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Monday, June 17, 2024

Build your own chatbot to promote your book: Lessons from my ScandalsBot


I call it the ScandalsBot. If you ask what Washington sleaze inspired The Solomon Scandals, the bot will oblige.

The bot can also compare my corruption novel with All the President’s Men and other Washington books, or it can explain why I mixed genres rather than just writing suspense. What’s more, it can lay out the main themes and sum up the plot and the characters—or answer scads of other questions. Ask. The ScandalsBot likely can oblige. See a screenshot at the bottom of this post, complete with starter questions to engage visitors.

My AI creature works with a WordPress plug-in, and visitors can use it without signing up for ChatGPT Plus or an equivalent large language model. If you can get on the Web, the ScandalsBot almost surely can help you check out my book. Scandals is a character-driven roman a clef, and the plot is extra-complex, so it helps to let readers learn about the novel on their terms. I make ScandalsBot visitors aware of my bot’s shortcomings in area such as accuracy. Mercifully for humans worried about job security, bots can’t verify facts as well as people can, but don’t get smug. Future versions could be much better. For now, I’m running GPT-4 Turbo, but may need to economize and revert to 3.5 Turbo, an older and less powerful LLM.

A blogger tool also

The chatbot isn’t the only glory of  the AI Power plug-in. For routine blog postings—we’re not talking about high literature—AI Power can expand what I’ve written. Then I can shine up the prose. I Davidize it, so to speak; yes, this is a human typing. Ninety-five percent of the present post is mine. The bot just reminded me of possible points to make; I’d hate a purely AI-written version.

In a related vein, may I repeat a caveat from others? Don’t just latch on to the first wording the bot suggests. Luckily, I’m comfortable enough ignoring suggestions from humans, so that isn’t a problem for me.

To help stock the actual chatbot, which is separate from the Solomon Scandals blog, I  can enter a variety of possible questions and answers on the basics, such as plot, and add some extras—even a Great Gatsby comparison. Equal stature not claimed!

My chatbot’s language is still not Davidized, and you’ll find redundancies and horrid AI cliches. But at least the facts are there. Right now there is no text to speech; it will likely come in time when I have a better handle on the costs of OpenAI’s services. Similarly I’ll increase how many words a visitor’s Q&Aing can include in a day.

AI Power’s documentation (and if need be a support staffer) can fill in the how-to details. But here’s an overview of how I created my bot:

Step One: A shopping tour of the WordPress plug-ins

I found the well-reviewed AI Power through WordPress’s “add plug-in” page, which includes a search engine through which you can look for a plug-in based on features or a product’s name.

AI Power was my choice partly because of its 10,000 users, compatibility with ChatGPT and major rivals, and text-to-speech capabilities for future use. Like many competitors, it can gobble up a PDF of a book or other document. That’s the main way the bot smartens itself up to help visitors. They can even find out about the origins of the book—and my fiction vs. past and present scandals—via an essay in the back.

The ”Pro” version of AI Power is $9.99 monthly, $95.88 annually, and $289.99 for life. A free version is available with some key features missing and without priority email tech support.

My bot-shopping tour was hardly thorough, and for all I know, better solutions may be out there. A WordPress plug-in might be too complicated for you, in which case you can Google around for alternatives, including bots from Chatbot.com. I haven’t tried it, but some reviews look good. AI Power just happened to meet my needs and would cost less than Chatbot.com’s fee of $42 a month or higher. Another possibility, for people with the budget, might be Massively, which created the Epic Reads book-discover service for HarperCollins. Finally, Writesonic offers various flavors of botsvarious flavors of bots.

Step Two: Installing AI Power

As soon as I clicked on “install,” AI Power popped up on WordPress’s dashboard, and within the plug-in’s menu, I saw a request for an API key, an identity for usage-based billing. Conveniently a link took me to just the right place on the OpenAI site to get it.

Step Two: PDF uploading and Pinecone

After I uploaded the PDF of The Solomon Scandals to the plug-in, I linked up the results with the Pinecone database service, which created an index for the chatbot and other purposes.

Step Three: Customizing the bot

I won’t list all the menu options, but significantly, I could tweak the look and feel of the Bot and tell it how to behave. My goal was a friendly, writerlike bot avoiding the PRish ballyhoo that many bots spew. I’m still working on the ballyhoo issue.

“Lisa” was the bot name suggested in a template I used. Bad idea for me. My selfish goal was to promote not her but myself and the book and maintain a human touch.

My picture, not an image of Lisa or the cover of The Solomon Scandals, appears with the answers the bot gives.

Step Four: Creating a WordPress page for the ScandalsBot

I just pasted in a little snippet of code for a separate ScandalsBot page in my blog (with the accuracy warning at the top). But instead, I could have displayed the bot in a sidebar on every page. I included my email so people could offer feedback, ask questions and get accurate answers from a real human. The ScandalsBot page also includes a comment area.

My bot had better behave itself. I’ve even pampered it with a separate domain name, ScandalsBot.com, although you can also call it up through a home page link on SolomonScandals.com.

Step Five: Testing the bot

The ScandalsBot was like many of its bot brethren and loved to hallucinate. Guided by an AI Power’s support staffer, I asked the bot to zap the errors. When I typed in a request for a character list, the bot picked up the names of real people from the nonfiction essay in the back of my book. I may or may not have banished the character glitch. But so far, so good. My instructions are messy but seem to be working for the most part.

In writing this post about my shiny new bot, I saw the following suggested text: “Overall, the creation of the ScandalsBot was a relatively straightforward process, thanks to the user-friendly nature of the AI Power plug-in and the pre-existing content I had prepared.” No! I was hardly a veteran bot creator and had to fiddle. Of course, I loathed the marketese, too.

Luckily, AI Power’s support staffer was knowledgeable, friendly and patient, and the guidance was in perfect English. Jennifer’s emailed answers came within a day or so. In the past, reviews on the WordPress site complained of the support—I found the opposite to be true. Maybe just like a bot, AI Power learned. Props to Jennifer and the Turkish developer, Senol Sahin. The quality of support should be a major criterion in deciding which plug-in or other bot you use. Granted, we’re talking about bots, but the humans can count in the end.

Will the ScandalsBot quadruple the number of visitors to my niche site? I doubt it. Still, it should be a welcome addition for people wanting to know more about my roman a clef and the history that inspired it. And if visitors instead want an answer from the author, they can just click on the email link.

Suggested reading for varied perspectives: Prof. Ethan Mollick’s Co-Intelligence: Living and Working with AI, bot-related writing guidelines from the Authors Guild and the Alliance of Independent Authors, and commentary from Thad McIlroy, a prominent publishing consultant

Buying information for The Solomon Scandals: Available via independent bookstores, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, the Apple Store, Kobo, and others. Plot summary. Foreword and first chapter. Strong language and racist dialogue placed in context by a multiracial feminist character. Kirkus-recommended.

SCREENSHOT OF SCANDALSBOT. GO HERE TO USE THE ACTUAL BOT.

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