Software Review: TextAloud (Free Version)

After spending time with NaturalReader (review here), I wanted to see how it compared with other text-to-speech software. What do you know; I found a program called TextAloud. Check it out:

TextAloud is Text to Speech software that converts your text from MS Word Documents, Emails, Web Pages and PDF Files into natural-sounding speech. You can listen on your PC or create audio files for use on portable devices like iPods, PocketPCs and CD players. TextAloud even has automatic iTunes/iPod syncing.

Other than different user interfaces, these two pieces of software worked fairly the same. Both versions offer the same voices: One female and one male. Again, I stuck with the male voice. The male voice sounded a bit more natural while the female voice sounded like a computer (chunky).

One thing I did like about the trial version was the opportunity to use it in MS Word. As I mentioned, NaturalReader does have that feature with the registered version, but didn’t offer the try before you buy. As such, TextAloud gave me a real opportunity to see if I liked the feature. The verdict? I loved it. It made editing far easier. Rather than the copy and paste back and forth, all my work was done directly within my Word document. Kudos!

I ran into one glitch while using TextAloud. It happened at the exact same place in my document every time. Each time it hit one particular line, the program froze. No where else…just one particular place in my Word document. I ended up closing down the program through task manager and the document before being able to use the product again. I guess that’s great for developers, since I can duplicate it; makes it easier to identify the bug.

And customer service: The creators Nextup.com has a forum for customer support and advice. Though I didn’t use it, I did browse it. The monitors are quick to answer questions and offer suggestions. In addition, it seems they’re in the process of updating TextAloud and looking into suggestions for the next version.

One thing I didn’t like about TextAloud which annoyed the heck out of me was the popup every time I copied something. It didn’t matter which document, from the web, where ever, it pulled a little pop up in the lower right hand corner. Grrr! I found a check box in the options section to suppress it, thankfully. So no need to experience the frustration I did.

So what was the deal with the popups? TextAloud has a feature that allows the user to insert the copied text into the TextAloud main software which can be viewed at a later date. Pretty nifty feature if you ask me. There’s certainly a time and place for it though it irritated me at first.

Honestly, I didn’t really like either voice which came with TextAloud or NaturalReader and could see going with a different voice if I chose to purchase one of these products. That’s where price comes in. NaturalReader is more expensive up front but automatically provides the user with 2-4 additional voices when they upgrade the software. TextAloud, though cheaper, requires the user to purchase each voice separately.

So which would I recommend? Neither. I suggest trying them both. For me it comes down to the cost benefit analysis because of the similarity of the programs. NaturalReader is more expensive upfront but comes with the additional voices ($49.50 for 2 more voices=4 total/$99.50 for 4 more voices=6 total). Maybe overkill for some, maybe not for others. How many voices do you really need? Are you satisfied with the voices which come with the program? TextAloud ($29.95) comes with the standard two voices after the trial and is less expensive. However, the user shells out an additional $35 for each additional voice, which can get rather experience.

One thing to note, these are the prices I found today. NaturalReader shows their prices marked down to what I mentioned above, so perhaps they’ll rise, perhaps not. Maybe the slashed prices is just a gimmick and it’s always that low. Who knows? 🙂

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Novel Review: The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner by Stephenie Meyer

I’ve resisted the Twilight series. As I’ve told others, the movies sucked balls. And even though books are usually better than the movies, I had a hard time believing the novels could be much better. So here’s the thing. Stephenie Meyer offered The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner for free until 7/5/2010. I decided to take advantage of it and see if the writing was really as bad as people say (Stephen King, I mean you). So the low down and dirty from the Bree Tanner website:

There are Two Sides to Every Story

Fans of The Twilight Saga will be enthralled by this riveting story of Bree Tanner, a character first introduced in Eclipse , and the newborn vampire world she inhabits.  In another irresistible combination of danger, mystery, and romance, Stephenie Meyer tells the devastating story of Bree and the newborn army as they prepare to close in on Bella Swan and the Cullens, following their encounter to its unforgettable conclusion.

I was pleasantly surprised. The book started strong. Though the gal was inhumane in many ways, I did sort of like Bree. I felt a little sorry for her being dropped into the world of vampires and forced to survive the best she could. Though I couldn’t understand the need to kill, and I question why this hadn’t occurred to her. There were other inconsistencies in her behavior that baffled me also, particularly the last few pages. It was like she was able to put her physical reactions to the situation on hold when before she was out of control.

Ms. Meyer introduced several characters whom I would have liked to know more about.

  • Diego — seemed to play such an important role in Bree’s life, but we learned virtually nothing about him.
  • Freaky Fred — by far was the most interesting character, but again, who was that guy? I definitely want to know how things worked out for him.
  • Riley and Victoria — Exactly what happened to them? Yeah, I got clues and know their outcome, but I want details. Perhaps that’s revealed in Eclipse.

As I mentioned, I’ve not read any of the other Twilight novels, though I’ve seen the first two movies. Still this novel seemed fairly stand alone. Not once was I lost. In fact, if I’d not seen the movies, I’d still be able to follow along easily. So if you’re afraid to read this novel because you think you’ll get lost, don’t be. I don’t even think this novel ruins it for readers who haven’t read the rest of the series. In a way, I think it just fills in a gap (the other perspective from the enemy stand point).

As far as the writing goes–not bad. I’m not sure really why so many people complain about it. It’s not the best, and certainly not the worst. One thing though. Decent start, saggy middle, and an ending which dragged. I know that sounds bad when considering half the book crawled. Still, the beginning had a decent enough hook to keep me interested in finding the outcome.

At the conclusion of the book, the question came to mind: Why Bree Tanner? In the big picture her POV seemed so insignificant. Yes, she was misled and ill-prepared, but other than being the last, she did not stand out as particularly unique. It was like having an entire book through the dreaded secondary character’s POV. Only thing, she had nothing really significant to offer.

Stephenie Meyer, thank you for offering this novel for free. Reading it has taken away my fear of wasting time on the Twilight saga. I’m now confident the series has potential. Will I run out and buy the first in the series today? No. However, I certainly won’t avoid it if a reasonable opportunity arises for the right price.

I do have one suggestion. Could you consider adding chapters? I’m not sure you noticed, but this novel was one long series of events with no breaks. No biggie…just askin’.

Available at Barnes & Nobles || Amazon || The Book Depository || Kobo

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Special Post: The Self-Published Slush Pile

Lately I’ve heard a lot of talk about the horrors of self-publishing. Many seem to frown upon it. It seems the general census is authors who take the self-publishing route fall under one or more unsavory categories:

  • Their writing is crap and isn’t worth publishing
  • The author is too impatient to go through traditional means (literary agents or editors)
  • Their work isn’t marketable
  • <Insert reason here>

Of course there’s always the exception–the awesome self-published book that takes literary agents and editors by surprise. But like I said, it’s the exception.

Anyway, there seems to be some horrible consequences of allowing anyone and their mother to self-publish. That crappy unmarketable work gets into the marketplace! <gasp>

The guardian.co.uk points out one of the effects in the post As literary world’s floodgates open, who must wade through the slush? Yes, us. A quick summary of the article reveals agents and editors as gatekeepers who keep horrible writing from reaching the eyes of the public who prefer high grade products. In essence, agents and editors perform a service for readers by only allowing decent stuff to grace our eyes.

I’m not being sarcastic here, though the words might suggest. In many ways, editors and agents are a good thing. I don’t like reading crap. It’s a waste of my time and a disappointment when I do. And if I purchase the crap myself…I’m pissed.

The guardian’s article ends by implying readers may lose interest if faced with mounds of mounds of unsolicited slush by aspiring authors who just don’t make the grade.

Here is where I disagree. Every time I walk into a bookstore, every time I open my browser to an online bookstore, I’m faced with slush. That’s right. The entire bookstore is a slush pile to me. I generally have to travel ALL the way to the back of the store to find my favorite section (romance). Once I’m there, if I don’t already have my favorite author picked out, I sift through book after book after book trying to find the perfect match. Sound familiar? Seems like the job editors and agents have–the goal of looking for the right fit.

Even after the time I spend in the bookstore, get home, and dig into my prize, I often find my book is not all that great. Even worse is when I purchase a book by my favorite author and discover the work is so bad it shouldn’t have ever EVER been published. Shouldn’t someone have stopped my bestselling author somewhere along the line? Surely someone should have put their foot down and said “No! This is worse than what comes out of our slush pile!” You readers know what I’m talking about.

Yet even after reading some not so great books, I still return for more. Why? Because I LOVE to read. I will wade through the slush pile called a bookstore happily with the hope of picking out a winner.

Self-publishing doesn’t mean readers are going to stop reading. It doesn’t mean editors and literary agents can’t still be gatekeepers. Readers still want kickass books. When readers go to the bookslushstore and pick up a self-published book that’s crappy and full of errors, they’ll put it back. Then they’ll pick up the next book and the next until the find the perfect treasure. Whether the winner happens to be the overlooked self-published book that takes the world by storm or the book which went through the submission process we all love and enjoy (now I’m being sarcastic), I can’t say.

Embrace the change and adapt! Self-publishing has been here for awhile, and it’s not going anywhere. Yeah, it may be easier now with simple uploads, but there’s nothing to fear (at least not for the reader). On our end, the slush pile looks exactly the same. We pick through what we want and leave the rest.

So what’s your take on self-publishing and the toll it’s taking the industry?

Determination and Perseverance

My rejection letters have been trickling in. I’ll be honest. I’ve received so many rejection letters for my current complete work, they don’t even phase me any more. I went into the query business quite naive. I had this awesome novel I’d finished, and the agents would flock to get it. (I’m actually laughing as I type this). Yeah, I was that arrogant.

The first rejection I just brushed off as no big deal. Just one agent, right. Then they started rolling in one after another. Something was wrong! Anyway, I’m still working on what’s wrong. haha

It’s funny. With all the rejection I’ve received, I still have hope of getting my novel published. I still believe in it!

When I received a couple of rejections one day last week, I shared the news with my husband first chance I got. Then I added, “That’s okay. I’m doing more revisions right now. I still have a list of agents to go. When I run out of them, I’ll got to the publishers. The more I work on this the more I know I’ll get it published.”

Wishful thinking? Maybe. I ask you though. When should I give up on becoming a published author? I hope you say never. 🙂

I started with paranormal romance, cause I love to read it. Not until after I finished my novel did I realize the market is flooded with it. No doubt, the market’s tough out there. So what am I doing about it? I’m trying to find my own plot of unclaimed land. I’m also working on other projects. Cause really, there’s no reason to put all my eggs in one basket. Plus, if I’m a writer, I’m a writer. How can I be a writer if I’m doing nothing but editing and never producing anything new.

I’m telling you all this (aspiring writers like myself and whoever wants to listen) so you know when I get published, it wasn’t because it was easy. It was because I was determined, persevered, and convinced I would beat the odds.

Believe in yourself, in your work, and keep on truckin’!

What stories do you have to share about your climb to publication?

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