eTools of the Trade by Rebecca Heflin

Untitled design (8)In today’s digital world, there are eTools for just about every task under the sun, from photo editing to time management, restaurant bookings to banking – all intended to make our lives easier and more productive. The same applies to writers. There are eTools to help you plot, develop your characters, organize your WIP, research, and notes, format your books, and then market them. With the abundance of options out there, I’ve narrowed it down to a few, highlighting my favorites.

Outlining, Planning, and Plotting

  • StoryPlanner is an app which offers tools to create, organize and structure your ideas into novels, scripts, and plays. It allows you to outline, create character cards, locations lists, and scene cards among other things. It’s also compatible with Scrivener (more below), and it’s available for iOS, Mac and Android. The Basic Story Planner gives you one Story Plan, while the Premium Membership, at $40 a year, allows unlimited Story Plans.
  • Novel Idea is an iOS-only app, sort of like an idea keeper. You can use it to develop your setting, theme, premise, scenes, characters, conflicts, etc. Some of my writing pals use it as their series bible, and refer to it when they’ve forgotten someone’s eye color or birthday. Think of it as a place to store all of your story’s demographics.
  • Scapple is a brainstorming app from Literature and Latte, the same folks who brought us Scrivener (see below for more info). It’s all free form. You can type anywhere on the “paper,” then once you’ve exhausted all your ideas, you can click and drag them to create groupings. If you love whiteboards, you’ll love Scapple. You can get a free 30-day trial, and if you like it, it’s only $14.00. Sorry PC-users, Mac-only.

Writing

Aside from the basic programs like Word and Pages, there are writer-specific programs designed to simplify your writing process by integrating all aspects of it into one application, as well as other notetaking apps that can offer the same options but without the fancy writing templates and formats.

  • Scrivener is probably the most popular writing software out there, and my go-to writing eTool. There are even RWA workshops on the app. It’s my central repository for notes, research, photos, and plotting/planning corkboard, along with character and setting forms. With lots of bells and whistles, it can be overwhelming, but once you’ve familiarized yourself with the basics, you can jump right in and start writing. It comes with a helpful built in tutorial, but Scrivener for Dummies came in handy.

Pre-set writing templates are available for everything from fiction to non-fiction, screenplays and scripts. I love the Project Targets feature, where you can enter your total word count goal and your deadline, and it will provide the number of words you need to generate each day to reach your deadline. It tracks your progress and lets you know when you’ve hit your daily target. It’s kept me on schedule better than any other tool out there. At only $45, it’s a steal, and is available for Mac and PC. Literature and Latte recently added the iOS option for $19.99.

  • OneNote is billed as a digital notetaking app, and is available for all operating systems. In some ways, it’s like Scrivener, in that everything is in one place: notes, drawings, audio files, webpages, etc. Unlike Scrivener, however, it does not offer pre-set writing templates. Think of it as a digital notebook where all your background and research is stored. One the plus side, because it’s online, you’ll have access to the information anywhere you have connectivity, and it can be downloaded across all your devices. It also offers multi-user collaboration, so if you’re co-writing a book, this may be the perfect eTool for you and your partner. If you have Office 365, you already have OneNote in your eTool arsenal.
  • Evernote is similar to OneNote, in that it’s a digital organizer, planner, notebook and journal all-in-one, and it offers many of the same features, like multi-user collaboration, mixed-media storage, and it’s online and downloadable across all your devices. Evernote is available for iOS and Android. The Basic Plan is free and the Premium Plan is $69.99 a year.

Characters

Creating characters is one of my favorite aspects of writing, and these eTools turn character development into a game.

  • Characterize is a fun little iOS-only app! It generates, according to its description, “literally quadrillions” of characters. I use it as a random name generator on the fly for one-off characters. It will also generate age, birthday, physical characteristics, intelligence and personality traits, among other things. You can purchase add on packages for themes like Royalty and Nobility, Ancient Romans, Aliens, and Fantasy Races.
  • With Persona you can create a freestanding database of possible characters using detailed archetypal themes including personality traits, qualities, flaws, occupations, backgrounds and how they interact with other archetypes. If you’re familiar with the book The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes and Heroines: Sixteen Master Archetypes, Persona is similar. Persona is available for Mac and PC for about $40.

Formatting

If you’re an indie or hybrid author, formatting your books can be such a bear! But like your knight-in-shining-armor, technology swoops in to save the day.

  • Vellum is the bomb! This brilliant app formats eBook and paperbacks in a breeze and generates eBooks for Kindle, iBooks, Kobo, Nook, and more. You can even create box sets with it. The product is professional and beautiful and what only took minutes to create looks like it took days. I can’t say enough about this incredible eTool! Unfortunately, it’s currently only available for Mac, and at $249 for eBook and print, some may consider it pricey. But if you’re paying someone to format your books, I’d be willing to bet it will save you in the long run.
  • Jutoh is another formatting option for eBooks and creates them in the various distributor formats. The app features style sheets, a cover designer, Table of Contents Wizard, and supports images as well. It’s available for both Mac and PC and the price ranges from $39 to $80, depending on the license.
  • Scrivener also formats for print and eBooks, but honestly, I find Vellum much easier!

Other formatting apps include Legend Maker, iBooks Author for Apple, and Atlantis Word Processor.

Cloud Storage

There is nothing worse than losing a file! Especially your 80,000-word soon-to-be-bestseller. If your computer crashes or you misplace that thumb drive, what the heck are you going to do? You should always back up your files, and with so many free or inexpensive options out there, there’s no excuse not to.

  • If you have a Google account, you already get 15GB of storage for free spread across Google Drive, Gmail, and Google Photos. Like most cloud storage services, pricing is tiered depending on storage demands.
  • Microsoft OneDrive is also free if you have a Hotmail or Live email account. You can store up to 5GB of data at no cost. Anything above that is an additional monthly or annual fee.
  • Apple iCloud stores up to 5GB of data for free. If you have an iPhone or iPad, you most likely already back up your data to the iCloud. More storage can be purchased for a monthly fee billed to your iTunes account.
  • Dropbox is one of the biggest names in cloud storage. In fact, if you use Scrivener, your files backup to Dropbox (another nice Scrivener feature). With a basic account, you get 2GB free, or you can upgrade to Dropbox Plus for a monthly or annual fee.
  • And, of course, there’s Amazon Drive, Amazon’s version of cloud storage. If you’re a Prime customer, you get 5GB for music, videos, and documents. You can purchase additional storage plans based on storage demands.

Social Media and Marketing

Managing multiple social media accounts can be daunting. If you have Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, LinkedIn, the list goes on and on, creating and managing posts can be a full-time job. But have no fear, necessity is the mother of invention, and voila . . . the rise of social media (SM) management programs. These SM management programs can integrate all of your social media accounts into one interface that puts everything at your fingertips. Easily post across all your platforms and analyze your follower engagement.

Below is a list of the most popular SM management platforms. Most offer free and premium plans to increase your engagement while making your life easier. HootSuite is my choice.

  • HootSuite
  • Hubspot
  • Buffer
  • Post Planner
  • Edgar

Graphics

Between social media posts, Facebook and BookBub ads, and website graphics, an author has to practically minor in graphic design. But, there are great do-it-yourself online platforms out there – some free, some for a nominal annual fee.

  • Canva has quickly become my favorite online photo editor. With millions of free and inexpensively-priced stock images, pre-sized formats like social-media-specific headers and posts, and beautiful templates, it’s so easy to create eye-catching graphics. In fact, I created the graphic for this blog post using Canva. You can even create print designs using it. And! There’s a book cover template!

It’s free, but you can upgrade to a premium account and receive access to additional features, including one of my favorites: brand color palettes. There’s even an app for your smartphone to design graphics on the fly.

  • PicMonkey runs a close second in my book. It too is free, but also has upgrade options, and has the handy smartphone app.
  • I have not used Pixlr, but I know lots of authors who do. Just like Canva and Picmonkey, there are free options and premium options available.
  • Finally, there are pricier programs available like Adobe’s Photoshop and DxO Labs OpticsPro, but unless you’re planning to open your own graphics design business, the online versions work beautifully.

Miscellaneous

Prolifiko is a writing coach app created by Bec Evans and Chris Smith. The app tracks your process, nudges you to meet your goals, and offers coaching tips and personalized writing data to increase efficiency and help you meet your writing goals. It’s in beta right now, but you can sign up to join the waiting list. I’ve signed up and only awaiting my turn to take it for a test drive.

What are your favorite go-to eTools for writing?

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About Rebecca Heflin

I've dreamed of writing romantic fiction since I was fifteen and my older sister snuck a copy of Kathleen Woodiwiss' Shanna to me and told me to read it. Now I write women's fiction and contemporary romance under the name Rebecca Heflin. In case you're wondering, Rebecca Heflin is an abbreviated version of my great-great grandmother's name: Sarah Anne Rebecca Heflin Apple Smith. Whew! And you wondered why I shortened it. When not passionately pursuing my dream, I am busy with my day-job at a large state university or running the non-profit cancer organization my husband and I founded. I'm a member of Romance Writers of America (RWA), Florida Romance Writers, RWA Contemporary Romance, Savvy Authors, and Florida Writers Association. My mountain-climbing husband and I live at sea level in sunny Florida.
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5 Responses to eTools of the Trade by Rebecca Heflin

  1. viola62 says:

    I sue my grandmother’s name to write. I like the Novel Idea app you discussed. I’m embarking on a series and need to remember details from one book to another.

  2. Steve Buckshire says:

    Hi Rebecca, I have used Canva before, but only for small, simple graphics for a friend’s business (these are some examples: http://anderson-doors.com/blog/ ). I’m interested in using Canva for a book cover. Do you typically make two different designs, one for the front cover and one for the back? Have you found a good way to make one design that wraps from front to back?

    • Hi Steve! Those are great questions! Alas, I don’t have answers as I have not personally used Canva for book covers, only for other graphics. I typically hire a cover designer. It would appear, though, that the book cover format in Canva is only for eBook covers.

      • Steve Buckshire says:

        I’m going to give it an attempt but I may end up hiring a cover designer as well. Thanks for the help!

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