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Anne R. Allen's Blog


My Photo

Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."

Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Sunday, July 28, 2013

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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Blogger Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I wonder if I could get the name generator to spit out science fiction names? Not that I don't enjoy creating my own.
I have Pages on my iPad, although I haven't used it very often.
I'm leery about cloud back ups (worked with computers too long I guess) but I do back up on several computers, two external hard drives, and two thumb drives. No, I'm not paranoid - why do you ask?
Can't think of anything to add!

July 28, 2013 at 10:46 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Hi Alex, Eeeep, you're scaring me! What's the prob with cloud back ups?

Scroll down the name generator I linked to. There's lots of genre choices—would Star Wars help with sci/fi names?

July 28, 2013 at 11:32 AM  
Blogger Trekelny said...

Hi Ruth and Anne, this list makes clear what an amateur I have been. And I think I'm too old to change. Am I missing something, or is there a reason why four or five word-processors would be Must-Haves? I use MS Word, format to the Smashwords specs, and only need to tweak that file for Amazon or B&N.
My notes are the kind of mess no online tool is going to fix- it's labor-intensive and I can see the folders holding my background material (often written in ink) when I close my eyes. If I put them in a PC I'd forget where they were, sure thing.
I must check out the cover-design capability of MS Word, I had no idea. Thanks!
The only utility I would add as a recommendation from my own chronicling experience is Campaign Cartographer. It could be a heroic fantasy-thing, but I don't see what could top that for creating maps of what you see. Maps really reach me, I must say.
-Will Hahn

July 28, 2013 at 12:05 PM  
Blogger Linda Adams said...

One missing is the simple notepad. Sometimes it's a lot easier getting the research notes down with a notepad instead of a computer. I use a composition notebook. This time of the year, they are on sale for $1 and are in a lot of cool colors.

July 28, 2013 at 12:34 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Will—four or five word processors are definitely not necessary. ;-) My point was to be inclusive so people would know what's out there & have a choice. Personally, I have & use three: Scriv for drafting. Nisus because I've used it for years & my DH prefers it. MSWord because a lot of people want docs in Word format.

I hear you about notes & the mess! Evernote is searchable which is a major plus. It also has a great instant feature, a drop down that's perfect for those on-the-fly mini notes of just a few words.

Thank you for the Campaign Cartographer tip. Would certainly be useful in a number of circumstances I could imagine.

Linda—Of course notebooks! I currently have 6 on my desk. Oy. And let's not even get into pens & pencils. :-)

July 28, 2013 at 1:12 PM  
Blogger Julie Luek said...

Great article with so many practical, helpful sources. I recently added Dropbox to my computer and feel better having a back up. Otherwise, I'd be lost if my Flashdrive were broken or missing!

And yes, I too have a stash of notebooks and pens-- I'm a junkie, and essential, must-read books to help me with the craft.

July 28, 2013 at 1:59 PM  
OpenID paulfahey said...

Hi, Ruth, your column today is a Writer's Toolbox in itself. Thanks so much for the support and for all the great info you and Anne have passed on to us. The best thing about Sunday is your blog.

My best,


July 28, 2013 at 2:17 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Hi Julie—I think our junkie tendencies have to do with "tools of the trade." Just like golfers/tennis players need to have every new piece of equipment. Or something like that. lol

Paul—Thanks so much for your very kind words. Anne and I appreciate the feedback!

Hope you found something new and/or useful in today's post. There's such an astonishing amount of stuff out there, so much of it FREE, that's it's hard to keep up. :-)

July 28, 2013 at 2:27 PM  
Blogger Robert Foster said...

Two other writer's resources that I think are must haves: The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisis (http://thebookshelfmuse.blogspot.com/ [It's on the right]), and Ink by R.S.Guthrie (http://www.amazon.com/INK-Eight-Rules-Better-ebook/dp/B00BWELKVG/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1375047897&sr=8-1&keywords=Ink+R.S.+Guthrie).

Both help me immensely with my writing.

July 28, 2013 at 2:46 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Robert—Thank you for the suggestions. Both books look excellent. I can't imagine any writer who wouldn't be helped and/or inspired by them.

July 28, 2013 at 3:00 PM  
Blogger Christine Ahern said...

Wonderful information. I will admit that some of these things I have never heard of. I write on a PC that I have deliberately never put online. I back up with zip drives that I keep in a couple of different places. Old fashioned, I guess. Ha! That has a different meaning these days, doesn't it. Thanks, Ruth!

July 28, 2013 at 4:08 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Christine—For sure, old-fashioned has a different meaning in 2013. My DH has an antique PC that's not on line so you're not the only one!

July 28, 2013 at 4:30 PM  
Blogger Rosi said...

Very useful post. I will be linking this on my blog. Thanks.

July 28, 2013 at 6:47 PM  
Blogger Roland D. Yeomans said...

Truly a fantastic article with so many useful links. I tip my Stetson to you! :-) I am like Alex: I do not totally trust the cloud. I prefer flash drives that I store in and out of my apartment. Just a fellow paranoid I guess.

July 28, 2013 at 7:19 PM  
Blogger Lexa Cain said...

Thanks for all the great info. I know a lot of people who use Scrivener and are very happy. And I use Calibre, and it's super! Have a great week! :-)

July 28, 2013 at 8:15 PM  
Blogger ED Martin said...

Thanks for this list! I've misplaced enough flash drives that I definitely prefer backing up with the cloud - Google Drive for drafts and Dropbox and SugarSync for finished copies.

I use Open Office, and it's worth noting that I can save documents as .doc files. I'm guessing other free word processing programs can do the same. It's definitely an option if you don't want to use MS Word.

July 28, 2013 at 8:19 PM  
Blogger John Quix said...

Thank you – some great pointers there. One slight quibble: Dropbox doesn't create two files ("one file in the cloud and another on your desktop"). There's only one file, in the Dropbox folder, that exists simultaneously in the cloud and on your machine/device, and is updated as you work on it.

July 29, 2013 at 1:04 AM  
Blogger Natalie Aguirre said...

Great tips. I've been meaning to back up on Drop Box. Thanks for reminding me.

July 29, 2013 at 4:02 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Roland—Many thanks for the kind words. If you and Alex agree, I pay attention! Never hurts to be at least a little paranoid when it comes to the gremlins & glitches in the cyber-world.

Lexa—Thank *you*! And thanks for the Calibre rec—will be reassuring to those who haven't tried it yet.

Ed—Thanks for pointing out the downside to flash drives. Certainly can't hurt to have a cloud backup + a flash drive or ext hard drive backup. Thanks, too, for mentioning SugarSync and Open Office. It's unbelievable how many options are out there. Finding the ones that work for us is a matter of trial & error.

John—Thanks for the clarification! You're right: one file located in two places. I stand corrected.

Natalie—Dropbox is easy to set up and works invisibly. Glad you've got your backup life all shaped up!

July 29, 2013 at 4:31 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Rosi—Thanks for the link. Anne and I appreciate it. :-)

July 29, 2013 at 4:33 AM  
Blogger Sarah Allen said...

What a fabulous, practical post! That name generator sounds really interesting.

Sarah Allen
(From Sarah, with Joy)

July 29, 2013 at 8:56 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Sarah—Thanks! The name generator is also fun. Amazing what it comes up with!

July 29, 2013 at 10:09 AM  
Blogger Westin Lee said...

Haha! I posted a similar article outlining my personal toolkit on Thursday. There's some overlap, but maybe readers will find something useful that wasn't mentioned here - especially if you're looking for mindmapping and minimalist writing apps!


July 29, 2013 at 12:47 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Westin—Great minds! Thanks for dropping by and sharing your take on writers' tools. I'm intrigued by mindmapping but haven't yet tried it and appreciate your suggestion of minimalist writing apps.

July 29, 2013 at 1:05 PM  
Blogger Julie Musil said...

Oh. My. Gosh. What a treasure trove! Wanna know something horrible? I use Pages but didn't know it could convert to epub...until I read this post. Thanks SO much!

July 30, 2013 at 6:59 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Julie—Thank you for the kind words. I didn't know Pages could compile either....not until someone told me. You are definitely not alone!

July 31, 2013 at 4:58 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Ruth, here's an emailed comment--

Thanks for the article. I have not been very active on the net for some time, internet problems etc.There are several 'Must Haves" that I must have.

--Wyn LaBouchardière

August 2, 2013 at 8:52 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Wyn—Glad your internet problems are in the past. Hope you find some useful apps. There are so many and they're not only FREE but they're also excellent. What could be better?

August 2, 2013 at 10:46 AM  
Blogger Claude Nougat said...

Ruth, I've been off the Internet lately (broke my ankle, it's finally getting better!) but I wanted to tell you what a useful post you've put up here, many thanks!

Of all the gizmos you mention, I think dropbox is the best, I only recently discovered it but it has saved my life...or rather my book, the one I'm working on now. A week ago, there was a thunderstorm and unaccountably all I had written through a whole week (some 25,000) words got lost. Wiped out! I nearly died...

Since then, I write DIRECTLY on Dropbox, I hadn't realized that could be done, my son who's a computer geek (of course!) told me to do so. Apparently he does, all his stuff is there in the dropbox in the cloud. Safest place to be, up there in the cloud!

August 5, 2013 at 10:09 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Claude—So sorry to hear about your ankle. :-( Horrible for an active person like you to be sidelined/hobbled. Sorry, too, about the 25K words kaput. Aaargh!

Thanks for your kind words about the post. DB, Scriv & Evernote are my must-haves. Great as DB is, there are also caveats with cloud-based apps (as with everything). I'm on a Mac and use Crashplan + an ext drive for back up. (Sometimes a flash drive, too.) Probably overkill but I know *exactly* how you feel about your lost week's work.

Scriv & Evernote are both great for keeping track of multiple drafts/research. Scriv resides on your hard drive, Evernote in the cloud.

August 5, 2013 at 11:25 AM  
Blogger Jesper Nielsen said...

InDesign for Self Publishing

There is one program for POD besides MS Word that I do not see anybody talk about. That is InDesign.

Let us face it the classical manuscript is dead. That is old school dating back to courier and the typewriter.
You can set up both Word and InDesign to look like your finished print book so you get to see what it will look like in print.
You can now write visually. See the white space you need for easy reading. So much better than letter size, double spaced.

The print layout transformation to PDF is better and you have more control in InDesign.
Word is trickier but still doable.

InDesign lets you compile your Kindle book with the touch of a button (Amazon Plugin).
And the Kindle version looks exactly like your screen/print version. No compromises.
Conversion to epub is the same but not so slick.

When I researched how to do Kindle books 3 years ago I did not find another program that could do that.
Forget Mobipocket Creator, Sigil, Caliber and the rest. I always got weird stuff happening.
Perhaps new programs that work have come out since then? I do not know Scrivener.

InDesign is admittedly difficult and the learning curve is steep. But it is worth it once you get used to it, if you need both print and ebooks.
If you are a true self publisher that like to have control of everything and to do everything yourself, it is the way to go.

August 19, 2013 at 12:34 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Jesper—Thanks for the suggestion. InDesign sounds like it's very powerful indeed. Is there a free version people can try?

August 19, 2013 at 1:54 PM  

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