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Voice Technology, AI, And Other Important Tools For Authors, With Bradley Metrock — Self-Publishing Conference Highlight

Voice Technology, AI, and Other Important Tools for Authors, with Bradley Metrock — Self-Publishing Conference Highlight

Bradley Metrock, author, broadcaster and publishing thought leader, outlines the latest developments in voice technology, artificial intelligence and other important emerging tools for author-publishers. At the end of the session you will be informed about new possibilities and opportunities opening up for you and where your books fit in.

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Listen to Bradley Metrock: Voice Technology and Other Tools

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Author @bmetrock outlines voice technology, artificial intelligence, and other emerging tools for author-publishers in this #AskALLi Self-Publishing Conference highlight. Click To Tweet

Read the Transcripts: Bradley Metrock: Voice Technology and Other Tools

Bradley Metrock: Hi, my name is Bradley Metrock. I’m CEO of a company called Score Publishing, based in Nashville, Tennessee, but we’re not a normal publisher. A lot of what we do focuses on the realm of voice technology and AI (artificial intelligence). In addition to that we own and operate Digital Book World, which is a long-standing publishing industry event, dating back to 2009.

I’m honored to be invited by Orna and by Kayleigh to be part of SelfPubCon, and what I want to do with this presentation is talk to you about the impact that voice and AI is having across the publishing industry, and with specific regard to individual authors, author publishers, micro publishers, whatever phrase you want to use.

I’ll share some insights that came out of digital book world 2020, what we call DBW Global, and I’ll just share with you a number of things that are changing the way that we think about content, we think about marketing books, we think about putting books together. It’s not pie in the sky stuff. If you don’t take anything else away from this, you can take away that when we talk voice technology, when we talk AI, we’re not pontificating from the ivory tower about something that will be, or maybe five to fifteen years from now, we’re talking about what is right now and what has been; a lot of this stuff has been going on for some time.

So, with that, I’m going to share my screen, and let me hit play from start. So, Digital Book World, as I was mentioning, longstanding publishing industry event, had to go fully virtual this year, surprise, surprise, and we call this DBW Global, and this presentation is, Voice Tech AI, and Other Important Tools for Authors.

So, just a little bit about me very briefly. Like I said, we do a lot that puts us at the center of the conversation around voice and AI. If you find anything of interest in this presentation, I wrote this article for Harvard Business Review called, Your Company Needs a Strategy for Voice Technology. Yes, it’s true. You may not be a fortune 500 company, but there’s plenty that you could glean from this article that could give you insight, as your own author publisher, your own micro publisher, things that you could do, or things you should be thinking about.

I run a show called, This Week in Voice. Mark Cuban was on the show a couple of seasons ago, the most popular episode we’ve done, we’ve cultivated, a real following with the show.

Project Voice, number one event for voice tech and AI in America. Interestingly, a pretty healthy amount of publishing folks attend this, sort of, emphasizing the points that I’d already made, which is that you should aspire to learn as much about this subject as you can.

This Week in Voice VIP, a daily letter to those working with voice and AI, which I write, over 20,000 people receive this at this point, and I’ve written several of these about publishing and I’ll cover some of this ground in this presentation.

So, right off the top, when we talk voice, it’s important to realize, especially with smaller publishers, micro publishers, you’re all writing your own books and cultivating your own IP, and really building something meaningful and lasting out of that, that when we talk about voice technology, it’s not a gimmick.

So, when we hear about new technology, we hear people talking about, hey, this is the newest and greatest thing, the first tendency we have is to think, okay, this is to be a fad. It’s going to be a gimmick. This will be ephemeral, here today, gone tomorrow.

And with voice, it’s important to note that when we’re born, and even in the womb, all we have is our mother’s voice. And after we’re born, we develop an inner voice which will then guide us for the rest of our life. It’s just part of our humanity. So, it always stood to reason that as technology evolved over time, it would arc toward being voice-driven, voice-oriented, what we call voice first.

So, equally important to know, this will be the only graph, industry, sort of, data I show, but when you are thinking about voice, you know, you might have Siri on your phone, you might have Google assistant, you might have Alexa, but the takeaway here, and this graph is from voicebot.ai, a great website if you want to learn more about this topic. So, at the bottom of this chart, you see, 2019, and this is the United States smart speaker market share by brand. Even if you’re not in the United States, there’s still a lot to take away from this, a 61% market share in 2019, roughly a quarter for Google. Fast forward a year later, Amazon has seen its market share decrease by roughly 8%, while Google’s market share has increased roughly 8%, 7% to be precise. So, what we see here is the telltale sign of the emergence of a duopoly in this space. Amazon had a huge lead with Alexa. Google had a very small percentage market share. Now, it’s caught up to where these two folks are neck and neck. This has significant repercussions for everything I’m about to say and everything you should be thinking about as an author, as your own publisher, and how you conduct some of your business, how you look to leverage voice and AI to work for you and your content.

So, the first thing I’m going to do is I’m going to talk about some successes we’ve seen with voice and AI already. The first one is Novel Effect.

So, Novel Effect is a company based in Seattle that was the first company to join the Amazon Alexa Techstars Accelerator, and they then went on to Shark Tank where they received a pretty large offer, I think in excess of seven figures, which they declined in route to raising, I think, $4 or $5 million, privately from the BC market.

What they do is they have technology that will detect if one human being is reading a book to another human being. So, if I’m reading Cat in the Hat to our eight-year-old son, it will not only detect that I’m reading Cat in the Hat, but it will detect that I’m on chapter five as opposed to chapter two or chapter eight, and it will sync up this really highly produced audio soundscape, a mix of sound effects and music to synchronize with the live reading.

Now, this sounds like a gimmick, and maybe it was until the company found out that when you do this, when you marry up this audio soundscape to a live reading, reading comprehension explodes, retention explodes, there’s all sorts of really incredible and impactful educational outcomes that come from this, and they certainly impact children, but they impact adults as well. So, really fascinating stuff coming from them, and well worth knowing about and thinking about.

The Stephen King Library. So, when we talk about an app for Alexa or Google assistant, we don’t call it an app. On Alexa, we call it an Alexa skill, for Google assistant or for Google we call it a Google action. So, the Stephen King Library is an Alexa skill. It’s an app for Alexa, and it’s a joint venture between Simon and Schuster and a New York agency called Skilled Creative, where you basically tell Alexa, via the Stephen King Library experience, the most recent Stephen King book that you’ve read.

So, Stephen King, I believe, has written between 50 to 60 novels, you tell it the most recent one you’ve read, then it’ll start asking you some different questions, some of which seemingly have nothing to do with anything, and then it will tell you here’s the next 1, 2, 3, 4 Stephen King books that you might be interested in reading, and you can order them on the spot. This has been a big success for Simon and Schuster, and it’s opened a lot of eyes, and it’s provided a glimpse into the future of book discoverability, where you’re talking to a computer, you’re talking to a voice assistant, you’re not going to Google, you’re not searching for anything, you’re not having somebody recommend something on Facebook or Goodreads, you’re not going on Amazon where it said, the people who bought this also bought that, none of that, this is a voice assistant having information about you, in this case stuff that you just verbally gave it, and using that information to then inform you of things that you should read. There’s nothing that is as close to a glimpse of the future for how computing will interact with readers, for the purpose of books discoverability than this right here, it’s super interesting.

The Voice Computing book. So, a gentleman named James Vlahos wrote a book called Talk to Me, which is all about the rise of voice technology. And in the process of doing that, he created an Alexa skill, and a Google action called The Voice Computing Book, where basically there’s excerpts of a number of chapters. There’s additional bonus content that pairs with some of the chapters. There are some interviews, some podcast interviews that he did that are incorporated into this voice experience that readers and fans of his can enjoy. I think this is a pretty good glimpse, maybe this is the best example of a successful voice and AI in publishing that micro publishers and individual authors should be aware of, because everybody can do this.

We’ll talk about some tools in just a minute, but there’s no stopping anybody from creating what I would call a complimentary experience that works with either voice only, or voice with screen, which is what we call multimodal, to compliment the book, and to allow the reader to enjoy a richer experience and dive in deeper into the ecosystem that you’ve created in the IP. Super interesting stuff. We’ve seen several examples of this for major publishers. We’ve seen interestingly some from micro publishers as well, something to be aware of.

StoryFit and Cyrano. So, a lot of folks have heard of StoryFit. What StoryFit does is they take algorithms, machine learning, AI, sort of, processes and apply it to manuscripts. A lot of their work is in film, but they’ve got a healthy amount of work in the book publishing industry as well, where their technology  will analyze the slush pile for book publishers, or just any particular book, doesn’t have to be one that is on slush pile, and it’ll say, based on how this is written, this is likely to be very successful with these sorts of demographics, if you wanted to change this, that or the other, that might make more sense for these audiences, the narrative action of the story positions it well for film, maybe positions it well for this, or that. It dives in, and it gives you some deep insights into the text.

Cyrano does something very similar to this, although it’s not in publishing at all, it’s over on the call center and contact center side, where if you’re calling in or if you’ve  written in to a customer service department, just like a manuscript for publishing, the AI is studying what you wrote, it’s taking your context from your account also into account, and enabling more rapid, faster outcomes for the company that’s trying to take care of you.

Interesting thing to be aware of as well, even if you’re a small publisher individual author, AI is already being used with great efficacy to study text, and to glean insights from the written word that are kind of shocking; numerous outcomes that we’ve read about with these different technologies would surprise you.

So, next up, I’m going to talk about some tools and resources, and I’m going to load up all of these actually at once.  So, if you’re hearing what I’m saying and you want to dabble, you want to experiment, what I tell big companies all the time is, it doesn’t matter if you haven’t done anything with voice and AI already, you’re not that behind, the train is just leaving the station for the next hundred years. So, it doesn’t make that big of a difference if somebody is six to 12 months ahead. With individual authors, and with micro publishers, just in the same sense that we’re grateful to be in this time where writing and publishing are democratized to the extent that they are, and the accessibility of resources is democratized to the extent that it is, you know, we’ve got a lot to be thankful for, and voice and AI mirrors that, because a lot of these resources, Amazon and Google have gone, I would say, out of their way to create an environment where individuals, certainly including individual authors, can leverage their ecosystems to great effect and importantly, start learning what happens when you create a voice experience; what people may want to get out of it, what you put in there that they didn’t really get anything out of it, because that learning will serve you well, really, for the rest of your life.

Alexa Skills Blueprint is Amazon’s tool, it’s all template based, there’s no code, maybe if you really wanted to, you can implement some, what I would call low code, a little bit of code, but most of it’s no code, and it’s all template-based Alexa skills.

So, you can go into Alexa Skills Blueprints, find a template that works for you. It’s just like Wix or something like that, or Squarespace, or a templated website type of tool. You go in and find the template that you want, then from there you can change what you want to change word wise and phrase wise, and you can add some things, take some things away, and then publish an Alexa skill into the ecosystem to where you can say, Hey, Alexa, tell me about my book, or, you know, tell me about Orna Ross’s new book coming out next month. Okay. Well, here you go.

Really cool to see what they’re doing, and it’s a very easy to use, relatively easy for sure, to use tool.

Google’s Interactive Canvas. So, this is a tool that allows the creation of voice experiences with accompanying visuals. So, again, that’s what we call multimodal. A lot of people have smart devices, it’s the term where it’s an Alexa device or a Google assistant device that has a screen, a Google hub, a Google desktop, or whatever they call it, is the most common one.

And we’re already seeing some experimentation with storytelling that’s voice driven, but it has these visuals, and this Interactive Canvas tool allows that, and really importantly, just in the last two or three weeks, Google has opened up Interactive Canvas, and added functionality to Interactive Canvas that is specifically for storytelling. So, Google wants micro publishers, individual authors, people with no coding experience, to feel comfortable coming into their ecosystem and telling their stories, sharing their IP, making their IP available, making these universes available of characters and settings and all these things that all of these fantastic individual authors are doing, and so that is something worth checking out as well.

Author’s AI. So, Author’s AI spoke at Digital Book World, and they have a tool, they have a voice assistant named Marlo, and this voice assistant in conjunction with their other tooling basically will, it’s designed for authors, thus the name, and so the idea is that you take your manuscript, you’re either work in progress or you’re fully fleshed out draft, and allow Author’s AI to ingest that and process it. It’ll come back to you and say, okay, here’s what we see.

One thing I thought was most interesting about Author’s AI that’s useful for my own writing is pointing out what they call it ticks. So, if there is a word that you use and you don’t even realize you’re using it, maybe you say, by the way, all the time, by the way, by the way, by the way, you don’t even know that you’re saying it. Thing number one it’s going to point out is that you say, by the way, 78% more than a normal person does, you may want to take a look at that and use that to sharpen your writing.

Additionally, it’s got a lot of different, analyses of plot elements and tropes, narrative tropes, that can serve you well, as well. Super interesting tool, really interesting executive team behind it, well worth checking out, and the pricing is reasonable on it as well. Definitely give that a look.

Chatable. So, Chatable is the company belonging to Amy Stapleton, used to be Tellable. Nobody is doing more work for authors and micro publishers in the voice and AI space than Amy Stapleton is, and if you don’t know who she is, you should look her up and find out, because I’m sure she would love to hear from you. She’s put all sorts of collections together of stories. If you’ve got a story and you want to experiment with voice, but you don’t know how, and maybe you’ve got too much going on and you don’t want to dive into Blueprints, you don’t want to dive into Google’s Interactive Canvas, you still want to get your feet wet somehow, Amy Stapleton, through Chatable, creates these collections of stories where you don’t have to do anything other than just lend your story to the collection, and Amy and her company then publishes this set of stories into Amazon, into Google. Just another way of generating awareness and shining a light on your work, and definitely worth finding out and learning everything about Chatable, connecting with Amy, she’s a huge advocate for individual authors, as well as an advocate for voice and AI, as well. She’s really unique in that regard and probably the singularly most important person for anyone watching this to know and to have a relationship with.

Lately AI. So, this is a tool that takes content. So, if you have a long form article, or, maybe if you’ve got a book coming out, and you took chapter two, and chapter two, you’re going to make available on the internet as a preview for people to see, to get a feel for the finished work and decide if they want to pay for the whole thing.

What Lately does, is it takes that content, and also in addition to the written word, it takes audio and video content as well, and it crunches it and it processes it and it turns that content into a steady stream of tweets and social media bite-sized content, smaller content from your bigger content and makes the process of marketing and promoting your content, your podcast appearances, or excerpt chapter, or whatever, easier, way easier.

This is AI, rather than you having to dive into the content and saying, okay, well, let me craft some tweets and then schedule them and do all this stuff, which takes a long time and it takes certain tools, Lately handles all of that, and it is a little pricier, and they’ve talked about rolling out a version, maybe for individual authors, that would be priced less, but at the time of this recording, I don’t think that exists, but it’s not necessarily out of everybody’s price range. It’s still worth taking a look at, just to see what it does. It’s deadly effective. I’ve seen the demo of it in action. It was part of DBW global, as well. Worth taking a look at.

So, if you’ve heard what I have been talking about on here, and it sounds interesting, it’s important for you to know that the proceedings for Digital Book World 2020 are available in entirety on the internet. We’ve got the link right here: gumroad.com/digitalbookworld, and for the same price of registering for the conference to begin with, you can have access to the conference on demand and see all sorts of sessions on all sorts of stuff spanning the world, spanning every type of publishing and technology implementation. A whole lot to glean, no matter if you’re a small publisher or a large publisher, it doesn’t matter.

Orna asked me, in the run-up to this presentation, really to harp-on about resources that micro publishers, individual authors, can use, and certainly from a voice and AI standpoint, I’ve covered that. But I also want to give a special shout out to, I’m going to put my email address up here for a second, let people see that and then I’ll stop screen sharing. So, I encourage you to reach out to me if you’ve seen this presentation, you like what you see, you’re curious to learn more, my email address is right here. You can follow me on Twitter. Signing up, we have plenty of authors and publishers sign up for This Week in Voice VIP, as well, that’s carried through SubStack. So, I’m going to hit stop share.

I’m going to conclude by talking for a minute about somebody else who presented at DBW Global, and who’s presented at Digital Book World multiple times, and who actually has won an award at Digital Book World, I believe last year, and that is Jane Friedman.

So, yes, we can talk about voice and AI, but if you’re looking for, it’s just in my opinion, the best dollar that you can possibly spend, other than having attended Digital Book World, no, even better than that, is Jane Friedman’s newsletter Hot Sheet Pub. So, I receive that. I love reading it. I think it’s a pretty reasonable proxy for how serious you are as an author or a micro publisher, if you are subscribed to that, because there’s no comparison in terms of any other resource. She synthesized a lot of information about Digital Book World for her newsletter that I’m sure served a lot of people well to read that, but all the stuff she covers and the way she covers it is just absolutely world-class.

So, with what we do, even though it’s high tech, as you think about the perspective of individual authors, you know, you’ve got a lot on your plate, time is precious, just like it is for everybody. If you were asking me, best resource for individual authors, Hot Sheet Pub, hands down.

So, thank you to Orna. Thank you to Kayleigh. Thank you to SelfPubCon. Orna, you do a phenomenal job with this thing. You provide great resources for the whole world. Hats off to you all. Thank you for allowing me to be part of it. I look forward to you all reaching out, feel free to do so at any time. Thank you very much.

Howard Lovy

Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 30 years, and now amplifies the voices of independent author-publishers and works with authors as a developmental editor. Howard is also a freelance writer specializing in Jewish issues whose work appears regularly in Publishers Weekly, the Jewish Daily Forward, and Longreads.

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