POST UPDATED ON 4/11/15 WITH RECENT INFORMATION ON MICROSOFT ONENOTE
These days, writers aspiring for publication arguably have it easier than decades before. Technology has improved many areas of our lives. I’m not old enough to remember a time when typewriters were common. I wonder how people back then made do with those. Writing a novel manuscript on a typewriter, to me, is much like doing it by hand. You cannot go back and correct mistakes. Well, you can if you have correction fluid, but it’s not as convenient as a word processor. You can copy, paste, and change text without ending up with a mess. It’s considerably easier, but I don’t take it for granted.
Technology has, perhaps, made it more accessible to be a published author. However, having easy access to tools does not make one a professional. To put it in a fun way, you can give a team of powerful Pokemon to a random person and chances are they won’t be able to beat a seasoned player who’s using Pokemon with lower stats. Tools don’t mean much without talent.
For a writer’s basic needs, a word processor suffices. I recommend Microsoft Word, preferably versions 2007 and later—they can read the new .docx format, which is today’s standard. If you can’t afford to buy it, you can get LibreOffice or OpenOffice. I’m not a fan of the latter, though. And if you’re really a Microsoft fan, you can use Microsoft Office online if you have an account, such as an Outlook.com email address. UPDATE: I’ve just come across another great alternative to Microsoft Word. It is WPS Writer. The interface is almost identical to that of Word 2007 and later, meaning Ribbon. Yes, it has the Ribbon interface. Many people dislike it or just love to hate it, but I am a fan. Not only does the Ribbon look good, it organizes commands neatly. WPS Writer is available for the PC and mobile, although there’s no Mac version.
When you’re ready to publish your work as a Kindle ebook, you need to convert your manuscript into HTML format. That’s why using a word processor is more than good enough. For tech-savvy writers who need a way to edit HTML files, there’s Notepad++ or Sublime Text . If you’re a Mac user, check out Espresso, though it’s not free.
To publish to platforms other than Kindle, you need a converter. For that, the go-to is Calibre, which received an update recently. It can convert your manuscript to several ebook formats. I recommend you start with an HTML file and convert it to another format, such as mobi or epub. Saving a Word file as HTML leaves some redundant code, so tell Calibre to filter out fonts while converting your book. Calibre is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.
If you’re the kind of writer who outlines before starting a first draft, or if you simply need to keep research or notes, the best choice IMHO is Microsoft OneNote. I don’t like it solely to favor Microsoft, it’s just the best digital translation of a physical three-ring binder that I’ve found (and I scoured software download sites, as well as alternativeto.net). You can create notebooks with sections and pages. And for security, you can protect OneNote notebooks with a password and sync them to your OneDrive account or to a USB flash drive. There’s a free version of OneNote,
but it only saves to OneDrive, and it doesn’t feature password protection. The free OneNote 2013 now has all the features of the formerly paid version. You can open notebooks kept in local storage (as opposed to being stuck with those on OneDrive), password protect them, add audio and video notes, and other useful features. Now that OneNote’s got all this stuff, it’s become even better. I suggest you try it. Alternatively, you can go for Evernote. I can’t say much about it because I’ve never used it, but a lot of people swear by that program.
For writers who have an eye for art and wish to create their own book cover, the best free choice is Inkscape. It can create vector graphics–graphics that remain at optimal resolution no matter how much you resize them. It is what I used to create the cover art for Dream Date and Devoted to Her. Inkscape has got pretty powerful features for a free program, and supports extensions (I suggest you grab the JPEG export extension). Best of all, Inkscape works on Windows, Mac, and Linux.
To keep your digital files secure, you also need file encryption solutions. To encrypt individual files, you can opt for AxCrypt or AESCrypt. Both work using the Windows context menu. You right-click on a file to encrypt it. Obviously, you need to use a password and keep it safe. If you lose it, there’s no way to recover your files. I prefer AESCrypt because it can be used on Windows, Mac, and Linux. Note that the Linux version is slightly harder to use. You need to get into the command line. It’s quite circuitous and not for newbies…but if you are already using Linux, chances are you’re not a computer novice.
Now that I’m on the subject of security, you also need a safe place to store your passwords. In light of recent security breaches, this is more important than ever. There is special ‘digital locker’ software you can use for that. The best free choices are KeePass and LastPass. The latter works via an extension that you can add to Chrome or Firefox. If you want better features, the best paid choice is 1Password. With it, you can access your passwords database on your computer and your smartphone. 1Password now also supports the Touch ID. That means you can unlock your passwords database with your fingerprint! How cool is that? Using programs like those allows you to safely store lots of secure, different passwords, and you only need to remember one: the password that opens the database.
That’s it for today. I hope this post helps writers out there looking for useful software they can use. Have a great Friday!
Note: Sublime Text is not free, and the JPEG Export extension for Inkscape hasn’t worked well for me on Windows, only on Linux.