I was rather bored one day and began surfing the net. One website led to the next. Soon I stumbled onto SpokenText.net which allowed me to have my work read aloud by a British Robot (wrote a post about this robot here). So happy with this discovery, I shared the link of this site to my editor, Val-Rae Christenson. She was delighted by how useful SpokenText was for her writing, and somehow managed to contact Mark McKay, the administrator of SpokenText. I was later introduced to him, via email…and I asked if I could interview him for my blog. He said yes! So, without further ado, here is my interview with a most inspiring gentleman:
1. Tell us a bit about yourself!
I am legally blind and was born and live in Ottawa ON Canada. I have three beautiful girls and a loving wife. Who has put up with me spending so much time on SpokenText.net and I love her for that.
2. For those of us who have never heard of converting text into spoken words, could you tell us about it? What is it’s purpose?
First off it is very easy using SpokenText.net and it has many purposes. You just copy and paste the text you want recorded, hit record and you are done. We take your text, record it to speech, and provide you with an MP3 or iPod format audio file for you to listen to on your computer or mp3 player. SpokenText.net is a great way to check your writing for flow, grammar and spelling mistakes. And by listening to text it helps you to remember more of the content. And can be very handy for busy students and professionals who need to read large amounts of text but don’t have the time to read print. As it is hard to read a book and walk down the street or drive a car 🙂
3. What inspired you to create SpokenText.net?
To help out print disabled people (visually impaired, blind, learning disabled, illiterate, new to the language being spoken). Only 3% of all content is converted to audio every year as it takes so long to record and process human speech. SpokenText.net was designed from the ground up to be very simple to use so that everyone could have this amazing tool at their disposal. It is also very easy to put your recordings on an iPod or iPhone using the personal podcast address we give you. Once setup all you need to do is sync your iPod to your computer using iTunes and all of your recordings will be transferred to your iPod.
The site started with a few users and now has users from over 130 countries around the world, who use it for a whole host of reasons: education, ESL and accommodation to name a few.
4. How do you think SpokenText.net can benefit aspiring writers? For example, what kind of features would they find helpful?
The big one is to hear how their book sounds and flows. It will also let them check for grammar and misspelled words. The more polished your draft is, the more professional you look and thus should aid you when you send it to a publisher.
5. What has been your best and worst moment in running this amazing site?
The best moment is when I get feedback from members who tell me about how the site has helped them get through school. This is very rewarding.
There have not been many bad moments. Mostly they revolve around trying to figure out how to fix the few difficult bugs which all software gets from time to time. And also trying to find ways to tell more people about the site.
6. What was the nicest review you received for your site?
A woman told me that without SpokenText.net she would not have finished her Masters Degree. There was also a young boy who, without the help of the site, would have not been able to excel in school as he had a learning disability.
7. What is your favorite book?
Last year I read so many books using SpokenText that I have lost count. A few that come to mind are:
Brave New World
The Art of War
I really believe in the power of writing and how one book can change how you think and, in a way, change your life from that point forward. To me it is amazing that a book like the Art of War was written 2000 years ago and is still having an effect on people today. That is such an amazing thing when you think about it.
8. Not only for aspiring writers, but for anyone with a dream, what would be the one advice you’d give them?
The classic advice: Just Do It. A lot of people talk but few actually do. And it is the doing that matters in the end. SpokenText is a lot about this. I thought I could solve the problem so tried.
******While preparing to post this interview, I surfed through his blog, and discovered that he was interviewed by CBC, Canada’s national public broadcaster. The beginning of the interview starts off hilariously, with a Robot, but the rest of the interview is conducted “traditionally” haha. Be sure to check it out here.
I haven’t used SpokenText.net extensively yet, as school has been hectic of late. But Val got me all hyped up about this site by telling me such great things about this program. Hence, I asked her to share her experience with me, so I could post it up on my blog. She replied:
I believe it’s Elizabeth Lyon in her book “Manuscript Makeover” who suggests that one of the best ways to revise one’s book is to read it aloud, without all the drama and flair, just straight, monotonal prose. But even when you read your own book, you know what’s there, or what’s supposed to be there, and so your brain makes up for flaws in rhythm, echoes, etc. And also, because when you are reading you are typically looking at the minutiae and technical details, it’s harder to get a feel for the whole story, or how it will come across to another reader. But having it read in another voice, especially one that is professional sounding really makes you look at it in a different way. Almost like it’s someone else’s book. Now the voices provided by SpokenText are not exactly monotonal. They rise and fall almost randomly. And it does sound a lot like an audio book with a professional reader. My books in particular are not narrated by an American woman, and so using the British male voice, “Charles,” all of a sudden it’s like my book is real. And so suddenly I’m looking at it with awakened eyes. One of the peculiarities of the program is that every time a particular word is read, it is read in the same voice. For instance, the word “no,” never varies in intonation or volume. And so when a word occurs more times than necessary, it really sticks out. And because another reader is naturally going to interpret your rhythm and intonation differently than would you, you hear quite clearly what cadences and sentence structures do not work. And, wonderfully, which ones do. It’s not perfect. The voices tend to sound slightly robotic at times. It also doesn’t read contractions well, this is a problem and neither does it appreciate creative onomatopoeia. For a gentleman to lean back in his chair with a thoughtful, “Hmmm.” Sounds more like “Huh um um um.” But for the most part, it’s very useful, and for those like my significant other who have not the time to read my work, it’s nice to have something they can listen to instead. I think it’s quite exciting, really, and I intend to use it a great deal. I’m using it now as my last run-through before my book goes off to a friend for editing, and then on from there to be considered by a small press. I find it brilliant, really. And I highly recommend it.
I’d love it if you guys could convert your first chapter into SpokenText and share the link to it in the comment box below! That way I can listen to it while washing the dishes.
4 thoughts on “Interview: Mark McKay”
I’ve been meaning to do this though–I admit–I’m a little scared of listening to my own words in audio! But I plan to do so soon and listen while I do housework and sew to make sure everything is flowing like I want it to. And, of course, to see how my book might go over someday with the British robot population.
Really cool interview–thanks for sharing! I might just have to do a link-back to this in my blog 🙂
I would definately recommend you using this program. It’s easy and fun to listen to. I use SpokenText to get myself out with writer’s block when I’m stuck on a super rough draft of a chapter. Even if this chapter is comprised mainly of grammatically incorrect rambling that i wrote at the spur of the moment.
By the by, and completely unrelated, but I hope you don’t mind that I used the writer’s desk idea that you wrote about a while back for a blog post–do tell me what you think if you’ve got a minute 🙂
Yay! you did the writer’s desk thing. I’m going to drop by right now! I’m imagining a mahogony desk…with a quill pen…