I’m always one for the experiments. As they say, you can take the girl out of the science lab, but you can’t take the science lab out of the girl.
Wait, maybe I’m the only one who says that.
Anyway, last week, I met a few robots as part of a new experiment.
Unlike a true scientist, I went in with a fair number of biases.
I expected to hate these robots. I expected their work to be no good. I expected to walk away feeling like the superior human.
I was wrong.
So who were these robots and how did we meet? Well, stick around, kids, and you’ll soon find out.
I’m Feeling Robot Curious
The robots I’m referring to is the new auto-narration tool from Google Play (or Google Books, whatever they’re calling themselves these days).
I first heard about this feature months ago in an email Google Play/Books sent out to its authors.
Like most Google emails, I scanned it and ignored it.
Then I heard about the robots again on Self-Publishing Insiders, a podcast from Draft2Digital, when they had someone from Google come on and explain the wonders of their new auto-narration tools.
It made me curious.
I had to try this out.
I had to…well, find time to do it.
Playing with Robots
Last week, I finally found some time to experiment with this new toy.
I opted to make a test subject of one of my short stories that was already on Google Play/Books.
It was super simple to set up the audiobook…until it came time to pick a voice.
So many voices!
Luckily, I knew I wanted a female narrator and that she should have an American accent.
That’s when I found Madison.
She had the perfect tone, speed, and…um….she sounded human.
Here’s a sample:
Over the week, I threw a couple more stories into the experiment. I picked Madison again for one (she’s apparently won me over), and another story with a male narrator.
Both of which came out pretty darn good, but did show the limitations of this pretty impressive technology.
Robots Aren’t Perfect, and They’re Not Humans
Google’s auto-narrate is seriously impressive. There’s no denying that.
But like I said, it does have its limitations.
Namely, while the narration does have some inflictions of human speech, these robots are not voice actors.
The short stories came out great, but I would NEVER do a full novel with this tool as it is (they are working on improvements, so maybe one day).
Mainly because the robots do NOT handle dialogue well.
This is frustrating for me since most of my stories have a lot of dialogue (because I talk to myself far too much).
In “normal” audiobooks, human narrators will change their voice, their cadence, their accent between characters so you know who’s speaking and to bring the book more alive.
The robots can’t do that (yet).
With some fiddling with the text, they can handle small bits of dialogue okay, but a lengthy conversation…no.
As such, the stories I’m running through the auto-narration grinder have to have very limited dialogue, which means only about five or six of my short stories will work for this.
Another downside is the limited accents available.
The American accents are all “non-accents”. There’s no southern drawl, no east coast twang, nothing to give the voices a little local flavor.
And the British and Australian accents are, well, terrible. These do sound VERY robotic.
Another drawback is the inability to add emphasis to certain words, which can leave some snarky comments a bit flat and make it hard to drive home a point.
Basically, Google’s auto-narration is not going to replace a human narrator for novels or other long and complex books.
But it was great fun for a few short projects and I think it would work pretty darn good for anyone who has a non-fiction book they want made into an audiobook if they don’t have the budget for a “real” narrator.
A Little About Google’s Auto-Narration
Google auto-narration is currently available to any author who publishes on Google Play/Books.
And yes, I’ll be honest, that’s what really lured me in because audiobook creation is WAY out of my budget (seriously, audiobooks cost thousands of dollars to produce…ouch!)
Note: Google says the tool will only be free for a limited time, so if you want to play with it, play NOW.
Your ebook does need to be published on Google before you can begin, but once it’s live, you can create an audiobook from it.
The process is super simple and intuitive, but does take time if you want to get your story just right.
You fist select a narrator (which is kind of fun), then you let the robot narrate your book as you listen.
Yes, you could just pick a narrator, hit save, and throw your book out into the world, but I highly recommend you listen ALL the way through because you may need to make some adjustments to the punctuation to get the timing and cadence right, you may need to tell the robot how to pronounce a word, and if you have dialogue, you’re going to need to add dialogue tags to make it clear who’s speaking.
Once you’ve got your audiobook as you like it, you save it, and set the price.
This is where authors should not get greedy.
This is robot narration. You should not price these audiobooks the same as a human narrated book.
Human narrators and producers spend A LOT of time getting audiobooks just right, to create an experience that really makes a story come to life. These books are created by immensely talented people and are well worth their hefty price tags.
Robot narration is not the same.
These are stories being read to you, and that’s about it.
There’s no voice acting skills, there’s little production work (except you listening and making minor adjustments), and the products should be priced accordingly.
But that’s up to you.
Anyway, one of the best things Google is allowing authors to do is, as long as you publish the audiobook on Google Play/Books, you can take the files and use them as you like.
You can give them away to your readers, you can sell them on your store, you can publish them elsewhere (although many stores will NOT accept robot narration).
Pretty nifty, right?
Which leads me to this announcement…
Audiobooks Are Now Available on my Payhip Bookstore
Okay, so far it’s only three short stories, and like I said, there’s probably only two or three more that will work with the robot narration.
Still, it’s fun to be able to offer a little something new on my shop.
And really, you can’t beat the price.
Each audio story is only 99c.
However, if you buy the ebook version, you have the option to get the audio version for free (just follow the prompt).
Anyway, the stories on offer are….
The Ghost of Arlen Hall
A creepy tale of misguided love in the gothic tradition.
The Drive-Thru Window
A story about Roy’s unique funeral home…and an unexpected visitor.
A Case of Mamma’s Love
An award-winning tale of a woman who’s adoration of certain objects is a bit troublesome.
Of course, all these stories can also be found on Google Play/Books.
That’s it for me!
What about you? Have you tried robot narration? If you’re an author, are you considering Google’s new feature? If you’re a human narrator, what do you think of Ai narration tools?
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8 thoughts on “The Robots Have (Almost) Won Me Over”
Thanks for this post, Tammie. I’d kind of wondered about auto-narration myself, and I admit I’m surprised by how ‘not bad’ it sounds. That said, I totally agree with you on its limitations. The narration is so…bland…I found myself continually tuning out. Definitely one to keep in mind for the future though.
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Oh good, I’m glad someone found it helpful 😁 I agree it does have its limitations and I wish you could get the robots to add a little oomph some words. I certain,y wouldn’t want to listen to anything done by the robots for too long, but for an experiment with something short it was fun…and for free, why not. I imagine the technology will get better and the Google guy did mention the possibility of being able to have multiple narrators, which would help immensely with the dialogue problem.
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Hmm…multiple narrators would up the interest a lot, as you say, for dialogue. I wonder if they’ll come up with some way to add emphasis on certain words, or perhaps just in certain scenes. Very interesting. 😀
There is a checkbox when you publish that asks if you want them to automatically update the book when “improvements to the technology” are made. I didn’t check it, but I assume that means they are going to keep playing with the robots to make it even more realistic. And your mention of “certain scenes” makes me think how horrible a love scene would be with these robots…hahaha.
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-giggles- I know! Shades of Awful. 😀
OK now I know we’re definitely going to be replaced by robots, sooner than expected. That was pretty impressive narration!
I was surprised at how “real” it sounded too. It’s just a shame about the dialogue limitation…for now. Come on, Robot, do dialogue better, I dare ya! Oops, I hope that’s not the first shot fired in the Robot Wars.
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I knew you were trouble 😉
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