Top 17 Tools for Indies (Part I) - Indie Pub It
I’ve seen a lot of other lists like this one, but most of them use software that I don’t use and have no use for. (Scrivener is one example). If you have found similar lists to be equally as useless, then you may find some tools in my list that suit you.
There are a lot of people who don’t like to use Microsoft applications. I don’t know why. They work, and now that Office 365 is such a reasonable price ($99USD/year), they’re also economical. When the entire business world uses Microsoft Office, not using Office yourself sets you up for translation problems, right out of the gate.
This is one example where what you already have on hand is just as good as the heavily advertised alternatives. Lots of writers swear by Evernote, especially if you use something like Drop-Box in conjunction. I tried Evernote for about six weeks, then (re)discovered OneNote and have become a heavy user.
Especially in conjunction with cloud storage (in my case, SkyDrive), mobile app interfaces, and the email-to-OneNote address (me@OneNote.com), OneNote is fantastic for writing and keeping notes on the current book, meta data, to do lists, and much more.
And because OneNote interfaces seamlessly with Office and Windows, you can print from anywhere you happen to be in your computer to OneNote and a copy pops up in your notebook. You can also clip to OneNote quite painlessly.
Like Evernote, OneNote is free. (www.OneNote.com)
Outlook/Thunderbird. (Pop3 email.)
This is a hybrid thing – I use and swear by Outlook on my home computer, especially Tasks, Email and RSS feeds (I have all my blogs and newsletters sent to my desktop).
But when I’m out and about, I’m forced to use Thunderbird, which is a portable app that manages all my heavy duty email downloads.
Both of these programs are desk-top based, and use Pop3 email protocols. These days, Pop3 has been almost completely abandoned by many users, who prefer to use web-based email clients. Outlook has a (weak) web-based application, which I don’t use. As I have email from three different accounts and about 200 blogs, using a desk-top app makes sense – it all gets downloaded to the same place. Also: No ads.
I know that Scrivener has lots of devotees, and they’re quite rabid in their support of the program. I have tried Scrivener, but it just doesn’t work for me – it won’t let me work the way I’m used to. Rather than change the way I write books, which so far is effective and efficient (for me), I chose to continue to use Word, which has never let me down.
When writing a first draft of a book, any text editor will do. As long as it records what you write in a free-flow text output, you’re good to go. I use Word simply because I’ve been using it since Windows 3.2 came out, I’ve got used to the commands, and have learned all the keyboard shortcuts for them. I also like to build macros that insert formatted text for me – it makes things like Chapter headings and scene breaks almost invisible. I type in the keyboard shortcut, hit enter and keep on writing.
Later editions of Word introduced the Navigation Pane on the left hand side, which has become increasingly more invaluable for moving around the book quickly – especially if you write 400+ page tomes like I do. If you build all your Chapter headings as H1 level headings, you are building in jump stops in the navigation pane at the same time. (And if you add an H1 heading at the bottom of your document, where you’ve written up to, you can jump straight to the last thing you wrote, with a single click.) You’re also building a Table of Contents that Kindle conversion software can read and use.
This last point is a critical one. For the first few years I was indie publishing, I used a very laborious process of dumping my book to plain text, then building headings and tables of contents by hand, then converting to HTML, then converting to MOBI, and uploading to Kindle. The finished product was never as satisfactory as I would have liked. As for images…forget about them.
Then I experimented with uploading a Word DOCX file to the Kindle dashboard and discovered that the Kindle edition is virtually identical to the Word file – if I use clean formatting (no excess carriage returns, for example. I use spaced headings instead), and use H1, H2, H3 styles for headings, so Kindle can create a virtual table of contents to match the actual table of contents I generate using Word, at the front of the book. As a bonus, images in Word will be kept in the Kindle edition. For other publishing platforms, I use the same Word file and run it through Calibre to produce the ePub, mobi and PRC files, etc., that I need. Some retail platforms like Kobo.com will also accept the native Word file.
There are some very expensive page layout programs out there, including InDesign, QuarkXPress, Corel Draw, etc. I’ve been using Microsoft Publisher, which comes with most Office packages, for years.
I like Publisher, because it has a very user friendly interface, and most of the editing and formatting commands are the same keyboard shortcuts that get used elsewhere in Office.
Plus, the program has hidden talents. It is a full 4 colour print editor that will compile print-quality PDF files, plus troubleshoot your fonts, layouts and more. I’ve used Publisher for all of my print editions, and never had a moment of trouble with the PDFs that are produced.
For every Office product, there is a more expensive and complicated version out there, and Excel is another case in point. You can buy full-blown accounting software that does everything but wipe your mouth and blow your nose for you. But why bother? If you’re earning any sort of money at all as an Indie and you’re not using a professional accountant for your tax returns, then you’re losing money. Every Indie needs a good accountant, and you should make getting one a high priority.
Once you have an accountant to take care of the big stuff, you only have to worry about the day to day bookkeeping; keeping up with expenses, and of course, your sales. Excel can’t be faulted for these simple tasks.
SkyDrive - Cloud Storage
What turns Office 365 into such a useful application suite for Indies is the combination of Office with some sort of cloud storage. I tried DropBox, and even Google’s cloud facility, but finally swapped over to Microsoft’s SkyDrive because they would sell me 100GB (and now, 200GB for peanuts). The others limited my capacity.
When Office 365 was launched, and both it and Windows 8 automatically connected to my SkyDrive storage, I ended up with:
Off-site backup storage of all my important files
Web-based access to my files wherever I had internet access
The same access to my files via any handheld device I own, which makes SkyDrive a synchronizing application, too.
The entire Office suite of programs available via the Web, on my handhelds, as well as desk-top based versions on my computer at home.
This makes my office almost 100% mobile.
In Part II of this series, I’ll look at non-Microsoft applications and tools that you’ll love.
Part II will be available October 15, 2015
Columnist: Tracy Cooper-Posey writes erotic vampire romance series and hot romantic suspense. She has been nominated for five CAPAs including Favourite Author, and won the Emma Darcy Award. She published 35 titles via legacy publishers before switching to indie publishing in March 2011. She has published over 40 indie titles to date. Her indie books have made her an Amazon #1 Best Selling Author and have been nominated four times for Book of the Year. Byzantine Heartbreak won the title in 2012. Tracy has been a national magazine editor and for a decade she taught romance writing at MacEwan University. An Australian, she lives in Edmonton, Canada with her husband, a former professional wrestler, where she moved in 1996 after meeting him on-line. Her website can be found at: http://TracyCooperPosey.com.