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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

How an AI-powered $15 marketing tool could boost your book sales


Artificial intelligence has taken its share of knocks from the creative community—and with good reason.

Consider the unauthorized use of a Scarlett Johansson-like voice, for example, or all the flashy, endlessly touted bots that fall short of their hype.

But what if a humble little $14.99 AI service could help you market your next book—cranking out everything from drafts of plot summaries to keyword recommendations for online stores? It could even identify popular tropes and compare your book with existing titles.

The Manuscript Report site does it all and more. Despite the name, the site is more of a marketing tool than a service for editors who are wending their way through massive piles of slush.

Can beat most human-only brainstorming

Granted, the site is no substitute for a smart, experienced human—beware of AI-ish prose and a formulaic approach for items like press releases. But it provides a handy starting point, particularly in regard to comparative titles and keywords you can use on Amazon and elsewhere.

The keyword function isn’t as sophisticated as a specialty app like Publisher Rocket. (Check out Rocket developer Dave Chesson’s latest Amazon tips to appreciate the complexities here.)

Still, the bot’s keyboard suggestions can help you beat most human-only brainstorming.

Autopilot marketing, kind of—but don’t rely on the bot alone

Manuscript Report is easy for those who want a quick, highly structured approach. You fill out forms covering such basics as your book’s title, feed in a PDF of your book, pay your $14.99, and in less than an hour, you see thousands of words:

“Back of the book summary

“Synopsis

“Sales Pitch

“SEO-Optimized Keywords

“Target Audience

“Genres

“Themes

“Tropes

“Comparisons with recent bestsellers

“Narrative crossroads with books and movies

“Press Release Template

“Ad Copy Template.”

Manuscript Report in action

I tried out ManuscriptReport.com on two novels of mine, The Solomon Scandals and Drone Child. Your results may vary. But a summary from the service did an overwhelmingly good job of capturing the essence of Scandals and Child—despite AI-ish prose in places. Perhaps I’m overlooking something, but I didn’t encounter the hallucinations that many AIs come up with.

Here are the first three paragraphs of the D.C. novel’s synopsis:

“‘The Solomon Scandals’ by David H. Rothman is a richly textured narrative that delves into the murky waters of political and journalistic corruption in Washington, D.C. Set against the backdrop of the 20th-century newsroom, the story follows Jon Stone, a reporter for the Washington Telegram, as he navigates a labyrinth of deceit involving media, government, and business.

“The plot ignites with the mysterious suicide of Wendy Blevin, a prominent gossip columnist, and the subsequent cover-up by the Telegram. Stone’s investigation into real estate mogul Seymour Solomon uncovers a web of corruption involving shoddy construction practices, political paybacks, and potential building collapses. Key figures include George McWilliams, the hard-nosed editor torn between loyalty and ethics, and E.J. Rawson, the national editor and Stone’s immediate superior.

“The narrative is rich with detailed character backgrounds and the socio-political landscape of Washington, D.C. Stone’s complex relationship with Donna Stackelbaum, a lawyer with ties to the nuclear power industry, adds personal stakes to his professional quest. The story is interspersed with Stone’s musings on his career ambitions and personal life, reflecting his disillusionment with the system he navigates.”

People familiar with AI will notice such bot-favored phrases as “murky waters,” “web of corruption,” “richly textured” and “labyrinth of deceit.” Still, the results are probably better than most humans could achieve.

ChatCPT 4o grades Manuscript.com

Just for fun, I plugged ManuscriptReport.com’s full synopsis of Scandals into ChatGPT 4o and asked it to evaluate the document for use by editors. The score was 8 out of 10; ChatGPT especially liked the synopsis’s details on “the book’s literary merit and market potential.”

For movie and TV people on the prowl for books to adapt, the synopsis itself rated 7. ChatGPT wanted the synopsis to focus more on such cinematic requirements as strong “virtual and dramatic elements.”

The synopsis was deemed too long for book sales people and received a score of 7. For booksellers, the document rated 8: “The detailed description of the setting, plot, and characters helps booksellers position the book to the right customers, especially those in political thrillers and journalistic narratives.”

Overall effectiveness came in at 8, according to ChatGPT.

Was the synopsis absolutely on the mark about my book? Remember, a mere bot was speaking. Highly subjective! But the AI deftly zeroed in on the criteria that I, as author of Scandals, considered important.

The bot and I disagreed a bit on genre. The service played down Scandals as a historical novel (10 percent). I’d give it 10 or 15 percent more in that category. Scandals is a roman à clef set in the 1970s and inspired by my experiences as a reporter, even though it’s far from an actual memoir.

I was pleased to see Scandals assessed as 30 percent satire. The service rated my book as 20 percent mystery and 40 percent political thriller.

Yes, many publishing houses favor titles focused on fans of specific genres. But I wrote the book I wanted to read, and who knows—Scandals may yet find its audience of like-minded people.

The service’s target markets: Please focus again on manuscript evaluation

In fairness to ManuscriptReport.com, developer Florin Bulgarov is now talking up the product more for publicists, marketers and others than for editors. Publishers and writers have balked at the idea of quantifying assessments; what if writer X gets a score a point below writer Y? Oh, the horror!

Here’s my rebuttal. Smart publishers and writers should understand that bots are just a rough and highly fallible gauge of commercial and literary merit. Fret not over decimal points.

Yes, I would hate for bots to preside over slush piles. Instead I think of ManuscriptReport.com as just another voice, not the be-all and end-all.

But let’s face it. So often publishers and literary agents fail to identify the most promising manuscripts, as these pros would be the first to admit. Many large houses automatically reject unsolicited works, but what about those evaluated by agents and smaller publishers? The classic method is to read the first pages and perhaps the first chapters of a manuscript. But what if the material isn’t representative of the rest? And how about issues such as the structure of a book as a whole?

Even with the flaws and the current focus on marketing more than editorial evaluation and development, ManuscriptReport.com could be a godsend for writers, not just editors. In many ways it’s the book equivalent of the Greenlight Coverage, a service for scriptwriters and those who buy scripts.

Greenlight costs $55 for a writer with one or two projects a month, and rates go up from there. ManuscriptReport.com’s current prices are more reasonable and I hope that the site either will keep them the same or limit the size of increases.

Of course, rather than using either ManuscriptReport.com or Greenlight, you could run your material through ChatGPT or another service yourself. However, ManuscriptReport.com will be so much simpler for many.

A great value despite the AI-ish flaws

Top professional publicists and marketers could be wonderful for writers and others who can afford deluxe services. But if you’re cash-strapped and want good a value, ManuscriptReport.com is a useful starting point to help understand your manuscript and market, just so you keep in mind the limits of today’s AI.

I expect it to get much better in this application and countless others. Already Florin Bulgarov is talking about the use of prompt engineering so his bot’s prose is more humanlike.

That said, bots can go only so far as marketing and publicity tools.

Will the day ever come when ChatGPT can single-handedly get you on the Today Show?

Related:

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

Solomon Scandals Chatbot: Ask it anything. You can reach it directly at ScandalsBot.com.

Image credit: Manuscript Report.

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