TOOLS OF THE (WRITER’S) TRADE: Lots of them FREE + reviews, how-to videos and cheat sheets.

by Ruth Harris

Like plumbers and carpenters, architects and astronauts, cellists and golfers, writers need the right tools to help them get the job done. New tools appear constantly and many of them are FREE. Here is a round-up of current offerings.

Word processors on steroids:

MSWord is the industry standard, the app editors and agents prefer. Has its lovers and haters but it’s powerful, sometimes kind of clunky, and can do just about anything including format your book into epub and mobi files for upload.

Make MS Word Work for You Instead of Against You is JW Manus’s quick primer directed especially to fiction writers. JW explains why over formatting and useless manuscript styling is a counter-productive waste of time for authors.

MSWord also provides the tools that allow you to create a cover. Here’s an on-line tutorial about how to make a cover in MSWord.

Book designer Derek Murphy offers DIY professional-looking book cover how-tos plus templates you can use in Word.

Scrivener (about $40 but you can find often it on sale) comes in PC and Mac flavors and is coming—soon! everyone hopes—for iOS. Powerful and very flexible, Scriv is a must-have for many writers including me. Scriv has a cork board function, an outliner, will file images and web-based research, and compiles to epub and mobi.

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

Gwen Fernandez’ book Scrivener For Dummies has bailed this dummy out more than once and will help both beginners and experienced users.

If you’re still unsure about Scrivener and want to know more, Gwen has written a post about why she ditched Word for Scriv.

Google+ Scriv forum is another go-to resource. Scrivener enthusiasts answer questions, offer templates and share creative approaches to getting even more out of Scriv.

I found Ed Ditto’s How to Format Your Novel for Kindle, Nook, the iBookstore, Smashwords, and One Afternoon indispensable for working my way through the compile process.

Scriptito: is a FREE online Scrivener-like text editor and project manager. Scriptito offers storyboard, research folders and linking, autosave and versioning and will also compile epubs and other export formats.

To find out more, here’s a Scriptito review.

Nisus (Mac only—Express $45, Pro $79) is a superb word processor, one I’ve used for years. Nisus works well with Scriv, it’s elegant but powerful, very stable, and the Pro version lets you compile epubs and mobis from within. Their user forum is terrific and Martin—I think he’s one of the developers—is there to answer questions and help trouble shoot.

In this article, Joe Kissell, Senior Contributor, Macworld, tells why he prefers Nisus and puts it on his A-list.

Intuitive, safe and reliable, superfast, portable and entirely customizable, Atlantis (PC only—$35) is a full-featured, moderately-priced MSWord-like app. Comes with a 30-day try-before-you-buy offer, offers on-line help and a user’s forum. Atlantis, which can encrypt your files, can do much of what MSWord does including turn your text into epub and mobi files.

Here’s a helpful review of Atlantis.

Google Documents is cloud based, fast, responsive, and FREE. Google docs does its job well, can be accessed from all your devices and is 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, often FREE or 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 even more 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.

E-book builder:

Vellum (Mac only—FREE to download. Pricing depends on how many you purchase. Right now on sale.) is easy to use and does only one thing: it builds elegantly designed ebooks. Upload a Word file, style text, preview a live version of your book for the iPhone, iPad, Kindle, or Nook; and export multiple versions with a single click.

Serenity Caldwell reviews Vellum, citing its easy templates, excellent preview support, and beautiful multi-version export.

Office Suites:

My generous and tech-savvy twitter pal, @RangeWoman_Inc, clued me into three FREE powerful office suites.

Apache OpenOffice is FREE, has many the same features as Microsoft Office and is available for Windows, Linux, MacOS X, Linux X86-64, Solaris X86, Solaris Sparc. Through "save as" you can export your OpenOffice for Microsoft Office (inter-exchangeable).

Open Office extensions (includes dictionaries) and templates can be downloaded at

OpenOffice extension "After the Deadline" (FREE editing and grammar check extension).

NeoOffice is a FREE office suite for OS X and includes a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation and graphic program. You can export NeoOffice documents in different formats, including .doc, .xlsx and .xml.

NeoOffice user's guide is a FREE download as are the language packs.

LibreOffice is FREE open source office software for Apple OS X, Linux and Windows and includes a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation and graphic program. It has received awards from the Linux and Apple communities. In 2013 it was awarded the InfoWorld Bossie Award:

"After the Deadline" is a FREE editing and grammar check extension for LibreOffice and here are five recommended grammar and editing extensions for LibreOffice.

Back Ups:

Dropbox is a must-have essential for off-site back up. It’s FREE, creates one file in the cloud and another on your desktop as you work. DB also synchs on 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, CrashPlan are remote backup services. Each one offers a FREE trial and various subscription plans for personal and business back up.

Publishing blogger Passive Guy—who has worked on computers for thirty years and knows first hand the soul-searing tragedy of lost work—shares his belts-and-suspenders back up method in his must-read post Never, Never, Never Lose Your Work!

Ooopsie Fixers:

India Drummond takes on editors (the cyber kind) in this review of White Smoke, Style Writers, Serenity Software, and Autocrit.

Hemingway app aims to make your writing—guess what?—bold and clear. Hemingway highlights long, complex sentences and common errors, highlights passive verbs, points the finger at adverbs.

Ginger, a spell & grammar checker, offers various monthly plans and works with MS-Word, Outlook, PowerPoint, IE, Firefox and Chrome and enables cross-platform users to correct their text with a single click. Ginger’s Text Reader lets users hear what they wrote in a U.S. or U.K. accent as spoken in the voice of a male or female reader and is useful when proofreading.

ProWritingAid is a FREE online editor that checks your grammar but also acts as an online plagiarism checker, finds overused words and phrases, improves readability and checks for consistency of spelling, hyphenation, and capitalization.


Although I’m still addicted to old-fashioned paper notebooks, I find the cyber versions indispensable.

Ubiquitous 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, Evernote synchs across all your devices.

One Note is now FREE and comes in Mac, Windows, iPads, iPhones and Androids flavors. An electronic version of a 3-ring binder, OneNote lives in the cloud and is synchable across devices.

In this article, award-winning tech writer Ed Bott offers cross-platform power tips for OneNote.

Bestselling romance author, Jami Davenport, provides a cheat sheet to OneNote and talks about the was she uses it to keep track of her heroes and heroines.

Preston Gralla is a contributing editor for and the author of more than 45 books. Preston compares Evernote and OneNote pointing out the plusses and minuses of both.

Put the prod in productivity:

Spend too much time on FaceBook and not enough writing? A Tweet-a-holic? An internet addict? Need an enforcer?

RescueTime It’s FREE, but there’s also a Premium version with a monthly bill attached.

Write Or Die by Dr. Wicked. $20. Windows, Mac and Linux which aims to eliminate writer's block by providing consequences for procrastination and, new to this version, rewards for accomplishment

Mac Freedom $10 compatible with Windows, Mac, Android & Ubuntu that blocks the 'net 60 day money-back guarantee.

Whew! We sure are lucky to have somebody as tech-savvy as Ruth offering us this smorgasbord of tech help for the writer. What about you, Scriveners? Do you have any more fav technology to add to this amazing list? Any questions for Ruth about what might work best for you? Have any of you made a book cover in MS Word? ...Anne

This just in: Many of the tools Ruth talks about in this post are ON SALE until July 8th.

Nisus Writer Pro

"You know that feeling you get when you put on your favorite, well-worn T-shirt and jeans? I just got that feeling when I started up the program. I live in NWP." --Lou Lesko, award winning writer and photographer.

You all know Nisus Writer Pro. It is the powerful word processor for OS X. An intuitive interface, powerful writing tools, and unmatched compatibility make Nisus Writer Pro the choice of serious writers everywhere. To receive the 25% discount on Nisus Writer Pro, enter the coupon code "SUMMERFEST" during checkout in the Nisus Store.


"Tinderbox helps you keep track of the real complexity and messiness of the world." --Ted Nelson, inventor of hypertext and author of Computer Lib and Possiplex.

Allowing you to store and organize your notes, plans and ideas, mapping and building relationships between your notes as you make them, Tinderbox also offers seamless integration with Scrivener. Claim your 25% discount on Tinderbox by ordering from this special page.


"The biggest software advance for writers since the word processor." --Michael Marshall Smith, bestselling novelist.

Scrivener is a powerful content-generation tool for writers that allows you to concentrate on composing and structuring long and difficult documents. To claim your 25% discount, enter the coupon code "SUMMERFEST" during checkout when purchasing the regular license of Scrivener, or just click here.

DEVONthink Pro

DEVONthink Pro is a paperless Mac office; your trusted supplementary brain. It's the one store for all your documents that also helps you keep them organized and presents you with the just right data you need for your work. Many Scrivener users use DEVONthink to store all their general research and ideas before bringing what they need for a particular writing project into Scrivener. To claim your 25% discount on DEVONthink, enter the coupon code "SUMMERFEST" during checkout or go to their special SummerFest page.

Aeon Timeline

"[Aeon Timeline is] the best [timeline] program I've found for Mac OS X, and the only one... written with fantasy and SF writers in mind... It's a hugely useful program for any writer planning a complex novel, and I strongly recommend you give it a try!" --Anne Lyle, author of the Night's Masque trilogy.

Aeon is a unique timeline tool for creative thinking that works great with Scrivener. To claim your 25% discount on Aeon Timeline, enter the coupon code "SUMMERFEST" during checkout.

All of these great writing tools have demo versions for you to try on the developers websites.

Act quickly: SummerFest savings end on July 8, 2014.


#1 in Kindle 30-minute Short Reads: Humor

Kindle  |  Kobo  |  GooglePlay   |  Nook

Ladies! Is Your Husband Driving You Crazy? 

Is the husband you’re living with the man you married? Or has he changed? And not for the better? 
Is he too pooped to participate? 
Does he get an “F” in foreplay? 
Don’t give up. Get even. 
Stop the ugly nagging. 
Put an end to your anger, resentment and frustration. 
Two sisters who managed to survive four husbands decided to do something about it. 
Their creation, HUSBAND TRAINING SCHOOL, is dedicated to saving marriages—and the sanity of wives the world over. 

Kindle  |  Kobo  |  GooglePlay  |  Nook

Three Fed-up Wives—and only Husband Training School stands between them, murder, and a lifetime in prison.

  • Will Trailer is a super-achiever on the baseball diamond but at home? Not so much, according to his gorgeous movie star wife. 
  • Efficiency expert Howard Hopkins has just retired. His wife married him for better and for worse—but not for 24-hours-a-day.
  • Gordo Canholme would procrastinate breathing if he could, but will he ever get the new baby’s room ready? Not without HTS, according to his very pregnant wife.

Ex-Marine Drill Instructor, Robin Aguirre, and her sister, Melodie, run HTS and have been hardened by years of experience. When the three fed-up wives enroll Will, Howard and Gordo as new students, Robin and Melodie are ready for anything the most hapless and hopeless husbands of the 21st Century can dish out.

They think.


Want to Appear in Writer's Digest? Here's how. Have you ever tried to write a book in a month-as part of NaNoWriMo, with a writing group, or just on your own? What was your experience? WD wants to hear from you. Tell them about your write-a-thon! Send your story-along with your full name, city and state to with "BIAM" in the subject line. Responses may appear in Writer's Digest publications and/or on

Short Romance stories with holiday themes: Crimson Romance Ebooks (A division of F & W, publisher of Writer's Digest Books) is looking for holiday themed shorts (10K-20K words) Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa 2014, New Year's Even 2015, Deadline: August 15th

BLUE EARTH REVIEW FLASH FICTION CONTEST $2 ENTRY FEE. 750 words or less. Limit two stories per entry. First place $500. Second place $250. Third place $100. Winners will be published in the Blue Earth Review, the literary magazine of Minnesota State University. Deadline August 1.

A ROOM OF HER OWN FOUNDATION ORLANDO PRIZES $15 ENTRY FEE. Four Orlando prizes of $1,000 each and publication in The Los Angeles Review are awarded twice yearly for a poem, a short story, a short short story, and an essay by women writers. Deadline July 31.

Mash Stories: No entry fee. $100 prize. Quarterly short story competition aimed at promoting new talent. Flash fiction up to 500 words. Must incorporate the words: monkey, cathedral, relativity. Stories are voted on continuously throughout the submission period. Shortlisted stories are featured on the Mash website, professionally narrated on Mash podcast, and included in their magazine Deadline July 15.

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