Newsletter #64 — “Hello. This is AI. Wanna hear a story?”
August 15, 2023
Newsletter #64 — "Hello. This is AI. Wanna hear a story?"
AI Voices — The last several years have seen a huge growth of audiobooks, especially among young people, who love to be able to listen to a book on any device they own. Audiobooks, however, are expensive to produce, and time-consuming, too. When I worked as a filmstrip editor-producer I was present in the recording studios when filmstrips were being narrated. There were so many different ways that narrators could make mistakes. They could mispronounce a word. They could inflect a sentence incorrectly. They could slur their words, pop their p's, fail to enunciate their th's, and so on. Each such mistake required stopping and starting again from that point. Sometimes a 12-minute filmstrip required 50 takes.
I imagine book narration is even harder, though it might not need as many takes because the narrators are more experienced and more professional. Still, a self-published author is looking at, say, a $6,000 fee for somebody to narrate a full-length book.
Because of this expense, and because technology heads in its own logical direction, Apple and other corporations have come up with synthetic voices (AI voices) to read books at a small fraction of the cost a live narrator charges.
AI voices have been with us for a while. There's Siri. Alexa. There are the AI generated voices that read computer instructions and email and such for those who are blind. I think, really, that we are comfortable with AI voices.
But whether we would be comfortable for such a voice reading an entire novel — that's another question. In order to learn more, I went online and listened to some of Apple's AI voices. You can hear them here.
What I heard was rather shocking. The voices sound real. But they sound condescending and they don't have attitude or personality. I could not possibly imagine one of these voices narrating Exit Velocity. Or, for that matter, any other book I've written.
So, for now, I'm putting the whole question of AI-narrated audiobooks aside. Maybe in two years things will be different.
Exit Velocity Category Decisions —Today I experimented with what category to put Exit Velocity in. It's fiction, yes. It's speculative fiction, but that's a sub-category of Science Fiction, and I would hesitate to place Exit Velocity wholly in the SciFi category. It's about women's rights, about the working class and labor struggles. It's even coming-of-age.
The category that one chooses for one's book is of critical importance. This will determine where bookstores shelve it. It will determine search terms. And — it will determine listings within category sales on Amazon.
Now, the super interesting (to me) thing that I discovered was this: I feel strongly that Exit Velocity is a political novel, in that all struggles for social justice are political struggles. But I wondered, really: how many people would look at this category?
And so, using a wonderful program called Publisher Rocket (which I've used for years), I investigated various categories that Exit Velocity could fall into. When I investigated the category of Literature and Fiction/Genre Fiction/Political, I learned many interesting things. The average page count of political fiction is 396. (I suspect my book will be in the 380-page range.) The average Amazon reader rating is 4.4 stars. And the average number of days a political fiction best-seller remains selling well is over 3,300 days. That's almost ten years!
Curious, I decided to investigate the top five Amazon titles in political fiction. Here they are: (The rankings change every one or two hours, so if you look, you may see a different order.)
A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles (I LOVE this novel!)
The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood
Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand
Noble Beginnings, by L.T. Ryan
The Overstory, by Richard Powers
Also, many of Barbara Kingsolver's novels are in the top twenty political fiction novels, and I love her books.
Exit Velocity is nothing like any of these titles. But that's okay, because the ways in which it's different make it more attractive to readers . . . I hope.
Setting — In my May 15 blog I talk about mules and the long haul.