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    Thursday
    Sep302010

    Encouraging People to Share Their Stories

    We have recently had inquiries from several people who were interested in creating books that were community projects involving multiple contributors. Here's the advice we've given these people.

    We have met a number of people like you who had great ideas for community book projects, but they never seem to get them off the ground. Why is that? Here are the conclusions we have drawn:

    1. You cannot ask non-writers to write.
    Imagine this: I am not very athletic, yet each year when I visit my uncle he wants me to play golf with him. Golf! That takes years to learn how to play well. If I attempt it, I know I will fail, so I politely refuse. The same applies to writing. It may be your beloved hobby, but to others it is as specialized as golf, a game they do not play. The solution? Ask for their knowledge and stories, but don't ask them to write. Plan to interview these contributors with a digital recorder, just as journalists have done to get the story for many years.

    2. The rewards are not clear, or are not powerful enough.
    It is human nature to ask, What's in it for me? Too often you are the only one who benefits, and yet you want something, either time or effort, for nothing in return. The solution? Create a reward. If you are doing this as a for-profit venture, pay for each story. Non profit? Sometimes even a token payment, such as a gift card for the bookstore, or perhaps a donation to their favorite charity in their name, will make it worth their while. Often, simply offering to get together for a cup of coffee is a good enough "social reward" - people love to get out of the house, and you promise to make it fun for them. The promise of seeing their story in the finished book, however, does not seem to be an incentive, as it is too abstract, at least until the book is actually finished. At that time, they may be very interested in purchasing the book, or receiving a free copy as thanks for contributing.

    3. The scope of the project is unknown.
    Too often, the person who wants to do the community book has "a great idea" but no plans beyond gathering the stories. In their enthusiasm, they pitch the idea poorly to others, who are not impressed. These contributors feel they are being drafted, and they doubt the project will succeed, perhaps rightly so. If the author does not prove that she/he has a good plan, why should they get involved? The solution: Make a plan, and pitch the plan effectively. They will want to know who the other contributors are, and how many stories are going into the book. They will want to know about your plan for organizing the book, your schedule for completing it, and how you intend to publish and distribute it. The money issue must be addressed: are you making a profit, and if so, will they be compensated? In addition to all the information about the book as a whole, they will need to know what you want from them in particular. Give definite guidelines for the length and content of the story. It is very reassuring to hear that there are limits, such as "I just want to record you telling your story for 15 minutes."

    4. Relationships matter more than you imagine.
    They say that all transactions take place in a social context. When people listen to your book project proposal, they  will consider their relationship with you before they decide on their interest in your book. Friendships have a loyalty factor, as in "please do this as a favor for me, because you are my friend". Acquaintances do not have any such obligation. They will listen to your proposal, and they will use their reason to gauge the value of the exchange; how much effort will this take on their part, and and how important their contributions are to your plans. That is why it is important that your sources like you, and want to help you, on a personal level. The contributors must have a "good feeling" about the author and the project for it to succeed.

    Ultimately, I think that authors who want to do such a book have to take full responsibility for it. They need to accept the role of project manager, as well as author, and they need to be realistic about the relatively small part that others will play. When you ask others to contribute to a book, they will respect your efforts more if they know you have already shouldered the greatest share of the work, and expect relatively little of them.
    

    Tuesday
    Sep282010

    Tweeting to Promote Holocaust Memoir

    Ninety-one year old Willie Sterner is tweeting.

    Sterner, a Holocaust survivor has written a memoir of his experiences, The Shadows Behind Me, which will be released today. As part of the book’s launch Sterner’s book will be tweeted in three daily updates each day for thirty days.

    Sterner’s Twitter posts are part of a plan by Montreal’s Azrieli Foundation , which is publishing his book as a part of its Holocaust Survivors Memoir Program, to reach readers who would otherwise not be exposed to the stories of Holocaust survivors.

    "Most Holocaust survivors can't find publishers for their memoirs," said Naomi Azrieli, chairperson and executive director of the foundation. "They write their memoirs because they don't want to lose their stories. We realized this is a great role for philanthropy, because there's no other way to get these stories out there."

    Sterner’s memoir and others in the series will be sold in books stores and available for free download on the Azrieli Foundation website.

    **********************************************************************************

    The Azrieli Foundation’s effort to reach out to a new audience is one author’s seeking to promote their own books should consider. Social media can be a powerful in creating a buzz about a book. Plug Your Book! Online Marketing for Author’s  by Steve Weber provides a comprehensive look at using other online tools to promote your book.

    Click here to read the Montreal Gazette’s report on Sterner’s book launch.

    Click here to visit the Azrieli Foundation website.

    

    Sunday
    Sep262010

    Good Advice on Book Marketing

    If your goal is commercial publication, Kendra Bonnett’s List for Writers: 10 Tips for Marketing Your Book or eBook on her Women’s Memoirs Blog is well worth your time.

    She provides a quick guide to some excellent resources for authors who want to promote books whether they have been published by traditional publishers or are self-published.

    As I indicated in my comment on Women’s Memoirs, we’d also recommend a look at two books on marketing books: Aaron Shepard’s Aiming at Amazon and Steve Weber’s Plug Your Book: Online Book Marketing for Authors.

    If your goal is to sell your book you need a marketing plan. If you don’t have one yet the resources above will help you create one. If you already have one, you might still want to take a look to see if there is something you might add to improve what you are already doing.

    Click Here to read Kendra Bonnett’s List.

    

    Friday
    Sep242010

    Interesting Examples of Topical Memoirs About Food

    “I am a foodie; I always have been, and I’m not ashamed to admit it,” says Fliss on her blog All Lit Up as she opens a post titled Food For Thought: Three Food Memoirs. That was enough to get me – a fellow foodie - to read it. But the post contains some lessons for memoir and family history writers as well.

    One of the most perplexing problems encountered by many people who want to write a memoir or family history is how to organize their books. The might do well to look at the three books Fliss reviews.

     

     

     

    Cooking for Mr. Latte by Amanda Hesser

    The book covers a period between when Hesser, a food writer, meets her future husband and their wedding day. The chapters were originally written as articles and each is followed by a series of recipes.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    French Milk by Lucy Kinsley

    This, says Fliss, is “a graphic novelesque travelogue of a monthlong vacation in Paris,” during which “Knisley is almost totally obsessed with food.”

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard

    This memoir covers the first few years of Bard’s life after she moves to Paris. It is well-seasoned with recipes.

     

     

     

     

     

    Each of the three books is an example of a writer successfully creating an interesting book by limiting the scope of their stories both chronologically and thematically. By organizing their books around a single topic the writers assured a unity of purpose and coherence.

    These books are examples of an organizational technique that will work for both memoir and family history and for a multitude of topics.

    Click here to read Fliss’ reviews.

     

    

    Wednesday
    Sep222010

    A Self-Publishing Case Study

    The process of self-publishing a memoir or family history book presents first time authors with many potential journeys into unknown territory. Considerations about who will edit a manuscript and how to design the cover and and interior of the book face the author who is often most concerned with the question, “What will it all cost?” For a person who has never been through the process of self-publishing a book the prospect can seem quite daunting.

    A recent post by Joel Friedlander on his blog The Book Designer helps to illuminate the process of creating a book. Friedlander offers a case study of a single self-published book, The Andrew Street Mob, by Andrew Marais which he describes as a “…firsthand account of growing up amid a group of 40 or more kids in Johannesburg, South Africa in the 1950s.”

    The book was a non-commercial project. Friedlander describes how he worked with Marais to, “Create a book that can be handled and read, that’s economical to produce, and that minimizes the cost to print as much as possible.”

    If you’re considering self-publishing, following Friedlander’s account of the choices that took the project from manuscript to printed book will be illuminating. It will also give you an idea of the sort of collaborative relationship you will want to seek with your editor and/or book designer.

    Click here to read Joel Friedlander’s post.

    Monday
    Sep202010

    A Readable Cover For Your Book Online

    Book marketing expert John Kremer looks at some highly promoted recent books in a post on his Book Marketing bestsellers. What he sees leads him to ask a question about book titles: “Should you be able to read them?”

    Kremer examines half-a-dozen covers and finds that in many cases reading the title or the name of the author can be a chancy proposition. Let’s look at an example:

    Says Kremer, “Jonathan Harr’s title is unreadable at this size (the size in most catalogs and websites). I think it says something like The Lost Painting, but I cheated. I made the graphic larger to make out the last word.”

    He raises an important point. As more and more books are sold online what makes for a successful cover is changing. Covers were once designed to appeal to bookstore buyers who picked the book up and examined it. But with the shift to web sales cover designs have to display well in thumbnails and at low resolution.

    When you work with your cover designer, make sure that the appearance of your book online is an important element of your discussion.

    Click here to see the rest of the covers and John Kremer’s assessment of them.

    

    Saturday
    Sep182010

    Family Facts in Historical Context

    People who want to create family history books often tell us that while the have done lots of factual research they have only a few family stories. What, they ask, can I do?

    One of the ways to bring facts to life is to surround them with a historical context. If you don’t know many interesting details about your ancestor, try to find out what was going at the time and place where they lived.

    You know that your family moved from Oklahoma to California in 1933, but the stories of their decision to leave Oklahoma and of their journey west have been lost. But there’s plenty of historical accounts of life in Dust Bowl Oklahoma and the migration of Okies to California. You could give your reader a sense of your ancestors experience by drawing upon stories told by people like them. You could make very effective use of literary passages like those in Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.

    You could use political events associated with a time and place in the same way to suggest what life for your ancestors was like. Nancy Hendrickson, a Contributing Editor of Family Tree Magazine provides an excellent example of how it’s done. You have only an isolated fact to work with. In Hendrickson’s example, “My family was included in the Putnam County, Missouri, 1860 federal census.” Here’s how she puts that single fact into a rich historical context:

    In the fall of 1860, an Assistant U.S. Marshal traveled the rolling green hills of Putnam County, Missouri, questioning the people in every household.  He asked their names and ages, occupation and birth place.  As an agent of the Secretary of the Interior, he was charged with the responsibility of taking the Eighth U.S. Federal Census.  He was called the enumerator.                                                                                             As he traveled the county, he probably got an earful of local politics—after all, the presidential election was only weeks away and with the South’s threat to leave the Union  should Lincoln be elected, secession talk had to be in the wind.  That, and the institution that James Russell Lowell called “the relic of a bygone world”—slavery.                                                                                                                                                    In this census year, a separate enumeration called a Slave Schedule, was also taken. This would be the last time in the country’s history that slaves would be counted.

    The context makes the fact read like a story and helps us to understand the world in which the people listed in that census lived. It’s a way to help your reader share the experiences of the ancestors who people your book.

    Thursday
    Sep162010

    Lessons on Editing Your Family History

    Lynn Palermo, who blogs at TheArmchairGenealogist.com, offers some interesting and useful advice to people writing family histories and memoirs in her post Seven Key Lessons to Editing Your Family History.

    Here's her list:

    Lesson 1 - Never attempt to be writer and editor.

    Lesson 2- Prepare from day one for the editing process.

    Lesson 3- Do not take corrections personally.

    Lesson 4- Regardless of whether you are self-publishing, or using a printer, don’t shy away from paying for a proof or purchasing an advance copy.

    Lesson 5 – Resist the temptation for your book to be “a surprise for the family.”

    Lesson 6- There will be mistakes.

    Lesson 7 – Family members are very understanding of the work that goes into writing a family history book and are very generous with their praise, and less worried about mistakes.

    Good advice! All of these lessons are important. But a couple of them need some discussion for people new to the process of working with an editor.

    In lesson two Palermo recommends developing a system to track your documentation. She suggests a binder titled Primary Sources with a section for each person in the book and copies of all source material about that person. Says Palermo, “This book will later be your editors go to source to ensure all information has been transposed accurately from their primary source.” The term used in publishing for this process is “fact checking.” It is important to understand that fact checking is an additional service that editors may provide, but it is not something an editor routinely does. If you want your facts checked make sure to arrange for that specific service.

    A second note regarding editorial services is to distinguish between content or developmental editing and copy editing. Again, each is a separate service. A content or developmental edit focuses on the effectiveness with which your tell the story. It looks at how to improve your manuscript by adding detail to clarify or enrich stories, moving stories from one place to another where they will fit more coherently or deleting sections of the draft that are repetitive, unclear, or don’t logically fit. A content edit is a collaborative process of heightening your effectiveness as a storyteller. A copy edit focuses instead on correctness. Your copy editor will look at your draft for errors in grammar, spelling, word usage, punctuation, etc. to produce an error-free manuscript for publication. Make sure that you arrange for the kind of editing services you want for your manuscript before handing it over to the editor you have chosen.

    Finally, it is important to understand that fact checking, content editing and copy editing may be done by the same person or by different people depending upon your desires. Just make sure that you have made clear with whomever you call upon to edit your book exactly what service you want them to provide.

     Click here to read Lynn Palermo’s full post.

    

    Tuesday
    Sep142010

    Whose Memoir is This Anyway?

    So you’re concerned that your siblings have a different recollection of your family’s history than the one you want to put in your book. Your concern is not unique.

    A melodrama of competing versions of a personal history is being played out today in the family of Ernest Hemmingway.

    When Hemmingway committed suicide in 1961 his memoir, A Moveable Feast, was unfinished. Mary Hemmingway, his fourth wife reviewed the unfinished material with an editor from Scribner’s and assembled a book which was published in 1964.  

    Fast forward forty-five years. Hemmingway’s son, Patrick, succeeded Mary Hemmingway who had passed away as his father’s literary executor.

    "I thought the original edition was just terrible about my mother," said Patrick. Mary Hemmingway had been the fourth Mrs. Hemmingway. Patrick’s mother was Pauline Pfeiffer, the second Mrs. Hemmingway. His concern was with the way the affair between Pauline and Hemmingway broke up his first marriage to Hadley Richardson.

    So Patrick set out to create a revised edition. Patrick’s son, Sean, served as editor for the new version. Ernest Hemmingway had written several versions of his book and saved all the drafts. The new edition makes use of versions that Mary Hemmingway had ignored in the first edition.

    In his notebooks Ernest Hemmingway had also said that the book was a work of fiction although conceding that fiction often contains true stories.

    Robert Fulford summed the situation up in Canada’s National Post online. He wrote, “So Hemingway revised reality as he half-remembered it, and Mary selected from his versions the material she wanted, and Sean made some different decisions. The 2009 book turned out to be a revision of a revision of a revision.”

    Your memoir or family history may never satisfy all of the members of your family. They may have their own memories of the events. If they want to share their version with others, they can write their own book. As for you, you might best be guided by novelist Gore Vidal’s comment on his own memoir, “a memoir is how one remembers one’s own life.”

    

    Sunday
    Sep122010

    What's Your Book's Theme?

    One of the most common obstacles faced by family historians is how to organize the mountain of research they have accumulated. The first advice they are likely to be given is to decide on the scope of their book. Should they choose a single line in their ancestry and trace its story. Or would it be better to start with a specific ancestor and look at all of that person’s descendants.

    Once the decision about scope is made a second question arises. What common underlying experiences or ideas, relationships or connections run through the lives of the ancestors you will write about?  In short, what is the theme that ties together your family’s history? Beyond the unique aspects of that experience how have the events experienced by the people you describe been part of the universal human experience?

    Here are some examples of themes in different kinds of family stories:

    • Wisdom, values or lessons and passed from generation to generation: That was the case for books written by both major presidential candidates in the last election. Barrack Obama in Dreams From My Father and John McCain in Faith of My Fathers.


    • Racial, ethnic or cultural identity:  It’s an experience Booker T. Washington captured in his autobiography Up From Slavery where he observed “my race must continue passing through the severe American crucible.” Frank McCourt was able to turn his Irish-American experience into a Pulitzer Prize winner with Angela’s Ashes. But you can give that experience an interesting twist as Jane Ziegelman did in 97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement in which she uses the ethnic foods of the Germans, Irish, Italians and East European Jews on New York’s Lower East Side to tell their immigrant stories.

             

    • The migration west: Jane Applegate’s Snookum: An Oregon Pioneer Family’s History and Lore is an excellent example of documenting the experience of settling the frontier.
    • Family occupation or career: British novelist Robert Louis Stevenson used it to tell his family’s story in Records of a Family of Engineers. The book, recently published after work by the Gutenberg Project, explores the family firm that built most of Scotland’s lighthouses.
    • Political persecution: Kati Marton’s Enemies of the People: My Family’s Journey to America tells the story of her parents, both Hungarian journalists who were imprisoned by the communist government after World War II and finally escaped to the United States after the failure of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.

            

    In thinking about the theme for your book look for both what’s unique about the experiences of your ancestors and what universal lessons those experiences might teach your readers.

    

    Friday
    Sep102010

    Should you author an ebook for commercial publishing?

    It has been fascinating to watch the rapid evolution of ebooks, both as a technological platform and as a publishing platform. As a consumer, you may have already purchased an ebook reader, such as Amazon’s Kindle or the Nook from Barnes and Noble. Apple’s entry into the field with the iPad is expected to result in an explosion of new titles available to readers in the ebook format. Yet the workings of this industry behind the scenes, where books are actually created for delivery to these devices, is still evolving.

    The publishing of ebooks has upended and overturned the traditional model of commercial publishing. The traditional author worked through an agent, one who negotiated each book individually with publishing houses to determine the market value of a book. The author’s rights to print, web, and film could be negotiated separately. If the deal didn’t go through, the agent could shop the book around to other publishers.

    The ebook market is far less flexible for the author. Because the producers of these devices control the publishing platform, they get to set the terms. At Amazon and Apple, the terms are set: a 70/30 split. The difference comes in book pricing. Apple will sell every book on its iPad for $9.99, an arbitrary price point the author cannot control. Amazon is willing to offer ebooks at a significantly lower price. Although the 70/30 split is a higher percentage than the author could get from a traditional publisher, these low ebook prices will net far less for the author than the proceeds from a self-published trade paperback.


    Recently, Barnes and Noble announced the creation of PubIt!, their new ebook publishing division. Whether they can offer more attractive terms for authors remains to be seen.

    The stakes are higher than ever before. This isn’t just an issue of the author’s contract, whether he makes a few cents more or less per book. Because there are just a few giants in the ebook business, Apple, Amazon and Barnes & Noble don’t just sell the reading devices, they also control the distribution of ebooks. You can’t choose to shop at an independent bookstore down the street if you don’t like what they’re offering.

    Is it a good idea to publish your book in ebook form? You are not likely to make a profit from a wide readership, but an ebook can be useful to your existing readers. The multimedia form can offer a more complex experience. You can incorporate video and audio into the book experience. One of the best features of ebooks is the embedded internet links, opening up more avenues of exploration for the reader.

    Unfortunately, an ebook costs as much or more to produce than a print book: it requires writing, editing, and design, with more complexity. This is why so many ebooks you see for sale are actually promoting some other profitable venture, whether the print book, or a product or service. The ebook isn't a profit center, but it can be an effective loss leader.
    

    Wednesday
    Sep082010

    Are Ebooks Right for You?

    Online bookseller Amazon.com recently released a statement from CEO Jeff Bezos which said, “… customers now purchase more Kindle[ebook reader]books than hardcover books.”

    In a subsequent interview with USA Today Bezos added, “I predict we will surpass paperback sales sometime in the next nine to 12 months.”

    It’s enough to make anyone with an interest in books give some serious thought to what ebooks may mean for them.

    Our next two blogs will look at ebooks from two perspectives. Today we’ll look at the implications for authors creating a memoir or family history who intend limited distribution for family and friends. In our next post we’ll look at ebooks from the perspective of  authors seeking commercial distribution.

    If Your Goal is Preserving Your Personal or Family History - Print Books Are Best

    What about ebooks? How about that digital camcorder footage from the last family reunion? Perhaps this is enough to tell your stories, and you can be spared the trouble of writing a book.

    Whatever happened to those cassettes or VHS movies? Unfortunately, none of these technologies are reliable over time. Whatever happened to those cassettes or VHS movies? The Library of Congress, as well as other digital media experts, still advises us to document history on paper. Books can last for hundreds of years. Ironically, the lasting value of books is because they are “low tech” and don’t require a machine to operate.

    That doesn’t mean that a multimedia presentation isn’t engaging and valuable. Consider supplementing your book with a CD enclosure that holds all the photos you’ve published, and more that didn’t make it into the book. You might include audio or video recordings of family members. It is easy to create a companion ebook to accompany your book. Ask your editor or book designer how you can coordinate the two projects as you prepare your book.

    But if preservation is your primary goal take the advice of Dag Spicer, curator of the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley, “…consider paper as an archival medium.”

    Monday
    Sep062010

    Publishers Weekly and Self-Publishing

    If there were any doubt about the impact of self-publishing on the industry, a quick look at the August 23rd post on the Publishers Weekly blog by PW President George W. Slowick Jr. would dispel it. The publication which carries the tagline "The International News Magazine of Book Publishing and Bookselling" announced a policy change.

    We are returning to our earliest roots. PW dates to 1872, when it was first known as Trade Circular Weekly and listed all titles published that week in what was then a nascent industry. We have decided to embrace the self-publishing phenomenon in a similar spirit. Call it what you will—self-publishing, DIY, POD, author-financed, relationship publishing, or vanity fare. They are books and that is what PW cares about. And we aim to inform the trade.”

    The quarterly supplement which will be titled PW Select promises a “complete announcement issue of all self-published books submitted during that period.” Each book will receive a listing will include author, title, subtitle, price, pagination, format, ISBN, a brief description, and ordering information. PW Select will choose 25 self-published titles for review.

    What Publishers Weekly’s announcement did not do was place self published books on the same footing as those published by commercial publishing houses. For authors who submit a self-published book for inclusion in PW Select, “a processing fee of $149 will be charged.”

    The reaction in the self-publishing community has been predictable.

    “$149 for a brief listing that no one will read, plus the miniscule chance of an actual review in a segregated section? I'm sorry to see PW joining the ranks of the many businesses out to fleece self publishers,” said Aaron Shepard in a comment on the Publishers Weekly website.  

    Another commenter, who did not identify himself by name, said, “PW has decided to launch a service that relatively few will be able to afford. So, in the end, rather than embracing any change, PW is simply laying down another type of self-appointed, financial “gatekeeper” to turn us away from the prize. Really disappointing.”

    An article in the Self-Publishing Review gave a somewhat more balanced view of PW’s new policy: “Great news!  Unfortunately, the way they’re “embracing” self-publishing is by charging a fee.  The way that self-publishing could truly be embraced is by recognizing that self-published titles can be as good as any other and reviewing them alongside other books.  But it still places self-published titles in a separate ghetto. An argument could be made that pay to play is built into the self-publishing model, so this isn’t a terrible development, but this has the feeling of milking self-published authors like so many other promotional schemes.”

    Whether you agree with the way they went about it or not, the important thing is that Publishers Weekly’s action recognizes that it and the industry it serves needs to find a way to address self-published books which are accounting for an increasing share of the book market each year.

    Click here to read the full post on Publishers Weekly.

    Click here to read the response on The Self-Publishing Review.

    Saturday
    Sep042010

    The Family Historian's Dilemma

    In a recent Matilda Butler, who along with Kendra Bonnet, blogs at Women’s Memoirs discussed an insight about family history she had while visiting the Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California.

    Said Butler:

     I stood watching a video of interviews with workers who have contributed to the growth of Salinas over the past 100 years. I was struck by what was missing. One person described how his family, his grandparents, moved from the Philippines to Hawaii and then on to California. He said he didn’t know why they didn’t stay in Hawaii, he just knew that they moved to California several years before his father was born. Another man spoke about his parents leaving Italy for California. He didn’t know the year they moved to Salinas. The stories continued in this vein. It was interesting to see how many cultures have made a contribution to the farming in Salinas, but none of these descendants knew the details. They didn’t know what motivated their families to move or when they moved or what they found when they arrived or why they stayed.

     It was an eloquent statement of a dilemma faced by many family historians. While genealogical details of their family trees are complete, the stories of the people who inhabit its branches have been lost. A number of the conversations Nancy and I had with people at the Salt Lake Family History Expo focused on trying to find lost stories of ancestors.

    What is clear is that the longer you wait to get your family history started, the more likely it is this will happen to you. If you followed Nancy’s series on story recording over the last few days, you have some excellent guides to help you in gathering your family’s stories. [If you haven’t yet seen the series, take a look at our last four posts.] But whatever you do, talk with relatives to gather the stories they have and make sure they are preserved.

    You may wait to start your family history book, but don’t wait to gather the stories that will make it interesting and memorable for your readers when you do get it done.

     

    To read Matilda Butler's full post, click here.

    

    Thursday
    Sep022010

    Recording Stories with Speech Recognition Software

    Recently I have been corresponding with a blog reader, Edward, who has a lot of experience with recording his stories digitally. We both have used the prominent speech recognition software, Dragon Naturally Speaking. It seems like the perfect solution if you’re hoping to evade the onerous task of writing a book. Dragon has two modes: one in which you dictate with a microphone and it types as you speak, and another mode that transcribes audio files you have loaded from your handheld recorder.



    I sent Edward this excerpt, among others, from my book, Stories To Tell: A Guide to Self Publishing.

    “Another way to dictate into the computer is a software program called Dragon Naturally Speaking, which converts your speech to text. Unfortunately, this technology is not flawless. If you do decide to purchase this software, we offer this advice from long experience: edit the text immediately after recording. There is often an unintelligible gap between what you said and what was typed, and it is difficult to remember later what you meant to say. With practice and cautious, clear enunciation, Dragon Naturally Speaking can be a very helpful tool.”

    Edward replied to me:

    “I am somewhat ambivalent about Dragon. On the one hand, it eliminates the necessity of transcription, whether by me or someone else, but it is not as natural as I would like. If I become as informal in speaking as story telling really is for me “around the dining room table”, as you suggest, then my voice becomes less disciplined for the requirements of Dragon and my error rate increases. The necessity of remaining consciousness enough to speak properly for Dragon seems at times to detract from speaking naturally….a paradox, since it is called “Dragon Naturally Speaking”. At times, it is not “Naturally Speaking” enough for me. I think I sometimes use Dragon less than I might for that reason. As you say, it requires “practice and cautious, clear enunciation”, which isn’t necessarily conducive to relaxed, spontaneous story telling.”

    Edward and I also compared our versions of Dragon Naturally Speaking. (He has version 8, I have version 10, and yet we both struggle with inaccurate transcription when we speak "too naturally".) The manufacturer, Nuance, http://www.nuance.com/dragon/index.htm has recently released an updated version 11, which is advertised to have better speech recognition than ever before (a promise they have made repeatedly, in each previous issue.)

    What do you think about using speech recognition software? Have you tried Dragon Naturally Speaking, and has it worked well for you?