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6 Grammar Checkers and Editing Tools to Make Your Writing Super Clean

Have you ever wanted a magical editing wand?

Just imagine: A flick of the wrist would be all that stood between you and the end of editing your writing. No frustration. Minimal time investment. An amazing manuscript or blog post.

Alas, no such magic wand exists.

But we do have grammar checker tools, which are the next-best things.

Just remember that grammar checkers are designed to make editing easier, not to eliminate the work completely.

Putting the best grammar checker tools to the test

During self-edits on my latest manuscript, I experimented with six editing tools, both free and paid, to determine which could be most beneficial to The Write Life’s audience. Besides being an author, I’m an editor, so I also weighed each tool against what I’d look for when editing.

Since editing has a broad definition — basically anything that improves your writing — it’s not surprising that the tools I tried had different functions, from checking grammar and style, to eliminating unnecessary words, to identifying areas for improvement.

What you want in a grammar checker or editing tool will influence which one(s) you choose. No one tool can do it all — nor can one of these tools wave away the work and critical thinking necessary for a well-edited blog post, magazine article or book.

A grammar checker doesn’t replace a human editor. Because language rules and elements of a good story can be so flexible, human eyes will always be superior to the rigidity of automatic tools.

Here are six of the best grammar checker tools.

1. ProWritingAid

What It Does:  ProWritingAid is a web editor and plugin that will clean up your writing by detecting grammar and spelling mistakes, plagiarism and contextual errors. It also analyzes your writing and produces reports on writing style, sentence length, grammar, and repeated words and phrases.

Price: There’s a limited free version. If you upgrade to the premium membership, you can edit in Google Docs or Microsoft Word, access a desktop app and Chrome add-ins, and — best of all — lose the word-count cap.

A year’s membership is $70. Or get two years for $100, three years for $140, or go the whole hog and buy a lifetime membership for $240.

Who It’s For: Anyone, including students, authors, freelancers or ESL writers.

How It Works: Click on “Start Editing Now,� create a free account, then paste in your text.

The Best Part: ProWritingAid has a premium option, but most of the areas you’ll want checked are available for free.

What Would Make It Better: Though ProWritingAid checks grammar, I slipped in a your/you’re mistake without getting flagged. I wasn’t overly fond of the tool’s inability to work offline, but its overall functionality is hard to argue with.

Our Recommendation: Use ProWritingAid in the self-editing stage to guide your edits. 

More Details: For an in-depth explainer of ProwritingAid’s free and premium versions, check out our full ProwritingAid review.

2. AutoCrit

What It Does: AutoCrit analyzes your manuscript to identify areas for improvement, including pacing and momentum, dialogue, strong writing, word choice and repetition. Depending on what plan you choose, you can also compare your writing to that of popular authors like J.K. Rowling or Stephen King.

Price: Three different plans are available: the “Free Forever� plan, which is free; the “Professional� for $30, or the “Elite� for $80 per month. Both of the latter offer a 14-day trial with a money-back guarantee.

Who It’s For: Fiction writers.

How It Works: Paste your text into the online dashboard or upload a document and click on AutoCrit’s tabs to see its analysis. This tool uses data from more than a million books to provide a word-by-word level analysis of your writing and shows easy ways to improve the readability of your work.

The Best Part: I spent the most time in the “Compare to Fiction� tab, which provides a comprehensive look at common issues. It highlighted my tendency to start sentences with “and� and “but,� and identified my most repeated words. I felt like I learned something about my writing, and that’s something I don’t think I could say about some other tools.

What Would Make It Better: A more accurate definition of passive voice. It highlights any use of the “be� and “had� verbs, neither of which fully capture passive voice (you need a past participle in addition to a “be� verb), and many active voice constructions were falsely labeled as passive.

Our Recommendation: AutoCrit is great to guide your edits in the self-editing stage. It’s best used for developmental edits, rewrites and avoiding common writing no-nos.

More Details: For an in-depth explainer of Autocrit’s Free Forever and paid versions, check out our full Autocrit review.

3. Grammarly

What It Does: Grammarly is a grammar checker and proofreader.

Price: A limited version is available for free, and Grammarly also offers a number of other free services such as a wordiness checker and tone detection. The full-featured premium service costs $29.95 per month, $59.95 per quarter or $139.95 per year.

Who It’s For: Anyone, including writers, business people and academics.

How It Works: Copy and paste or upload your text into the online dashboard and let Grammarly work its magic. It flags potential errors, gives suggestions and provides an explanation so you can learn why it suggests the change. There’s also a free Grammarly Add-in available for Microsoft Word and a Grammarly for Chrome extension that’s also compatible with Google Docs.

The Best Part: Grammarly is easy to use and pointed out a vocabulary issue or two that none of the other tools did. It’s superior to Microsoft Word’s grammar checker. Its synonym suggestion feature is pretty nifty, too.

What Would Make It Better: As an editor, I’ve found many people don’t understand or care to learn the technical explanation for why something’s wrong. Plain language (or as plain as you can get) explanations for mistakes would make it accessible to more writers.

Our Recommendation: Grammarly is best for the final proofreading stage, or for people who want to learn more about the technical aspects of grammar. If you’re an editor or strong writer, you might find yourself ignoring more flagged items than you fix.

More Details: For an in-depth explainer of Grammarly’s free and premium versions, check out our full Grammarly review.

Which automatic editing tool is best for writers? We tested six popular options.

4. Hemingway Editor

What It Does: Hemingway Editor is like a spellchecker, but for style. It provides a readability score — the lowest grade level someone would need to understand your text — and analyzes your writing to identify areas for improvement.

Price: Free online, and $19.99 for the desktop version, which is available for both Mac and PC.

Who It’s For: Anyone

How It Works: Paste your text into the dashboard and scan for highlighted sections of text. The highlighted text is color coded depending on your area of improvement, whether it’s hard-to-read sentences, the presence of adverbs, or passive voice.

The Best Part: In addition to providing examples on how to fix passive voice or complex phrases, Hemingway Editor also identifies how many “-lyâ€� adverbs and passive voice constructions you’ve used and suggests a maximum number based on your word count.

In my prologue, for example, I had one use of passive voice, and Hemingway Editor suggested aiming for six uses or fewer — which I nailed. These recommendations reinforce the idea that not all adverbs or passive voice constructions are bad, and that’s something other tools miss.

What Would Make It Better: Hemingway Editor was the cleanest and easiest to use of the free editing tools, but it’s not a true grammar checker or proofreader. Even though it’s not meant to catch grammar and spelling mistakes, any editing application that catches those mistakes is instantly more attractive.

Our Recommendation: Use Hemingway Editor to increase the readability of your writing and identify problem sentences during the copyediting stage, but supplement your efforts with a grammar and spell checker.

5. WordRake

What It Does: WordRake cuts out the unnecessary words or phrases that creep into your writing. It works with Microsoft Word and Outlook, depending on which license you purchase. I tested the Microsoft Word version.

Price: The Microsoft Word version is available for Mac or Windows, and you’ll pay $129 for a year or $259 for three years. The Microsoft Word and Outlook package version is only available for Windows, and it costs $199 for a year or $399 for three.

Who It’s For: Bloggers, authors and editors using Microsoft Word or Outlook.

How It Works: WordRake is an add-in for Microsoft products and requires you to install the program before using it, though it’s as easy as following the instructions. Select the text you want to edit, then use the WordRake add-in. It uses track changes to suggest edits, which you can accept or reject.

The Best Part: WordRake is as close as you can get to an automatic editor. It appealed to me more as an editor than a writer, but it’s great at eliminating unnecessary phrases and words that bog down your writing.

What Would Make It Better: I threw a your/you’re mistake in to see if WordRake would catch it. It didn’t, even though Microsoft Word flagged it. If WordRake could catch common writing mistakes like your/you’re or their/they’re/there in addition to unnecessary words, it’d be a hard tool to beat.

Our Recommendation: WordRake is a great tool for the copyediting stage. Verbose writers, authors wanting to cut down on editing costs or editors looking to speed up their editing process will most benefit from WordRake. Watch out if you’re running Word on a slow computer: WordRake could increase your load time.

6. After the Deadline

What It Does: Like Grammarly, After the Deadline is a grammar checker.

Price: Free for personal use.

Who It’s For: Anyone.

How It Works: Click “Demonstration,� paste the text you want to check, and click “Check Writing.� After the Deadline underlines any spelling, grammar and style issues and explains its reasoning.

The Best Part: It’s free! You can also use it on your self-hosted WordPress site, as an extension or add-on for Chrome or Firefox, or with OpenOffice.org.

What Would Make It Better: A definition of passive voice that explains how you construct it grammatically. After the Deadline rightly explains what passive voice does, but it seems to focus only on the “be� verb, which occasionally leads to falsely labeling non-passive constructions as passive.

Our Recommendation: You get what you pay for with After the Deadline. Use it for a final proofread, but exercise good judgment and don’t make every change it suggests — it’s not as sophisticated as the other five editing tools mentioned.

This post contains affiliate links. That means if you purchase through our links, you’re supporting The Write Life — and we thank you for that!

The original version of this story was written by Amanda Shofner. We updated the post so it’s more useful for our readers.

Photo via rCarner/ Shutterstock 

The post 6 Grammar Checkers and Editing Tools to Make Your Writing Super Clean appeared first on The Write Life.

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Signing With a Literary Agent? Here’s What Should Be In Your Contract

You’ve spent hours drafting query letters. You have suffered through rejections.

Finally, after almost giving up, a literary agent has expressed an interest in representing you and your book.

She has sent you a contract, perhaps in the form of a letter. You read it over and notice a few things in it you don’t like, as well as some terms you don’t understand.

Can you change the things that you don’t like?

How can you get an explanation of what you don’t understand?

Agency agreements: What you should know

As an attorney who has helped writers work through contract issues, I’ve seen many agent agreements and I’ve developed a sense of how to guide writers through the process.

Here’s what you need to know before signing a contract with an agent.

1. Consider the terms carefully

Proposed contracts with agents are just that — proposed. They are not set in stone. They can be changed; terms can be negotiated.

When an agent sends you a contract, it is written to benefit the agent. Until it is signed, the agent is not looking out for your best interest. She’s looking out for her own best interest.

Once the contract is signed, the agent will be working for you to obtain the most beneficial terms possible from the publisher. Until then, you must look out for yourself.

You may hesitate to question the contract terms you are being offered when you’ve worked so hard just to get the offer. It’s understandable to worry about losing the representation offer entirely if you ask about or request changes to the agreement. All the same, your questions should be answered to your satisfaction before you sign the contract.

By signing, you are beginning a relationship that could last a long time. In some cases, the relationship lasts for the life of the copyright of the work — and that can be up to 70 years after you have died.

If the agent balks at answering your questions or fails to respond respectfully to your request for changes, she may not be the best person to work with you. (Note: I’m not saying the agent must agree to the changes you request, only that the contract negotiation process must be respectful.)

2. Ask your potential agent these questions

Make sure that this agent is the right one for you by asking questions, like these suggested by the Association of Authors’ Representatives, a membership organization for agents.

Ask to speak with her other clients. Has she represented writers like you? (Debut, previously self-published, multi-genre, etc.) Why did the agent select you? What is it about your work that looks promising?

Hopefully, you did your research before you sent out query letters and you know that this agent has experience in your genre.

Do not assume the agent works in your genre. It may be that she is looking to broaden her book of business. If that’s the case, you need to decide whether you want to be her test case.

On one hand, being represented by a new agent (or an agent new to a genre) may give you the benefit of her unbridled enthusiasm. On the other hand, she may not have the contacts needed to land a publishing deal.

You need to understand the role the tagent will play in your career.

  • What help will she provide in developing your book?
  • How will the agent work with (monitor) the publisher?
  • Will she play a role in the editing of the book? What about cover design?
  • Will the agent be involved in the marketing your book after it is published?

Once you understand what the agent is going to do for you, you can scrutinize the contract to see if the agent’s promises are in it.

3. Understand these contract provisions

Here are a few provisions you’re likely to see in your contract, plus what they mean for you.

The “Work�

The “Work� being represented is the first definition in the contract. Agents require that they be appointed as sole and exclusive representatives of the Work. If the contract is for representation of one book only, clarify that you are under no obligation to submit any further work to the agent and are free to use another agent or no agent for your next book.

The definition of the Work clarifies the scope of the contract. The agency agreement should be clear on your freedom to create derivatives of the Work that are not subject to the agent’s representation. A derivative is a piece that is based on or derived from the Work that is the subject of the contract.

This clarity is particularly important for a non-fiction writer. If your book is about your life’s passion or expertise, you do not want to be locked into a contract that requires you to pay the agent a percentage of everything you do, write or say about that passion from that point forward.

Tip: If the definition of the Work is vague, ask to have it tightened up to reflect your understanding that your entire body of work that exists now and in the future is not part of the deal. If the relationship is a good one, the scope of the contract can be broadened later.

“Subsidiary rights�

The goal of having an agent is to secure a publishing contract to produce a printed volume in the English language. But there is a host of other rights encompassed in the representation agreement and ultimately in any publishing contract.

Often the subsidiary rights, the right to produce the same material in different formats, are not defined. It is to the agent’s benefit to keep the term vague.

Subsidiary rights can include foreign publication rights, first and second serial, motion picture, television, radio, audio, dramatic performance, abridgments and all other rights broken down by geographic territory. The key is to understand which rights you are giving to the agent for representation.

Tip: List exactly which subsidiary rights are included in the representation agreement to eliminate any ambiguity in the contract.

Remember that you have control over your own rights and you can divide them between different agents, especially if an agent specializes in a particular type of transaction and not others.

Tip: Keep the subsidiary rights to the minimum generally required by a publishing contract: audio, foreign, first and second serial. Again, if things are going well or a publishing contract calls for it, you can always broaden the contract with the agent.

“Best efforts�

“Best efforts� means that the agent is going to work hard on your behalf to secure a publishing deal. But without detailing the specifics, the best efforts clause is toothless. The contract should outline what the agent is going to do:

  • Review the author’s work
  • Provide editorial guidance
  • Develop a strategy for publication
  • Be an advisor on the publishing industry
  • Market the work and the rights to appropriate publishers
  • Monitor the royalties

Tip: Include an accountability clause in the contract. This requires the agent to report regularly and to document the efforts made on your behalf.

The termination provision

If the agency relationship is no longer working out, you will want to end it. Agent contracts can last from 30 days to the life of the work’s copyright.

However, an agent needs to be given enough time to sell the book. The gears of publishing turn slowly, even in the digital age.

An author must be able to terminate the agency agreement if the agent fails to use her best efforts, or if the agent secures a print publication deal and then chooses to “sit on� or not actively seek exploitation of the remaining rights in the contract.

If an agent fails to use her best efforts to secure a deal or sell the subsidiary rights, you will have a difficult (if not impossible) time finding another agent to help you exploit those rights unless you can end the contract with the first agent.

Tip: If you sign a long-term representation agreement, ask for a provision that allows termination if the work hasn’t sold after a certain period of time — a year, for example.

4. Know the importance of the agent relationship

Agents have relationships with publishers that you do not have. You are paying them a percentage of your sales because of who they know.

You are also paying them to negotiate with the publisher on your behalf. Should a deal arise, there will be critical terms to work out between you and the publisher. Agents have knowledge and experience that you may lack.

Knowing what to expect (and what not to expect) in the relationship between you and your agent and understanding the contract that defines that relationship will help ensure a successful business partnership.

Are you looking for a literary agent? What questions do you have about what should be in your contract?

While Kathryn is a lawyer, this post does not constitute legal advice. For specific advice, please see a legal professional.

This is an updated version of a story that was previously published. We update our posts as often as possible to ensure they’re useful for our readers.

Photo via Amnaj Khetsamtip/ Shutterstock 

The post Signing With a Literary Agent? Here’s What Should Be In Your Contract appeared first on The Write Life.