Become a Writer Today

How to Use NFTs to Sell More Books with Shane Neely

February 14, 2022 Bryan Collins Season 2
Become a Writer Today
How to Use NFTs to Sell More Books with Shane Neely
Show Notes Transcript

NFTs are a topic that has been in the news a lot lately. I recently went down the NFT rabbit hole by reading up on the subject, joining Discord channels, watching videos on YouTube, and reading articles.

One person who knows more than me is this week’s guest, Shane Neeley. He wrote a fantastic article about how writers and authors can use NFTs to sell some of their books and increase their income.
 
The other thing we got into in this week’s interview is using AI writing software. I was fascinated to hear how Shane has tested AI writing software like jarvis.ai, Writesonic, and Wordtune. These apps are great for writing headlines or an introduction to a blog post, but if you want to rely on AI to write an entire article, it’s just not possible yet.

In this episode, we discuss:

  • How a writer could use AI
  • Where writing technology will go over the next few years
  • Using AI tools when you have no knowledge or experience
  • How Shane used an NFT based on his book
  • How easy is it to create an NFT?

Resources:


Support the show

Shane: Well, the ones that code is gonna be a big part of, I think, my career over the next few years as I continue to program. It becomes like — you just put in the program that you wanna start or the script you wanna start and it completes most of it for you and it really helps you jump into new areas.

Introduction: Welcome to the Become a Writer Today Podcast with Bryan Collins. Here, you’ll find practical advice and interviews for all kinds of writers.

Bryan: How can writers use NFTs or non-fungible tokens to sell more of their books and connect with other authors, readers, and fans of their work? 

Hi, there. My name is Bryan Collins and welcome to the Become a Writer Today Podcast. NFTs are a topic that have been in the news a lot lately and a topic that have fascinated me. In fact, I’ve gone down the NFT rabbit hole and I’ve spent quite a bit of time reading up on the topic, joining Discord channels, watching videos on YouTube, and also reading articles by other people who know more about NFTs than I do. 

One person who knows more is this week’s guest, Shane Neeley. He wrote a fantastic article about how writers and authors can use NFTs to sell some of their books and also to increase their income and it’s gotten me thinking about how I could use an NFT for future creative works. 

So, I went on to the popular marketplace, OpenSea. It’s basically a premier marketplace where you can buy and sell NFTs. And it was great to see that many artists are using OpenSea to sell their artwork, to sell their creations, to set up communities, and also to, I suppose, earn more income from past creations. And I went through the steps of creating an NFT myself, didn’t really plan to sell them, but I just wanted to figure out how it would work. 

The one key takeaway for me is that if you create an NFT, you can earn a residual income in perpetuity. So, let me explain how this works. If you sell a book, you’ll get the royalty from Amazon of approximately 70 percent if you’re self-publishing or between 20 and 30 percent if you’re traditionally publishing. You get that royalty once, but if the book sells again through secondary markets, you won’t earn any more money from your book, although you probably feel a bit of satisfaction that people are reading your book. 

However, if you create an NFT, you can earn between 5 and 10 percent royalty of any future sales of your NFT or your non-fungible token. So, if you could sell an NFT for, let’s say, $1,000, that’s pretty cheap as successful NFTs go, you could earn $100 based on what that NFT sells for. But if it sells again for more than $1,000, you could continue to earn an income. So you can really see how NFTs could help artists say goodbye to the days when they were on the breadline

That said, not many writers or authors are using OpenSea or are selling their works on the marketplace and I really had to dig into the platform to find any projects for writers at the moment so it’s definitely an untapped opportunity. And if you’re listening to this, I’d encourage you to start thinking about how you could use NFTs for some future creative project, particularly if you’re involved in more than just writing or if you want to future proof your creative business. 

Now, the other thing we get into in this week’s interview is using AI writing software and I was fascinated to hear how Shane has tested AI writing software and he sent me down a rabbit hole so I’ve been testing some various AI writing apps like jarvis.ai and Writesonic and Wordtune and my key takeaway from using these apps is they’re great for doing things like writing headlines, for writing an introduction for a blog post if you’re struggling with writer’s block, or for writing things like meta descriptions and so on for your articles, but if you’re gonna rely on AI writing software to write an entire article for you, it’s just not possible yet.

 The results, I’d say, are comparable for what you get if you pay a writer two or three cents a word. They’re not very good and I wasn’t happy to publish any of the content that I got with this type of software on my site, but I’ve started to use this type of software to help me with headlines and meta descriptions which I always find difficult to write and also to come up with I suppose some introductions for articles and then I’ll subsequently rework and rewrite so they’re a good tool if you want to get around writer’s block or if you want to incorporate them into your writing workflow. 

Now, before we go over to this week’s interview with Shane, a quick caveat, the audio did drop halfway through the interview so I hope you’ll bear with us. I’ve edited it as best I can, but I think you’ll find some valuable takeaways. We get into using AI writing software first and then we get into NFTs. 

Now, if you find this week’s interview helpful, please consider leaving a short review on the iTunes Store or wherever you’re listening or you can simply share the show with another writerly friend because more reviews and more ratings will help more people find the Become a Writer Today Podcast. I’m also on Twitter if you wanna get in touch, it’s @bryanjcollins. Let me know what you think about the show or if you’ve got questions or feedback for future episodes.

Now, let’s go over to this week’s interview with Shane Neeley.

Bryan: I wanted to talk to you today all about how writers can use AI to improve their articles and if AI will potentially replace writers at some point in the future. Before we get into that, could you give listeners a flavor for who you are?

Shane: Yeah, I’m Shane Neeley. I focus on the AI aspects of writing because, in my day job, I work in natural language processing for a clinical search engine company and understanding medical documents was part of the work and I got a feel for how machines read and then write text and, during the pandemic, had a little extra time on my hands for some creative output and became an author and so I use these AI writing techniques to help me put out two books in about a year.

One poetry book with AI art in it, AI-generated art, and then the latest one, a real passion project of mine, is called Stone Age Code, which talks about the evolution of AI and where it is and how you can learn it as well as an interest of mine which was human evolution and where we come from and why are we making these tools in the first place? Why did we make any tools in the first place? So that’s Stone Age Code and happy to talk about with you today.

Bryan: Haven’t talked to many writers who use AI for their book. How would somebody go about doing that?

Shane: So, there are so many services nowadays and even as recently as this month, new ones have come out. A couple of years ago, AI writing started to get really good and there was a big scare around, “Oh, it’s gonna make a lot more fake news,” which I’m sure it does, but the writing got to a point where you didn’t really know a machine wrote it because it was pretty decent and that model that got the headlines a couple years ago called GPT-2, that was open sourced and released to the public and, as a programmer, I was able to get a copy of it and train it on my own writing. 

So, I wasn’t just using the AI writing tool, I was actually trying to make a little author clone of myself so putting in, as its training data, all of my previous writings and notes and journals that I had done as well as I spent a ton of money on Kindle books and just read a lot and I highlight like crazy. 

Bryan: So I previously used a tool to create a piece of content, I created a series of headlines, uploaded it to the tool, but I got back an article that wasn’t very good. That was about 11 months ago. Do you think the software has improved since then? AI writing software.

Shane: There are some new ones that are better. That was most likely a GPT-3 plugin, which is pretty state of the art, for sure, and they keep improving it. But there was one from Israeli group that’s just released, it’s free to use right now as well, the AI21 Labs that has a model called Jurassic-1. Yeah, I’m not familiar with that one that you had used but I think the key is, at this point, is it can be brilliant as another mind that you use for your output but you’ve gotta really push it. 

You can’t just expect the first thing returned to be final product. But I think if you keep using it, iteratively, it’ll get you there. And there’s also so much to learn about how to prompt it. Just different structures of text, different ways that you end the sentence and it finishes the sentence for you. Different, you know, whether it’s an outline and you’re bulleting it or the Q&A format. These different things matter so much to the final output and that’s why I’m starting on a new book about prompt engineering, which is a boring title. I need more like “Tickling the AI” or something, I don’t know. But it’s gonna be all about how an average writer can best use these tools which, you know, they’re coming out with new ones every day and new models every day.

Bryan: Are these tools, are they all using different code and different underlying technology?

Shane: I think probably most of the tools that are heavily marketed right now are built on the OpenAI API, which is the group that created GPT-3 and that’s the Microsoft-backed group and that model is great. Just a month ago, they released one that writes code for you and, as a programmer, I’m like extremely impressed with the way that it has actually not only learned to just regurgitate code but actually understands how to code. So, yeah, the machines are writing their own code at this point. And it’s fascinating, yeah.

Bryan: I could understand how AI software could write code because it’s quite logical and involves solving problems and my other takeaway was that AI writing software will be quite good for informational non-fiction but it will take a few more years before it could produce something on the quality of literary fiction or a story.

Shane: Yeah, yeah, even if — outside of human intervention, I don’t think it ever will. It’s always gonna be just like you have a creative weird friend that you meet at a coffee shop that you talk about your book with and, every once in a while, it has a brilliant new direction for your book and he could even finish some paragraphs for you but if you let him keep talking, he starts totally losing his mind and makes no sense and has no respect for truth but, yeah.

Bryan: If I’m listening to this and I’m thinking I want to try some AI writing software, do you recommend I go to luther.ai or is there something else I should use?

Shane: Yeah, that’s a real simple one where, yeah, luther.ai, I think it’s 6b.luther.ai and you can put in your prompt and whatever you want it to say and have it finish. You should also sign up for the OpenAI API which that’ll give you access to GPT-3 and so sign up using your credentials, as this wonderful writing platform that you’ve built, Become a Writer Today. 

I think they’ll give you access pretty quick because they like people, they like journalists who spread the word about it. So, that will give you access to GPT-3. And then the other one that you can immediately get right now is AI21 Labs. They have a studio and it’s nice. It has all these different prompts on the left-hand side of ways to use it and those are the big ones right now, I would say.

Bryan: Where do you see the technology going over the next few years? 

Shane: Well, the ones that code is gonna be a big part of, I think, my career over the next few years as I continue to program. It becomes like — you just put in the program that you wanna start or the script you wanna start and it completes most of it for you and it really helps you jump into new areas. 

So, I think as a writer as well, using these things to, okay, I’ve never — okay, I’ll tell you a weird story. I got contacted by Qatar and their World Cup, they wanna help fans promote the World Cup and get Westerners to the country and just promote it on social media and they built this fan engagement program that I had signed up for and you may think this is strange you being a European, I’m just not a big football fan and, you know, I follow the NBA and NFL over here but don’t know too much about soccer and so, as the nerd that I am, I put in to the AI, “I would be a good person for this fan leader program that is promoting the World Cup because…” and I let the AI write 20 examples, the reasons.

Bryan: What did it say?

Shane: Just like — it said like “I love the people of Qatar and want to help engage with their culture,” which is true, I visited and it was a really nice place. It said like, “I really am interested in learning the Arabic language.” I was like, okay, that’s a good thing to say next. It’s saying that — it made up stuff about how I follow, you know, football teams and how I’m a big fan of the World Cup, which I didn’t include to them because I didn’t wanna lie but if you have, you know, if you’re jumping into a new area and you wanna quickly become an expert on it, you can have this AI sort of write a bunch of nonsense for you. 

So this — it’s going to certainly affect fake news and I can imagine, you know, if you’ve ever used Clubhouse where people go on there and pretend that they’re experts at certain things, I think you could just, while you’re talking with somebody, use the tool to finish what they said and then it’ll just come up with a script for you what to say next and you read it. So that’s a really weird use case I was thinking of yesterday.

Bryan: Yeah, it’s interesting. I could imagine if somebody was building a content website and had informational content like a listicle that this kind of software would be very helpful for populating the listicle.

Shane: Yeah. I made a listicle a few days ago, it was like “Six Ways to Buy a Horse” and it was like — I just put that in and then it’s like, “Number one, get a stable. Number two, take horse riding lessons. Number three,” you know? I forget, but it totally finished the article, it finished a whole blog post about like what to do to buy a horse.

Bryan: So if I was listening to this and I was a writer and should I be concerned that I’m gonna be out of the job in a few years’ time?

Shane: If you’re writing basic content like that and you haven’t really expanded into like real writing, I guess, yeah, you could be out of a job because they’re certainly getting good at that, at being a content farm. 

If you’re doing, yeah, like you said, if you’re doing creative writing and you’re writing the next novel, I’d say you’re totally secure for quite a while and these tools could only help you enhance your creativity. And they think so strangely and you can turn up — there’s little dials on them, you could turn up their randomness and they think so much different than you would and I think it’s, for creative writing, it gives you an edge over some writers, maybe, because it does think differently.

Bryan: So, Shane, I know you’ve a lot of development experience and a technical background but from what you’ve just said, it’s possible to use these tools without having that experience and get value from them.

Shane: Oh, yeah, yeah, for sure. To do the thing right now that I wanna do where it’s making a little author clone of myself, that requires technical experience or probably paying somebody to do that for you where it’s trained on your personal writing and if you have a backlist of books, putting those into the model and training them so that it kind of understands your characters, understands the way that you speak, and requires less prompt engineering, you know? 

It kind of understands your story a little better at that point so it may require less tries to get something good out of it. That’s still pretty technical, that’s called fine-tuning. But just using them for creative ideas, anybody could jump into it right now. Whether you’re just writing a tweet or a blog post or you’re finishing that paragraph that you were doing or more details on your characters, wanna start some dialogue.

Bryan: Yeah, I’m gonna try it after the call. You’ve also done something that I don’t think many writers have done but lots of artists are doing, at least ones I follow on Twitter. You’ve created an NFT or a non-fungible token based on your book. Would you be able to describe what you did?

Shane: I got highly distracted by this other AI technique while I was writing it called style transfer and it’s similar to generative art. And, basically, you take two photos and apply the style of one photo to the other using one of these machine learning algorithms that understands colors and textures and photos because it’s a computer vision model. 

And so it’s able to combine photos in a unique way and I produced about 80 of those and I wrote — I had a real poet write the first line of a poem by looking at that AI art. They looked at, “Okay, this picture of these chimps or these bananas or this skyline, what does it make me think of?” So the poet writes the first line and then the AI finished the poem based on that. So, it was just an experiment I was doing with combining humans and AIs and their art into poetry. 

And I like it. So, when this NFT craze started happening about the same time I was publishing the book, I thought, oh, okay, I have 80 images here that are — they’re rare because they’re unique art that is going into a physical book and so I could use the idea also of digital scarcity where if you really were a fan of the book, you could own that image in the book as an NFT. So, that was interesting and it helped me learn a bit more about blockchain, you know, which I’ve gotten more into since then. And probably for the next book, I’ll do the same thing, keep putting out — as long as I’m making digital art, keep listing these NFTs.

Bryan: Is the process for creating an NFT complicated? Do you need much technical expertise?

Shane: No, it’s basically — you need — I guess it depends. It depends on the audience, yeah. You’ll have to figure out how to create your crypto wallet so that you can hold them but the opensea.io is the main website everybody is uploading there, easily uploading an NFT to that puts it out on a marketplace and people can bid for them with cryptocurrency so it’s not too technical but who am I to say? I spend all day at a computer anyways.

Bryan: How many did you say you created?

Shane: There was 80 for the poetry book and then 15 or so for Stone Age Code. I have about —

Bryan: That’s quite a lot.

Shane: I have about a hundred out there, and only a few of them cost me fees for minting, for listing and I was kind of like — I was excited to promote the book and I was like, “I’ll do anything to list this NFT,” and the gas prices cost me $75 for a single one and then another one maybe possibly $10 and then, after that, for whatever reason, the rest of them didn’t cost anything and I clearly don’t know enough about blockchain to understand why that is but…

Bryan: Was this over the course of several days or several weeks?

Shane: Yeah, it was several days so maybe OpenSea had changed some of their policies or something.

Bryan: Yeah. Yeah, the gas prices are pretty off putting for something like that. Would you recommend authors consider an NFT when working on their next book?

Shane: Well, it’s made me incredibly rich so, yeah.

Bryan: But you didn’t do it for the money.

Shane: No, I haven’t sold a single one but I haven’t really marketed them either to the NFT collector community. I would say, yeah, if you have fans or you think you’re easily going to get big fans of your work, then it’s one way to get your art out there if you’re making digital art, if you have a cool book cover and your fans just really wanna own that digitally signed book cover. But if you’re like me and you have yet to build a fan base, don’t put too much effort into it unless you just wanna learn about blockchain and find it entertaining.

Bryan: Yeah, I’ve spent a bit of time on OpenSea but it doesn’t strike me that many writers or authors are selling anything on OpenSea at the moment. Perhaps that’ll change over the next year or two.

Shane: Yeah. One of these days, one of my NFTs will sell. That’s the goal.

Bryan: And for somebody who’s quite interested in emerging technologies, how do you balance writing with what, on the surface, at least, looks like a completely different type of work?

Shane: Sure. Getting these first couple books out there was easier than I thought it was gonna be because I had just such a well of writing within me and the words kind of flowed. 

And then I was very motivated to learn everything about self-publishing and formed a company to manage all the finances around it and got the books out there wide, in all formats. And the self-publishing community was so helpful, people like you and people like Joanna Penn and her show and there’s so many things to learn. 

And so I got those couple books out there. And then I kind of stopped writing because I didn’t know what my next book would be. And I’m feeling, at this point, that I have this, you know, it’s been a greater part of a year since, half a year, and I have this feeling that I’m starting to get a vision of what the next book will be and it’ll be helping writers use these AI writing tools and I think that is going to get my fingers really back into the writing process. In the meantime, I’m just writing code. So I do sit down to write every day, but I’ve got to save some time for prose.

Bryan: Yeah, I used to work with a lot of software developers and coders. It struck me that coding is quite similar to writing in many ways in that you have to kinda focus on a problem and get into that kind of deep flow state. And, you know, some of the coders that I was working with, they almost looked like they were writing. They’d have noise-canceling headphones on and, you know, you wouldn’t want to distract them.

Shane: Yeah, and that — it’s that same muse aspect that writers have because the sort of inspiration that it takes to solve a difficult coding problem is rare so you could spend a greater part of weeks kind of just dilly-dallying, like not quite having it together, and then like in a flash of a matter of 90 minutes of inspiration, you’ll have solved what you were working on for weeks, just because that kind — that muse, that sort of flash came there and the same thing is — for a lot of people in writing, trying to access that creativity daily is so hard and I think the consistency thing, like morning pages, I’ve tried to start doing but I fell off of that, weekly blog posts, I’ve tried to start doing it but that’s hard to keep a hold of too, so I’m still trying to find consistency in writing in that way and so that, you know, like you make time for the muse to come.

Bryan: Well, you’ve written two books. If somebody is interested in learning more about you or your work, where should they go?

Shane: Sure. My page is shaneneeley.com. The latest book is at stoneagecode.com and I would recommend that for anybody who wants a basic grasp of machine learning and, unfortunately, it’s filled with too many jokes to really be of an immense practical use for machine learning but I think it’s also full of all the right jargon that you’re gonna hear if you delve into this space.
 
And so I think it’s a good introduction for that and, yeah, so check that out, stoneagecode.com, and I’m all over the internet as chimpsarehungry and you’ll have to ask my seventh grade self why that would be a good AOL screen name and hence all of my social media profile since then.

Bryan: Yeah, well, I guess it’s memorable. Thanks for your time, Shane.

Shane: Yeah, thank you, Bryan. This was great.

Bryan: I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode. If you did, please consider leaving a short review on the iTunes Store or sharing the show on Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you’re listening. More reviews, more ratings, and more shares will help more people find the Become a Writer Today Podcast. And did you know, for just a couple of dollars a month, you could become a Patreon for the show? Visit patreon.com/becomeawritertoday or look for the Support button in the show notes. Your support will help me record, produce, and publish more episodes each month. And if you become a Patreon, I’ll give you my writing books and discounts on writing software and on my writing courses.