While a good, professional (human) editor is invaluable to your book – the purchase of manuscript editing software can be another prudent investment.
Manuscript editing software programs do much more than the built-in spelling and grammar checkers in your word processor. Some offer “first-pass” or “last-pass” editing to clean up mistakes in spelling, grammar, and punctuation; others make suggestions for improving your language.
These programs can alert you to overuse of adverbs, clichés, redundancies, overlong sentences, sticky sentences, glue words, vague and abstract words, diction, and the misuse of dialog tags, to name just a few. Some of these tools will even connect you with a human editor with a click of a button. In alphabetical order, here are some of my favorites (this is by no means an exhaustive list).
AutoCrit is well organized and offers a lot of information in a clean interface. In my writing, it revealed an excess of generic descriptions, passive voice, and too many initial pronouns, names, and “ing” words. I also use too many “ly” adverbs. On the plus side, I’m great at showing and not telling, and I don’t repeat words and phrases or use a lot of filler words or clichés.
All these were easy fixes once I was made aware of them. But hey, if you’re feeling depressed about your errors, just click the “compare to fiction” tab to show how your writing stacks up against published works, including mass-market paperbacks and bestsellers. It might make you feel better.
The manuscript analysis provides a lot of constructive criticism in a clean, easy-to-read layout. I like the visual charts representing sentence length and paragraph pace, too.
AutoCrit is $29.97/month.
This free software will find the mistakes your spelling and grammar checkers don’t see, such as inconsistent hyphenation (part time vs. part-time) and spelling (color vs. colour). It also finds things like numerals in the middle of sentences, compound words, and abbreviations that appear in different forms.
It does not check spelling and grammar, just consistency. Note: this is the freemium version of the $99 PerfectIt app for Microsoft Office 2013 and Google Docs.
It targets long nonfiction document like proposals, grants, and how-to manuals. I wish this kind of tool had existed back when I was a Silicon Valley technical writer! I will definitely run it the next time I edit my how-to book, the Self-Publishing Boot Camp Guide for Authors. What the heck, I’ll run it in my narrative nonfiction works, too.
Install Consistency Checker in Word by visiting the Microsoft Office 2013 store. To install it in Google Docs, go to the store listing, log in and click “Free,” then run Google Docs and Consistency Checker will be in the “Add-ons” menu.
Draft is a writing, editing, collaboration, and publishing tool you access online using your browser. Each contributor’s changes show up in different colors, with “accept” and “reject” options. You can mark major revisions, find and revert to previous versions, import docs from Dropbox, Evernote, and Google Drive, and publish directly to places like WordPress, Tumblr, LinkedIn, and even MailChimp. They’ve provided a handy Chrome extension that lets you turn any text area on the web into something you can write and edit with Draft. You can even hire a human editor via the program.
You can email a document to your Draft account and create a simple presentation, then select segments of writing and the “simplify” robot catches common words and duplicate words and attempts to detect and delete unimportant sentences. More features include an audio-video transcription tool, analytics, and a website builder tool. “Hemingway Mode” provides distraction-free writing.
Draft is free, but donations unlock more benefits.
Grammarly is my favorite electronic editor. It delivers information both line-by-line and in summary form. I bought an annual subscription in 2015, and I like the way it follows me around the web to check my WordPress blog posts, my Google Docs, Gmail, and comments and feedback forms on other people’s blog posts and articles. As I am a professional writer, it is embarrassing when I make basic spelling and grammatical errors in quick, social media posts and emails, so I appreciate this feature.
Like most robust editing tools, Grammarly offers settings for various kinds of writing: business documents, novels, creative nonfiction, medical, technical, and casual. I set mine to creative nonfiction.
A basic version of Grammarly that roots out spelling and grammar errors is free, while the full version is $29.95/month. If you need a human editor, quick, you can reach one through their site for a reasonable price.
Hemingway is a distraction-free writing tool that displays a row of formatting elements across the top for bold, italics, bulleting, numbering, headings, and links. Slide it from “Write” into “Edit” mode and you’ll get a clean, visual take on what might be wrong with your writing. The word and character counters are also very handy.
The browser-based version of the Hemingway app is free, and with the desktop app for Mac and Windows ($19.99), you can import and export your text to Word and export as HTML or Markdown language for your blogging platform, WordPress, or CMS files.
Some people like to write and edit in Hemingway and then import their work into a tool called StackEdit, a browser-based markdown editor, though you could easily use any of the other tools I’ve already mentioned.
MasterWriter is a valuable addition to any of the editors described here. It’s a thesaurus on steroids in the cloud that will improve your vocabulary and your prose. Enrich your writing with its synonym finder, rhyming dictionary, alliterations, word families, phrases, dictionary, and even a set of 11,000 icons of world culture to add imagery to your writing.
Instead of your story’s sun being “hot,” you’ll find choices like blazing, sizzling, fiery, torrid, punishing, merciless, or raging. Just put a word in the left side and click the dictionary you want to use and get results on the right side.
Check out the video tour and I think you’ll be impressed. An audio page enables you to collect your thoughts or music. There’s a free trial, with licenses offered at $9.99/month, $99.95/year, or $149 for a two-year license.
Of all the tools reviewed, ProWritingAid probably offers the most value, especially with their clean, updated interface and detailed reports with the click of a link. I was so impressed that I bought the annual subscription even though I also subscribe to Grammarly. I love their free Google Docs and Chrome browser extension, too. I still use Grammarly because it follows me everywhere on the web, but with its thorough critique, I think ProWritingAid makes me a better writer. As an editor and publisher, the reports also help me communicate better with my authors.
A scaled-down version of ProWritingAid is free online, with Premium editions offered at $40 annually, $60 for a two-year license, $80 for a three-year license, and $140 for lifetime use.
ProWritingAid also offers a couple of advanced features you may be interested in using. As a publisher, I can create my own rules and house style that detects patterns, wildcards, overused words, dialog, and repeated words, plus it lets me create customized advice messages for my authors. Their developer API allows software developers to add writing analysis to applications they are developing.
SmartEdit is a first-pass-editing tool for creative writers and novelists working in Windows. Since I’m Mac-based, I couldn’t review it, but gleaned a lot of information from the screen shots and user reviews on their site.
Like AutoCrit and Grammarly, SmartEdit runs a series of checks on your work and highlights areas of concern. You can open your manuscript directly in SmartEdit, or copy and paste from your word processor into the SmartEdit Editor.
Unique features include a sentence length graph and detection of curly/straight quotes, plus hyphen and em-dash counts. A sentence-start list displays your sentences and counts the number of times you begin them with a particular word, which can be a real eye-opener.
SmartEdit, like ProWritingAid, may deserve consideration by professional editors and publishers as it allows you to export lists of problems the program caught to Excel, PDF, HTML, CSV, and text. This kind of feedback helps a lot when communicating with writers and editors.
A single SmartEdit license is $67, SmartEdit for Word is $77, and the SmartEdit Bundle is $109.
The WriteMonkey folks describe their Windows desktop app as “Zenware” for writers. Like Hemingway and Draft, WriteMonkey offers a stripped-down, distraction-free writing environment. You can customize your background, font, and what you see in the toolbar, such as word count, with a progress bar and the current time.
More advanced features are available as well, such as the ability to manage separate chapter files in a book-length work using a “Jumps” feature.
You write in simple text, formatting using Markdown language or the Textile markup language if you like. You can export to HTML and upload it to the web as a page or a blog post.
Like some of the other tools, WriteMonkey is supported by donations. Your donation gives you access to many plugins that are available separately.
Let’s do the math. I spend $139.95/year for Grammarly, $75/year for MasterWriter (at $149.99 for two years), and bought ProWritingAid’s $140 lifetime membership. Does that seem like overkill? I don’t think so, considering how much it costs to hire a human editor. I’d rather send my editor my best work before she tackles it, so she can work on the harder stuff. And besides, I learn a lot from these smart programs. Publishing error-free blogs and social media posts is important for a writer, too. Don’t you agree?
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