Welcome to the second installment of my auto editor review! In Part One, I discussed my experiences with Hemingway and Grammarly. Today, I’m going to get into the two more advanced tools I tried: AutoCrit and ProWritingAid.
The biggest thing that drew me to AutoCrit was one of the answers in their FAQ. Why use AutoCrit when you have a human editor? Because you can eliminate issues before your human editor gets your manuscript. As I mentioned in Part One, that’s one of the reasons I wanted to investigate a handful of auto editors in the first place. Since AutoCrit’s answer to the question and my concept lined up so well, I decided I had to give them a shot.
My first thought upon opening AutoCrit was: HOLY CRAP, that’s a lot of options. That thought persisted throughout my use of the software. There are truly so many angles from which to view your work that I hardly knew where to begin. Are there words you know you overuse? Create your own word list to watch for these! Want to compare your work to others in your genre? Okey-dokey! Like to be scolded like a naughty child for your use of adverbs? Hell, yes!
AutoCrit can–and will–do all of the above, plus much, much more. With something like 178 million points of review (actually, according to their website, it’s “more than 25 areas”) you can go to town on every single aspect of your writing. It’s just that…well, you can only do it online, because AutoCrit is another solely web-based bit of software. I get it, but, come on. What if you want to write in your *inspired place* and that place doesn’t have WiFi? Out of luck, my friend.
And let me talk about those 25+ areas. With that many options, where DO you start? It sounds great–and it is! It’s also cumbersome to move through all those possibilities to extract the info you’re really looking for. I found myself spending hours on a single paragraph because I bounded from one rabbit hole to the next. Each report had additional items I could look at, and every bit of info led me to something else to learn. This is at all times fantastic (because you can easily see how you would improve your writing rather quickly); overwhelming (because OMG options!!!); and a potentially painful time sink (much the way watching one cat video on YouTube can swiftly escalate into a three a.m. cat video and pizza hangover #dontjudgeme).
Ever seen this one?
Yeah…that’s the writer’s brain. All the time, about everything. Now tell me how you think I’m doing with all those fancy options.
At their monthly rate, I think it’s a great tool if you’re looking for ultra-intensive self-editing, but how do you know if you’re looking for that kind of experience? Well, here’s the kicker with AutoCrit: there’s no trial version. If you want to buy in, you have to go all in and then ask for your money back if you discover it’s not for you. Pro tip: try ProWritingAid (below) out first. I’ll come back to that in a moment. Ultimately, I had to give AutoCrit the boot. I requested a refund for my first month before my first week was up. I just wasn’t at a point where I could focus enough to make it work for me.
One thing I will point out in terms of actual usability: I felt navigation was rather tough, visually speaking. In the main editor mode, when you’re allowing AutoCrit to walk you from one error/suggestion to the next, there didn’t appear to be any change in highlight color to indicate what you should be paying attention to. Maybe it was just user error, but I found myself searching constantly to find the trouble spots AutoCrit wanted me to focus on.
The takeaway – The current cost is $29.97/month. There’s no yearly discount, so your annual cost is $359.64. Their website assures you there are no contracts and you can cancel anytime, but I suspect these policies are in place for a reason. I wonder how many writers use AutoCrit continuously versus how many subscribe on an as needed basis.
They backed their 14-day refund policy (for initial purchases only) for me, and I was super pleased with their swift and pleasant customer service in that respect.
After getting lost in the depths of AutoCrit, I decided to try its (mostly) free rival, ProWritingAid. I should have done this in reverse–read through to the takeaway for my explanation.
Like AutoCrit, you’ll find a seemingly endless number of options and reports to sift through in ProWritingAid. The free version has limitations: you can only check up to 500 words at a time and you can only use it online. But here’s where ProWritingAid tries to make it better: the premium version is inexpensive and offers a desktop app for offline use! It also boasts integrations for Word, Docs, Chrome, and Scrivener.
Now…let me review that last sentence. There was an important little word in there. Did you catch it? “Tries”. Yep. Because while the site for ProWritingAid touts the great and wonderful premium experience, achieving the full premium experience proved impossible for me. The desktop app I downloaded didn’t work. The “Renew Purchase” option on my initial trial license didn’t do anything. The website bugged out on me more times than I could count.
That’s a lot of griping about a piece of software that’s free (with a very affordable premium upcharge). So let me give it some thumbs up: navigation and usability is a more pleasant experience than the out-of-the-box adventure of AutoCrit. Rabbit hole factor is high for anyone seeking to get lost in the world of endless style tweaking. And the price point makes it much more viable to keep around than a year on AutoCrit. I found many of the features and reports (when they worked) to be close enough for my own uncultured taste.
So see? I really wanted to use and enjoy this software, but I had to throw my hands up. Maybe I hit it at a bad time, and I certainly won’t shy from trying it again on my next round of edits, but my use this time around was more than a little meh.
The takeaway – The current cost is free for limited use and $40.00/year for premium. If you wanna go wild and treat yo’ self, you can tack on another $5.00 (taking your total to $45.00/year) for Premium+, which also gives you plagiarism checking à la Grammarly’s premium model. At that price point, for the features you get, it’s a bargain. That is, of course, if those features work the way you expect when you expect them to. Why try this before diving in on AutoCrit? Allow me to repeat: free for limited use. I highly recommend checking out the free version–consider it a good trial run for this app or AutoCrit. The look and feel are different, but the level of intensity is the same. You’ll know right away whether or not this is water you want to tread.
So, what did I learn?
Each of these pieces of software has its place, but most of that depends on you and your needs. If you’re looking to dramatically improve both your writing and your understanding of your writing style (and you have infinite time to get lost in the seedy underbelly of The Writing Universe) then AutoCrit and ProWritingAid can take you there. If you’re only seeking a little assistance along the way, try the lighter weight of Hemingway or Grammarly.
While these tools help, however, they’re by no means infallible. I made some great changes along the way. I improved my readability, lost (a little) love for adverbs, and recognized some key areas where I tend to have trouble. That’s not the end game, though. Helpful as they may be, these tools won’t replace your human editor–and that’s a good thing. A human editor does far more than say, “This sentence is bad.” (Or at least, they should. If the only feedback you get from your editor reads like that, it’s time for a new editor.) Find someone you work well with–someone whose guidance, opinions, and pointers you trust, and let them lead you in you those last key steps to completing your next writing project.
Your turn: have you tried any auto editing software? What was your takeaway? I’d love to hear from you!