Posted in Author Tools, Toolbox Tuesday

Toolbox Tuesday – Voice Dream Reader

This is one of my favorite tools to use as a writer and editor, but I also use this as a reader.

Voice Dream Reader is an app you can download on your phone or tablet that will read text to you. When I downloaded the app, it came with Heather and a few other voices. Heather is lovely to listen to, but since most of the characters I read are male, I really wanted a man’s voice. I bought Will, created by Acapela, and have used him the most. More recently I downloaded two new voices created by NeoSpeech: James and Paul. All can be purchased right from inside the app.

With each voice, you can change their rate of speech, pitch, and volume. So if you want a little more bass in the voice, you can do that! Is it going to be like a book narrator on an audio book? No, it’s not. Nothing is going to ever replace great narrators. That being said, some voices use more inflection than others.

So how does it work? I use it with Word, PDF, mobi, and ePub files for the most part, but the app supports other formats I’m unfamiliar with as well. I open a file from Dropbox and click Open With and click Voice Dream. The file is then opened in the app, and I just hit play.

A few warnings. First, not all words are going to be pronounced correctly right out of the box, but you can make changes to the pronunciation in the settings. One word it constantly messes up is douche, so I changed the setting so it says doosh rather than dowche. LA had to be changed to L-Ae unless I wanted it to come out as Lousiana. PR changed to P. R., pubes to pewbs, mic to mike.  You get the gist. But once you make those changes, then it’s added to your pronunciation dictionary, so you never have to hear Will read about nosing into a lover’s sac and smelling pubies.

FarmFresh-f-1Second warning is that some of the formatting is stripped from the text when it’s opened in the app. Voice Dream highlights the text as it reads, but if you had italics in the doc and they aren’t there, don’t freak out. I already did that for you when I was reading my final proof of Farm Fresh and saw all the italics were gone. But no, it was only because of how the app handles text.

Which brings me to using this as an author and editor.

At every author conference I’ve ever been to, people give the advice “Read your work out loud.” It’s very sound advice because it helps make your work stronger. When we had to read aloud in grade school, I counted how many kids were going to read ahead of me then counted down the paragraphs to find out which was mine. Until it was my turn, I mentally practiced saying all my words. I hate reading out loud and I pretty much suck at it.

But, Voice Dream is a great substitute. When you listen to your book while editing (and I follow along on a Word doc while listening to my story being read to me on the app), you catch things you completely gloss over while reading with only your eyes. Missed words, repeats, overused phrases or words, and the easily misused words our brains overlook, like through, though, and thorough. My ears catch what my eyes miss. I’ve also found editing with this app helps me find pacing and flow issues I would never have noticed.

As a reader, I use this when I want to read but I’m too lazy to keep my eyes open. James has been known to read me to sleep many a night. Sometimes I invite Will in my bed. Sometimes it’s Paul. I choose who reads to me based on the character in the book. I finally downloaded the app to my phone because I wanted to listen to books while I worked out. I can see using this on long road trips too. In my long-commute days of yore, I would’ve loved this! My kid has used it in her schooling too. It’s a great educational device as well as an adaptive one. I’ve used it when eye strain got to be too much.

This app is not free, but at that cost of $9.99 USD, it is well worth it, imho. I spent $1.99 on Will’s voice and I got Paul and James $2.99 each. I would spend that all over again. I wouldn’t consider putting a book out into the world without using Voice Dream Reader first.

Posted in Author Tools, Writing Resources

Toolbox Tuesday- PicMonkey

As a creative person, I’ve had the opportunity to play with a lot of tools. Some are more like toys to me because they’re so much fun I get lost in the process of making something. I hope this will become a new column on my blog.

Since I first self-published last summer, I’ve added a lot more tools to my toolbox. Many of those were added out of necessity or because I wanted to be thrifty rather than hiring a graphic designer to create promo images or the like.

I’ve learned a lot in the last year, and I’d love to share some of these new tools and toys with you, hopefully on Tuesday, so you can take advantage of them as well. Today I’m going to talk about an easy-to-use and #free app for creating graphics.

My friends N.R. Walker and Jay Northcote turned me on to PicMonkey and helped me realize what a great tool this is. Within the matter of an hour, I was lost, totally sucked into this photo editing and graphics creating dream. It’s fairly easy to use and free too! There is also the Royale treatment that has a nominal monthly or yearly subscription fee. I haven’t tried the upgrade, but with the subscription, you get many more features that you get teased about while using the free version. Worth it, in my estimation. And if you find you use it, the cost to upgrade is very manageable, less than a cup of coffee.

PicMonkey has a very friendly user interface that allows graphics beginners to create lovely images. It uses PhotoShop-type devices, such as textures, overlays, and working in layers, without the complication of the Adobe powerhouse. I’ve made a lot of images using PicMonkey and they have several templates to help get you started, like the Facebook banner. You can also enter your own canvas dimensions. And the back button is a blessing. You can go back in time and fix things. I’m a mistake maker, so I love that part. And when you’re ready to save the image, you can do so in varying degrees of quality as well as different file formats.

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Another thing you can do is open your own photos or photos you’ve bought the rights for and edit them. That’s how I created the cover for Bent Arrow and promotional images like the one below.

Bent Arrow TC

In this banner, I layered images, added font, and even added texture. You can create professional-looking images w/o going broke or crazy using PhotoShop. PhotoShop is a fantastic program, but honestly, for most it’s like buying a jet to travel to your job a mile from home. For most of what authors need as a quick tool to help get the word out about new reviews or specials, PicMonkey more than fits the bill.

The one thing I would caution if you are going to use this for cover creation or other images to be printed is to check the resolution of your photos. For print you need 300dpi for a clear image. The photo I started off with for Bent Arrow fit the bill, but I’ve created other images that needed to be reworked for print runs.

I’ve since moved over to a more advanced photo and graphics editor, but I will always use PicMonkey when I’m on the go. The nice thing about it is that it’s online. You can still use it on other computers if you are away from your own. There is talk about a mobile app. I think it would work great on an iPad. Not so sure about a phone.


 

Farm Fresh Square FB.pngJude Garrity visits the farmers market every Saturday. As an environmental engineering student, he’s curious about living off the grid and sustainable agriculture.

And one particular farmer.

Hudson Oliva has worked hard to support his commune, where queer people live without fear of harm or retribution. When Jude asks pointed questions about living there, Hudson realizes he needs to be honest about his home. Few people know what the farm is actually about, but Jude is insistent.

Jude moves to Kaleidoscope Gardens, however his sexual hang-ups make it hard to adjust. He’s an uptight virgin living among people who have sex freely and with multiple partners. When Jude finally loosens up, Hudson is flooded with emotions. Falling for Jude wasn’t part of Hudson’s life plan. But when vindictive rumors about the commune begin to spread, love might be all he has left.

 

 

Posted in Thanks, Writing Challenges, Writing Process

Beta Reader Appreciation + Questions

BETA_capital_and_smallIt wasn’t so long ago that I utilized every single beta or pre-reader I was brave enough to ask to read my stories before I even considered submitting to my publisher. Recently things have changed.

But wait, perhaps I should go back a little further.

The first fictional story I shared with anyone was fan fiction (FF). For those of you who don’t know what that is, FF are stories based on already published books, movies, TV shows, or even real people in the media, called Real Person Fic. The FF community I initially belonged to was a very supportive one. Like, crazy supportive, and I’m still friends with a lot of people from that community. In fact, there are a group of us who chat nearly everyday. We encourage, support, and cheerlead each other, and most of us barely knew each other during our fan fiction days. Now that we are all publishing original fiction (OF), it’s crazy how much I miss the old days, and I don’t think I’m alone in that.

So I came from a community of writers and readers who would practically clamor to beta or pre-read a story, and I moved into the world of OF, where I’m scared to ask for readers. It’s a different experience, for some reason. Some of it is because many of my old readers are busy with their own work, editing, or else have no interest in reading outside of their FF worlds. Finding a great beta is hard too, but I think that’s an entirely different blog post I’ll need to write in the future.

I’m scared of showing my rough work to people too, but that’s not all.

JanuaryAd_Elisa_NorthStarLast year when I wrote North Star, I asked several people to pre-read. Because I had 3 large books released very close together as well as a YA adaptation of Spark and then a novella to boot, I felt like I was taking advantage. I had so many more words to read, so I quit asking for help. For Flare, book 3 of North Star, I did something crazy: I submitted my work to my publisher w/o anyone reading it first. Only after it was out of my hands, did I ask anyone to read it. Talk about nerve wracking, but I felt I needed to know if I could still get published that way.

Since then, I’ve written 2 short stories, both which have been seen by new eyes.

I value those new eyes and am beyond grateful for people who are willing to give me their honest opinion of my work. It’s hard to let go of a story I’m not entirely sure about yet and to give someone permission to rip it to shreds, but I need to do that so I can make it better in the end.

For those of you who have beta read, what is your experience? Do you feel used or are you glad to do this?

For writers, what is your experience? How do you find readers that are not only willing, but also helpful? Do you give betas specific instructions or do you let them do what they want?

Posted in Authors, Writing Challenges, Writing Process

Open Project(s)

I’m writing a novella, and I have a short story that I have waiting in the wings. But first I need to finish this novella. I am one of those writers who needs things completed before they can move on, and it drives me a little (a lot) nuts.

So, today I will be scheming how to finish this story up. I got to a place where I thought I was done, but then realized I really wasn’t. So I need to write a few new scenes and the new ending today so I can work on my short story.

Am I the only author out there who can’t move on to new projects until the old ones are completed? If you were ever like me, please tell me how you got past this? I wish I could have 15 projects going at once.

Help!

Posted in Writing Challenges, Writing Process

Writing Challenges – Getting Started

I have a new project or five in my head. I know the characters very well already. I know the plot points that will turn and move the story forward. I know the setting, the year the stories take place, the tone, even the secondary characters.

So what is keeping me from starting?

I just said my least favorite word: start. How the hell do I start this book? What’s the opening scene? How do I not get bogged down in everything I just talked about in the first paragraph and instead, write a compelling opening?

If I weren’t a linear writer (for the most part), I’d just start in the middle and go, but I can’t do that.

What are the hardest parts for you when writing? Do you find opening scenes as challenging as I do? And what on earth do you do to get over that hump?

Posted in Blog Tour

Flare Blog Tour – Visiting Anne Barwell

Today I’m visiting Anne Barwell’s Live Journal and website. Come on over and pay her a visit! I talk about a scary moment for an author.

JanuaryAd_Elisa_NorthStar

Posted in Book Release

Flare is here!

The North Star Trilogy is complete. If you’ve been holding out until all the books are out, there’s no more waiting. They are all released! Get Spark here, Fusion here, and Flare here!

Flare