Updated: Oct 16
Most children's book authors struggle with imposter syndrome at some point. But the debut of artificial intelligence that can generate everything from contracts to college-level essays with just a click, seems to have propelled our insecurities to a whole new level.
Instead of, “Am I good enough to get published?” or “Will anyone read my work?” we have to wonder, “Can I compete with a computer?”
In the publishing industry, reactions to the AI trend range from fascination to fear to fury. So, I decided to put AI to the test.
I asked ChatGPT to write a children’s book…and then I evaluated it with the same critical eye I use on hundreds of client manuscripts each year, as a children's book author and editor.
My first traditionally published children’s book, and the one that I’m most proud of, is Gardens Are for Growing, and it's about my daughter growing up in the backyard garden with her dad.
So, I asked ChatGPT to...
Here's what it produced:
Title: Let's Grow a Garden!
Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Lily who loved spending time outdoors. She enjoyed playing in the park, but what she loved most was watching the flowers and trees grow.
One day, as she was walking through the park, she noticed a small patch of land that was filled with weeds. She thought it was such a shame that nobody was taking care of it, so she decided to take matters into her own hands.
Lily went home and asked her parents if she could start a garden. Her parents thought it was a great idea and helped her gather all the supplies she needed. They went to the store and bought soil, seeds, and gardening tools.
Lily was so excited to get started! She put on her gardening gloves and got to work. She cleared the weeds and rocks from the patch of land and then dug little holes for the seeds. She planted all sorts of flowers and vegetables, like sunflowers, tomatoes, and carrots.
Every day, Lily would check on her garden. She would water the plants, pull out any weeds that sprouted, and watch as the little green sprouts grew into big, healthy plants. As she worked, she began to notice all sorts of bugs and creatures that lived in the soil, like worms, ladybugs, and bees.
One day, Lily's friends came over to visit. They were so impressed with her garden that they wanted to help. They started watering the plants and pulling out weeds, and soon the garden was bigger and better than ever!
As the weeks went by, Lily's garden began to bloom. The sunflowers grew tall and bright, the tomatoes turned red and plump, and the carrots were ready to be harvested. Lily was so proud of her hard work, and she loved sharing her garden with her family and friends.
And so, the little patch of land that was once filled with weeds became a beautiful garden that brought joy to everyone who saw it. Lily learned that with a little bit of hard work and love, anything can grow.
It turns out that ChatGPT made some of the same common mistakes that first-time picture book authors make!
Not bad, right?
I have to admit, I was a little nervous when I first saw this result! Was I going to be out of a job?
But, I specialize in developmental editing, and I know that "good enough" isn't good enough in the world of publishing. So, I started to dig a little deeper and evaluate the story with a more critical eye.
Soon, I felt much better about things, because it turns out that ChatGPT made some of the same common mistakes that first-time picture book authors make!
Take a look! I've broken the AI's story into four parts below.
✏️ If the title is speaking directly to the reader - “Let’s Grow a Garden!” - then so should the rest of the book. The disconnect here makes the reader THINK they’re going to be involved in the story, and then doesn’t deliver.
✏️ “Once upon a time…” is SO outdated and overdone.
✏️ And, most of all, Lily needs to be motivated by something readers can relate to. Right now her motivation is simply feeling bad for the weedy patch of ground. I don't know about you, but my 8-year-old doesn't care about weeds.
The Rising Action
✏️ A lack of conflict is a common mistake of first-time authors. Remember that without a problem to face or a challenge to overcome, the reader has no reason to root for the main character - or to keep turning those pages!
Right now everything goes perfectly for Lily. (It’s almost like her life was designed by some kind of artificial intelligence or something...) Instead, put some obstacles in her way! That way when she overcomes those obstacles, the reader can celebrate with her.
✏️ And right now, the voice of the story is a bit bland, and dare I say…robotic?
Have fun with voice, alliteration, and more!
✏️ Overall, the story is missing tension and progression right now.
Every word counts in a picture book! You can’t just include a random scene because it’s sweet or you want it in the illustrations.
Each of the details marked above should be used to build tension and move the story along! Lily needs pollinators? Bring on the bugs! Or she can’t keep up with the work by herself…so she enlists her friends.
✏️ Agents and editors HATE a didactic ending. (Kids aren’t huge fans either!) Remember your first task as a picture book writer is to entertain. Instead of talking at the reader, show us what the character has learned or how they've grown.
Regardless of what you think about ChatGPT and the future of AI in publishing, I hope you take away two very important notes from this little experiment:
⭐️ First, editing is more than just correcting spelling and punctuation, and the value of a good developmental editor is often underestimated.
If you’ve ever wondered what developmental editing should look like, this is it! Having a friend who used to be an English teacher look over your story is NOT enough. Embrace the editing and revision process - with a professional!
⭐️ Second, breathe easy, dear writer! AI isn’t going to replace human authors anytime soon.
Writing is the act of synthesizing life on paper. A program that has no lived experiences to draw on, isn’t (yet) able to convey the same complexity of emotion or unique perspectives that we mere mortals can.
YOUR story is needed! Keep on writing!
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