10 Software Essentials for Authors
With the rise of self-publishing, there’s a growing differentiation between people who just publish – and the truly successful authors who produce books that are indistinguishable in quality from those of the top 5 publishers. One of the ways in which they achieve this is by using the same tools as publishers do; or often, even better versions of them. Here are some software essentials as recommended by our community of Hidden Gems authors – which could empower you to add additional speed, precision and polish to your published works.
It’s a cliche that writers tend to favor Apple products, but in the case of this highly-touted formatting software, the fact that it’s only available on MacOS suggests there’s some validity to that.
Vellum is designed to streamline the entire process of formatting books – including inserting links and pretty flourishes, assembling box sets and store links, and even helping you produce your paperback version. Many, many successful self-published authors swear by it – including the author who suggested it to us, who wrote: “Vellum creates gorgeous ebooks and makes linking to wide storefronts a BREEZE.”
Another Hidden Gems author wrote: “I use Vellum and it’s amazing. It makes beautiful books that I can update easily. I’ve saved hundreds of dollars in formatting fees plus saved time – instead of waiting for a designer to finish formatting my book I can have it done in an hour.”
Vellum is available in two formats – one to produce unlimited eBooks, for $199.99 – or the expanded version which also helps you produce paperbacks, at $249.99.
For those without a Mac, an alternative formatting program is Scrivener which is available for both PC and Mac, but for most writers the primary use of Scrivener is as a writing tool more than a formatting tool. In fact, authors with access to a Mac often use both pieces of software in their process. Scrivener to plan, organize and write their book, and then Vellum for formatting and packaging.
Scrivener can be used for both purposes, but as a writing tool is where it really shines. It replaces your word processor, allowing you to manage long documents like novels with much greater ease by providing multiple views and breakdowns, features to handle research, outlining, organization of scenes and characters, and much more.
Scrivener is available in two formats – Standard Licence, with the full download product for $49 (MacOS) or $45 (Windows), or Educational Licence for students and academics at $41.65 (MacOS) or $38.25 (Windows). An iOS version is also available for $19.99.
Whether you’re hosting your own Advanced Review Copies, or giving away reader magnets, the question of how to deliver your free books is a tricky one. Bookfunnel is a service that comes highly recommended, and allows you to store digital copies of your book online – where they can be downloaded almost seamlessly to a reader’s Kindle or mobile device. You can customize almost every aspect of the giveaway – like whether or not to store email addresses, or to limit the dates of the giveaway, or even the number of books that are available for free.
Another nice thing about Book Funnel is that they don’t bombard you or your readers with spammy emails like some of their competing services. One of our authors recommended it for this list, writing: “BookFunnel is KEY. So easy to use, and it grows with you, and I’ve gained over 1,000 subscribers in the last four months using their cross promos.”
Bookfunnel has monthly pricing starting from $10, or yearly subscriptions from $20.
Another tool authors use to give away free copies of their book is KingSumo, which offers a seamless way to organize giveaways and competitions specially designed to try and get you a robust list of email addresses from which to build a subscriber list.
KingSumo integrates into most platforms, and includes a Facebook advertising pixel, to track the effectiveness of any paid promotions you do. As the author who suggested we include it in this list writes: “KingSumo to run giveaways. Easy to use and affordable. I love the easy way you can customize the landing page.”
KingSumo starts at $19 a month, charged yearly.
Amazon have definitely improved their analytics dashboard recently, and there are other services available that do similar things, but one favorite service among independent authors is Book Report. It’s a dashboard for your book sales – providing you vivid and easy-to-understand breakdowns of your income, sales and downloads – plus history trackable all the way back to your first book.
I love it – especially because you can set a little cash register noise to go off every time you get a sale! It’s also great for tracking your progress over time, which is useful for overseeing your overall improvement (hopefully!) as an author or in focusing on specific times when you know you ran certain promotions in order to try and gauge their success.
Book Report is free for the first two weeks, and free for authors making less than $1,000 a month. After that, it’s a $19 a month subscription based service.
One criticism of Book Report is that it only tackles Amazon sales – which is where BookTrakr comes in. This service plugs into the dashboard of KDP Publishing, NookPress, Kobo Writing Life, Smashwords and many other self-publishing platforms, and assembles all that sales data into an easy-to-read format that includes everything.
For authors who’ve ‘gone wide’ and publish on different platforms, BookTrakr can offer the convenience of Book Report, but with all of their non-Amazon sales data included as well; which can be a huge help when trying to figure out your marketing strategy.
As the author who recommended it says: “It’s good because it tracks sales from ALL storefronts, not just Amazon.”
BookTrackr pricing varies, based on the number of books and storefronts you have, with plans starting from $0.99 monthly.
Adobe Creative Cloud
Back in the old days, you’d buy a piece of software and have it for life. Today, the leaders of online design, Adobe, have monetized their suite of software on a monthly basis; which does offer a cheaper buy-in for those who used to balk at the $500+ purchase price (the entire suite is available for $52.99 a month) and also provides you with regular and frequent improvements.
While a lot of alternatives exist, the Adobe products (like Photoshop) are considered the best-in-class for a reason, and even if you’re not much of a graphic designer, the options they provide for designing ads, book covers, promotional art and more are unparalleled. The only problem is that you’ll have to invest time into learning how to use all of the features if you want to get the most out of them; although there are hundreds of hours of YouTube tutorials available for free which will get you up to speed pretty quickly.
Adobe Creative Cloud licences single products, like PhotoShop, for $9.99 a month – or the entire suite of 20+ creative tools for $52.99 a month.
For those who don’t have the money, time or inclination for Adobe, one of the more affordable alternatives is BookBrush. Cheaper than a graphic designer, and faster and more professional than doing it yourself, BookBrush offers a really easy way to design formatted ads for Facebook and other platforms. It includes stock art, 3D rendering, stamps, and text you can fully customize.
“It makes creating BookBub ads super easy and cheap – it’s much easier to use than Photoshop, and tailored specifically for authors,” says one of the authors who recommended it to us.
“It’s essential,” wrote another.
Perhaps most impressively, the maestro of self-publishing, Mark Dawson, offers a testimonial: “For those authors who don’t know one end of Photoshop from the other, this is an elegant solution to produce convenient, high quality images for book ads.”
BookBrush is available for free, with limited useage, or $8 a month for a single-author.
While we’ve always been a big believer in tracking your daily wordcount, 4theWords was still an unexpected recommendation that came from one of our Hidden Gems authors: “It gamifies writing, making it fun. I have a 2.5 year writing streak on there!”
4theWords attempts to encourage you to write by creating a playable adventure that bases your performance on your daily word count. You’ll be able to earn loot by defeating monsters if you write enough words in the allotted time, and embark on quests and explore a digital world.
If you’re one of those writers who struggles with procrastination, this could be just the hack you need – and the whole system can be tried out for free first, giving you time to decide if it works well enough for you that it’s worth paying for.
4theWords is free for the first 30-days, and can then be continued on a subscription basis for $4.00 a month.
Mark Dawson Courses
I mentioned when speaking about Adobe that it wasn’t just money you’d have to invest – it was also time. That much is also true of this final recommendation – the landmark courses by self-published prodigy Mark Dawson. Mark Dawson has sold hundreds of thousands of copies of his John Milton books, and spun that off into one of the most highly-respected online courses about how to market and promote yourself as a self-published author.
Many authors consider Mark’s courses to be essential for anybody who truly wants to make a go of self-publishing as a career. However, they’re also not cheap – with prices varying depending on the limited enrollment period, but in the mid-hundreds of dollars. You’ll very likely make that back and more with what you learn, but slogging through hours and hours of course material will be time-consuming.
I think it was Dorothy Parker who joked: “Buying books and reading books are two entirely independent hobbies” and that much is true here. Many, many authors spend money on Mark’s course but never get around to completing it. If you do, it could make the difference between writing as a hobby, and writing as a career.
Advertising for Authors, Self Publishing 101, and Cover Design for Authors are only available during limited-time enrollment periods during the year.
There are, of course, many other tools for authors, so if you think we missed any key recommendations, let us know in the comments section below and we’ll be sure to look into them for next time! And remember, if you don’t want to do everything yourself, Hidden Gems offers Author Services to help meet most of your self-publishing needs.
I currently use (or have used in the past) every single one of these products. I am also a full-time author who is the primary breadwinner for my family. Are those two things related? I think they are. Every one of these programs is highly, highly recommended for a reason. If you’re serious about a career as an author, you can’t go wrong with this list of products. MHO.
Another worthwhile contender for Adobe, which could also be considered a “best-in-class” product, is the Affinity series of products (Photo, Designer, and Publisher.) Each app’s one-time cost (Affinity is not subscription-based) is the same price as one month of Creative Cloud.