If you're prepared to do the work yourself, there are plenty of both free and low-cost editing tools which you can apply to your manuscript before sending it out there. A common downside to the free tools is the amount of text you can edit at any given time; it's usually restricted to a couple of chapters, and you have to copy and paste in and out of the program. The low-cost programs are more than enough to give you an idea of what needs correcting, but they are not as thorough as the expensive ones. If you have the money, I recommend using Grammarly and Word Rake. If you are on a budget, try SmartEdit and Hemingway Editor. Links to sites are in the titles.
I imagine there are few writers who enjoy the editing process. It can be difficult enough to complete the first draft of a novel, but it's unlikely to be fit to send out to a publisher. All publishing houses will expect to have to edit a manuscript before it is handed over to the printers, but this does not mean they're prepared to waste time doing what you're perfectly able to do yourself. If your manuscript is tidy, it shows you care about your work and that you take it seriously. If it shows too many grammatical errors or is too wordy, it's probably not going to read well. Hiring an editor or proofreader is out of the question for many writers because they just don't have that kind of money laying around.
Free editing tools
The ProWritingAid free version can give you an indication of some of the issues with your writing but is limited to;
- 19 reports
- A maximum 3000 words per edit
- Online use only
If you're not in a position to buy software, this can at least offer insight into some of the mistakes you're making. You can apply what you learn to the rest of your writing.
Slick Write is a completely free online tool which performs checks on spelling, grammar, overused words, and a good handful of other things too. You can only paste in a few pages at a time, but this is standard for the free tools. You can easily select which checks you want to perform, and suggestions for corrections are simple to follow.
After the Deadline can be used online or as a download for platforms such as Wordpress, and web browsers. It's clearly useful for online work, but novelists may find it tedious.
Edit Minion is a quirky online checker which identifies the use of passive voice and overused words. It's a nice little tool but as always, you're going to have to cut and paste any text you want to edit. Dr Wicked has a couple of other tools on this site which may be of use to some. The Write or Die tool looks like fun to play with, and if you're trying to get into the habit of writing in a more consistent fashion, it may be worth a look.
Ginger is similar to After the Deadline in that it's a download which then works through your browser. It can be used within Word too. Out of all the free programs I've looked at, this one seems to be the most efficient (because you can use it inside Word), although there's an annoying 'Get Premium' tag at the top of the page. I couldn't find any information on how long the free version can be used.
I figured PaperRater is worth a mention because it's incredibly useful but will process just five pages at a time. Even the premium version will only accept up to ten pages, and for the novelist, this just isn't enough. For short texts, or for those happy to copy and paste, it will highlight grammar, spelling, and word choice issues.
FoxType looks to be a newly available resource, and you can have unlimited access for as little as $5 a month. FoxType has six different categories to choose from and includes an easy to use Thesaurus. FoxType is basic compared to other apps but it appears to be expanding its usefulness, and I genuinely liked the simplicity in its explanations and the design.
For a one-off fee of $9.99, you can use Hemingway Editor both on or offline. The program identifies wordy and hard to read sentences, adverbs, and use of passive voice. If you combine Hemingway Editor with another application such as SmartEdit, you can tidy up your manuscript considerably.
SmartEdit is one of the best low-cost editing suites I have found. It's available to use in Word or as a standalone program and costs $67/$57 respectively. SmartEdit performs twenty checks on your work (listed individually on their website) and gives you the option of adding to the 'monitored words' list. I'm still using this software alongside Grammarly.
ProWritingAid is another good program which checks for passive verbs, overused words, and repetitive sentence structure. It will highlight cliches and redundancies, and show you where you can improve your writing. It costs $40 per year, and they offer a lifetime license for $140. As to whether it's any better then SmartEdit, I honestly can't say; too much depends on which aspects of editing you want help with, and I'd recommend checking out both to see which is more suitable for your needs.
All of the programs I've looked at offer something of value. Ultimately, personal preference will decide which offers the most comfortable experience. None of these programs are going to do the editing for you, and you will need to check each suggestion given. Any of these programs will make your writing life easier, and they can be used as a learning tool to improve your style and grammar, so there's less work to do in the future. But please don't forget to check online for discount codes before deciding. The expensive ones often have 30% coupons out there. Prices have been listed in $$ because that's what the companies were using.
The Expensive Stuff
Ginger costs $111 a year for the premium package or $61.20 for the basic, and both have a monthly payment option, but it'll cost you more money (Grammarly does that too). I haven't tested the paid version, but from what I can see, it's easier to use than Style Write, it has some great features, but it's not as good as Grammarly in finding errors and isn't as efficient to use.
StyleWriter claims to be the best editing software on the planet which compelled me to download the free trial so I could take a look for myself. It took me less than five minutes to become frustrated and decide that it wasn't a program I would use myself. It has three packages available at $90/$150/$190. It may well be a better choice for short pieces of work; I can't argue that it isn't thorough, but for the fiction writer, I'd say there are better programs available.
WordRake concentrates on unnecessary words and offers suggestions on how to make your writing simpler and clearer. At $129 per year, it's not cheap, and because it's specific in what it does I'd recommend using alongside another program such as Grammarly.
This program is expensive, but I want to recommend it because it's impressive. No editing software is going to be perfect, but Grammarly is easy to use, non-invasive and gives plenty of suggestions to improve your work. You can use it online or in Word. It costs $139.95 a year, although there is an option to pay monthly.
AutoCrit is different to the other tools I've tested. With novelists in mind, it offers checks on pacing and momentum, word choice, and unnecessary filler words. It has other useful tools such as those identifying passive voice, showing versus telling, and its 'compare to fiction' function. At $144 per year, it's not cheap, but if you haven't done a writing course, and you need to improve your standard English it would be a worthy investment.