To AI or not to AI

Before anyone blows a gasket, let me remind you that I have been and always will be a supporter of artists. That’s especially true because I grew up with one–unfortunately, I can’t draw my way out of a paper bag. With one or two exceptions, every one of my book covers have been licensed images created by artists who are considered professionals. I will always do my best to support them and their efforts.

However, this isn’t about them. This isn’t even about those authors who use AI generated images (and who then use image editing programs to change those images) for book covers. This is about those authors who do one of two things, both of which can wind up harming the indie movement more than they seem to consider.

The first of those should come as no surprise to any of you here: authors, and I use that term loosely, who use AI programs to “write” their books. I’m not talking about those who use ChatGPT to help generate ideas (in broad strokes) or book titles, etc. I’m talking about those who put in a series of ideas and let AI programs create the plot, the dialog, the descriptions–you know, write the book.

Sure, there are those who do it and then take hours upon hours to refine and make the output their own. I’m a bit more ambivalent about their product because they are putting some sweat equity into the product and, hopefully, making it their own in their own voice, etc.

No, the ones I get pissed at are those who do little more than run the product, and that’s all it is, through spell check and possibly grammar check before releasing it into the public. These are the ones behind, imo, Amazon and other outlets asking if any of our titles are the result of using AI.

Of course, it isn’t just books that are seeing this happen. If you follow Reddit any, especially the AITA subthreads, you’ll find more than your fair share of AI generated “stories”. It’s a lazy way of generating content without having to put any real effort in.

But the one that has me torn is the use of AI generated elements in a book cover. I’m not talking about taking a single image, doing nothing to it to refine it, alter it, make it your own. For example, just as I have done when I’ve licensed images, I’ve taken multiple AI-generated images, used elements of them to create a single image of my own making.

Shouldn’t be a problem, right?

Not according to some folks. The very fact I used AI for anything makes me the enemy. There are groups of FB, including writing-related groups, that will deny membership (or will revoke membership) if you have so much as brushed up against AI anything. This is all in “solidarity” with artists.

Fine, I get it.

But here’s the problem–and it’s a big one if you are a writer wanting to get good looking images for your book covers.

I just went to a couple of the licensing sites I have consistently used over the years. I’ve always been able to find great looking images that need little to no tweaking to give me what I want for a cover. It didn’t matter if I was looking for elements or a complete image.

Please note the use of the past tense.

First, I started out like I always do and pulled together a string of tags I thought would give me the best image or images for what I was looking for. Man, some great images showed  up right off the bat. Except. . .

There was an icon associated with the better images I wasn’t familiar with. A quick search let me know that icon meant the images were AI-generated. Oops. That’s not what I wanted. So I refined my search to exclude AI images and boy was I surprised by the results. Most of the images paled next to the AI images. They lacked detail, sharpness, life.

Maybe it was only that particular site. So I went to my second favorite licensing site. Same result. Sure I could license a “real” image and spend time trying to bring it to the level I wanted. Or I could license an AI-created image (which gives me issues because I don’t know what the “imagine” phrasing was so I don’t know just how closely the creator went to trying to copy an artist’s style).

Or I could go to Midjourney or another similar site and try to create my own image or image elements.

But then I run up against the cadre of writers who now refuse to help promote any work that uses AI in any form or fashion. Oh, some of them go further. They talk about black balling any author who dares not hire an artist for their cover creation. And this is when I have to laugh at them because they still believe traditional publishing doesn’t used licensed images or AI. Because those publishers are, I guess, pure.

Yes, I’m rolling my eyes.

Anyway, I will continue doing what I can to create the best looking covers for my books, using all the resources available to me. For now, that means continuing to tweak the cover for Warbound Legacy. Snippets are currently being posted on my Substack.

Here is the current cover:

legacy cover

This has gone through multiple iterations, revisions, and more. Of course, I have one other image (see below) I’ve done that I am considering for at least promo purposes. Sigh. I’m just not up to decisions.

warbound promo

This last one is a raw image without any tweaking, element work, etc.

All this  is my way of saying I don’t like bullies and that is what some of the anti-AI groups are turning into. How many of these folks were standing up and swearing they would never support, and would do all they could to block, writers who used art created using DAZ or other modeling programs? How many of them actually pay an artist to create a completely new and unique cover image from scratch without using any of the tools now available and widely used by creatives to produce an image?

That said, don’t use AI to basically copy someone else’s original work. Don’t call yourself a writer if you simply input an idea into an AI program and then let it write your novel or story without you putting any sweat equity in it. Or, if you do, at least have the cajones to be up front about it so your readers can make an informed decision before dropping their money to buy the title.

As for the rest of it, if it feels like you are doing something that isn’t aboveboard, don’t do it.

Stepping off my soap box and getting to work finishing up Warbound Legacy, which should go up for preorder later this week.

Featured image created using Midjourney AI.

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