Big day on Monday. We’re launching a new product — SmartEdit for Word — aimed at writers who use Microsoft Word as their primary word processor and writing tool.
Why the new product?
The current version of SmartEdit is a standalone product. It’s not tied to any other word processor, though it does work with MS Word, Open Office and RTF files. This is not an ideal situation, as it means the writer needs to turn to a secondary tool once editing begins — SmartEdit. Most writers are comfortable writing in only one software package. It may be Word, it may be Scrivener, it may be something obscure such as PageFour or Q10.
A huge proportion of writers who might be interested in giving SmartEdit a try are deterred by this. They don’t want to use another product to edit their document. They want to continue working in Word, editing a document directly that they can then send to their editor or publisher.
SmartEdit for Word is our answer to this problem. It incorporates most of the features of the standalone version of SmartEdit directly into the MS Word interface. Take a look at the screenshot below.
Once installed a new SmartEdit menu bar appears on the ribbon at the top of Word. The extra sections at the bottom and to the right or left only appear when the user runs SmartEdit.
It’s not identical to the standalone SmartEdit product. We’ve left some things out, and we’ve been able to make improvements to other areas due to the accessibility of certain features in Word.
What did we leave out?
The external reports — PDF, Excel, and HTML reports have been excluded. These options were added to SmartEdit a year ago as a first attempt to handle the very problem outlined above. Writers could load their document into SmartEdit, run the various checks, then output a report that they could use when editing their document in Word.
SmartEdit for Word does not incorporate these reports, as there is no requirement to use the results elsewhere. The SmartEdit for Word results are displayed directly inside Word. We’ve also left out the report printing options, for much the same reason. Printed reports were used to interact with other writing tools just like the report files, and are no longer necessary when using the Word Add In.
I mentioned improvements.
There are two areas that make SmartEdit for Word more powerful than the standalone SmartEdit. Firstly, we’ve expanded on the Punctuation checks, opening up full results lists for a range of possible punctuation issues. The screenshots below illustrates the range of checks now available, as well as one of the new results lists.
On top of this, the results lists now update in real time as you edit your work. This means that if you make a change in response to a displayed result, that result will appear greyed out in the user interface, making it easier to identify areas that you have already addressed.
The screenshots above are taken from the SmartEdit for Word Add In for Word 2013. The interface conforms to that version of Word. If you use an earlier version of Word — 2010 or 2007 — the interface will adjust to fit in with the style of that version. Unless you are using a pink or other unusual theme — we couldn’t get pink to work, but then we didn’t try too hard.
What are the system requirements?
As with the standalone SmartEdit, any version of Windows from XP SP3 on up. This includes Windows Vista, 7, 8 and 8.1. As this is a Word Add In, you need to have a version of Microsoft Word installed on your PC. Supported versions are 2013, 2010, and 2007. If your version of Word is older than 2007, you cannot install SmartEdit for Word. And, it’s still Windows only. If you’re running Word on a Mac, the SmartEdit for Word Add In will not work.
What about Open Office and Scrivener?
Sorry, but no. These sorts of Add Ins only work with one product at a time — a little like apps built for iPhones and not for Android or Windows devices. The mechanism to build Add Ins does not exist across products or operating systems.
Despite the popularity of dedicated writing software such as Scrivener, Word is still the dominant tool for professional writers, which is why we built SmartEdit for Word.
When will it be available?
We’ll be releasing it from this website on Monday, September 18th. A 10 day trial will be available. The download and purchase pages will all be updated to show both products side by side. A license for one will not work on the other. Users will have a choice to make over which of the two better suits their writing environment. Word users will no doubt seek out the new SmartEdit for Word. Open Office or Scrivener users will still be able to use the standalone SmartEdit product.
Existing users of the standalone version of SmartEdit will be offered a large discount on the Word version. Details on this are still being worked out.
If anyone is interested in downloading an early beta, drop us an email and we’ll send you a link. Otherwise, come back on Monday and try the real thing.
I do a little work on the side for an eCommerce website owned by my brother and his wife. The most recent work involved a re-design of their website to properly handle display on tablets and smart phones. Six months ago this was a job that I planned to look into in a year or more, but in June of this year I pulled the website stats and saw that over 40% of the site’s commercial traffic was coming from mobile devices of one kind or another.
Tablets are the future of eCommerce. Everyone is using them these days. Hence the re-design.
Most of the software aimed at creative writers runs on full PCs or Macs. It either doesn’t run at all on tablets, or has a dumbed down version that runs on tablets and syncs to larger computers. But the figures for tablet use don’t lie.
What does this mean for writing software? Should all this software be re-engineered to run on tablets?
My own feeling is no. For the most part, tablets are used by consumers of content. By people who want to read the books you write, watch the videos you make and upload to YouTube, listen to the music you create in your garage.
The actual creation of that content is still carried out on regular computers. Sure, there’s always the outlying case, the exception: the writer who thinks that tapping in 10 words on his smart phone while waiting for a bus is a sure fired way to finish that 200,000 word novel, the wannabe movie producer who prefers an iPhone to a more useful and versatile camera, etc.
Serious content creators use serious tools, and these tools do not yet exist on tablets, and probably never will. Can you imagine the cramp that would develop if you typed for 5 hours a day, every day, on the screen of your iPad? Why would any professional writer do this when they can use a larger screen and a real keyboard?
Porting software for content creation to tablets and smart phones is likely to prove a mistake. The technology is moving so fast that the work would be never ending — always playing catch up with different versions of Android. Not so with desktops, which have remained relatively static for years. Old software designed for Windows XP often runs without problems on Windows 8. On top of which, it’s by no means clear if real content creators will ever use tablets or smart phones to do real work. Sure, the amateur enthusiast will get all fired up, but how many published authors are tapping away on their smart phones, eager to be mobile as they work on that new chapter? A tiny fraction of 1%, I’d guess.
And then there’s the question of payment. Users have no problem paying real money for desktop software. Scrivener sells at $45, SmartEdit at $60, etc. What’s the typical price of an Android app? Can you see any app buyer paying that $45 or $60 for a cut down version of the same software?
Mobile devices are great for consuming content, and that’s what most people use them for. That’s what they were designed for. The creation of that content still requires a larger computer, and that’s unlikely to change.
A tablet version of SmartEdit is not even on the long term plan.
I can write an algorithm to do pretty much anything with a simple list of words–which, at its most basic level, is what a short story, novel, screenplay, blog post, article or essay is.
Count the number of times a word appears–no problem. Count the number of times each phrase appears–a little trickier, but still no problem. And I can see the use of these checks to writers. Are you relying a little too much on a particular word or phrase? Do you have a habit of beginning one sentence too many with a particular word or phrase? Has an unusual or rarely used word turned up four times in your 80,000 word novel?
This is what computers do. It’s what they’re for. Spotting patterns, counting things, making it possible to draw conclusions by presenting facts that are difficult for the human eye to spot.
But these checks are only as useful as they are useful. Adding complexity just because you can–not a good idea.
I’ve been asked a few times by SmartEdit users to improve the word and phrase frequency counters to show the proximity of repetitions. Other software does this, so why doesn’t SmartEdit?
It’s been suggested that using the phrase “On the other hand” 250 times in a novel might not, in itself, be a problem, not if those 250 occurrences are spread out evenly over the entire work. Not if one use of the phrase doesn’t pop up within a page of another.
I disagree. Using that particular phrase half a dozen times in a full length novel, not to mention 250 times, is a problem regardless of how close one occurrence is to another.
The proximity checker?
Unless there’s real value for the writer, there’s no gain in adding such complexity. Data for the sake of data, complexity without purpose. Rather than add value, it detracts–from the software and from the results. It makes the writer’s job of editing more difficult, not less; makes them question deliberate use of phrase and word repetition.
The power of this check is not in catching excessive word or phrase usage in a paragraph or on a single printed page, it’s in catching the minor repetitions of words and phrases that jar the reader when encountered more than once.
I remember reading a novel where the writer used the word opined once in every chapter. Fair enough, they were long chapters, and the writer may have felt comfortable with the distance between each opined. But for me, the reader, every time I encountered that dreadful dialog tag was a slap in the face. What was he thinking? Had I not been inflicted with enough opines to last a dozen life times? Can his characters not simply say something?
Why write about this today?
I’m reading Jeanette Winterson’s children’s novel Tanglewreck, and have just reached a passage describing a character who I’m guessing will prove to be one of the bad guys. This wonderful description of Abel Darkwater would be flagged in bright red flashing lights by any sort of word repetition proximity checker.
Abel Darkwater was a round man.
He had a round face, and a round body, and round rings on his round fingers. The gold loops of his pocket-watch chain were round, and when he drew out his watch, which he did as the taxi pulled up to the door, his watch was round and fat and gold.
But the repetition is deliberate–obviously. As is the phrase repetition in Dr. King’s I Have a Dream speech.
Repetition, when those words or phrases are in near proximity to each other, is not the purpose of the various repetition checks in SmartEdit. Their purpose is to catch those dreadful opines, scattered like acne over the length of a novel, forever popping at the wrong times and spewing all sorts of unpleasantness upon the reader.
So, for now, the word and phrase repetition counters in SmartEdit will remain as they are. Because even though the algorithm could be written without much difficulty, I’m not convinced it should be.
One of the common criticisms levied against self-published books in recent months has been the lack of professional editing that even a cursory glance at a few Kindle published novels reveals. While this criticism is not always warranted, in many cases it is.
The level of editing required after completion of a first draft varies from writer to writer. Some writers are able to deliver two or three polished novels a year, while less productive writers take years to finish a single book–grinding through years of continuous editing until they are happy with the finished product. Every five years or so Kazuo Ishiguro produces a new work. It’s invariably short-listed for one literary prize or another, and it’s always well worth the wait.
Why do so many self-published authors fail when it comes to properly editing their work? Don’t they want their novel to be as good as it could be?
I see three reasons.
Firstly, the new self-publishing industry has impacted the writing and publishing worlds like a live grenade tossed through the window of an antiques shop. Stories abound of writers publishing their own material as soon as it’s finished, selling thousands of copies a month, and leveraging those sales to land traditional publishing contracts and movie deals.
Eager young writers want to emulate this success, and they want to do so today. Why wait a few years until they become more accomplished when they can learn on the job? This approach is championed by gurus such as Dean Wesley Smith and others, who advocate publishing fast and furiously, all the time training yourself to write better and better. Not surprisingly, editing is often a casualty of this rapid fire approach to self-publishing.
Secondly, many writers who have never been published by traditional, dead-tree publishing houses have no knowledge of what’s expected before they can call a novel finished. They produce a first draft in a couple of months, follow Stephen King’s advice and set the book aside for a few weeks, then come back to it for what amounts to little more than a spelling and grammar check.
It’s not really their fault. Nobody told them that this was not how it was supposed to be. Nobody told them that they really did need to get a professional editor to work with them to produce a good, solid novel. The results are a published catalogue of half a dozen novels that read like middle of the road fan-fiction.
This is a style of writing I’m familiar with myself, having once had a passion for reading Stargate / Buffy crossover fiction. It’s a genre of writing that many writers excel at in their early writing careers, appreciating the immediate feedback from users, and the chapter by chapter publishing methods that are so common. Unfortunately, they often take this amateur approach with them as they venture into the more real world and self-publish their original works.
Finally, there’s cost. Professional editors are expensive. Good professional editors are more expensive still. In the world of old school publishing, this cost was and is borne by the publishing houses. In the new world of self-publishing, the cost belongs to the writer.
Many unpublished authors are not in a position to afford the costs of an editor, or convince themselves that they do not need to afford the cost. After all, they’re still learning. Three books down the road they’ll have improved, they’ll be selling more copies, and they’ll be able to afford that editor. Why not wait until then?
If a new writer can’t afford to pay to have their work professionally edited, if they feel that their only option is to learn on the job, then that is what they will continue to do. Wishing it were not so will not change things.
This is the backdrop to the development of SmartEdit.
SmartEdit was not designed to replace a human editor, it was created to offer the writer a first step when it comes to editing. With SmartEdit, they can make a start on the editing process themselves, improving their work as much as possible before deciding on a next step.
Should they also hire a professional editor? Of course.
But the better the writing, the less costly the editor. Most editors charge varying rates depending on the amount of work they will be required to do, and this depends on the quality of the writing offered to them.
SmartEdit can reduce this cost by helping the writer address many mistakes early. The software works best when it’s given a first draft of a novel to work with. The greater the material to draw upon, the more deductions it can make.
So how does it work?
SmartEdit applies up to twenty five individual checks to the writer’s work. It flags overused phrases, crutch words, clichés and redundancies. It builds list of adverbs and dialog tags in a novel, as well as an invaluable list of proper nouns. It monitors the beginnings of sentences, and allows the writer to identify an over reliance on a particular phrase or word. It separates dialog from the prose that surrounds it, allowing checks to be run on one or the other–an invaluable tool for monitoring over use of words and phrases in character dialog.
SmartEdit also identifies more mundane issues such as excessive punctuation, double spaces, conflicting straight and smart quotes, and en and em dash issues–the sort of thing that can easily slip past a human eye and goes unremarked upon by word processors such as Microsoft Word and Open Office.
But it’s still a tool. Calling SmartEdit a glorified spell checker would not be doing it an injustice. It’s just as true that a technically oriented writer could produce scripts to perform many of these tasks themselves, and chances are many do.
But for the vast majority of writers, seeing all this information in one place, sitting side by side with their work-in-progress, offers a real opportunity to make a solid start on the editing process, a process that is often foreign to a great number of self-published writers.
Many will balk at the suggestion that software has a place in the editing process. To which I would counter that it already does. Spell checkers, features such as Track Changes in modern word processors, not to mention the much derided grammar checker are already heavily used by writers.
How many writers perform a search in their word processor for words ending in ‘ly‘? This is a simple effort to seek out an over-reliance on adverbs, utilising the technology already built into their word processor. SmartEdit does it better, taking on the techie tasks and letting the writer focus on the writing.
So long as the software does not automate any changes or even casually suggest changes, then it has a productive use in an open minded writer’s toolbox. After all, it’s the result that counts–the polished, finely honed manuscript that a writer can truly be proud of.
The world of writing and publishing is changing. Those changes are well under way and visible to all. The world of editing will have to change to keep up. That’s where SmartEdit comes in.
Work on the next version of SmartEdit has been completed, and we’re delighted with the results. It is, without a doubt, a huge improvement over the current version, and we’re looking forward to getting it out there. Version 3 is due for release on Thursday, August 1st.
A little background: The commercial version of SmartEdit is seven months old. We’ve deliberately held off on any major changes during those months so that we could gather enough feedback from users, thereby ensuring that any changes introduced were the right changes, and not merely a quick response to the requests of a minority of users.
Over the past few months we’ve learned that most of SmartEdit’s users come from a Microsoft Word background, that most users are either published authors or authors who have finished at least one first draft of a novel, and that many of those users do not directly edit their work within SmartEdit, preferring to use the results of SmartEdit’s checks when editing in their favourite word processor — usually MS Word.
How has this impacted version 3?
We’ve redesigned the user interface from the ground up, bringing it more into line with MS Word, and other modern software. We’ve introduced a new, fuller featured word processor that can handle Word and Open Office files — no more saving to RTF or copying and pasting. We’ve made these changes so that users no longer need to bounce backwards and forwards between Word and SmartEdit. They can now complete their first draft in Word, open the same file in SmartEdit where they can feel comfortable making whatever changes are required, then move back to Word for the final manuscript preparation stage.
As the software is only seven months old, we’ll be allowing all current users to upgrade to version 3 at no cost. Once it’s available, you simply download and install over the existing version, and you’ll be good to go.
For new users, the price will be increasing on August 1st to $59.95. This is still a huge bargain, making SmartEdit one of the better priced editing products for writers on the market. Unlike many competitors, SmartEdit is not subscription based, so a single purchase is all that is necessary unless you wish to upgrade to a future version. If you are a new user, you should purchase before August 1st, to avail of the cheaper rate.
We hope you like the new version as much as we do.
SmartEdit began as a small collection of features in PageFour about five years ago. At the time, PageFour was undergoing an identity crisis, and I was searching for a new direction to take the product.
Enter Smart Edit – a first stab at introducing editing capabilities into PageFour. Two features were added as part of the Smart Edit package: a word frequency counter and a phrase frequency counter. The first was a common feature in various software packages at the time, the second was unique – and incredibly cool and useful.
It failed to grab the interest of PageFour’s users. There was some interest, but not enough to warrant a shift in direction from writing into editing. This was back in 2008, well before self-publishing began to be seen as bordering on the respectable.
Its time hadn’t come.
In 2011 I was testing a new development environment, and decided to build a standalone SmartEdit product as part of the testing process, decoupled from PageFour and available as a free download.
The result was a simple word processor that used the word and phrase frequency counter of PageFour. For a year or so, it had moderate interest, with a few downloads a week, but little exposure. There were dedicated followers who wanted more features and were prepared to pay for them, but the number was small.
Then something happened. In mid 2012, the free version of SmartEdit was picked up by various social media sites and online writing magazines and forums. Bloggers started blogging about it and tweeters started tweeting. It helped that it was free. People love the free stuff.
Kindle sales were booming. eBooks had arrived. Self-publishing was the new thing. The timing was right for a product like SmartEdit.
It was Summer of last year that I started work on a feature heavy version of SmartEdit. The first version was ready in December 2012, and sales were immediate. The initial version wasn’t perfect, and it still isn’t. There are missing features and things that need improvement, but the feedback so far has been great. It’s almost four months later, and sales continue to improve month by month.
A new version of SmartEdit was released this afternoon (Irish time). This is the first new release since the licensed version was launched in December 2012, and contains a number of small improvements based on feedback from users.
Two areas of SmartEdit have been significantly improved: the Misused Words list and the Properties tab.
The Misused Words list was very much a work in progress (and still is). The first version returned far too many results, making it difficult to use. The purpose of the feature is to highlight words and phrases that are often misused in place of other words. Examples would be: complement and compliment, advice and advise, lead and led.
The first problem with the previous version was that it also included all to common words such as “their, there, they’re” and “to, too,” which caused the results list to balloon to unmanageable proportions, often concealing genuine problems behind a long list of commonly used words. The second problem was that both words in the word pairs were given equal weighting, when the reality is that usually, only one of the two words or phrases would commonly be misused.
Example: “should of” in place of “should have.”
I cringe whenever I read that phrase, or its all too common sister phrases “would of, could of.” The new version of SmartEdit raises each instance of “should of” as a problem, but ignores “should have,” as it’s rarely used in error.
The more commonly misspelled words such as “their, there, they’re” have been moved to the user defined Monitored Words List. This means you can still keep an eye on them – if you’re prone to those sorts of errors – but you can chose to exclude them from checks if you so wish.
The second major change to version 2.101 was to the Properties tab. The Properties tab lists general information about your work, such as word counts, smart and straight quite counts, as well as hyphen and dash counts. It’s especially useful to identify misused dashes or free floating straight quotes when you thought you had smart quotes switched on.
Each result now works as a link. Clicking on the link jumps to the first occurrence of the problem, allowing you to correct it straight away. Subsequent occurrences can be reached by using the SmartEdit Find dialog, which is automatically pre-filled with the character you’re looking for.
This is a major usability improvement.
Minor changes included in this release: a re-sorting of the sentence start list alphabetically, making it easier to come back to your editing at a later point and pick up where you left off. I expect this change to be rolled out to other results lists in the future.
The 10 Day trial has been reset for all users. This means that if you tried out SmartEdit back in December, you can now download the latest version, and your trial will restart, allowing you to test the software again.
Version 2.101 is free to all registered users. To install, close your current version of SmartEdit, then download and install the new version.