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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Create a spiffy auto-narrated book for free–and reach Apple, B&N, OverDrive, other majors


Can humans be better audiobook narrators than bots? Of course.

Like the amazing Dion Graham, who narrated my Drone Child novel, the best vocal whizzes don’t just read. They act. If only I could afford to use Dion on all my titles!

But for nonfiction and the right novels, auto-narration is now good enough as a cost-reducer. The most polished AI voices are more pleasant than many Homo sapiens even if they’re not at the Dion level.

Global audiobook sales may reach tens of billions by the end of the decade, and the bots could be one way to dip your toes into the water without raiding your IRA.

The conventional wisdom is that AI voices won’t work for fiction. Depends, actually. If your story and dialogue are strong enough, you might try to buck CW.

After I released a new version of The Solomon Scandals, my Washington newspaper novel, I decided to go beyond the ebook and print editions. I gave Google’s Marcus G voice a try.

Perhaps someday I’ll cruelly replace Marcus with Dion or another human. But right now he’s good enough for most readers who want to hear Scandals while driving, walking, or doing housework.

My suggested retail price for the audiobook is $2.99, the same as the ebook, so I’m at least hoping that people can buy both (stores set the pricing). You can check out a free sample of Marcus on Google Play’s Scandals page and even hear a woman read the fictional foreword. Her name is Mia, and you can preview her and other voices here. If anything she’s better-spoken than Marcus.

Auto-narration is also available from sources besides Google—consider the free Apple service, for example, or the forthcoming one from Amazon. But Google was easily the way for me to go. Not only is the Google auto-narration service free right now, I can also use the audiobook file from it for Spotify’s Findaway Voices division. Findaway distributes to Spotify, Apple, B&N, Rakuten, Kobo, and other important nonGoogle sites, including OverDrive and other major library-related services.

Here’s Google’s explanatory page for auto-narration, along with a more detailed guide. And now some more basics–including the path from Google to other sites like Apple:

1. Google’s service is available in English, Spanish, German, French and Brazilian Portuguese.

2. Fill out the required forms and feed an ePub file into Google. The ePub file will be the same one as for a regular ebook.

3. Google is smart enough to recognize chapters, and you can rename and reorder them for the audiobook. You can even try different narrators and vary the speed. I sped up Marcus to 1.3X.

4. Stick to an audio structure recommended by the Findway Voices, which also gives tech requirements, including those for your cover.

5. You can preview the narration while still in the creation and editing mode.

6. Helpfully, you can edit in text rather than the usual audio.

7. Click a button on the lower right—at least that’s where it is on my Mac system—when you’re ready to publish.

8. A few hours later, Google will alert you that audio files of your book are ready. You can either revise or (after making sure you’ve done all the paperwork!) post to Google Play with the cover you’ve uploaded.

9. Within Google, create a file in the .lpf or .zip format. I chose .lpf for Findaway to pick the saved version.

10. After you’ve enrolled in Findway, go to its master page outlining the main steps–metadata, distribution, audio, overview and redemption credits. Follow instructions.

11. Feed the .lpf file from Google into Findaway.

12. Findaway will subject your work to quality checks, make certain it’s ready for its partners, then distribute it. The process will happen within a few days.

Presto! At no cost, and without being golden-voiced or having to hire a narrator, you’ve created an audiobook for some major platforms.

Again, I’d urge you to use a human if the economics make sense, but if not, it’s good to know that Marcus and friends can help.

Note: I’ll welcome feedback on the above. Anything wrong or confusing? 

Art credit: Google.

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