38% halfway through the month. Now it’s more. In fact, Neil had to close submissions because of the junk he’s been receiving.
And he’s worried. Not just about his magazine or his eyes or his ability to figure out what is spam and what isn’t. (Believe me, I know what he’s seeing and really, it’s not hard. It’s the difference between a nice photo of my cats and a spectacular photograph that makes us see a cat anew.)
It’s clear that business as usual won’t be sustainable and I worry that this path will lead to an increased number of barriers for new and international authors. Short fiction needs these people.
Then he adds:
No, it’s not the death of short fiction (please just stop that nonsense), but it is going to complicate things.
It is already complicating things. And it’s a problem for magazines and other publications with open slush piles. It’ll be a problem across the board on anything writing that has open submissions, from contests to agents to Hollywood pitch sessions.
It’s a gigantic change, and one that will cause all kinds of ups and downs before it settles.
The one thing Neil isn’t addressing—hell, no one is—is how many indie books will suddenly sound bland and boring because their lazy-ass authors are using some kind of chatbot tool to “write” faster. There will be an accumulation of junk that’s going to increase.
It’ll take a while for this to shake out.
And yet here I am, working on figuring out ways to use AI audio for my own work. Me, a woman who has a lot of professional voice training. A woman who knows how hard it is to do clean audio files when you’re actually reading them.
Yet I also write a lot of material and have written even more. I couldn’t read my blog every week without sacrificing other writing, which I have been unwilling to do. I thought of podcasting almost a decade ago and, again, decided not to because of the writing.
I’ve taken part in the local voiceover community here because I want to learn some of the new tech, before I do some audiobooks on my own. I initially joined the community to meet some of the upcoming voices, and maybe hire them for audio work.
I’ll still do some of that, but even that is a drop in the bucket of what I need. So AI audio it is. At what extent I don’t know yet—because the decision tree was supposed to start last week and has, instead, started today.
I want to use AI audio as a tool. Would I ever use a chatbot to write for me? No. At the moment (2023) I see absolutely no benefit in that tool for fiction writers.
Could there be a benefit by 2033? Hell if I know. If you’d asked me (and some did) in 2012 if I’d ever use AI audio, I would have said no. Because robotic doesn’t begin to describe the level the tech was at during that time.
So…do I have answers? On AI writing? Sure. Stay the hell away from it if you’re a professional writer. Neil Clarke (and I’m sure others) will ban you from their publications if they know you’re using that crap. (Not that your work would be of sufficient quality to be bought anyway, if you think that an AI can improve your writing.)
Readers will probably turn away from you as well if you’re using that crap to speed up your “writing.” If you have readers…
Do I have answers on AI audio? For me, I do. I’m going to use it as a tool on a variety of projects, and I have thoughts about how to use it and regular human performance in the future. I’m excited to get to it. But that’s for me.
And, before you ask, AI art is a do-not-touch until the copyright issues get resolved.
I suspect I’m going to get a kabillionzillion comments here, many of which I probably won’t want to see. If it gets out of hand, I’m going to shut the comments down. If you spam me (and you know who you are), you’ll lose your commenting privileges forever.
Yep, I’m going hardcore. But this is a blog post that’s mostly about noodling because that’s all I’ve had time for these past two weeks.
I’ll have more to report in a few days…I hope.
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“Business Musings: Random Thoughts,” copyright © 2023 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog copyright © 2023 by Kristine K. Rusch.