Some days I need a pedantic friend with a touch of obsessive behavior to read through my work.

Most times I don’t have one to hand, though, and that’s where a program like Grammarly can come in handy. This week I took it for a spin to see whether it would be a useful tool for me to use – either as a final check on the manuscripts I edit, or as a second pair of eyes to help polish my writing before I hand it off to a publisher.

Grammarly is like Microsoft Office’s spelling and grammar check on steroids: it will be very strict with you, sometimes too much so, but you might be surprised how many flaws it finds. If you’re at all wobbly on aspects of grammar, word choice or punctuation, Grammarly might be the pedantic friend you need.

I tried out Grammarly on extracts from manuscripts in various stages of polishing. The first obstacle I encountered was that when you use Grammarly online you can only check 20 pages at a time, though if you use the Microsoft Office plug-in there is no limitation.  So I broke my manuscript into chunks and fed it through bit by bit.

Grammarly offers different modes: general, business, academic, technical creative, casual, depending on the style of writing you are aiming for. It is important to master these modes, though you will need to do that by trial and error as Grammarly refuses to explain what the types mean.  In their FAQ section, they say, “Each review style is based on a specific set of checks. (We can’t disclose what those are because it’s intellectual property.)” That seems a mite neurotic and not terribly helpful.

The first extract I fed into Grammarly was full of direct quotes that could not be changed, so many of its suggestions were less than useful. Once I shifted from general mode to casual mode, though, we got along better. There were some good pick-ups on run-on sentences and comma use. Overall, only about 10 or 20 percent of the queries and suggestions were useful: most were overly pedantic or not appropriate in the context. It’s easy to ignore the suggestions you don’t want to apply, though.

Casual mode was so super-casual it didn’t query a two-word non-sentence like “Every time.” It also turned a blind eye to the use of double hyphens for dashes (“just like all her recipes–wet ingredients and dry ingredients”). I was surprised that those two things didn’t ring alarm bells.

The robotic nature of a program like Grammarly comes through when it tries to correct use of a singular verb with any noun ending with “s”, such as “Childs was a leading investor…” It also dislikes the use of “could” without a verb following it. Grammarly is not a fan of foreign phrases, either: über and maître d’ were both stumbling blocks.

Some of the suggestions to replace often-misused words seemed off-key. “Seated” was offered as a replacement for “sweated”, “while” instead of “whale”, and “to late” for “too late”.

You can select to check through only one category of queries at a time: subject and verb agreement, for instance, or capitalization. That could be handy if you have a particular area that you need help with. For me, the most useful checks were split infinitives (I don’t mind the occasional one, but Grammarly caught some nasties), redundancies (“exact same”) and passive voice.

Would I keep using Grammarly on a regular basis? Yes, I probably would. I ran the program on this blog post, and found two out of its nine suggestions useful (remembering that this article does include words such as über that I know will ring Grammarly’s alarm bells). It took just a minute or two, so I’d count that as a worthwhile check.

Can Grammarly take the place of an intelligent copy editor or proofreading? Not on your life. Think of it as the literary equivalent of feeding some coins into a massage chair versus booking a session with a good massage therapist. The chair’s going to pummel out some knots, but the therapist will deliver that deep healing experience.


There is no better time to be writing and publishing books than now. We’ve had the funeral when everyone thought books were dead, and now we’re in publishing paradise, where there are innumerable ways to write a book and to get it into the hands (five-fingered or digital) of your readers.

So what has changed?

Read the whole article on the Advance website here.


This week a motivational speaker asked me, “How do I find a ghostwriter who can capture my voice?”

She went on to explain that she had worked with writers before who seemed hellbent on cleaning her up. “I’m very opinionated and sometimes my language is pretty colorful. I don’t want anyone to change that – it’s who I am.”

Here are three tips for finding a writer who will catch your voice on the page.

  1. Don’t look for a writer who is your mirror image. A natural tendency is to look for a writer who is similar to you. If you’re a male sports coach from Michigan, you might think your perfect match will also be an athletic male from the Midwest. Not necessarily so. A good ghostwriter will be able to catch your voice regardless of how similar it is to their own “natural” voice. They will do it by being an attentive listener, working with transcripts or videos of your talks or your own writing pieces. I’d even go so far as to say that you may be better off with a writer whose background and style is quite different to your own. That way, you’re going to know pretty quickly whether it’s your voice or theirs coming through in the draft chapters.
  2. Check your writer’s track record. Can they show you some writing samples that demonstrate a range of styles, so that you can be confident of their ability to switch it up?
  3. Make sure that you agree on what your writing voice should sound like. Most of the people I work with don’t have a writing voice at all. They have a speaking voice, which is what they use when they act, or do public speaking, or give interviews. From that speaking voice I synthesize a written voice, and part of my process for working with a client is agreeing up front what that written voice is. Some people want their style tightened up and made more formal, while others – like my motivational speaker friend – want to keep a lively, loose style in their written work.

I’d love to hear about your experiences of working with a writing partner – has it been easy to get the voice right, or has it been a struggle?

leaninWe need to get over the idea that one book can do it all – lead a revolution, fix your life, explain the universe. Unless the author is Marx or God (who clearly had a lot of help from co-writers).

Lean In is written by Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg with Nell Scovell. It has been greeted by a bunch of hate. Here are the two main criticisms.

1. Sandberg is rich, powerful and privileged and therefore has no right to tell the rest of us anything. Right, so we’re not going to be reading the next book from Barak Obama or Richard Branson, are we? Be honest, would you say that about a man?

2. Lean In focuses on individual behavior rather than corporate accountability, and puts the onus on women to change how they behave. Sandberg heads up a corporation, so she knows corporations are made up of people; maybe that’s why she fails to demand that a shadowy figure called ‘they’ should behave differently. For Sandberg, ‘they’ equals ‘us’. In Lean In she recommends that we all change the way we work together. Yes, men too.

This book is not the whole conversation, far from it, but it’s a welcome addition.

I always take an interest in books that are a collaborative effort, and that’s one of the reasons I picked up Lean In. Sheryl Sandberg wrote this book with TV and magazine writer Nell Scovell. Maureen Corrigan on the NPR website called the writing tepid: ‘the book has that ironed-out quality of a collaborative project.’ I disagree. I found it funny and human, certainly more than I expected from a businessperson haling from the world of economics and corporate management. I wasn’t expecting Germaine Greer, and I didn’t get it, but I did get an engaging blend of the personal and the political.

Kudos to Scovell: my guess is that without her in the mix, Lean In might have been considerably less lively and likeable.

This is a third extract from my new ebook, Get Published. This one is towards the end of the book, looking at the big picture of being a published author.

Are you winning the war?

Kelly Gottuso Mortimer from Mortimer Literary Agency has this advice for writers. ‘Don’t concentrate on winning the battle (getting published); concentrate on winning the war (staying published – having a career as a writer!).’ Publishers and readers love writers who keep on delivering, who follow up one fantastic book with another, then another. Foundry Literary + Media’s Molly Glick says, ‘we’re always in search of “the one” – the author we can break out big, and grow from book to book.’

If you truly feel you have only one book in you, I suggest you think hard about whether the traditional publishing path is for you. Maybe you should publish your one book independently and bask in the glow of having achieved that one thing under your own steam, rather than seeking a relationship with an agent and a publisher and a readership that will end with this one book.

Just click on one of the links below to get the full story by buying a copy of Get Published for only $4.99.

Amazon Kindle

Gumroad (both Kindle and EPUB versions)

I’d like to introduce you to my new book: Get Published.

The idea behind Get Published is this: drawing on my twenty-something (don’t want to say exactly) years in book publishing plus picking the brains of lots of other publishers and literary agents, to make a punchy, fun-to-use guide that explains what publishers really want.

If you want to get your book published and you:

  1. didn’t know you needed to write a proposal
  2. don’t know how to start writing one
  3. have written one but got rejected umpteen times

– then this book is for you.

Even if you are planning to self-publish your book, you need to read Get Published: it will teach you how to think like a publisher, and that’s going to improve how you write your book and how you talk about it to the media, potential readers and other important people.

Get Published is short, sharp and to the point. It shows you what it takes to get your book published in today’s competitive and ever-changing market.

Because I am soooo cutting-edge, Get Published is available exclusively through Amazon and Gumroad(a groovy new site that makes it easy to sell and buy stuff online), in EPUB and Kindle editions. Hop onto Gumroad and if you’ve got a Kindle go for that edition; for everything else, EPUB is for you.

Just click on one of the links to check it out and buy a copy for only $4.99.


Matt Mullenweg knows a thing or two about making something amazing and putting it out in the world. He’s the founding developer of WordPress. You might have heard of it: it’s blogging software that’s used by, oh, 27 million people or so (including me – thanks, guys!). Matt writes a pretty tidy blog himself, and in a recent post he made some great points that resonate for writers and publishers too. Read more