One of the challenges facing indie writers is how to recreate the editorial support that a traditionally published author receives (or is supposed to receive). If you take your writing seriously, having a handful of volunteer readers isn’t enough; you need true editorial help.
There are many types of editors, however: substantive editing, line editing, copy-editing, proofreading. All of these steps and stages are important, but in my own case, I felt that there was no substitute for substantive editing since it requires a high degree of experience, knowledge of the genre I was writing in (crime fiction), and a kind of understanding of the whole project, not just individual pieces. Consequently, I hired my own at considerable cost and it was worth it.
Since I don’t live under a money-tree, however, I hoped to cut a few corners by looking for proofreading alternatives. This is still an important step, but one I hoped I could look for a more automated solution.
A few months ago, I saw a web-based proofreading software product called Errnet (http://www.errnet.net/) recommended by Rob Siders of 52 Novels when he guest-blogged on Joe Konrath’s site. A quick search didn’t find any software with better recommendations, so I decided to give it a shot.
The concept is simple and fairly inexpensive:
- Register online
- Decide what subscription level you need: $19/week, $39/month, or $99/year. All levels allow unlimited uploads of most common word processor types (Microsoft Word® (DOC/DOCX), Portable Document Format (PDF), HTML, TXT, RTF, ODT, SXW, and SDW).
- Upload your document directly using their web uploader or download a small desktop widget that allows for drag-and-drop.
The site processes the document, checking for spelling, punctuation, grammar, and style errors. Upon completion, it provides you with two links: one for a general report in .PDF as well as a word processor copy of your document with embedded notes/track changes.
I purchased a one week subscription and ran both a large manuscript (my debut crime fiction novel A Reason to Live) and a relatively short fantasy story (“Seven Into the Bleak”) through the site.
Errnet site claims a processing speed of 300 pages per minute, which I found to be an exaggeration, but not terribly so; my novel manuscript is 88,000 words/758k/312 MS Word pages and took about five minutes to complete.
The .PDF report was clean, color coded per error type, offered the locations of each error, suggestions for improvement, and the reasons for citing the error (see screenshot to the right). It gave both total counts and overall percentages of each error type.
The annotated report, however, was gibberish and seemed to be downloaded in a document type that my copy of Word 2003 didn’t recognize. I emailed customer service Tuesday afternoon and have yet to hear back.
My 7,000 word short story was processed quickly and both the .PDF and the annotated Word document were fine. The annotations were color-coded per error-type, which is a neat trick and were helpful.
Just to be clear: the .PDF report and the annotated document index the exact same errors. The .PDF file is simply a list of the errors while the annotated document is a copy of your original file with those errors shown in the locations where they occur.
Unfortunately, an automated proofreading program has all the drawbacks you might guess it does.
- Errnet doesn’t understand nuances of dialogue and many of the grammar errors it cites in a novel are going to be ones dealing with non-standard dialogue constructions.
- Ditto for odd-ball names, like the ones found in my fantasy short story. I couldn’t quite figure out if Errnet understood and passed through my “Add to Dictionary” and “Ignore All” commands in Word, since some names seemed to be caught and others were not.
- Despite claiming a spell-checking database of over 2 million terms, Errnet didn’t recognize a common proper name like “Ziploc” and cited it as an error.
- A few errors repeated multiple times were insufficiently explained. For instance, I use “a dozen times” or “a dozen things” many times (too many) in my manuscript. The article “a” was cited as an error each time and I still don’t know why.
- Straightforward interface in both the online and desktop versions
- Unintended, but useful consequences: even though I didn’t understand some of the errors, the very act of counting the same error alerted me to the presence of that issue. For example, the “dozens” error, above, was incomprehensible, but it was made very clear to me that I was using the phrase too many times.
- Simple grammar errors get caught every time. I tend to put commas and periods on the outside of quotes when they should go outside.
- Style: the most helpful area was in the objective style suggestions for redundant phrases and awkward constructions. Errnet doesn’t provide suggestions, of course, but just being alerted was enough.
Obviously, the speed and the cost of Errnet are top notch. At the very least, it could be a great first pass to use before handing a manuscript off to a human editor, especially if that editor charges by the hour rather than per word.
With the added benefit that there are unlimited uploads at any subscription level, you’d have to be Bob Mayer to not be able to run every piece of writing you’ve got through the Errnet grinder in a week. Naturally, the best time to do this is after polishing those pieces of writing; if you jump the gun and still have a lot of developmental work to do on your pieces, a round of Errnet proofreading is going to be of minimal help since you’ll have to bring it back later.
When it’s all said and done, Errnet is an excellent value, helpful towards the final goal of error-free writing, but no real substitution for human readers and editors. Understand that Errnet can’t be your only error-checking approach and plan (and save those pennies!) accordingly.
The comic in me can’t help but assume that Errnet is supposed to be pronounced like “err” (to error), which most American English readers would pronounce “air.” Unfortunately, that means the site’s name is pronounced “air net,” which is a lot like “hair net” and makes me think of middle-aged lunch ladies in school cafeterias. Probably not the crisp, corporate image they were shooting for. Then again, Errnets and hairnets do roughly the same thing: they catch undesirable things before they can ruin the soup, so I guess it’s not the worst comparison in the world.