Why UX Will be the Critical Factor for Indies in the Years Ahead

From The Productive Indie Fiction Writer:

I try to avoid making predictions about where the indie publishing world will go in the future.  I’ve seen futurists get things very wrong indeed, because some disruptive factor they could not possibly have predicted comes along to blow everyone’s expectations out of the water.

AI-anything has done that to us in the last year or so.  COVID before that.

Despite avoiding predictions, I still do have fairly strong opinions about where the future lies…presuming that no other disruptive factor will introduce itself in the next year.

We’ve had two major ones in the last five years.  I think we might have a clear run for the next few years.

But I only think we might.  That’s the problem with evolution-generating events.  No one sees them coming.  Or if they do, they don’t realize the impact they’ll have.

So, in most cases, my stance regarding the future of indie publishing is:  I can see where I think I should go, given that all other factors remain stable, or progress in linear, expected paths. 

But I stay nimble and recalibrate whenever something major comes along that will shift the whole industry, in the way that AI is currently making everyone pause to rethink their attitudes, their business strategies and the direction they should navigate in the future.

Is Slow the New Fast?

Science fiction writer Kevin McLaughlin recently wrote a long essay that appeared on Facebook, and stirred up a big bunch of reactions—including one from me.  I will quote the more interesting snippets below (I have Kevin’s permission), but I also encourage you to read the entire essay on Facebook.

I’m not composing this essay on my computer, nor on my iPad or any other device. Well not an electronic device, anyway! Instead I am using a notebook and pen.

It’s distinctly possible that I am on to something here, and I find myself very curious how it’ll work out. You see, I’m not going to retype this work. I’m going to take a photo of the page and then upload that image using the ChatGPT app on my phone. GPT will then convert everything I write to editable text.

This tech [AI] is making mass content creation fast, easy, and cheap. Whenever something is easy, lots of folks will do it. As a result, I expect a deluge of bad to mediocre content over the coming years.

This is the existential question facing all content creators today; how do we stand out in an ocean of mass-produced stuff? Content that’s ‘good enough’ to get eyeballs, but which lacks brilliance and inspired thought?

I’m brought back to college, where I watched “Camelot” on stage. The last lines feel appropriate here:

“Less than a drop in the great blue motion of the sunlit sea, But it seems some of the drops sparkle, Pelly. Some of them do sparkle!”

How does one stand out in a sea of mediocrity? Excellence.

One road, of many, toward excellence in creative arts is to slow down, and handwriting long-form content is nothing if not slow and thoughtful.

Speed isn’t special; not anymore, anyway. We need new paths.

If we accept the hypothesis that excellence is the best way to stand out in the creative field to come, then a few viable options immediately present themselves. One which I see many artists taking is to deeply incorporate AI into their creative processes. If we utilize this tech in ways which enable us to produce good content more rapidly, taking care to master an exceptional level of quality, then we can stand out sufficiently from the mass of less carefully created works.

Kevin is weighing the impact of AI upon his own business and musing about one possible direction to go – slowing down to produce better, or more thoughtful fiction.

It’s an interesting idea, but one that, frankly, makes me break out in hives.   I suffered major stress while I was going through chemotherapy because I couldn’t write as fast as I wanted to.

I have too many ideas in my head, too many stories I want to tell, to deliberately slow down my pace.  I’m not sure I could slow down. 

The few times I have tried to write using pen and paper, I have become so frustrated at the snail’s pace of getting words down, that I have abandoned the process in favour of a keyboard…and even typing is often too slow for me.  I have to keep mentally backing up and repeating my thought until the words are captured on the screen.  

Dictation comes close to the speed at which I can “think” a story, but then I spend too long editing, afterwards.  Still I do enjoy the ability to capture thoughts at the speed at which I think them, especially once the software and I have reached a point of détente and the process of dictating is mostly invisible to me—a point I reached with typing decades ago.

Plus, I’m fairly certain that if any author slows down their writing too much, it gives the internal editor time to wade in amongst the story thoughts and start questioning every decision the author is making.

Fiction, in particular, benefits from writing fast enough to silence the editor, so that what emerges upon the page is as close to pure story as writing can get, the words acting as a medium to bring the story from the author’s brain to the reader’s imagination.

So I don’t think I’ll be trying to handwrite my fiction any time soon, although I applaud Kevin for trying different techniques and fitting on strange ideas to see if they work.  This is the job of indie fiction writers, these days.  We must experiment and innovate or watch our business die.

Is Quality the New Fast?

The factor that Kevin does settle on, the one that is the reason I quoted so heavily from his essay, is one I think we all must strive for in the future:  Excellence.

Joanna Penn, of The Creative Penn, has said often, lately, that writers must strive to be more human, if they are to combat the effects of AI.  In fact, the full quote is:

I provide 5 specific tips to double down on being human and stand out in an age of AI-generated content.

  • Show your face and/or use your voice in marketing
    • Be more personal in your emails and with your community
    • Make beautiful books and physical products
    • Connect in person
    • Tap into your Shadow side to make your books truly unique

There is the concept of quality, again.   Also, uniqueness. 

After all, if AI can produce a book written precisely to market in a matter of minutes, we can’t compete at the writing-to-market game.  We need to go in the other direction, which I spoke about in “Why Writing to Market Won’t Serve You Anymore.”

We need to write unique, highly creative, emotionally moving stories, and develop our brand so that readers understand exactly what type of story to expect from us, no matter what genre we write in.

Is Platform the Key?

I’ve spent the last year arguing that platform is what will differentiate us from AI-written books.  Building your platform so that you’re building direct relationships with readers, who get to know you as a person (human). 

This is the essence of Kevin Kelly’s “1,000 True Fans” approach to creative gig work.  Kelly is a true visionary, for he wrote that iconic post in 2008! 

In fact, 1KTF has been a guiding philosophy for me since I came across it shortly before turning to indie publishing in 2011.

(I’ve since carefully read any other futurism thoughts he has, including his wonderful book, The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future.)

So for me, platform was the obvious answer in response to AI written books, and to foster true fans, Kelly-style.

But thanks to Kevin McLaughlin’s (lots of Kevins here!) post about slow being the new fast, and my hives-inducing response to it, plus a lot of reading I’ve been doing lately into the esoteric world of copywriting, I’ve added a layer of refinement to the whole idea of platform being the solution.

The User Experience Factor

It’s not just your platform you must cultivate, but the whole user experience

In copywriting, user experience is usually reduced to the acronym “UX”.  And there are numerous freelance non-fiction gigs out there calling for UX writers. 

We indie fiction authors also need to become UX writers.  We need to carefully conceive and craft every interaction we have with our readers, so that the experience and the emotional response they have to dealing with us as an author is exactly what we want them to feel.

Note:  This does not mean you have to be perfect and every communication and note a reader gets from you must be flawless.  You’re supposed to be showing your human side, so very human creative flaws will be part of that mix.

No, what I’m suggesting is that the UX you want to give your readers is very precisely defined.

This is not an impossible mission, by the way.

You’ve written…how many novels?

And novels are one long user experience:  You deliberately craft your novels to deliver an emotional impact upon the reader.  With enough skill, the emotional impact you give the reader is precisely the one you wanted them to have.

All you need to do is set that skill and expertise to crafting your platform so that readers experience exactly what you want them to feel when they deal with you. 

And with your platform, you have a lot of tools to use to build up that UX. 

You can use images, video, emails, postcards, sound, music, drawings, your entire website, every newsletter you send out…all types of media are available as tools for you to hone that UX.

You can also choose to use AI tools to enhance that UX.  Or not.  When AI is being used as a tool, rather than as a replacement for authors, it is madly effective.

You are also a reader having a UX with other authors

Watch how you interact with other authors from now on.  Especially if you reach out to them as a reader and, say, sign up for their email list, or join their Facebook group or Discord server.

How do you feel when you interact with the author’s platform? 

Whether you come away feeling pleased or disappointed or even meh, examine closely how that effect was delivered upon you.  

Even the smallest details can make a difference.  The use, or not, of your first name.  The use or not of great images.  And so on. 

And keep tweaking your own platform to improve your readers’ UX.

If I am to make a prediction this year, this will be it; that we all need to pay attention to the UX we deliver to our readers in every aspect of our business, not just the emotional impact of our novels.  It will differentiate us from AI-created novel franchises (yes, there will be franchises of AI novels in the future – I guess that’s another prediction!).

Therefore, UX will swiftly become crucial.

Tracy Cooper-Posey

SRP Author and owner of The Productive Indie Fiction Writer

Tracy is one of Stories Rule Press’ most prolific authors. She also hangs out at The Productive Indie Fiction Writer, where she writes about issues facing today’s indie author, and solutions that make the indie life a little easier.