On-line Editors

September 20, 2015 at 3:44 pm | Posted in Books, Internet, Online services, Software, Web Apps | 10 Comments
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Writing a book or other long form project isn’t just the writing. It’s also the editing, the publishing and the marketing. Few who start a book project ever produce a complete manuscript. And fewer of those get through the next hurdles. There’s a good reason why many never get it out there.

In these days of self-publishing and ebooks, many more have the chance to get their works published in some form. But without a publisher, too many are skipping some of the steps. Too many titles have gotten into distribution channels without decent editing. That brings down the whole market.

While word processing software has spell and grammar checking built in, this is not “editing”. It only handles some basic kinds of typos.

Traditional publishers will take a manuscript through 4 or more rounds of editing specialists. But you at least want a Substantive Editor to look at the structure, flow, and the coherence of the work and a Copy Editor to take a closer look at word use and proofread the niggly details. You may also need fact checking.

Recently, more advanced editing software has become available that can help with copy editing. You have to go through each suggested edit to make sure it’s valid, but it can cover a lot of the worst mistakes before you have real eyes on the work. That can make the copy editor’s job much easier.

Most of these tools are web services with a subscription model – you pay annually for access via the web. Sometimes, the tools have Word or other add-ins that bring the interface into your software. Some work only with Word.

A few also offer plagiarism services that check if you’ve copied off outside sources. In other words – a really bad idea. Checking has become easy and cheap so always quote your sources. It can also flag if you have potential sections where you might run into similarity problems later. Plus, the tool may help source your quotes.

I looked at various articles and reviews. Many pointed to a batch of similarly priced tools.

Grammarly often topped the pack but there was sometimes overt advertising influence. Personal reviews were more mixed and there were a lot of reports of unresolved over-billing or being billed for the free trial. Plagiarism checking is included.

WhiteSmoke seemed decent but the setup wasn’t as useful for me. Their web site looks to be infected, so I’m not linking them. One reviewer linked instead to another supplier, suggesting a long term problem.

CorrectEnglish looked decent. But all of these tools are over $100. That can become competitive with a copy editors rates if your primary need is one work.

Then I found a couple of writers blogs like Karen’s that suggested others. Further research showed all where positive about them.

The key one: ProWritingAid – you can actually use their on-line tool for free for a batch of smaller works but you have to manually make the suggested edits in your work. I ran a recently posted article though it and was surprised how many  mistakes it found. Doh! For $35 a year, you can do longer works and edit right in the text, then transfer the updates back. If you use Word or Google Docs, they have an add-in to edit right in the doc. WordPress too. For $5 more you get plagiarism checking.

They also have a decent blog talking about the industry, even inviting comparisons with similar products. And their Twitter feed is full related links, author articles, etc. They’re clearly into it.

Karen’s link above also mentioned the free (in beta) EditMinion. It only does small parts but does catch slightly different things. She suggested you use this first, then ProWritingAid.

She also mentioned a great tool if you’re writing non-fiction. WritingHouse gives you a free tool for assembling a Bibliography in the right format with all the little details.

Note that you have to resist the urge to get into fancy formatting of your work prematurely. That can get butchered by the editing process. Formatting comes after you have a polished draft. Plus the style of formatting will depend on your eventual publishing medium. Default word processing format is usually for 8.5 x 11″ paper. That’s useful for a PDF at best. Book formatting is quite distinct and digital ebooks and web publishing are each their own worlds. A carefully formatted print PDF looks terrible on an ebook reader, for example. Ebooks have to be able to flow into their viewing container.

When you get to this point, I’ve found the book Zero Cost Self Publishing by Stephen Norton useful. It’s a step-by-step how-to for print and the primary ebook distributors. And then there is the exploding world market for ebooks in other languages. Why stick with N. America when you can be a best-seller in China?

Long form writing, whatever the final output, is quite the process. We can all use a little help at different parts of the journey.


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  1. David, I am just thrilled to have found out about THIS one of your blogs. Woweee!
    And this is such a useful article. THANK YOU.


  2. Because your blog may have many readers who, like me, work hard to develop intellectual property, I’d like to share a bit of info related to foreign rights sales. Beware doing business in China unless you have a really professional literary agent backing you up. A few countries are shameless disrespecters of copyright, and sadly China leads the pack right now.

    One friend of mine, “Joe,” had a book published with a mid-sized press. A press large enough to publish in hardcover first. Inpressive, right?

    By the time copies were published, his book was already being sold in a pirated edition in Chinese.

    So don’t blithely jump into eBook sales, or any paperback sales, unless you really have muscle, a team of lawyers available, or — at a minimum — backup from an agent.


  3. Another point, David and Fans of David (I’m a big one): Be wary of literary agents as well. I have had 34 of them in my writing career, including The Embezzler. If you’re just starting out, you might wish to join the International Book Publishers Assoc. (IBPA) and display through them at major book fairs, learning professionally about the publishing biz as you go.

    Publication in different languages is lovely — I’m thrilled about every one of my 42 book contracts for foreign editions — but I also have suffered from pirated book sales, including publishers in India and Russia who did sign contracts but then proceeded to violate the terms of the agreement. And these were publishers with enough integrity to sign proper contracts.


  4. In my mostly wonderful life as a writer, I have much to be grateful for. But of all the upsetting things that have happened in my life as a writer, and life in general, nothing has broken my heart more than horrible things that happened with books being stolen, plagiarized, etc.

    Of course, the heart can always mend. Still, take my advice: Think twice or more about what sounds simple and easy in publishing. Just because it involves eBooks and translations can be cheap, don’t just take a leap based on faith or enthusiasm. Learn skills.


  5. Hi Rose
    This blog is as old as my other one but more of a mishmash of tech, science and how to articles.

    And thanks for the feedback on foreign sales. You make good points. The last was mostly a throwaway point for an interesting article.

    But I certainly understand. I’ve run into automated content theft of my articles on the blogs. I made some small changes that would help reduce that, then was obliged to conclude that if I put out quality articles, there was going to be some abuse. Same with a few PDF’s I’ve done.

    Your books are rather unique, quality how-to’s as well, making them a special commodity. I would not take it personally but rather see it as a sign of their quality that they would go to this effort.


  6. A friend of mine has published a series of small inspirational sayings books. Last year, he discovered someone in India had reprinted them, selling 10 times what he ever did. When he contacted them, they lamely expressed surprise. Rather than a big legal thing, he negotiated with them to get a cut of sales.

    Perhaps he over-simplified the story, but still it was an interesting way of dealing with it.


  7. There have been many such things. Lame businessman finds a foreign product, doesn’t check local rights or copyright, assumes its fine and reproduces it. China is a whole other level of that, intentional copycats.

    Images on the web are another. How many web images do you see with credits? So many web sites just take images they find having no clue it may be theft.

    And there are the famous music rip-offs, like the Sugarman story.

    All we can do is ask for fairness and not take any of it personally.


  8. ProWritingAid had a special, so I got a license for it’s use. The paid version is quite a bit better but it can take a little use to get familiar with the interface – this is more so if your grammar fundamentals are weaker.

    Boy do some of my articles have sticky sentences…


  9. Recently, ProWritingAid has added a Beta standalone tool you can run on your (Win) computer. This was a nice update for me. While I use WordPress, I write off-line and don’t use Google Docs or Word. When I save in PWA, it saves the original and my Text editor asks if I want to refresh. Simple.


  10. […] before you head to an editor, you can save a great deal by first using one of the better editing tools like ProWritingAid. Then you’re not paying someone to fix your basic typos and glitches. […]


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