I often get questions about what I’m using for different phases of writing, publishing and blogging.
I’ve seen other bloggers post a list of their favourite tools and I’ve found them really handy. I think, “Ooh, what are they using for such-and-such??” and voila! there is the answer. 🙂
So [drumroll….] here is my list. Hope you find some useful ideas in it. 🙂
AND if you’ve found nifty tools for phases of the process, PLEASE SHARE in the comments.
It’s a loooong list, but don’t worry. DON’T READ IT ALL. Just scroll down and look for categories that are relevant to a problem you’re trying to solve right now.
I’ll pin this article to my top menu, and keep it updated when I discover something new and exciting, or get disillusioned and ditch a tool.
Come on people, let’s share what we’ve discovered and make it easier for one another!
These are my categories:
- BOOK DESIGN
- EMAIL LIST
- SOCIAL MEDIA
I’m doing this alphabetically, but isn’t it interesting that Backup comes up first! SO important!
Don’t be that primal scream (audible in the next suburb) when your computer swallows your 290,000 word manuscript that you’ve been working on since 1982. 😉
I am the Official Crazy Lady of backups (OCL is not exactly OCD, but does have similarities), because of the horror stories that have made my blood run cold. For more on why it matters, check out my article, Writers, are you backing up your work? This is the rundown of the products I use:
I work on Mac, so I have a 1 terabyte external hard drive sitting on my desktop, and every hour my computer backs up to that hard drive anything that has changed. All easily accessible from a little icon at the top of my screen.
I have a Dropbox account which gives me 2.5GB of storage on the web for no cost.
I create a folder on both my desktop and laptop computer called Dropbox. Whatever project I am currently working on gets moved into that folder, and stays there until the project is complete. (So my novel has been in there for YEARS, haha. 😉 ) Then I move it back out to my regular folder structure, to make room for something else.
That way I have a continuously updated version of my current work available “in the cloud” (which I’ve discovered does not mean hanging on a skyhook, but out on the internet 😉 ).
This is handy for two things.
- Changing locations: I mostly work on my desktop computer. If I want to work at another location (with a client, at a library, etc etc), I connect my laptop to the internet, and voila! the files I need appear on my laptop. If you use multiple devices, like a desktop computer/laptop/iPad/smartphone etc, this can be very handy.
- The dreaded computer crash/housefire/theft: If the unthinkable happens, I go to another computer (my laptop, or someone else’s machine), connect it to the web, and keep moving on my current work, without having to wait for the full, excruciating backup to take place.
I create mighty big files while producing print books, and I take a foolish amount of photos, so I need big backup for all of that.
I did my research, and eventually signed up for a Crashplan account because they offer genuinely unlimited plans (some of the others apparently say it’s unlimited, and then slow you down when you pass a certain point). I currently have 227GB of data backed up in the cloud (on the internet), and it costs me about $70 Australian a year (I think it might be cheaper in the US). To me, that’s a bargain to keep that combo of work and memories safe. Your mileage may vary. 😉
Should I need my backup, they will even send me a hard drive with it all on it, as it would take weeks to restore that much date via an internet connection. (That’s why I keep the Dropbox for current work… at least the current project can continue while I get everything else sorted.)
I use Backup Buddy (affiliate) for my websites.
Because I am just a little clueless (but in a charming way, I like to think 😉 ) I thought I could just ask my hosting provider to restore my websites if anything happened.
Uh, no. Apparently it’s a bit more complicated than that. And I do want my websites up again quickly if they’re hacked etc.
So now I use Backup Buddy which saves the latest version of my websites, at a time that I set, to a location I set. I’m not very geeky, and I managed to figure it out, so it’s not too hard.
I even have a website backup sent to my Dropbox, which means that it’s saved out on the web and also instantly appears in my Dropbox folder on my computer.
This blog/website is created using “self-hosted” WordPress (as opposed to WordPress hosted by WordPress). My hosting provider, Hostgator (affiliate) provides WordPress with a couple of quick clicks… I don’t need to download or upload WordPress separately from anywhere.
WordPress is a type of software that runs websites, not just blogs. It is a user-friendly Content Management System, very good for non-geeks, and beloved by Google to the extent that some bloggers have seen their traffic go through the roof after shifting to WordPress.
It also doesn’t cost anything, which is generous of them. 🙂
I use various “plugins” — extra little pieces of software — to add functionality. Some of my favourites, which didn’t cost me anything:
- Postender — The subscription form and piece of text that appears on the bottom of each article is automatically inserted by this plugin. Saves lots of time.
- Revive Old Post — Tweets whatever blog posts I select at a frequency I choose. (I keep it down to one or two a day, don’t want to drown people in blog tweets.) It gives new life to my evergreen articles.
- All in One SEO — Someone asked me about this just last week! I don’t create metadata in each post because a. I’m not sure what to put and b. I’ve heard Google doesn’t like it any more. But I use it to change the details that appear when people share my posts via social media, so that my Twitter username appears instead of the blog name. Very handy for tracking who’s talking about you. 😉
Akismet is a brilliant piece of software that gobbles up literally HUNDREDS of spam comments a day that would otherwise appear on my blog. There’s no charge for personal sites. Because this site is linked to my business, I pay $5 a month. It means people can post their comments instantly, instead of seeing that dispiriting “Your comment is awaiting moderation” line.
WordPress themes customise the look of a website. I ended up switching to a premium (paid) theme for my blog, after trying a number of the freely available ones over several months and going slightly nuts trying to figure them out.
I get more functionality with the premium theme, but frankly the most important thing for me was the SUPPORT. I’m not a geek, so having someone to hold my hand has made a huge difference.
Sadly, the guys who developed Standard Theme decided to disband, and so it won’t be supported for much longer. I’m glum about that, because I think it’s a nice, clean, elegant, readable, easy-to-navigate theme. 🙁
I will have to change themes before too long, and I’ve been doing some research and I think I’ll be going for a theme from StudioPress when I do. Stay tuned. 🙂
I register my own domain names rather than use the complimentary ones that come with some blogging services. To me, it’s important to own that domain name, and I want it to be easily portable if I decide to move my website to another hosting provider, etc.
I’ve used Crazy Domains because they were cheap, but beware that with cheap domain registries, it’s usually only the first year that’s cheap. When I renew, it costs more. And their support has been woeful.
So this year I’ve shifted to registering domains with Ventra IP, after doing a bit of searching to see what people recommended. I’m pretty happy with them so far. We’ll see. 🙂
My blogs have been hosted on Hostgator (affiliate) since late 2010. This is what I like about them:
- Great video tutorials. I’ve actually helped some other people set up WordPress sites on Hostgator, following simple instructions in a video. A few clicks and they’re underway. It makes me giggle to think that I, a non-geek, could help people with this!
- Great support. Because I’m in Australia and they’re in Florida, I mostly use the Live Chat (via a web browser) as phone support would be expensive from here. I’ve never had to wait long for someone to come on line and start answering me, and they are very kind and don’t make me feel a fool with my silly questions. That’s important to me. 🙂
I used to search endlessly for unpaid images to use on my blog. I finally realised I was spending $30 worth of time to avoid paying for a $2 image (as with other matters, your mileage may vary 😉 ).
I most often use Bigstock (affiliate) for blog images, and they work out about $2 each. I sometimes use iStock (affiliate), Fotolia and Dreamstime. I also get images from these libraries to use for book covers etc.
PLEASE beware the copyright implications of using other people’s photos on your blog. Read my article Should you use photos on your author blog? for more on the teeth and claws of the copyright monster, and how it has attacked even mild-mannered, well-intentioned author-bloggers in the past.
Video and Audio
I use an iPhone 4S to record video, even though I have other, bigger, posher cameras. I like the connectivity of it and the ease of editing. (I was a naysayer on the whole smartphone thing for years, still using my ancient Nokia with the broken faceplate, but finally succumbed in late 2012, and I have to say, it really is a multimedia-studio-in-a-box.) I edit in iMovie, nothing fancy.
Check out my article Making videos for your author blog for a quick tutorial drawn from my successes and failures in making a first-time video.
I also use iPhone Video Hero (affiliate) an online course with heaps of pro tips on how to light my videos, record and edit them — even just using things I already have, like the floor lamp in my living room. I love this course! It was created by a television director, and makes an astounding difference to the quality of easy, home-made videos.
Plus it increases confidence, and that’s vital for someone like me who’s saying in whiny voice, “Oh, do I REALLY have to do video?” (The course works for iPhones from 4 onwards, as well as iPads and iPod Touch.)
For audio interviews, I just use the standard Voice Memo function on my iPhone 4S, nothing fancy. (I used to be a radio journalist, and I’m pretty darn impressed by the quality of the sound out of this little gadget, let me tell ya. And Apple isn’t even paying me to say that. 😉 ) I edit audio in GarageBand.
For more practical tips for audio, check out How I created my first podcast.
I use the Adobe Creative Suite for all aspects of print book design, and also for covers and image modification for ebooks. I’ve been using InDesign and its predecessor program Aldus Pagemaker since the 80s, so it’s fair to say I’m a big fan. 😉
I’m a purist in the way I use the Creative Suite. For example, I don’t create book covers in Photoshop, nor do I recommend doing that… unless it’s the only piece of pro software you have — in which case, go for it! (I’m a pragmatic purist…)
- page layout for print books
- book cover design for both print and ebooks
- anything that contains a lot of text and needs to be gorgeous
- anything that will be professionally printed
- anything that needs to become an attractive pdf.
It is an awesomely powerful piece of software.
- retouching and resizing photos
- modifying images for use on websites and in books
- creating images and ads for websites. It is my go-to software for anything visual for the web, because I can count pixels on it! (That affects how big files are and how long a website takes to load.)
Adobe Illustrator: creating illustrations, cartoons, logos and icons for use in books, websites, anywhere. Illustrator creates vector images, which means you can make a tiny drawing and enlarge it to cover the side of a bus, and it will still have sharp edges.
Adobe Acrobat Pro:
- “preflighting” pdf files generated from InDesign, especially to ensure ink concentrations meet the strict Lightning Source requirements
- cleaning up scanned documents
- assembling or creating certain types of pdfs
- marking up changes, corrections, suggestions to someone else’s pdf.
I’ve been back n forth and round n round trying out different ways to make ebooks, doing lots of research, and this is the way I’m currently doing it.
When making an ebook for a client, my current workflow is to copy and paste the text out of the InDesign document (already created for the print book) chapter by chapter into Scrivener. That way the formatting of tables and lists (I do mostly non-fiction, so there’s lots of those) comes across in a way that I can quickly modify it to suit the different requirements of ebooks.
For my own books, I write in Scrivener, so it’s natural to create the ebook from there.
Scrivener has nice ways to add the metadata (author details, book description, book cover, ISBN etc) and to automate the Table of Contents. I’m pleased with it and I’m sticking with it for ebook creation for now.
AWeber (affiliate) has been handling my blog subscriptions since 2012. I used Feedburner before that, and while it didn’t cost anything it just didn’t have enough functions for me.
AWeber helps me generate the various sign-up forms you see on this blog, and has quite a bit of power in the design side, which pleases me. Sometimes I want a form to be gorgeous and leap out at people, and other times I just want it to be subtle and functional looking, rather than interrupt what people are reading.
These forms all sign people up to the same list, but they also record which page people signed up from. That’s handy, as it helps me understand which topics might be of particular interest to that subscriber.
When people subscribe, AWeber automatically sends them an email to confirm, and once they’ve done so it sends another email with the link to my downloadable ebook Should I Self-Publish? (These are called auto-responders, and I could do a whole series of them if I wanted to.)
I used to have it set up to automatically send each blog article to my subscribers, within about an hour from when I hit “Publish”. These days, I’m experimenting with sending an email with the link to the blog post, plus some other items of news — so I do it manually each time, by logging into AWeber and writing a little newsletter. But I have that choice.
If people reply to these emails, however, they come straight to me, not to AWeber.
And I can send a separate email — a newsletter or announcement, say — whenever I want. (Not that I do that often. I am VERY careful with how I treat the privilege of being entrusted with someone’s email address.)
Here’s an online marketer talking about why she likes AWeber so much, and why she chose them over the various alternatives:
Evernote: I use the no-cost version to help me collect useful information, most especially web pages that I want to go back to later, when I’m researching an article or a book.
Things: I’ve found Things handy for creating lists related to decisions I need to make. So I might have one reminder that contains links to, say, 10 different places I could market my book, with brief notes under each to remind me what I thought of them while I was doing that research. I just seem to like the interface, it works with my brain, but I DO think it’s an expensive little app.
Dragon Dictate for Mac: I was going to use a transcription service so that I can write some things by talking into my smartphone (it can help get around writer’s block, and speed up some types of writing). However, I decided to buy this software instead — for a one-off cost about the same as just an hour or two of transcription service. It’s called Dragon Naturally Speaking on the PC. I’ll let you know how it goes and whether it’s working out OK or not.
LinkedIn is more of a suit-n-tie connection for me. 😉 I’ve received work via LinkedIn, and job offers.
Google+ is one that I’m always meaning to do more with. I like it better than Facebook, because I feel like it’s easier to control who sees what, and people are less likely to share pics of me as a child with the whole entire universe!
Vine is one I’ve started to explore recently. My first Vine was just rain on the window, SIDEWAYS because I hadn’t yet figured out you need to hold the phone in portrait orientation, haha. 😉 I didn’t “get” Vine for ages, but I have a hunch it could be used powerfully. Such a short video is so SHAREABLE. What do you think? If you’ve seen any intriguing Vines shared by writers, please link to them in the comments, I’d love to see what they’re doing!
I saved the best till last! 😀
Scrivener was CREATED especially for long-form writing: books, doctoral theses, movie scripts. It’s a completely different philosophy from Microsoft Word, which was created for business documents. I can see in ONE window:
- Every chapter or scene in a novel (as either text, index card, or outline, click click click), and easily move them around
- Every deleted scene or chapter, in a separate part of the window
- Previous versions of scenes or chapters, easily clickable
- Links to all kinds of websites I’m using for research
- PDFs of research I’ve gathered
- Images I’m using for inspiration
- Audio interviews I’ve done during research
- Feedback from my beta readers.
Sigh. How I love Scrivener. 😉 For more, including screenshots of some of my favourite aspects, see my article 3 Reasons I’m a Scrivener Fan.
Whew! You made it this far, congratulations! 😉 😀
Hope you found something useful as you scrolled down. And PLEASE contribute your favourite tools for writing, publishing and blogging in the comments.
Featured image via Bigstock/Nosnibor137