Software Review: Using NaturalReader (Free Version) in Editing

*Recycled Post*

I have actually utilized text-to-speech programs in the past yet never ever as a device for editing. It wasn’t until a blogger discussed it in an online forum that I decided to give it a shot. So, first up, NaturalReader. The description from the developers:

NaturalReader freebox

“NaturalReader is a Text to Speech software with natural sounding voices. This easy to use software can convert any written text such as MS Word, Webpage, PDF files, and Emails into spoken words. NaturalReader can also convert any written text into audio files such as MP3 or WAV for your CD player or iPod.”

This is a different type of review. Why? I’m also going to discuss the advantages of text-to-speech software applications instead of merely NaturalReader. Then I’ll get into the software application itself.

Editing

In another blog post, I asked Do Your Lips Move When You Edit? I’m discussing the technique of reading out loud. Numerous errors and funky phrasings appear when reviewing aloud, which do not take place when skimming or going through quietly. Now if you’re like me and attempt to review aloud, you might backslide into your quiet methods inadvertently. Other times, you might be so set on what you meant to read that you might ignore the actual words on the computer monitor.

NaturalReader

That’s where software like NaturalReader enter the picture. The application reads precisely what on the monitor, not what you anticipate to see. I definitely adored it! I downloaded the trial version of NaturalReader and need to point out, it’s amazing in terms of enhancing my writing — not only as a result of the program itself, but rather instead because of the concept behind reading aloud.

Allow me to clarify. NaturalReader includes two default voices, a male voice and a feminine voice. I invested bulk of my time with the male one. I found he mispronounced numerous words, missed articles and various other words, (which I really thought was odd), and failed to stop at some punctuation marks (eclipses and em dashes). The program also failed to distinguish between the pronunciation of words such as “read” (pronounced red in lieu of reed), without regard to the use in the sentence. I didn’t spend as much time with the women voice, however her accent seemed much higher quality. Nevertheless, the exact same problems as far as incorrect pauses still existed with the female voice. Over all, neither one of the voices were very natural sounding in my point of view. However, if the user upgrades the program, she or he gets additional voices, plus the ability to produce rules, which will address a few of the issues (at least I presume).

Though I’ve not purchased it, the purchased version also features an add-in which allows NaturalReader to operate directly in MS Office Suite software, pdf files, e-mails, and various other digital software.

I can’t really say I give my thumbs up to NaturalReader at this point without attempting other text-to-speech software. Nevertheless, I absolutely recommend that authors give some type of text-to-speech software a try. It truly is amazing. As always, you don’t need to take my word on it. Attempt NaturalReader on your own.

Authors Helping Authors: What I gained from #NaNoWriMo 2012

Wednesday ended NaNoWriMo 2011.

This year was my second time around. I have to admit, the event was a little bumpier than I’d expected. In fact, I didn’t even start until day 2.

The thing was, I wasn’t sure I wanted to participate this year. I thought about all the projects I had underway and said I needed to knock those out first. I just didn’t have time for NaNo.

Then November 1 came around, and I accomplished all of… nothing. Wait a minute here, I said to myself. Isn’t this the month you’re going to get some work done? Okay… so I wasn’t starting on the right foot.

November 2: I realized the best way to be productive was to get over my goals and start that new project. I threw together a outline for Harem and got to it. I have to say, that missing day took me forever to make up. Day 18, I finally inched over the bar.

Every day was a struggle to get myself motivated. Even after I caught there were days I wanted to quit. I even slacked a few days, not meeting my minimum goal. Then I decided to give Write or Die a try.

Now here’s the thing with Write or Die. Last year I gave it go, and it was annoying as hell. I just couldn’t concentrate with all the blaring going on when I slacked. Now I don’t know if it’s because I had the wrong settings or if it’s changed since then, but the program was more distracting than helpful.

Everyone was tweeting about it in the #NaNoWriMo channel this year. As for me, my past experience wasn’t good so I avoided it… until just a few days before the end of NaNo, and you know what? It works!

The obnoxious blaring was gone. Instead the screen transitioned from white to a deep red when I slacked. And there is noise. I found that out the first time I tried the Desktop version. 🙂 I’m ashamed to admit, but I did get distracted and started web surfing my first attempt. I don’t know what it was playing, but it wasn’t obnoxious. It was more of a where’s that music coming from?

One thing for sure, it got me back on track without distracting me to the point I couldn’t concentrate.

I’ve been using Write or Die ever since. Set at 15 minutes, I can get anywhere from 350-550 words written. It’s turned writing from becoming a torturous chore which can easily take me ALL day to scrape out a few hundred words to a few 15-minute intervals of highly focused writing sprints.

Now that NaNoWriMo is over, I’ve made a goal of 1k words a day. And with Write or Die, it’s such an easy task to accomplish. I’m looking at 2-3 sessions (30-45 minutes) a day. Even when I was pumping out my first novel way back when I was full of motivation, I wasn’t this efficient.

So, this year, I’m recommending Write or Die. It has changed the way I write for the better. In fact, after my first day using it, I went to my husband and asked if I could purchase the Desktop edition. Yes… I went to my husband to get permission to spend $10 from my book royalties. I know… odd. I just feel better with his seal of approval when it comes to writing and blog related expenses, regardless of the source of the funds.

There you have it. A++ for Write or Die.

 

Software Review Update: StoryBox

A week or so ago, Mark Fassett (Author and Software Developer) asked if I wanted to beta test his newest update for StoryBox (see reviews: Original, Pre-Release, Revisited). Sure, I said. 🙂 After all, I do all my writing in StoryBox. Why? because it ROCKS! Great timing also. As you might recall, I was just gearing up to polish Control Freak: Regina’s Story. Well, Regina’s Story is published, and I’m going to share with you how easy it was to do by using StoryBox (SB).

For a more detailed pictures, click on the images. By the way, the emerald green is a new theme for SB. Very pretty. 🙂

Image 1

Starting at the top, you’ll notice I have two items circled in Image 1. So, let’s familiarize ourselves with a few of the features of SB.

File Drawer ~ The right circle features the File Drawer. This is where you’ll find all your documents (Story, Chapter, Acts, Images, etc). They’re all here. If your file drawer isn’t open, you can find it by clicking on the view menu and choosing file drawer.

Document Properties  (Properties) ~ On the left side is the Properties box. This is where you’ll give a type to your documents. For instance, you’ll notice I have this particular document set as Story. Likewise, you can find document properties in the view menu.

One thing I’ll mention, SB is fully customizable. You can move the File Drawer, Document Properties or other features simply by dragging. So you’re not stuck with my view, and your SB view likely won’t look like mine unless you do some dragging. 🙂

Now to the highlighted area in the left circle ~ Control Freak: Regina’s Story. It’s important you label your Story properly. Once your file is created in the export, this is the name assigned to the actual download. For example, when I pull up the mobi created by SB in my Kindle, it’ll show Control Freak: Regina’s Story. I mention this because the default name for the Story document is “Story.” If you don’t change this, then the name on your Kindle will show “Story” and not the actual name of the story. Got it? Good.

Within a Story you have Chapters. The chapter I’m working with here is “Regina’s Story.” I use Chapters as dividers. Typically, I leave them blank or use one of the macros listed in the Help menu under Export. I’ll talk about the actual story later, which I chose Scenes as the type rather than something like Chapter, Story, Image, etc. For now, let’s hit the front matter.

Image 2

Front matter ~ For my stories, I like to divide my front matter into sections (everything circled on the left). I created separate documents and use the Scene type in the Document Properties. For my front matter, I included documents for my works and copyright information. Though I didn’t, you might even include an acknowledgement or forewords here. If you notice, the portion within my funky square on the left (Image 2), you’ll see front matter for the major indie distributors (Kindle, Goodreads, Smashwords, Pubit). That’s because each distributor requires their own copyright notice. You could include more, but that’s all I needed for the time being. The example provided is one for Smashwords. Instead of typing each copyright notice separately, I generally just copy and paste then change a bit of the wording (Smashwords edition substituted with Kindle edition, purchase from Amazon.com instead of Smashwords.com, etc.)

Over to the left, you’ll notice a few more items circled. Notice this particular document is NOT included in the manuscript. However, if I were creating a Smashwords file, I would check the box.

Because I want a page break between my list of works and the copyright notice, I chose to put a page break before this document.

According to the help file, it’s recommended to not preserve formatting so all looks right in the ePub files. I’m a bit of a rebel sometimes and chose to include it. Do so at your own risk.

So now we’ve reached the actual story! Woot.

Image 3

Notice the [doctitle]  at the top of the document in Image 3. This is optional. As I mentioned, the Help file has an entire list of macros. Because Regina’s Story is a short story, I chose to use this label instead of chapter numbers earlier. You’re free to be as creative as you want. Each work is different, so I’m not going into details here.

You might notice the [br] macros throughout the document, both here and in the front matter. Use these to force carriage returns. When SB converts your story into an ePub the spaces between paragraphs (carriage returns) disappear if you don’t use a forced [br]. Just a little FYI.

On the right side, I’ve checked all the boxes. Yours might look differently. For example, if you have multiple scenes, you might not want to include a page break between each scene, only chapters. Remember, each document is different. Fiddle around a bit to get the look you want.

Back Matter ~ I like to include a bit of encouragement to readers to review my work in the back, along with my author profile. Others might also include an afterwords, excerpts, or other features. It’s really up to you.

Last but not least… drum roll! The Cover Art!

Image 4

To include your Cover Art, go to the Document menu and choose New Picture. It’ll pull up a box which will allow you to choose the picture you want. Next, go to the Story Properties and select the appropriate picture in the Cover Image pull down menu (circled in Image 4). If Story Properties is not one of your boxes, you can select it from the View menu, like you did for the Document Properties and File Drawer. When you export your file, SB will automatically include the picture for you.

So that’s the basics… now for the fun part: Exporting your file.

Image 5

Right click your Story and choose Export. Everything which is checked “Include in Manuscript” (see the circled area on the right in image 2) will be part of your export file. An alternative, which I did with Regina’s Story is to only export sections of your manuscript. I collect Control Freak Stories in one file in order to keep everything together. So instead of right clicking the Story (Control Freak: Regina’s Story), I right clicked the chapter “Regina’s Story.” Doing so only exports the documents under Regina’s Story.

A few interesting items here. At the top, you have a choice to export to a .txt, .rtf, or .ePub file (see image 5). Each serves a wonderful purpose. The Smashwords Formatting Guide mentions a nuclear option. That would be your .txt file. It’ll take all the formatting in your document and strip it. The .rtf file is also great for Smashwords (SW). Though SW only accepts .doc files, you can use the .rtf as a base. Simply follow the guide and when you’re done, save as a .doc file. Voila! All is well.

Then we have the ePub file. Oh how I love you, ePub file. Pubit accepts a variety of formats, including ePub. Goodreads says it’ll accept files other than ePub, but does a crappy job converting. One thing nice about using SB to export into an ePub, you don’t have to worry about inadequate meat grinders. So if you’re looking to put something on Goodreads, this is definitely the way to go. Likewise, I had no problems with submitting my ePub to Pubit.

You’ll notice at the bottom of Image 5, I’ve circled “Prepare for Kindle Conversion.” Amazon has a free program called KindleGen, which allows you to convert HTML, XHTML, XML (OPF/IDPF format), or ePub into Mobi files. If you have KindleGen installed, SB will do the conversion for you. First, you have to make sure SB is properly configured to use KindleGen.

Image 6

In the View menu, select Preferences, then browse for your KindleGen path. If you followed the instructions for KindleGen, your path will be the same as the one in Image 6.

Once you choose whether you want to export as an .txt, .rtf, .epub, or .epub with Kindle Conversion, click Export and SB will do the rest.

***One note. If you choose to export using the Kindle Conversion feature, the ePub file will not include the cover art. If you want cover art with your ePub file, do not choose the Kindle Conversion. Basically, your Kindle Conversion and ePub file should be done with two different exports.

So for Regina’s Story, I ran the export 4 times — one for each distribution channel (Pubit, Amazon, Smashwords, and Goodreads).

That’s it. You’re ready to upload your files to the distribution channels. Now tell me, StoryBox is da bomb! Right?

Try it for yourself, then come back and tell me how it worked for you… or if I missed any important steps. 🙂

Software Review: Adobe Photoshop Elements

This has been a long time coming. Really, I’m such a novice with this wicked tool, I probably shouldn’t even be writing this post. Even though this does not pertain to writing it self, I find Adobe Photoshop Elements 7 relevant to authors trying to design their own cover art.

I actually acquired this piece of software as a bonus when I purchased my graphic tablet way back in the spring. I’ve been using it off and on, but during the last couple of months I’ve been really trying to learn how to use this program. So what does Adobe have to say about their product??

The #1 selling consumer photo-editing software*, Adobe® Photoshop® Elements 9 delivers powerful options that make it easy to create extraordinary photos, quickly share your memories in Online Albums and unique print creations, and automatically organize and protect all your photos and video clips. Now you can unclutter or repair any photo with a brush stroke; match the style of one favorite photo to another; and easily create stunning pop art, reflection, portrait effects, and more.

Save $40 on Adobe Photoshop Elements 9

I opened this program with a very rudimentary knowledge of graphic design. Basically, I could use it like the Paint program which comes in the Windows accessory 🙂 and understood what a layer was. I’ll tell you, understanding and knowing how to put layers to use were two different things.

First thing I realized about PSE was it isn’t an easy product to master. One doesn’t just open PSE and expect to be an instant pro at graphic design. It takes work… a lot of work to make anything look outstanding, in my opinion. My brief brushes with other graphic manipulation programs suggest this isn’t uncommon. However, if you’re familiar with a different graphic manipulation program, your knowledge should translate well to PSE.

So you’ve got lil o’ me who’s pretty clueless about photo manipulation. What I found was a wealth of information and tutorials online on how to use my nifty little product. My attempts usually didn’t turn out as beautiful as the examples, but it goes along the lines “practice makes perfect.”

With the tutorials by my side along with a bit of trial and error, I went to work. One thing for sure, PSE is a powerful tool. Most every tutorial I discovered I was able to do (though my attempts were sloppy). I did run into some problems with tutorials specific to Photoshop CS, but through a little research I found quite a few workarounds. Some methods I used to get a CS feel included downloading add-ons or using a different PSE tool.

The biggest benefit to using a tool such as PSE is the concept of layers. Oh how I love layers. Let’s take a look at the cover art below.

I counted 4 images and 17 layers for the above cover art. Others may be able to do it in fewer and a far better job. But as I mentioned, I’m just a lowly novice. 🙂  One of the things I like about the layers is the ability to use entire images without altering the actual image. Take for instance the tiger in the upper right corner. The image is of a tiger standing in grass with a rock formation behind it. Of course you don’t see all that in the finished product, but it’s still there in PSE. By grouping it with a level layer, I was able to blot out everything but the head while persevering the image. I love that. It means if I change my mind later down the road, I don’t have to worry about where I’m getting the image. It’s still there… as is. Then by changing the lighting, I got the see-through appearance.

Despite using PSE for a few months, I still don’t know enough about the product to detail every single feature. However, I will tell you I’m enjoying PSE greatly. I am so happy I got it as part of my Intuos4 package.

If you’d like to give PSE a try for free, Adobe offers a 30-day trial.

  • Don’t forget you can receive $40 off after the instant and mail in rebates through this link or the PSE image above. Offer expires January 5, 2011.
  • As an Adobe affiliate, I do receive a small compensation if you click through my links to make your purchase.