Software and Writing Platform Solutions for Authors

    When you ask for advice in any writers’ forum as to which software is “the best” for writing a book, you’ll inevitably be rewarded with several different answers, all of which claim their favorite software is the best.

    I don’t have a horse in this race, and honestly, I don’t care which one you use. They each have their benefits and drawbacks, but what’s most important is that you use something you are comfortable with and that is helpful in your writing.

    GENERAL WRITING AND WORD PROCESSING SOFTWARE

    The most important software for any writer (unless you just throw this all out the window and go typewriter) is just something to actually write in. Some kind of word processing software that can take all those words you type and make sure they’re able to be saved, edited and formatted later.

    Almost everything in this list does this in one way or another, but some are much more focused on this aspect than others. Depending on your needs, you’ll probably find yourself using one of these in conjunction with other software, though you can definitely find programs that can do it all.

    But if you’re looking for something to get the words down on virtual paper, these options below are a great place to start.

    THE USUAL SUSPECTS (WORD, PAGES, ETC.)

    Myself? I use good old Microsoft Word. I use it because I’ve used it for almost 30 years now, and I know it inside and out. I know how to set up my text formatting and my indents and margins. And I know how their grammar checker works (even if I ignore the suggestions sometimes). It checks my spelling as I go, and best of all as part of Office 365 it’s integrated with my OneDrive which means everything I write is automatically backed up to the cloud.

    But there are plenty of other options for writers out there as well. For those of us who prefer the more standard word processing type programs like Word but don’t want to spend the money on it, check out OpenOffice or Google Docs. They both have strong word processing capabilities. For Apple users, there is also their Pages word software as well.

    Or if you want something a bit more tailored specifically for your use as a writer, there are quite a few software programs out there explicitly geared toward writers and their needs. Vellum and Scrivener are two of the most popular, though additional options include Dabble and Plotist are gaining in popularity.

    SCRIVENER

    For many authors, Scrivener is the writing software of choice, as it is built as a word processing program first and foremost, but one geared explicitly toward book authors. Unlike Word, Wordperfect or Pages, Scrivener is designed to allow writers the ability to gather ideas and portions of their manuscripts all together in one central location without them becoming a disorganized mess.

    With integrated outlining tools, embedded notes, built-in research options and the ability to break your book down into smaller pieces for later manipulation, it’s a great option for those who want to put everything for a book in one place, then move it around later to make a final book. That said, it is a program primarily built for writing a manuscript, and not one particularly suited to formatting a final product.

    www.literatureandlatte.com


    DABBLE

    Dabble

    Like Scrivener, Dabble is a word processing program created specifically for authors. It allows you to easily organize your manuscript, and also includes some very nice visual plotting tools. Story notes are organized nicely into sections such as character and world-building, so like with Scrivener, you are able to keep all the essential parts of your novel’s creation all in one central location. A wholly web-based product, it works on both Mac and PC and saves all your work to their cloud storage so not only is it backed up, but it’s also easily accessible from any Internet-connected computer or tablet.

    Like many other writing programs, Dabble has built-in word count goal tracking, but a nice additional feature is that this goal can also take into account “days off” so if you aren’t the type of writer who writes daily it can still build out a set of goal that works with your writing schedule.

    One additional feature, which I personally have found to be quite nice (though it jarred me at first when I was trying out the software) was that as you start writing, Dabble automatically hides all the organizational and other tools from view. This way you are not distracted by all the other things on your screen and can focus solely on the creation portion of the software as you get into the writing zone.

    www.dabblewriter.com


    PLOTIST

    One of the newer platforms, Plotist is a fully-online web-based writing platform similar in many ways to Dabble, but also different. One of the key selling points of Plotist from a writing perspective is its ability to build out what they refer to as “worlds” that your stories can take place in. These worlds can contain a multitude of notes and ancillary content related to your work. These include such as elements (characters, objects, locations, and events), visual representations of timelines, and the actual stories within the world.

    Another key feature central to Plotist is the ability to collaborate on projects within your worlds, which can be particularly useful if you are working with additional creators to build out your project, such as co-writers.

    Unlike many of the other programs, however, Plotist is not particularly built with a final published product in mind. Instead, it is similar to online writing communities like Wattpad as it encourages its writers to share their stories online within the Plotist community for other users to discover and read. The content does not have to stay only within the Plotist community though, as they have recently added a new export ability via which you can export your “world” or any stories in a multitude of formats including Microsoft Word, ePub eBook, PDF and several others (with .mobi eBook listed as “coming soon” as of this writing).

    www.plotist.com 

    FORMATTING AND LAYOUT

    Looking for a solution to take those words you wrote and get them all laid out pretty so you can print them? Most word processing programs can do this, though learning the finer details may be a little more complicated than you would prefer. This is because they are made for all kinds of documents, and thereby give a huge amount of options and flexibility in layout.

    But if you’re looking for something explicitly built around formatting books for print, you can’t do much better than…

    VELLUM

    Vellum

    When it comes to formatting, you’ll find quite a few authors swear by the software program, Vellum. Available exclusively for Mac users (as of this writing), it is considered by many to be the easiest and most versatile program out there, particularly when it comes to formatting for print. Unlike traditional word processing software like Microsoft Word, Vellum is built with printed books in mind, and as such allows for effortless setup of page numbers, margins, headers, fonts, and line spacing.

    Of course, with other programs you can do this as well (and may have more control over your layout specifics) but with other programs you’re also going to be doing a lot of your template layout by hand. So if you don’t want to mess with things like gutters, section breaks, and character spacing, Vellum is a handy tool. The only drawback, as I mentioned earlier, is that it is only available for Mac users, and as such I have never had the chance to use it on my own.

    vellum.pub

    SOFTWARE TO IMPROVE YOUR WRITING

    Getting the words down and turning them into something you can send off to be published is only part of the writing equation. The other part, of course, is writing something really damn good. And let’s be honest, none of us are perfect writers. That’s why we hire editors and proofreaders.

    But there are also quite a few software solutions out there that will help improve your writing itself. Investing in at least one of these (especially early on in your writing path) can be an invaluable part of honing your skills and making your writing genuinely shine.

    GRAMMARLY

    While not usually thought of as a writing program as much as a writing add-on tool, Grammarly is immensely popular among writers of all kinds. No matter what kind of content you’re writing, from a simple e-mail to blog posts to white papers to novels, Grammarly is an essential part of many writers’ toolkits.

    While it does exist as a standalone writing program which you could technically use to write your book, the primary use of Grammarly is in its integrations with other software, such as Microsoft Word or Google Chrome. This allows you to write in programs you may be more familiar with, but to gain the benefits of Grammarly’s checker.

    Multiple plans are available, and at the very least I do recommend installing the free browser plugin and giving it a try. It’s quite basic and only checks grammar, spelling and punctuation, but still, this can be particularly important when writing online where grammar checks are less likely to be implemented directly into the software. Upgrading to premium will unlock more advanced real-time feedback in areas such as overused words, ineffective vocabulary, inconsistent writing style,and inappropriate tone.

    One thing to note is that while many authors use Grammarly, it does appear to be targeted quite a bit more toward those who write for business. This focus on business-usage tends to trigger Grammarly to recommend changes that are rather rigid, and if you follow everything Grammarly tells you to do you are likely to lose quite a bit of your unique voice in your writing.

    www.grammarly.com


    PROWRITINGAID

    If you’re an Indie Author, especially a beginning one, chances are high that you aren’t working with a huge budget. And without a huge budget, you’re unlikely to be able to afford a top-tier editor … and you’re also unlikely to have your own personal writing coach helping you hone your craft. That’s where software systems like ProWritingAid can come in extremely handy.

    ProWritingAid and its competitors differ from programs such as Plotist and Scrivener as they are not designed to help you build out the structure of your story, but rather to hone your actual use of words. More than just a grammar checker, ProWritingAid is designed to check your work for various areas it can be improved, such as Readability, Pacing, Alliteration, Repeated Words and Phrases, Style and various other aspects that are all part of strongly written work.

    One particularly interesting bit to note about ProWritingAid is its ability to adjust its algorithms to different types of writing. You can switch modes between General, Academic, Creative, Technical and multiple other styles, and ProWritingAid will adjust its suggestions accordingly.

    prowritingaid.com


    HEMINGWAY

    For those who are prefer simplicity, there’s nothing better than the Hemingway App. Its no-frills design puts your writing front and center without cluttering your window with multiple tools and reports. As you write the software will highlight your strong writing as well as the areas that need work using a color-coded system focused entirely on readability.

    An in the vein of simplicity, Hemingway even allows you to turn off all readability scoring and merely write, with a plain white screen for your text and basic HTML formatting options such as bold, italics, quotes and bulleted lists.

    Primarily a system for writing web-based content (you can directly publish to WordPress and Medium, or export formatted HTML from the app), it does also allow for exporting to Word as well.

    www.hemingwayapp.com


    AUTOCRIT

    My personal favorite of all these tools is Autocrit. I’ve used it for two novels and several short stories so far, and as much as time as I’ve spent testing all the other programs, this is the one I keep going back to. Though it may not be as “pretty” as some of its competitors, it seems to be the best program for helping you turn your story into a strong piece of writing.

    Similar to ProWritingAid, Autocrit is an overall critique and editing tool, designed to help identify problem areas in your writing and help you fix them. The one big difference here is that Autocrit is designed specifically for fiction writers. Whereas ProWritingAid lets you choose different writing types to optimize toward, AutoCrit is purely for fiction—and that specialty is why I recommend it for most novelists.

    Unlike most of the other programs listed here, however, AutoCrit is primarily built as a tool to optimize work written outside of the program and is not designed as a writing program itself. In fact, it doesn’t even allow you to create a new document inside the software, but rather asks you to copy text or upload a file to get started.

    Once you’ve uploaded your document, you can use AutoCrit to run a multitude of reports on the writing, one of which is the overall “Summary” report, which gives your work a score on a scale from 1-100. The summary also gives you a quick overview of the areas where your manuscript could use the most work, with individual scores for Pacing & Momentum, Dialogue, Repetition, Word Choice and Strong Writing. Each of these categories has reports of its own, which go into much further detail as to the areas you can fix.

    For example, in the Strong Writing section it will analyze your writing and point out instances of passive voice, then give you a detailed report on the words it recommends you find and change. In a test of one of my manuscripts, it reported 888 instances of passive voice, including 329 uses of the verb “was” in my roughly 20,000 total words. That’s a lot of passive voice, and the software highlights these issues for me so I can zero in on these problem areas and fix them.

    www.autocrit.com

    SUMMARY

    Regardless of what stage you’re in as a writer, getting a few extra tools in your toolbox is sure to help increase both your writing quality as well as your throughput. You don’t necessarily need any of these programs, but finding a few that work for you can be a huge boon.

    Give a few a try. Most have free trials so you can see if they’re right for you.

    Of course there are many other programs and applications out there beyond what I’ve mentioned. Talk to other writers and see what they’re using too.

    And if you come across something amazing that wasn’t included here, be sure to mention it in the comments.

    Contributor
    Both an independent author and an award-winning marketer, William F. Aicher combines his experience from the two to help other independent and aspiring authors succeed in publishing and marketing their books. He has published several books and short stories, spanning fiction and nonfiction, to rave reader and industry reviews. You can find him online at www.williamaicher.com

    1 thought on “Software and Writing Platform Solutions for Authors

    1. A good roundup of different products. Thanks. Would you be interested in sharing this on another website as a guest author? I get around 350 unique visitors daily to my website. You have my email.

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