The craft and business of writing and self publishing

Listening To Your Manuscript

by Terry Odell

As authors, we want to provide the best possible experience for our readers. That means providing a well-edited book, and I don’t put anything out there that hasn’t been run past my critique partners, beta readers, and a professional editor. The more eyes on the manuscript, the better. But I’ve learned you need ears on the manuscript as well.

A couple years ago, I started putting my books out in audio, and as part of that process, I had to listen to the narrations to make sure there were no errors. That drove home the point that I should have read my work out loud before submitting it.

Skipping the ‘read it out loud’ editing pass means you’re going to miss things.

Heck, even when you do read it out loud, you can still miss things, because your eye sees what’s supposed to be on the page. That’s what you’ll read; that’s what you’ll hear. Since I can’t afford a narrator to read the book aloud twice, and I don’t know anyone who’d be willing to spend the time to read the book to me, I investigated having my computer do the job. I’d tried it a long time ago, and the robotic voice was impossible to listen to. However, there have been improvements in the system, so I decided to give things another shot. Here’s what I discovered.

Word has a ‘speak selected text’ option. There are pros and cons, and I’m still figuring out some of the nuances, but here’s the process in a nutshell:

First, you need to add the “Speak” option to the Quick Access Toolbar, which is up at the very top of a document and has the icons for ‘save’ ‘undo’ and ‘redo’. (Note: I’m using Word in Office 365. Other versions may vary.) There are plenty of simple to follow tutorials with pictures, so this step wasn’t hard. You go to “Customize Quick Access Toolbar” which on my version of Word is a little drop down arrow way at the top, then choose “All Commands” and scroll down to Speak, then click Add.

 

Then it’s a matter of highlighting what you want the voice to read, and listening.

Whereas my audiobook narrators are performers, the Word guy who’s reading my text to me (I call him Fred) simply reads the words on the page. What I’ve learned so far:

Pros:

  1. “Fred” is going to read exactly what’s on the page, unlike the audiobook narrators who sometimes leave out words, or substitute others. For example, I’d read this paragraph countless times, as had my editor and critique partners.

She drove the up the dirt lane. A beam of sunlight shone through a break in the gray winter sky, reflecting off a sprawling white two-story house, as if to say, This is your light in the darkness.

No one saw the typo. But when “Fred” read it, the extra “the” jumped right out. (Did you notice it?)

  1. It forces you to go slowly. While I’m reading along with “Fred” I look for wrong punctuation, improper spacing, and the like. If I catch repeated words that evaded my eyes but not my ears, I’ll fix those as well.

Cons:

  1. There are limits to how big a selection it will read, somewhere around a single-spaced page. I believe it’s going by character count, as when you select too much text, it often stops mid-word. Actually, I find this nice, because it gives me breaks from the monotony.
  1. There will be pronunciation errors. “Fred” doesn’t read in context. He doesn’t emphasize words in italics. He speeds up for dashes and hyphens. Words that are spelled the same (read/read; live/live) will all be pronounced the same, which can give you a jolt—but that’s good, because it makes you pay attention.
  1. If you pause to stop the reading (clicking the icon stops it), when you click the icon again, it will go back to where you started with the selected text, so you need to remember to unhighlight the parts he’s already finished and re-select from where you left off.

Is it worth it.? I’d say yes, especially when you get a review like this one: “After reading so many books with poor editing, I was very happy to finally read a book without the distracting errors and I was able to enjoy the story.”

NOTE: This “read selected text” function seems to be independent of the voice you can choose in the Control Panel. There’s another way to have the computer read your text to you, and I found that by clicking on the “Tell me what you want to do” option next to the light-bulb on the ribbon. If you type “Read,” your default computer voice (not Fred) will read and highlight each word as he/she reads it aloud. (Note: so you don’t have to spend an hour on the phone with the help desk, when you do this, the ribbon disappears. To get it back, click “View” and then “Edit Document”.)

Regardless of which method you choose, hearing a computer read exactly what you’ve written is a critical—and ear-opening—step in the editing process.


Terry Odell always wanted to “fix” stories she read so the characters did what she wanted. Once she began writing, she found this wasn’t always possible, as the mystery she intended to write became a romance—a real surprise, since she’d never read a romance. Terry writes mystery and romantic suspense, but calls them all “Mysteries With Relationships.” Her 20+ published works include the Blackthorne, Inc. covert ops series, the Pine Hills Police series, the Triple-D Ranch series, and the Mapleton Mystery series. Her awards include the Silver Falchion and HOLT Medallion, among others.

34 Responses to “Listening To Your Manuscript”

    • Terry Odell

      I have a PC, so I can’t tell you if it’ll work, but it might be worth a try. You could do a search on “speak selected text for MAC” and see where it takes you.

      Reply
    • Phillip T Stephens

      Alas, I spent much of the afternoon looking for this feature, but Microsoft disabled it after Word 2013 for the Mac (along with the ability to hide ribbons completely). Probably another stab at Apple.

      You can, for $1.50 a month, theoretically use their “read text” add-in

      https://store.office.com/search.aspx?qu=ReadSpeaker

      However, I can’t say that will work for Mac either.

      I use the free version of Natural Reader:

      https://www.naturalreaders.com/index.html

      It’s clumsier and it restarts reading from the beginning whenever you pause (so I copy and paste in short sections), but I know it works, not just with Word, but with text from any app. You can download the app or use a better (but much slower) online app,

      Reply
      • Terry Odell

        The read selected text also goes back to the beginning of the selection if you pause, so I do small bites at a time, too.

  1. Apple Hill Cottage

    A former storyteller, I always try to read aloud what I wrote, chapter by chapter. I thought it was just me; now I feel smart. 🙂 Thanks!

    Reply
    • Terry Odell

      I tend to wait until I’m doing the final read-through, although I print and read each chapter as I finish it. The words look different on paper than on the screen. However, I catch more when it’s not “me” reading, which is why the (boring) ‘let the computer read it’ method works to catch more errors.

      Reply
  2. Jean M. Cogdell

    I agree this is a great tool. I also use Ginger, this software will read in either a male or female voice and read a longer document. I just finished reading a great book but had an extra the or a thrown in here or there and you are right it was very distracting.

    Reply
  3. karla brandenburg

    “Fred” definitely didn’t know how to pronounce my main character’s name, but he did help me find things on my last “listen through.”

    Reply
  4. authorerinwright

    I have GhostReader on my Mac – I love it! I’ve actually found that listening to my story is my favorite part of writing (weird, right?) But GR has different voices and listening to an Australian woman say “Ro-DAY-oh” instead of “ro-dee-oh” like everyone here in Idaho says it…it gives me a kick every time I hear her talk. :-p Using GR has DRASTICALLY increased the number of typos I find in my manuscripts and because it’s a dedicated program to do this and only this, it has a lot more features than Word does. So anyone who has a Mac, I highly recommend GhostReader. They have a free trial that is only used on the days that you open up the program, so you can make the free trial last for quite a while. 😉

    Reply
    • Terry Odell

      Thanks for sharing that option. I’ve got a PC, but I know plenty of Mac users who will appreciate this tip.

      Reply
  5. robbiesinspiration

    This is very interesting. I didn’t see the second “the”. I speed read and you don’t pick up that kind of thing during that process. I have also had my most recent, and much bigger book, professionally edited. It is very irritating when you pick up an error after the book is printed.

    Reply
    • Terry Odell

      Typos are like cockroaches, or so a Harper Collins editor once said. But we want as few as possible.

      Reply
    • Terry Odell

      Thanks, Nancy. We always talk of ‘more eyes on the manuscript’ but more ‘ears’ is important, too.

      Reply
      • Richard Murray

        oh very much so. in my opinion, what separate poetry from prose is the use to structure. in prose, structure must be maintained from a ruleset used in a language while in poetry structure must be loosened to favor the tone or imagery to the reader or listener.

  6. Adam David Collings

    I’m actually following this exact process at the moment on a story that is almost ready for publication. I can attest to how useful it is. Word’s speech synthesis is picking up things that haven’t been noticed by me, or my editor.

    Reply

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