Last week I posted about hiring a professional editor: when, why, how much. But there is another alternative. Editing programs.
There are a lot of different editing programs out there. Not having any experience with the options, I tested out a few. Here are the programs I checked out this week:
If you have a gmail account, it is easy to upload a document to the cloud through “Google Docs.” I then accessed the add-on through the Google Docs store. This is a free feature of the greater program ProWritingAid, which provides a lot of different reports for a license fee of $35/year. Other free reports include the Cliche and Redundancy Check, Acronym Check, and something called Corporate Wording Check.
Consistency Checker ran a report on my whole 94,000 word manuscript in a few seconds. It caught the following:
-Inconsistent hyphenation: There was a fair amount of inconsistent hyphenation throughout my manuscript, and to be honest I never would have noticed, because the words were so far apart. Sometimes, I had correctly hyphenated (“The door was still smoking…” versus “the still-smoking door,”) but at least I could check and confirm that I had used the correct form.
-Spelling variations: Among vs amongst; channeling vs channelling; leapt vs leaped;
-Commonly misspelled words: In some cases this was helpful, but in others, it was not smart enough to recognize that the “misspelled” word was actually part of another word. It kept thinking I misspelled “assess” as “asses,” when this was in fact the end of “classes.”
This program was quick and easy to use, but I couldn’t figure out how to jump to the error it was bringing my attention to. I am not going to scroll through all of the pages in my 300 page book to try to find the one instance where I failed to spell out a numeral. However, for many of the spelling and hyphenation errors, I was able to go into Scrivener, search for the word, and quickly make the correction. So it was still helpful.
Four stars for this one.
Free, or Premium for $25.95 per month
This program was super easy to add to my browser, Chrome. Now it will grammar check all of my activity on the web. That’s great! But I wanted it for my WIP, which is on my desktop. Never fear, once I created an account, I was able to upload my document to grammarly.com for proofing.
Oops, turns out that Grammarly only edits 20 pages at a time, unless you pay the hefty $26/mo price tag for a nicer version (at least, I believe this version would allow unlimited uploads–it wasn’t entirely clear). I saved the first 20 pages of my WIP in a separate document, and tried to upload it. It was still too big, so I cut it down to about 10 pages.
Grammarly caught a lot of comma misuse. Apparently I have a habit of using a comma before the word “and.” Grammarly definitely wasn’t going to have any of that nonsense. I also wasn’t consistent about using a comma when ending quotations. It also caught a few misspelled words that were helpful, like “chirurgeon.” (Who the heck knows how to spell that, anyway).
Another nice feature was that it recommended changes, which you could make with the click of a button. I think for an article or shorter piece, it would be quite helpful. For me, since I would be making any edits to my master document in Scrivener, this wasn’t useful.
Overall, the app was helpful in catching my comma misuse, but would definitely not be worth the trouble of uploading and checking my entire manuscript 10 pages at a time. It also kept trying to change “moonburner” to “moon burger,” which just annoyed me.
I went ahead and shelled out the $6.99 for the desktop version of the app, which is supposed to better handle large blocks of text and have a function to save your work.
Despite this, appears you also have to upload into the app in chunks. The program was not particularly intuitive, and there didn’t seem to be any Help or Tutorial options I could find. I did manage to upload my first chapter. The program noted that I had used 6 adverbs, 2 of which were the same (softly). This was good for me to know. It highlighted 3 instances of the passive voice, but I liked all of them, as they were used purposefully. So I left them. It found one possibly confusing sentence, which I ended up keeping the same, too.
Overall, I did not find Hemingway app to be helpful. The annoyance level of having to upload chapter by chapter is such that I will not be using it for larger works. I didn’t feel that it caught many grammatical mistakes. Again, it might be good for a short story or smaller piece you are focusing on.
Two and a half stars.
This is a beta web-based program that allows you to copy and paste chunks of text. I pasted just one chapter and it wasn’t too big for the program to run. It highlighted the following possible mistakes/weaknesses: adverbs, passive voice, weak words (mine was “a little”), and a sentence ending with a preposition. The highlighted items are color-coded in a handy dandy colors.
Overall, I would compare this to the Hemingway app, but it is easier to use and free. It does not appear to catch confusing or long sentences, which Hemingway app does, but on the other hand, it has a cute Strunk minion cartoon, which endears me to it.
For its limited functionality, it was pretty cool. Four stars.
Cost: $12/mo for unlimited words
This is also a web-based editing program. You upload your work and it edits it for you. I uploaded the first chapter of my book to see what it found. This was definitely the most thorough of the programs I used so far. It was also the most overwhelming. I need a drink just looking at that bar chart.
Auto-Crit generated a report that breaks down: dialogue tags, adverbs used, adverbs in dialogue tags, passive voice, showing vs. telling indicators, cliches, unnecessary filler words, word frequency and word use (apparently I used the phrase “on a rickety” twice in a paragraph–that was good to know), etc. It also compares your work to overused words in published fiction, letting you know that there are too many words like: look, had, could, knew, just.
I was impressed by the depth of analysis this program provided. But in a way, it was TOO deep. This was only one short chapter of my work, and it gave me about 20 different areas to work on. That is just too many. And sometimes you HAVE to uses words like “could” or “look,” sorry Auto-Crit! To run an entire manuscript through this program would give you a Herculean amount of data that if fully integrated would leave your novel sounding like it was dictated by a robot. I think the better use of this program (at least for longer works) would be to use it on shorter sections to familiarize yourself with (a) common mistakes, and (b) common mistakes you make, in order to better self-edit down the road.
Of the programs I viewed so far, this is definitely the Mercedes model, with the most bells and whistles. It seemed to catch all the items the other programs caught bits and pieces of, and more. And at $12 per month for unlimited words, the price tag is pretty reasonable.
Overall, I would use Auto-Crit and Consistency Checker again, mostly because of the ease of uploading an entire manuscript. I would also use EditMinion for shorter pieces. I found Grammarly and Hemingway app to be more frustrating than helpful, and would not use them again.
There are some real benefits to utilizing these programs. They are not a comprehensive edit, and do not replace a professional editor, but they are an excellent tool to help you self-edit. In just an afternoon, these programs helped me identify some common mistakes I make, which will help me catch those when I do my next edit down the road. You could also utilize these programs right after finishing a draft or an edit, when you are too close to the work to perform a traditional self-edit.
What about the rest of you self-editors out there? Have you had good luck with these or other programs?