Independent Publishing and Artificial Intelligence

A blog feature image showing a robot lying on its front reading a book with the title 'Artificial Intelligence: IQ Publishing Workflows' over the top

Traditional publishing doesn’t exactly have a reputation for being fast-paced, but the onslaught of AI (artificial intelligence) tools, ‘scandals’ and borderline (and over-the-line!) misuse might just have made an exception out of us!

This post will outline how we feel about, and use, AI here at Inspired Quill. We’ll discuss the reasons for where we might use tools such as ChatGPT and why we absolutely wouldn’t touch Midjourney with an 8-foot automaton.

We’ll also touch briefly on the uses, ethical considerations and challenges of AI within the publishing industry more generally.

Note: For folks who don’t know, I (SJ) have worked with machine learning and AI across my ‘day job’ career in digital marketing and wealth management for… more than a decade now. I’m not an expert, but I know enough to understand what I’m talking about below.

Artificial Intelligence and Inspired Quill: Where Do We Stand?

As a publishing house, Inspired Quill has always been dedicated to delivering quality titles while respecting the creativity of our authors and artists. It’s important to remember that we’ve always taken a collaborative approach, from editing to cover design to marketing. Every touchstone in our process is publisher-led but author-influenced.

In our commitment to a human-first philosophy, we quickly recognised the ethical implications of AI usage in our workflows, as well as in the publishing industry as a whole. Even prior to the phenomenal impact ChatGPT had back in November(ish) 2022, we had already considered the role of automation in the grey areas of the publishing process (more on this later).

Our stance is clear and unwavering: AI is a tool, not a replacement for human creativity and skill.

We use two rule-of-thumb questions that have served us well overall:

Is AI saving me time, or actually doing the work for me?

Saving Time:

  1. Asking ChatGPT to give me 10 words other than ‘exciting’ (because I’ve used it 6 times in this article and it’s quicker than digging through thesaurus.com).
  2. Make this sentence more active and tell me why you’ve made those changes (suggesting a change to just one section of text, so I can learn and not need help next time).

Doing the Work:

  1. Literally anything where the outcome is copied & pasted, or tweaked only slightly.

If AI didn’t exist for this task, would I be paying someone to use their skills?

Using AI:

  1. Audio read-back accessibility for blog posts
  2. Adding captions to, or snipping, youtube videos
  3. Spellcheck-type ‘proofing’

Human work:

  1. Audio books
  2. Book trailer development
  3. Actual editing and final proofreading

Respecting Authors’ Hard Work

We firmly believe in the value of authors’ talent, skill, hard work and individual creativity. As such, we have taken a stand against feeding any author’s work into AI systems, including LLMs. By refusing to use AI in this manner, we ensure that an author’s intellectual property remains as intact and uncompromised as possible.

Why would someone feed their content to an LLM?

For example, one might copy and paste a chapter into an LLM with the view of asking it to either summarise the important action (for synopsis work), or another is to then suggest some social media snippets to use for marketing purposes.

99% of the time there’s a purpose behind handing over content to an LLM, and if our authors want to do this themselves they are more than welcome to. But it’s not a publisher’s place to effectively tell an LLM “this content is fine to use without compensation”.

Protecting Artists’ Creative Rights

Our dedication to fair compensation extends to artists as well. We have made it a policy to never use AI-generated artwork. This means that every piece of art we feature in our publications is the result of a collaboration that respects the artist’s creative rights and compensates them fairly for their contribution. (It’s also why you’ll never see my name on ‘cover design by’ – I have a good eye and good ideas but I’m rubbish at execution… basically the sort of person who would be all over AI artwork if it was ethical. Alas!)

This commitment to ethical AI usage is not only a matter of principle but also a reflection of our respect for the creative professionals who make our publications come to life. We firmly believe that ethical practices are not just good for the industry, but also essential for maintaining trust with our readers and authors.

We will continue to have the name of contributors on the copyright page of our titles, and we’ve also started to list them on the book pages here on the actual Inspired Quill website, too (under the ‘details’ tab). That way, our collaborations are always transparent to folks in the industry, and our wonderful readers.

Transparency and Author Relationships

At our publishing house, fostering strong and transparent relationships with our authors is paramount. While we hold a business-specific stance on AI usage, we also understand the importance of collaboration and respecting authors’ creative freedom. There are a few ways we work hard to engender trust from both sides.

Introducing the AI Clause in Contracts

To ensure transparency and alignment with our authors, we have introduced a new AI clause in our contracts for new projects. This clause clearly outlines our ethical approach to AI usage and the importance of respecting the creative rights of authors and artists. It’s a way for us to set expectations from the outset and maintain a strong ethical foundation for our publications.

Screenshot of the Artificial Intelligence (AI) section of the publishing contract.

(Added to our boilerplate contracts in August, 2023)

It’s likely this clause will be amended over time to better reflect the AI landscape (as we do similarly with the rest of the contract from time to time based on author feedback).

Transparent Communication with Existing Authors

While we don’t retroactively alter existing contracts, we have initiated open conversations with all of our authors, regardless of whether they have something new in the pipeline or not.

We encourage them to assume the same standard of care when considering the use of AI in their work. This way, we ensure that our values align and that our authors understand our commitment to ethical AI practices.

IQ Authors also understand that we will be in contact should the Inspired Quill stance on Artificial Intelligence change in any way, and I would expect them to reach out to let me know if they start to use it in ways that may affect their current under-contract titles. The IQ authors are the most wonderful bunch of human beings, thankfully, and we all have a completely trusting working relationship, which means there’s no need to be strict or stalk them on their socials in a ‘gotcha!’ kind of way.

Balancing Recommendations with Freedom

It’s important to note that we do not impose the same non-AI standards forcefully on our authors. We recognise that authors may have personal preferences or creative uses for AI that do not necessarily conflict with our ethical stance.

For instance, if an author wishes to use AI for personal use (e.g. not for profiting from AI ‘work’), such as creating character portraits or social media content, we respect their freedom to do so, even if it’s not something we endorse (e.g. ‘retweet’ etc) or use AI for ourselves. Fpr us, it’s not a ‘cease and desist’ offence. However, we emphasise the need for clarity when it comes to using AI in a way that could potentially impact titles we’ve published.

The only ‘hard lines’ we have is that we will not publish AI-written work, nor will we use AI artwork inside/covering the book, or stable-diffusion work for marketing. (There are some AI tools we use for marketing visual content, which will be explained in the next section).

Collaborative AI Tools in Our Workflow

It’s impossible not to use AI in some regards these days. Or rather, you’d have to go out of your way to not use it.

In fact, the most stalwart anti-AI folks in the industry probably use AI all the time without realising it. As I mentioned before, the idea isn’t to automatically reject anything that even smells of AI, but to use my two ‘rule of thumbs’ from earlier.

In publishing – and especially indie publishing – there just aren’t enough hours in a day. Inspired Quill is basically a one-woman show (with some invaluable help from freelancers for formatting and design). In my quest for efficiency and high-quality content, I do use various AI tools as part of my collaborative workflow. These tools are assets that enhance the IQ processes without compromising the human touch that defines our titles and ethos.

Canva: Visual Content

We rely on Canva, a versatile graphic design tool, to create visually appealing social images and promotional materials. Canva streamlines the design process and allows me to produce (hopefully captivating!) visuals that complement our written content. If you’ve seen any of our 3D book images within the last 5/6 years, those were technically done with AI (auto-fitting the flat image onto a 3D render, instead of doing by hand like I used to).

Removing the background from an image in one-click, auto-filling that tiny corner because I’ve decided on a square graphic instead of a circular one – all of that sort of ‘tool’ uses AI as its base. I never use stable diffusion, and I will also not be using Canva’s new ‘text to image’ tool because I’ve yet been unable to ascertain how and what they’ve trained the software on.

Grammar-Checking Software

Like everyone else in the publishing industry, Inspired Quill uses grammar-checking software as part of our proofreading process. While this software falls under the AI umbrella, its purpose is to enhance accuracy and readability. It’s important to clarify that this tool doesn’t involve AI-generated content or utilise others’ work without permission. Nor does it actually replace a human proofreader.

Improving Structure

One of the other ways I harness the power of AI is through tools like ChatGPT. (I know, I know…)

But despite my writing experience, I still often second-guess myself a lot. These tools serve as an invaluable partner in the creative process. AI doesn’t replace our human touch (you’re all stuck with me, I’m afraid!); rather, it acts as a catalyst, helping me to find the right words and order them for a smoother reading experience.

For instance, when crafting blog posts or emails, I often encounter the challenge of organising my thoughts in a way that doesn’t go down tangential rabbit holes. (Apparently I have no concept of ‘short blog posts’ anymore!)

This is where AI steps in as a collaborator, suggesting possible structures and improving content flow if I’m struggling over a particularly rough patch. This collaborative approach lets me maintain my authentic ‘voice’ while, providing you, dear readers, with content that is both engaging and informative. I use the tool to help what I have already written (usually single sentences or a paragraph at a push), and would not use it to create anything from scratch.

AI’s Impact on the Publishing Industry

AI is poised to be a game changer in the publishing industry, revolutionising various aspects of content creation and distribution. As we embrace AI tools in our workflow while maintaining our ethical standards, it’s both important and interesting (and a little scary) to consider the broader implications of AI in the industry.

Blog Coming Soon: Publishing and Artificial Intelligence – What, Why, and Implications

Changes to The Publishing Industry Because of AI

The recent 82-day strike by SAG-AFTRA (the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) to prevent the use of AI in writing TV shows serves as a clear example of the industry’s evolving landscape. This strike underscores the importance of balancing the benefits of AI with the preservation of human creativity and job security (and fair pay!)

Defining the Picket Lines

For us, the line is clear – AI is welcome when it aids in efficiency and saves time on tasks that can be considered ‘grunt work’, but never at the expense of individuals who might otherwise be engaged and compensated for their contributions.

It’s also used as a ‘better than not’ tool. Would it be amazing if I had time to read and record all of the Inspired Quill blog posts for accessibility and engagement? Heck yeah! Do I have time to do this? Unfortunately not. Would I pay someone else to do it for us instead? Honestly – no, the ROI isn’t there. It’d be a ‘nice to have’, so if I were to use a text-to-voice system in the future, it’s not taking an opportunity for anyone because it wasn’t there in the first place.

Our commitment to ethical AI usage aligns with our dedication to respecting authors, artists, and all creative professionals in the publishing industry.

I recently ran this Twitter (er… X) poll, and the results were super interesting.

Twitter poll about AI use showing most voters (out of 40) would never use AI in their work

Now, I know this only had 40 votes, but look at that difference in responses!

I tried my best to word this carefully. (e.g. “Any part” and “not for anything“.) But the thing is… I’m sure that 99% of these folks are (accidentally) not telling the truth. AI is absolutely everywhere, as I touched on above. This wasn’t to act as any sort of ‘gotcha’ – quite the opposite.

It’s vital that as creators, we understand the tools we’re using, and where the shades of grey start to turn too murky for us and we draw our line of what we feel to be th most ethical place to plant our feet. Words have power, and we need to be mindful of lazy/non-mindful language when we’re discussing these things that will have absolutely incomparable effects on our industry (and in a lot of cases, our livelihoods).

Unfortunately, ‘using AI’ has becme shorthand for stable diffusion, text-to-image generation (not to be confused with text-to-image search!) and ‘click and go’ content. But that’s not what AI is – reducing it to vague terms (of which I’m also more than guilty of, for sure!) arguably gives it the power and permanence that we’re looking to take care with.

Wrapping Up

IQ stands at the intersection of tradition and innovation, embracing AI for efficiency while safeguarding the principles of fairness, respect, renumeration and collaboration. We firmly believe that AI can enhance our creative processes without diminishing the human touch that defines our work and overall business.

As the publishing landscape continues to evolve, it’s essential for all industry professionals, from authors to publishers, and even to readers, to carefully consider the ethical use of AI. By doing so, we can uphold the values that make our industry thrive and ensure that creative minds are fairly compensated for their contributions.

We encourage our readers and fellow industry professionals to join us in this journey of ethical AI adoption. We won’t always get everything right, and it will be interesting to come back to this blog post in five years to see if it still holds up, but as with all parts of this industry we need to be mindful and keep learning.

If you’re an IQ reader, contributor, or you’re just here for the blog post – thank you for being part of Inspired Quill’s commitment to a human-first approach in the age of AI.

Picture of publisher Sara-Jayne Slack

Sara-Jayne Slack

Sara-Jayne is a social entrepreneur, convention panelist, (very) amateur actress and lover of all things tea related.

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