Dragon NaturallySpeaking – A First Take & Quick Review

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One of the continuing challenges I faced over the years, and particularly so over the last several weeks leading up to the new year, has been trying to find time for my personal writing when more and more of my time was being taken up by other things. Luckily for me, Santa was kind enough to bring me a Dragon NaturallySpeaking speech recognition software.

Dragon is better than something like Word’s built-in word recognition because it not only asks you for your language during setup, it also asks you to specify your accent. The downside is it still isn’t omniscient out of the box. Therefore, in order to get it to work fully, you have to take the time to train it so it can adapt to you your dialect and your particular speaking patterns.

There are a few versions of the software: Home, Premium, and a version designed for medical transcription as well as variations that differ by included equipment. Mine came with a corded headset and installation disk, though I understand there are other versions out there with Bluetooth enabled devices for people who prefer to walk and talk.

I have a PC and was somewhat concerned that it wouldn’t support my operating system as it shows only Window 7 and Windows 8 icons on the box, especially when the program took ages upon ages to install. At one point during the installation, I started to wonder if I had missed a step. Maybe in order to get the program to launch, I was supposed to hold the box and walk into a firey pyre like Dany did in Game of Thrones in order to hatch her dragons. However, the installation meter did eventually move forward before it came to that and, at the end, I saw an ‘installation success’ message appear on my screen.

I’ve been playing with mine for a couple of weeks now and it’s getting a little less awkward each day, though I now suspect Her Royal Highness is rolling her eyes behind my back at my hypocrisy considering I always am asking her to tone it down when she talks to herself during the day. In my defense, her barking monologues don’t magically transform into written text on the screen.

Thus far, I haven’t had to add too many words to my dragon’s vocabulary, though I’ve been studying up on how best to train it (there are books on the subject specifically for writers). I can’t decide if it is a compliment regarding enunciation or more praise of the software’s programming. (I’m guessing the latter) That being said, it didn’t recognize the word Megalodon and instead returned ‘medic for all,’ when I said it. You might think this isn’t exactly a word that comes up in daily conversation, however, you don’t know my youngest. It comes up in our house. It comes up a lot.

(It also hasn’t recognized any of my swear words either – not that I use too many of them. Clearly, my dragon is of a genteel nature.)

Based on that experience, I realize that it may be a while before it (and I) am ready to tackle more traditional epic fantasy writing based on character names alone. Even so, I managed to write a full day’s personal word count quota in half the time, which is super promising. That even includes all the times I’ve had to go back and add punctuation manually as remembering to say the word comma or period while dictating isn’t natural for me yet either.

As a result, I am feeling quite good about what I might be able to achieve this year. I might even finish the first draft of book three in my Project Gene Assist series before the weather warms. Who knows?!? But if nothing else, at least know I’m trying.

Now, how about you? Are you trying anything new this year?

7 Alternatives to Vellum, or How I Spend My Weekends

5 Alternatives to Vellum - www.alliepottswrites.comVellum. It’s not just for illuminated scrolls. For those of you not in the self-publishing world, or those newer to book formatting, Vellum is also a popular software option that helps magically transform your manuscript from a document processing file into something the non-publishing world might call a book. (This post includes affiliate links)

I know plenty of authors who basically describe it as the bee’s knees when it comes to formatting your book. But what if you are allergic to bees? What do you do then? I say that as a bit of a joke, however, They limit Vellum to Mac users. It’s not cheap to use either, so it isn’t for everyone. Nor is the entire process of book formatting for that matter, but that is an entirely different subject.

So what is an author intent on publishing a new book to do?

I’m glad you asked as I have recently spent far too many hours getting my various books ready for its upcoming publication date by experimenting with Vellum alternatives offering formatted files I could then take to a professional printer.

Microsoft Word

This was my trusted go-to method of getting my books in initial shape for years as it allowed me to tweak font sizes, add decorative flourishes, and basically customize my book’s size and content any way I saw fit. However, Word has an annoying habit of inserting blank pages, “helpfully” adjusting page numbers, and text can be overly stretched with funky spaces between the words if you don’t know some of the advanced tricks.

  • Pros – High degree of control
  • Cons – Takes forever and a day if you don’t know what you’re doing, or haven’t written your entire manuscript with Word formatting in mind (i.e. you didn’t take advantage of Word ‘styles’) and may just drive an author to drink.

Affinity Publisher

A few years ago, I discovered an alternative—Affinity Publisher. The one caveat is, while you can, in theory, use Affinity Publisher to write your novels or text books from scratch, I don’t recommend it. It works much better when you import a Word file, or to a lesser extent a PDF file, with your text and then use the program’s fantastic text and paragraph control features to tweak how words appear on the page. The program costs approximately $54 US, but it is a onetime fee versus an ongoing subscription.

  • Pros – Improved readability compared to Word in terms of text spacing. Much easier to control pesky things like blank pages and funky page numbers.
  • Cons – Occasionally glitches when you try to move pages around after initial import, so save and save often.

Adobe InDesign

InDesign offers a lot of the same customization capability of Word and Affinity, which can help your book stand out from the competition (caution – this isn’t necessarily a good thing). Like Affinity, it also does a better job then Word at handling the space between words on the page. But unlike Affinity, InDesign is no newcomer to the industry. This means there are plenty of tutorials available to help you get started, which is good because it has more features than you even know you need. However, it isn’t cheap.

  • Pros – Highly stable platform with industry leading functionality
  • Cons – it’s an Adobe product, which means a steep learning curve and a high price tag though there is a free trial option.

Scrivener

Scrivener is a word processing and story organization tool specifically designed for books. You can copy and paste your manuscript from another word processor into the software, or import it depending on the file type, and export the Scrivener version as a print-ready PDF. However, it is probably far easier to write the entire project in the software from the get-go. While Scrivener is designed for print books, it also has a partnership with Vellum if you prefer their templates over Scrivener’s offerings provided you are willing to pay the price for both services.

  • Pros – Super easy to export your complete manuscript into a print-ready pdf
  • Cons – The product works best when you write your manuscript from end to end in the tool rather than try to import it from another processing program, and doesn’t offer the same level of customization in your book’s format as offered by Word or InDesign (once again, this is not necessarily a bad thing as some people can’t handle the awesome power that is font selection).

Reedsy

In addition to editing, Reedsy includes a free book formatting service. All you have to do is upload your manuscript into its online user interface, designate elements of your book like chapter name or section separator, select a book size, and a theme. It also is partnered with Blurb, which is a print on demand service, making it easy to print your book once it has been formatted.

  • Pros – Easy to use with a price that’s hard to beat. It even inserts back matter pages for you like your social media links, description (with images) of your other books, and a note about how people can join your mailing list.
  • Cons – There is no desktop app, which means you have to trust the cloud completely with your manuscript, and the user interface isn’t intuitive. Also, you are limited to three themes and three book sizes. Also, you don’t get your formatted file right away, though I only had to wait for a few minutes before I received the email saying my book was ready.

Atticus

Atticus was created specifically as a direct alternative to Vellum for more budget-conscious authors and non-Mac users. However, while it is cheaper than Vellum, it isn’t free. That said, like Affinity, you only have to pay a one-time fee of $147 to purchase it rather than sign your earnings away with a subscription. It is worth mentioning that it is newly released software just out of its initial testing phase. This means that there are some features still in development, but does come with 17 customizable templates, and free updates for life.

  • Pros – You can use the same software to write your book and for formatting it for print and ebook distribution. It also supports both offline editing and online access with automatic backups of your work to the cloud.
  • Cons – As this software has just been released, it may be glitchy and will likely require a number of updates. It will also take a while for tutorials to catch up, so may require more learning through experience compared to other tools.

Outsource it

Of course, you also have the option to outsource book formatting if, unlike me, you are a sensible person who would like to actually spend time with your family or friends on the weekends (or be working on your next book) rather than seated in front of a computer screen waiting for swirling wheels or flipping hourglasses to say your file is ready.

  • Pros – You keep your weekends
  • Cons – You have to trust that your formatter knows what they are doing and, if you find that edits are required in your final proof, it can start getting costly.

But in the end, no matter which path you choose, holding that end product in your hands for the first time is always worth the hassle. Trust me.

Reading Round Up – End of Summer Edition

One of the best parts about going on vacation is it gives me the ability to attack my ever unruly to-read list. Unfortunately, my list is rather like a hydra, as I usually wind up adding three more books to its roster with every completed novel – but I like to pretend I’m making some headway. Therefore, I thought I would share a few books I’ve been reading this summer with you. (This post includes affiliate links)


Victor (Eden East Novels)

by Sacha Black

When Eden East kills someone, she expects them to stay dead. It’s only polite, after all.

This is the second installment in the Eden East novels and takes place shortly after the events of Sacha Black’s bestselling, Keepers.

Eden hasn’t been home since her parent’s funeral, a fact that is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore considering she is the heir to the Elemental throne. Unfortunately, both duty and her grief for her parents will have to wait as an enemy she thought was vanquished, returns from the dead, triggering a prophecy that could spell the end for Truitinor.

The book itself is written for a Young Adult audience, and while it was well-written overall, the story at times was a little too angsty for me. There is a romance element throughout that features very prominently in the story (especially in the first half), which does occasionally take away from the action. However, the dialogue and characters themselves remain just as relatable as they were in the first installment. If anything, I found myself sympathizing more with the supporting characters than I had before.

While I do recommend you start this series with the first book, there is enough background context for a person to follow the story even if you haven’t. Though – seriously why would you when the first book is also a fun quick read?


Dualed

by Elsie Chapman

Two of you exist. Only one will survive.

Set in the not too distant future, mankind has finally found the elusive cure for the common cold. That cure resulted in the nasty side effect of universal and irreversible infertility. Life has continued, but it too comes at a price.

Every child born has an identical clone and both are the result of a blend of genetic material from two sets of parents. West knows her Alt is out there. She also knows that before she reaches the age of twenty, she’ll have to kill her. In a city of limited resources and citizen soldiers, there is only room for the fittest. May the best one win.

Dualed is much like Hunger Games in that it involves teenagers battling to the death in a dystopian future. As a result, violence and death are prominent themes. However, while both are described in explicit terms, I did not find the description of either to be gratuitous. That being said, this is not a book for everyone and those who might be triggered by scenes involving guns or knives should definitely pick up something else to read.

Awesome pun of a title aside, Dualed is a story about survival, self-worth, and family. I also found it to be one of those stories that linger with you well after you reach the end. It left me wondering about the group of people in charge known as the Board.  For example, what possessed them to start the kill-or-be-killed requirement in the first place? Lucky for me, there is a sequel (and so my to-read list remains alive and well) so I may yet find my answers.


Flicker: Ember in Space Book One

by Rebecca Rode

Getting sold to the empire was never part of the plan.

Set in the distant future, Ember is a poor Roma girl struggling to save enough to care for her ailing father by telling fortunes for space-tourists visiting Earth. Her talent, however, goes beyond simple card reading. Ember is able not only to see the future but capable of touching a person’s aura or internal spark with only her mind. While some might view her ability as a gift, others view her as a weapon.

Betrayed by her tribe, Ember is taken off-world to be tested for inclusion into the Empire’s Flicker program. The fact that Ember has no desire to be part of this elite fighting force, or be involved in the Empire’s war is irrelevant. Failure to do as the Empire bids will result in the destruction of everything and everyone Ember has ever loved. However, compliance might well cost Ember her soul.

This book had moments of Enders Game mixed with Divergent. Ember is a flawed but fantastic character who can drink the other guys under the table while still maintaining her sensitive side. There is also romance, though it is not central to the plot, and enjoyable three-dimensional supporting characters with problems of their own.

This is also yet another book that promises the action will continue in the form of a sequel (which has also been added to my to-read list).

 

Reedsy and the editorial quest, part three: the final update

Reedsy and the quest for an editorial partner - www.alliepottswrites.com part three

The following is the final installment in my hunt for the elusive editorial partner for my WIP using Reedsy. For those not familiar with the service, Reedsy, a database of freelance professionals with a focus on the publishing industry.

This post contains affiliate links.

As of last week’s update, I’d received three responses to my project brief. One editor wasn’t taking on new projects at this time, one editor didn’t have availability until closer to the end of the year, and another had availability, but the work would cost more than I was hoping to spend. However, I still had two more responses to go.

Suddenly this whole series of posts I’d intended as a fun way to share some of the challenges, but mostly the benefits, of being an indie author, wasn’t quite so fun.

I received another quote from a potential editor. The price was still higher than I originally was targeting for this project, however, her proposal also included a long list of testimonials relevant to my project. Not only that, but many of the authors listed had the word ‘bestseller’ attached to their name.

This editor had been my long shot when I’d been scrolling through Reedsy’s marketplace profiles. I’d had to get over my ever-present imposter syndrome to even send my request for proposal, and yet not only had she submitted a quote, she’d taken the time to tailor it to me. I’ll admit, I got a little starry-eyed at the thought of what we could do together.

The only problem was her quote hadn’t included a sample edit, though one was offered if requested. As much as the creative dreamer in me wanted to accept her quote, the more logical, business-minded side of my brain took over. Even with the testimonials, the quoted price was too risky to accept without seeing an example of her working style.

I also still hadn’t heard back from the fifth editor, though it was past the date I’d specified for responses. Things were starting to look grim.

I responded to editor number four, taking her up on her offer for the sample edit. It meant I’d have to wait longer before I could make my final decision, which meant less time for me to get it ready for publication following editorial feedback, but I was running out of options.

A day passed without an update. Then another day more. I started getting an uneasy feeling in my stomach about this entire process.

Then something lovely happened. People who had been reading my updates over the past few weeks reached out, offering direct assistance, or referring me to their preferred editorial service providers.

Suddenly, I went from having one option, to more than one fitting my schedule as well as my budget. This means, *fingers crossed* my project just may find its way to print yet.

Reedsy Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • It is easy to find a number of editors based on your genre who have several years of industry experience
  • It offers a fast and streamlined proposal process, giving you the ability to contact multiple editors all at once.
  • You aren’t required to sign up with anyone if the bids you receive aren’t in line with your expectations
  • Reedsy takes care of all the payment processing, which can protect your banking details and only includes editors who have been verified
  • Cons:
    • There is no way to filter potential editors by estimated cost or availability, which can cost everyone their time
      Reedsy’s marketplace vetting system requires editors have a certain level of experience, which makes it more difficult for authors using the service to identify and connect to hungrier or less experienced (aka lower-cost) professionals

    The final verdict

    Overall, I think Reedsy is a service with great potential and provides a value to self-published writers who want to employ the same professionals as those who follow the more traditional publishing route. That being said, it may be cost-prohibitive for authors who don’t have a backlist of profitable titles or those who aren’t backed by a successful crowd-funding campaign.

    While I will likely give it another try in the future, I think I’ll wait until I have a new series opener so there is the greatest potential return. Until then, the never-ending quests continues.

    To those who reached out, thank you so much for your comments and support. When (not if) this book is finally released, please know I couldn’t have done it without you.

    Reedsy and the editorial quest, part two: the initial response

    Reedsy and the quest for an editorial partner - www.alliepottswrites.com
    part two

    Last week I announced I was once again on the hunt for the elusive editorial partner for my WIP. The following is the results of my experience with Reedsy, a database of freelance professionals with a focus on the publishing industry.

    This post contains affiliate links.

    Using Reedsy’s filters and resulting profiles as a guide, I submitted a brief summary of An Uncertain Confidence to five potential editors. In my brief, I made sure to include a deadline for when I would like responses back as well as my manuscripts first few pages.

    I suppose I could have picked any part of my manuscript for sampling, but I figured it made the most sense to send the beginning as those pages will also be the most important for attracting would-be readers in the coming weeks and therefore, need to be as polished as possible.

    I received my first response within a day of hitting the send button and nervously hit open.

    She wouldn’t be able to meet the schedule as defined in my brief but was willing to provide a quote if I had some flexibility. I did the math in my head. If I said yes, I might as well say no to publishing this year. It was an option, to be sure, but not one I was comfortable with, especially knowing I had four more responses to go.

    I declined her offer but left the door open for future collaboration as I appreciated how quick and professional she was in her response.

    The next day I received my second response. It was a no-bid with an explanation that the editor was not taking on new projects at this time. It was disappointing but understandable. At this time, Reedsy offered to send my bid out to additional freelancers if I so choose.

    Just as I was beginning to feel like an idiot for not lining up my editor in advance, I received the third response, and this time it was a quote. I hit the open button.

    I might have been more prepared to expect had I read a recent Reedsy blog post on the costs of self-publishing before I’d sent my brief.

    On the positive side, she’d included a sample edit of my early pages, was professional, and supportive. It was easy to envision how much better my writing would become as a result. However, it was the kind of price that forces you to have a serious heart-to-heart with yourself about your book baby and its potential for return on investment.

    There’s still a chance, I told myself, staring at my response dashboard like a person playing a game of Russian Roulette. I still have a few more bids to go.

    To be continued …