As authors, hearing your manuscript read out-loud is an important step in the editing process. By listening to your text, minor glitches in your writing stand out and are more easily corrected. While many of us do read our work ourselves, it is often better when someone else reads your work so that you can focus your attention on errors and making a note of them on your manuscript.
Personally, this is one of the reasons I like to read my work at critique groups. It allows me to not only gauge the response to my work on other people, but I also get the benefit of the read. However, there are times when a critique group is not available or when you wish to listen to long passages of your manuscript. For those times, I recommend a text-to-speech program.
A Text-to-Speech program converts your typed text into speech. Most of the programs do not have natural sounding human voices, but there is some inflection built in to many of the programs. While they would not serve to convert your website into a quality podcast, for simple readings they are acceptable.
I am reviewing a couple of programs that I have tried and use here in my home office. None of the program companies have asked for my review or are connected to me in anyway other than I being a consumer of their product.
Dragon Naturally Speaking
Ranges from $99 to $199
I gained my copy of Dragon from my husband, who has used this program for years to transcribe his dictation for work. If you suffer from carpel tunnel and need a program to transcribe your writing, this would be my number one choice. It also works well as a text-to-speech reader, although the voice is not the most natural. One tip with working with Dragon is to purchase a better quality microphone. I bought my husband a podcast quality microphone to use at the office and he reported that the dictation quality greatly improved.
Free with paid upgrades
This is the text-to-speech reader that has been taking my critique groups by storm. I’ve had this program recommended to me by many people. When I tried it myself, I found it comfortable to use and the voices have enough variety to be fun. For instance, I had my steampunk novel read in a British accent.
The voices have a slight electronic quality, but the inflection is natural and the choice of accents is useful. You can have American, British accents, or have your text read to you in other languages. I am not sure how accurate the translations are since I do not use the program for this use. Of all the programs I am reviewing in this article, I feel the voices in Natural Reader are the best.
If you decide to upgrade to a paid version, features such as better voices, converting your text to an audio file and being able to transfer your recorded readings to alternate devices such as an iphone, ipad or android device become possible. This makes your editing sessions easier to take with you on the go. It might be possible to convert blog posts or your text into podcasts for soundcloud or itunes. It is not as good as hiring a voice actor, but if you are self conscience about reading your work for recording, this might be a good alternative.
This text-to-speech program is somewhat more limited than others because it interfaces only with Microsoft Word, but it is compatible with Word 97 through Word 2013. If you write in Word and want a program that is customized to that platform, this might be a good choice for you to try. The program creates a button in your word toolbar and highlights the text as it is read. You can also record the speech as a .wav or .mp3 for use in your portable music player.
Read the Words
Free with paid upgrades
This is an online TTS program that can generate a clear audio file from almost any sort of typed material. You cut and paste your file into the online text box or upload a Word, PDF, Text or HTML document. Evidently, you can also enter a web address or RSS feed and the program will read that as well. I confess that I have not used it in that capacity, but it sounds interesting. The resulting recordings that the program makes can then be downloaded to your computer or portable music player. You could even embed the file into a website.
Again, the voices in this are good, but not human. You can tell the difference. While I would not use this for a podcast of my work, as an editing aid it is perfectly acceptable.
Powertalk is not a simple reader as most of the above programs are, it is an integrated text-to-speech application that coordinates with MS powerpoint or any presentation. You download and install PowerTalk and then run it with your presentation. It reads all the text in your powerpoint presentation include any hidden text you have inserted into the slides.
The voices are the standard ones provided with Windows 7, Vista and XP. As authors we often do presentations at various clubs or speaking engagements and I love this program to go with my powerpoint. Of the programs to use for editing, I would call this one the least useful, but for presentations it is definitely one to check out.