SPS-227: Pro Writing Aid – The Personal Trainer for Authors – with Chris Banks

Chris Banks knows from personal experience how challenging it can be for an author to take their writing from good to great. He’s created ProWriting Aid to do just that; creating a tool that does much more than just correct your grammar.

Show Notes

  • Getting real time feedback on your writing with ProWriting Aid
  • The different types of reports ProWriting Aid offers
  • Making improvements to your book before you send it to an editor
  • Integrating with writing tools like Scrivener and Word
  • How AI is affecting how we read and write, and what the future might hold
  • The differences between ProWriting Aid and Grammarly

Resources mentioned in this episode:

PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page

WEBINAR: Latest on Amazon Ads with Janet Margo. Reserve your seat here.

WEBINAR: The Three Secrets of Bestselling Authors with Suzy Quinn. Reserve your seat here.

MERCH: Are you a ligneous beetle or a yawning hippopotamus? Get your SPF hoodies and t-shirts in the brand new SPF Store.


SPS-227: Pro Writing Aid - The Personal Trainer for Authors - with Chris Banks

Speaker 1: On this edition of The Self-Publishing Show.

Chris Banks: At the end of the day, you're telling a story and you're telling that story whether you're writing fiction, non-fiction, a sales email, a cover letter. You're telling the story of you and the same principles apply in terms of clear and concise writing that engages the reader and makes them want to carry on reading.

Speaker 1: Publishing is changing. No more gatekeepers. No more barriers. No one standing between you and your readers. Do you want to make a living from your writing?

Join Indie Bestseller Mark Dawson and first time author James Blatch as they shine a light on the secrets of self-publishing success. This is The Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.

James Blatch: Yes. Hello and welcome to The Self-Publishing with me, James Blatch.

Mark Dawson: And me, Mark Dawson.

James Blatch: We're finally, slowly emerging from our lockdown burrows out into the open. We went for a nice walk yesterday in the woods with the dog a little big further from home. Drove there. Not strictly allowed in the rules before, but they are allowed now.

You can go out as many times as you like as long as you've got good reason. Our cricket club, Net, opened on Saturday with strict rules in place. Ten minutes between sessions. Have to book them no more than two people. No more than one per household, sorry. You can have someone else not in your household, but only with one other person and you mustn't come within two meters. And you've got to play with your own balls. You're not allowed to-

Mark Dawson: Excuse me?

James Blatch: You're not allowed to touch the other person's balls, but you can kick their balls.

Mark Dawson: Oh, thank you.

James Blatch: So, the batsman can kick the ball back. This is like a batting cage cricket now. Once you've played your shot, you can kick their ball, but you're not allowed to pick it up and throw it back.

Mark Dawson: Are you allowed to apply saliva to the balls?

James Blatch: Definitely not. Unless they're your balls and then you can do that.

Mark Dawson: Okay. Excellent.

James Blatch: I'm going to play tennis this afternoon with my son and that's similar rules. All these rules are there. Sort of feels like this might be the new normal for a bit. But some of the figures ... A little bit of COVID here, because it's obviously the subject in everyone's mind. Some of the figures in the UK. The death toll went down quite a lot, although Mondays there's normally a spike because the stuff comes in over the weekend.

Mark Dawson: Sundays and Mondays it's slow. Tuesday's there's a spike.

James Blatch: Yes, Tuesdays is a spike. But the number of new infections at the end of last week in London, in one day they said they had 24 new infections, and they used to be four figures a day. So, that's a dramatic difference if that's the case.

So, some normality approaching, but normality will not be what it was before until we have some way out of this. A vaccine solution. So, a lot of things we've talked about. About people having more time on their hands, people being at home more, probably are still going to apply for some time yet.

Let me say a very quick hello to some new Patreons subscribers who have come along and they are called Heather Kelly, who's is in MA, which I think is Massachusetts rather than Maine. I think. In the USA. And Paulina, Paulina, have you seen this name?

Mark Dawson: Just counting it down to see how long I have to wait before you let me say anything. Three minutes and fifteen seconds so far.

James Blatch: Oh, you haven't said anything yet?

Mark Dawson: I said hello and then I made a joke about licking your balls.

James Blatch: What have you got to say?

Mark Dawson: Oh, well, you know, we don't have long enough really to go into what I have to say. No one wants to listen to me, James. They all want to listen to you. You're the expert.

James Blatch: Yeah. Exactly. Yeah, I don't think that's true. I can't even say this. Paulina Siwiera. S-I-W-I-E-R-A.

Mark Dawson: Oh, well. I'll have a look. Oh, yes. I'm not going to say anything. That's quite hard.

James Blatch: Paulina Siwiera.

Mark Dawson: Well, we're very grateful.

James Blatch: We're very grateful, Paulina.

Mark Dawson: Even though you butchered her name. Paulina, so apologies.

James Blatch: Thank you so much indeed. They went to

Mark Dawson: What's wrong with you today?

James Blatch: I don't know. Well, because people say patreon, don't they? Everyone says patreon. I listened to an interview yesterday of Graham-

Mark Dawson: That's because the site is called patreon. It's not called patron.

James Blatch: I know, but I've been saying patron, haven't I? Forever.

Mark Dawson: No, you've said patreon. You said it yesterday.

James Blatch: I think I say patron. Anyway, that one. Say it how you like.

Mark Dawson: You say potato. I say potato. Let's call the whole thing off.

James Blatch: Thank you very much indeed for being a part of this show. We have a very exciting webinar coming up.

We should say our bestseller course was a roaring success. Written and produced by us, presented by Suzy K. Quinn, bestselling author here in the UK who really nails down those key ingredients of why some books sells, some don't to help you with your work in progress for your next book. And it flew off the shelves like hotcakes.

We've decided to double down on this. So, we're going to do as much as we can around the subject. There's obviously a thirst for knowledge here.

We have set up a webinar, which will be on May, 27th where Suzy will go through some of those secrets of the traditional publishing industry or publishing in general that you can take away with you and start to form your commercially orientated manuscripts, manuscripts that people are going to want to buy. And try and create those bestselling series, the thing we're all trying to do.

That will be on May, 27th. So, it's a nice easy URL for you to remember. May 27. So, I'm going to put that out there today for registration for the first time. I expect that to be a busy webinar. Suzy will be presenting it alongside me and we're going to learn those things. It's great. I mean, the secrets.

Some people in here will think about this stuff all the time. Other people work, and I know this because we get emails from people and have conversations at conferences people say, "This is what I'm working on." Often you find yourself tying to be as polite as possible and say, "How many other people are writing a book like that? Who is your model? What's your commercial journey here? Because you're writing something I don't think there's a market for, you know?"

So, it's interesting but if you want to make money out of it, that's a whole different way. What Suzy does is pushes all that self, I'm doing it for me type thing and just narrows down to what readers want, which is how we should start this process.

Then of course the trick is to find something that you like writing and want to enjoy writing, because that's got to be a part of it, right?

Mark Dawson: Yes.

James Blatch: You can speak now.

Mark Dawson: Oh, thank you. That's nice. Yes, that is six and a half minutes before I get to say something. Yes. That's pretty much how it breaks down I think.

It's a good course. Suzy's done a very good job. We've had four figures in terms of people signing up for it, which we were very pleasantly surprised about which is great. That will be a good webinar to go to.

Speaking of webinars I was talking to John this morning about the Amazon Ads webinar that we're giving. I don't know the date now. It's kind of moot at this point. There's no point even mentioning it, James, because we've had so many registrations. We knew it would be busy.

If you've registered for that webinar, there's two things. I would say get there nice and early so you can actually be in the webinar room 15 minutes before we start. Maybe James will come on and do some juggling or something. We can talk about balls or whatever nonsense we want to distract you with until the actual webinar starts.

The second thing is we will probably do a second webinar. Towards the end of the ads for Authors Launch. I don't know when that will be yet. We'll make sure everyone knows. So, there's another chance to come and see that live if you don't get into the room the first time out. I knew it would be busy. I've seen the course coming together now the Ad Generator course on Amazon Ads and I'll be adding some stuff in there as well.

It is looking really good. It's very thorough. It's very detailed. There's I think 18 modules. Each of those modules is broken down into sessions. There might even be more than 18 modules come to think about it. So, it's going to be a really good one.

I've seen the content that Janet is going to be covering in the webinar and that's really good too. It's definitely one, if you've signed up, you should definitely try and come along to it. If you don't get in the first one, don't worry. We'll do a second one to make sure as many people as possible can get on board.

James Blatch: Okay. Excellent. Good.

We've got a brilliant guest on today. We've got a guest who I'm genuinely excited to speak to, a bit of a celebrity, although you probably don't know his name. His name is Chris Banks, and you will be familiar with him or many of you will be familiar with his work I should say, because he is the man behind ProWritingAid.

ProWritingAid is one of those tools that floats about for a bit and I think it's a bit like Vellum. At some point you try it out and the moment you try it out you realize its value and you realize how it can fit into your workflow.

He's a really intelligent, interesting man who thinks a lot about its being used. All those questions people have about these types of tools. Are they going to homogenize all our writing? He thinks about this stuff all the time and how the tool can be adapted for different needs. It's a really good interview about what's available now with ProWritingAid, how you should use it, and teasingly what's coming in the future, which is very exciting.

So, let's hear from Chris Banks then. Mark and I will be back for a quick chat off the back.

Chris from ProWritingAid. Look, we don't often see some of these tools that we use, Scrivener, ProWritingAid, Grammarly Author, and then we'll talk about the differences in a bit. We don't always see the people behind them, and here you are. Are you the person behind ProWritingAid? Is it you?

Chris Banks: I am for my sins.

James Blatch: Well, it's a household name in the author community and it's a, I have to say, very well regarded tool. I wasn't really sure like most people what it was, how it worked.

Chris Banks: Yeah.

James Blatch: Downloaded it on my manuscript and immediately became a fan, like almost everybody I think who gets into ProWritingAid, immediately saw the benefit of it. It does throw up something interesting questions.

You've alluded when I asked you for some notes for the interview. One of them is about changing writing style, ending up with this homogeneous writing style, which I think is a small threat, but is an interesting area to talk about. But let's move on to that later.

First of all, why don't we describe what ProWritingAid is and how it works.

Chris Banks: It's interesting you say a lot of people don't really know what it is before they come to it. I think people are familiar with the concept of a spell checker and a grammar checker.

ProWritingAid is something that goes well beyond that. It does include spell checking and grammar checking, but the idea is that it's more of a teaching and feedback tool.

The idea is it helps you where you need it, which is on your writing. Most writing advice you get is without the context of your own writing and experience. It's very hard to then relate that specifically to what you're writing at the time; whereas ProWritingAid is giving you real time feedback on your writing and providing resources for learning at the same time.

So, the idea is, nobody is a perfect writer, right? And nobody in the world wouldn't benefit from learning something. I always say even top tennis players, top football players have coaches and there's a reason for that because you need an outside feedback mechanism.

ProWritingAid provides you with feedback when you're writing. It helps create a positive feedback loop. It's questioning the things you're writing. It's making you think is that the best way I could be expressing the ideas I want to get across. It's helping you achieve a better level of writing through that.

James Blatch: That's an interesting observation at the beginning about you get taught, you read stuff on how to write and how to use good grammar and all the rest of it, but as you say, doesn't take into account what you're actually doing. What ProWritingAid can do quite quickly is surprise you with things you didn't know you were doing, like repetition of words and so on.

It's feedback, as you say, directly on what you're doing.

Chris Banks: I really love sports. Skiing and tennis. One of the key things for me when you're trying to improve at sports is getting feedback in terms of a video image of yourself, because what you find as soon as you see video is that what you're doing-

James Blatch: Is not what you think.

Chris Banks: -in your life is completely different from what you actually think. Yeah.

That's a similar idea with ProWritingAid. It's giving you that outside feedback, and as you say, it frees up things that you didn't even realize that you were doing. Things that you repeat, phrases that you overuse all the time, and your penchant for the passive voice, that kind of thing.

James Blatch: Yeah. I'm pretty certain I do look like Albert Tumba in real life, but don't video me and disabuse me of that image.

Let's talk about how it works then. So, when I got in I was reading through the instructions. The first thing I noticed is it works better in chunks. So, maybe a chapter or a scene at a time, rather than the entire ... It can do the entire manuscript, but it seems to work better. So, you load up a chunk of text, and we'll perhaps talk technically about how it links in with Scrivener, et cetera, later.

You load up a chunk of text, let's say a scene, and then what is it going to tell you?

Chris Banks: So, again, it really depends on what you're writing. The different reports are designed for specific types of writing. We have things that are specifically for fiction writers.

There are reports for dialogue and dialogue tags, on pacing, not putting too much backstory in all at the same time and creating kind of a blockage for the reader. And there's also reports aiming for academics and business writers as well. Even if you're just writing an email to your publisher or trying to get a publisher, we can help with that as well.

So, there's a wide range of reports. There's about 20 reports. It's very much at the beginning a learning experience, like which reports work for you and your particular writing style, because I think everybody has their own strengths and weaknesses.

There's a summary report, which is a great place to start. That runs a broad selection of all the reports, then it aims to give you key actions, which we think are the main things that will help improve your writing.

That is a theme that runs throughout the tool is that we realize that people only have a certain amount of time to work on whatever they're writing. If it's an email it might be a couple of minutes to improve it, but if it's your novel, it might be that you want to invest a lot more time in improving it so you'll go into greater depth.

We always try and point you at the areas in your writing where you'll get the most rewards in the least amount of time. So, that might be we run a readability check that runs per paragraph and that will point you at the paragraphs that have the poorest readability.

We have a report that runs something called "sticky sentences" which is one of my favorite reports. That points you at specific sentences that the reader might find hard to read. And so the idea is within the amount of time you have you can then focus on the things that gain the most from your attention.

James Blatch: Behind all this is some obviously quite technical, artificial intelligence that's reading sentences, spotting things that humans would find more difficult to read and suggesting a more efficient way of ordering the words.

Chris Banks: Yeah, I think a lot of what we do actually you can do yourself. So, for instance, passive voice. You can go through your entire document and you could find every instance of the passive voice and say, okay, I've got to rewrite this in the active voice.

But that would take you a long time, right? Because you'd have to read through the whole document and underline every passive voice and edit it; whereas you can run a passive voice checker and it will do it in three seconds. What time would it take you to read your whole document?

Similarly with other things you could go through and find every adverb in your text and then look at changing it; whereas what we'll do is we'll go through and we'll highlight every adverb and then we'll suggest replacements for the adverb with a verb combination to help you. That saves you the time of having to go away, find the adverbs in the first place, and then get out a thesaurus and think, okay, what is a good combination or will give me a stronger verb so I can get rid of this adverb?

Similarly with readability you could by hand go through and crunch all the numbers on how many syllables in a sentence and then work out the readability yourself, but you'd end up wanting to kill yourself because it would be so boring. So we're just taking a lot of the work out of the process of editing. The investment is a saving of your time. It's huge.

That's the aim, right? It's not to replace a human editor, but it's supposed to help you improve it before you send it to an editor so that you get more value from the editor as well and you don't lose yourself in the editing process, which I think can happen to a lot of people. They spend so much time in editing in the end they just give up because it's such an overwhelming task.

James Blatch: I know that feeling. So the question then arises, and this is something you identified yourself as a talking point, is if we all use ProWritingAid and we all accept more or less the offers of reordering sentences:

Is it going to dampen down our individual voice, the spirit in our individual voice, and homogenize our writing?

Chris Banks: The answer to that is definitely not. It's not designed to homogenize writing. What we often do is we take the meaning that you created and help you reword it into a better form. Actually sometimes we can't even suggest how you should reword it.

So for instance, sticky sentences, all it's doing is saying this sentence needs looking at, and then it's up to you, because often to fix sticky sentences requires a bigger rewrite of the sentence than a machine can actually do. As I said, it's designed as a positive feedback loop. It's taking your style and helping you amplify it and make it more impactful. It's not taking it and turning it into this sort of homogenized commodity writing.

James Blatch: Does this work for all types of manuscripts? How about non-fiction?

Chris Banks: Definitely. As I alluded to earlier, there are reports for all different types of writing. I think people often think of non-fiction and fiction as very, very different. At the end of the day, you're telling a story and you're telling that story whether you're writing fiction, non-fiction, a sales email, a cover letter. You're telling the story of you and the same principles apply in terms of clear and concise writing that engages the reader and makes them want to carry on reading.

James Blatch: Yeah and of course actually the best non-fiction is very close to fiction I think. Dove Sobel's books of biographies and Tomalim, Samuel Pete's biography and thinking about books I've read and I think in my mind almost like a novel.

Chris Banks: Yeah.

James Blatch: So, actually it's going to help non-fiction. Non-fiction writers might also fall into groups less writery if you like. Their passion may be about a subject whereas most of us want to write. And so this could be a particularly helpful tool for them.

Chris Banks: Yeah, and for instance the pacing I think is particularly pertinent in non-fiction, because you do fall into that trap of pacing a lot of facts whereas the thing that makes non-fiction interesting is the action that is harder to insert almost into non-fiction because you have to bring that more out of your imagination.

James Blatch: And what about those brave souls who write in a very stylized way who want to go for an On the Road Kerouac type thing or Dr. Seuss? Children's books that have particularly flowery language or poetic language.

Is at some point ProWritingAid not going to be suitable?

Chris Banks: I think that some reports will stop being useful to certain types of writing, but you'd be amazed at the number of people who are using it for writing poetry even.

James Blatch: Wow.

Chris Banks: It did really surprise me to find that out. So, it's gone beyond almost the bounds of what I thought it would be useful for when I originally started creating it.

James Blatch: And how does it work in terms of ... so most people write in Scrivener, I think. As far as I can tell the kind of standard work flow for people is they often start in Scrivener. They end up moving to Word, because editors tend to like Word. So, at some point they're working in Word, maybe back from the proof editor.

Do you copy and paste from these different platforms or is there an integration?

Chris Banks: We always say that people want to write where they want to write, right? There's hundreds of different writing environments out there. Some people like minimalist. Some people like the power of Scrivener. As you said, editors often prefer working in Word, because that's what they're used to.

We take the approach of we'll try and integrate to as many places as we can to make it as easy as possible for people, because the less friction there is in having to move your writing around ... and everybody know that experience of kind of copying and pasting something and suddenly all the formatting has disappeared and they have to spend an hour restoring it all and it's a waste of everybody's time.

We have a desktop app that opens up Scrivener projects so you can just work in sync with your Scrivener project. We'll say it also works great with Word. So, we have a plug-in for Microsoft Word. We have browser extensions for Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Microsoft Edge. So, we try and take it to wherever you're writing and make it as easy for you to use the product as possible.

James Blatch: Good. We should also say how much it is. I know you do discount it from time to time. It's worth looking out for that.

What are the price points?

Chris Banks: We have a year license, which is 70 US roughly. Then we also offer lifetime license which is something that a lot of people that don't do and there are a lot of people who don't like playing annual subscriptions. So, we've go a lifetime license for 240 dollars. That includes all the upgrades over the lifetime of the product.

James Blatch: Tell me a bit about the company itself, Chris, and where the genesis was. Was this your idea?

Chris Banks: We probably had a very similar experience. I recall reading something that you wrote where you said you started off. You said you spent three or four years learning how to be a successful writer and I had the same frustration when I started trying to write a novel.

I'd done a lot of writing previously in jobs, but it had all been business writing. I'd say it was all driven by a background in consultancy and research. Then I started trying to write creatively and I realized, wow, this is really different and really hard.

Again, I read lots of information about writing and creative writing. And I was like, how am I going to keep all of this in my head? So I decided I'll create something that keeps me in check, right? So, it will look at what I've written and say you've got to do this or you've got to do that.

So, it just started as this sort of little hobby. Then it's grown from there. That was about seven years ago. I decided to focus on that because I broke my ankle and my wife and I were supposed to be taking ski season and I obviously couldn't ski with a broken ankle. I was like, well, what am I going to do?

I said, okay, I'll focus on this because I'm finding it really interesting and I got out a free version at that point, started to get feedback from people. It was very positive. Then it's grown from there. So now we're a company of about 25 people all working on improving the product. It's going really well.

James Blatch: What sort of technical background did you have?

Chris Banks: I had a mixture. Obviously, I had been writing a lot of research and that involved a lot of data analysis. Obviously some of that involved using computers. So, I had that background. But obviously with the writing combined, so it was that combination that allowed me to create a tool to help myself.

James Blatch: That doesn't sound to me like you had a software, programming background.

How did you set about creating? Or did you instruct coders to do this?

Chris Banks: No. I started myself and I had some ... So, for instance when we were doing research, we'd put out these big reports, sometimes 200 pages long. They had a lot of formatting. So, we'd created tools to help us do all the formatting and automate all of the boring side of writing these large reports.

I had learned more of the technical side through doing that. Then this is kind of a natural extension of that. Instead of just doing the formatting it's actually helping with the text as well.

James Blatch: Now, what about the future, Chris? There's lots of talk about AI at the moment. There's other tools coming up into the market now that can apparently tell you whether your novel aligns with bestselling novels in terms of its pace and structure, that sort of thing happening.

Occasionally, someone pointed this out to me, how to spot them, but occasionally you'll read a small news article somewhere on the web or even in a print newspaper that actually has been written by an AI, usually in the financial sector. A computer can read a press release and turn it into a bit of copy for newspaper.

Are we getting to the point where your type of tool can do even more in terms of perhaps generating some of the story? Do you think that's down the line?

Chris Banks: I don't think we'll do more in terms of generating stories with creative writing, but I think where we want to take this and the area that I find particularly interesting is the idea of computational creativity. So, that's basically using a computer to inspire a human.

If you plugged in an idea and said I've got this idea where my cat is walking though the forest. Then the tool will help you expand that idea. It will help you add richness to that idea, because that's what computers can do. They can go out and do a big search of lots of different things and bring it all together and give you that information.

I always like to think of an example of a vineyard. If you were writing something set in a vineyard, you'd brainstorm the words associated with a vineyard. You'd come up with the first ten probably fairly quickly. Then the next ten would take you twice as long, then you'd start to get really stuck. What else can I say?

James Blatch: Yeah.

Chris Banks: Whereas a computer can go out and it can read a thousand articles about vineyards. It can extract all of the terminology and the phrases from those articles and it can bring them all together and put them on the screen for you.

You can immediately say, oh, I hadn't thought about those words. Imagine all of the words that you see when you're reading a wine menu that wouldn't naturally spring into your mind, right? So it's kind of like crisp autumn blossoms and-

James Blatch: Yeah.

Chris Banks: It can bring all of those words together and give them to you so that you can then take them all and weave them into your story. Then you're creating a story that's got richer imagery which will be more captivating for your reader.

And for me that's one of the difficult bits about writing is coming up with that vocabulary, right? The vocabulary that's on the edge of the vocabulary that you use every day. Helping people to access that vocabulary I think will make writing a lot easier for them.

James Blatch: Do you see this down the line as being a separate product or are you going to build on the platform you've got?

Chris Banks: I think there are, as you said, two possibilities. I think we definitely want to build that more into the core product. But the broader research side of things I think might form a separate product as well, an earlier stage product where you're actually at the beginning of the writing process, because the main tool is more at the end of the writing process.

James Blatch: We should mention one of your, I guess is seen as a competitor, which is Grammarly, who I can tell you just by watching YouTube spend a lot of money on social media advertising. So, they have quite a high profile, paid for high profile. I know lots of people do use Grammarly and there's a free version as well, isn't there? I think of Grammarly still, is there? There used to be.

Chris Banks: Yep.

James Blatch: What is the essential difference between ProWritingAid and Grammarly?

Chris Banks: Grammarly is more on the side of the traditional grammar checker. They do do some things around style checking, but it's more of an insurance policy, I think. People use it because they don't want to make a mistake. They don't use it because they want to produce a much better end product.

So, it's taking something from potentially incorrect to okay; whereas our focus is much more on taking something from okay to good. So, helping you beyond grammar checking to produce a much better manuscript. That's why we have this wide variety of reports that allows people to dig into more depth into certain areas of their writing.

Grammarly is very homogeneous tool that just looks at your writing and gives you one check which is the grammar and style check; whereas we allow you to go into much more depths and learn a lot more about what you're doing with your writing. So, I think what Grammarly does is a very small part of what we do.

James Blatch: Yeah. I led you on to that. I could have answered that question because I've used both. I'm a big fan of ProWritingAid.

Actually, it's chalk and cheese. Once you start using ProWritingAid, you understand what that product does and how it can help you. Grammarly is just, as you said, a small part of that, an enhanced spell check and it does a little bit of grammar.

Frankly, I think Word does grammar as well. It always has had a feature in there.

Chris Banks: Yeah. And I think it's interesting because it goes back to where we started this where you said people don't understand what your tool is. I think grammar checking is the path into starting to use the tool.

A lot of people discover ProWritingAid because it incorporates grammar checking and then they realize how much more it can do and then that's when they start to get the real benefits from the tool. Then they become the advocates of the tool.

James Blatch:I think tha t's one of the things that does happen with ProWritingAid, the people who use it become advocates of it. I see that in our community in posts. It is something once you start using people become firm fans of. So, I'd recommend people have a dip into it.

Do you do a free trail or anything like that?

Chris Banks: Yeah. We realize that everybody wants to write and obviously some people don't have the financial means to be able to tell their stories. We have a completely free version which just has limited functionality. You can't use it with add-ins, but you can use it on the web. That works for a lot of people.

Then we have the premium version which gives you access to all of the plug-ins and unlimited word counts and those kinds of things.

James Blatch: Okay. Apart from Googling ProWritingAid which I'm sure will get to you, where is your home on the web?

Chris Banks:

James Blatch: Which makes sense. Okay.

Chris Banks: Yeah. Nice and easy.

James Blatch: Good.

Chris Banks: That's what it says on the tin.

James Blatch: Yeah. Exactly. Didn't do anything clever there, too clever. You're writing yourself, Chris?

Chris Banks: Yeah. I write every day, honestly. It's part of my job. The novel has kind of taken a bit of a backseat.

James Blatch: So you and I really are quite similar in that sense. Except it was my wife who got a broken ankle in there from skiing.

Chris Banks: Oh, really?

James Blatch: Yeah. So, there are some similarities. So, your novel's on the back burner at the moment?

Chris Banks: Yes. I'm still adding little bits to it here and there. One day I think when ProWritingAid is fully formed, grown up and left the home.

James Blatch: Everyone's talking at the moment about this enforced, because I'm in isolation. You're in Spain. You're in isolation. This period now you can start your writing and do stuff. But in our particular jobs almost nothing changes. In fact, I'm busier at the moment just doing my day job, but the writing I will get to it. Like you will I'm sure at some point.

Chris, well look, it's really, really interesting to talk to the man behind a product that I'm familiar with. I know lots of people are. I hope lots of people listen to this particular episode who haven't heard of ProWritingAid will have a look into it, because I do think it's something that enhances your writing. I think it really does.

It will point out things you don't realize you're doing wrong that just get in the way of you telling the story. Just stop you. Those clumsy sentences, which we all write from time to time. They look quite beautiful.

And you don't have to accept every change that's offered by ProWritingAid would be my advice in using it. It is a case of reading and sometimes you might want to leave something in there that ProWritingAid has pointed out to you as not quite right for your own reasons, because it's esoteric. It may be colloquial or something. But it's good to know that, to make that as a positive decision, not as an accident.

Chris Banks: Yep. I do it myself. Sometimes I ignore our own advice.

James Blatch: There you go. From the man himself. Well, Chris, thank you so much indeed for joining us today. It's been really interesting. As I was saying, I hope people who have not heard of ProWritingAid will give it a try, because personally I think it's something that really can enhance your writing.

Do you use ProWritingAid, Mark?

Mark Dawson: I do, yes. Not extensively, but it has a couple purposes that I do like to take advantage of. I think the way that goes, I find one of the weaknesses in my writing is I will include the same word, and it doesn't even have to be an unusual word, just like the word "building".

If you have the word building in two separate sentences is when it might be more graceful or elegant to have an alternative the second time you use it. Sometimes if I notice it when I'm reading through, I'll change it, but oftentimes those will just pass me by.

One of the things you can do with ProWritingAid is to ask it to look for repeats and echoes. It will flag out instances of the same word within an approximate location of another instance, then you can change it. It's really good at that.

If I had an ideal workflow, and it never really works like this, but I think a really useful thing to do would be to run a manuscript through your beta readers and then run it through, copy edit it first of all, then your beta readers. I then put it through a proofreader to make sure I haven't introduced new errors in the edit, but I think a useful thing to do would be perhaps after that to then run it through ProWritingAid before the proofreader. It just gives it another filter to go through before you pass it to a final checker and then you put the book live. I think that would be a very valuable inclusion in a workflow.

James Blatch: Yeah, there's something exciting stuff in the world of AI, which I know you're not a massive fan of, but in the technical world of analyzing-

Mark Dawson: I am. When it's done properly.

James Blatch: Yeah. Well, we'll see. All coming down the line.

Chris Banks. What a really interesting guy. I wonder if we should do, definitely if he's got time, he's the sort of guy we could do more with in the future potentially even a webinar. I think using, there's a lot, probably a bit like Scrivener stuff under the bonnet hidden away in the menus in Scrivener people don't always realize. Probably without question the same with ProWritingAid.

So, I'll get back in touch with Chris after this interview. I know this interview's going to go well.

It's funny those words. You say that and that's good self-awareness, but it does draw more when it's a slightly more unusual word. Someone picks up and you find that actually quite often in writing.

Dan Brown who is, and I know he's always used as the joke author. It really annoys me on films and TV episodes. Oh, God, do you read Dan Brown? And every editor that you speak to loves him because they understand how hard it is to write a book that you can't put down like that. Quite rightly. But you read his books he does, and I think you use the same expression actually in your early notes on books. Your characters never got in a car and drove off. They always gunned the engine.

Mark Dawson: Oh, right. Yeah. That's a lazy cliché.

James Blatch: His character definitely gunned the engine every single time he got into his car after a bit. But lots of authors do that so that it's technology now enabling you, because it's a big unwieldy thing, a manuscript, right? A hundred thousand words if your one is half the size of mine.

Actually, that's a daunting prospect to think looking at this Word document on Scrivener thinking, "I wonder if I repeated a few words?" You do need, you do need technology to help you.

Mark Dawson: The only way you can figure out yourself is if, I mean, the times I, makes me grit my teeth, is when I'm listening to one of my audiobooks back. When you listen to it that way, it's very obvious. So, I mean, you can actually get your computer to read your book back to you. That's a way of catching those.

But for me I don't really have time to listen to a robotic voice for eight hours to read through a book. So, any way that I can abbreviate that process and make it more convenient is a win. ProWritingAid enables you to do that. And of course, it does tons more than just-

James Blatch: Yes.

Mark Dawson: There's lots of things that it does, but that's just one particular use that I've got good value out of.

James Blatch: Yeah. Excellent. Good. Well, thank you very much.

I should say to Chris Banks, our guest today, we'll definitely try to do more with Chris if he's available. I think from memory he was down in Spain or somewhere, I think is where he lives now, and it was locking down as we started that interview at the beginning of this process. That's how long this has been going on, because our interview sits for a few weeks on the shelf. But yes, starting to creep into that era.

You're going to start to hear COVID mentioned in interviews a bit more. Changes our landscape, hasn't it?

Mark Dawson: Just a little bit, yeah. This is the first full day I've had in the office for about two months. So, we've got a tutor in for the kids. She came in today, this morning. I just got a text from my wife saying it was amazing. The kids have done all their work before lunch and now are sitting in the sunshine.

It just goes to show, they won't listen to us. They'll moan and complain when we tell them to do things, but you introduce someone who they don't know and they're not going to be rude to and amazing things happen. So, that's probably the best ... I don't know how much it's costing us. It's not cheap, but it's going to be the best money that I think I've spent for some time.

James Blatch: So that's how that works with parents and outsiders. Yes.

The other thing I was going to say is that we don't know at this stage, it's still very early days as we come out of the strictest measures as to where the conferences are. I think ThrillerFest has already gone online.

Mark Dawson: I'm being interviewed for that one next week.

James Blatch: There you go.

Mark Dawson: Yes.

James Blatch: So, they're doing an online version of it. As far as I know, NINC-

Mark Dawson: NINC is deciding in July.

James Blatch: Yep. So, they've got a plan in the background.

Mark Dawson: They do.

James Blatch: What's going to happen if they don't take place physically. At the moment, 20 Books, as far as Craig is concerned is on in person in Vegas. Live and in person in Vegas. But we'll keep you up to date with those as they develop.

Have you got anything else to say?

Mark Dawson: Well, I think about conferences we should be thinking about what date we look at next year, shouldn't we?

James Blatch: Yes. We've had an initial chat with Amazon about that.

Mark Dawson: They are very keen to be involved again.

James Blatch: Yeah.

Mark Dawson: Or to be involved. They were generous to give us a nice chunk of money last time, but they couldn't come because the week before, the Friday before actually, the edict came down from Seattle prohibiting anyone from traveling. So, they all have been working from home for longer than we have.

They are interested. They want to sponsor again and they want to come this time. So, we are looking, I think it will be in the summertime. Kind of summer next year, which is going to be a little bit of a gamble for us, because we can book a venue and be responsible for paying for it, but then if we have to cancel it, we won't have any insurance.

James Blatch: Yeah.

Mark Dawson: So, it's going to be an interesting time for people doing live events I think.

James Blatch: And we are looking because the size and scale of it next year, we are looking at a venue cost of around 75 thousand dollars, which is a reasonable chunk of change to lose if we don't go ahead with it. So, yeah. Food for thought.

Okay. Well, we're working on that in the background and again, we'll let you know, of course, as soon as there's tickets available for that.

Okay, Mark. Thank you very much indeed. I think all that leaves me to say is that it's been ... That it is in fact a goodbye from him.

Mark Dawson: And a goodbye from me.

James Blatch: Goodbye.

Mark Dawson: Goodbye.

Speaker 1: Get show notes, the podcast archive, and free resources to boost your writing career at Join our thriving Facebook group at Support the show at And join us next week for more help and inspiration so that you can make your mark as a successful Indie author. Publishing is changing, so get your words into the world and join the revolution with The Self-Publishing Show.

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SPF-135: The 2018 Indie Author Toolkit – with Mark Dawson

This Week's Handout


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A countdown of the best and most popular tools for writers in 2018, including input from the SPF community about what their favourite authors tools are.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Podcast’s Patreon page

PDF DOWNLOAD: Click here to get the PDF with all the tools and links listed.

PODCAST EP 61: with Dave Chesson from KDP Rocket

PODCAST EP 34: with the two Brads from Vellum

PODCAST EP 101: with Damon Courtney from BookFunnel

EBOOK FORMATTER: At Draft2Digital (You need an account but then the formatting tool is free.)


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