In 2023 AI is evolving quickly, and so are Leanpub’s AI services and our other author services! So, I’m going to update this essay as our vision and our services evolve. (We are Leanpub after all: so just as our books can be updated a click of a button, so can our essays.) This version was last updated on November 27, 2023.
Leanpub exists to serve our authors, readers and learners.
The way we do this is by building infrastructure to support Lean Publishing. The definition of Lean Publishing from 2013 is:
“Lean Publishing is the act of publishing an in-progress book using lightweight tools and many iterations to get reader feedback, pivot until you have the right book, and build traction once you do.”
In the decade since then, we’ve produced a number of innovations to support Lean Publishing. Leanpub authors can generate an ebook with one click, they can generate a print-ready PDF with another click, and they can write in a variety of ways including in their web browser and on GitHub. These innovations aren’t just for ebooks. Years ago we added online course support, so our authors can create a course and generate it with one click, complete with quizzes, exercises and automated marking.
The foundation of all this innovation is Markua, our dialect of Markdown for writing books and courses in plain text.
The important thing to understand about our AI services is that they are a natural extension of this innovation, and they are built on top of Markua as well. So, just as Leanpub automates the process of creating a PDF and EPUB ebook and a print-ready PDF all from your book manuscript, and automates the process of creating an online course from a course manuscript, we also wanted to use AI to give our authors even more.
We’ve always tried to give our authors more than what they get from a traditional publisher: a better royalty rate, more royalties overall, more control, more flexibility, etc. Now, with our AI services, we can go even further: more translations (with TranslateAI, which recently translated The Elements of Data Analytic Style into all 31 supported languages), more course creation (with CourseAI), more copy editing (with EditAI), and even more ghostwriting (with GhostAI).
These services have evolved greatly in the past six months, and GhostAI is a brand new service. All four of these services are described in more detail below.
Besides these four standalone services, however, we have also created two amazing offers…
GlobalAuthor is for authors who have finished their book in English, and now want to go global and reach readers around the world!
With GlobalAuthor, Leanpub will translate your book using TranslateAI from English into 3 or 10 languages (based on which version of GlobalAuthor you get). These languages are read by billions of people.
So, you can unlock revenue from global readers in two ways:
- Most important, your book will be in their language. Even if someone can read English, most people will prefer to read in their native language.
- You can price your book differently per language. Instead of us trying to do purchasing power parity based on geolocation (which is vulnerable to VPNs and which has other issues), you can just price your book with different minimum prices for different languages.
With GlobalAuthor, not only do you get the TranlateAI service at a discount, you also get a number of bonuses!
- We’ll promote your book on social media, including posting on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Mastodon.
- We’ll also interview you on our Frontmatter podcast, and we’ll make a LAUNCH video about your books. Both the Frontmatter Podcast and the LAUNCH video will also go on YouTube, and we’ll even make YouTube Shorts with clips from both videos. (This is optional, so if you’re shy, you don’t have to do it, of course. But we strongly encourage you to do so!)
- We’ll give you a one month spot on The Shelf, which includes featuring your book in one monthly newsletter and in one weekly newsletter.
If you’ve finished your book and are now serious about promoting it, the GlobalAuthor service is the place to start!
GlobalInstructor is for authors who have finished their book in English, and now want to go global and reach readers and learners around the world!
GlobalInstructor includes everything that GlobalAuthor does, including translating the book into either 3 or 10 languages and all the promotional bonuses above.
GlobalInstructor also includes three important additional services:
- We will produce a course from your book using CourseAI.
- We will then use our TranslateAI service to translate your course into the same 3 or 10 languages that we are translating your book into. This process uses a version of TranslateAI which is currently available only for the GlobalInstructor service
So, readers and learners around the world will be able to read your book or take your course in their own language.
Even better, corporate training budgets support higher prices than most books. So, since we also translate the course we’ve produced into the same languages as we’re translating your book into, not only will your book be in their language, your course will be as well! Just as people who speak English have corporate training budgets, so do people who speak German, Japanese, Spanish and other languages. So now you can click a button and we’ll produce a course, and multiple translations of that course, for you to market to them. In their language.
GlobalInstructor is a truly ambitious service for equally ambitious authors. Your book can be translated into 3 or 10 languages, produce a course, and that course will also be available in those languages. So you can have readers and learners from all around the world, reading your book or taking your course!
Four AI Services
GlobalAuthor is built on top of TranslateAI, and GlobalInstructor is built on top of both TranslateAI and CourseAI. However, we actually now have four AI services!
Each of our AI services now has their own page (linked above) which explains the service in detail, and where you can buy the service. Or you can use your royalties in the author app for your book: we now have a Services section so you can find these services more easily. Also, these services now have dynamic pricing, where the price is determined by the combination of a minimum price and a per-word price above the number of words included in the minimum price. So, on the page for each service, you can choose your book to see what it costs for you.
Our TranslateAI service can now translate a book from English into one of 31 languages, or from one of those 31 languages into English, with one click.
We’ve greatly improved TranslateAI: it is now fully-automated, and the translations are even better, using two GPT-4 translation passes and automated validation using AI and regular expressions.
I think it makes a lot of sense for any English-language book which sells reasonably well to be translated into a handful of non-English languages which also sell well on Leanpub. For starters, this would be (alphabetically) German, Japanese, Spanish and Spanish. Since we pay 80% royalties, if you sell the translation for $20, you earn $16 per copy. So, the cost of the translation is covered if you sell a small number of copies in the translated language at that price.
For example, earlier this year, the Japanese translation of Cloud Strategy was the #2 bestselling book on Leanpub for a week. (No, this wasn’t a TranslateAI translation: it was done by a human!)
TranslateAI is potentially even more valuable for authors whose first language is not English, because AI translation will empower these people to have an English-language version of their book. Those of us whose first language is English are kind of spoiled. If I write a computer programming book in English, lots of people in the world can read my book, since English is in many ways the lingua franca of computer programming. But if you don’t speak English, you haven’t been able to write a computer programming book in English. Well, now you can.
In case you think these two thoughts are contradictory, there are two related ideas: (a) for a popular book it’s worth it to produce a translation into many languages since you reach additional readers (even though some subset of them may have bought the English version if there was no translation) and (b) for many non-English books, it’s especially worth it to produce an English translation, since that lets you reach the largest single-language market on Leanpub.
To see TranslateAI in action right now, you can also check out the Leanpub book The Elements of Data Analytic Style, which has been translated into all 31 supported languages. (This book and all its translations have a free minimum price, so feel free to buy it for free in both the English language version and in one or more translations if you want to see what TranslateAI can do.) There are links to all the translations of The Elements of Data Analytic Style on its landing page.
Our CourseAI service now can automatically produce an online course from your book manuscript, complete with quizzes, exercises, automated marking and a certificate of completion for learners who pass the course.
We built CourseAI for the following reason: many Leanpub books are already basically courses, and many more can be easily adapted into courses. Most importantly, making your book into a course helps you and your learners.
A company typically won’t pay someone to sit around and read a book, but they often will pay for them to take an expensive course. So you can now get one created from your book, with one click! Your learners can get a certificate of completion for taking your course, which they can use to show their employer that they have learned the material.
This helps you as well, since you can charge a lot more (typically between 2x and 10x) for a course than for a book (even with essentially identical content, plus the quizzes and exercises), since you’re pricing it for corporate training budgets! (Now that’s win-win.)
Our EditAI service now can automatically copy edit an entire book, using two GPT-4 passes and automated validation.
EditAI is configurable by choosing one of two modes.
In the Traditional Publisher Copy Edit mode (the default), EditAI gives the author the type of copy edit that they would get from a traditional publisher. It will correct the grammar and orthography (spelling, hyphenation, capitalization, etc.), and it will also do a thorough copy edit. This includes making copy edits directly to your manuscript, and adding suggestions and questions via HTML comments in the manuscript. You can also optionally choose from one of ten style guides (Chicago, APA, MLA, etc.) for EditAI to use when editing in Traditional Publisher Copy Edit mode. (You don’t need to choose a style guide: EditAI also does a great job without one specified, and the default is to use no style guide.)
In the Grammar and Orthography Only mode, EditAI just corrects the grammar and orthography of your writing, while preserving your tone and voice. If you want a light touch copy edit, choose this setting. Both modes support eight dialects of English (American, British, Canadian, etc.).
Our new GhostAI service grew out of the following crazy question:
What if, instead of just getting an AI copy edit, you could get an AI to ghostwrite your book like a famous author instead?
GhostAI is like EditAI, but instead of just doing AI copy editing, it’s fully-automated AI ghostwriting.
GhostAI is configurable by choosing one of seven author personas, including parodies of three well-known modern authors (Graul Paham, Arc Mandreessen and Hen Borowitz) and parodies of four historical authors (Brary Maddon, Cilkie Wollins, Duck Chickens and Dodor Fyostoevsky).
GhostAI also supports eight dialects of English (American, British, Canadian, etc.), plus the default of “Persona” to write in the English dialect favoured by the AI persona.
Yes, we’re having fun here, but this is a real service, and it’s awesome.
Now, we want to help you reach as many readers and learners as possible, and we want to help you make as much money as possible. We also want to help you save time, so you can spend more time writing and less time doing other things.
So, we have other services. Gradually we’re adding AI to some of them where it makes sense.
We’ve recently improved two of our other services, Convert to Markua and Publish on Amazon. Again, we built both of these to save our authors time.
Convert to Markua
First, we’ve improved Convert to Markua.
Convert to Markua can convert a manuscript from Leanpub Flavoured Markdown (LFM) or an EPUB file into Markua.
(You can do this yourself, of course, but it’s even easier to click a button and have us do it for you!)
The way that this service works depends on the input format. For books written in LFM, the Convert to Markua service will use GPT-4. For books written in EPUB, the Convert to Markua service will use Pandoc.
Markua is the future of Leanpub, so we want all our authors to be writing in Markua. More importantly, our AI services all require that the book be in Markua.
The reason for this is that GPT-4 actually understands Markua (!!!), since it has an open specification. So, we built our AI services to be Markua-only, not Markua or Leanpub Flavoured Markdown.
Publish on Amazon
Next, we’ve improved the Publish on Amazon service.
First and foremost, we now pay authors 90% of the money that Amazon pays us. (This is also true for the authors who have already purchased the Publish on Amazon service, effective November 1, 2023.)
Second, there are now three ways to pay.
- There’s now a Full Upfront cost option, where you pay with either your Leanpub royalties or with money.
- There is now also a No Upfront cost option, where the entire cost is subtracted from your future Amazon royalties only.
- Finally, there’s a Partial Upfront cost option, where part of the cost is subtracted from your current Leanpub royalties, with the balance subtracted from your future Amazon royalties only.
So, even if you haven’t earned enough royalties to pay the Full Upfront cost of Publish on Amazon, you can now opt in to the Partial Upfront and No Upfront cost options. To opt in to either of these options, you just check a checkbox on the Publish on Amazon page for your book.
Periodically we will review the books which have opted in, and produce any which we have the time to do. (We will typically produce those which we think will earn back the cost the fastest, or which would use the largest amount of unpaid royalties, or both.)
Earlier this year, I had an epiphany:
The 5 most important technological updates in book writing and course creation in the past 500 years are happening right now:
- AI-powered translations: AI is going to be able to translate a book into every human language.
- AI-powered copy editing and writing: Regardless of whether the text was typed or dictated, AI will be able to copy edit it, improving sentences and paragraphs, or just adding its own.
- AI-powered course creation: An online course will be able to be automatically created by AI from a book manuscript, with automatically generated quizzes, exercises, and online marking.
- AI-powered speech-to-text: Books can now be dictated (or produced from podcast audio or lecture recordings), and AI will ensure enough accuracy for it to be useful without massive editing required.
- AI-powered text-to-speech: Instant audiobooks. AI-powered text-to-speech will read books in a way which sounds human.
It sounds obvious, but all these innovations are based on just two things:
- Plain text
At Leanpub, we’re going to use the power of AI and plain text to automatically produce books and courses for the whole world, in their own language.
Leanpub is building the AI-powered book and course printing press for the internet.
The eventual goal is as follows:
From one plain text manuscript, we will generate the ebook, ebook translations in dozens of languages, audiobooks of the book and all its translations, an online course based on the book, including quizzes, exercises, and automated marking, and online course translations also in dozens of languages. And we’re going to be able to do all of this with one click. One single click, once.
With the work we’ve done this year, we’ve made great strides in this direction. Our current AI services will help our authors reach more readers (with TranslateAI) and learners (with CourseAI), improve the quality of their books (with EditAI) and even have some fun (with GhostAI). To use these services, your book needs to be in Markua, so we have a Convert to Markua service to help here. Finally, when you’re done, you may want to produce and sell a print book, so the Publish on Amazon service lets you do that with one click.
Looking Backward and Forward
It’s been over 10 years since my Tools of Change conference talk was recorded, and 10 years ago none of us could have predicted the changes that happened in 2023 with the launch of GPT-4. So, I’m not going to try to predict everything that you’ll be able to do with AI on Leanpub in the next 10 years.
All I’ll say is that we’re fully committed to the expanded mission of building the best way in the world for authors to publish books and courses using lightweight, AI-powered tools and many iterations to get reader feedback, pivot until you have the right book or course, and build traction once you do.
Finally, on a personal note, I consider myself to be extremely fortunate: if I could have foreseen the development of GPT-4 10 years ago, I couldn’t have picked a better product to build, or a better set of customers to serve.
November 6, 2023