Today we released version 5 of SmartEdit for Word. This release includes two major changes, as well as a stylistic change to the UI. We’ve upgraded the software to run within Word 2016, which Microsoft released a couple of months ago, and we’ve made a number of changes to enable SmartEdit to display better on high resolution monitors.
Within the UI, we’ve changed the SmartEdit buttons that appear on the Word ribbon. This was done to bring the software more into line with Word, making it apear as if it were a part of Word rather than an Add In.
Only if you’re running Word 2016, or working on a high res monitor. Otherwise, version 4 (loved by Windows Smart Screen) contains all the same functionality, only without the pretty Office icons.
Note: If you experience any problems installing the latest version, uninstall the previous version using Windows Add / Remove Programs, then re-run the 5.201 installation. Your license details and settings will remain behind when you uninstall.
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.
In centuries past, books were hand copied by monks in distant lands, laboured over for months or years at a time, then read by a few dozen, or at most a few hundred people. Then Gutenberg came along, and before they knew what was happening, monks all over Europe were looking for jobs and the ordinary man on the street was reading the latest trashy novel.
But at least those first drafts were hand written, in whatever mangled scrawl the writer used. In many cases, hand written early drafts are still proudly on display in museums all over the world. And then the typewriter came along and made first drafts just another printed page.
Woe to writing!
The English author Kingsley Amis never used a word processor. He thought they were god awful machines that could never replace his trusty Adler typewriter that had served him well for thirty years.
It’s 2013, and we still hear variations of the monk’s and Kingsley’s laments from Luddites across the world. The only difference is the target of their ire. No one these days has a problem with printed books. No one wishes to go back to the oral tradition, before this pesky ‘writing’ took hold and changed storytelling forever. No one apart from those living in Germanic religious sects in the US wants to use a typewriter.
The word processor is the new all-you-need writer’s aid. It’s the quill and the typewriter of today, and Microsoft Word is the flagship. God help anyone who suggests that something new might be of use to writers.
Sure, writers today could write their novels by hand. They could use a typewriter. They could turn to figure painting and tell their story by adorning the walls of French caves with pictures of the Mars Rover.
Specialised technology exists in every field. A soccer Mom drives a different car to a salesman, who drives a different car to a policeman and an eco-warrior. Travel to any large city by train, and chances are you’ll take an intercity powered by petroleum of some kind to reach the city, a light rail system run on electricity to reach your destination suburb, and a tram or bus to reach the street or building you’re heading for. Specialised technology to meet special needs. People who live different lives want different cars. Different types of travel are best served by different types of transport.
Writing is no different.
A journalist wants one thing from his writing software, a student writing an essay for college wants something a little different, the guy putting a resumé together something else entirely.
And the novelist, the poet, the screenplay writer?
They want something just that little bit unique too. And why not? It wasn’t the Adler typewriter that made Kingsley Amis a great writer. The spell checker in Microsoft Word didn’t turn mediocre writers into Pulitzer or Booker winners. The tool itself doesn’t improve writing, all it does is make the working life of the individual writer that little bit easier and more productive.
The creative stuff, that thing that great books are made of, comes from inside the writer’s head. Writers may not need special software, but why shouldn’t they have it?