Using Tools To Automate Your Author Business with Chelle Honiker

by Creating Change Mag

How can you use automation and tools to help you streamline your creative and business processes so you can get back to the writing? Chelle Honiker gives some mindset and practical tips.

In the intro, IBPA guide to publishing models; We need to talk about independence [Self Publishing Advice article; my podcast episode with Orna Ross]; The Financial Times signs a partnership deal with OpenAI [FT]; The Big Leap — Gay Hendricks; AI Tools on Brave New Bookshelf; Spear of Destiny; Stone Hunters by Rod Penn;

Today’s show is sponsored by Draft2Digital, self-publishing with support, where you can get free formatting, free distribution to multiple stores, and a host of other benefits. Just go to www.draft2digital to get started.

This show is also supported by my Patrons. Join my Community at 

Chelle Honiker is the co-founder and publisher of Indie Author Magazine, Indie Author Training, Indie Author Tools, and She’s also an author, speaker, podcaster, and program manager at the Author Nation Conference.

You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript is below. 

Show Notes

  • Finding a community with other indie authors
  • Blocks that might stop authors from using technology effectively
  • How to figure out which tools work best for your creative process and author business
  • Moving into new and reinvented processes as technology changes
  • Using Zapier to automate your author business
  • When to use a tool vs. when to outsource a task
  • What to expect in the upcoming Author Nation Conference

You can find Chelle at,,, and

Transcript of Interview with Chelle Honiker

Joanna: Chelle Honiker is the co-founder and publisher of Indie Author Magazine, Indie Author Training, Indie Author Tools, and She’s also an author, speaker, podcaster, and program manager at the Author Nation Conference. So welcome to the show, Chelle.

Chelle: Thanks, Joanna. It’s good to be here.

Joanna: So first up—

Tell us a bit more about your background and how you decided to build businesses to help indie authors.

Chelle: Sure. Actually, you’re a little bit at fault for this, so I’ll explain that. My background is that I started in the travel industry. I was a technology and training professional for many, many years. I had my own consultancy for a very long time.

In 2016/2017, I was in Austin, Texas, and I went to a bunch of meetings for NaNoWriMo. I met just the most vibrant authors there, and we got connected. Then I went to the Smarter Artist Summit, and I met those guys. At that conference, I met Craig Martelle, who then went on to start 20Booksto50k conferences.

I went to the 20Booksto50k conference in Edinburgh in 2019. At that conference, I met my business partner, Alice Briggs, who coincidentally also lives in Texas, but nine hours away because it’s a ginormous state. We had to go all the way to Scotland to meet. When we came back as accountability partners, we had a group of friends that we’d met at that conference. Then I went to the SPF Conference where you spoke. I actually went to London to hear you speak, so that’s where you thread in here.

Then we all know what happened in 2020, the whole world shut down in the middle of that conference. So I was in Ireland for four months, sort of “stranded.” I say “stranded” in air quotes because I wasn’t really stranded, but I had decided to stay over there because my airline went bankrupt, and it was just going to be really difficult to get back. My townhouse was up for a lease again, and it was just a whole mess.

So I stayed in Ireland, and I sort of put up a bat signal for friends to write with. We had 24 of us that started to Zoom together twice a day. We were sharing tips and tricks, and things that we were doing, and courses we were taking, and podcasts we were listening to, and sharing our lives on top of that.

So we would hear about what was going on in Germany, and Albania, and Malta, and just all over the world. All of us were from everywhere around the world. From that, we started a website called Indie Author Tools, which was really just sort of a crowdsource place for us to stick everything.

Then when I came back to the States, Alice and I separately had been thinking about starting a magazine or something that would provide more context for all of the stuff that we were learning, and a way for us to dive in a little bit deeper. So with those original 24 people, we started the magazine three years ago. We’re three, we turned three!

Joanna: That SPF Conference, as you say, that almost didn’t happen. James, kind of as a joke, wore a hazmat suit on stage. Then lockdown happened very soon after. So, I mean, that’s kind of crazy. As you were talking now, I was wondering—

Do you identify as an introvert or are you an extrovert?

Chelle: So I’m an ambivert, actually. I’m like right smack in the middle of it. It just depends, so I’m an equal part of both. It’s funny though because I lean more towards introvert, like I’m technically an INTJ. Robert Downey Jr. and I are both INTJ. I can get excited about being around people, but then I have to retreat.

Joanna: You’re quite a connector, obviously, because you create things that are bigger than you. I really admire that. This is something I struggle with. I always had the feedback at school and in my jobs, like, “does not play well with others,” or “needs to be a better team member.” I’m just not very good at that. So I really appreciate what you’re doing. I mean, you’re creating much bigger things than just an individual person.

Chelle: Well, I love that you recognize that, but I also have to say I have an amazing group of friends and team members. So it’s me that sort of says things, but there’s a lot of crazy ideas that come from a lot of different places.

I’m just a number one activator, so I synthesize and distill the crazy ideas that everybody has into something else. So I’m very aware that I’m surrounded by genius all day, every day. I get up and play with my best friends every day as a job, like that’s the greatest thing ever.

Joanna: I love that, and we all need that.

The author community would literally have no conferences without people like you.

Chelle: It’s so funny because this is such a generous industry, and there are so many people that sort of step up and say, hey, I’m going to do this. It’s probably one of the most interesting—just from looking at it from the business perspective, from the outside looking in, it is still a small industry, so to speak. Everybody sort of knows everybody, but it’s so generous, and people are so supportive.

There’s not a lot of cutthroat competition for business like there is in other industries. I think the coolest thing that I see is that we’re not in competition to sell a product with one another. Authors aren’t competing with one another to sell books, in the strictest sense.

We all have our end product as a happy, satisfied reader. They don’t buy one book, they buy multiple books.

So it’s very different than other industries, and it’s so unique. I think it’s why we stick around and have such success in the industry, in terms of satisfaction, in terms of wanting to keep doing things. We’re not getting beaten up continuously by a zero-sum game or market forces that force us to be mean or cutthroat. It’s just a very different industry, and I love it. I absolutely love it.

Joanna: Well, that’s fantastic. I agree with you. I feel like we definitely do not compete in terms of books and readers, but we do compete on things like ad spend, and pay per click, and all of that kind of thing, but that’s quite different.

So I do want to talk to you particularly about technology and tools. You mentioned Indie Author Tools. I do see that a lot of authors get enthusiastic around notebooks, and pens, and some writing software, but mostly a lot of authors struggle with using technology and tools to improve their process.

They often will kind of shy away from spending even very little money for a tool that will help them. So I wondered—

What are the biggest blocks you see to authors using technology effectively?

Chelle: I think there’s two that I see. The first is overwhelm because we’re responsible for doing all the things, #allthethings.

We’re responsible for writing the book, and then also making sure it’s edited, and making sure that it’s got a great blurb, and got a great cover, and got things that are on brand, and then we have to be responsible for marketing. So I think just in the sense of that’s—

The opportunity of an indie author is to be in control of your career, but it’s also the overwhelm that comes with it.

Especially as creatives, I hear a lot of people say, “I just want to write the book.” I mean, you just can’t. This is an industry that requires that you be an entrepreneur and requires that you take charge of your career.

So if you reframe it as an opportunity, it gets a little less overwhelming, but the first is overwhelm, and the second is time. I think that’s probably the biggest factor is people don’t feel like they’ve got time to adopt it, or there’s too much that they have to think about. It’s just where do you start?

Those are the two biggest obstacles, but I think that if you reframe it as an opportunity to learn something new, and you reframe it as an opportunity to market yourself, and get excited about your books, and get excited about sharing your books.

If you think of marketing and technology as tools to do that, rather than the next thing you ‘have to do,’ then I think that makes a big difference in terms of mindset.

Joanna: I was thinking about this as you were talking, the choice is also really difficult.

So just even take editing, for example, the two biggest ones would be Grammarly and ProWritingAid. Even just the choice between one or the other tool, and there are loads more out there, can be difficult for people.

There’s also budget involved. So if people are assessing a number of tools for pretty much the same thing—

What would you say is the best process for figuring out what tools work for that person?

Chelle: So I think those are choices that you have to make personally, you have to get comfortable with them personally. I’ve used both Grammarly and ProWritingAid, but I had to spend a little bit of time and understand my own process.

Then I had to make a decision which one was best and which one wasn’t as overwhelming or fit in with my process. The good thing is both of them have free trials. So I’m big on free. I’m a freemium girl. I love free. So I’m always looking for things that I can try free and see if it fits, and then figure out how it fits in with my process instead of trying to rewire my process.

That’s another thing, you know, as a technologist, I try all the things and I want to do all of the things. The thing that I came back to is there are some things that aren’t really, technologically speaking, helpful.

So I write down my calendar each day. I have a digital calendar, I have digital reminders, but I use tactile to write down my schedule and my things for the day on a piece of paper. That seems so strange, but it’s making sure the technology fits in with the way that you do things, rather than saying, “Oh, I’m going to have to go to a digital calendar,” or “I’m going to have to use this digital tool,” or “I’m going to have to use this thing.”

So when you evaluate it, think about your objective and think about your style and the way that you work. Make sure that you’re choosing things, they can be small things or big things, to help you do the thing that you want to do better.

Don’t try and fit yourself into some box that won’t ultimately fit because then you’ll be frustrated.

The other thing that I think is also helpful is asking people that are similar to you. Find a community that you can ask questions that can help you evaluate those things.

Not in the broadest terms, like “other authors,” that’s a very big bucket. If you ask other romance writers or other hockey romance writers about certain tools, right, one tool might be better than another tool for your specific genre or your specific need.

That’s where community is hugely helpful in this industry. We have such a solo mindset sometimes when writing, so I think we all need to find our people that we can trust, and ask questions, and ask stupid questions. I love that. I love stupid questions. People think there are stupid questions. There’s no such thing as a stupid question. None, none whatsoever.

Joanna: Totally true. It is interesting because I feel like it is also about asking authors who have similar process. For example, I’m a discovery writer, and I tried so many times to use tools like Plottr and some of these other ones that really try to help you with plotting and structuring, but that’s not my creative process.

Every time I try one of these tools, I’m like, this is just too constraining for my chaotic brain. Then I go back to, well, pretty much just being chaotic and dumping stuff into Scrivener and figuring it out later, using notebooks and things like that.

So that is, as you said, find people who are similar to you in that way. Then you do have to feel whether or not it’s good or not. I think there is almost something to —

Just try it and see, and if you hate it, like just ditch it.

Chelle: Yes, and don’t feel any shame about ditching it either. There’s a lot of people that can be prescriptive about how to do things, and I’ve come away feeling like, oh my gosh, I don’t get up at six o’clock in the morning and write for two hours, I’m a failure. If I want to be successful, I have to do this.

No, you have to find what’s best for you, and technology is just one part of that. So I used to try to write five days a week, I can’t write five days a week, it’s just too exhausting. So I have two days a week where I just go full bore for six hours and just write in sprints and spurts. Then I edit in sprints and spurts.

I think that when people say develop your writing muscle, they don’t realize that you can have muscles that you engage on different days of the week. It doesn’t have to be an everyday thing. I see too many people feel like they’re a failure or they’re frustrated. You know, kick that to the curb. Do what makes you happy and find your bliss. Do what works for you.

Joanna: Yes, I totally agree with that. So I also did want to ask around process because, of course, there are specific tools. I’ve been doing this a long time now, since 2008, and I feel like I have got stuck in my processes for an amount of time.

So you mentioned calendar there. For ages, since I’m in the UK, I would email backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards with people, trying to find a time where we could actually meet. Then in the end, I got Calendly, which is fantastic. So if people are doing regular meetings across time zones, Calendly is just so useful.

Another one that’s interesting right now is social media. I started on Twitter in 2009, and I really got into a rut of what that was for me. Then, of course, when Elon Musk took over and it all blew up, I just kind of threw in the towel and was like, oh, I just can’t do it anymore.

I was struggling to reinvent myself, and I feel like a lot of authors are also feeling that way in social media worlds, but also in other ways.

How do we break out of processes when we’re stuck in a rut?

Like how can we move out of that into a new reinvented process?

Chelle: So my best advice around that is to take a look at the things that are causing you pain. Take a look at the things that are causing you to not have enough hours in the day for the thing that you want. Then sort of gap problem solve, look at the specific problems.

So, for example, I was getting really overwhelmed by my email, and my email box was just completely out of control. My process was that I would get in there in the morning, and then I would triage my email, and then I would save everything that I was going to deal with.

Then I would go on about my day thinking that I was going to get to that thing at two o’clock in the afternoon. Well, I never got to that thing at two o’clock in the afternoon. So eventually, my email box had like 670 emails, and that’s a problem because all of them required action.

So that was my pain point. That was the thing that was causing me frustration. So what I did was I have someone else triage my email for me. Then they put it into a series of buckets: these are the things that need action, these are the things that just are FYI, and these are the things that you need to do.

I was very fortunate that I had somebody to do that, but that’s also one of the tools that you can use AI for. I know —

There’s a lot of controversy around AI, but some of the AI tools are genuinely just there to help you get back to the thing that you love to do, which I think is writing for most of us.

So my best advice, again, is look for the thing that’s causing you problems, and then make some changes around those things. You can do it shortly, and you can do it small.

You don’t have to rewire your whole office. That’s what Alice calls it when I go on these big rants with technology and rebuild everything, and say, “Okay, well now we’re moving everything to Notion.” You know, that’s not always the best thing.

So start small and look at the things that are causing you to keep away from the thing that you love to do. Start with just that thing in mind.

Joanna: It’s funny you mentioned Notion because I’ve been hearing a lot about it. They incorporate AI in everything, and I was like, I’ve got to try Notion. Anyway, I literally went on there, and within five minutes, I was like this is not for me.

Chelle: I did too. Here’s the funny thing, I was an Evernote girl forever. I was an Evernote evangelist, and I loved Evernote. I had no less than 4000 notes in there. Then they changed, and I was really upset about the change. I was really upset about the way that they removed devices.

They moved all their support outside of the States, which was frustrating for me because I had people in Austin that I would just ping and say, “Hey, what’s this?” and they got laid off. I was really upset.

So I said, alright, I’ll go to Notion. I was with you, five minutes in I was like, I hate this thing, I absolutely hate this thing. Then my daughter, my millennial daughter, came over and said you’re doing this wrong. So sometimes you just need a sherpa to come alongside you and say, “If you do this, this, and this, you’ll love it.” And I did, I did that, that, and that, and I went, “Oh, I love this now.”

Sometimes leaving it to our own devices to evaluate something isn’t always the greatest. Sometimes you kind of need somebody to come alongside you and show you just the thing that you need to know.

You don’t need to know the whole big Notion app, you just need to know how can I put a task in and check it off? How can I put in a note from a web clip? How can I just do the small things?

I think we just get so overwhelmed sometimes that we don’t realize that we don’t have to use everything. I don’t use the generative AI in Notion at all. I don’t like it.

Joanna: Yes, different things for different things. It’s interesting, you said they changed about Evernote. I think this is another point, like I said, Twitter which became X, it changed. What’s so interesting is I’ve come back to X now, and I’m literally treating it like a completely new platform, even though I’m the same @thecreativepenn.

I’m like, okay, this is a new platform. I don’t have to think of it like it used to be, I need to think of it as a completely new thing. That has really helped my mindset Whereas I feel like when things change, for example, in the US as we record this, with TikTok there may be a ban, but probably it will just change hands and belong to another company, but it will change.

Chelle: It will change.

Joanna: We have to be flexible. You and I have been around long enough, things change, tools change, sites change, publishers change.

We can’t be fixed in our processes or our technology because things move on.

Chelle: It’s true, and those are the frustrating things. Market conditions being what they are, TikTok is going to change hands, but TikTok’s already been through a change.

When they introduced TikTok Shop, a lot of things changed. The “for you” page changed, and people couldn’t get the visibility and the traction that they once had. Now, with the music changing, there’s so many changes.

The beauty of being an indie is that we can pivot.

We can pivot. We don’t have to take it to a committee and a board, and they make decisions, and then we study market strategies for 12 months, and then we come out with a plan. We can pivot that day.

Joanna: Actually, that’s one of my tips is often these tools will offer you a cheaper rate if you pay for the whole year, but I never do that unless it’s something like my hosting or something like that. For any of these tools, I just get it month by month because so often I end up cancelling and not even using things for a whole year. I don’t know about you.

Chelle: I do that a lot, actually. I had a calendaring app that I used that I did love, I did like it, but it didn’t fit in with our company strategy. So it was me out here and then the rest of the team over there, and there was just too much friction for it to work. So I had paid for a whole year, and I lost like $200. I was really upset about that. I agree with you. I don’t do that anymore. I just pay month to month.

Joanna: So I was told about an amazing presentation you did at the Future of Publishing Conference on Zapier, and I wanted to talk about that in particular. So for anyone who doesn’t know—

What is Zapier? Why is it so useful?

Chelle: So I liken Zapier to the one ring to rule them all. It is a connector of apps. So if you have two apps that don’t natively talk to each other, for example, WordPress and Facebook. They’re two separate companies. They’re two separate things. There’s not a direct integration between the two.

Zapier can bridge that gap. It can connect and talk to those two apps. So you can post a blog on your WordPress site, and it can automatically post a social post on Facebook.

So there’s other ways to do that, but Zapier has very special powers. It connects something like 5000 different apps together. So the most obscure apps can be connected together. There’s other companies that have ways to do that. There’s Make and IFTTT, there’s all kinds of them, but Zapier, in my world, it’s the one ring to rule them all.

Joanna: So what are some examples? You mentioned 5000 possibilities, but—

What are some of the best use cases that you’ve seen for authors using Zapier?

Chelle: Well, one of the things that I say is I don’t build on rented land. That philosophy comes from years and years and years of having mistakes made and seeing things happen. So one of my philosophical things is that I don’t use the email subscription forms from the email service providers. So I like what they do, I like Mailerlite, I like MailChimp, I like all of them to do the job, but I don’t let them collect email addresses on my behalf.

What I do is I start with a form on my website, and then I use Zapier to take that email address and then send it over to an email validation service to make sure that that’s a valid email before it goes on to my email service providers list.

That prevents spam bots and all the junk from cluttering up my email list. For most email service providers, you pay for the number of people that are on your list. So if you use Zapier to collect the email, validate it with a service provider first, and then if it’s a good address, put it on your list, you’re not paying for junk.

Then you can also use Zapier to put that email address into a backup spreadsheet with the IP address that it subscribed from, so that if some catastrophic failure happens with your email service provider, you have a backup copy of your email list. So those are just some small ways to get started with it, to build those Zaps so that you have some protection built in.

I did a poll one time at Indie Author Magazine and said, “Hey, how many people have backed up your email lists lately?” It was like 3% of people. We just trust that the email service providers are keeping our email list safe, but they’re subject to market conditions too. What if they go out of business? What if Elon Musk buys MailChimp tomorrow? Who knows what will happen? No one knows.

Joanna: That is true. Well —

That’s a good reminder to everyone to back up their email list.

I tend to do mine every couple of months, but I’m going to go do it after this. What about social media?

I feel like this is something where social media has really splintered, and a lot of people are posting the same thing on multiple platforms and changing some things and others. So do you recommend using Zapier for any of that kind of thing?

Chelle: So I have a Zap set up that when I have something in social media that I want, we use articles obviously from the magazine, we have a Zap that will read a spreadsheet row in Google Sheets with the bulk of the article. Then we send a prompt to OpenAI, to ChatGPT, and we ask it to create a social post using our voice, using our Avatar Indie Annie, and we say, “Can you please write an appropriate social media post?”

We do a different one for Instagram, a different one for Facebook, a different one for X, a different one for LinkedIn, and a different one for TikTok. Since all of those audiences are different, we’re going to speak to them in different ways, and we have different calls to action for them.

For example, when we have ChatGPT write the one for Instagram, we don’t have a link in there because the link is in the first comment. So we write it for the different audiences, and then Zapier can write all of those and bring it back into a spreadsheet for us.

Then our human editor that does social media can actually review them. Then at the end of the row is a box that she can check. Then that will actually send them to the different social media platforms. We can connect Zapier with our different social media platforms.

So that’s two different Zaps that do things. The first is to generatively create them, and then the second is to actually send them, with that human intervention in the middle there to be sure that it’s saying what we want it to say.

We can also have it create images with DALL-E. Zapier connects with DALL-E, and it can create the images and then put those into Dropbox so that our social media person has those.

We could finish that loop and have Zapier actually post to the social media platforms for us, but we use a scheduler because we’ve got a couple of moving parts in different places from Indie Author Magazine and Indie Author Training. So we have a person in the mix to be sure that that’s right. Zapier does the heavy lifting, connecting DALL-E, Google Docs, Google Spreadsheets, Dropbox, and WordPress.

Joanna: Just a question around scheduling—

What scheduler do you use?

Chelle: So we have two that we use. We use them for different purposes because we use one for Indie Author Training, and we use one for Indie Author Magazine. We use PromoRepublic for the magazine, and we use VistaCreate for the The reason why is we loved PromoRepublic, it was connected, but it didn’t have TikTok capabilities. It does now, but it didn’t have TikTok capabilities.

Then AppSumo, which is my favorite deal. I’m addicted AppSumo. It’s really just the most amazing little place to buy lifetime deals on things. We got a lifetime deal on VistaCreate before it was bought by the larger Vista platform. So we will use that because it did have TikTok built in, and now PromoRepublic does have TikTok built in.

Joanna: I mean, I use Buffer. I’ve used Buffer for years, and they are also adding new platforms in.

What’s interesting there is you talked about a human in the loop. I think this is what’s really important is we’re not saying you are just turning everything into AI and robots. I mean, that may come in a couple of years. I mean, who knows?

I mean, we still want to make sure that what’s going out there is in our voice, and you never know what could happen otherwise. So this brings up a question around tool. Do we find a tool or do we outsource to a human? So you mentioned email earlier. I went through a couple of years of outsourcing that same triage process, and now I’ve taken it back onto myself again.

What would be your decision process around outsourcing to a human or looking for an automated tool that will do that?

Chelle: So my philosophy right now is that I use tools to get us as far as we can to give people a head start. Then we always bring in people to finish that process because I want to second set of eyes. Especially as a magazine, we have journalistic standards that we have to meet.

The one thing that we are never going to do is outsource our writing to AI. So all of our articles, we have 68 writers that write for the magazine now, we publish every month, and that’s not going to change.

So we still have 68 writers that are writing for the magazine, and we have an editor in chief that goes through every single article. She uses tools for that. She’ll use Grammarly ProWritingAid to edit some of those things to the Chicago Manual style.

It’s still her that’s in there and making sure that things are fact checked and making sure that that’s all right.

I’m a big adopter of AI, but I do feel like the one thing that AI can’t replicate is the humanity of it. It can’t replicate human interaction.

That’s my litmus test for everything. So if there’s some spark of humanity, if we need to make a connection with a reader or make a connection with someone, I at least want to have some humanity involved in that so that there’s not some nameless faceless bot that’s answering a question or making someone feel a certain way.

I think that’s the creative part of being in this industry, and that’s the thing that AI really can’t replicate is the connection, the human-to-human connection.

Joanna: Let’s talk about that more then because many authors don’t want to use it for writing or they don’t want to use it maybe just for the generation of the words. Although I keep telling people, look, you are not a word generator. Like as an author, we’re not word generators.

We are authors, we make meaning, we make connection, we come up with ideas. So even if people are generating words with AI, I don’t feel like that is an issue. You know, there’ll be editing it and all that kind of thing.

There is more to us than word generation.

Chelle: I mean, it’s so true. I feel like now we misnamed Indie Author Magazine, it should be Storytellers, because there’s so many ways to tell stories. There’s so many ways to do that. We are authors, but we’re also in the broader sense, storytellers.

We connect people, and we’re selling them an experience. So, I mean, AI can do a lot of that, but it can’t replicate that. So if you don’t want AI to write for you or do those things for you, you can brainstorm with it.

You can have it suggest keywords, you can have it suggest a blurb, you can suggest marketing hooks, you can think outside the box with some weird stuff. I’ve asked it some really strange things, and it’s come back with some really strange things. I’m like, oh, that’s the direction I never thought I would take with it.

So you can use it to brainstorm with. You can set it up to do your social media and the junk that you don’t love to do. You can use it to create some social imagery if you’d like. You can use it to inspire.

One of the things that I do—so I am not allowed to create graphics for the magazine. This is a sad thing about me. I’m the least creative graphical person on the planet. Like I’m stick figure girl. I’m a binary, I-like-it-or-I-don’t-like-it girl when it comes to graphics.

I happen to be partnered with one of the most creative fine artists in the planet, in my opinion, and a lot of others. So we can’t talk to each other sometimes. I’ll say, “I don’t like it.” Then she’ll say, “What don’t you like about it?” Then I’ll say, “I don’t know, I just don’t like it.”

So she’ll have to sort of tease out of me what I don’t like about it. So what we’ve done is we have a Pinterest board, and I can go and I can type in my stupid little grunt work into ChatGPT and spit out a DALL-E image to put on the Pinterest board.

Then Alice will go, “Oh, yes, you need more negative whitespace.” I’m like, “I don’t know, sure. What’s that mean? I don’t get it.”

So you can use AI as a translator to your creative people. You can set it up so that if you’ve got an idea in your head of what your protagonist looks like, you can type that in and spit out an image to then give to your cover artist to inspire them to create something for you. So it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing.

You can use AI in a way that helps you broaden your ideas or communicate your ideas in a better way and an easier way.

Joanna: I totally agree with that. As a collaborative tool, it’s amazing. I mean, because you can now upload pictures, you can draw a stick figure picture or whatever you want, upload it, and then say, “Can you make this into a better picture?” or whatever, and then give that to your cover designer.

I go back and forwards with my cover designer. Sometimes I’m like, “Here’s 15 different images I made. Use them in some way to do something for this book title.” Like you say, you’re able to communicate your thoughts and your emotions a lot more through imagery.

Well, what about the future then? Obviously, again, you and I have are already using AI tools as part of our process, and we’re already using quite a lot of technology.

Over the next few years, how do you think things are going to change?

How much more are indie authors going to use tools? How about things like direct sales as well?

Chelle: Oh, yes. Direct sales, I think, is the future of publishing. I think as some of these tools become more sophisticated and it becomes almost impossible to hear the difference between AI-generated audio and AI-generated videos, we are going to have to decide how we’re going to adapt to those things.

I don’t think narrators are ever going to go away. I think great narrators will stick around, but I think generative AI does pose some threat to the mass market. So as authors, we’re going to have to navigate that, on where our ethics lie, where business decisions lie, and how we’re going to respond to that.

I also think that, again, narrators can pivot a little bit and maybe become more editors for some of the translations, because AI can do translations, or add some humanity back into it. There’s going to have to be ways that we navigate this carefully and with a lot of grace. I don’t have a lot of answers around how that’s going to change, but I do know that it is going to change.

One of the things that we’re doing at the magazine is we’re asking people, what do you think, and where do you think it’s going to change? We’re asking people that are in positions of decision making, what do you think, how do you think that’s going to change, and how are people going to respond to these things?

I saw this in the travel industry, right, because in the travel industry before the internet, before the World Wide Web was a thing, you called a travel agent and you booked an airline ticket. That was the only way you could. There was no direct line to the airlines, you called a travel agent to do it.

When the internet came about, the travel agent was there to back you up and to fix things that you made mistakes with. Now it’s more sophisticated, and now you very rarely see travel agents.

They’re not there for transactional things anymore, but what they are there for is I will gladly plunk down $300 and have somebody plan my Eurail vacation. I will gladly pay somebody to take that off of me.

AI is not sophisticated enough to do that. It might be in the future, but it’s not right now. I also love the thought of collaborating and dreaming with someone about my trip and my travel and my vacation.

So my futurist hat sort of says, I think it’s going to be a little bit like that.

We will have some very artisanal items that we do, and there’s artisanal narrators, and there’s artisanal graphics designers, and then the mass stuff is AI-generated.

The market is going to decide. There’s a lot of people that just absolutely hate seeing AI imagery. There’s a lot of people that are just pushing back.

It’s like with anything, there’s a lot of fear around it. I think that people are going to figure out that it’s not going away. I mean, it’s just not. It’s not going away.

We did an AI issue, an issue dedicated to AI last year at the magazine. I told Alice at the end of it, when we were putting it together, I said, “Listen, this could be such a hot topic that we’re going have to fake our deaths and go work at Waffle House.” Like this is going to be something that could drive us out of business.

We felt very strongly to get the information out there, and that’s the stance we took was that we were just going to present the information. What people did with it is completely up to them as a business decision.

We had eight people cancel their subscriptions in protest. They were very, very upset with us for even mentioning AI. Then we had 300 people subscribe, 300 people that were new subscribers.

It’s a very vocal minority that are frustrated and angry. Most people are just curious and trying to figure out how to make it work.

It changes so rapidly, and there’s so much happening. Like even just this week, three things happened that are really, really big that we’re still synthesizing and trying to figure out, what does that mean? How does that work? What does that do?

Joanna: It is a fascinating time. I’m so glad you did that issue. I mean, you’re probably going to have to do them quite regularly, I guess.

Chelle: Yes. Well, that’s actually why we started is to have a more rapid response to that, because we publish one issue a month, right? We can only have so much information in each issue.

Things change so rapidly we wanted to have education, and webinars, and community so that we can have discussions around those in a very safe, positive, proactive way.

We moderate those conversations pretty regularly so that they don’t go off track. We’ve adopted kindergarten rules: no biting, no hitting, and no calling names. So if you want to come and have a conversation about it, just come.

We’re all trying to figure it out, and there’s no one answer for any of it. There’s no one answer for any of it. We have to respond as an industry. So how do we do it ethically and morally and with the best business decisions in mind for longevity? Those are questions that we don’t have answered. No one has the answers to those. We’re all trying to figure it out.

Joanna: It’s good to remember, I mean —

We are independent authors, and we make independent decisions.

So the decisions I make can be completely different to another indie author, as we have across many of the things that have happened over the years. As you say, having those rules is quite good. Let’s all just respect each other’s decisions.

Chelle: Yes, and —

If you are fearful about it, I would encourage people to learn more.

People tend to think, “Oh, I know that AI trained on stolen material.” Well, no. That’s not the way that it’s trained. That’s not the way that it works. That’s not the way that it learns.

Go beyond the sound bites and really do some digging in and talk to people that know what they’re talking about. Don’t live in an echo chamber when you’re making decisions or finding out things. Get opposing opinions.

One of the things that we did in the AI issue was we had competing conversations about things. We wanted people that were anti-AI to say why they were, and they had great points. They had really, really good, thoughtful questions that we should all be asking.

Like, where does the money come from? Where does the money go? Where are my books being indexed? How are my books being indexed? What can I do to protect myself if I don’t want this, if I don’t want to be part of this? Those are all good questions. There’s no bad question around AI. We should be asking those questions and staying curious.

Joanna: For sure, and you have lots of free webinars and other courses at Indie Author Training, which is brilliant. I did want to ask you just before we finish, you’re also the program manager at Author Nation. I have my ticket, I’m planning to be there.

Tell us a bit more about what authors can expect and why they might want to come [to Author Nation]?

Chelle: So 20Books has finished, and Joe Solari bought the contracts for the conference space. So we’re reimagining what a conference can be. So we’re taking some of the things that we’ve learned over the years, I’ve been involved with 20Books from the beginning and loved it. I love the spirit of generosity, and I love the fact that people felt welcome and comforted.

Introverts had spaces where they could take a breath and not feel overwhelmed and find people to help them. So we’ve kept all the best parts, in my opinion, of 20Books because all of the team has been involved with that, but this is a completely reimagined show.

So we start the first day, Monday, with a vendor expo where you can come and meet all the different people that help you sell more books and help you tell better stories. So you can meet Lulu, and you can meet Indie Author Magazine, and you can meet Bookfunnel, and ProWritingAid, and all the different vendors there.

Then we also have some education sessions, some hands-on sessions, which is a little bit different. We’ve never really had hands on sessions before. So we have a tech cafe where people can come and sit down and learn Facebook ads and sit down and learn how to use some of the tools. I think that’s brilliant. Plus, you can listen to Damon Courtney talk about Bookfunnel in his most engaging way and see things on the screen. It’s just so different when you’re in the same room with someone and you can connect and meet with people in the same room.

Then we have three days of education, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday are jam packed with education and sessions. We have designed them around tracks. So we have craft and marketing and advertising, which are different. We have a health and wellness area, which is a little bit different.

We’re going to be talking about mindset, how to stay healthy, how to have a sustainable career. There’s lots of talks around that so that you have a more well-rounded and better and healthier space to write in and a longer career.

We talk about business and strategy. We talked about transmedia, which is all the different ways that storytellers can get their works out there.

So we’ll talk about AI, we’ll talk about audiobooks, we’ll talk about video. We’ll talk about, I don’t know, launching stuff into the moon. Who knows what’s coming next? Between now and November, there could be ten thousand new things.

Then Thursday night, we kick off our reader-centric focus. So we have Kevin Smith, who is an indie artist himself. He’s written a book, but he’s also a filmmaker. He’s coming really to capture readers there. Then we kick off on Friday with RAVE, our book event where we’ve got all of the authors and readers that are coming to connect. We’ll have panels for authors, we’ll have giveaways.

I mean, it’s so fun. I’m more excited about the education part than I am RAVE. RAVE, to me, is just like the big, “Oh, this is fun. Now I get to hang out with my friends.” Then we can stay through the weekend in Las Vegas and enjoy all that Vegas has to offer.

Joanna: I attended last year at the last 20Booksto50k conference, and as an introvert it is pretty hardcore, but I think it’s so important for us to push ourselves out of our comfort zone.

Yes, you might just have to go back to your room and lie on the floor for a bit like I did sometimes to kind of de-people, but it’s so valuable. You started off at the beginning talking about how much of your career and your business is based on meeting people at conferences.

Chelle:  100%.

Joanna: Where can people find you and everything you do, but also Author Nation, online?

Chelle: Absolutely. So is our main site with the magazine we publish every single month. It’s a plethora of information that’s well edited. We also have two apps on the App Store. We have an iOS app in the Apple Store and a Google Play app.

Then Indie Author Training is just kicking off. That’s reimagined from our Author Tech Summit which we did, and we just said we can’t do it quarterly, we have to do it all the time. So is where we have webinars, and product tools, and conversations, and groups where people can chat about tech.

Then Author Nation is It’s November 11th through the 15th at the Horseshoe in Las Vegas. So please come, it’s going to be an amazing conference. I’m very excited about this conference, not just because I am seeing all of the talks take shape, but it’s just going to be a little bit different in terms of setup.

So there’s going to be lounge chairs where you can sit instead of just tables. There’s going be more conversation pits, more quiet spaces. We’ve taken all the best and improved on it. It’s going to be so great.

Joanna: Brilliant. Well, thanks so much for your time, Chelle. That was great.

Chelle: Thank you so much, Joanna.

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