Writing a book is a long, hard process often requiring nothing more than imagination and sheer determination to see your story through to completion. If you have this outlook, great. You’re well on your way. Chances are however, you’ll want to make your story the best it can be, and even then, finishing the book isn’t even the hardest part. (I know, I didn’t believe it at first either!) After writing the damn book, there’s editing, proofreading, formatting, cover design, publishing, and marketing. Oh, and more editing. And unfortunately, there are a million ways in which it can go wrong during the process. Happily, we live in the digital age and have access to some amazing resources and tools for writers.
From the initial spark of an all-new brilliant idea through to getting your books into the hands of readers, there are millions of websites offering information on how to tackle it all. Sometimes, the range of information is more overwhelming and contradicting than it is helpful. I’ve been there. I’ve spent hours and hours sailing the sea of content. There are a ton of sites and tools for writers out there, claiming to change the way I write or publish or market my work.
Below are those I’ve found most helpful.
This list is broken into two sections: tips for writers and tools for writers. It is by no means exhaustive—I’m sure there are many sites I’ve overlooked or am yet to stumble upon—but this is what works for me. I hope some of you will find them useful too.
Tips for Writers
While I’ve read a lot of available content, nothing has been as helpful as these five listed below. I return to these websites time and time again and find them to be a helping hand on the writer’s rocky path.
1. NATHAN BRANSFORD
Nathan Bransford is a writer and former agent. His blog is a one-stop motherlode of writerly advice, from how to outline and plan a novel to the dreaded task of agent-querying and publishing. He tackles both routes: traditional and self-publishing, offering insight into the overwhelming task that is putting your book out into the world. I highly recommend his book How To Write a Novel — read a review here.
2. JOANNA PENN FROM THE CREATIVE PENN
The Creative Penn is another treasure trove of resources. If you’re looking to self-publish your books, this is recommended reading, with tips on everything from editing your book to how to market it. Joanna Penn also has several books available (both non-fiction and fiction) and runs a podcast with helpful interviews. I recently read The Successful Author Mindset, which is a book on overcoming some of the inevitable obstacles as a writer, and I found it to be inspiring. She also hosts several live Q and A sessions on Facebook.
3. JOEL FRIEDLANDER FROM THE BOOK DESIGNER
This website was my go-to for book formatting tips. Until reading several posts on how to professionally format a book (both paperback and digital), I never knew just how many ways there are to get it wrong. Thankfully, with the plethora of advice from this website and a bit of patience and hard work, you can get your book looking not just ‘nice’ but professionally made.
4. DEREK MURPHY AT CREATIVINDIE
Creativindie is a recent find for me and I wish I’d discovered it sooner. Derek Murphy’s advice on book cover design is helpful and insightful, and it drove me to redesign the cover of my first romantic suspense novel. He points out that covers should make an emotional impact, which is not new information, but it IS something I initially overlooked, even as an avid reader. His site is packed with tips and secrets on cover design, publishing, and writing, and a primary feature is the innovative marketing advice. (If you’re an indie author, I would highly recommend reading: Book Cover Design Secrets and Guerrilla Publishing.)
5. NICK STEPHENSON AND YOUR FIRST 10K READERS
When Nick Stephenson explained funnel marketing, I felt for the first time that I had hope. Not only that, but implementing this method of marketing frees up time for the other parts of the writer’s job including, of course, writing. His methods will ensure that you aren’t spending wasted hours on social media or signing up for tweet blasts and the like. Not that those methods are inherently wrong or pointless, but put simply, building an email list and gaining a wider readership go hand in hand. Nick explains this in a way that made sense to even a marketing noob like me.
Tools for Writers
DISCLAIMER: THE WEBSITES MENTIONED BELOW ARE NOT AFFILIATED, ENDORSED, OR SPONSORED. I SIMPLY LOVE THESE TOOLS, I USE THEM ON A REGULAR BASIS, AND I BELIEVE THEY’LL PROVE USEFUL TO OTHER WRITERS.
When it comes to tools for writers, you may notice that this list is missing the gem of the writer’s arsenal. This is because the tool in question (and one of the best writing tools out there) is downloadable software as opposed to an online site. The brilliant writer’s-dream program I’m talking about is, of course, Scrivener (total god-send). There is a discussion entirely dedicated to this marvellous program here: Is Scrivener Any Good? (Spoiler: Yes.) For a list of other helpful tools for writers, keep reading.
6. 750 WORDS
Need a writing boost? If you’re struggling to meet your daily writing goal or if you want to establish a habit of writing every day, this site is a fun way to do it. Writing might well be a joy for most of us, but it can still be hard to keep the momentum going day after day after day. This site gives you extra incentive. Is it silly? Maybe. Fun? Yes. Helpful? YES. You’ll be surprised just how much weight a stupid badge can carry. You get one badge for a daily streak. You get more if your streak is longer. Add to that, this site offers a distraction-free interface on which to write. No buttons, no links. Just white space for you to fill with unfiltered words. And if you’re a stats nerd, you’re in luck. The site also analyses your daily writing, including how you write, how often you got distracted, words-per-minute, feelings and themes, and a bunch more. I’ve used it for brainstorming and journaling but there are no rules. You can also export everything you write to a text document.
7. ONE LOOK REVERSE DICTIONARY
Ever stuck for the perfect word? Of course, you are, you’re a writer. But what about those moments where the word is on the tip of your tongue but for the life of you, you can’t think of it. You know EXACTLY what the word means and what you’re trying to sum up, but the word itself is failing you. One option is to stick in an X or an asterisk or question mark and return to it later. OR you could turn to your trusty thesaurus. But this nifty little search tool might be able to take it a step further. You type in a word or a phrase and voila! Words-R-Us. It can be a bit hit and miss, but hey, desperate times…
Despite becoming infuriated with their incessant advertising on pretty much every YouTube video ever (and then some), I can’t deny how useful this program actually is. More than a basic spell checker, it does live up to the hype. While it’s no replacement for a human proofreader, it does detect most grammar, punctuation, and (of course) spelling issues, while doing double-duty as a thesaurus as well. Perfect for cleaning up those drafts at the end of a couple of rounds of edits (if only to avoid having to read your manuscript yet again). There’s also an extension available for Chrome which is great when posting updates or blog posts online or sending emails. You can also add the extension to Microsoft Word.
If you’ve ever participated in Nanowrimo, I don’t need to tell you just how much of an incentive a word-count tracker can be. This free online tool allows you to chart your daily progress not just in November, but every month of the year. It has a clever function that allows you to change your pacing—Bite the Bullet mode for those writers who like to get their words down in big chunks before the momentum wears off or Oscillating mode for alternating heavy and light workloads. Word-count goals can be set to automatically alter depending on your progress, keeping you on target and making sure you account for the days when your imaginary friends aren’t talking to you.
Ever wanted to produce perfect images with your own branding and unique flair? Without having to wrangle the beautiful monster that is Photoshop and without producing something that looks like your cat went nuts inside the Paint program? If yes, go sign up with Canva for free. There are templates available for everything from blog post banners to social media images (all in the correct size for each platform) and even basic book covers. Canva’s drag-and-drop user-friendly site will have you churning out graphic after graphic, without giving you a headache.
Remember the days when scattered thoughts on Post-It notes gusted around you like a personal mini cyclone? No? Me neither. It’s been that long. These days, every wish and whim and million-dollar idea can be typed into remarkable programs like Evernote, a program designed for use on the web, or on your computer or mobile devices. It stores every note as a drag-and-drop document which you can store in separate notebooks or even notebook stacks but it does this on a single screen. The organisation level of this app is brilliant—it updates your notes on the fly. I don’t even have to hit save (does loving this make me ridiculous? I mean, it’s one tap!) Seriously though, Evernote’s synchronisation—not just when it comes to saving your work, but syncing between multiple devices—is fast and reliable. There are several apps out there offering similar functions, right down to the standard notes app on your smartphone, but for me, Evernote takes the cake.
Update, 2020: I’ve since migrated to Trello. Thoughts on this to follow.
My personal favourite (read: could-never-function-without-it). For me, this tool is my go-to for ideas, reminders, appointments, and (obviously) tasks to do, so for me, Todoist does double duty as a calendar. It’s the first thing I open in the morning (other than my eyes, that is) and yes, even before Facebook! *gasps all round* The app is available online but you can also use it on any device—the synchronisation between devices is seamless. It allows you to create projects, even a hierarchy of projects if your little heart desires, and each task can also contain sub-tasks if needed. I use mine for everything from blog scheduling, marketing, and writing tasks to the more mundane like domestic errands (yawn). My favourite function within the app is the ability to add recurring tasks by simply typing a short command. For example, I can type: schedule book review ev second tue. This simple addition on the end will set my task as recurring for every second Tuesday of every month. If I needed a specific date for every month until the end of time, it’d be as simple as: payment due ev 30. Handy, right? I used to think that keeping a to-do list was redundant—that in the time it takes to list something, I could have finished it. It simply isn’t true. Keeping a task list helps you put everything you need to do out of your head, allowing you to focus on one thing at a time.
I hope some of these tools for writers will prove as useful for you as they are for me. Let me know if I’ve missed any important ones and tell me what tools you can’t live without.
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