AI for Proofreading

I decided to try something different for 5 Acres & A Dream The Sequel. I decided to experiment with a couple of software programs that use artificial intelligence to proofread.

Spellcheck has been around for awhile, and many word processors have grammar checkers. LibreOffice does, and it serves for my first check. An independent grammar checker is LanguageTool. I downloaded it from the Ubuntu Software Centre and use it as my second check. The third is Grammarly, which I have found useful for catching things the other two don’t.

I think the AI proofreaders are helpful for basic copy editing. They catch spelling errors, punctuation such as comma placement, and some formatting inconsistencies such as extra spaces between words. Quotation marks are another helpful catch. Should they be straight or curly (aka “smart”) quotes? Traditionally, printers used curly quotes and these are still considered good typography. More good uses of AI are to catch hyphens verses the various kinds of dashes and ‘which’ versus ‘that.’

Sometimes it’s a matter of opinion. Temperature, for example. Is it written as 80°F, 80° F, or 80 °F? It depends on which authority one asks. The National Geographic style guide prefers the first. Technical style guides prefer the third. Some say to write the symbol out as “degree.” For anything where opinions vary, I think the most important thing is to be consistent.

I get dinged a lot for spelling. Usually, it’s because I’m using a word not found in the program’s spelling database. Grammarly has been useful for catching things such as ‘a while,’ which I tend to type as ‘awhile.’

Of the three, Grammarly offers the most detailed analysis. I started with their browser add-on, which I uninstalled after a couple of weeks. Problem? It “corrects” as one types, which is like having a backseat driver continually trying to grab the steering wheel. Then it sends a weekly score comparing word usage and error totals to other Grammarly users. I found those things to be annoying. Instead, I use the online version at their website.

They have a basic free version and a subscription version. The free version catches grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors, alerts for wordiness, and detects tone. It grades clarity (“very clear”), engagement (“a bit bland”), and delivery (“just right”). It gives me a score and lets me know how many advanced alerts it found, in case I want to upgrade to premium.

To its credit, Grammarly recognizes ellipses, which the other two do not. Since this book is a sequel, I quote myself a lot, rather than rewriting the material as new. To keep it succinct, I use ellipses.

Grammarly’s paid-for premium service critiques inconsistent writing style, unclear sentence structure, overused words, ineffective vocabulary, hedging language, impoliteness (?), insensitive or non-inclusive language, inappropriate tone or formality level, and checks for plagiarism. All of this for about $140 per year if billed annually. They do offer frequent discounts. I haven’t completely ruled this out, but I haven’t ruled it in either. I don’t always agree with their assessment, and if they want auto-debit billing, forget it. Plus, if one follows up with a human editor, what’s the point?

Do any of these AI proofreaders take the place of a human editor? Of course not. But if one is paying an editor by the hour, it’s helpful to have as few errors as possible.

Using Windows Software on a Linux Machine

So if I want to convert a PDF copy of 5 Acres & A Dream The Book into an eBook, how do I do that if the conversion software isn’t compatible with my operating system? The answer? I must create a virtual machine on my computer that can run Windows. How do I do that? With Oracle’s VirtualBox.

VirtualBox is virtualization software. It can be installed on any host operating system, and be used to run a huge variety of guest operating systems. My host OS is Xubuntu Linux. My guest OS will be Windows 10. VB does this by partitioning off a small section of my hard drive and installing Windows there. When I start VB and choose Windows, it opens Windows in a private space within Xubuntu. On my desktop it looks like any other window. If I maximize that window, then you’d never know it was any other than a Windows machine.

Once I had VB installed I added the VB extension pack. After I installed Windows, I added Guest Additions. Both of these increase the functionality of Windows as a guest OS on my computer.

The challenge, then, is to share files between the two. I have my PDF on Xubuntu, but since Win 10 is sandboxed, how do I let Windows access it? And how do I get a copy of my finished Windows work back to my regular OS? For that I had to create a shared file as part of a networking system between Xubuntu and Windows. Once I had that created and added my PDF file, I was able to download and install Kindle Create within Windows and get started on my project. The completed project is saved to the same shared file, so that I can upload it to KDP when it’s ready.

Another Look at Zim: How To Make an Outline

I’ve blogged about the Zim Desktop Wiki before. It has some really nice features, things like hyperlinking to other pages in my work, hyperlinking to other sources (either on my computer or the internet), checkboxes to help keep track what’s completed and what’s not, and a spell checker. What I’ve had trouble with, is organizing. I haven’t been able to make the outline in my head a reality in the index pane on the left. I’ve looked at the documentation, but it’s pretty slim in the explanation department. Tutorials on the web seem nonexistent, and YouTube videos show more about what it can do than how to do it.

In a huge “duh” moment, I finally realized that Zim’s index categorizes everything alphabetically. For some projects this would be useful, but for an outline, not so much. especially if there are a lot of points on that outline and therefore a lot of categories and subcateories. To get the outline I want, I simply prefixed the pages and subpages so that they would stay in my outline order.

Zim will arrange things according to the letter (A., B, a., b., c., etc) or number (1., 2., 3., etc.). This way I can keep my outline points and subpoints to stay where I want them on Zim’s index.

There are a number of ways to create new linked pages in Zim. The challenge was trying to link pages in my text to the same location as those listed in my index pane. If I created a new page page from the text itself, it popped up in the index as a new and separate page. I finally figured out to copy the link location in the index and link the text to it.

Once I copied the link location I could highlight “Bibliography” in the text pane and select “link”. I pasted the link location in the “Link to:” field, hit “link,” and the job was done.

I tried browse button as well, but it would link me to the text files that Zim had created, not to the Zim page itself.

In the above example, I can now access my Bibliography page from either the index or the “7. End Matter” page.

Figuring out how to use Zim to meet my personal writing needs took quite a bit of trial and error, but – I think I’ve got it. I can write my entire text in Zim, enjoying the organization of it, and not have to bother with LibreOffice Writer at all. Zim will export each page as a text file, which makes it perfect for importing into Scribus.

Maybe I can now get down to some serious work.

Tools of the Trade

I am always keenly interested in other authors’ discussions about what they use for writing, whether pen and paper, typewriter, or computer. If computer, then I’m curious about what software they like to use.

Writing itself is probably the most important aspect and quite a few writers seem to like basic, no-frills, no distraction writing software. I’ve used LibreOffice Writer for quite a few years but have to admit that it has several features that I find annoying. For example, the text box that pops up to tell you what page you’re on as you’re scrolling. It’s annoying because it covers my text. The word suggestions, too, can be helpful but also distracting. They can also lend themselves to mistakes. Then there’s the hidden metadata which transfers with the text I’ve copied and pasted into Scribus. That’s handy for remembering formatting, but if I want to create a different formatting scheme, it’s a nuisance.

For a complex work, a way to keep everything organized is nice. This kind of software is often developed to accommodate writers of novels and plays, which I don’t write. Much of my writing is based on research, so this is what I need to organize.

So what are my preferred tools of the trade?

For research and organization I like Zim.

zim_screenshotZim is a graphical text editor which functions like a desktop wiki. I can create notebooks for various writing projects, pages for my main categories, and subpages as well. I can hyperlink these to one another, or to external resources such as a file on my computer or a webpage. I can even add images. One neat feature is being able to create checkbox lists. Very handy.

For writing, gedit.

gedit_screenshotgedit is a simple, open source, Gnome based text editor – no frills, no distractions, no metadata. It comes with just the few tools I need – spell checker and word counter. It also has a “sort” plugin for alphabetizing a list. Perfect for creating indexes.

For notes, reminders, and to-do lists I use Notes.

Notes_screenshotIt’s just a little plugin that came as part of Xfce Goodies, additional software and artwork for the Xfce desktop. It’s clean and simple and easy to use. Like Zim, I can create a group for each writing project. I can create tabs for lists and reminders.

Three simple tools to keep me organized and on track. It doesn’t get any better than that.


Smashwords is the world’s largest distributor of eBooks. Many authors choose to go with Amazon’s Kindle publishing program, but there appear to be some excellent reasons for going with Smashwords.

Kindle offers only one eBook format for its various Kindle readers while Smashwords offers all formats, so that one can purchase and download books for any eBook reader including iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, B&N Nook, Kobo, of even one’s computer. Broader distribution channels is a very practical reason for not wanting to go exclusively with Amazon. Philosophically, it represents a choice not to contribute to another big corporation’s attempt at monopolizing a given market.

A third option appears to be going with both. I read about this on the CreateSpace Community Forums. Many authors apparently publish on both venues to take advantage of Amazon’s higher royalty rates for its own authors, plus take advantage of sales to other eReader owners. Care must be taken in selecting sales channels on Smashwords, but it seems to be a popular way for authors to go.

So why am I blogging about eBooks? Am I going to publish an eBook edition of 5 Acres & A Dream The Book? Or perhaps upcoming Critter Tales? No, I tend to include a lot of photos. eBooks do best with text, so I will continue to publish my homestead books as paperbacks. What’s happened is, I have found myself researching this for a different author. I figured I might as make a record of what I’m learning and share it with others as well. So stay tuned for my take on what I find out.

Facebook as a Marketing Tool

I’m going to be upfront here and let my readers know that I am not a fan of Facebook. I set up a FB account a couple of years ago to keep up with photos of my new baby granddaughter. I wasn’t looking to “connect” with anyone or network with anybody. I wasn’t looking to update my status or comment on everyone else’s lives. I wasn’t interested in collecting “friends” and “liking” anything. I just wanted to see those pictures. FB finally drove me away.

Why? Because it (actually they, the creators and maintainers of Facebook) have no real interest in protecting privacy regardless of what is implied. In fact, the less private things are, the better of a marketing target I can be for “customized” advertising. I was forever having to reset my privacy settings, which were reset with each FB update and hidden some place different than before. I would log out, but commercial websites were allowed to log me back in so that I could “like” their product, share their website, or tell the world what I was thinking. Even deleting FB cookies in my web browser didn’t help because these would magically reappear even though I didn’t visit FB in the meantime.

Yet, I have a FB page for my book. Why? The gist of it is that as a self-publisher who wants to sell books, I need all the help I can get.

After my book came out several folks suggested I set up a FB page for it. I baulked, but agreed to look into it. A page is a bit different than a personal account. Pages are what businesses use to promote their services and products. The problem starts with having to have a personal account (which means a personal profile). Supposedly these can be kept separate, but the most common complaint in the FB community forums is that in truth, they can’t. Merging the two is considered highly unprofessional by many with business or professional pages. For example, my comments and likes about my granddaughter’s photos have nothing to do with my book. All these show up on my personal “wall” or “timeline” (or whatever they’re calling it these days) and have nothing to do with promoting my book. In truth, they clutter and obscure the marketing of my book.

Unless I am extremely vigilant, FB will merge everything into my personal profile and promote it first. For example, I’ve learned (the frustrating way) that I must switch to my book page profile when I visit my page. FB keeps switching me to my personal profile so that if I don’t take care, my comments and likes on other pages are as my personal profile. My personal profile is about as faceless and bare bones as I can possibly make it, because I’m not interested in using FB that way. This doesn’t help me promote my book.

With a professional page I am targeted as a marketing demographic for FB paid services, such as promoting posts or having FB ads, so that I can become an advertising annoyance to Facebookians who just want to use FB to keep up with their own social circle.

On the plus side? Well, with 500 million FB users, the multiplying effect of a like or a comment can be staggering. When someone comments on your page, that comment shows up on their news feed to their followers (theoretically, that is). This makes it a very easy way to get the word out. By networking with those who have interests on the same subject matter as my book, I can easily promote it by simply letting folks know its there.

But is it worth it? Do all the negatives of having a FB page for my book justify it? Well, I think so. I’ve recently topped 100 likes (a milestone according to FB). I’ve learned from a couple of comments that folks bought my book based specifically on reviews. On the other hand, I have to make sure my page stays fresh to stay in others’ news feeds.

Admittedly, I would find it more useful if FB were set up to be a tool for the user, rather than the user being simply a source for data mining. However, any time I use a “free” resource, I must play by their rules. To use Facebook as a marketing tool must be done with care. Yes, it’s free, but there are pitfalls that come with all “free” services. FB, like everybody else, is in it to make money and has set it up in their best interests, not ours. We, as users, must realize that and not expect it to be something that it is not.

I’m sure the same could be said of almost all social networking sites (which I think are really social marketing sites). We pay the price of our time for free advertising. So if you’d like to take a gander, here’s my FB page for 5 Acres & A Dream The Book. And don’t forget to like me while you’re there. 🙂

Simple Tools For Writing Books

I was perusing the Ubuntu Forums awhile back and stumbled upon a couple of threads (one here and one here) discussing writing software for writers. At the time I was using the preinstalled LibreOffice and was quite happy with it. It could do everything I wanted including formatting and interior design. I ran into problems when I had to convert it to a PDF/X-1a for printing; something LibreOffice cannot do. I found I could not simply import it into my desktop publisher (Scribus). I ended up re-doing the entire interior.

As I look to start on a second writing project, I find myself wondering how to make things easier for myself. My problem with LibreOffice is that it does a lot of automatic formatting I don’t want. It gets in my way and becomes a nuisance. I suppose all this could be changed, but that’s a hassle as well, and all these things are obstacles when one is in the midst of a creative flow of thought.

I recently tried a couple of the suggestions from these threads, particularly for writing. PyRoom and FocusWriter both come highly recommended, although it appears PyRoom hasn’t been updated in awhile. They are full screen text editors, but since I often have several programs open at the same time for any given chapter, the full screen only doesn’t appeal to me. Ditto for BookWrite. LaTeX is a document preparation program that many folks seem to like, but it requires having to learn a mark-up language best suited for technical documents. I just want to keep things simple.

Since all my formatting is done with a DTP, all I need is a text editor with spell check! And that’s what I found, Gedit. Besides the spell checker it allows cut, copy, paste, and undo, redo.

I also learned about Zim, which is a text editor style desktop wiki, perfect for outlining and organizing sections, chapters, and ideas. Linking allows me to switch between pages easily, plus it will do basic formatting, which helps me organize ideas. I just read it even supports images!

So, for this next project I plan to do all the writing with Gedit and Zim, photo editing with Gimp, design and formatting with Scribus 1.4 (stable), and PDF prep with Scribus 1.5 (developmental but so far the only Linux friendly program that creates PDF/X-1a documents.) Simple, but that’s how I like it!

Learning Curve: Scribus

I admit it. I’ve been procrastinating. Designing a book cover has been on my to-do list; I’ve even chosen the photos and rough drafted it out in my head.  I’ve got approximated sizes. I’ve been stalling because I know the that program I need to do this, Scribus, will be another big learning curve.

Scribus is an open source desktop publishing program. An Ubuntu version is available from the Ubuntu repositories, so that’s what I have installed. I’ve discovered, however, that it is not terribly intuitive, and I haven’t set aside the time to go through the learning process step by step.

Not that there haven’t been plenty of other things that need doing, but I think I’ve put it off long enough. It’s time to go through a basic tutorial, become familiar with it, and get started.

Wish me good providence.

Progress On The PDF/X-1a:2001 Problem

I have been researching this problem, and still have not found a solution for Linux. I did begin to browse the Serif forums, regarding PagePlus’s ability to create  PDF/X-1a:2001 files. There are some who’ve had problems with the metadata when trying to upload their PagePlus  PDF/X-1a:2001s to Lightning Source. That’s something I need to research further. Is there a workaround? Can I edit the metadata? How? Does it apply to PagePlus version 6 as well as version 5?

Another concern was whether or not I would have to reformat the entire book interior in either Acrobat Pro or PagePlus. This would have been discouraging because I’ve already done it in LibreOffice. I did discover that LO can export files in the .ps format, from which the PDF/X-1a:2001 files are made. That was a 1+ discovery. Since I’ve learned about metadata, however, I’d better make sure these are the same.

Another question is, how necessary is  PDF/X-1a:2001 for a black and white manuscript? This particular pdf format is used for color images, which must be CMYK for printing, rather than RGB, as is the case for digital. Every now and then I read about some exception to LSI’s  PDF/X-1a:2001 rule, which was successfully accepted, but no further information is provided.

This brings up another problem, i.e. changing all my RGB images to CMYK. The Gimp can do it, but requires details I am still unsure of.

I appear to have my research cut out for me. In the meantime, I am working on finishing up the front matter. I’m also getting ready to do an aloud read-through, to see if I can catch anything I messed up while adding photos and formatting the pages. Then I’ll work on adding page numbers to the index. I still have to do a cover as well. It’s been designed in my head, but hasn’t been created yet. I still seem to have a ton of work to do, yet the end is in sight.