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ChatGPT Wrote My Novel Blurbs. They Don’t Suck.

With all the hype about ChatGPT, a relatively new AI-based chat system from OpenAI, I thought I’d see what it can do for that bane of self-published authors–the marketing blurb. Can it help make our blurbs better, save us time writing them, or write them all by itself? No way to know without trying, so…off we go.

EDIT: None of the blurbs here were used for any of my novels. This was just a test to see if they could be.

ChatGPT Blurbs for Run Lab Rat Run

I decided to start with my first published science-fiction novel, Run Lab Rat Run, just to see what happened–and to start without any style or other prompts. The only change I made to the blurb was to compress it into a single paragraph for brevity.

ChatGPT Blurbs 1-3 (Generic)

ME: This is the current blurb for my novel, Run Lab Rat Run. Please come up with three better versions of this blurb:

The tests never stopped, but they told her she’d be fine. She was nearly indestructible. She knew it was a lie. Genetic test subjects like her usually died by thirty, and they always died in pain. But on her 21st birthday, she’s given a chance to escape the lab and live forever. She just has to survive the deadliest race on earth.

ChatGPT #1: As a genetically engineered test subject, she was told she was indestructible. But she knew the truth: most test subjects like her died by age 30, and their deaths were always painful. On her 21st birthday, she is given the opportunity to escape the lab and live forever, but only if she can survive the deadliest race on earth.

ChatGPT #2: She was a genetic test subject, and they said she was nearly indestructible. But she knew the truth: most test subjects like her didn’t make it past 30, and their deaths were always painful. On her 21st birthday, she is given the chance to escape the lab and live forever, but only if she can win the deadliest race on earth.

ChatGPT #3: As a test subject in a genetic experiment, she was told she was almost unbreakable. But she knew better: test subjects like her rarely made it past 30, and their deaths were always horrific. On her 21st birthday, she is offered the chance to escape the lab and live forever, but only if she can survive the most dangerous race on earth.

My Thoughts: Meh. I mean, these are all fine, but none are demonstrably better than any other or the original. But given a complete lack of context and knowledge of the novel, this is understandable. So let’s try something else.

ChatGPT Blurbs 4-6 (a ‘la Michael Crichton)

One of my initial comps for Run Lab Rat Run was Jurassic Park, but it was never the best comparison (though they both deal with genetic engineering). So, I thought I’d ask it to provide three blurbs this far-more-famous author’s style.

ME: Please provide three additional blurb versions in style of Michael Crichton:

ChatGPT #4: In the heart of a top-secret laboratory, a young woman is held captive as a genetic test subject. Told she is indestructible, she knows the truth: most test subjects like her don’t make it past 30, and their deaths are always painful. But when a chance at escape presents itself, she must risk everything to outwit her captors and survive the deadliest race on earth.

ChatGPT #5: As a genetic experiment gone wrong, she was deemed a failure and sentenced to a life of torture in the lab. But when a mysterious stranger offers her a chance at freedom, she must use her enhanced abilities to survive the deadliest race on earth and outrun her ruthless captors.

ChatGPT #6: In the shadows of a shadowy government laboratory, a young woman with extraordinary abilities is held captive as a test subject. Told she is indestructible, she knows the truth: most test subjects like her don’t make it past 30, and their deaths are always painful. When a surprise attack on the lab gives her a chance at escape, she must use her powers to survive the most dangerous race on earth and outsmart her pursuers.

My Thoughts: Now it’s getting interesting. Two things happened here. First, the style changes to more thriller-like writing, which is intriguing. Second, ChatGPT just made stuff up. I’m guessing it has trouble distinguishing between “style” per se and elements of plot common to Michael Crichton novels. Still, with a little cleaning, any of these three new blurbs could work.

Also, importantly, ChatGPT was clearly able to continue from one chat prompt to the next with a continuity of context–something lacking in many other less-advanced chat engines.

ChatGPT Blurbs 7-9 (a ‘la Stephen King)

My novels are SF, not horror, but I can do worse than having blurbs or style like one of our greatest contemporary authors…so what the heck.

ME: Please provide three additional blurb versions in the style of Stephen King.

ChatGPT #7: She thought she was just another lab rat, destined to be used and discarded in a series of cruel experiments. But on her 21st birthday, she discovers that she has extraordinary abilities, and a dark destiny awaits her. To survive, she must enter the deadliest race on earth and outrun her monstrous pursuers.

ChatGPT #8: She was just a test subject, a pawn in a twisted game played by madmen in white lab coats. But when she learns the truth about her abilities, she realizes that she is not alone, and a terrifying fate awaits her. To escape, she must enter the most dangerous race on earth and outlast her monstrous opponents.

ChatGPT #9: She thought she was just another lab experiment, doomed to a life of suffering and pain. But on her 21st birthday, she discovers that she is not what she seems, and a nightmare awaits her. To survive, she must enter the deadliest race on earth and outrun the monsters that hunt her. But the greatest threat may come from within, as she struggles to control the monstrous powers that are growing inside her.

My Thoughts: This is getting fun. Even if I don’t use any of ChatGPT’s blurbs, and it’s still just making stuff up, many of these ideas are pretty cool…and contain elements of foreshadowing that are weirdly on point (e.g., “monstrous powers that are growing inside her”). Spoilers, anyone?

As an aside, do these blurbs “sound” more like, say, King’s Fairy Tale blurb?

Charlie Reade looks like a regular high school kid, great at baseball and football, a decent student. But he carries a heavy load. His mom was killed in a hit-and-run accident when he was seven, and grief drove his dad to drink. Charlie learned how to take care of himself—and his dad. When Charlie is seventeen, he meets a dog named Radar and her aging master, Howard Bowditch, a recluse in a big house at the top of a big hill, with a locked shed in the backyard. Sometimes strange sounds emerge from it.

Charlie starts doing jobs for Mr. Bowditch and loses his heart to Radar. Then, when Bowditch dies, he leaves Charlie a cassette tape telling a story no one would believe. What Bowditch knows, and has kept secret all his long life, is that inside the shed is a portal to another world.

It seems like ChatGPT has captured some interesting horror elements, but I’m not sure they’re in the style of a King blurb. It’s also possible, of course, that ChatGPT made it sound more like King’s prose vs. a blurb probably written by his publisher’s marketing team, but that will take more time to explore. Oh, wait, let’s ask it:

ME: When you were writing blurbs in the styles of other authors, above, were you writing in their prose writing style or in the style of their book blurbs?

ChatGPT: When I wrote blurbs in the styles of other authors, I was attempting to write in the style of their book blurbs rather than their prose writing style. This means that I focused on conveying the key elements of the story and creating a sense of intrigue and excitement, rather than attempting to mimic the author’s individual writing style.

So, there you go. Now for something completely different.

ChatGPT Blurbs 10-12 (a ‘la Lee Child)

Lee Child sells a lot of books and Jack Reacher is popular as Taco Tuesday. So, let’s see what some summer-reading big-man-kicking-ass blurbs look like.

ME: Please provide three addition [sic] blurbs in the style of Lee Child

ChatGPT #10: She was just another lab rat, trapped in a world of pain and experimentation. But on her 21st birthday, she discovered that she had extraordinary abilities, and a dark destiny awaited her. To survive, she must enter the deadliest race on earth and outrun her ruthless pursuers. But when a mysterious stranger offers her a way out, she must decide if she can trust him, or if he is just another enemy in a world filled with betrayal and danger.

ChatGPT #11: She thought she was just another test subject, a pawn in a twisted game played by ruthless scientists. But when she learns the truth about her abilities, she realizes that she is not alone, and a terrifying fate awaits her. To escape, she must enter the most dangerous race on earth and outlast her monstrous opponents. But as she struggles to survive, she discovers that the greatest threat may come from within, as she struggles to control the monstrous powers that are growing inside her.

ChatGPT #12: She was just a lab rat, trapped in a world of pain and suffering. But on her 21st birthday, she discovered that she was not what she seemed, and a nightmare awaited her. To survive, she must enter the deadliest race on earth and outrun the monsters that hunt her. But as she fights for her life, she must also confront the demons of her past, and the dark secrets that have been hidden from her for so long.

My Thoughts. Well, first, Lee Child must be way more verbose that Crichton or King–these blurbs are getting wordy–but I’ll have to check that later (later: nope, maybe ChatGPT is just feeling bloated). Second, ChatGPT is not only making stuff up (still), but also borrowing from itself. I like it. Why reinvent the wheel? But none of these Child blurbs are better than the King- or Crichton blurbs. We’re definitely seeing diminishing returns.

What Blurb Does ChatGPT Like Best?

I know the bot doesn’t have feelings, but maybe it can help me narrow down these twelve blurbs to one or two it “thinks” are most effective.

ME: Of all these blurbs, which one do you think would be most effective at selling the book?

ChatGPT: It is difficult for me to determine which blurb would be most effective at selling the book, as that decision ultimately depends on the target audience and their personal preferences. Some may prefer the more action-packed and suspenseful blurbs, while others may be drawn to the more mysterious and atmospheric ones. Ultimately, the most effective blurb will be the one that resonates with the intended audience and piques their interest in the story.

My Thoughts: ChatGPT nailed this response; I didn’t give it enough information to answer intelligently, so it didn’t. Kudos. So, let’s try again:

ME: Okay, the audience is adult science fiction readers who might have enjoyed Children of Time or similar books. (Note the assumption that it can remember what it said in the prior response, which it clearly does.)

ChatGPT #13 (Final): In that case, I would recommend the following blurb as the most effective at selling the book to the target audience:

As a genetic test subject, she was told she was indestructible. But she knew the truth: most test subjects like her didn’t make it past 30, and their deaths were always painful. On her 21st birthday, she is given the chance to escape the lab and live forever, but only if she can survive the deadliest race on earth.

This blurb effectively conveys the sci-fi elements of the story and the high stakes of the situation, which are likely to appeal to readers who enjoyed Children of Time and similar books.

My Thoughts: I love what ChatGPT is trying to do here–genuinely trying to target the blurb at the audience of my proposed comp novel. How does this compare to the original blurb?

The tests never stopped, but they told her she’d be fine. She was nearly indestructible. She knew it was a lie. Genetic test subjects like her usually died by thirty, and they always died in pain. But on her 21st birthday, she’s given a chance to escape the lab and live forever. She just has to survive the deadliest race on earth.

Honestly, it’s not that different. Some phrasing is different, but basically we’re back to where we started. It’s worth looking at minor changes in wording, but this is either (a) validating of the original blurb or (b) ChatGPT is just trying to make me feel better by blowing words up my digital but. I’m pretty cynical, but I’ll go with (a) in this case–ChatGPT can’t really improve on the original. This doesn’t mean the blurb can’t be improved on (it surely can), but ChatGPT isn’t up the task just yet.

But then, ChatGPT isn’t built for this specific purpose, as opposed to services like Jasper.ai. I’ll have to try those next. But this means what ChatGPT is doing is even more impressive: In the context of a casual and very human conversational style, the AI system is capable of contributing fast, accurate and genuinely helpful writing suggestions.

So, let’s continue the conversation…

ChatGPT Blurb for Beasts of Sonara

Beasts of Sonara was my second book, and is nominally a pre-pre-prequel of RLRR, and is thus in the same fictional world. I wondered what ChatGPT would make of its blurb based on what we’d learned so far in the conversation.

ME: Thank you. Given what we’ve discussed above, can you suggest a single improved blurb for my second novel, Beasts of Sonara. This is a soft science fiction novel targeted at the same audience as Run Lab Rat Run. This is the current blurb [again, compressed to one paragraph]:

Tourist Raymond Molina finds the body of a young biologist in a Costa Rican bay—apparent victim of a shark attack—but no one knows how she got there. As Ray searches for what really happened to her, he stumbles onto the best kept secret in the natural world. This is a secret hidden for centuries by residents of the coastal town of Sonara, protected by intelligent but violent animals unknown anywhere else on earth, and coveted by a massive biotech company that will do anything to discover the truth—no matter the cost. And behind it all is a creature with the power to cure disease, all disease…or kill everyone on earth.

ChatGPT (One and Only Blurb):When tourist Raymond Molina stumbles upon the body of a young biologist in a Costa Rican bay, he is drawn into a dangerous world of secrets and deception. As he searches for the truth about her death, he uncovers a hidden world of intelligent and violent animals, protected by the residents of the coastal town of Sonara and coveted by a ruthless biotech company. But the greatest danger comes from a powerful creature with the ability to cure all disease…or destroy the world. In a race against time, Ray must navigate a deadly web of lies and betrayal to uncover the truth and save the world from destruction.”

This blurb effectively conveys the key elements of the story and creates a sense of suspense and danger, which are likely to appeal to the target audience.

ME: Okay, great. What specifically makes this new blurb better than the original?

ChatGPT: There are several specific elements of the new blurb that make it an improvement over the original. First, it is more concise and focused, providing the essential information about the plot and the key characters without getting bogged down in unnecessary details. It also uses more active and engaging language, creating a sense of mystery and excitement that is likely to draw readers in. Additionally, the new blurb introduces the central conflict and stakes of the story more clearly, making it clear why the events of the novel are important and why readers should care about the outcome. Overall, the new blurb is more effective at capturing the essence of the story and conveying its key elements in an engaging and compelling way.

My Thoughts: I’m not sure. I think the ChatGPT blurb is a little better, but the way it got better was by dialing up tension that doesn’t actually exist in the book. There is no real threat of the world being destroyed in Beasts (Well, there kinda is. Hmm). This version might just better. I’ll have to survey some humans to see what they think. But one thing is certain: I’ll never write a blurb again without using ChatGPT or something like it to help me improve the writing and delivery.

ChatGPT Blurb for Arachniss

Arachniss was my third book, includes horror elements, and is not in the same world as the first two novels. My blurb was more experimental and I’m still not sure if it works, so let’s see what ChatGPT thinks.

ME: My third novel is Arachniss, and is not quite the same genre as the other two novels (above). It’s more horror science fiction than straight SF. With that in mind, and given a target audience more like Stephen King’s The Stand, please suggest a blurb better than the current one:

David just wants to write children’s books and spend time with his infant son Jason. The only problem is, something’s eating Jason. Something’s eating everyone, bit by bit, inch by inch, and no one else notices. They have great stories about how they lost a limb here or a body part there, until they lose something they can’t live without and just…vanish. Jason’s just missing a pinky today. No, wait, two. And a toe. His son is dissolving in front of him, and David will do anything to save him. But how can David save his son from something no one can see?

ChatGPT (One and Only Blurb):As a loving father, David will do anything to protect his infant son, Jason. But when Jason begins to vanish before his eyes, bit by bit, David realizes that something is preying on his son. And no one else seems to notice. They have great stories about how they lost a limb here or a body part there, until they disappear completely. Desperate to save his son, David must uncover the truth about the invisible predator stalking the town, before it’s too late. But as he delves deeper into the dark secrets of his community, he realizes that the true enemy may be closer than he thinks.

This blurb effectively conveys the horror and suspense of the story, and introduces the key elements of the plot in a way that is likely to draw in readers who enjoyed The Stand and other horror science fiction novels.

My Thoughts: I like it. I mean, I’m a terrible judge of my own work and probably like anything else better, and it lacks the humor I put in, but it still seems more compelling. So I suggested a few edits.

ME: I like it, but made some minor changes. What do you think of this?

David is a loving father who will do anything to protect his infant son, Jason. But when Jason begins to vanish before his eyes, bit by bit, David realizes that something is preying on his son–and no one else seems to notice. They have great stories about how they lost a limb here or a body part there, until they disappear completely. Desperate to save his son, David must uncover the truth before it’s too late. But as he delves deeper into the dark secrets of his town, he realizes that the true enemy may be closer than he thinks.

ChatGPT: I think the revised blurb is an effective and compelling way to introduce the key elements of the story. It effectively conveys the horror and suspense of the situation, and introduces the central conflict and stakes of the story in a way that is likely to pique the interest of readers who enjoy horror science fiction. The language is concise and engaging, and it effectively sets up the premise of the novel without giving away too much information. Overall, I think the revised blurb is a strong and effective way to introduce the novel to potential readers.

Can ChatGPT Write Blurbs from Scratch?

We’ve seen how ChatGPT can modify and even improve existing book blurbs, but can it write one from scratch, or at least from a much longer synopsis. One way to find out. So, I took a synopsis from EBSCO for The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood and pasted it in. I made the mistake of leaving in the reference to the author’s name, but I don’t think it affected things that much.

ME: Please write a concise blurb for a book based on the following synopsis:

“Set in a future where nuclear accidents and pollution have rendered many of the female population sterile, this novel takes place in a male dominated world. Women who are fertile are forced to become ‘handmaids’ to men in political power for the purpose of procreation. The story focuses on a young married woman who was captured by the authorities and is now a handmaid renamed Offred. Desperate to learn word of her husband’s fate and to find her daughter who was given to a high-ranking Gilead family, Offred is determined to conceive because she sees this as the only way to save her life. Thus, she agrees to clandestine meetings that her master proposes. When the mistress of the house, who is also desperate for a child but suspects her husband is sterile, suggests that Offred secretly meet with an employee of the house named Nick in order to conceive that way, Offred agrees. A relationship develops between the two, and when Offred’s friend Ofglen is arrested because of her participation in underground activities, Nick, who is also a member of the resistance, arranges a mock arrest to ensure Offred’s safety. Atwood’s novel is a cautionary tale, reminding society that we must be on guard to ensure that oppressive practices from the past don’t reassert themselves.”

ChatGPT v1: In a world where pollution and nuclear accidents have made many women infertile, fertile women are forced to become “handmaids” for powerful men. The novel follows Offred, a young married woman who is captured and renamed by the authorities. Desperate to learn the fate of her husband and daughter, Offred agrees to secretly meet with an employee of her master’s house, and a relationship develops between the two. When her friend is arrested, the employee, who is also a member of the resistance, arranges a mock arrest to protect Offred. Margaret Atwood’s novel is a cautionary tale about the dangers of oppressive practices.

ME: Okay, that’s good, but can you make it shorter and tighter, with no reference to Margaret Atwood.

ChatGPT: In a dystopian future where pollution and nuclear accidents have made many women infertile, fertile women are forced to become “handmaids” for powerful men. The novel follows a young woman who is captured and must navigate a male-dominated world in order to survive and find her missing husband and daughter. She agrees to secretly meet with an employee of her master’s house, and a relationship develops between the two. When her friend is arrested, the employee arranges a mock arrest to protect her. This novel is a cautionary tale about the dangers of oppressive practices.

My Thoughts. Well, here’s the actual synopsis on Amazon, which isn’t the best; it’s written for a book already famous and has no real need to be a good sales pitch–everyone knows what the story’s about:

“The Handmaid’s Tale is a novel of such power that the reader will be unable to forget its images and its forecast. Set in the near future, it describes life in what was once the United States and is now called the Republic of Gilead, a monotheocracy that has reacted to social unrest and a sharply declining birthrate by reverting to, and going beyond, the repressive intolerance of the original Puritans. The regime takes the Book of Genesis absolutely at its word, with bizarre consequences for the women and men in its population.

The story is told through the eyes of Offred, one of the unfortunate Handmaids under the new social order. In condensed but eloquent prose, by turns cool-eyed, tender, despairing, passionate, and wry, she reveals to us the dark corners behind the establishment’s calm facade, as certain tendencies now in existence are carried to their logical conclusions. The Handmaid’s Tale is funny, unexpected, horrifying, and altogether convincing. It is at once scathing satire, dire warning, and a tour de force. It is Margaret Atwood at her best.”

What’s pretty obvious from this is that ChatGPT is never going to have the level of knowledge of an editor or author, and is therefore stuck writing blurbs based on an already limited and biased subset of information. So, it might be good at compressing a synopsis into a blurb, but it’s not going to do anything terribly original in most cases. This will remain the case until it can go out and fully search the internet before responding, but that would vastly slowdown response times…for now.

Do I Recommend ChatGPT for Blurbs?

Yes and no. Clearly, ChatGPT can be used to produce many variants on a proposed blurb, help break any related writer’s block, and even introduce new if somewhat random ideas. But it’s not yet better than the author themselves can achieve with a little effort, and nowhere near read to produce quality blurbs from scratch.

Pros of ChatGPT for Novel Blurbs

  1. Great for checking draft blurbs to find minor variations and improvements.
  2. Perfect for generating A/B analysis blurbs for testing on a human audience / focus group.
  3. Excellent for refining and tightening blurbs, suggesting new phrasing, and reducing word count.
  4. Fantastic for just bouncing ideas around in far less time than human interaction would take, even if you can find people willing to do it.
  5. Honestly, a lot of fun.

Cons of ChatGPT for Novel Blurbs

  1. No real original ideas or ability to generate from scratch, which is about what you’d expect.
  2. Makes stuff up in a way that might lead to mistakes or mistakes if facts are not checked.
  3. Might mislead authors into trusting it’s “objective” creations rather than their own, resulting in decreasing creativity and increased homogeneity across authors and bools (much like Grammarly does for editing).
  4. Probably going to cost copywriters and others their jobs in the near future. See AI Will Make Human Novels Obsolete.

Closing Thoughts about ChatGPT

The greatest problem with ChatGPT is that it works–it’s fun, fast, well-designed and offers amazingly (very-well-informed) human interactions. Given that that this is a chat utility and not, say, an art generator like DALL-E, you might think this is great news all around. But this is the type of application that is almost insidious in its ease. We’ll wake up tomorrow and find it auto-generated SEO-optimized websites, writing real estate copy, replacing copywriters, editors and more in a casual blink of a synthetic eye. It will help authors like myself in the short term with annoying things like blurbs, but it won’t be long until it’s writing novels all by itself.

In the meantime, though…this is one amazingly cool application for blurbs and numerous other things.

Enjoy.

1 Comment

  1. Tam Stanford

    Fascinating, thanks for trying this out. I’m not sure whether to be horrified or excited!

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