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 it 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 is 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.