One of the most creative things I do is to help authors select titles and subtitles for their books. While doing a book titling brainstorm yesterday, I asked the AI writing tool ChatGPT to come up with suggestions; it did a creditable job and generated some subtitle text we may end up using.
But is ChatGPT actually being creative? That’s a very big question.
There are many definitions of creativity, but as a person who creates for a living, my working definition is “Combining ideas in novel ways that generate meaningful insight.” This reflects what I see when I identify any form of art or intellectual activity as creative.
Could ChatGPT demonstrate creativity in the fundamentally creative activity of generating book titles?
Talking to ChatGPT about book titles
Book titling is a creative activity. You take existing ideas in the author’s book and human reactions to language and try to combine them to craft a catchy and clever title that connects to those ideas. Then you add a subtitle that explains things a little more — enough to capture a potential reader’s attention. I typically brainstorm titles with the author and a third person who acts as a sounding board — we play around with ideas looking for phrases that would make for good titles and wait until something lights up our brains.
To test the creative capabilities of ChatGPT, I tried this exercise: given a book description such as would appear on a book flap, could ChatGPT come up with creative book title ideas?
I started with Cheryl Sandberg’s book for women in the workplace. I asked ChatGPT to come up with five good titles, based on the book’s description on Amazon.com:
Prompt: Here is a description of a book. Come up with five good titles for it.
In her famed TED talk, Sheryl Sandberg described how women unintentionally hold themselves back in their careers. Her talk, which has been viewed more than eleven million times, encouraged women to “sit at the table,” seek challenges, take risks, and pursue their goals with gusto. This book continues that conversation, combining personal anecdotes, hard data, and compelling research to change the conversation from what women can’t do to what they can. Sandberg, COO of Meta (previously called Facebook) from 2008-2022, provides practical advice on negotiation techniques, mentorship, and building a satisfying career. She describes specific steps women can take to combine professional achievement with personal fulfillment, and demonstrates how men can benefit by supporting women both in the workplace and at home.
- “Women and Leadership: Strategies for Success”
- “The Confidence Code for Women: A Practical Guide to Achieving Professional and Personal Goals”
- “Breaking Barriers: A Woman’s Guide to Advancing in the Workplace”
- “Achieving Your Potential: A Practical Guide for Women in the Workplace”
- “Women, Work, and Power: Strategies for Achieving Professional Success and Personal Fulfillment”
The actual title of Sandberg’s book is Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. Lean In became a powerful catchphrase. ChatGPT couldn’t magically extract that phrase from the description, but it did manage to come up with one decent title: Women, Work, and Power. The rest are fairly generic. However, I recognized that this particular exercise might be compromised because there is so much discussion about Sandberg’s popular book already on the internet and available as source material for ChatGPT.
So I decided to try another excellent book that was a bit less popular: Laura Gassner Otting’s book on success and happiness. Here’s the result:
Prompt: Here is a description of a book. Come up with five good titles for it.
This book will help you get “unstuck” — and achieve extraordinary results. This book is like a high energy masterclass and brainstorming session all in one – with actionable tips to transform your vision for your career and do work with purpose.
What if success doesn’t equal happiness?
Many of us spend our lives pursuing a singular idea of success, one that was created for us by someone else. We give votes to those who shouldn’t even have voices and strive to go faster and faster even as we find ourselves falling further and further behind. We chase gold stars, we check all the boxes, we Lean In – and we still feel incomplete.
This is not a story about failure, but it might as well be. When we don’t define success in our own terms, finding our purpose and carving our own path becomes impossible. How do you break the cycle so that you can be better at work and life?
In this book, Laura Gassner Otting teaches you how to ignore the rules that created your limits, align your energies and your actions, and do work that really matters so that you can live your best life. Often described as “a kick in the ass surrounded by a warm hug,” Laura brings both tough love and wisdom and offers a no-holds-barred look at what it really takes to get out of your own way and earn your success today.
If you ever dreamed about discovering and crushing that personal goal that is so big and so scary that you’ve only dared whisper it to yourself, this book is the permission you didn’t even know you needed to live into it as only you can.
- “Unstuck: Finding Your Purpose and Achieving Extraordinary Results”
- “Breaking the Cycle: Achieving Success on Your Own Terms”
- “The Warm Hug of Tough Love: How to Get Out of Your Own Way and Succeed”
- “Dream Big, Act Bold: How to Find Your Purpose and Achieve Extraordinary Results”
- “Beyond the Rules: Ignoring Limits and Doing Work That Matters”
I found these results interesting. Titles 2, 4, and 5 are generic. The Warm Hug of Tough Love is an awesome title, but it’s not the right title for this book; ChatGPT was correctly able to pick out this creative concept from the description, but it’s not directly on point for the whole book. (It might be a good chapter title.) Unstuck would have been a decent title, but I would have rejected it simply because there already many popular books with that same title. Laura’s actual title Limitless: How to Ignore Everybody, Carve Your Own Path, and Live Your Best Life is better than all of these.
I did one more interesting exercise with the awesome autobiography of Netflix and Redbox cofounder Mitch Lowe. I did two versions of the test: one with the publisher’s actual description from Amazon, and the second with a description that Mitch and I had assembled for our own titling exercise when we were working on his book together — a description I feel better fits Mitch’s gonzo life story.
Starting with publisher’s description, ChatGPT came up with these suggestions:
- “Disrupt and Succeed: Lessons from a Hollywood Insider”
- “The Entertainment Revolution: A Behind-the-Scenes Look”
- “Innovation in the Movie Industry: How to Break the Status Quo”
- “The Future of Entertainment: Insights from a Leader in the Field”
- “From Kiosks to Streaming: The Evolution of Movie Distribution”
Uninspiring. Disrupt and Succeed is slightly interesting, the rest are dull. But starting from the work Mitch and I did, ChatGPT came up with these:
- “The Zen Disruptor: Lessons from the Entertainment Industry”
- “Innovating with Imagination: The Story of Mitch Lowe”
- “The Art of Disruption: How to Change an Industry”
- “From Netflix to Redbox: A Tale of Disruptive Success”
- “The Power of Perseverance: A Guide to Disrupting the Status Quo”
Much better. All of them are decent, and 1, 3, and 4 have real promise. ChatGPT did not come up with the phrase “Zen disruptor” on its own, but it did pick it out of the description that Mitch and I created. In fact, the title that Mitch and I put in the first draft of his book proposal was The Zen Disruptor: How the entrepreneur behind Netflix, Redbox, and MoviePass turned Hollywood upside down with intuition, perseverance, and data. The actual title the publisher used was Watch and Learn: How I Turned Hollywood Upside Down with Netflix, Redbox, and MoviePass―Lessons in Disruption. In my opinion, several of ChatGPT’s titles based on Mitch’s and my book description are superior to the one the publisher chose.
A realistic titling exercise for my own book
In some sense, the exercises aren’t as good a test as they might be, because we already know the answer, and that answer is tucked away in the descriptions. Maybe ChatGPT is just plucking out answers from the written book descriptions, and maybe that’s not really a creative activity. What would happen if we tried this with a book that’s not written yet?
I’m currently in the final stages of completing my own book, which is a comprehensive guide for business authors. So I engaged ChatGPT in a conversation about what title I should give it. Here’s that whole dialogue.
Prompt: Can you help me come up with a good title for my book?
ChatGPT: Sure! Titles are an important part of a book, as they can help to set the tone and give readers an idea of what to expect. Here are a few tips that might help you come up with a good title for your book:
- Consider the theme or main idea of your book. What is the book about, and what do you want readers to take away from it?
- Keep it short and sweet. A title that is too long or convoluted might be difficult for readers to remember or understand.
- Make it memorable. A title that sticks in the reader’s mind is more likely to be remembered and shared.
- Avoid cliches. While it can be tempting to use a well-known phrase or saying as a title, this can make your book seem unoriginal.
- Consider your target audience. What will appeal to the readers you are trying to reach?
With these tips in mind, try brainstorming a list of potential titles and see which one feels the most fitting for your book. If you’re having trouble coming up with ideas, try looking at the titles of other books in your genre or asking friends or writing groups for suggestions. Good luck!
Prompt: My book is for authors of business books. The theme is that business books are stories, fundamentally. It is a comprehensive guide — it covers nearly everything a new business author needs to know. What title ideas can you come up with?
ChatGPT: Here are a few ideas for titles for your book:
- “The Storyteller’s Guide to Writing Business Books”
- “Crafting Compelling Business Narratives”
- “The Art of Writing Business Books”
- “From Idea to Bestseller: A Business Author’s Handbook”
- “Mastering the Business Book Genre”
I hope these suggestions help! Remember, the title should be short, memorable, and reflect the theme or main idea of your book. Good luck with your writing!
Prompt: I’m intrigued by a couple of your ideas. One is that writing business books is an art. I also like the concept of authors of business books as storytellers, although I’m not sure calling these readers storytellers will appeal to them. Can you come up with any more title ideas based on that feedback?
ChatGPT: Sure! Here are a few more title ideas based on the theme of business authors as storytellers:
- “Business Books as Modern Myths: A Guide for Authors”
- “The Business Storyteller’s Handbook”
- “Telling True Tales of Business: A Guide for Authors”
- “The Art of Crafting Business Narratives”
- “Creating Engaging Business Stories for a Modern Audience”
I hope these suggestions help! As you consider different title options, it might be helpful to think about what will resonate most with your target audience. Good luck with your book!
Prompt: You’re way off here — while business books are stories, this isn’t all about “business narratives.” Can you modify your suggestions based on that insight?
ChatGPT: I apologize for misunderstanding the theme of your book. Here are a few more title ideas that might be more fitting for a comprehensive guide to writing business books:
- “The Complete Guide to Writing Business Books”
- “Mastering the Art of Business Book Writing”
- “The Business Author’s Handbook: From Idea to Bestseller”
- “The Essential Guide to Writing and Marketing Business Books”
- “Writing and Publishing Successful Business Books”
I hope these suggestions are more in line with the focus of your book. As you consider different options, it might be helpful to think about what will appeal to your target audience and what will accurately reflect the content of your book. Good luck with your writing!
Like so much of what happens with ChatGPT, this is a mixed bag. It clearly doesn’t “get” what I’m trying to do. But all of the titles in the last round are, well, decent. None of them get me all that excited, although if you held a gun to my head, I could live with The Business Author’s Handbook: From Idea to Bestseller and The Essential Guide to Writing and Marketing Business Books. Luckily, I have a better title than those in mind (and you’ll hear more about it soon enough).
Is ChatGPT creative or not?
Based on this exercise, I’m afraid I can’t call ChatGPT creative. It’s close, but there’s some glimmer of humanity and psychology that’s missing, a glimmer that I only get from working with real authors and their colleagues.
To be fair, this may be an instance of what’s called “The AI effect:” the idea that once a computer can do things that used to be possible only for humans, those tasks are no longer considered artificial intelligence. Tesler’s theorem states that “AI is whatever hasn’t been done yet.”For example, it used to be considered AI for computers to play chess or translate text; now it’s just something computers do, and therefore no longer AI. Am I just unwilling to credit ChatGPT with creativity because now that it can do some of what I do, I can see the gears crunching and the pattern-matching happening in a machine-like way? I suppose so. Even so, I still feel there is some ineffable quality to “creativity” that’s missing here (at least for now).
Bottom line is this. Is ChatGPT creative? Not yet. Can it help me or you to be creative? Definitely. It’s a tool for creative workers. And that’s a pretty awesome thing to have.