Can a computer analysis of your text help you write better? I gave AutoCrit a spin and became a customer.
It is often difficult to see mistakes in your own manuscript, but overused adverbs, repeated words, passive writing, too much introspection, and other patterns can be easily recognized by a computer. Author, Nina Davies used her background as a computational linguist (someone who works to make computers understand human languages) to develop the AutoCrit Editing Wizard. The wizard automatically finds and highlights potential problems in your text.
According to the AutoCrit site:
AutoCrit is a tool to help you identify weaknesses in your fiction writing. AutoCrit can help you identify:
Words that weaken your writing, such as too many occurrences of “that” or “it” or LY-adverbs.
Repetition of similar words.
Sentences that lack variety due to similar lengths.
Overuse of dialogue tags such as “she muttered.”
AutoCrit is not a grammar checker or a spell checker. AutoCrit identifies problems that prevent the reader from your enjoying story.
Use of Small Capitals—uppercase characters designed at lowercase scale—is one aspect of writing and book design that isn’t taught in grammar school. We all know every sentence begins with a capital letter and ends with a period. We all should know that writing in all capital letters is the typographic equivalent of shouting—a “capital” offense.
A Small Capital (or “small cap”) is a specially designed character—not a regular capital letter scaled down to a smaller size. Word processors and even some typesetting programs reinforce the abuse of small caps by offering a “small caps” shortcut that scales down the uppercase letters to match the height of the lowercase characters. A real small cap is different from a full-capital letter in subtle but important ways.
This article explores proper use of capital letters, explains the difference between big caps and small caps, and offers book design tips to help you manage abbreviations, names, directions, chapter starts and other typographic challenges. Many thanks to author and typographer Dick Margulis for editing and fact-checking.
Many authors start down the publishing road believing that printing books is the same as printing money, only to be disappointed by low returns and the amount of work involved. This guest article by novelist, poet and songwriter Richard Geller responds to advice offered by marketing luminary Seth Godin who suggests indie publishers should lower their expectations. Geller proposes different ways to measure success. Printing books is not the same as printing money, but for creative writers, printing books may give rise to something of even greater value. Changing expectations and lowering them are two different things.
In his insightful blog, Seth Godin offers two separate lists of marketing tips for writers. I want to reflect a bit on what he has in the number-one position on each list; they’re closely related:
On the other hand, a book gives you leverage to spread an idea and a brand far and wide. There’s a worldview that’s quite common that says that people who write books know what they are talking about and that a book confers some sort of authority. (2006)
Any comparison of the number of books published versus the number of authors making useful amounts of money at it is damn sobering stuff. Seth Godin certainly has his facts straight. The odds are definitely against you achieving anything that resembles business success.
I have, however, a question about lowering our expectations. Does the unlikelihood of ever realizing material success or fame from your writing mean you should lower your expectations? Or should you, instead, adopt different sets of expectations—aligned with marketplace realities—that are high nonetheless?
I particularly like this section on dashes, hyphens and dots because it goes beyond typographic aesthetics to explore how we can communicate more effectively as writers. The subtle intricacies of hyphens and dashes affect all authors whether they typeset their own books or not. Knowing how to punctuate correctly empowers you to control emphasis and handle challenging sentences that contain parenthetical asides, omissions or incomplete thoughts. Here, good typography is an extension of good writing.
Many writers are unaware that the simple dash comes in several flavors. Because dashes are often used as alternatives for other types of punctuation, they are explained here in context with the marks they substitute for.
Comment: I see self-publishing as vanity publishing. There’s a reason there’s a traditional route; it really does sift out the crap. I may not be a published author, but I’ll be damned before I chuck in the towel to push out my writing through self publishing. I did not spend years honing my craft, get myself into all sorts of tight corners just to get my stories, and lose all those late night hours redrafting just so my work can get lost in the crowd.
My Response: I’m a proud self-publisher. Self-publishing is, by definition, not vanity publishing. I own all my own rights and my own ISBN numbers. My press is a legal entity. I also got myself into all sorts of scrapes to get my stories and I spend hours honing my craft every day, seven days a week. It’s 5:30AM as I finish this. I challenge any traditional press to exceed the quality of the work I produce.
Traditional presses do indeed filter out some crap, but to assume everything not vetted by a Big Six publisher is crap is the literary equivalent of racial prejudice. Major marketing vehicles like the New York Times Book Review serve only the upper crust of the publishing world, defining by exclusion who “the crowd” is. Continue reading →
Editing is one of the first hurdles you’ll encounter as an independent writer. Your fan club is your enemy. Encouraging friends who think it’s “wonderful you actually wrote a book” are not unbiased editors. A good editor will put your work under a microscope, analyze it to death and probably make you feel at times like any talent you think you have is imaginary. Good editors do encourage and offer praise for what works, but they’re relentless at tearing your writing apart and making you put it back together the right way. Editing is a grueling, time-consuming process and it’s a task that must be entrusted to someone who will give you “tough love.” We’re all too close to our own work to see the flaws and missing pieces, especially when the writing is fresh.
Poor editing is the number one complaint heard from critics of the independent publishing industry. Though the standards of mainstream publishing houses are overrated, I’ve read many indy books where spotty spelling and lack of polished prose present barriers to enjoyable reading. Moreover, our own well-crafted books get lumped into the “indy” category with this trash. Unedited authors sully the publishing waters for the rest of us.
I have discussed the idea of editing with other writers and heard the reply, “I don’t need an editor; I’m an excellent speller.” An editor is not a proofreader. Though the best of us require proofreaders, a story editor is someone who can comment on the work objectively. Is the story believable? Are there unexpected temporal jumps or unexplained threads in the narrative? Are the article’s assertions properly supported? As with affairs of the heart, it’s easy to understand the problems of others and difficult to acknowledge what we’re too close to see—and if you think writing isn’t an affair of the heart, you haven’t started your book yet. Get that third-party perspective. Continue reading →
There is a tendency to refer to “POD Publishers” with disdain, but POD is just a printing technology. I use Lightning Source for printing, own my own ISBN numbers and retain all of my rights. I do my own design and layout. “Vanity Press” is the term most often associated with companies who offer book production packages, take a share of royalties or rights and bundle your work into their “publisher’s catalog”—and I think the more reputable vanity presses can be a good fit for many writers.
Lightning Source is a printer. iUniverse is a vanity press. Both use POD technology. I suggest a distinction between “POD Printers” and “Vanity Presses” with the term “publishing” reserved for those who own their own ISBNs, rights and royalties. If you publish through Xlibris or iUniverse, technically, you’re not self-publishing, but whether that distinction is important varies according to individual circumstances and points of view.
Irrespective of intellectual property considerations and who facilitates production, without POD, we’d all be sitting on stacks of books, handling fulfillment ourselves, and praying for the day when we get our closet space back.
The following is something I posted on a discussion forum in response to someone who asked for a critique on about a dozen of their self-designed book covers.
Since you asked for a critique, I’ll pick on you, but with the caveat that you make many of the same errors everyone else does. I’m using you as a catalyst to educate rather than to make an example of.
The sore spot for me (and with many of my university design students, by the way—you’re in good company) is the typography. Continue reading →