This is an oldie from August 2023, but caught my attention this morning while I was searching for something unrelated, a piece on Patreon by Jason Sanford about using deceptive language in machine learning.

Since then I’ve tracked other examples of deceptive language in discussions around AI. This time the poor language usage comes from Publishers Weekly, which tweeted “Sci-fi author says he wrote 97 books in 9 months using AI tools, including ChatGPT and Midjourney.”

That tweet linked to a Business Insider article rehashing a Newsweek essay by author Tim Boucher, who said he “created 97 books in nine months with the help of AI.” But the key words come later in the article, which reveals that Boucher’s books are “between 2,000 to 5,000 words and feature 40 to 140 AI-generated images.” As Kat Howard pointed out, “ASIDE from everything else, which is a lot, the third bullet point in PW’s own article says the ‘books’ are 2000-5000 words. My friends, that is a short story.”

First, which part of my disclosing all that up front publicly is being deceptive? Second, landing on the critique about book length being comparable to conventional short-story category works is odd since this person’s about page on Patreon states their mission is, in part, “to show that there is a strong readership for great short stories.” I think we all might have different and valid definitions of what constitutes “great,” but are we aiming to use the term short story here to cast aspersions?

So then I think the argument boils down to ultimately, can we call something a “book” that is [some arbitrary length]? And I think realistically, the answer seems to be yes. There’s no universal single definition of what’s a book (or deserves or doesn’t deserve to be) a book, and if there was, I would conscientiously choose to not abide by it for artistic reasons. A book is whatever we decide it needs to be in order to fulfill the sense of bookness one feels when booking a book. For some people the AI Lore books will provide that feeling, for others, probably not. Great. To every author their niche.

If my discovery as an author, basically, is that there is indeed a market for selling a single short story (or more often a collection of related flash fiction & world-building + copious art) as a “book,” then, well, I think that’s a good thing? Cause anybody can do that, whether or not they choose to integrate AI somewhere into their work flow. In itself, its not something to be productively mocked or chiseled apart for points on social media – points that cannot be redeemed for real-world prizes at the ticket counter.

Also, every single critique that has relied on this numbers-game flippy-floppy has always summarily ignored that the books contain often far more information in the form of images than they do in merely text alone. The massive sets of images (sometimes as many as 250 in a short volume) are integral to the mood, feel, meaning, and overall complexities of the narratives being presented within and across volumes. They augment what the reader experiences relative to text alone, often colliding with expectations and a kaleidoscopic shifting of narrative frames.

To ignore the image content then would be like saying you read a comic book with no images, and found it to be missing something. Uh, yeah. Obvs. Btw, I found in research that comic books often have approximately 2200-4400 words, and often 140-170 panels of art. In other words, exactly in the ballpark of these “not really books” that I’m still enjoying producing and selling in small quantities to interested readers, regardless of any of this.

Are comic books not really “books”? I think the ship has safely sailed on that question of whether or not they are really “literature” over the past few decades. With both a resounding “yes, they can be” and a “they can be whatever we make them into.” Comic books can also be trash (I fucking hate the superhero movie culture, for example). But so can romance novels. And vampire books written entirely by humans acting like formulaic automatons. But they are still books. Like them or not, they’re books. It’s plain.

Plus the history of books as we know them today is indelibly tied up in short ephemeral cheaply printed pamphlets and chapbooks of yesteryear, of extremely short length, and equally questionable content in many cases as anything today perpetuated by AI. Comic books are but one link in a very very long chain. But more on that all another time…