Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Writer's Toolbox: Must-Haves for Today's Author, with Links to FREE Downloads

As a follow up to Anne R. Allen’s recent post, How To Get A Book Published, I listed the must-haves and the beyond-the-basics that belong in every writer’s toolbox last week on Anne's blog. Since so many found the information helpful, I thought I would publish an encore here for those who missed it first time around.

Even writers just starting out will probably already have at least some of these tools, but there is so much out there on the web with new stuff appearing constantly, much of it FREE, that we want to round up what’s currently available.

The tools vary in cost from pricey to moderate (usually meaning around $35 or $40) to modest (under $10) and many are FREE. Most of the paid apps offer generous try-before-you-buy terms and conduct occasional sales or specials. All provide tutorials, on-line manuals, user forums and/or reviews on-line.

The popularity of ebooks and self publishing has also caused a revolution in word processors. They have evolved far beyond the usual spell check and grammar check. Most can compile your book or short story into epub and mobi files and some even give you the tools to create your cover.


MSWord is the Big Kahuna, the most basic word processor of all and comes in versions for the PC and the Mac. For years MSWord has been the industry classic: the app editors and agents prefer. Has its lovers and haters but it’s powerful, sometimes kind of klutzy, and can do just about anything.

In addition to all the word processing basics, MSWord can format your book into epub and mobi files for upload. India Drummond, an indie publisher, has created an excellent video tutorial here.

MSWord also provides the tools that will allow you to create your cover. I did say it was powerful, didn’t I? Here’s one on-line tutorial about making a cover in MSWord. 

Scrivener comes in PC and Mac versions and is coming—soon! everyone hopes—for iOS. Almost infinitely flexible, Scriv is a must-have for many writers including me. If you’ve never used Scriv, there’s a bit of a learning curve but it’s quite intuitive and very logical once you get the hang of it.

The manual is extensive, the video tutorials are excellent and the help forumis outstanding. Keith Blount, Scriv’s developer, often appears to answer questions and his savvy crew is responsive and will walk you through any dilemmas.

Like MSWord, Scriv compiles to both epub and mobi and does it so fast that at first I thought nothing happened and I’d done something wrong. Bottom line: 5 stars all the way.

Nisus (pronounced Nice-us, for Mac only) is a less well known but superb word processor, one I’ve used for years. Moderately priced Nisus works well with Scriv, it’s elegant but powerful, very stable, and you can compile your epubs and mobis from within the Pro version. Their user forum is terrific and Martin—I think he’s one of the developers—is there to answer questions and help troubleshoot.

Atlantis (PC oriented) is a full-featured, moderately-priced MSWord lookalike. Comes with a try-before-you-buy offer, offers on-line help and user’s forum. Atlantis can do much of what MSWord does including turn your text into an epub or mobi file.

Google Documents is cloud based, fast, responsive, and FREE. Google docs does its job well and is particularly useful for collaborators who can log in from different locations and work together. Since Docs is cloud based, you get off-site back up along with a fine basic word processor.

Pages (Mac only) is iOS native, a modestly priced ($9.99) word processor to use on your iPad, iPhone, iPod. Pages also compiles to epub and mobi.

In addition to the brand names listed above, there are also FREE word processors available on-line. You will find a round up plus reviews of FREE word processors for the PC here. 

FREE for the Mac is a clean and simple word processor called Bean.


You do back up, don’t you? Because if you don’t you’d better start NOW! (For a tragic, cautionary tale, here's a story from the Kindleboards about a writer whose laptop was stolen from his car recently.)

Dropbox is so ubiquitous and so essential for off-site back up that it’s a must-have. It’s FREE, creates one file in the cloud and another on your desktop as you work. DB also synchs all your devices and works seamlessly with both mobile and desktop apps.

Microsoft offers FREE cloud storage called SkyDrive and Apple’s version is called (guess what?) iCloud. Google’s cloud storage, Drive, is also FREE and works on all popular systems.

MozyCarbonite, and CrashPlan are remote backup services. All offer a FREE trial and various subscription plans for personal and business back up.

In the two weeks since I wrote the post, more FREE apps have come to my attention. Today (August 8, 2013)  The New York Times profiles three of them: Box, Cubby, and CloudMagic. The deets are here.

Publishing blogger Passive Guy—he’s worked on computers for thirty years and knows first hand the soul-searing tragedy of lost work—details his belts-and-suspenders back up method here.


Evernote is a powerful, FREE note keeping app that works on all platforms. Searchable by keyword or tags, includes reminder and web clipping functions, great for keeping research including images, for brainstorming ideas, for parking stuff you’re not yet sure what to do with. Cloud-based, syncs across all your devices. I consider Dropbox (or some form of cloud backup system) and Evernote indispensable.

Blogger Elizabeth Joss wrote a helpful post about how she uses Evernote to get organized and be more productive.


Calibre is a FREE e-book manager that does e-book file conversion, synchs your devices and manages your library.

Sigil, another FREE download runs on Windows, Linux and Mac. Sigil lets you edit epub files and comes with an on-line manual and user forum. As far as I know, right now there is nothing similar for editing mobi files which is where Calibre comes in. You edit your epub in Sigil, then use Calibre to convert to mobi.

Jutoh (Windows, Mac, and Linux) is a moderately-priced app that creates ebooks (including covers) in all the popular file formats.


Name generators come in handy when you’re stuck for just the right name and offer suggestions appropriate for different periods of history, various ethnicities, celebrity baby names and even literary genres ranging from scifi to steampunk to vampires. Scrivener includes a name generator but there are FREE name generators on line—more here. Some also provide random personality profiles to help you along even more.

Do you have any useful to can’t-live-without apps I’ve overlooked? Anne and I want—and need—your help in building a useful writers’ resource!


This month, Anne's irresistible bestseller, Sherwood, Ltd, is 99c for Kindle USUKNook, and FREE on Smashwords and  on Kobo. And for book-sniffers, it is available in paper for the marked-down price of $8.54. (regularly $8.99 on Amazon and $12.99 in stores.)  It's also on sale in paper in the in the UK for £6.81.

"It's not yer typical whodunnit, nor is the protagonist anything like a cop. Ms. Allen has crafted a wily tale of murder, deceit, and intrigue that can stand with the best of them. Her characters are all too real and her dialogue took me from laughter to chills to suspicion of everybody in the book. Good on her!

Editorially, the book is also refreshingly well-done and all but devoid of grammatical or other such gaffes. This was obviously written by an intelligent woman who is also a fine story-teller. My congratulations to her.

My suggestion? Read this book. It will be well worth the time.
"...David Keith

Special note from Anne and me to Camilla fans: If you've enjoyed any of the Camilla books, I hope you'll consider writing a review here. Once a book makes the bestseller lists, the trolls come out. And of course, comedy is always subjective. Genuine reviews from Camilla fans would be a huge help right now.


  1. Thanks so much for the shout-out for Sherwood! This has been one of our most popular posts ever!

  2. Thank *you* for writing Camilla! Long may she wave and long may her fans multiply!

    Hope people find this post helpful. In the two weeks or so since I wrote it, MORE FREE sites popped up. I'll keep an eye out and add new ones as they hit my radar.