Every writer has certain software tools that she depends on to make her life easier. The ten tools below are my choices. I’m picky about software that works for the way both my creative brain and business brain work. For me time is money.
Note that all links below go directly to vendors. I am not affiliated with any of them. These are just the tools that work well for me at a price I deem reasonable for the things I need them to do.
- Write with Microsoft Word. ($59-$79 for one digital license and download) Call me old fashioned but I still write in Microsoft Word. I’ve been with that program since its initial outing in MS-DOS in 1983. I’ve tried a variety of other tools that people like — Scrivener, Open Office, Pages, and Google Docs. I tried the last three in a fit of Office 365 hate when Microsoft went to monthly pricing. However, I always returned to Word within a month because it did everything I needed it to do with no other complicating options. Fortunately, with digital licenses I can hang on to a copy of Word without paying the monthly fee. If I want to upgrade, I purchase the upgraded digital license. I’ve written over 25 books, hundreds of published articles — both academic and otherwise — and hundreds of blog posts on a variety of platforms. I do all of them in Word and then transfer them to whatever platform or file type I need. Because Word is so ubiquitous most software will use it as an import or will export a Word document as needed.
- Organize with Microsoft Excel. ($59-$79 for one digital license and download) Yes, another nod to Microsoft even though I’ve been on a MAC for the past decade. Because of Excel’s computation capabilities, it is the perfect organizational tool for me. I create my annual release schedule on it. I keep track of all my book links and the metadata relating to each title on it. This includes: title, release date, keywords, pricing, ISBNs related to each title (ebook, paperback, hardback, audiobook), distribution links, direct sales links, website links, word count, read time, listening time (audiobooks), versioning, and BISAC codes. A secondary reason for using Excel is that all of my income from distributors and my Payhip direct sales site exports CSV files. This means I can link those to my Excel spreadsheet and immediately have information on sales for each title to make decisions about providing additional or different metadata moving forward.
- BBedit (Free to $49) There is a paid version but it’s only worth it if you do a lot of coding and want a good line editor for that. I use the free version of BBedit primarily for copy & paste from other source documents, and as an “idea catcher.” I do some minor HTML or CSS coding, but rarely. BBEdit is a basic text tool with no formatting. This is often important for me when I’m quoting from other places on the web or copying research information from PDFs that bring formatting with them. I can copy them into BBEdit and it strips all the formatting. They I can copy part or all of the information into a Word document without screwing up fonts and other formatting. I also use it to start a basic project, topic, or book ideas to contain my brainstorming notes. More recently I found the Apple app for Notes. I might explore it, but right now I’ve been using BBedit and its precurser Textr for two decades.
- Vellum Press for Formatting Files for Ebook and Print. ($ 250-lifetime license) Vellum is a template-based system that will import a Word document and then output appropriately formatted MOBI, EPUB, and PDF files that work for all major distributors. If you have a clean Word file going in (e.g., all new chapters are defined with a formatted heading (e.g., H1), it is very quick to create a beautiful book. My turn around time on formatting for myself is 10–15 minutes on a 300-page book. Prior to Vellum, I used Jutoh for ebook formatting and InDesign for the print books. The average time between the two of them was 4–6 hours. I distribute to approximately 26 different vendors for ebooks and to both Amazon and Ingram for print books. I’ve never had a problem with any of the files Vellum creates for me.The downside of Vellum is that it is for Apple operating systems only. For those who are PC users, there are two free programs that work similarly though not quite as easy as Vellum. They are Reedsy’s Book Editor and Draft2Digital’s Ebook Templates. Both of these use a template system, like Vellum. If you want to know more about them, please ask in the comments.
- Get Response for Email Management. ($15 to $1,000+/month) I recently switched to this platform after trying four others over the past ten years. For me, it is a combination of decent pricing with a plethora of capabilities, including attractive newsletter templates, reliable email delivery, and reporting, automated campaigns and sales funnels, along with a webinar feature for up to 100 attendees. Like most Email tools, the cost is based on the number of people on your email list. I’m paying $95 per month for 10,000 people. Other programs run from $50 to $149/month for the same number of subscribers.
- Buffer for Social Media Management. ($15/month for 100 scheduled posts across eight accounts) Social media can be a real time suck if you are posting every day as I try to do. It’s also important for most platforms that you post content directly to them. In other words, don’t simply link your Facebook account to your Twitter account or Vice Versa. The way that I alleviate the time suck is to schedule all my daily posts a month in advance. I can set up the same pictures and text, then select which accounts will get it and schedule up to three months in advance for them to go out at a specific day and time. If I want to tweak the message slightly differently for Twitter than for Facebook, or differently for LinkedIn, I can do that at the same time without having to retype anything or even copy and paste.Now I spend about four hours only one day a month setting it up. I still go to my social media accounts for fifteen minutes or so every other day to check for news trends, mentions, or direct messages and respond as needed. However, I don’t have to worry about going or creating new content. If I miss a couple of days, I know that something has gone up. Buffer also sends me a weekly analysis of engagement for each platform and post.
- Zoom for Virtual Meetings, Workshops, or Conferences. ($19.99.month) I tried a lot of virtual conferencing programs before Zoom, and this has been my choice for the past four years. I find it very reliable and easy to use. I use it for one-to-one personal chats, coaching, virtual live workshops, large group meetings among many authors, and even to record myself working through software for video courses. It can record a meetings or course at the click of a button. Once the meeting is completed, the recorded file is available for download and/or stored in the cloud. The best part of Zoom is that participants can join on any device (including a phone). With other systems, I’ve had problems with people being able to get both video and audio going on their computers. About seventy-percent of workshops have the majority of people listening on their phone and talking as needed while watching demonstrations on their computer screen.For the past four years, I’ve done the $19.99 option. There is a limited 45-minute free version you can use if you don’t do this very often. It doesn’t provide some of the options for recording, giving control to someone else. But if it’s just a virtual meeting it might be fine for you. You also have the ability to do the free version and then one month when you need heavier use to switch up to the pro version. Then you can downgrade again. If you have done any recordings, you will want to be sure to download them to your computer before going back to free. Otherwise they will disappear.
- Google Drive for Cloud Storage. ($1.99/month for 100GB storage or $20 per year if you pay annually) Google Drive does provide 15GB for free, then it goes up from there. I signed up for the 100GB storage to see how it goes. I use Google Drive for backups of my computer, four large websites, both music and personal videos, and licensed images from stock photo sites. Over the past two years, I’ve only used 40GB.I used to use Dropbox but found that the collaboration features duplicated assets across all collaborators. That means if my cover designer sets up a folder for all my covers that both she and I are paying for those documents. I have a lot of collaborators and soon I was being held accountable for storage of lots of things that weren’t mine and paying about $80-$100 per year for 30GB of storage. Google Drive lets you have collaborators and you only pay once.
- Lastpass for Password Management (Free to $48/year) LastPass is an easy-to-use password manager that helps ensure you never forget a password again (except perhaps the one you need to login to LastPass). It also enforces strong passwords and making sure you don’t use the same password for multiple sites; a practice that makes you vulnerable to hacks if one password is learned. The way LastPass works is you go to a site and when you enter a password it asks if you want to save it. If it’s a new site, it will generate a strong password for you. It securely stores your login credentials so that whenever you need to log in again it will automatically fill in your credentials in an encrypted manner.I use the Premium package which is $36/year. The $48/year is like a family plan if you want to share passwords among multiple people. I can’t imagine doing that even with my husband. Two reasons I pay my $36/year: 1) It allows me to have my LastPass vault on multiple devices, computers, tablets, phones; and 2) It automatically backs up my vault and should I ever forget that login password. I can call LastPass support and go through identity verification and they will restore my access.With the Free Version, should you ever log out and forget how to get back into your Vault, you will have to start over because once you fail the password a certain number of times they will immediately delete the account assuming you are trying to hack it. It only took one time for me to go through that and re-enter over a hundred passwords for me to quickly pony up my $36.
- WAVE Accounting (Free + credit card transaction fees). Wave is a free, in-the-cloud accounting service based in Canada. They handle accounting for small businesses around the world. They track income and expenses with double-entry bookkeeping related to my business. All of my bank accounts (credit union, PayPal, PayHip) for three companies are hooked into my Wave account and allow me to see the entirety of my business financial situation at a glance. It makes it really easy to see profit and loss statements and I can take it to my tax accountant at the end of the year for quick turnaround. Like PayPal, they accept credit cards as well as direct bank transactions (ACH). There is a fee for those services. Like PayPal, it is 2.9% + 30 cents per transaction for credit cards and only 1% for direct bank transfers.
There are a number of other tools I use on occasion, but these are my top ten that I count on every day. Total monthly cost across them all is approximately $110. That doesn’t take into account the capital outlay of $370 for Word, Excel, and Vellum. Vellum delivers all updates for free. The Word and Excel costs are incurred whenever I want to upgrade, which for me tends to be only when I have to (five-plus years). Amortized over five years that would add another $6 per month to my cost.
For those who read my articles and are primarily bloggers, you won’t need most of these things. For those who are primarily nonfiction or fiction book writers, at some point in your career, you may need all of these or similar tools.
Do you use any of these? What are your favorites?