Self-Editing Made Easy: AutoCrit Review
I’ve been editing my novel, Feast of Sorrow, for what feels like a lifetime. My writing group has hacked and slashed it, prospective agents left me with redlines, as did the amazing professional editor I hired, and then, finally, my agent, Amaryah Orenstein at Go Literary and my editor at Touchstone Books/Simon & Schuster made their mark. And even still, when I look at the manuscript, I can find a few more changes.
Unfortunately for me, I discovered AutoCrit a bit late in the process for my first book. Having it might have saved me and all my editors, many collective hours worth of work.
I discovered the online editing software when I was pulling together a session on electronic tools for writers for this year’s Muse and the Marketplace conference. I reached out to the AutoCrit team and asked for evaluation access which they so graciously gave me. Wow! I was not prepared for how blown away I would be by the software.
The features and functionality of AutoCrit are stunningly good. You can quickly and easily assess the pacing and momentum of your novel, word choice, repetition, dialogue and how strong your writing is. You can even compare how your writing stacks up with other works in your chosen genre.
I used AutoCrit to help me with some of the final edits on my novel before I sent it back to my editor. To start, you upload your manuscript into the software. You can have multiple manuscripts and chapters saved within the system. I found that my book, which clocks in at nearly 500 pages, was a bit unwieldy. It makes sense, however, because the AutoCrit software is analyzing the pages for dozens upon dozens of factors. I found that uploading 2-3 chapters at a time was easier, if a bit more time-consuming.
The summary is helpful to see an overall picture of your book.
However, the deep dive into the various categories is where AutoCrit starts to make a difference. In the Pacing and Momentum section, you can take a look at how varied your sentences and paragraphs are. Does the language ebb and flow in a way that will be pleasing to the reader?
I was very intrigued by the Dialogue tab. Being able to see how many times my characters waved, pointed and exclaimed was eye-opening, as was knowing if they did so with an adverb such as loudly, carefully, simply. I fixed a lot of these dialogue tags on my final pass before sending back to my editor.
The Strong Writing tab is especially helpful. In it you can comb through your adverbs (7 instances of “finally” in one chapter had to change!), check for redundancies and identify unnecessary filler words. I also loved how it helped me identify a myriad of clichés that I didn’t realize I had.
One nit that I have about the software is that identifying passive voice seems to be a tricky thing to do. AutoCrit often marked general past tense or verbs signifying the possessive (have) as passive voice when they weren’t. I asked about this and they indicated that it is not the easiest to parse out, but the goal is to identify possibilities as an alert for an author in the event it’s useful. Which, for someone like me who understands all the various parts of grammar, that might be fine but for others who need help with grammar (and are using a tool such as AutoCrit to help them in that area) I do think that this could lead to confusion. Grammarly has a good grasp on passive voice, so if that’s an area in which you struggle that may be a better alternative.
The Word Choice tab helps uncover challenges you might have with pronouns, homonyms, and generic sentence starters. As you can see from the below, this section of my manuscript has me starting a sentence with “when” 16 times. The suggestion is that I remove at least five of them. When I looked at my entire manuscript, sure enough, I was very fond of starting chapters with that word, over 126 times in total! I fixed that before I sent it off as well.
One other nice thing about this section is that you can add in personal phrases that you know you overuse so that it can match against those parameters as well.
The tab that I think everyone should be excited about is the repetition tab. You can quickly discover repeated words and phrases, and look at the frequency and get recommendations on how many to remove. It will force you to start using more variety in your phrasing.
And finally, AutoCrit lets you compare your work to other types of fiction, to see if your writing has important similarities with other works of art that were successful. If you have gone through all the other tabs and revised, this screen may feel somewhat redundant, but I do like how much of the information is all in one place and easy to peruse.
To guide you through what each report means, there is a link that takes you to a video tutorial that explains each screen and walks you through the meaning of each report.
AutoCrit operates on a subscription plan which ranges from $5 a month for 1K words at a time up to $12 a month to analyze an unlimited number of words. Personally, I think that the value you receive from this tool will easily give you a return on investment. It’s not the same as hiring a professional editor, no, but it will get you close, and in some ways, it may even catch things that a pro might not (clichés, sentence starters, etc.).
If you want to take things a step further, AutoCrit has teamed up with The Editorial Department to offer a service that gives you a personalized review and consultation focused on the first 5,000 words of your manuscript. The fee for this is $330.
In short, I think that this is one of the best software tools on the market for writers who are looking for better ways to self-edit. Every time I log in I am amazed at how effortlessly it is able to point out the weaknesses in my writing (I view this as a good thing) so that I can improve and shave time off of deeper editing later. It makes a very manual editing process much easier.
AutoCrit was very kind to give Grub readers a trial discount. Here is a link for a 7-day free trial and an offer for Professional Membership for $97 if you purchase during the free trial period. Note that I get no kick-back or reward for sign-ups at the below link.
Crystal King is a 20-year marketing, social media and communications veteran, freelance writer and Pushcart-nominated poet. She is the author of the FEAST OF SORROW, about the ancient Roman gourmand, Apicius, and the forthcoming THE SECRET CHEF (2019, Touchstone Books) about the famous Renaissance chef Bartolomeo Scappi. Currently Crystal works as a social media professor for HubSpot, a leading provider of Inbound marketing software. Crystal has taught classes in writing, creativity, and social media at Harvard Extension School, Boston University, Mass College of Art, UMass Boston and GrubStreet writing center. A former co-editor of the online literary arts journal Plum Ruby Review, Crystal received her MA in Critical and Creative Thinking from UMass Boston, where she developed a series of exercises and writing prompts to help fiction writers in media res. Find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or at her website: crystalking.comSee other articles by Crystal King