Huion GT-191: first impressions

I’ve already detailed all the problems I’ve had with the latest offering from Wacom. That was frustrating, to be sure, but I still found myself in need of a tablet of some sort. An iPad Pro with ProCreate was nice, but the screen was small enough that it was irritating to work with Photoshop for long periods of time.

So I decided to give Huion a try. They’re a Chinese company based in Shenzhen, aka that place in China where all of your electronics are manufactured. They’ve been up and comers for a couple of years now making cheap Wacom alternatives. At first it seemed like their products were a crapshoot, but the longer they’ve been around the better those reviews get.

I picked up the Huion GT-191. It’s the latest version of their stuff and at 19″ it’s just a tad bit bigger than the Cintiq Pro 16 which comes in at 15.6″ diagonal. I looked at their GT-221 Pro, but I’ve had a Cintiq 22HD on my desk before and the thing was too big for my space. Not to mention I don’t use express keys so the GT-191 with its lack of keys was perfect.

I’m going to break this down into three parts. The good, the bad, and the mildly annoying. Is Huion the Wacom replacement they so desperately want to be? Read on and find out!

The good

Price – There’s no arguing with the price. The Cintiq Pro 16 goes for $1500. Go back a generation for the nearest equivalent and the Cintiq 22HD retails for $1700. Compare that to the $500 for the GT-191 and you’ve got a hell of a deal! If you’re looking for an entry level pen screen then this is the way to go.

Looks – Right out of the box I was impressed with how sleek and nice the 191 looked. The first time I unboxed a Cintiq 22HD I was struck by how damn bulky the thing was. The Huion is still thicker than the new Cintiq Pro line, but it’s nowhere near as bulky as the last generation Cintiqs.

Connection – The GT-191 has connection options for VGA, DVI, and HDMI. After all the drama surrounding the breakout box for the Cintiq Pro 16, which only supports USB-C natively, it was nice to have something that would plug in directly to my mid-2015 MacBook Pro without any go between.

Screen resolution – The GT-191 is “only” 1080p, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. At 19″ the screen looks very crisp sitting beneath my main monitor, and I have to get up close to the thing to see pixels. Compare that to the Cintiq Pro 16 which looked a little pixelated running at 2k through the breakout box. Not to mention at 4k everything was a little too small. 1080 on the 19″ monitor feels right.

Size – The size is just right for my desk. The Cintiq Pro 16 felt a little small and I didn’t want to use it as a second monitor. When I tried out at 22HD the thing was too big for my workspace. I could see it being a good primary monitor for someone who only used the Cintiq, but for my setup where I mostly write on another monitor it wasn’t ideal. Plus I felt that the 22HD screen looked a little pixelated. The 22″ size was just a little too big for 1080p viewed at close range. The GT-191 feels just right and is also a nice second monitor positioned just below my main monitor.

Pen response – Of course this is the main reason to buy the thing. The pen. I’m here to report that it works beautifully. I’ve been using Wacom products since the Intuos3 back in 2007 and this feels more or less like a Wacom pen. You can adjust the pressure curve if you want to, but I didn’t find that to be necessary. Note that the pen doesn’t have tilt support. That’s not something I’ve ever used in my work, but I want to put that out there if it is the sort of thing you use a lot and it’d b a dealbreaker if the pen doesn’t have it.

The stand – The stand is amazing. It bolts to the back of the tablet and it’s small and unobtrusive while also being large enough to comfortably hold the thing up. Adjustments are super easy as well. It’s easy for me to pull the monitor into an upright position to act as a second monitor and then pull it down if I need to do some work in Photoshop. It’s far less bulky than a Cintiq 22HD stand and fits nicely on my small workspace.

It’s also way better than the stand Wacom is providing with their new Cintiq Pro line. Anything is better than nothing, right? It’s also way better and more solid than the flimsy folding joke of a stand that came with the Cintiq 13HD.

The bad

Color accuracy – What you see on the screen isn’t necessarily all that accurate. Out of the box the colors were skewed a bit towards the red. I switched the monitor to using the User color profile on the monitor and set it up on an sRGB profile in MacOS and that got rid of that problem. The colors are still a little washed out and the whole monitor feels like it has a slight blue tint to it compared to my Asus 278Q which hovers above the Huion for a constant comparison. The whites are white on the Asus monitor and they seem slightly blueish on the Huion.

I’ve looked at videos of other people doing reviews and that seems to just be a thing with these monitors. Having said that, Cintiq monitors also appear “washed out” as well, so I’m not sure if going with the more expensive alternative is going to necessarily “fix” the issue.

Having said that, once I’ve been using the monitor for awhile my eyes adjust to the color oddness and it doesn’t seem so bad. I also have a second Photoshop window open on the Asus which I feel has more accurate color reproduction just to keep an eye on things. If you plan on using this as your only monitor for art it might be an issue, but even then I’d say that’s more a problem for professional artists and not people using this occasionally for work or as a hobbyist.

The mildly annoying

Lack of eraser – You can’t flip the stylus around and use the eraser functionality. I’m sure that’s an annoyance for some, but come on. This is a digital stylus. It’s easier to hit the keyboard shortcut for the eraser tool than it is to flip the damn pen around and erase, but I include this in my summary because I’m sure that’s a hill some people are willing to die on.

Charging a pen – This is another one that I don’t think is terribly annoying, but include it because I’m sure there are some people who will think it’s the end of the world. Yes, you have to charge the pen. I’ve gotten used to charging my Apple Pencil so it’s not a big deal, but it might annoy some. Thankfully Huion provides two pens with the tablet which means you can always have one charging while you use the other one. I think this is a non-issue, but include it here for the sake of being thorough.

Lack of express keys – Another non-issue for me that a lot of people might care about. For me the lack of express keys along the side was a feature and not a bug. When I’m in Photoshop I always have one hand on the stylus and the other hand on my keyboard. I’ve always felt that the keyboard or my Razer Tartarus were way better than express keys and was happy to see a cheaper model offered without the damn things.

Some people love their express keys though. Of note is that even Wacom has stopped including them on their device though. Now you get a nice upsell for a $100 bluetooth express key device. I think that $100 would be better spent on a bluetooth keyboard or a programmable gaming pad, but if you’re the kind of person who lives and dies by the express key then this tablet might not be for you.

Cables along the bottom – This is a very minor annoyance, but it is a thing. The cables stick out of the bottom of the thing which means if you’re constantly pulling it forward and pushing it back then you’re going to have to wrangle those. A plastic tie goes a long way towards taming this and it’s not entirely fair to complain about this since any drawing tablet is going to have cable management issues, but it is something that bugged me so I include it here.

Parallax at the edges – Yes, this table has some Parallax. I’d say it’s better than a Cintiq 22HD and worse than the new Cintiq Pro line which has mostly eliminated this by putting the pen right up against the monitor. The parallax effect gets worse as you get closer to the monitor’s edge which is also something that happened with the 22HD. It’s an annoyance, but it’s an annoyance that’s been with the Cintiqs up until the Pro line and something you can easily adjust to if you watch where the cursor is on the screen rather than where the pen tip is.

Wrapping up

Is the Huion GT-191 worth it? Honestly you’re going to have to read above and see what you think. I’ve tried to be as honest as possible with all the good and bad that comes with the tablet. As with all drawing monitors you’ll have to decide if the good outweighs the bad.

Drawing monitors have never been perfect. Even with the super expensive Wacom stuff there have always been issues. Check out my thoughts on the Cintiq Pro 16 for a laundry list of issues that I feel shouldn’t come with a $1500 piece of kit.

That’s the thing. There are always going to be issues and tradeoffs with these tablets, but with the Huion you’re paying a fraction of what you would on a Wacom. If you’re a professional artist then maybe this isn’t the tablet for you. If, like me, you only use the tablet occasionally for Photoshop stuff related to work, or if you’re a hobbyist looking for a way to get away from your Intuos, then I think this is a great value for the price.

Wacom has issues. Huion has issues. Huion’s issues come at a far more reasonable price point, though, and that makes all the difference for me.

Huion “device disconnected” and a lesson in humility

After trying out and returning a parade of Cintiq Pro 16s I decided to give the much cheaper competition a try. I picked out an inexpensive Huion GT-191 which arrived today.

I loved the look of the thing from the moment I unboxed it. The 19″ monitor looked beautiful even before powering it on. I didn’t care about the lack of side keys because I always have a keyboard sitting beside me.

I wasted no time in setting the beauty up and powering it up. I installed the drivers. And no matter what I did the Huion software helpfully told me that the device was disconnected.

Huh.

I looked around on the Internet for a solution, but most of the solutions out there involved messing with stuff in Windows which wasn’t helpful to me since I’m on MacOS. I tried uninstalling and reinstalling drivers. I tried going with an older version of the driver. I restarted the computer several times. I did a complete power down and back up.

Nothing was working. I was ready to give up on the thing. I was angry. Clearly you got what you paid for, right?

Then I decided to do one final thing. It said the device was disconnected. So I flipped it over and double checked the USB connection on the back of the monitor.

Sure enough, I either hadn’t plugged the damn thing in all the way to begin with or it got jostled loose while I was putting the monitor in place. The software kept telling me the device was disconnected because the device was, quite literally, disconnected.

I sheepishly plugged it back in and so far the monitor has proved to be a lovely little Cintiq replacement. Only it’s not little since the thing is much larger at a fraction of the cost.

I’ll do a full writeup here in a day or two when I’ve had more time to play with the Huion, but so far I’m very happy with the thing. Especially for the price!

Finding a cover artist and covering your butt

Today I’m going to cover something that’s been on my mind because of a situation I’m dealing with: finding a cover artist.

There are a lot of resources out there for finding cover artists. A lot of author databases that you can go through and hope to find someone who’s good. I don’t bother with any of that stuff though. Not when I know of a great artist community that has a job board specifically designed for people seeking commissioned art.

That site? The Deviant Art jobs forum!

Finding an artist

This is the easy part. Create your own account on DeviantArt and post on the forum letting people know what you’re looking for. You’ll quickly be inundated with artists who are looking for work, and they’ll continue to stream in for a couple of days as people check the forum.

From there it’s a matter of sifting through the various offers you get. I maintain a note that I’m constantly updating when I find an author who looks promising. In that note I include the artist’s name, a link to their profile, and information about what they charge if they make that available.

You’re going to get some people who clearly aren’t up to the standard of what you need for your cover. You’re going to get people who are amazing and clearly out of your budget.

Here are a few things I look for when settling on an artist:

  1. What kind of styles do they work in? Is it cartoony? Full realistic renders? Realistic but with some exaggerations? Does their style fit what you’re looking for?
  2. Does the art flow? Are they able to do multiple poses and different scenarios? Is it stiff at all? Are they able to do men and women or is it clear that they’ve been drawing sexy ladies or sexy men since middle school and never bothered to learn how to draw anything else?
  3. Do they have a lot of work on display? I’m wary of artists who have newer profiles or don’t post all that much on their DA profile. Not all of them are scammers, but it is suspect.
  4. Do they have comments on their profile from people who’ve worked with them? Are those comments positive or are their complaints that they’re scammers?

Those are just a few things to consider. Look for an artist who has a varied portfolio and clearly is good at what they’re doing. Compare between several artists until you find one you like, and then start negotiating the price.

Settling on a price

Give serious thought to what your budget is for this project. I wouldn’t recommend including that budget in your initial post because that’s going to encourage people to come in at whatever price you offer even if they would’ve started lower. This is a negotiation even if you are going to pay the nice artist what they are worth.

We’re looking for a sweet spot. Someone who clearly has the ability to do what you need but comes in at a price you can afford. You need to go into this with the attitude that you’re paying a business associate for a service. You want to get paid for your writing, and you should be willing to pay a reasonable sum to an artist as well.

I can’t reiterate that enough. Good artists who are responsive and deliver good work in a timely manner? They’re unicorns, and you should treat them like the precious and valuable resource they are.

If someone is amazing but they’re a little out of their price range then don’t be afraid to ask them to come down just a little. This is a business transaction, after all. The worst they can say is no.

Don’t be afraid to work with someone from halfway around the world. If you’re in the U.S. or Europe then that exchange rate is pretty favorable if you’re working with an artist in, say, Asia or another place where USD or GBP or the Euro stretches pretty far.

If someone is coming in with a quote that seems too good to be true then that’s probably because it is. I’ve been burned a couple of times by artists who had amazing work but ghosted once they got their payment. Again you’re looking for a sweet spot, and someone who comes in too low is probably trying to lure you in.

Covering your ass

There’s no way to guarantee completely that you don’t get scammed, but there are some things you can do to protect yourself while searching for an artist.

Social proof – A serious artist is going to have lots of happy comments from people who commissioned them. Look for these. Don’t be afraid to ask the artist for references. This is a business transaction, and if they aren’t willing to provide references then you should run for the hills.

Half and Half – Whenever I make a job offer I make it clear that I’m paying half up front and half upon delivery. This makes the cost of the commission hurt a little less, and it also is likely to scare off some scammers. Not all, but some.

Use protection – A lot of people will want you to pay with a PayPal money transfer. Don’t do this. There are no buyer protections built in with money transfers. What you’re going to insist on is that the artist invoices you via PayPal, and only then will you make your payment. This means you have PayPal’s buyer protection if they ghost you.

Other considerations

Contracts – You can do a contract if you want. There are indie author sites out there that offer boilerplate contracts. I tend not to mess with them. I have a paper trail of email conversations where expectations are clearly laid out and make sure the invoice include exactly what’s being bought and paid for. Including considerations like copyright transfer. If a contract makes you feel better then by all means go for it, but I’m not an IP lawyer so I’m not going to comment on them other than to say I don’t use them.

Copyright – One of the conditions of commissioning your work should be that all copyright to the work transfers to you. Full stop. I wouldn’t work with anyone who isn’t willing to do this. Some people will charge a little extra for this and some will throw it in. I’d recommend indicating you want the copyright transfer in your initial post and seeing what the artist says.

This is something that you need to have spelled out in your conversations with the artist and in the invoice so it’s clear on the off chance they try to come after you later. It’s also an area where it might be helpful to get a boilerplate contract from somewhere on the Internet, but again I’m not a lawyer and this isn’t legal advice.

Price Increases – I’ve heard a few horror stories over the years about artists who commissioned a cover, then when their book did very well the artist turned around and jacked up the price for future covers. This can lead to situations where book releases are delayed while things are renegotiated.

I’ve never had this happen to me before, but if it did then I would politely tell the artist to go and pound sand. I believe that artists deserve to be paid a fair amount for their work, but if someone raises the price by some exorbitant amount because they think an author can cover it they’re essentially trying to hold future releases hostage. That’s not someone I’d want to work with, and there are plenty of other artists out there who’d be able to do a new cover.

Having said that, there are instances of artists who raise their fee as they get more popular. That’s to be expected if they’re making a go of making a career as an artist. In that case you’ll have to decide whether or not the slowly increasing rate is worth it, but that’s a completely different scenario from someone trying to extort an author because of some success.

Lettering – Cover artists make cover art. Letterers do lettering. There are some people who have both skills, but not necessarily. Ask your cover person if they’re comfortable doing lettering, and if not then look for someone who can do this and expect to pay a little bit for it. Good typography on a cover is every bit as valuable as the art beneath it.

If the artist can do typography then be sure to get a copy of the art without all the lettering on it.

Timeliness – Figure out what your release schedule is going to look like. Then figure out whether or not your artist can keep up with that schedule. Art can take time to complete just like it takes time to write and edit a book, and if you have a release schedule that doesn’t match up with what your artist is able to do then it’s time to find someone else for your project.

Wrapping up

Finding an artist! There’s a lot of stuff to consider if you want to find someone who’s good, reasonably priced, able to complete their work in a timely manner, and isn’t out to scam you. The good news is that it’s not all that complicated so much as it’s time consuming. That’ll be time well spent when you get that perfect cover that drives the sales to you though!

Get Book Report

Are you an indie author? Primarily publishing your stuff through Amazon? Are you interested in up to date reporting on what you’re earning?

You need Book Report.

What is it?

Book Report is a third party reporting software that takes all the sales and page read data Amazon gives you and puts it in a readable format going back for as long as you’ve been at the self-publishing game. It looks a little something like this:

As you can see it gives you a nice daily readout of what you’ve earned that is way better than what Amazon offers. It also gives a dollar amount based on sales and page reads. The good people at Book Report update the page read amount very month to reflect last month’s number, or you can go in and custom define the page read payout amount based on what you think Amazon is going to do.

What does it do?

I remember the bad old days of trying to figure out my numbers. This was in the 1.0 days of Kindle Unlimited when there was a fixed amount paid per borrow. Back in the Wild West of KDP when erotica and short serials reigned supreme and authors of longer works griped mightily.

Every month when the sales numbers came out I’d go through my spreadsheet and then type in the amount I got into Google so it could do the conversion from all the various currencies into USD. Which was, understandably, very annoying and inconvenient.

Book Report eliminates the need for any of that. It allows for a ridiculous level of customization in reports. If you want to know what you earned daily, weekly, monthly, annually, or going back to when you started writing that information is all there based on existing Amazon reports. There are a large number of customization options beyond date ranges including by book and pen name. Mostly I just use it for the current or previous month, but there are times when it’s useful to go back and learn at earnings over all time or for a particular month and pen name.

What does it cost?

The great thing about Book Report is it’s free! Or at least it’s probably going to be free if you’re just starting out. Anyone who makes less than $1000 a month gets to use it free of charge, and if you make more than that then you’re charged the very reasonable $19 a month. That’s up from $10 a month that it was until June of 2018. Either way, it’s a steal for the reporting information you get.

I remember the bad old days when you had to dig through spreadsheets and do currency conversions yourself. The small cost of Book Report compared to the annoyance of having to do that mental conversion and never being quite sure exactly what I was making in a month is well worth it. If you’re at all interested in becoming a working indie author then you need Book Report.

So what are you waiting for? Get Book Report!

Note: I’m not being paid by the good people at Book Report. I’ve merely been using it since some of the early builds and find it to be an invaluable tool that everyone should be using. This is all a personal recommendation based on how much I love this thing.

A year of Dragon Naturally Speaking

There are times when I feel like I’m not giving Dragon Naturally Speaking a fair shake. I see so many people out there who swear by it. Who think it’s the best thing since sliced bread.

My experience with the software has never backed up those glowing recommendations, but I figured maybe I should give it a try. So I was going to do a new feature. A year of Dragon Naturally Speaking. A year where I used the software and really dedicated myself to getting the most I could out of the software. See if it made a difference in my productivity.

So with that in mind I busted out my recorder over the weekend and dictated some stuff. I did it in four minute increments which I’ve discovered yields about 500 words when I transcribe the file. I plugged those in and got to trying to correct them.

The only problem? Nothing was working correctly. I started correcting one four minute file and everything was fine. Then I did a second file and started working, but the whole thing froze. Dragon refused to respond for a couple of minutes. Everything else in Windows worked fine, and clicking out of Parallels showed that my Mac was working just fine as well. It was only Dragon that had completely shit the bed.

Finally it came back up and ran through all the commands I’d given it while it was frozen and I was trying to get things to work. Which resulted in a mangled mess. Dragon told me it had encountered a problem and I needed to restart.

No fucking shit.

So I restarted Dragon. I tried using it again. Only this time after doing some transcription I ran into an issue where I couldn’t correct anything. A weird error manifested that I’ve seen a couple of times now. The upshot is that I’ll tell Dragon to select text, but it selects the wrong text. It’s as though where Dragon thinks the dictated text is and where it actually is in Dragonpad gets out of sync because it always selects a part of the text that is the same distanced away from what I’m trying to select.

Needless to say this renders any corrections completely useless.

I figure maybe the problem is that I’m trying to do all of this in Parallels on my Mac. Maybe there’s something about the virtual machine that isn’t playing nice with Dragon. So I dust off my old Surface Pro and try to get it working, only to be confronted with the same out of sync text/dictation error I was getting on the Mac in Parallels.

Huh.

Finally, in desperation, I trued running Dragon for Mac. It gamely loaded up and then promptly crashed and asked if I’d like to send in an error log.

The one bit of text that I managed to go through and edit/correct using Dragon took me about twenty minutes to get through on top of the four minutes I spent dictating it into a recorder in the first place. I could’ve typed that out in twelve minutes. The errors and troubleshooting I went through trying to get Dragon to work correctly on my Mac and Surface ended up wasting a whole morning.

Needless to say my “year of Dragon Naturally Speaking” has ended before it could really get started.

Calculating the time I would’ve lost using Dragon Naturally Speaking

Someone was asking about Dragon Naturally Speaking in an author group this evening and I was the dissenting voice urging caution. As part of that I sat down and figured out exactly how much extra time I would’ve spent writing if I’d used Dragon Naturally Speaking rather than typing a draft.

I wrote close to two million words in 2016 and again in 2017. Let’s just round it up for the sake of simplicity.

I’ve calculated that I add ten minutes of production time for every thousand words written using Dragon Naturally Speaking.

Take two million and divide it by one thousand to see how many thousand word increments I wrote. The math is easy and we get two thousand. Now take two thousand and multiply that by ten to get how much extra time would’ve been added by using Dragon instead of typing.

The result? Twenty thousand wasted minutes. Divide that by sixty and we get roughly three hundred thirty-three hours that would’ve been lost in a year. That’s almost fourteen days. Two weeks of time.

The ability to write fast, clean drafts is one of the superpowers that has allowed me to make it as an indie author. With a little simple math it’s easy to see that Dragon would’ve cost me a lot of that time rather than helping.

Dragon might work for you. All I ask is that you sit down and figure out how much time you’re actually saving by using it. You might be surprised at the answer you come up with.

Cintiq Pro 16 4K workaround if you have an external monitor and connect via DisplayPort

Whew. That headline was a mouthful, but there’s really no other way to describe it. This is a workaround for people who want their Cintiq Pro 16 to run at 4K via DisplayPort while keeping an external monitor connected. This assumes you’re on a Mac with a DisplayPort and HDMI connection. I haven’t tested this for PC as I don’t use the platform, but this might work on Windows too.

The problem

Wacom, in their infinite wisdom, released the Cintiq Pro 16 at 4K, but if you’re connecting via their DisplayPort breakout box and not via USB-C then you’re stuck slumming it at 1440p instead of 4k. That means you’re missing out on a lot of pixels the Cintiq is capable of pushing. Which seems like a big deal for a piece of kit that costs this much, but Wacom didn’t ask me before they made that boneheaded decision.

Some enterprising individuals discovered a shockingly simple workaround. The DisplayPort cable Wacom shipped with the Cintiq Pro 16 wasn’t 4K capable. If you buy a 4K capable DisplayPort cable on Amazon then you can get 4K via the DisplayPort/USB breakout box.

Great, right? The only problem is if you want your Cintiq Pro 16 to run at 4K and run an external monitor at the same time.

The second monitor problem

A lot of people reported that they still couldn’t get the Cintiq Pro 16 to run at 4K if they had an external monitor connected. I ran into this same issue on my MacBook Pro. If I connected just the Cintiq Pro 16 then it worked at 4K with no issue. If I had an external monitor connected via DisplayPort the Cintiq would switch to 1440p. Talk about annoying. Writing is my main work and that second monitor is sort of more important to my workflow than the Cintiq.

The second monitor solution

The fix I found was amazingly simple. I was connecting my external monitor and my Cintiq via the two DisplayPort/Thunderbolt ports. My MacBook also has an HDMI port. I plugged my external monitor into the HDMI port and magically the Cintiq started putting out 4K even with the external monitor connected.

Talk about amazingly simple. So far it’s worked every time I’ve powered up the Cintiq without issue. If you’re running anything but the latest MacBook Pro, which describes a lot of creatives out there, try this workaround and see if it does the trick for you too.

Again I’ve only tried this on my Mac. I don’t use PC for all that much anymore so I didn’t bother to dust off my old laptop. It’d be worth a shot if you’re running a Windows machine though. Comment and let me know how it goes!

Why I don’t use Dragon Naturally Speaking for writing

The way you hear people talking about Dragon Naturally Speaking in writing circles, you’d think it was a magic productivity bullet that lets people write tens of thousands of perfect words a day. Well I’m here today with a dissenting opinion.

My Dragon background

Let’s get something out of the way first. I’ve been using Dragon Naturally speaking for a long time. Like we’re talking my dad used the first versions of Dragon back in the late ’90s for dictation in his law practice. From those early days and on through college I worked with the program fixing transcriptions for extra money here and there. When I started self-publishing in 2014 I used Dragon as a productivity booster that allowed me to bang out rough drafts by dictating into a recorder on my commute.

The point is I’ve been using Dragon Naturally Speaking for a long time. Whenever I say a bad word about the program there are inevitably people who come along and tell me I’m not using it correctly or I’m not training it or blah blah blah. I’ve been using this program since the beginning, and I spent a good year training it when I first started making money from my writing.

And I’ll never use Dragon Naturally Speaking to dictate something that will eventually land on someone’s ereader as a finished draft I’m selling.

Why not Dragon?

I have a few reasons. Some are particular to me. Some are things that every writer should think about before using Dragon to create a finished product.

Dragon will never be perfect, and you’ll never catch all the errors it introduces

This is the big one and this is the dealbreaker for me. Dragon is great and it’s always getting better. What you get today is so much better than what it was back in the good old days. It is impressive.

The problem is it still isn’t close to perfect. I spent a year working with Dragon and training it. I’d dictate on my drive to and from work and then I’d spend my lunch hour and evening hours after the wife and kid went to bed going through and painstakingly correcting all the errors Dragon made.

I’m not talking about things like homonyms either, though that was an annoyance. No, Dragon had an annoying habit of inserting random articles into the text. So I would say “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” and Dragon would give me “the a quick brown fox the jumps over the lazy a dog.” No matter how many times I corrected these errors, no matter how clearly I enunciated into my mono mic placed at a uniform distance from my mouth attached to a recorder with six stars of compatibility on their list, they cropped up.

Errors like that are a real bitch to ferret out on an editing pass. I have stories that I’ve gone over a couple of times, sent to alpha and beta readers, had an editing pass done, and I can still go back and look through them and find Dragon’s random words inserted here and there. Compare that to typing where I can bang out a clean draft on the first try and it’s a no-brainer to move away from Dragon for anything that’ll ever see the light of day on a paying fan’s ereader.

Are you really saving time?

I’m meticulous about tracking everything I do for work. I’m constantly looking to improve my process so that I can maximize the amount of work I get done when I’m writing. I’m usually juggling a couple of projects at once and writing thousands of words a day so a good workflow is a necessity for me.

So I tracked how long it took me to dictate something via Dragon versus how long it took to type something out. With Dragon I spent roughly eight minutes dictating for every thousand words put to the page. I dictate into a recorder because I find it’s better to get my thoughts out without worrying about going back and correcting them, and that going back and correcting adds about another ten minutes per thousand words.

So already we’re talking eighteen minutes spent to get a thousand words down on the page. Then there’s another editing pass eventually which takes roughly another ten minutes per thousand words. So I’m spending roughly a half hour for every finished thousand words of product before it gets sent off to readers.

For some people that might be fast. For me it’s not. I can bang out a thousand words on my keyboard in ten minutes, and I know it’s clean copy that doesn’t have any of the aforementioned Dragon-induced typos or homonym errors. Add on another ten minutes in an editing pass and it’s twenty minutes per finished thousand words. An extra ten minutes per finished thousand words might not seem like much, but if you’re doing this as a living day in and day out for years that starts to add up and hit you right in the productivity.

Of course I’ll be the first to admit I type ridiculously fast and I write very clean first drafts. That’s not going to be the case for everyone and there certainly are authors who would benefit from Dragon. If you’re a fast typist then you’re probably not one of those authors. Getting your butt in the chair and hitting the keys will be a far greater productivity boost than using Dragon.

Dragon for Mac is a terrible overpriced alternative

I switched to Mac a couple of years ago. Most everything in the creative-industrial complex seems designed for Mac first, plus I love Vellum, so it was a no brainer. I love my Mac and for the most part everything is better than the PC version.

With one exception: Dragon for Mac. It sucks. It’s overpriced at $300. It’s not even a shadow of the program that’s offered on PC for twice the price. I got it for $150 since I called Nuance and told them I’d purchased a previous version for PC and switched to Mac, and even then I feel like it was too expensive.

Here are a list of some of the frustrations, though it’s not a comprehensive list by far:

  1. Dragon for Mac won’t accept DS2 files from digital recorders, which is pretty much the standard for dictation.
  2. Dragon for Mac doesn’t have the ability to train a mobile voice profile so your recorder transcriptions are never going to get better.
  3. Dictating directly into the computer is slow and prone to errors. I have a top end MacBook Pro with plenty of RAM and a powerful processor. Nothing should be lagging on this machine, yet Dragon does.
  4. As of their most recent update (from 2017 to when I’m writing this in mid 2018) the transcription functionality is completely broken and the program crashes every time I try to transcribe something. Yes, I’ve done all the usual troubleshooting stuff including reinstalling. It doesn’t help.
  5. The correction learning process when you’re dictating directly into the machine isn’t nearly as robust as the version you get on PC.

Seriously. If you have a Mac and you want to use Dragon Naturally Speaking you’d be better off buying the latest PC version and investing in Parallels. It’d still be cheaper than buying the seriously hobbled Mac version.

What is Dragon good for?

After throwing all this shade on Dragon I feel like I should give it some props. I still use Dragon, but as I said up above it’s never used for anything that’s going to make it to someone’s ereader. No, I use Dragon for doing outlines.

Dragon is great for outlines. I can talk into my headset while I’m driving and squeeze a little productivity out of my drives instead of listening to podcasts. The stream of consciousness stuff I get from dictation is perfect for working out an outline. I try to dictate at least a couple of chapter outlines a day, sometimes more, and being able to do it via recorder is great.

The beauty of that is no one is ever going to see my outlines, so I don’t have to worry about errors being introduced to the draft. I don’t even bother to go in and correct them. Sure some garbled Dragon speak is output when I do the transcription, but why do I care if that text is never going to see the light of day?

The takeaway

Dragon Naturally Speaking is a wonderful program. If you suffer from a Repetitive Strain Injury or aren’t the world’s best typist and have no interest in learning it’s great. Although if you are in the writing business and not interested in improving your keyboarding skills you should seriously reevaluate that decision.

If you are a good typist, though? If you don’t have some extenuating circumstances like a long commute that makes Dragon worth the hassle? Stick with the keyboard. It’s not the productivity magic bullet some claim it to be, and you might end up wasting more time than you save if you keep spending time trying to make it work.

Kindle Unlimited snafu: scammers, suspended accounts, and page read reductions

There’s a minor to major snafu going on in the Kindle Unlimited author community right now depending on who you talk to. Naturally the authors who are getting letters from Amazon about suspicious activity on their accounts, or getting their accounts suspended, are more inclined to think it’s a big deal.

Basically the issue is that the Kindle Unlimited system has a problem with scammers. There’s money in them thar hills, and like with every gold rush there are unscrupulous people looking to make a quick buck. In this case the quick buck is made by uploading “books” that are stuffed to the maximum page count and then using click farming operations to page through those books to generate page reads for an account and sponge up that sweet, sweet Kindle Unlimited money.

This is causing a few problems including:

KU payout problems

Kindle Unlimited operates with a pot of money that is paid out to all participating authors at the end of a month. So Amazon will have a pot of, say $20 million and they divide that by all the authors who got page reads in a month. The rate per page read usually hovers around $0.005 per month depending on how much money Amazon pumps into the system and how many pages were read in a month.

Seeing the problem yet? Yeah, if there are a bunch of click farmers out there who are artificially inflating the page counts with their stuffed books that means they’re taking away money from other authors. It artificially depresses the payout by crowding out legitimate authors with their ill-gotten page reads.

Authors (unfairly?) targeted

There’s another more low key and potentially more insidious side effect hitting authors over the past couple of weeks. See those scammers know that it would look suspicious if the only books their click farms paged through were their overstuffed books. So what they do to make their operations look more legitimate is they target other bestselling books and page through those as well.

By targeting legitimate books it makes their click farm accounts look more legitimate. The problem for authors is if their book happens to be targeted by one of those click farm operations it suddenly makes their book look more scammy to whatever automated bot Amazon has trawling their site looking for suspicious activity.

The upshot of all this is legitimate authors have been targeted by scammers to lend scammer accounts more legitimacy, and now those author accounts are being targeted by Amazon as scammers with consequences ranging from sternly worded emails accusing them of scamming the system to outright suspensions. There are also authors who are reporting that their page reads are being retroactively revoked for previous months. Presumably these are page reads that were generated by click farm accounts.

Who to believe?

Here’s the problem. Whenever something like this happens there’s a lot of confusion and a lot of rumors that get spread around. I’ve deliberately kept the details in this post to just the facts, ma’am, but if you’re inclined to go looking at some of the rumors then it’s easy enough to find the uproar on KBoards.

The difficulty when something like this happens is all we have to go on is the word of the author on the one hand that they aren’t doing anything scammy, and the stonewall from Amazon on the other side. There are probably some authors out there who did legitimately grey hat things to generate page reads on their books and now they’re complaining along with everyone else on the bandwagon about how they’ve been unfairly targeted. There always are when there’s a smackdown targeting the KU scam du jour.

On the flip side there are enough authors complaining about these issues that it seems highly unlikely that all of them have been partaking in click farms, wittingly or unwittingly. The thought of being labeled a scammer and having your account suspended because your books were targeted by a click farm to lend their scam legitimacy, something that you absolutely cannot control, is terrifying.

With zero transparency from Amazon about exactly what is going on and conflicting reports from authors it’s difficult to say exactly what is happening, but it seems safe to assume that there are legitimate author accounts being unfairly targeted as part of a crackdown that is casting a net that’s gone a little too wide.

What to do?

It’s a difficult call. There are a lot of authors who are talking about pulling out of Kindle Unlimited entirely and going wide. The problem with this is if your whole author strategy so far has been to rely on the ease of Kindle Unlimited then you don’t have an audience on other platforms which makes it difficult to go wide.

On top of that there’s the issue that there simply are some genres that don’t do as well wide as they do in Kindle Unlimited. A lot of authors who have come to rely on KU money are going to have a difficult time and take a severe hit right in the pocketbook if they make the precipitous move of taking their books out of KU. On the other hand if an author is facing a suspension because of illicit KU activity they have no control over there’s really no choice. Better to be out of KU with no KU money and have your Amazon account intact than in KU and risk having your account suspended and you’re out KU money and royalties.

I’d advise caution for authors reading posts from other panicked authors. If Kindle Unlimited is a significant portion of your income then be smart about whether or not you want to withdraw. Especially if you’re relying on that money. Take the time to build yourself up on other stores and build up alternate revenue streams. Don’t do something precipitous that’s going to leave you unable to pay the bills and put food on the table because you’re making a decision from a place of fear.

Parting thoughts

Amazon should be more transparent about what is happening. That’s not likely to happen, but authors should take comfort in the knowledge that Amazon does tend to do the right thing by legit authors in the long run when these crackdowns hit. I think that right now there is a bot or some automated system that is inappropriately flagging some authors, but if those authors make noise and they aren’t actively participating in scams they’re going to be okay in the long run.

It always sucks when something like this happens, but crackdowns at Amazon are hardly new. There are always people who will push the extremes, and often the response swings to the opposite extreme before the dust clears and authors get on with writing. This has all happened before, and it will all happen again. Take a deep breath, remain calm, and come at this from a business perspective rather than from a place of panic and fear.

And maybe consider working on your wide game so you don’t have all your eggs in one basket for the next panic.

Test driving the Cintiq Pro 16

I do a lot of work with Photoshop. Sometimes it’s tossing together a cover. Other times I’m doing graphics for an advertisement or something. Photoshop skills are useful to have, and it’s even more useful to have a good digitizer.

I’ve been using my iPad Pro + Astropad, more on that in a post of its own, for the past year or so. Before that I had a Cintiq 22HD, but the thing was so big and unwieldy that it wasn’t pleasant to use. I do love the feel of Wacom’s products, though, and so with their new Cintiq Pro line out I decided to give the 16 a test drive.

Note that I mostly do Photoshop manipulations. I dabble in digital art, but I’m far from a great artiste or anything like that. My creative talent lies with the written word, though digital painting is one of those things I’ve always wanted to perfect on that magical far future day when I have the free time to do it.

I just wanted to get it out there where I’m coming from when I talk about the Cintiq. I’m semi-pro/hobbyist, and not the kind of person who is putting in ten hour days in front of the Wacom.

The good:

Sleek, stylish, and functional.

The Cintiq Pro 16 is fucking beautiful. It has smooth lines. The screen is quite good. One of my complaints with the 22HD was the 1080p was really showing its age even on a 22″ screen in a retina display world, but there’s none of that with the Pro 16. Even running at 1440p it was wonderful to look at.

The pen is a Wacom pen.

Enough said. There’s a reason they’re the industry leader and people have been using them despite some of the wonky issues that inevitably show up with each new generation of their products. There’s no substitute for the Wacom pen experience. At least not until their patent runs out.

Parallax

I’m talking about the annoying thing where the cursor was offset from the tip of the pen. Not a useful method for determining distance to celestial objects or a villain from the Green Lantern comics. Parallax plagued earlier Cintiq models, but it’s almost completely gone with the Pro line. Sure there was a little bit of offset, but not enough to be truly noticeable.

The footprint for the 16 Pro is way smaller.

The whole thing is smaller and sleeker than the previous Cintiq line. I was able to easily find a place for it at my writing desk which was nice for me since Photoshop is more of a side gig for me rather than the main event. If space is a concern then the 16 definitely saves it. It’s still not going to be terribly convenient to take out to a coffee shop, but if you’re serious about using a Cintiq then you’re not working in a coffee shop to begin with.

That reduced size also means that the Cintiq Pro 16 is a hell of a lot more comfortable to pick up and place on your knees. There is still cabling attached, but it’s not nearly as intrusive as the 22HD or the 13HD were once upon a time. And the USB-C connectors seem to be pretty reliable without some of the breaking issues that plagued the 13HD which should make people feel better about using this on the couch. If you have a laptop that allows you to use a Cintiq on the couch, and a power strip nearby, and a good cable management solution, and so on and so forth.

This isn’t really a mobile device, is what I’m getting at. You’ll have to pay the premium for the MobileStudio if you want that, or just buy an iPad Pro with the pencil and ProCreate or Astropad which is close enough for quick work.

The bad:

Wonky touch controls

The touch controls suck. There’s no getting around it. Moving around the canvas with two fingers works well enough, but the zoom is basically broken. You either zoom way in or not at all. The palm rejection also wasn’t the greatest even when I was wearing a drawing glove. I disabled the touch controls and found myself pining for the good old days of zooming with the touch ring, which brings me to…

No buttons

The quick buttons that lived on the side of the previous line of Cintiqs are gone. Sure it makes for a more aesthetically pleasing device, but it is something I missed since the touch controls were such crap. Wacom helpfully sells an external ExpressKey remote for about $100 if you absolutely have to have them, but for that price I had a bluetooth keyboard by my side. Why pay $100 for a few shortcuts when you can have all the shortcuts for cheaper?

USB-C vs Displayport + USB

Wacom, much like Apple, is jumping onto the USB-C bandwagon. USB-C might be the wave of the future, but Wacom fans are going to have to get in line with the Apple fans who have had to stop worrying and learn to love adapters and backwards compatibility issues.

If you have  USB-C port on your computer great! You’re good to go. If you’re like most of the current population who haven’t upgraded yet there is a solution provided in the box. They have a breakout box that goes from one USB-C wire to a USB 3.0 and Mini DisplayPort connection. This worked on my MacBook Pro even if it added more wiring to hide away, but it wasn’t without problems such as…

Resolution

Wacom advertises the Cintiq Pro 16 as a 4k screen. Which it is if you use a USB connection. If you use the breakout box with the USB/Mini DisplayPort adapter the most you get out of the box is 1440p. Which is still plenty big, but not the 4k advertised. There are posts around the Internet that claim the issue is with the Mini DisplayPort cable Wacom provides and that swapping it out for a cable that supports 4k fixes the issue, but as of this writing I haven’t had a chance to try that out.

Edit: I’ve since tried this out with mixed results. I was able to get it to work at 4k by getting a new cable, but there’s a catch. It’s wonky if you have another external monitor hooked up. I got it to work at 4K with another monitor connected a couple of times, but eventually it stopped working and I had to disconnect the external monitor which was annoying, to say the least.

Stand issues

The stand is pretty much nonexistent. There are two little kickstands on the back of the Cintiq that raise it a couple of inches, but there isn’t the adjustable stand that came with the 13HD or the Companion 2 line, and nothing like the massive desk real estate devouring stands that came with the 22HD and higher. It didn’t bother me too much, but if you’re the kind of person who sits staring at your Cintiq all day long you might want to look into a third party solution so you don’t develop any neck RSI from constantly hunching over to look at the screen.

Fan noise

There are fans in the Cintiq Pro 16. They kick on pretty quickly and run almost constantly. This faded into the background for me and wasn’t a bother, but I know there are some people who get annoyed by that so I wanted to note it. Not to mention it did lead to an even bigger issue which I’ll detail below in a section I’m calling…

The ugly:

The fans ran almost constantly. That wasn’t an issue. What was an issue was when I rested my hand on the left side of the screen, we’re talking the minimal amount of force caused by gravity pulling my hand towards the center of the earth with the screen in between at good old fashioned 9.8m/s squared, it pressed the screen down to the point that it brushed against one of those fans inside and created a godawful buzzing noise.

I can’t imagine that was good for either the fan or the expensive sensitive screen. I asked around in some Wacom enthusiast forums and other people say they don’t have that issue so it’s entirely possible it was a defect with the unit I tried out, but it’s something to be aware of.

Edit: I’ve since tried TWO other units. Neither one had the fan buzz issue. It looks like I got a slightly defective unit the first time around.

Wavy horizontal lines

This was another dealbreaker for me and apparently it’s an issue that several people have had. Every time I moved the pen near the bottom of the screen, or touched the pen to the bottom third of the screen, it would create several rows of faintly flickering horizontal lines about an inch tall and an inch across. It was prominent enough to be a distraction and an annoyance, and not the kind of thing that should be showing up on a piece of kit this expensive.

I contacted Wacom customer support about the screen issue and they were very nice and asked me to duplicate the issue, but at that point the minor annoyances in the bad coupled with these two dealbreakers in the ugly convinced me this unit wasn’t for me. Especially for what they were asking. I don’t mess around in Photoshop often enough that it was strictly necessary, especially considering I already have the iPad Pro and AstroPad, and I figure something that expensive shouldn’t have that many issues right out of the box.

Edit: I mentioned above under the fan noise that I tried two additional units. Both of those units exhibited the ghosting dark lines issue along the bottom of the screen, so that seems to be a price of doing business with the Cintiq Pro 16.

The takeaway

The Cintiq Pro 16 is an amazing looking device. It has the Wacom pen which is still the best in the industry, but the issues plaguing it mean I’m going to hold off before I give it another try. Obviously they still have some kinks to work out, and here’s hoping that they work them out in the next revision. If you already have a Cintiq it’s probably wise to wait just a bit, and if you’re using a tablet it’s not time to upgrade just yet.