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

by Ruth Harris

As a follow up to Anne’s post, How To Get A Book Published for new or beginning writers, we’ve decided to post a list of the must-haves and the beyond-the-basics that belong in every writer’s toolbox.

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 add a page to the blog 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 forum is 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.

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

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!

Note from Anne: There's so much here I did not know! Thanks Ruth! I had no idea so many of these things are FREE. 


99 cents for three full-length New York Times bestsellers. Over 1200 pages!
Available on Amazon USNOOK, and Amazon UK

Decades (Book # 1) This bestselling classic is the compelling story of a marriage at risk, a family in crisis and a woman on the brink set against the tumultuous decades of the mid-twentieth century."Absolutely perfect." —Publisher's Weekly "Terrific!" —Cosmopolitan "Powerful. A gripping novel." —Women Today Book Club

Husbands And Lovers (Book # 2) Million copy NYT bestseller! Winner, Best Contemporary, Romantic Times! The story of a wallflower who turns herself into a lovely and desirable woman and the two handsome, successful men who compete for her love. "Steamy and fast-paced." —Cosmopolitan

Love And Money (Book #3)--#1 on Movers and Shakers. Rich girl, poor girl. Sisters and strangers until fate--and murder--bring them face to face. "Richly plotted. First-class entertainment." —NY Times "Fast-paced, superior fiction. A terrifically satisfying 'good read.'" —Fort Lauderdale News Sun-Sentinel


1)  A Room of Her Own contest for women writers. Entry Fee: $15. Four prizes of $1,000 each and publication in Los Angeles Review. Submit a poem of no more than 36 lines, a short short story of up to 500 words, a story of up to 1,500 words, or an essay of up to 1,500 words. Visit the website for complete guidelines. Deadline: July 31, 2013

2) Authors: advertise to international readers with EbookBargainsUK.  Listings will be half-price through July and August and anyone listing then will get a credit for a free listing for September onwards (excluding the Holiday period December 20 – January 10). ALSO: They are launching Ebook Bargains AustraliaEbook Bargains New ZealandEbook Bargains Canada and Ebook Bargains India, offering authors a chance to target their ebooks at readers through local stores in those countries. Inclusion in these international email newsletters will not cost you anything extra! The one small listing fee will get your ebooks in all five newsletters, reaching five of the biggest English-speaking markets outside the USA.

Readers outside the US who want great dealssign up here!

3) Find a Writing Group through Galley CatOne of the most reliable and popular news outlets in publishing is creating a directory for writers to network to get critiques of their work You can sign up here. 

4) SMOKE AND MIRRORS podcasts. Get your short story recorded FREE for an online podcast! Fantastic publicity if your story is accepted by SMOKE AND MIRRORS. They broadcast about three stories a week. Spooky, dark tales preferred. No previous publication necessary. They judge on the story alone.

5) Win prizes for memoir! Poetry or prose. NO entry fee. Memoir Journal A prize of $500 and publication in Memoir Journal is given twice yearly for a memoir in the form of a poem or an essay. The editors will judge. Using the online submission system, submit up to five poems or up to 10,000 words of prose. Visit the website for complete guidelines. Deadline August 16th. 

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