Imagine trying to dig a ditch with a shovel. Now imagine digging that same ditch with a backhoe. 

Using the right tool can make all the difference in how much you accomplish with the same investment of time and effort. Sure, renting a backhoe is expensive, but you can always make more money. You can never make more time. 

Your time is valuable, so put it to good use by using the best tools available. 

As an author, you don’t use a backhoe. You use a computer and the software it uses influences your productivity and success. There are many incredible pieces of software that can dramatically improve your writing efficiency, craft, and level of professionalism. 

In this article, I’m pleased to recommend software and hardware I have personally tested that will save you time and improve your craft.

But before we talk about software, let’s talk briefly about hardware.

Why should authors buy Apple Computers?

I recommend that authors buy Macs over PCs for several reasons.

Macs last longer.

The lifespan of a Mac is easily twice that of a PC, and Macs also have less day to day annoyances than PCs.

Macs cost less in the long run.  

Authors get sticker shock when they see the price of a $1000 Mac. However, during the lifespan of a Mac, you’d have to replace your $500 PC two-and-a-half times. That is a cost of ownership of $1250. The Mac will cost you less in the long run, and much of the Mac software for writers is less expensive than software for PC.

Software for writers runs better on Mac.

A lot of the software made for writers works best on Mac. Some of the software I recommend only runs on Macs. But in most cases, a PC alternative is available.

I would estimate that about 80% of the bestselling authors I work with use Apple computers. As an author, it is worth your money over the long haul to buy a Mac.

Ok now on to the software…

Writing: Scrivener 

Quick Facts:

The first time I tried Scrivener, it blew my mind. For the first time, someone had made a piece of software specifically designed for writing books rather than for writing memos. 

Scrivener had a mode that hid everything but the blank screen where you type. There were no icons and no distractions when you turned on “distraction-free mode.” 

That was 13 years ago, and Scrivener has come a long way since then. 

Scrivener features a research section where novelists can keep track of character information and worldbuilding details. If you’re writing nonfiction, you can organize your topical research.

Scrivener is great for managing longer works. Word Documents over a hundred pages long can be overwhelming and difficult to navigate. Not so with Scrivener. It has a great outline view where you can easily zoom in and out of your story. 

If you are using Microsoft Word to write your 300-page novel and keep track of your timelines and plot-lines, you are using a shovel and wasting a lot of time.  

The backhoe of Scrivener features tools that specifically help writers. For instance, it will help you identify and find words you tend to overuse.

Scrivener on a Mac can even take dictation using Apple’s built-in voice-to-text engine. 

How good is Apple’s speech recognition engine? Let me put it this way. Dragon, arguably the best dictation software for PC, doesn’t even try to compete with Apple’s free voice-to-text engine. Dragon does not make products for the Mac because when users can dictate directly into Pages, Scrivener, or Microsoft Word for free, why would they pay for Dragon?

Typesetting: Vellum

Quick Facts:

Vellum is well-loved in the author community. I know an indie author who spent around $1000 to buy a Mac specifically because she wanted to use Vellum. 

One of the ways a book can “feel” self-published is when the author uses Microsoft Word’s typesetting. Readers can tell the difference even if they don’t know why. Typesetting is how the words are arranged on a page in an aesthetically pleasing way.

  • If you’re traditionally published, your publisher does the typesetting for you.
  • If you’re an indie author, you are responsible for the typesetting.  

Words are arranged differently on paper than in digital formats, and Vellum has an instant preview for Paper, Kindle, iPad, Kobo, Nook, and Android. You can click between formats and see how the pages of your book will appear on various devices.

You can always hire a professional to do the typesetting, but with Vellum, you can easily do it yourself. This is particularly useful for making your own reader magnets without spending a fortune. It is also nice if you like to be able to push out your own updates.

Do you need to update the back matter on your last ten books with information about your most recent release? With Vellum, this is easy. 

For anyone asking, “How do you turn a Word document into a beautiful ebook or print book?” the answer, for Mac users, is Vellum. 

If they’re not using Mac, I send them to Draft2Digital.com. Many people like Draft2Digital, and I’ve heard great reviews. There is also a way to run Vellum in a cloud-based virtual machine.

Time Tracking: RescueTime

Quick Facts:

  • Cost: Free ($9/month for Premium)
  • Platform: Mac & PC
  • Official Website (Affiliate Link)

Distractions are a formidable enemy for many writers. The more you write, the better writer you will be, and the more books you will publish. With more published books, you’ll make more money, and you’ll have more to spend on better writing tools.

What gets measured gets managed. Tracking how you spend your time on your computer will help you spend less time distracted and more time writing. Authors who use Rescue Time write more content than authors who don’t.

Editing: Grammarly Pro

Quick Facts:

Grammarly is a super spell-checker that also helps you with grammar and usage. Grammarly doesn’t just put squiggles under errors. It also has a “learn more” button with every suggestion that expands to explain the why behind the rule.

Using Grammarly doesn’t just make your writing better; it makes you a better writer. 

Grammarly’s suggestions help you follow the rules of the Chicago Manual of Style. It helps tighten your writing to make it more compelling. However, you shouldn’t accept every Grammarly suggestion. You want to preserve your voice. With the explanations Grammarly provides, you can make an informed decision about accepting the change. 

Grammarly doesn’t replace getting a real editor for your book or short story. But using Grammarly before you send your work to an editor will allow your editor to concentrate on other aspects of your piece that can be improved. 

Grammarly is especially helpful for editing smaller works for which you wouldn’t typically hire a professional editor.

Like:

  • web pages
  • email newsletters
  • blog posts 
  • social posts 

I graduated Cum Laude from university without fully understanding when and where to use commas. With Grammarly, I am finally figuring it out. When I still get it wrong, Grammarly is there to show me the way. 

Plotting & Planning: Plottr

Quick Facts:

Plottr is a tool to create timelines for your story and your characters.

With Plottr, you can plan your main plot and subplots in a beautiful visual editor. You can also use it as a personal wiki for worldbuilding or to keep track of characters and places. 

There is a lot to be said about Plottr, so I am hosting a free webinar with Ryan Zee about how to use Plottr to write better.

Join us on Thursday, August 13, 2020, at 4:00 PM Central Time (convert time zone) for the free Webinar: How to Write Better Novels Faster with Plottr

Password Management: LastPass

Quick Facts:

The easiest way for a hacker to hack you is to look up your password from a recent big hack. 

Wattpad, a popular platform for authors, was recently hacked. Hackers auctioned the usernames and passwords of the hundreds of millions of Wattpad users. 

If you’ve ever signed up for Wattpad, your information is available for sale. After it’s been bought and sold a few times, it gets posted publicly and is available for free. 

Sadly, I could probably look up your password right now. If, God forbid, you use the same password on multiple websites, a hacker may have the key to many of your online places. 

A hacker can use the publicly available version of your password and email address to log in to your other accounts. If he can log in to your email account, he can reset your other passwords and take control of your online identity.

Needless to say, that would be bad for your platform. 

To protect yourself from that nightmare, you must create a strong, unique password for every website. You need a different key for every door of your online house so that if a hacker steals one key, only one room is endangered.

But since keeping track of hundreds of unique passwords is impossible, LastPass offers a solution. 

Last Pass is an encrypted password vault that keeps track of all your passwords. It connects with your browser and helps you generate and save unique, strong passwords for each website you use.

If you put a gun to my head and demanded I reveal my PayPal password, I couldn’t do it because I don’t know it. It’s a long, convoluted encrypted password, and I haven’t memorized it. 

But I do remember my one password to my encrypted password vault.

Your LastPass Master Password is the only password you need to remember. Since it is the password to rule all passwords, you must not forget it or lose it. 

I recommend saving this password in a safety deposit box with instructions on how and where to use it. If something were to happen to you, your family would have the necessary information and would not be locked out of your online accounts.

Backups: Dropbox

Quick Facts:

Your hard disk is spinning at 7,200 revolutions per minute, which means billions of revolutions per year. As with all moving parts, it will eventually wear down. No hard disk can spin infinitely. Some fail after one month, and some will last 15 years. But all hard disks spin till they die.

Even if you have a solid-state drive, they aren’t necessarily more reliable because the electrons get fatigued. 

Regardless of what kind of computer you have, Mac or PC, hard drive or solid-state drive, you need an automatic backup system. Because your hard drive will fail eventually.

And it is not just disk failure you need to worry about. What would happen to your manuscript if your computer was stolen or your house was destroyed in a flood? If you don’t have a reliable backup system, you could lose hours or days of work. 

Any backup procedure that is not automatic will lead to lost work. 

To prevent this disaster, I recommend using Dropbox.

Why use Dropbox?

Automatic Backup

Dropbox will automatically save a backup of your dropbox to the cloud, and you’ll never need to remember to grab your flash drive if you’re escaping a house fire. 

Sharing

Dropbox allows you to share files with others who might need access. I share large audio files with my podcast editor through Dropbox. Any file I put in our shared folder automatically appears on his computer. No emailing links needed. Although Dropbox supports emailing links to files as well.

Syncing

Finally, I love Dropbox because it syncs files across multiple computers. I can work on a presentation on my desktop and then pick up where I left off on my laptop. If I’m out and about, I can access files from my phone with the Dropbox App.

If you don’t need the sharing and syncing, but you do need a backup plan, Back Blaze is a reliable alternative and is a bit cheaper than Dropbox. 

Image Editing: Pixelmator Pro

Quick Facts:

If you’re blogging or building your own website, you will likely need to create or edit images. 

I know a lot of authors use Canva, but I just don’t like Canva. By default, it recommends downloading PNG files, but for blogging and websites, PNG files are bloated and cause pages to load slowly. Slow loading pages hurt your search engine rankings. Canva doesn’t even show you how bloated its file are unless you pay $120 per year for their Pro version. So, people using Canva have no idea how bloated their images are. 

Canva is fine for creating social media images because Instagram and Facebook shrink the bloated files into optimized images. 

For websites and blogging, I recommend Pixelmator Pro. It is a one-time purchase of $40 for the Pro version, but you may find the free version is enough for you. For the cost of four months of Canva Pro, you can have Pixelmator Pro for life. 

I use Pixelmator Pro for all my image editing. I can crop and save a web version of an image in seconds.

Pixelmator Pro is for Mac only. If you are on Windows, I recommend Photoshop Elements. It does all the same things Pixelmator Pro but for twice the price. 

Image Creation: Book Brush

Quick Facts:

Pixelmator and Photoshop Elements are great for editing images, but they can be cumbersome for creating images from scratch. BookBrush is simpler and has a wide array of templates for creating promotional material for your book. 

If you are promoting the release of your audiobook, you may want to create an image of your book cover on an iPhone with an Audible “listen now” badge. BookBrush allows you to create the image in minutes. 

BookBrush is like Canva for authors, and there is a free version. After you start advertising and need help making special images for your ads, you may find the $100 per year version is worth the cost. 

Podcast Editing: Hindenburg Journalist

Quick Facts:

I am convinced there are only two kinds of podcasters. There are podcasters who have tried Hindenburg Journalist and love it and those who have not yet tried it. I have taught podcast editing to rooms full of podcasters, and every time I show off Hindenburg Journalist, I get audible gasps from the audience who had no idea how easy editing could be.

It takes half the time to edit a podcast in Hindenburg than it does in Audacity or Audition. If you have a podcast and you are still using Garageband or Audacity, do yourself a favor and try the free trial of Hindenburg Journalist. 

It’s the only software designed especially for podcasters and not for musicians. If you have a podcast, give Hindenburg Journalist a try. It may save your podcast and change your podcasting life. 

Video Editing: Camtasia

Quick Facts:

Camtasia is a video editor specifically designed for the kinds of videos most authors make. 

  • webinar recordings
  • video lessons
  • book trailers
  • course videos

I use Camtasia to edit all my course videos. It’s easy to use and has all the power an author would need. Most novelists don’t need a video editor, but if you are writing nonfiction and are considering creating a course, Camtasia is a great choice. 

Camtasia’s one weakness is that it is not good at recording from your Mac’s webcam.

Webinars: Crowdcast

Quick Facts:

Chances are, you have already attended one of my Crowdcast webinars. I hosted quite a few when the lockdown started. If you haven’t attended one yet, you can join me for the Plottr webinar

I have used around a dozen webinar platforms over the years, and Crowdcast is the first one I haven’t come to hate over time. Zoom is good and cheaper, but it’s best for smaller meetings.

Why should authors use Crowdcast?

It runs in your browser. Attendees don’t need to download special software.

Attendees can ask questions and vote on questions. If 300 people attend, the chat runs too fast to read and respond, and speak. But, when attendees vote on questions that have already been asked, I can answer the most popular questions first.

Attendees can join me on screen. Adding another face to the screen makes the webinar more visually interesting, and it allows people to listen in on our real-time conversation.

Crowdcast offers month-to-month payment. At $49 per month, Crowdcast is on the cheaper end of comparable webinar tools.

It integrates with ConvertKit. Attendees register with their email addresses, which are added to my ConvertKit (affiliate link) email list. Crowdcast has been the best tool for building my email list this year.

When you implement any of these tools, you’ll be able work smarter instead of harder. Give yourself and your writing a productivity boost, and let me know which tool worked best for you.

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Podcast Update

This is officially episode 249 of Novel Marketing. That means next week, we will release episode 250! Can you believe it? Next week, I will do something I try to do as rarely as possible on the podcast. I will be talking about myself and sharing my story. 

That said, I also want to hear your story. Have you learned something useful on Novel Marketing? Do you have a short testimony you want to share? Go to https://www.authormedia.com/contact/ to leave a voicemail, and you just might hear your voice on the podcast. You can also call the listener voicemail line at 512-827-8377.

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