When I was working on the manuscript for Born Wolf, I decided to try out several of the automatic editing tools that are on the market. I thought I would share what I learned as I put them into practice.
Over the course of two posts, I’ll address the four I tried, what I found, and what I ended up sticking with. Hopefully, this is helpful to anyone considering dropping cash on an auto editor or two! I will note, however, that I didn’t use these as a replacement for a human editor. I used these as a part of my overall process, in the hopes that my final editor would have less to deal with! I’ll remark on that at the end of the second post.
And one other note: I’m not affiliated with any of these services, and I’m not getting anything for talking about them. I’m just giving my honest, personal, and humble opinion of how they worked for me. Your results may vary.
This was the first one I tried. What drew me to Hemingway was the concept that it would grade my readability. I was curious to see how I stacked up, and I knew I was already guilty of using difficult-to-follow sentences.
You can copy and paste text into the editor or import a small variety of formats. Then, the editor marks (in red or yellow, depending on difficulty) areas of the text that are hard to read. It also marks adverbs, passive voice, and tough words/complex phrases that might be replaced with simpler choices.
I found that the import feature was useless for the amount of text I deal with. A single chapter was enough to bog the whole editor down. Because of this, I had to copy and paste each section I wanted to check. Doing so removed any formatting I had in place. While you can apply formatting, like bold and italics, within the editor, this seemed to be rather inconsistent. Sometimes the formatting would stick when I put it back where it belonged within my manuscript, but I was wary enough to check manually, and in doing so found several instances where formatting had been dropped. This may have been solved by exporting, but I was unimpressed with the sluggishness of the editor when it came to this feature.
I also found the adverb recognition to be a little spotty. “Fly”, for example, is not an adverb, but every time it appeared within my text, Hemingway marked it. This suggests to me that the editor is really only checking for words that end with -ly. Perhaps a further step of checking them against a dictionary of actual adverbs would be a useful addition. At any rate, be prepared to use your own brain a little here, rather than relying solely on the software.
One of the biggest strengths, though, is that the app downloads to your computer. Whereas some of the other options here are only useful if you have an internet connection, Hemingway is good to go whenever, wherever.
The takeaway – I spent the cash for purchase (currently a single payment of $19.99 – available on Mac and PC) and didn’t request a refund. Despite the issues above, I did find it rather helpful and I think it improved the clarity of my more difficult passages. My plan moving forward, though, is to use Hemingway only when I do my first rough edit from Scrivener into Word. That way, I won’t have to worry about the massive loss of formatting, because I don’t set my formatting until later in my process.
I used the free version of Grammarly for a while before I gave in to the urge to bite the bullet on a subscription. I enjoy it for everyday use and love the Google Chrome extension that allows me to access it anywhere online. It’s plugged into my email, right here on WordPress, and my other social media accounts, as well. It checks everything for me, all the time, which is nice. Have you seen how much I like commas? Trust me, it could be worse than it is.
Once your text is in the editor, problem areas get marked and flagged with recommended fixes on the right-hand side (or in-line, if you’re working through the Chrome extension). Often, those fixes have an explanation of why the issue was marked. This is great if you want to learn the technical areas where you tend to have trouble. From there, it’s a simple matter of clicking the solution you like or making a change manually (and seeing if that clears the issue).
Paying for a subscription opened up some of the upgraded features and I’ve found it to be worth the price so far. Grammarly is easy to use, provides generally good suggestions for fixes (I’ll come back to that generally good in a moment), and it caught things multiple beta readers and two early editors missed. When I used it on a larger scale for the Born Wolf manuscript, it also kept most of my formatting, even when I copied and pasted. As with Hemingway, though, I had to go back and check my final text manually. I found some places where formatting had fallen away. It was a pain.
The desktop version allows for import of documents. However, it caps you at 60 pages (100,000 characters) and a file size of 4MB or smaller. This wouldn’t allow me to import my whole manuscript, and because my files weren’t broken down into chapters, I went the C&P route. The desktop app is also limited by the necessity for internet connection. At that point, I’m not sure why there is a desktop app. You can do the same things through the website. Overall, I found the desktop app to be rather flukey. It needed constant reloads to work and often left a single untraceable error at the end that had to be manually cleared out.
Additionally, I primarily use a Mac for my writing work. The PC version of the app appears to have more features, including the ability to use a Grammarly add-in for Microsoft Word. I haven’t tried this on my PC yet, but I intend to. I do think if I had both Word and Grammarly pestering me about edits as I went, I would get even more benefit. That being said, I won’t see that benefit on my Mac, which means I won’t see it in my writing.
Now, remember when I mentioned Grammarly makes generally good suggestions for fixes? Well, here’s the thing: it does. But then, sometimes, it also offers terrible suggestions for fixes. At one point, it recommended that a character shove something “into” her ass instead of “under” it. That’s all well and good for some books. Born Wolf isn’t one of them. At another time, I got the option to change “his” to “him”, but I ignored it. It would have altered my sentence from “Fourt was eating his…” to “Fourt was eating him…” Great for a book about cannibals. Not so useful in this instance. It also offered that “disappear” is an overused word, and perhaps I would prefer “go”. Okay…first of all: how overused is “go”? And second, those two words don’t necessarily have the same connotation. Get your act together, Grammarly. (I know it’s software, but still.)
The takeaway – Current subscriptions for Grammarly come in three flavors. Monthly ($29.95/month); quarterly ($59.95 or $19.98/month); and yearly ($139.95 or $11.66/month). I haven’t minded paying the fee for the peace of mind I feel it offers, and I use it all the time. That being said, Grammarly has a horrible reputation online. Really. Rankings and reviews are just abysmal. So, I approached the purchase of my subscription with significant caution. If you’re interested, I would definitely recommend trying the free version until you really feel you need additional options. And if you do decide to buy in, be warned that customer service appears to be one of the chief complaints of unhappy users online.
Next time, I’ll be discussing AutoCrit and ProWritingAid. Until then, happy writing!