A Note on “AI” Art and My Book Covers

A Note on “AI” Art and My Book Covers

Well, Goddamnit, it looks like some “AI”-generated art got onto one of my covers, specifically, the cover to the Italian edition of Starter Villain. Some (actual human) artists tracked down the cover art, and (on Adobe’s stock art site, at least), it’s marked as “generated with AI.”

It’s my policy not to accept AI-generated art for final cover art, and I thought I and my team had communicated that widely. When this art was presented to me for approval, I made the assumption that it was done by a human, and approved it. So, this is on me.

And by “on me,” I mean I don’t want to side-eye my Italian publisher or their art people. The choice of this art was made several months ago, and not every stock art site (and this stock art is on more than one site) then or now labels their available stock art as “AI-generated.” It’s possible that this was chosen in the belief it was created by an actual person. Likewise, it’s possible that my “no AI” policy fell through a crack somewhere between here and Italy. Basically, there are a lot of places where something could have fallen down without assuming bad faith on anyone’s part. These are explanations, mind you, not excuses. If you’re going to blame someone for this, it’s me you need to blame. My name is on that cover.

That being the case, here’s what I am doing right now to make sure we don’t have this happen again, and to mitigate some of the damage AI-generated art is doing to the actual humans in the field.

1. I have instructed my agent (who is sending the instruction down the chain), that all book contracts henceforth have to agree that cover art must be created by a human artist. Stock art use is acceptable, but that stock art must be human-created, not AI-generated. We will expect our contractual partners to exercise due diligence to make sure these conditions are met (by, as an example, using only stock art sites that note when art is AI-generated). I’ll note that Tor already has agreed to this. So this is no longer just a policy; it’s a hard contractual point.

2. I have donated to the Association of Science Fiction and Fantasy Artists, specifically to their Sponsored Memberships for BIPOC artists, to help emerging artists from marginalized communities receive the benefit of the professional and artistic community that ASFA can provide. They will need it for this new era of artistry.

Be aware that even with this contract point in place, it will become increasingly hard to keep “AI”-generated art out of covers, especially when stock art is used; not all of it will be labeled and not all of it will be immediately obvious as AI-generation continues to refine itself. And it will be likely that what the definition of “AI-generated” is will change over time. But it’s worth it to exercise vigilance, and to have “human-created” as a contract point nevertheless, if only to ensure there is a human artist on the other end of things, benefitting from their skill and effort. That’s important to me.

— JS

(PS: Comments on this entry may be wonky, I tried adding one and I got an error; if you are experiencing the same don’t panic, I’ll look into it. In the meantime, the additional comment I was going to make:

“For anyone about to chime in about ‘AI’ features in drawing programs, Photoshop, etc, I will note I think there is a distinct creative difference between using these programs as tools to foster human creativity, and using these programs to substitute for human creativity. If you can’t parse the salient difference between those, that’s on you.”)