A Tool for Fiction Writers Not To Be Overlooked

I just finished the draft of my second novel and now face the dread chore of editing. At best editing is a chore, at worst a nightmare. Time and time again, self-published authors are chastised for their lack of or poor editing. Likewise, agents and publishers gripe about the poorly edited manuscripts they receive. Readers complain how reading a poorly edited book can be distracting. I sometimes find myself re-reading a sentence in a purchased e-book because it didn’t make sense or was so poorly structured. I have put books down when errors made it too difficult to read.

Why don’t writers edit their book? I guess there may be some who think their writing is too good, that they don’t need to edit other than maybe an MS Word spellcheck. Some don’t even think they require a spellcheck. For others, it’s a simply a chore they don’t want to deal with. For the many, if not most, it comes down to a matter of cost. A professionally edited 80,000 word novel, depending on the kind of editing, can cost from hundreds to thousands of dollars.

So writers either don’t edit or they try to do it themselves. As it turns out, most authors are simply not good editors for a number of reasons. First, a writer author has too much invested in what he or she has written. The forest for the trees sort of thing, as well as an inherent bias. Second, editors have a knowledge and experience base that many authors don’t have. There are self-help books but even if you gain an understanding in the knowledge of the basics, you don’t have the experience to apply it correctly. And, last, the talents required for editing are very different from those for writing. The freedom of creativity for writing and the discipline for detail involved in editing are often at odds. There are a few people who might be fortunate enough to have both but for most theory talent lies in one or the other.

So what is one to do? The costs associated with releasing a professional looking book can add up, i.e., cover art, professional formatting, a website, editing, etc. Even for someone who is going the traditional route, editing alone can be expensive. You could do, as I did, and marry your editor. Actually, I didn’t find out about her editing skills until after we were married. In truth, she’s not a trained professional editor. She is a fair facsimile with a BA in literature and an MS in library science. She’ll catch most of the errors but may not be as nuanced as a professional would be in things like point of view. However, her editing tightens up my work and provides an outside look at the novel flow and the characters.

I have found a tool online which makes her life easier and will catch many basic errors in writing, and significantly improves up my writing. It’s called AutoCrit and can be found at http://AutoCrit.com. First, let me say I have no connection to AutoCrit other than as a user. Second, I’m not advocating AutoCrit as a replacement for a professional editor. However, in my humble opinion, it does a creditable job of the strengthening a manuscript. AutoCrit is a subscription service starting at $5/mo for a basic package allowing you to edit 1000 words at a time, a platinum package at $8/mo allowing 8000 words at a time and a professional package with no word limitations and a clever add-on that allows you to compare your writing to a norm for your particular genre. For me, I find this feature neat because as a science fiction writer engaged in detailed world-building I find myself in a constant battle with the so-called passive voice and the use of, to put it mildly, uncommon words. The AutoCrit genre add-on is still in its infancy and has its limitations. However, they’re working to expand its capabilities.

AutoCrit allows you to address many of the basic ills of writing. Your working tool is a dashboard with headings: Home, Pacing and Momentum, Dialog, Strong Writing, Word Choice, Repetition, and Compare to Fiction. Home gives you a Summary. More on that later. Pacing and Momentum has two subheadings: Sentence Variation and Pacing. Dialog involves Dialog tags and adverb usage (he pontificated warmly). Strong Writing involves more Adverb Usage, Passive Voice, Showing vs. Telling, etc. I won’t bore you with a complete listing.

AutoCrit allows you to directly upload a Word document but I found that capability of limited use because Word idiosyncrasies force AutoCrit to strip out all of the special formatting such as bold and italics. I write in the third person subjective with lots of italics so it would be painful for me to have to go through and reformat the corrected section or chapter once I downloaded back to my computer.

Instead, I’ve worked out my own methodology. I use the cut and paste function and then let AutoCrit do its thing. The home page gives you a summary of most of the major issues. If, for example, you click on repeated words, AutoCrit highlights them. I use that as a guide and place the two documents side by side and work my way through the suggested corrections for each category. AutoCrit provides a comparison of your writing to published fiction such as “ly” adverbs, passive words such as “was” and “had”, sentences beginning with an “ing” word, and many others. The ratings of these individual categories go from “great” to “excess.” AutoCrit will also suggest how many changes of a particular correction you need to make. For example, AutoCrit may point out 36 “had” and recommend eliminating twenty.

I work my way through AutoCrit, using the highlighted words to identify suggested changes until everything is rated good or excellent (with the emphasis on excellent) on the Home page.

My 4000-word Chapter One of my second novel was reduced by more than 300 words after using AutoCrit. I deem it’s now ready for my wife or a professional editor to review. Is it ready for publication without an editor after I use AutoCrit all the chapters? In my mind, no. I believe I still need the professional touch and an outside view. I am also having three beta readings before I complete the AutoCrit. I’ve asked the beta readers to look at plot, characterization, pace, and consistency, before I spend the time using AutoCrit and editors to work on the book.

My process for editing my novel, in order, involves the following process:

  1. MS Word spellcheck with some grammar check,
  2. beta readings,
  3. AutoCrit by me,
  4. editing by wife, and
  5. a final top-level read by a professional editor who provides this for a reasonable fee.

What if I weren’t married to my editor and couldn’t afford the professional editor for a final look? There are alternatives such as author working groups that may provide some help in this area. Still, I’d say my book is infinitely better by using AutoCrit than without it. At least, it’s a step in the right direction. If you decide you can’t or won’t pay for a professional editor, then AutoCrit and other software packages like it are certainly better than doing nothing.

About J. W. Morris

I had a successful forty year career as an aerospace engineer and project manager. During my career I earned six patents and two technical achievement awards for innovation and new technology. I also obtained a PMP (Project Management Professional) certification. I also co-founded an Internet startup. With a passion for space travel and military history, science fiction became an extension of who I am. I was introduced to science fiction through the Tom Swift series by my third grade teacher in New York City more than fifty years ago. At one point I had a collection of more than 5,000 SF books before my first wife got tired of “decorating our house in early American science fiction.” I recently published my first book, Empire's Passing, to excellent reviews, and am working on its sequel, which should be out in a few months. I’m also passionate about sharing what I’ve learned to help others navigate their way through their career and business in general. So I split my time now between consulting, writing, and SCORE (a non-profit resource partner for the Small Business Administration offering free counseling from retired business executives to people interested in starting a business.)

Posted on January 7, 2015, in Writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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