Just as a painter requires a brush, canvas, palette, and easel, a writer needs specific tools to create a story. These days, authors use a wide variety of programs to improve almost everything about their work—from editing and plotting, to formatting and publishing.
Below, I’ve listed several basic programs useful for any kind of writing.
This brilliant piece of software has changed the game for thousands of writers. It’s no secret the moderate learning curve drives users away, but trust me, once you get the basics down you’ll wonder how you ever survived without it. From character sketch templates and virtual post-its, to outlining tools and formatting options, Scrivener has it all. And when the time comes to compile your doc into Word format for submissions, Scrivener handles the task like a pro. It won’t replace every program on your laptop—Scrivener’s editing and formatting options are spare—but it presents a powerful way to build your manuscript.
Scrivener’s interface and various options may confuse you at first, but don’t fret! Go to YouTube and you’ll see tons of how-to videos to get you started. Hands down, it is the finest writing program on the planet. At only $40 for Windows and $45 for Mac, Scrivener is a tremendous value.
Microsoft’s classic word processor needs little introduction, and it’s the only essential program on this list. Simple and versatile, Word remains the most prevalent word processing software on the market. Almost all agents/publishers demand authors submit their queries, synopses, excerpts, and manuscripts in Word format, so you won’t get far without it.
The convenience of Google’s word processor makes it attractive for students and professionals alike. Because it auto-saves your work to the cloud, you don’t have to worry about losing your entire novel if your hard drive crashes.
One word of warning—I have encountered issues when converting documents to Word from Google Docs, causing me much stress. Believe me, when it’s a novel-length manuscript, this can be a real headache. Still, I know several authors who swear by Google Docs, so maybe the problem was me.
Of the free or cheaper alternatives to Scrivener, this one stands out as a newer manuscript writing program with potential. Still in development, Bibisco doesn’t have all the functionality of its more ubiquitous counterparts, though budget-minded authors may want to try it.
This is my favorite editing program, hands down. ProWritingAid is on the pricey side but believe me, the program is worth the money—use promo code “kindle40” to get 40% off. During a recent sale, I picked up a lifetime premium license for about $80, a terrific value when you consider how much I would have spent on a monthly plan. And for that onetime price, you get a host of indispensable features.
ProWritingAid creates detailed reports about your document, offering suggestions for everything from readability and style, to grammar and overused words. No, it won’t replace a human editor, but this software makes me wonder if that day isn’t too far off. If you only buy one program on this entire list (other than Word), make it ProWritingAid.
Compatible with most major web browsers, Grammarly is convenient for bloggers and journalists. It doesn’t offer the comprehensive power of ProWritingAid, but it is simple to use. At $29 per month, the upgrade to premium isn’t cheap. Grammarly offers a free version with limited tools, but if you’re wanting to land an agent for your book, you will require the advanced tools of the premium version.
FORMATTING AND PUBLISHING
Any author looking to self-publish must have a good formatting program for e-readers and paperbacks. Numerous options are available online, but I’ll only highlight the ones I know. I’m not highly experienced in any of them, but I have tinkered with them enough to offer advice.
This is a lovely app that works well for e-book formatting. Plus, the interface is intuitive and user-friendly. I’ve seen some gorgeous e-books made using Vellum.
This thing will set you back a couple hundred dollars for a lifetime license. Still, if you plan to be a self-published author, you will need to format your own books or pay someone else to do it. On the downside, Vellum is only available on Mac, at least for now. $200 for a lifetime license sounds like a lot of money to pay up front, but compared to what you get from lesser programs, it’s a great value in the long run.
Not as user-friendly nor as elegant as Vellum, Jutoh is cheaper and will get the job done once you get past the steep learning curve. On Mac and Windows—$39 for Basic, $80 for Plus. Once you learn to navigate the unintuitive interface, those prices become even more reasonable.
This browser-based online program does a good job of formatting your novel for both e-book and print. Pressbooks offers some handsome formatting styles, no matter what kind of book you’re publishing. The listed price is $99 per book, but you can find significant discounts if you stay patient. Even on sale, Pressbooks gets pricey the more books you publish. You’re better off paying one time for Vellum, which is a far superior program.
I hope these suggestions help you locate the right software for your individual writing needs. Most of them offer free trial periods, so what have you got to lose? Give them a shot and I promise your writing will improve and your books will look terrific.
If you have any personal faves or suggestions of your own, let me know in the comments. And, as always, please subscribe to this page on the right-hand side!