Josh Bernoff is the author of five business books including the newly released “Build a Better Business Book: How to Plan, Write, and Promote a Book That Matters.”
Will AI tools like ChatGPT write your copy and take your job? Or will they just make you more productive? I recently tapped social media to connect with some of the world’s most effective business writers: authors of successful business books. They shared tips on how to turn AI into your writing partner, not your replacement.
To start strong, begin with quality AI tools. As Alexandra Samuel, coauthor of the popular book “Remote, Inc: How To Thrive at Work….Wherever You Are,” described in a recent newsletter sent to her followers, she embraces AI as a dependable writing companion. She suggests subscribing to ChatGPT Plus, because “access to its latest model (GPT-4) will give you dramatically better results.” In response to a Facebook query, Christopher Penn, author of “AI for Marketers,” suggested that the best AI for writers today is Anthropic’s Claude 2, which handles up to 65,000 words at a time – a useful feature when managing larger documents like white papers.
When preparing and processing text, AI is a helpful partner. Both Penn and John Jantsch, author of “Duct Tape Marketing,” recommended using AI tools to pull information out of often garbled or incomplete audio transcripts. As Jantsch commented, “Interviews with clients . . . are usually rambling messes that AI can bring some order to.” Content marketing expert Robert Rose, coauthor of “Killing Marketing,” uses AI chat as an ideation partner. As he described, “I find it terribly helpful as a way to bounce ideas, and find patterns in the trees that I can’t see for the breadth of the forest.”
Chat tools can help you get started or unstuck. For example, Samuel appears to have unlocked the trick for getting ChatGPT to take a shot at a first draft. As she suggested, “If you’re using AI to get underway, take no more than five minutes to jot down whatever you think you want to include, and then feed it to ChatGPT with a request for a first draft.” Then after feeding it some of your typical text, start with a detailed prompt like this: “You are a ghostwriter aiming to write in the voice of [your name]. Your goal is to write a newsletter that most closely mimics her voice and perspective.” Add to the prompt with a suggested title and key points to include. Samuel often revises prompts several times to generate progressively better drafts.
To be clear, none of the authors I connected with would ever take such a first draft as anything more than a starting point. As Samuel explained, “Do not use the robot’s draft as your final draft; for now, GPT’s writing tends to be stiff, jargon-filled or (if prompted to write casually) a bit wacky.”
Used appropriately, tools like ChatGPT can also improve content drafts. Mitch Joel, bestselling author of “Ctrl Alt Delete,” makes arguments stronger by feeding ChatGPT the text and telling it to “act like a media researcher and provide 5 to 10 opposing perspectives.” John Michael Morgan, author of “Brand Against the Machine,” suggested that “Authors should use it to create an in-depth reader persona of who the target audience is.”
Or use it to find flaws in your writing. As Samuel explained in her newsletter, “Once you think you have a pretty good draft, give it to someone else for feedback—and the first ‘someone else’ can be GPT.” She recommended providing detailed advice to the chatbot, such as prompting it to flag and correct grammar errors, suggest queries where the content is confusing, or indicate where text could be trimmed.
If you’re doing publicity for a book, authors have tips on how best to turn book content into other useful writing. Brant Menswar, author of “Black Sheep: Unleash the Extraordinary, Awe-Inspiring, Undiscovered You,” described how he uploaded his last book to Claude and used it “for social media scripts like ‘3 things to stop doing right now’ using the book as context.” “I’ve been blown away by the accuracy and tone,” he added, and credits the AI for improving his productivity by a factor of four.
Jimmy Soni, author of “The Founders: The Story of Paypal and the Entrepreneurs Who Shaped Silicon Valley,” suggested using ChatGPT to write emails or letters you’re anxious about, such as apologies. “Like many people,” he says, “I avoid those notes like the plague, and they end up sitting there, eating up brain space. ChatGPT makes it easy to get a bad first draft of those notes done. It reduces the anxiety of the apology or rejection.” You can then revise the draft to make it sound more like you.
The authors I connected with were often among the first to embrace writing tools like Scrivener and Coda, so it’s no surprise they’ve been early adopters of AI chat tools. You should follow their lead, but with caution: make sure to check the results for plagiarism, voice, and accuracy. With help from AI writing tools like those used by these successful business authors, you can write faster, improve drafts more effectively, and spend more time on high-level tasks like strategy. AI chat tools won’t take your job, but used prudently, they certainly can enhance your productivity.