How to make a children’s book in a weekend with AI… (and why you probably shouldn’t)

There’s always been a ton of demand for children’s book publishing, because it seems easier to “write” a children’s book and then hire and artist. But it’s expensive, and formatting children’s books is a pain. I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a case study, now that GPT3 is pretty good and you can write a decent children’s book story quickly…. and then use an AI image generator like midjourney to get high quality art for nearly free.

I even have a website for children’s book publishing and have considered putting up an image generation tool and openAI writing tool, so you can add your content to some templates and have a publishable children’s book ready to go.

HOWEVER – someone beat me to the punch and created a children’s book in a weekend… and the Twitter comments are absolutely brutal.

It went viral, which is something. But people are also posting memes that he should kill himself. I won’t quote all the comments, but they are worth reading.

Well, this is depressing, dismissive, and terrible on so many levels. You’ve just degraded an entire form of human expression in hopes of coming off as clever for a moment. Storytelling and readers both deserve better.

This is an awfully big thread to admit you’re a plagiarist. To claim you’re a “published [sic] author” is a total lie, and to be honest, it’s morally bankrupt and likely illegal to pretend you own the copyright on AI content sourced from other creators’ work to sell on Amazon.

Teen librarian here. Children deserve better. They deserve stories told from a place of honestly and imagination, not a mash-up of preexisting images and tropes. They deserve authors who don’t pass unpaid labor off as cute little tools and understand their power as storytellers.

CAN you write a children’s book and get all the art made, with GPTchat and midjourney? YES!

And it’s not that hard. I think the reason tweets like this are getting so much attention, is that this is a brand new thing in the history of creativity. Some of us are excited, like “hey wow a computer did this? It’s pretty good!” But a lot of others, including artists who claim all AI art is stolen and plagiarized, are really upset right now.

So it would be easy – as I’ve already seen a few times – to try and become a novelty by getting there first and announcing that you use AI to “write this book” as a publicity hack, and have it totally backfire in ways you couldn’t predict.

But is AI writing legal though?

This is a weird question, but basically, it is legal, and that’s unlikely to change, but many people think it should not be legal. But you may have missed how Microsoft’s new Designer program has a text to image tool, as does Canva, and even DeviantArt. Or how shutterstock and adobe have agreed to allow AI art on their stock photo platforms.

For a fun experiment or private birthday gift, using AI to make children’s books is probably fine, and I expect the backlash will die down once AI art is everywhere, which it kind of is already. But making and selling a book made with AI probably won’t be popular (it’s a little like how a group of YA authors tried to make NFT books a thing and got destroyed for it online).

The real test is, whether it’s good enough for real readers/kids to enjoy; but also (for kid’s books) whether it’s the kind of thing that parents will support. Other than a novelty gag gift, people tend to want children’s books to teach something.

It’s also true that for years Youtube has been filled with spammy “kids content” which is AI jumbled garbage, bizarre and weirdly addicting, and that what kids enjoy and appreciate is probably not what their parents are picking out for them.

But until kids have credit cards and do their own shopping, AI generated children’s books are a risky proposition. That said, I’ve no doubt people are already creating books and that the tech will allow for full novels and books within a year; they’ll be able to put out a lot more content and “real” authors are worried about getting left behind.

There’s an assumption that “human” art is always better and readers will always support value and quality; that AI art has a soul, but I think we’re in for a rude awakening when we find out readers want tropy, easy to read books that are entertaining and good enough (not clever literary pieces). This is a reckoning a lot of authors are reluctant to face, even as they’ve been discouraged by low sales enough to maybe consider writing to market.

But basically, the market decides what sells, and whoever has the most content – can spend the most to reach new readers – will probably win. Also as Seth Godin pointed out recently:

If a stunning surrealistic painting turns out to have been painted by an elephant or a toddler, does that make it less beautiful? If an essay on the nature of reality was written by GPT-3 or a Tufts scholar, does it matter?

And what if you can’t tell?

It’s an important conversation to be having, and if you’re a children’s book author (or any kind of author) you should read through the thread and see the very nasty comments. The “author” is being doxxed and threatened; as have some other authors who were just playing around with AI art for character creations. I’ve also seen a lot of people come out in support or artists (while selling their own stuff); or creating viral memes to cash in on the outrage.

The conversation around AI art is long and complex (no matter how simple it can be made through reductive facebook memes), but the truth is we are at the very beginning of an entirely new mode of publishing, art and writing that is beyond what most of us can comprehend.

Is it good – probably not! I have no problem admitting that. Is it here to stay? Without a doubt. Are some people going to take advantage of the new technology and make tons of money? Probably. Just be careful not to be the first, or maybe don’t boast about it.

Generally, I think AI tools will help artists and authors create more, better work. My favorite part is that things can be created which would otherwise never exist, because it costs too much time and money to produce quality work of a silly idea; and also that regular people without a big budget can still get their stories told.

How do you actually MAKE a children’s book with Midjourney and ChatGPT3?

First, figure out your target age group and target length. You can write the story yourself, or use chatGPT3 or an online AI writer to write the story for you. I have one here that’s pretty great: It’ll make a *short* story. If this is a chapter book, I recommend using my 24 chapter outline templates, or at least my 9point plot dot, so you have a dramatic story, not just a bunch of incidents.

Then you’ll need art. I just put up a huge list of 600+ midjourney prompts, so those should help find the right kind of “style” for your children’s book. Be careful not to copy a living artist’s style directly, combine prompts until you have something new that’s your own, or use one of the classic “golden age” artists on that list. Prompt each scene. One page will probably be 2 or 3 sentences, depending on the age of the reader.

For most picture books, you’ll need roughly 32 pages, which should be about 1000 words altogether.

You can choose to have an image on the front and back of each page, or just on one side, with the text on the other. You’ll also need to think about printing costs: if you want to print a full-color book, those are expensive with POD (print on demand) so the cost will be high and profits slim… but you could make more money from the ebook version.

Add texts and images to your book format

This part is trickier. InDesign is the best software but it’s a pain to learn. I’d try something like Canva or microsoft’s new designer tool. Or even an iphone app like Wordswag. I’m talking about laying out the typography and text over the image, and then saving the image with the type. That way it’ll stay exactly where it is. You can also do it all in Microsoft word, just set the page size to 8.5×8.5 (or another standard POD size, you’ll have to check with KDP for the latest list).

You can download a template but adding the images and putting the text over them can be buggy, with Word. You’ll also need to choose the right fonts, probably something simple, either sans serif of a blocky, handwritten font like comic sans (but not comic sans because everybody hates that one). If you get it right though, you can save as a PDF and upload it.

What about the cover design?

This time, just choose your best art or image from inside the book, and use it on the cover, with better (bigger, bolder) text for the title. I have an online cover design tool and will be making some templates soon for cover design, so when I do I’ll make a more detailed tutorial… I’ll probably even publish a few children’s books or low-content books myself, just for fun. (PS You could probably just use my cover design tool to add text to your images, it works pretty great… but you’d still need to save all the files and compile them into a book with something like Word… or Vellum if you want to do it right.

What about AI copyright and legal issues?

Things are still pretty unclear. Generally, when you publish a book you automatically get copyright. But when you make midjourney images you don’t: you can legally use it for commercial purposes but you can’t say it’s yours and stop other people from using it. However, there was a big case about the first AI comic book to get a copyright that was just revoked: saying she has the copyright to the “book” and text and concept, but not individual images. So it’s worth paying attention. That said, there are already hundreds of AI and gpt3 books on Amazon, and it’s unclear if Amazon is going to do anything about it (but they could). We’re still in early waters. It seems like right now Amazon already has a Gpt3 category.

What about publishing and book marketing?

Those are huge subjects, but all you really need is to upload your files to KDP or IngramSpark and make it available. However just because AI allows you to publish a book easier, it doesn’t help you get visibility for it and it’s just as easy to fail with an AI book as with any other book. I’ve talked a TON about book marketing but I’d start with my free books to get you up to speed:
book marketing is dead (free on amazon)

If you really need help, check out the 21 day bestselling author platform, there should be a link over there somewhere —>>>

Ghostwriters for children’s books

I’ve talked to a lot of children’s book authors who had big ideas and a bad story. Children’s books are short, and I’ve often been hired for editing or consulting and ended up rewriting the whole thing. It can be worth it to hire a ghostwriter to just write your story, and I don’t see chatgpt3 as being all that different. In fact I’m playing with an AI ghostwriting tool, that’s still in beta but you can play with it to write stories with in different writing styles and literary voices; or just do a quick rephrase and refresh of your story to make it better.

PS. A lot of my authors friends are putting out disclaimers that they never use AI for anything, and that’s fair. I haven’t either and I’ve published about 20 novels. But I’m interested in the tech and like developing fun things. I can see how I might use AI for ideas or editing, or cover design, in order to speed up my process, since I tend to be a very slow novel writer.

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